In an earlier post this year, we delved into the subject of mindfulness as a means to relieve stress, after all, if we can stop the mind from wandering toward worry or regret we can so much more effectively live in the moment and enjoy what it is offering us. And thankfully society has found a return to mindfulness, from classroom breaks to the boardroom, mindfulness is the subtle art of the observing the present. But how can we take the practice of mindfulness and apply it to our yoga mat?
When you are in a yoga class what is going through your mind? Ideally, and eventually, nothing but your yoga practice should be present. But it takes care and practice to find that equilibrium of thought and action in the moment.
Here are some ways to practice more mindfulness the next time you step on your mat:
- Separate yourself from friends/colleagues. It is certainly fun to run into people you know at your local class and to have our friends join you, but they can also cause a distraction. Allow yourself to go into that sacred space that is your yoga mat.
- Observe the breath. At any time in our practice, we can bring the awareness back to the present when we observe the breath, how it feels in the body, how it may change during your practice. If you practice Kabalabati, Vinyasa yoga, or hot yoga, or poses like shoulder stand or plow, you may find the breath is more shallow. Although this may seem uncomfortable at first, the body slowly begins to adjust and we change the stress response in the body to one of acceptance and relaxation. In this way we are reprogramming our brain to not just deal with the “Stress” of your yoga practice but also situations in the real world.
- Close the eyes. Often times in the early parts of a yoga class, the teacher may instruct you to you’re your sucasana, simple pose, and close the eyes. By closing the eyes, we bring the attention inward. It is the distraction of the senses that can start the mind, and the stories in the mind and distracts you from your practice. Although it may seem a bit daunting to close your eyes during your practice, especially if you are a beginner, it is something you can work toward, even if you take the gaze of mediation, drawing the eyes down the nose.
- Focus on the wandering. Mindfulness takes practice. Understanding the triggers in your practice, and your life that causes your mind to wander can help you both practice new habits and better control the train of thoughts.
- Stay attentive to the movement and sensations of the body, even the most subtle. Instead of worrying about what is for dinner or the work you did not complete, think about the relaxation in your neck, how your palms feel on the mat, are you drawing your heels down to the mat. The body is made up of hundreds of bones and muscles, tissues, and organs. Every time we move into our yoga practice we create change in the body which you can observe before, during and after your practice.
- Let go of expectation. In most yoga classes, the teacher will invite you to set an intention for your practice. Many people mistakenly think this is ego centered intention – do this better, practice that pose, hold a pose for a certain amount of time, or set out to “achieve something”. What we are really trying to do is strive without attachment to an expectation. No expectations of ourselves, our instructor, or our practice. We enter the yoga space to practice mindfulness, doing so with an expectation of accomplishing something can create an opportunity for regret or worry which defeats the intention of mindfulness.
Mindfulness may seem like the buzz word of the century, but it is a harkening back to an era where people were not so distracted by cell phones, 60-hour work weeks, addictions, stress, the digital and physical distractions that make our minds wander every second of every moment if we are not careful.
May your yoga practice teach you to practice mindfulness on your mat, so you then learn to apply it to your life. It may be hard to change your circumstances but mindfulness can help you acquire a new perspective of yourself, of others, and of the world.
Mindfulness is just one of the many aspects of yoga we cover in our yoga teacher training. Click here to get out FREE E-Book, Top 10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Yoga Teacher Training.