There’s a lot of information out there about the benefits of mindfulness and Yoga, but what happens when you combine the two?
Mindful Yoga, a relatively new style of Yoga, incorporates ancient Buddhist mindfulness teachings into the physical practice of Yoga, providing even deeper insights into the mind and a transformative approach to your practice. Continue reading to discover the benefits of mindful Yoga, as well as specific mindful yoga poses and mindful yoga retreats that can help you create greater awareness, mindfulness, and a higher quality of life.
You already know that exercise is essential for living a healthy lifestyle. But you’re also aware that it has the potential to exacerbate the situation. It’s like biking 60 kilometers without any preparation and then becoming bedridden for the following week.
When doing mindful Yoga or mindful fitness, you must pay attention and be present while moving. It entails paying attention to your body (and learning to recognize your body’s communication signals) to determine when you should rest and when you should push yourself to achieve more.
But how can you cultivate this mysterious ‘body sense’ that some people appear to have down pat while you seem to overdo it virtually every time? The answer, in our opinion, is awareness. When you exercise with mindfulness, you’ll be able to listen to your body and, with experience, become more in tune with what your body wants.
A Quick Look at Yoga and Mindfulness
By combining mindfulness and Yoga practices, a new and more intensive style of “Mindful Yoga” has emerged. Mindful Yoga is a holistic way to link your attention to your breath that incorporates traditional Buddhist mindfulness teachings into the physical practice of Yoga. Let’s start with a quick summary of mindfulness and Yoga on their own before moving on.
What Is Mindful Yoga, and How Does it Work?
Yoga’s physical practice has always included a mindfulness component.
The fundamental distinction between Mindful Yoga and the many other Yoga practices is that Mindful Yoga focuses on mind-body awareness rather than alignment details and precise physical posture. The goal is to cultivate mindfulness while using asana as a vehicle to accomplish so. Adding conscious awareness to any physical activity generates a sharp concentration on whatever you’re doing at the time, thus turning the movement into a type of meditation. As a result, mindful Yoga is seen as a type of meditation, and it is frequently performed before a formal meditation session.
The emphasis on observing rather than responding is another feature of this kind of Yoga. Although this should be the case in all Yoga, this practice emphasizes examining your thoughts and feelings as you perform the yoga pose.
Mindful Yoga is an integral part of Professor Jon Kabat-popular Zinn’s eight-week evidence-based program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which helps people cope with stress, anxiety, sadness, and pain. 2005 (Kabat Zinn). Most notably, mindful Yoga incorporates traditional Buddhist mindfulness teachings into the physical practice of Yoga to improve awareness and presence both on and off the yoga mat. This form of Yoga deliberately cultivates self-awareness and compassion through non-judgment, patience, beginners’ mind, trust, non-striving, letting go, and thankfulness; this form of Yoga deliberately cultivates self-awareness and compassion according to the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Boccio, 1993).
Exercise in Yoga With Consciousness
- Close your eyes and put your computer or tablet down.
- Begin to pay attention to your breathing.
- What is your breathing pattern? Slowly? Quickly? Deep? Shallow? Don’t try to adjust your breathing; be aware of it. This is how you should count out five breaths.
- Now, concentrate solely on your toes. What’s the state of your toes? You don’t need to communicate yourself verbally; give your toes your undivided attention.
- Move your attention up your body with each breath. From your feet and legs, up to your hips and body, notice how your belly moves with each breath, all the way to your neck and head.
- Take two more deep breaths before opening your eyes.
How did it make you feel? Is there anything in your body that you haven’t noticed before? Perhaps there was a nagging ache or tightness in your body. Perhaps a muscle felt lovely and tight or friendly and robust. Or perhaps you weren’t aware of many sensations at all! In any case, I hope you felt like you got a chance to check in with your body for a few moments. Now let’s look at how this theory can be used to exercise.
First, it’s essential, to be honest about your present fitness level. If you know you can exercise a reasonable amount without exceeding your limit, you can apply these ideas to any exercise.
