For most of us, public transit is one of the last places we enjoy spending time in. When we do have to get from Point A to Point B via a bus, streetcar, or subway, we typically employ a number of strategies to make the experience as pleasurable as possible. Listening to music, playing on smartphones, reading a book or magazine, or enjoying a tasty snack or beverage are some common examples. If all else fails, napping, daydreaming, or zoning out until we reach our destination are other popular choices to fall back on. If you can relate to this, it might be surprising that I am highlighting the bus as a healing space.
When I was asked to write on the topic of healing spaces, I immediately started to brainstorm peaceful, relaxing, or spiritual places I’ve visited. The bus was definitely not one of them. However, when I reflected on my own healing journey, I realized that a bus is exactly where it began.
Years ago, when I started to focus on personal healing, the biggest catalyst of change for me was learning about mindfulness. The concept was simple enough: be present. It was so simple in fact that my mind didn’t even offer up any reasons not to do it, which was a miracle since this is usually what my mind does best. Long before I even tried meditation or yoga, I decided to try a simple suggestion I had read about: to practice being present during my daily commute. Since I was a student at the time, I was spending a lot of time commuting via public transit. I decided to give it a try. The next time I was on a bus, I took the headphones out of my ears, put my phone away, and just sat there. Instead of checking out, I practiced checking in. I looked around me and for the first time really noticed the other people on the bus: their faces, their expressions, their body language. I noticed how much everyone seemed to be in their own worlds, completely oblivious to the world around them. I realized that up until that moment, that’s what I looked like too. This was a shocking realization for me. It was equally shocking to come across the handful of people who were present, to make eye contact with them, and even exchange smiles! Those few moments of connection made a powerful impact. I felt sad that I had been missing out all this time. For the first time in a long time, rather than swimming in my own mind, drowning in worry and anxiety, and being overtaken by isolation and unhappiness, I felt awake and connected to the world around me. It was as if some sort of spell had been broken and I had come alive. Pretty soon I was practicing not only on the bus but also while walking to the store, doing the dishes, waiting in line, on the treadmill, in unfamiliar social situations surrounded by people I didn’t know, and yes also during yoga and meditation practice.
The bus was the first place where I started to wake up and transform my life moment by moment, which eventually turned into an entire journey with mindfulness. This is why the bus will always hold a dear place in my heart. These days, unfortunately (or fortunately) I still spend a lot of time commuting via public transit. During those times in my life when I’ve neglected my mindfulness practice and slipped back into isolation and unhappiness, I still remind myself to practice while riding the bus.
Making time for self-care and healing doesn’t always need to involve a retreat, spa day, yoga class, or meditation group. All we need to do is tune in, become present, and open up to the experience of life in the very moment we are in. Take notice of the sights, sounds, and smells around us, the sensations on our skin and in our body, the emotional flavour of our current experience, the stories our mind might be broadcasting to us in that moment, the feeling of breathing in and out, and the general tragedy and exuberance of being a human occupying our particular body and mind in that particular moment in time. To be fully awake and alive in even the most mundane and unpleasant moments. A healing space can therefore be any space we happen to find ourselves in and choose to wake up to. And yes, that includes a bus.
If you are someone who has ever taken or even thought about taking a yoga class, you have undoubtedly been faced with a multitude of options. First you have your standard Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Hot Yoga, Yin, Restorative, and Kundalini yoga classes. From there the titles get more creative as each studio and teacher put their own flare into their classes; combining, fusing, and supplementing yoga styles sometimes with other movement or spiritual traditions. A quick look at some of the top studios in Toronto gives us classes such as Functional Flow, Kundalini Vinyasa Fusion, Core Power Flow, Chakra Flow, Hatha HypnoZen, Yin Yang, Slow Flow Vinyasa, Moon Yoga, Yoga Conditioning, Detox Flow, Yoga Sculpt, Goddess Flow, Bliss Yoga, and Yogalates. Phew!!
And now I am writing to you about Mindful Yoga. What in the heck is Mindful Yoga, and are all these styles really that different? Are they even still yoga? As with many questions, the short answer is both yes and no. It’s true, the practice of yoga has evolved significantly here in the West and continues to do so, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to say that what we are currently seeing can still be referred to as yoga in the traditional sense. The same can be said for the practice of Mindfulness. Like Yoga, Mindfulness has gained much popularity in the West over the last decade or so since entering the mainstream. In addition to Mindfulness Meditation, we can now also find Mindful Eating, Mindful Movement, Mindful Conversation, Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programs, Mindfulness Based Therapy, Mindfulness Based Recovery Programs, and yes Mindful Yoga. It seems that Mindfulness, too, has evolved significantly since its traditional roots in Buddhist Spiritual Practice.
Zlata weaves Mindfulness into her work with both her psychotherapy and yoga clients.
Photo by Simon Johnston
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