The Origin Of The Yoga Mat And Its Purpose Today

If a person says they’re heading off to practice yoga, you may automatically picture him or her wearing tight fitting workout gear with a rolled up yoga mat in tow.

Why? Is the mat required by the yoga instructor? Does it help to achieve poses? Who started using yoga mats anyway?

A brief history of the yoga mat in an article by Collin Hall states that the yoga mat was invented to aid a person’s medical condition and happened to catch on.

He credits yoga instructor Angela Farmer as the first to use a yoga mat in 1968 in London, England.

Earlier in her life, Farmer underwent a medical procedure which disabled her from sweating from her hands and feet. Getting a good grip on the floor, therefore, resulted in some difficulty. In an attempt to solve her problem, she purchased a piece of material from a carpet factory she found while working in Munich, Germany.

The carpet material successfully fixed her issue. Additionally, the students she instructed in London became interested in her new tool. To satisfy the students’ desire for a yoga mat just like their instructor’s, Farmer’s father partnered with the German carpet factory to make more mats. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hall goes on to mention that the grip yoga mats provide average users with can hinder the body’s movement: the relationship between strength and flexibility becomes unbalanced. When hands and feet are placed in a fixed position (strongly reinforced by the yoga mat), there is less movement the body undergoes. This emphasizes the need to be flexible, creating a ‘tendency to wedge oneself into postures.” There is then less of a need to use the body’s strength in order to hold positions.

Yet, the yoga mat, Hall continues, provides a way to show one’s personality. One can choose a solid color or a fun pattern that reflects character. One can make a statement by choosing a mat that was made in an environmentally friendly way. One can choose an expensive brand name yoga mat that markets itself as the best of the best, or the most basic yoga mat that was on sale.

Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer.

Having a piece of personality on the floor also builds a personal boundary. One marks their own space, a space that he or she is only allowed to enter. It creates a comfort zone, or it creates a boundary that blocks out others.

Reflecting on my own yoga practice, I can imagine myself not using a mat. I have yet to try it, but I can picture myself feeling liberated from a rectangular space that confines me. I can connect with the floor below me, and focus on my strength rather than my flexibility. However, the mat helps me mark my movements and reminds me to not spread myself out so far while changing my positions. In classes, mostly everyone else uses a yoga mat, and it’s more comfortable to practice on rather than a hard surface.

Reaching a state of mindfulness through yoga can only be done when you feel most comfortable. If you force yourself to take part in an activity that hinders you in anyway, there is no point, for you will be distracted from being mindful.

Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer. Mindfully acknowledge your sense of touch as you go about your movements to get the best feel for the method you would like to stick with. Go between the two as many times as you need to discover your partiality.

Whether you choose to always use a mat, never use a mat, or alternate between the two, the choice is ultimately yours. Enjoy the practice of yoga and the mindfulness that follows.

Everyday Single-Tasking

Here is a simple task you can complete in about 30 seconds.

It won’t take much effort, and anyone reading this can participate.

Answer these questions: 1) How many browser tabs do you currently have open? 2) How many of those are you focused on right now?

Currently, I have three open. I am only focused on one. This tab is the one in which I am writing this very blog post. I do not currently need the tab displaying the New York Times article I started to read but never finished. I do not currently need my Twitter feed. Knowing these other tabs are present for me to get distracted by, I am failing to be mindful while writing this post.

Being mindful of the number of browser tabs you have open is number one on Leo Babauta’s tips for single-tasking. His list focuses on single-tasking in front of your screen, whether it be a smart phone, tablet, or computer. The following five tips are suggested to enhance mindfulness in a daily activity in which all people participate.

  • Know why the tab is open: When you enter a website, think about why you are there, and what task you are there to accomplish. Whether messaging a “how are you” to a friend over Facebook or sending some emails, be conscious of the reason you pulled up a website in the first place.
  • Read the whole thing: If I followed Babauta’s tips, that New York Times browser would have been long closed. When you decide to start something, finish it. Do not let distract win in the middle of a reading on the decline of soda sales in the past two decades.
  • One app at a time: The same idea for browser tabs applies to apps. Stay focused on completing the task in one app before moving to another task in a different app.
  • Be mindful of interruptions and switching: Getting distracted online these days is inevitable, if not expected. Whether you are distracted by a notification on a different tab or a person standing next to you, be aware of the situation. Before you divert your attention away from the app or browser you are currently focused on, realize why you are turning away from it. Then, return your focus to get the original task done.
  • Mindfully put away the device: When you are not staring at a screen in front of you, be mindful of that. Recognize the amount of time you will have away from a device, and immerse yourself in the non-technological activity, whatever it may be.

