Mindful Yoga

A student recently described meditation practice to me as, “just one yoga pose held for a really long time.” Turning it around, another way to look at this is that all yoga poses and movement, as well as stillness, can be meditative or mindful.

Mindfulness offers an approach to waking up to experience, with kindness toward whatever is happening now. While teaching yoga asana, I sometimes hear the question from students: Am I doing this right? And I may ask them, directing them inward in response: How does it feel? Once we’ve found alignment in a pose that’s safe and appropriate for the body, any asana offers a universe of sensation, varied actions, and focal points. A pose out of alignment gives a lot of room for exploration, as well!

We direct attention in the practice, and the practice feeds our capacity for attention. Yoga is a method for learning to be deeply attentive to our embodied experience in the present moment.

Curiosity. Presence. Attention. These are qualities of mindfulness that are embedded in yoga. They can be found within the myriad forms and styles of yoga asana that cultivate strength, balance, and flexibility — in body and mind. How can we pay attention to the body and breath? What happens when we do, or when we don’t? How does body awareness deepen our practice of asana? In what ways does movement practice support formal meditation? And what, when it comes right down to it, does this have to do with how we approach everyday life?

I first heard Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, at Bernal Yoga many years ago, shortly after the studio opened. In some ways, this poem, and especially the lines, “This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival…. Welcome and entertain them all,” still captures the essence of mindfulness and yoga practice for me. With awareness, we gain resiliency and the capacity to meet internal and external life events with responsiveness and equanimity.

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