Bringing mindfulness to the mat is the essence of what yoga is all about. The word ‘yoga’ itself comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’, which means to yoke or join, uniting the body and the mind. And that’s what mindfulness is all about; which is why marrying the two will bring greater joy and satisfaction to your daily practice. Practicing mindfulness means you’ll be dedicating more time towards creating a union of body and mind, and you’ll notice the difference in your yoga practice as you feel more present, in control, and aware.
Luckily for those who like to stop and take a breath, mindfulness philosophy is making waves all over the world, and it’s easy to see why. With our busy, hectic modern day schedules it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important and what grounds us. Mindfulness reminds us that we cannot change the past, nor should we turn to the future, or else we might miss what is happening in the present moment. Mindfulness can help us to forgo those repetitive, anxious thought cycles that are so often swarming in our mind, helping us to centre ourselves in the present. It’s all about living in the here and now.
Here are five easy ways you can start incorporating mindfulness into your yoga practice. If you’re not already living mindfully, try some of these tips and see how they strengthen your yoga practice and overall sense of wellbeing.
You might have already attended a yoga class where the teacher has encouraged setting an intention prior to beginning. This could be a simple phrase relating to your physical body, such as “let my spine be long”, or something relating to creating a sense of calm or stress relief, such as “I am feeling relaxed and rejuvenated”. Whatever your intention might be, repeat it every moment throughout your practice. The repetition will bring your focus back to your practice, helping you avoid a wandering mind while simultaneously working to remind yourself of your purpose.
It might sound a bit weird, but take a moment out of your practice and your day to register how you feel. No matter whether you’re halfway through downward dog or you’re wrapped in child’s pose, bring your awareness to the space around you and how your body is feeling at the present moment. Yoga itself is already a mindful practice, and so consciously practicing mindfulness can have powerful responses.
Practice this ‘reality check’ exercise even when you’re not doing yoga for a more balanced, present day as a whole. Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, advocates resting in awareness and observing how your mind, body, and spirit feel in that moment. “Drop in on yourself and rest for a stretch of time”, he says, “and then as you go about your daily life, check in. Once an hour, once a minute. Once a day. You decide.”
There’s no denying it; you would’ve heard this instruction time and time again in a yoga class. But sometimes it can be harder to implement correct breathing when practicing at home. Take a moment with each new posture to really focus on your breath. Feel the air as it in enters your body through the nostrils, and feel as it moves from your throat and down into your lungs. Feel whether it’s making your ribs or chest expand, and whether it makes it all the way down to the pit of your stomach. Observe the pause between the exhale and the following inhale, and how it relates to the position your body is currently in.
Focusing on the quality of your breath is another great way to anchor yourself in the present, stopping you from getting carried away by an overly busy mind. If you find your mind wandering, just acknowledge that it happened and re-focus your attention back to your yoga and breathing. Other than being mindful of your breathing during the yoga practice, it’s also advised to practice full yogic breath for 5-15 minutes every day on its own.
Just like how focusing on your breath can anchor you to a more mindful experience of yoga, the same can be done by turning your attention to the sensations of your body. In our day to day lives our mind is what anchors us, it’s where the majority of our attention is directed. Shifting that attention towards the sensations experienced by the body can be a fantastic way of achieving mindfulness, both in and out of yoga!
If you’re in a particularly tricky asana you have trouble with, it can be tempting to think of anything but how your body is feeling at the present moment. However, really concentrating on the sensations and where you might be feeling pain can help your yoga poses to evolve, while also encouraging mindfulness. It’s a good idea when doing this to alternate your focus between the point in your body feeling the most extreme sensations and how the pose is making your body feel as a whole.
There’s no better way to incorporate mindfulness into your yoga practice than with some good old meditation. There are so many different ways to practice meditation, so if you find that focusing on the breath simply isn’t enough to stop your monkey mind from bouncing around, there are always other methods and techniques to try out. Perhaps you can practice mantra meditation, which involves repeating a mantra or statement to yourself either out loud or silently. “Om mani padme hum” is one of our favourite mantras at Yovada.
Try sitting up with your back straight on a meditation pillow or cushion, taking a few deep breaths, and then beginning to chant the mantra in your mind. You can also listen to mantras online which are woven with beautifully with music to induce a relaxing, peaceful state of mind. There’s something about the repetition of mantras that brings great ease to the mind, as well as clarity and calm. Take this time out and enjoy it, without thinking of what you have to do afterwards or what you should have done before.
When you’re finished with your practice lie back in savasana and quickly scan your body once more. Finish with some pranayama or yoga nidra, and then carry that feeling of being present with you for the rest of the day. Try to check in on yourself every time you enter a new room or begin a new activity.
Being mindful of the present moment is a wonderful feeling that will really unclutter your mind, recharge your energy, and bring greater awareness to your surroundings. Remember, the only real living moment we have is the present, so anchoring your mind is the present is truly a powerful way to live – it’s the perfect experience of the transient nature of existence.
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