Babauta makes an important statement about the tips at the end of his post: “I will fail at them often.” Babauta is aware that he is not always perfectly mindful. He knows he will let distraction get the best of him, and he knows he will fall into the habit of mulit-tasking. What is important, though, is his effort to be mindful. An important key to reaching mindfulness is practice. Not every practice attempt will be flawless, even in a small, everyday effort such as this, which is why it is crucial to frequently try to achieve mindfulness. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.

Happy meditating!

Benefits for the Brain

After you meditate, your state of mindfulness will result in a feeling of calm and relaxation of thoughts.

Why?

According to neuroscience Richie Davidson, the brain is always capable of changing throughout its lifetime. In scientific studies such as this one, it has been proven that mindful meditation “is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” In other words, mindful meditation affects the parts of our brains that translate to wellness.

Jennifer Wolkin, Ph D., for mindful.org explains a few examples of where the brain changes after mindful meditation and those parts’ responsibilities related to wellness.

Below, I further break down the certain parts of the brain affected based on Wolkin’s article:

  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Self-regulatory process. Deals with handling conflicts
  • Prefrontal Cortex: Executive functioning. Decisions in planning, problem solving, and emotion regulation
  • Hippocampus: Part of limbic system involved in learning and memory. Susceptible to stress related disorders like depression
  • Amygdala: Base of anxiousness and fear
  • Connections between Amygdala and pre-frontal cortex: Can potentially strengthen awareness
  • Default Mode Network (DMN): The wandering of thoughts in our minds

Mindful meditation can improve the functionings of these parts of the brain. Entering a state of mindfulness can calm our emotions in stressful times to make rational decisions, calm anxious feelings, and ease wild thoughts. More importantly, with the brain’s constant ability to change, it is possible to make habits of mindfulness. Mindful habits can result in a more stable state of each mentioned part of the brain.

Some affects will be felt immediately after entering a state of mindfulness, and with frequent practice, may be present often. Science has proven the positive affects of mindfulness on the brain; why not give mindful meditation a shot?

Mindfully Making the Best of an Uncontrollable Situation

This morning, my astronomy professor sent my class an email informing us about the lunar eclipse estimated to occur after the sun was to set.

He made sure to mention that an event like this is not going to happen again until January 2018. I thought such an uncommon opportunity would be cool to check out, plus, I would be able to put real-life application into action.

At about Mindful Meditation10:40 PM, my roommate and I walked outside of our building to witness the couple-of-times-in-our-lifetime event. I was feeling excited; the anticipation of seeing something on a universal scale that I had recently learned about in class was fairly high. The two of us stood in the middle of the parking lot, our necks bent so we could take in a fuller view of the vast sky. Unfortunately, my hopes of seeing the eclipse were left unfulfilled, as the Philadelphia skies had not cleared of clouds that had been lingering for most of the day.

“I had no control over the forces of nature that decided whether or not to allow me to see the lunar eclipse.”

Initially, I was a bit disappointed — a potentially beautiful sight was right above my head and I was missing it. On all nights of the year, why does tonight have to be the cloudiest? Why do the weather conditions have to be nasty tonight instead of tomorrow night, or the night after that? If I could, I would trade a full week of clear skies in order to have a perfect night tonight!

Alas, neither I nor my roommate have special ties to Mother Nature. I was missing the lunar eclipse, and there was nothing I could do to change my situation.

I continued to gaze at the sky with a feigned hope that a blood moon would reveal itself to me. In searching for a sight I knew, deep down, I wasn’t going to see, I got a good look at what the sky above me had to offer. The clouds were full and fluffy; Their centers were a dull orange, but the color grew brighter as it reached the edges of the clouds. Behind the randomly strewn, thick chunks of clouds lay the sky, a light shade of indigo that had a noticeably purple hue. The clouds, constantly manipulated by the wind, created a dusty effect that made the sky seem, truthfully, a touch dirty. No stars were to be seen, but the city sky looked unique compared to any other time I had seen it.

Although I was not taking in the sight of a lunar eclipse, I was taking in the sight of a beautiful sky. In my time living in the city, I have noticed the particular colors and characteristics that the Philadelphia sky possesses, and I realize that no two nights ever look quite the same. Tonight was no exception, and I experienced yet another captivating variation the sky has to offer.

