Your Mindful Yoga Guide

Amy Bell Yoga Teacher Wellness Wellbeing Lifestyle Blog

“Welcome to the present moment.  Here.  Now.  The only moment there ever is.”

Eckhart Tolle

Whether it’s mindful meditation or asana practice, the challenge is to remain present in a state of ease and to keep bringing yourself back when the mind wanders.  Yet it’s so easy, and common, to zone out and think of other things we need to do that day or wrestle with thoughts of something that is troubling us.

That’s why we have to continually practise, training the mind and body synergistically to keep re-centering.

In this blog post, I wish to draw our attention to the mindful, and meditative aspect of practising yoga.

“There is nothing passive about mindfulness. One might even say that it expresses a specific kind of passion—a passion for discerning what is subjectively real in every moment. It is a mode of cognition that is, above all, undistracted, accepting, and (ultimately) nonconceptual. Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves. Mindfulness is a vivid awareness of whatever is appearing in one’s mind or body—thoughts, sensations, moods—without grasping at the pleasant or recoiling from the unpleasant.”  Sam Harris

I’ve realised the more I practise formal seated mindfulness meditation and integrate this level of awareness into the rest of my day, the more mindful and embodied my yoga asana practice has become.

Ways I’ve noticed this…

  • More focus.
  • Greater awareness of my mind and body… more in-tune, noticing what’s showing up moment by moment.
  • Deeper listening and responding, mind and body.
  • Quicker to catch any wandering thoughts and re-centre myself.
  • An increased sense of feeling my way through the practice – full embodiment.
  • Clearer mind.
  • Safer, more balanced practice.

Essentially, ones muscle of awareness and ability to not be blown off course for too long can be strengthened at any time during any practice.

As with anything, we can gain or learn more from an experience by being fully present with it, as opposed to being distracted and lost in thought. This is easier said than done however, so here is something you may find useful…

How to gain the most out of your yoga practice and make it a more mindful and meditative one.

(As we are still in lock-down, I’m steering this guide towards self-practice or practising online at home. Also, because holding focus at home is often more challenging than in a studio setting.)

  • If in a room with devices, put them on silent. Even better, don’t have them in the room.
  • Set your intention before you begin to be fully present with ease and awareness. This may be the one time in the day which you have to yourself, and the one self-care practice you do, so make the most of it. 
  • Start your practice with some mindful breathing (seated or lying down). You don’t need to breathe in any particular way; simply follow it with your awareness. Preferably eyes closed. Either focus on one specific aspect (air entering/exiting the nostrils) or be open to all the different sensations that occur when you breathe and are quiet enough to feel/hear them. You can even say to your self “breathing in” and “breathing out”.
  • During the physical practice, use your breath as your anchor; it’ll always be there to guide you back to the present moment. (That’s why I ground myself with mindful breathwork at the start of practice). It will also give you feedback on your physical state. If it’s erratic, try to steady it with long exhales, this will bring more balance to your mental state. As you move with mindful breath, notice the physical and mental meditative quality.
  • Your attention is likely to wander, both in the opening meditation and during the asana practice; whatever goes on in the mind, note it. “Planning”, “Remembering”, “Rehashing”, “Listening”, “Day-Dreaming”, “Fantasizing”, “Feeling” and then come back to the breath. (It’s not that you are dismissing them as such, you’re just not giving them energy and are re-focusing on the practice in hand).
  • If you remember a chore or a ‘to-do’ halfway through practice that is not urgent, then hold off from breaking away and stay present with the yoga.
“All things arise when the appropriate conditions are present, and all things pass away as conditions change. Behind the process, there is no “self” who is running the show.”  
Joseph Goldstein
  • If you are interrupted by someone, make your intention to stay calm, deal with the interruption and drop back into the practice with focus and ease. (Remember that ‘integration’ I was talking about earlier.)
  • Slow your practice down, so your body and mind is not overly stimulated and you have time to embody each pose.
  • Regarding the postures, practice three moments of mindfulness; entering into it; holding it; transitioning out of it.
  • In those moments, open up your awareness, notice what you feel physically (“Pressure”, “Tightness”, “Openness”, “Twisting”) or what other thoughts arise (frustration, boredom, despondency, competitiveness)… practice breathing evenly with whatever shows up (in 4 counts, pause, out 4 counts, pause, rpt).
  • In longer postural holds, fine-tune your awareness of the physical sensations, get specific, pressure on the ball of the big toe, tightness in right calf etc)
  • Close your eyes during moments when it is safe to do so; this will really help you turn towards whatever you’re feeling, and again it may help bring you into a more meditative state.
  • However your practice unfolds, if you set the intention to practice mindfully and tried your best, then that is what matters most. Don’t beat yourself up, this is key. 
  • Finish the practice with a generously long Savasana resting in open awareness (or play a Yoga Nidra audio guide – or do both).
  • At the end of your practice, set your intention to integrate all that mindful thought, breath and movement into the rest of your day.
“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

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