Do a 5- to 10-minute meditation, such as the body scan we just did, before you start exercising. Take a few moments to assess your physical condition. Perhaps you recently ran a 5k, yet your body scan reveals that you are exhausted today. Instead of forcing yourself to run again, take a 3-kilometer walk or watch a yoga video.
If you’re feeling particularly energized and confident that you can push yourself a little farther, try a slightly more challenging workout than your previous one. Keep in mind that if you’re feeling sluggish, a more energetic workout can help you wake up, while if you’re feeling more energized, a calmer workout will help you slow down. This insight will, however, come with more excellent mindfulness practice. To begin, trust your instincts when it comes to checking in with your body. If you’re exhausted, take it easy. Regardless of how much you accomplished last week or last year.
The mindful exercise entails applying the ideas of mindfulness discussed in this article and the activity described above to stay focused during your workout.
Yoga Therapy With Intense Mindfulness
Make it a point to focus your attention on your breath and body throughout your mindful yoga session. If your mind wanders during the practice, observe what you’re thinking about and then bring your attention back to your body. While it’s natural for your mind to wander, note how you can choose to return your attention to your mindful yoga practice.
What Is the Best Approach to Take?
A systematic approach to mindful Yoga, with clearly defined and repeated processes, is ideal. Rather than simply “practicing mindfully,” which entails paying attention to your breath and alignment details throughout your practice, Boccio (1993) recommends implementing the Buddha’s teachings on the four pillars of mindfulness to your whole practice.
These thorough instructions may be applied to every pose, and by doing so in a systematic manner, you’ll be able to recognize and change specific tendencies. For example, clutching for the outcome of a position, avoiding some poses entirely, or completely zoning out from your practice are all examples of bad habits (Isaacs, 2008).
Bite-Size Stpes in Mindful Yoga For Beginners
- Schedule yourself some time, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour. Make sure you won’t be distracted and that you’re dedicated to staying present throughout this time.
- Check in with your body and how you’re feeling with a body scan at the start and end.
- Use common sense—even if you feel energized, your muscles require time to develop. Gradually increase the intensity of your workout.
- Don’t be afraid to retrace your steps. You may need to accomplish minor work than you did last week on occasion. But you’re not in the body from last week; you’re in the body from today.
- Know that it’s okay if you go too far one day. Growing your awareness and becoming more in tune with your body takes time. Take each setback as an opportunity to relax and improve your meditation technique:).
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Practice
It becomes a completely integrated mindfulness practice when you apply the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness to your asana practice. You can concentrate your practice on any of the four pillars on any given day, or you can work through them in order.
1. Body Mindfulness
This is the recognition of the body as a whole, a reminder that the body is made up of many parts. Each body element, including the skin, bones, teeth, nails, heart, lungs, and other organs, is a small “body” within the more significant entity we call “the body.”
In this foundation, we train ourselves to watch the body part by part rather than the entire body at once, making mindfulness far more accessible. When we consider the body as a collection of pieces, it becomes easier to see it as a whole instead of “my” body or “me.” It’s just another bodily form like all the others. The body can also be described as “selfless” because it is not “myself.” This foundation teaches us that the body is temporary, susceptible to damage, illness, and death, and hence is not a source of long-term enjoyment. It teaches us to “know the body as it truly is,” as the Buddha put it.
2. Feelings Mindfulness
Feelings mindfulness encompasses both physiological experiences and emotions. Feelings, like the body, can be categorized into categories. The Buddha encourages us to think about “the feeling in the feelings” in this passage. We learn to watch and ultimately realize our feelings, whether good, harmful, or neutral, and that they always vanish.
This foundation teaches one to watch feelings as they arise rather than identify them or pass judgment on them. They are only feelings and do not define who you are. We learn that feelings are unselfish when we see them as emotions or sensations rather than “my” feelings. We know the reality about feelings in this way, according to Buddha. In other words, we “know feelings as they are.”