I had no control over the forces of nature that decided whether or not to allow me to see the lunar eclipse. I did, however, embrace the situation I was dealt with, and in a state of mindfulness, I was able to appreciate the sky that took shape before me. I forgot about the what could be or what should be, and focused instead on what purely was. As a result, I was reminded to be aware of the present beauty of nature. After taking a last good look at the sky, I walked back into my apartment for the night with another mental image of the ever-changing Philadelphia sky in my head.

Using Mindfulness to Make Memories

If you’ve been meditating with your eyes closed this whole weekend, the Pope spent this past Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia.

I was in the area as His Holiness Pope Francis made his final drive down the normally busy City Avenue. I pulled out my iPhone in preparation to document my last look at the Pope. To my dismay, the battery had died, and I was without a camera to capture the nearing moment. A pang of disappointment rang through my chest; I had grabbed an ideal spot close to the street, and now I would never be able to share this moment in the future with friends and family who were not present.

I had no other option than to slip the glass and plastic object into my back pocket and direct my focus on what was unfolding in front of me. I readied my awareness for the black SUVs decorated with flags on their mirrors and the Pope’s Fiat wedged in the middle of the Secret Service fleet. To have this sight vividly embedded in my brain forever, I directed all of my senses toward becoming fully conscious of the sounds of engines running and people cheering excitedly, seeing black vehicles drive by at about twenty miles per hour, feeling the cool autumn breeze poke through my flannel, and feeling the anticipation of witnessing a historic event race through my bloodstream.

As voices to my left grew louder, I knew the Pope was about to pass. I spotted his right arm, covered by the sleeve of his white robe, waving out of the passenger-side window. I impulsively raised my arm, unattached to a smart phone, to return his greeting. Then, almost as quickly as he came, he was gone again, on his way to lead mass in Center City.

After seeing Pope Francis in the flesh, I was astounded. Having the opportunity to experience one of the world’s most powerful people is a memory capable of withstanding not just a technological lifetime, but a human lifetime. Becoming fully aware of the event was far from difficult, and I fell easily into a state of mindfulness. I am endlessly grateful for the chance I had to see Pope Francis — I will never forget the memory, and I am completely confident that I can use my mind just as well as any picture or video to describe my perspective of the incredible event.

Free Guided Meditations

I just discovered that UCLA has its own Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).

From scanning over the site, I gather that it is run by UCLA Health. MARC assists in research on mindfulness, is cited in notable publications (The New York TimesTime Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, to name a few), and lists countless professional resources for extensive information on mindful topics.

Additionally, MARC offers a range of Mindful Awareness Practices classes, workshops, retreats, mindful opportunities for youth and Spanish-speakers, and even online meditation classes.

As if all of this and more wasn’t impressive enough, MARC offers over 60 minutes worth of free guided meditations.

The guided meditations that are offered range from as short as 3 minutes to as long as 19 minutes. Some meditations are basic and focus simply on breathing and awareness of the senses. Other meditations dive a little deeper to focus the senses more intensely in preparation for a state of mindfulness involving sleep, loving relationships, and working out difficulties.

Led by a female’s steady voice occasionally accompanied by an instrument played in the background to set a tranquil mood, the instructions are given in a soothing manner. They are announced slowly so the listener can participate in the meditation at a comfortable pace.

Aside from giving the basic instructions, the speaker will remind the listener that it is okay for the mind to occasionally wander. She acknowledges that when using, for example, the sense of hearing, one may get distracted and pair a sound with a scenario in their own head. If a truck honks its horn on the street outside the window, it could be caused by a pedestrian crossing when she does not have the right of way, a car cutting the truck driver off, or a signal to get somebody’s attention to prevent a disaster from occurring. The mind’s imagination can easily be distracted by such a sound, and that is absolutely acceptable. The important thing is for the listener to return focus on breathing, and the use of the senses in the present moment.

What I found surprising about the guided meditations was the idea of breathing at one’s own pace. In my experiences meditating, I always found breathing deeply to a count of five to seven seconds was more helpful than following my breath at a natural pace. When I first began practicing basic meditation, especially, I would sometimes feel anxious or uneasy. Such feelings were accompanied by fast, unsteady breathing that was hard to transform into a more relaxed pattern. I find that beginning a meditation exercise with a structured breath makes for an easier transition into a state of mindfulness.

If right now you have a spare five minutes, below is a basic, guided breathing meditation from MARC. If you have a little extra time, you can download the full selection of guided meditations on iTunes for free here.

I will be adding the MARC website to my blogroll in the very near future.

Happy meditating!

To Clarify: The Meanings of “Mindful Meditation” and “Mindfulness”

I would like to take a quick moment to talk about some words that are important to this blog.

