So, how does this apply to yoga?
In the mindful hatha yoga classes, we start with centring: bringing your awareness into your body, part by part, focusing the mind and our awareness on the body. This means that the mind can stop chattering (i.e. we can stop thinking about what we need to do next, or stop replaying a conversation that had just happened). We use the breath to focus the attention. You can do it now, in this instant. Stop and turn your attention inside. Take a few minutes to slowly scan your body, from your head, down through the shoulders and chest, through the hips and legs and down to the feet. Notice any areas of tightness or tension. Notice your breathing, is it shallow or deep, regular or sometimes fast, sometimes slow? Then direct the breath to an area where you observed tension. As you exhale, consciously release the muscles in that area. Let go. Then go to the next area of tension, breathe in, breathe out and let go. And so on.
This is what we do in the yoga class. It means that you tune into your body as you move through and hold each asana (pose). You move consciously, with attention. There is no need to strain or force. By listening to the body you can learn when you can move deeper into an asana, and when to halt, or come out. At the same time, we practice acceptance – non-judgment. By paying attention, you can start to notice when you compare your shoulder stand of today, with yesterdays and you start to become aware of any critical voice (that’s the voice that says ‘you did better yesterday’, or ‘look at her, she has her body straight up, I must do that’ and so on). Practicing yoga mindfully, you start to observe that critical voice, and then you can allow it to drop away. We learn that every day is different, every day we are different, and that this is okay.
This focused time can reap benefits outside of the yoga room. As you learn to listen to your body, you learn more about yourself, becoming more in tune with yourself. You start to recognise your feelings and then you can use these feelings as indicators of where things in your life are working for you or where things need changing.
So, next time you roll out your yoga mat, turn your attention inside. If you are in a class, ignore what the person next to you is doing (or not doing!). Focus on your body, your alignment, your feelings, how your muscles feel and consciously relax, rather on achieving that ‘perfect pose’. And maybe smile at yourself as you practice!
What do you think are your greatest challenges when practicing yoga? Post your comments below!