Quite often I am asked “What exactly is Mindful Yoga and how does it differ to any other yoga class?” A great question and I am always very happy to share my thoughts and ideas on what Mindful Yoga means to me.
There are many ways of practicing yoga and many ways to start practicing yoga. More often than not people are attracted to the physical aspects and the benefits that practicing postures bring to the body in terms of improved flexibility, strength and joint mobility. However if we go back in time to the ancient Indian scriptures from which the practice of yoga evolved then we find very little reference to postures and we learn that there is a great deal of depth and richness to the teachings that extend far beyond just the body. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali emphasises all aspects of human life, including our relationship with others, our behaviour, our health, our breathing and our meditation path
These ancient teachings and texts introduce us to ways of seeing and looking inside ourselves and to do this we must learn to pay attention. The practice of yoga encourages us to pay attention to the activity in which we are currently engaged. Through our yoga practice we seek “to create a state in which we are always present – really present – in every action, in every moment.” TKV Desikachar
So at its essence, the practice of yoga is about being awake to this life in all its fullness – sounds familiar hey? In fact that is exactly how Jon Kabat-Zinn describes the practice of mindfulness. Whatever label is given to Yoga, it is always a mindful practice and for this reason is an integral part of an 8 week mindfulness course as another way in which we can cultivate awareness.
In the Satipatthana Sutta (an ancient Buddhist text) we learn that the first foundation of mindfulness is the cultivation of awareness of the body and the breath and what better way to do this than through the practice of yoga asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing practices). These practices, which can themselves be considered a moving meditation, prepare us for other meditation practices by helping the mind to settle and the body to be still and comfortable.
“Yoga is a living process that changes moment by moment”
In Mindful Yoga we use the postures and the breath to help us look more deeply inside with a sense of friendly curiosity to what’s here right now and we learn not only more about the physical form with all its perfect imperfections but also the workings of the mind. We begin to notice the self-judgement and the thoughts of wishing things were different from how they are in this moment. We feel frustration when our bodies won’t move in the way they used to do or we would like them to do or how someone else’s body is moving on the mat next to us! We notice the ego triumphant in the fact that we can bring our head nearer our shins than anyone else! And in time we learn to hold all of this in awareness and let the practice of yoga and our life unfold in a more gentle and compassionate way.
Yoga may have its roots in Indian thought but its content and application is universal, just as the ancient teachings of mindfulness are, and the two are inextricably linked.
Together mindfulness and yoga help us cultivate a greater awareness of our breath, body, thoughts and emotions so that we can gain more self-understanding and find new, more helpful ways of responding to challenges in our daily lives. They encourage us to reflect more, connect to ourselves and open our hearts. This doesn’t stop life from happening, but gives us an essential steadiness – a place of peace, clarity and understanding from which we can engage and respond and not react out of habit and our conditioning. We can then meet challenges of our modern daily life with greater ease and equanimity.
Living mindfully creates the opportunity to live with compassion and to be grateful for our lives whatever is occurring. With practice, mindfulness and yoga become a way of life, a way of being that frees us to be joyful, spontaneous, energised and engaged and to be as healthy and well as we are able.
Whether you are new to the practice of mindfulness or yoga, or have an established practice of either or both, Mindful Yoga provides another opportunity to wake up to this amazing life in all its fullness. I really do hope you will join me as this adventure of a lifetime continues to unfold……
“The mastery of yoga must not be measured simply by the ability to master the techniques of yoga like asana and pranayama, but how it influences our day to day living, how it enhances our relationships and how it promotes clarity and peace of mind.”
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