Sitting still in a world full of stimuli


Sitting still – who among us can still do that very well? So we often seek out the active forms of movement, flow classes, power yoga. I used to really be unable to sit still. If I was in a class where we had to close our eyes for a while, I would still sneak a peek at the people around me – were they all participating and was I doing it right then? I was impatient and I wanted to move on to the next part of the lesson. Looking back at myself ten, fifteen years ago, I am now convinced that I should have learned to find silence better.

Often when I tell people I am a Yin Yoga teacher, the response I get is, “Oh yeah, that doesn’t work for me, sitting in those poses for so long and all that.” If you’ve never heard of Yin Yoga, this immediately puts you off – it sounds like you have to perform impossible things. You might think it is physically demanding to stay in a pose for 3-5 minutes. But in most cases, that is not the reason behind this statement at all. Yin is a gentle and relaxed form of yoga. Most people don’t struggle with the poses, but struggle with sitting still.

Non-stop stimuli

We get stimuli all day long. Think about how many things you do simultaneously in a day. Consulting, checking your phone, sending e-mails and making phone calls in the process. We have trouble focusing on one action at a time anyway. Your whole system is focused on receiving stimuli, and when those are lost, you start making them. Does your whole nervous system go to work creating those stimuli. That’s why so many people are challenged by “being in the moment”: It’s hard because we’ve forgotten it. The moment you come in a yin yoga class, you are challenged. Not by a physically active or fast-paced yoga style, but by your own mind. Because when your body becomes still, your head starts working overtime.

Our whole system is addicted to stimuli and when they go away, we just start making them ourselves.

You start thinking about all sorts of things. Every little thing that comes along, you pick up. You’re bummed about what didn’t go well that day, you plan dinner for the next three days, you realise you forgot to answer that one e-mail. Therefore, you mostly listen to that endless stream of thoughts instead of your body or the teacher. So the true challenge is not in sitting in a Butterfly Pose for five minutes. The true challenge is in your mind. In quieting your own Monkey Mind that jumps from hot to cold.

Choose an anchor point

My tip to participants in classes is always: Choose an anchor point. Something you can focus on. Your mind is going to wander at some point anyway, but you then have a tool to bring yourself back. Maybe focus on the physical sensation. Or on the rhythm of your breathing. Maybe you will focus on the music. Anything goes, as long as it works for you.

This may be incredibly difficult the first few times, but you will see that you can teach yourself to find the focus, to get your mind under control. And it won’t work equally well in every lesson either, you are still human, and every day is different.

But after a while, you will see it. That it becomes completely quiet inside yourself for a while. And that afterwards you will suddenly start to see all the answers very clearly.

Malka is a yoga teacher in and around Amsterdam. She teaches yin, yin yang and vinyasa flow classes and organises Mini Retreats in special places. All of Malka’s yoga classes are based on the principle of functional yoga with the idea that everyone is different and we use posture to experience the body. The next Mini retreat will take place on 30 May: Summer Butterflies – with yin yang yoga XL, meditation, picnic and a mini urban gardening workshop. Meld je aan via