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Inspired living

The difference between mindfulness and meditation — insights from yoga teacher John Ogilvie


Byron Yoga Centre

Being magazine chats with John Ogilvie, the owner and founder of Byron Yoga Centre, about embodying mindfulness on and off the yoga mat.

 What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

I would say that they are both yoga. They are both methods for helping to quiet the chatter in our minds, for bringing unity and equanimity. Meditation is a more formal practice that requires you to withdraw from the world around you and detach from the activity of the mind. Essentially I see meditation as an internal exploration in, and into, stillness. Mindfulness is being fully present, without judgment, in the current moment. Practising mindfulness means you are fully aware of in what is happening in that moment: thoughts and emotions, the external vista or activity you are participating in. I see meditation (and yoga asana) as a practice, or a drill, for mindfulness. A bit like a pianist would perform scales to improve their playing, a yogi would sit in meditation to more easily be able to be mindful in all the other moments of the day. While they do differ they also cross over. You can practice mindful meditation!
I think what is interesting is that the concepts of both meditation and mindfulness are often misunderstood; the words are misused. When people say they meditate, mainly what they mean is that they practise concentration. Meditation (dhyana) and concentration (dharana) are both aspects of the eight limbs of yoga that Patanjali describes in the Yoga Sutras. He goes on to describe meditation as the state of pure consciousness. When you sit down to meditate, you employ a specific technique that focuses the mind on a single point of concentration, such as your breath, a mantra or an object. I don’t believe most people can just meditate on a whim, but you can practise concentration and that will at some point (we hope!) morph into meditation. Mindfulness comes from Buddhist traditions. It is being totally aware in the current moment, present with what is, without judgment. Often when people say they are being mindful, they mean they are concentrating (sound familiar?!). We can work mindfully, communicate mindfully, eat mindfully, walk mindfully and even shop mindfully. But even if you are fully focused on the activity at hand, the non-judgment aspect often gets forgotten. As you attempt to practise mindfulness by being consciously aware of your thoughts and emotions, it’s natural to evaluate them as good or bad, welcome or unwelcome. If you are focusing mindfully on the world around you or on an activity you are engaged in, it’s hard to resist judging the experience as pleasant or unpleasant. With interactions and communication, it’s even harder to be present and without judgment of other people! Being in the moment is just the first step of being mindful.  Letting go of judgment is the key.

As Jack Kornfield said, “As we encounter new experiences with a mindful and wise attention, we discover that one of three things will happen to our new experience: it will go away, it will stay the same, or it will get more intense. Whatever happens, does not really matter.”

 What does mindfulness mean to you?

To me mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. It’s being focused on one thing in each moment. I wear many hats each day and I try and take off each one before I put on the next. I start my day with my own asana (yoga postures), meditation and pranayama (breath work) practice. This sets me up for the day. I have breakfast with my wife Tabata and our two children (four- and one-year-olds so it’s not a quiet time of the day!). Although it’s hectic, I try and relish these times, as I know how fast kids grow up. During my workday at Byron Yoga Centre, I can be meeting with staff, dealing with emails, teaching philosophy to our retreat guests or taking a session with our yoga teacher trainees; it’s important I’m in the right mind frame for the appropriate task at any given moment. To me mindfulness is compartmentalising so I can be fully present with wherever I am and completely with whoever I am with. Being totally focused in each moment allows me to
let go of any stress from one area of my life and to enjoy every interaction or task afresh.

 What trainings and retreats do you offer at Byron Yoga Centre and how do you teach mindfulness on them?

We offer eight-, five- and three-day retreats and our guests can enjoy up to three yoga classes each day with at least one of these classes being restorative or yin yoga. We encourage retreat guests to eat, walk and communicate mindfully. At mealtimes they are asked to be aware of each mouthful and every flavour and texture. Our menu of deliciously fresh, seasonal vegetarian meals makes it easy to weave mindfulness into the process as our guests relish each mouthful! We offer many training courses, including the popular 200 hours, the Level 2 300 Hour as residential intensives at Byron Yoga Retreat Centre and as part-time courses in Sydney and Melbourne. Plus, we also run 12-month and three-year non-residential training for which international participants can apply for a student visa for Australia. Our training all include aspects of mindfulness training through sana, meditation and pranayama. We also run a variety of speciality yoga teacher training courses such as Yin, Restorative, Practical Anatomy and Meditation. The Meditation training is a wonderful opportunity to delve into a variety of meditation techniques and explore your own concepts of mindfulness.

 How can you embrace mindfulness in your yoga and meditation practice?

Yoga and meditation offer the opportunity to focus on being aware of the physical sensations in your body; the quality of your breath, the movements of the mind and the ebb and flow of emotions. In yoga you can use the poses to anchor you into your body. You can observe how you perform each pose and let go of any attachment to being able to do it “better”. You observe the patterns of the mind and how thoughts prompt emotions. You can start to let go of the thoughts that don’t serve you, the judgments and the inner critic, and simply accept each moment as it is. In meditation, you can embrace mindfulness by simply being aware as thoughts and emotions arise and practise bringing the awareness back to the point of concentration, without frustration or judgment.

 What’s the most important lesson on mindfulness you’ve learned?

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
For more information about Byron Yoga Centre, visit byronyoga.com.