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Presence: How to live in the present moment

Updated: 6 days ago

Focus of the Month: April 2024

written by Lucie André



“People travel to wonder, at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”

- Saint Augustine


We travel thousands of kilometers to reach the most beautiful places, but we aren’t even able to distinguish the many colours of the morning sky. We find ourselves surrounded by so many people and yet, we feel lonely. 


Where have we been all this time? Lost in thoughts. Lost in time. Lost in sensations. 


Shunryu Suzuki defines our modern world as “lost in thoughts”. 

So what is the cure? Yoga invites us to come back to a state of presence, where we are right here and right now. It infuses all our everyday actions with presence and awareness. 

Presence refers to being fully engaged and attentive in the current moment, without being distracted by thoughts of the past or future.

Awareness involves a broader sense of perception and understanding. It encompasses being conscious of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and the external environment.


In the first sutras, Pantanjali asks us to look at the raw nature of our existence. 


Sutra 1.1 Now, the practice of Yoga begins

Sutra 1.2 Yoga is the cessation (nirodha) of the fluctuations of the mind (citta).

Sutra 1.3 Then the Seer abides in its essential nature.


Patanjali explains that we ignore the truth of our being because of our strong identification to the mind, and the result is that we are constantly lost in thoughts. However, he points out that it is not in our natural state to be lost in thoughts, sensations, and “fluctuations”. But to be present is our true state of naturalness.

Think of a newborn baby. They are in a constant state of contemplation. They open their eyes and notice the many wonders of life around them. They cry when they need to eat or when they have pain. They are truly present, moment by moment. Over time we’ve lost the connection to the present moment, to ourselves, and this is why yoga aims to bring us from 2 to 1. 


"Sat Chit Ananda" — Existence Consciousness Bliss

This Mantra reminds us that without awareness, there is no existence, and within this existence of awareness, there is bliss. 


Deborah Adele talks about the purity of the present moment which relates to unconditional acceptance. She refers to the first Niyama « Saucha » translated as purity. « To seek purity with each moment by allowing it to be exactly as it is. We are asked to be with life, with others, with things, with the day, with work, with the weather, as they are in the moment. »


Most of us are in constant search for fulfillment outside of ourselves — either romanticizing our past or fantisizing on a better future in our minds. We are often looking for the next thing that will hopefully be the one that makes us feel satisfied, whole, and complete. “When I get there, then I’ll be happy”. We look ahead for the next accomplishment and spend our days doing whatever it takes to get there, or even worse, feeling bad about not doing enough, not being enough. 

And eventually you get there, and you find out that the satisfaction is ephemeral, as it remains only for a short amount of time. A bitter sweet revelation, that there is no lasting happiness in things. 


Yoga teaches us that what we really seek is in fact right here and right now. Right in front of our eyes. Indeed, the teachings of yoga posit that at the core of our being we are already perfect and whole. That we only need to rest in our absolute nature, and simply “be”, which is obviously very difficult in our modern societies, due to strong subconscious conditionnings. This is why the practice of Asanas and Meditation are considered as essential elements of the yogic path. Those practices teach us that there is no need to search for anything outside of ourselves. We open ourselves to a state of acceptance. We recognise the blessing of our existence.



"Everything you have ever longed for is already present, here and now — which is the last place you would ever look.

The miracle to end all miracles is happening, and it is this moment exactly as it is. Yes — this, this is grace.

Every breath. Each sensation. Every sound."

- Jeff Foster



So what can we implement to develop a greater state of presence in our lives?


On the mat:


  1. Asana practice: we become aware of how interconnected we are when performed the asanas with awareness: physically, energetically, emotionally and mentally. 

  2. Practice Open Attention: Observe your body and sensations. Then follow with the awareness of your breath to deepen a state of relaxation. Witness energetic arousals in the body (tingling, ice-cold vibrations, electricity like currents). Eventually observe emotional echoes, changes in the quality of the mind or psychosomatic messages. “When we live in exile from the sensate reality of the body, we live in exile from the source of our aliveness. When we begin to live in the body again, we take up citizenship in our own personal residence.” Donna Farhi

  3. Pranayama: As you become aware of your breath, you become aware of the present moment. As you control the breath, you induce the quality of the mind. 

  4. Meditation & Witness Consciousness: while meditating, you become the witness, that impersonal part of us that is not the mind and not identified with “me” and my story. It doesn’t judge or conceptualise, but rather is present to life as it unfolds moment to moment. 


Off the mat:


  1. Adopt a beginner’s mind in everything you do: approaching life with an open and fresh perspective, similar to that of a beginner. It involves letting go of preconceptions, judgments, and expectations and instead, being fully present and open to experiencing each moment as if it were new and unfamiliar. 

  2. Gratitude: Be grateful for the body you have, the chance you have to experience life and its many wonders. Take 5 minutes at the end of your day to write 5 things for what you felt gratitude. 

  3. Active Listening: Listen to the feedback that your body is constantly giving you. Listen to the breath, it will tell you where you are. Listen to others, you’ll see a reflection of yourself. 


Any practice can become a spiritual practice, as long as you infuse it with presence. 

Me, here, now.

What a miracle. 


"Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body,

the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul

create the symphony of life."

- BKS. Iyengar 




Sources:

Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yamas and Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice — Deborah Adele

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind — Shunryu Suzuki

Bringing Yoga to Life — Donna Farhi

BKS Iyengar 

Jeff Foster


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