There are all types of reasons people practice yoga. It’s great for the joints, helps us relax, and can even be useful for weight loss. But on principle alone, yoga resembles a mindfulness practice much more than it does a workout.
That can be tough to keep sight of, with yoga being a very lucrative “industry”. These days, new-school yogis might be attracted to fancy inversions they saw on Instagram, before feelings of peace and centeredness.
Those moves are impressive, and there’s no shame in working toward them. However, everyone can get much more out of yoga by acknowledging it as a mindfulness practice. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Take advantage of the gaze.
Instructors often tell students where to direct their gaze in a specific pose, and for good reason. This helps us maintain balance and sharpens our focus. It helps us keep our neck and shoulders in healthy alignment. Staring at one fixed point is also a great opportunity to heighten awareness.
Listen to your body as you would an instructor.
How does your body react to each pose? Is there tension in your right hip during pigeon? Does your knee automatically track outward when bent in a lunge? Rather than trying to look like you have the pose down pat, get mindful about what your body tells you with each asana. You’ll get better results.
Stop setting so many goals.
People enter yoga with expectations. The expectation that they’ll be able to do the splits or have a smaller waist. The expectation that this is the class where they will finally nail crow pose. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with desiring these things. But if we release all expectations and listen to the body instead, we will get all of the great benefits of mindfulness, too.
Do not scrutinize others.
Any body-oriented class can lead to comparison or competition, especially when we’re all wearing spandex. Peeking at the person next to you do not do anything positive for your practice. It can even make us feel bad about ourselves. Remind yourself that what happens on your mat is what truly matters. This makes mindfulness more accessible.
You can even start up a safe home practice to get the experience without any distractions.
Never skip savasana.
It’s okay, you can admit it: you thought about your to-do list during savasana. If you practice at home, you might skip it altogether. This is the number one way we all tend to erase mindfulness from yoga. Again, we must reduce resistance and allow the thoughts to drift in and out. Just like we would during meditation. Stay committed to savasana, and you will be very surprised by the difference those few minutes make.
The importance of the breath will always ensure yoga remains a mindfulness practice. It’s just that it’s too easy for any of us to momentarily forget the larger purpose, and let the ego distract us.
That’s why mindfulness, yoga, and meditation are practices. Every day, we practice letting go and going inward.
How do you stay in tune with yourself (and yourself only) during yoga? Share in the comments below!