Meditation is a practice; it is the foundation on which one begins his or her path to a calm state. The act of meditating, in most cases, uses breath as an anchor to bring one’s focus on the present moment. Paying attention to the senses (seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling) one at a time while breathing deeply focuses concentration to where one currently is in his or her surroundings. When one is finished meditation, the hope is that he or she has reached a state of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the state one experiences after completing a meditation practice. Mindfulness is being aware of oneself in a physical surrounding, and being more conscious of that surrounding. It is realizing oneself existing purely in the present moment.

To meditate one must be mindful. One must be mindful (fully aware) of breath and the senses to be immersed in the practice of meditation. To be purely focused on the movement of air in and out of one’s body, and to be purely focused on noticing what each sense can interpret is the act of mindful meditation.

So to participate in meditation, it is a given that one must be mindful. When I say meditation in my writing, it is implied that one needs to be mindful while practicing meditation. Meditation is not always easy, especially when the mind feels super cluttered and busy with different thoughts flying around aimlessly. Specifying meditation as “mindful meditation” provides that nice little reminder of why one is meditating in the first place: to reach the state of mindfulness, where thoughts are settled down in the mind so focus can be dedicated on the present moment.

In short, [mindful] meditation is the the cause, and the state of mindfulness is the effect. Mindful meditation is the action, and the state of mindfulness is the result.

Why Bother with Mindful Meditation?

What this blog is about

This blog discusses meditation as a key to mindfulness.

There are many types of simple meditation to satisfy different people for best results, such as breathing attentively, eating a meal, going for a walk, or practicing yoga. All have the ability to create a feeling of calmness; relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression; and, most importantly, become mindful. Being mindful means

  • being more attuned to surroundings
  • appreciating the presence of all things in surroundings
  • building thanks for any situation one may come to face

With a dedication to practice, meditation can become daily habit. The habit will result in a positive mindfulness capable of calming and brightening one’s life.

Why I’m Interested

Meditation, for me, is an escape from a cluttered, stressful mindset. During a time not so long ago, I held onto an impossibly negative view of life. I believed there was no purpose for attempting to live a meaningful life before an inevitable death; life was simply a hard number of years to go through. I thought the struggles and tough times outweighed achieving success and experiencing good times.

Too dark? Just a bit.

My way of thinking had me feeling miserable, and I became sick of it. In turning to a workbook aimed at finding joy through wellness, I found meditation. Repeating basic meditation practices brought my focus to positivity in the present moment. Meditating in different ways calmed my mind’s busy thought process, which was responsible for causing unnecessary amounts of debilitating stress and sorrow. Thanks to meditation, I now have a pleasantly mindful outlook on life, which translates to my overall improved mental health and well-being.

Who Else May Be Interested?

The public for this blog on meditation includes a range of people interested in a basic introduction to the benefits of mindful meditation practices. For whatever reason you are here, your are welcome to learn about foundational aspects of mindfulness and meditation, and consider giving some simple meditation practices a shot.

Online Community of the Mindful

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. — Goldstein is a licensed psychologist who focuses on “mindfulness to achieve mental and emotional healing.” His blog offers resources for support in achieving mindful state.

BrainCurves — BrainCurves is a blog run by Jennifer Wolkin, Ph D., a licensed psychologist and clinical neuropsychologist. It focuses on the link between wellness of mind and body in women.

Susan Albers, Psy. D. — Albers is a clinical psychologist and New York Times best-selling author. She has written multiple books on mindful eating. Her blog illustrates her knowledge on the link between psychology and eating, and how one can put the two together mindfully.

Mindful.org — Mindful.org is the website for the bi-monthly magazine, Mindful. Its mission is to provide information and insight, personal and professional, to succeed in mindful living (Both Goldstein and Wolkin can be found writing for the site).

Zen Habits — Leo Babauta is a blogger and best-selling author of multiple ebooks. On one of his many blogs, Zen Habits, he writes about “finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives… so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.”

Each source mentioned has different insights on different mindful meditation practices. Such diversity is beneficial for different individuals searching for the method of mindful meditation that is right for them.

What this Blog Aims to Achieve

  • Discuss the benefits of mindful meditation
  • Introduce a variety of mindful meditation practices
  • Inspire readers to give mindful meditation a try
  • Create a desire in readers to turn basic mindful meditation practices that are right for them into daily habits.

I find simple ways of meditation to be a driving factor behind a mindful lifestyle, and I will promote this idea with reputable resources, my own experiences, and a passion for contributing to a mindful community of people.

1 2

css.php