Meditation and mindfulness don't have to only happen sitting down. Learn how to incorporate your mindfulness in motion and your entire practice.
In classical yoga, movement and breathing practices are considered mere preludes to seated meditation. But you don't have to sit in Padmasana (Lotus Pose) to cultivate a meditative state of being. When practiced mindfully, asanas themselves can provide many of the same gifts as more formal meditation practices, including mental calm, balance, and clarity. Explored in this way, yoga postures are transformed from mere stretches into meditation in motion.
How can we infuse our daily asana practice with more mindfulness? The following strategies can help you wake up to the present moment while moving through your favorite postures.
Practice the Buddhist idea of bare attention.
This means attuning yourself to the raw sensations coursing through your body during your daily practice. While in a particular posture, take a moment to notice where you feel muscles stretching, where you sense resistance and tightness, and where you feel spaciousness. Notice the warmth or coolness within your joints and organs, and the firmness or softness of your muscles. Break the ingredients of the moment into their simplest elements; without judging the sensations, just witness them.
Use the breath as a resting place for the brain.
In many schools of meditation, students are trained to quiet the mind by continually returning their awareness to the breath. You can use this strategy while practicing yoga, too. Notice when you're inhaling and when you're exhaling. Notice which parts of the body move to the tune of the breath and which do not. Notice whether the breath feels smooth or jagged, hard or soft, enthusiastic or halfhearted. When your thoughts begin to stray beyond your body, gently coax them back to awareness of your breath. Gradually, this practice will teach you to maintain one-pointed attentiveness for longer stretches of time.
Rotate your practice with periods of stillness.
Begin and end your practice with restorative postures that enable you to experience both the benefits and challenges of physical stillness. In the middle of your practice, insert a resting pose between more demanding asanas, and use it as an opportunity to nourish attentiveness. Or try holding a familiar pose for a few moments longer than usual, asking your mind to be a witness to the shifting sensations within. Over time, you'll learn to cultivate an inner oasis of tranquility even in the most demanding asanas.
Ask yourself questions.
Stay curious and engaged by continually challenging yourself to articulate your inner experience. As you explore a particular posture, ask yourself what benefits it offers. How does it change your breathing? How does it alter your mood? Does it calm or energize you? What can it teach you about yourself and the world around you? You may be surprised by the answers that emerge from within as you move through your daily asana practice with mindfulness, attention, and curiosity.
About our author
Claudia Cummins lives, writes, and teaches yoga in Mansfield, Ohio. A selection of her essays can be found at www.claudiacummins.com.