Distractions are all around us. Take my sweet dog, Gracie, in the picture above. This is my view when I am attempting to practice Yoga at home. It's hard to be still when you've got this cute mug staring back at you.
Then there's my other dog, Yogi. It's hard to concentrate on my breath when she's licking my face.
Note to self - Create more boundaries between me and my darling pups when I'm practicing Yoga. Well, then again, there's that unconditional love thing that's hard to resist. <3
I have been impatient with my dogs in the past and unleashed (no pun intended!) my frustration on them. I would shout at them to get out while I was practicing Yoga, but that only made it worse. Yogi is very protective of me and worried that I was upset. She would inevitably meet me where my energy was and get crazy. That would frustrate me even more, which caused me to raise my energy level even higher, and the cycle continued.
So, instead I now choose to accept the kisses and chuck Gracie's ball every so often during my practice. Eventually they back off and wait patiently for me to finish.
Acknowledging and accepting that there are going to be distractions, without judgement, is the first step in dealing with them. It's one of the key components of mindfulness. The founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, describes mindfulness in this way:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:
on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
To accept our present moment without judgement requires discipline and skill. Easy to say, but not so easy to do without practice. Having a daily mindfulness practice, such as Yoga, meditation or conscious breathing helps us develop the ability to choose our response to distractions rather than react impulsively.
I admit that up until recently, I didn't have a daily mindfulness practice. I would integrate my Yoga practice with exercise and rarely sit for meditation. Once I started incorporating 15-20 minutes of meditation into my Yoga practice each day, my disposition changed. I am less reactive, and I'm filled with a subtle sense of joy from within. I am more focused, and I even feel more open to giving and receiving love with those around me, including my dogs!
The Power of Pause (or paws!)
But you don't have to sit for 20 minutes of meditation to handle distractions. Simply taking a few mindful breaths will help you establish a pause in the moment, so you can choose how you want to respond to the situation.
Here's a quicky technique to keep you steady during distractions:
Stand or sit tall - bones stacked - feet planted - alert and relaxed
Eyes closed or open with a soft gaze at something in front of you
Feel your feet connected and supported by the earth
Feel your ankles, shines/calves, knees, thighs supporting you
Notice your breath in and out - cool air in, warm air out
Now that you're present - respond with care and compassion
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
Consistent mindfulness practices help you become more self-aware, so you can identify the triggers that fire you up and then manage them. Teenagers need help with this more than anyone. Their executive functioning brain, the frontal lobe, isn't fully developed until they're 25. They rely heavily on their emotional brain, the amygdala, which causes them to respond with their emotions such as overreacting or taking unnecessary and sometimes dangerous risks.
But we can help them enhance their brain function through mindfulness. Traditional talk therapy can help all of us understand our feelings, why we behave a certain way, what our triggers are and the origin of our feelings. But once we walk out of the therapists office, what then? What happens when we're alone or faced with distractions and everyday challenges?
Mindfulness is a proven technique that school counselors and therapists can add to their toolkit that their clients can turn to when no-one else is around. Dr. Zindel Segal, one of the co-founders of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, explains perfectly in this TEDx talk the benefits of mindfulness for people with depression and their research supporting it.
Mindfulness Develops a More Stable Mind
For those of us not in counseling or clinically depressed, a consistent mindfulness practice can serve the same purpose, whether or not we're depressed. Mindfulness develops a more stable state of mind, so we can face challenges and distractions.
That doesn't mean that you won't ever panic again or lash out at someone you love. But, through a daily practice of mindfulness, you will learn to recognize when your thoughts and feelings are spinning out of control and take action to manage your behavior before you or someone else gets hurt.
Distractions are inevitable. Once you accept that fact, be present with it, embrace it and allow mindfulness to create the space for you to respond thoughtfully with compassion and loving heart.
Jump start your mindfulness practice with our free download of
"6 Ways to Integrate Mindfulness into Your Day."
Take a deeper dive into mindfulness and learn tools and techniques to support you in your work with youth at our Mindfulness in Motion for Teens Training. Click HERE for upcoming dates or email us to bring a training near you!
Phyllis Smith is the Co-founder and CEO of Live Free Yoga, which offers Yoga and mindfulness programs for adolescents and those who serve them. She is both a 200-hr YT and RCYT (Registered Children's Yoga Teacher), and has served hundreds of students, educators and other adult leaders in the Dallas area. Phyllis is married to her husband, Don, for 28 years. They have two young adult children, Deanna, 26, and Collin, 25. Oh, and there's those two other little rescue rascals, Gracie and Yogi, who are each 5 years old.