3. Mental Mindfulness
The term “mindfulness of mind” does not refer to the thinking mind but instead to consciousness or awareness. We talk about the mind as a single item, but it is a collection of “mind in mind” instances. This mindfulness foundation tells us that consciousness emerges from moment to moment, based on information from our senses and internal thought states. The mind cannot exist in and of itself; only particular states of thought can exist based on internal or external circumstances. We obtain insight into who we are, not our thoughts when we pay great attention to how each thought arises and then fade away. We learn to separate our identities from our thoughts and to understand “mind as it truly is.”
4. Dharma Mindfulness
“dharma” is a Sanskrit term that is just as difficult to explain as “yoga.” “Natural law” or “the way things are” are simple descriptions.
“Mindfulness of mental objects” is a term used to describe this basis of mindfulness. We learn from this doctrine that everything around us exists as mental objects, expressions of reality, and they are what they are because we acknowledge them as such. The practice of Dharma mindfulness is to be aware of the inter-existence of all things and the fact that they are impermanent, without self-essence, and conditioned by everything else. O’Brien (2017) and Gunaratana (2017) are credited with the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (2018).
Five Proven Advantages
The benefits of Mindful Yoga are numerous and have been acknowledged by prominent academics at Harvard Medical School and the Depression Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital (Powell, 2018).
The following are some of the most important advantages of practicing mindfulness on the yoga mat.
1. A Deep Sense of Awareness/Self-Discovery
In general, practicing mindfulness leads to broadening your viewpoint and a deeper awareness of who you are (Kabat-Zinn, 2005). We learn to become astutely aware of habitual response patterns through mindful Yoga. Do you, for example, hold your breath while you’re deep in a twist? Do you become upset or furious during difficult positions and want they would end? Because we improve our ability to see—and be with—things, as they are via mindfulness, this type of deep mind-body awareness becomes a tool for transformation outside of the yoga practice. Resistance to what is, playing the victim, and reacting to things rather than responding to them are some of the characteristics that hold us back from reaching our full potential (Dodd, n.d.).
2. Assists in Dealing With the Challenges of Everyday Life/Reduces Reactivity
On the mat, mindful Yoga teaches tolerance and discourages reactivity, leading to more patience and less reactivity. This can be visible in all aspects of one’s life, including jobs, relationships, social interactions, and recreational activities (Moss, 2018).
Because we learn to stop and reflect before reacting, according to our habits, this more significant feeling of patience can make disagreements and confrontations simpler to handle.
We learn to let go and accept situations for what they are in the present via mindful yoga practice. Putting this into practice may be highly beneficial because accepting a perceived negative situation allows us to negate it and move on more readily.
Acceptance has even been shown to aid persons suffering from depression. When you accept your depression, you begin to relinquish control over it and recognize that it is just a collection of thoughts and feelings, not you.
Acceptance practices on the mat prepare you for real-life because you don’t get to choose what happens next. Mindful Yoga teaches you how to roll with punches.
4. An increased Sense of Compassion and Non-Judgment Towards Oneself and Others
Increased compassion, kindness, and understanding are all qualities that we can take off the mat and use in our daily lives by practicing mindful Yoga regularly.
Mindful Yoga strengthens your realization of underlying goodness in yourself and others by increasing your awareness and comprehension of the truth—of body, feelings, mind, and dharma (Isaacs, 2008). A healthy, open heart is also supported by specific “heart-opening” positions throughout the yoga practice (in the emotional sense, not the physical heart). Regular mindful yoga practice helps heal emotional blockages and let go of negative beliefs since the heart chakra is linked to our ability to give and receive love.
5. Extend your yoga practice on a personal level
Another advantage of mindful Yoga is that it can help you develop and personalize your yoga practice. Yoga can become part of a daily routine or simply a form of exercise for some people after years of practice. It is no longer Yoga when the practice becomes something you do through habitual movement rather than conscious contemplation.
By its very nature, mindful Yoga takes you off “autopilot” and allows you to dive deeper into your practice. For people who don’t have much experience with or comprehend meditation techniques, it can also serve as a bridge between the practice of asana and meditation.