For me, yoga asanas and mindfulness not only go well together but compliment each other perfectly. Once we have a basic grip of the postures and don’t have to think so much about how to get in and out of them we can start to explore, explore ourselves, our bodies, our minds, and the four foundations of mindfulness are the perfect way to do this.
The Buddha taught the four foundations of mindfulness, mindfulness of body, mindfulness of feeling, mindfulness of mind and mindfulness of mental objects. And we can use these as we flow through our practice and particularly when we are holding our asanas.
With gentle curiosity we can start to fully inhabit our body by connecting with our breath. In yoga we talk about the breath being the link between the body and mind and this isn’t some out there, hard to understand, mystical idea. We can see easily that the breath creates physical movement in the body and when we bring the mind to it, we are present within our body. We can then bring our awareness to the posture we are in – How does this feel? What’s actually happening in my body here? What sensations are arising?
And from this body position and the arising sensations will come an immediate response of liking or disliking it. Often this is so quick we are totally unaware of the response ever happening, it feels instantaneous.
From the sensations and immediate like or dislike of the posture comes a state of mind, an over-riding emotion, excitement, joy, relaxation, boredom, jealousy, anger or fear. In our everyday lives we would then follow this emotion, believing that I am angry, I am upset, I don’t like this. And from this state of mind come our thoughts to exaggerate and continue the state of mind. The story starts and we are suddenly somewhere else, talking to someone.
Until we cut the thoughts by coming back to our breath, inhale, exhale, how is the breath moving in my body in this posture?
But why bother? Why not just do the postures, and go home and let the physical benefits be enough? Why is it even worth exploring the deeper aspects of the practice?
Quietly, and maybe very slowly, we are bringing awareness to what’s happening. We are finding out about ourselves, our habits, our states of mind, our thoughts in those states of mind. On the mat, in the shared privacy of a yoga class, we give ourselves a safe space to be with ourselves and bring awareness to our lives, our bodies and our minds. With awareness of what is actually happening we begin, slowly, to get less caught up in the story, to see the story for what it is and we then have more choice in our lives. Choice which can only come from living mindfully.
We can see more clearly on the mat what is happening and off the mat we can start to integrate the practice, when I’m washing the dishes how do I stand? How do I breathe? Am I even conscious of washing the dishes or so caught up in my thoughts that I am not present with my physical sensations?
For me yoga is not to enable me to stretch further, be more flexible or slimmer, but to go deeper. Deeper into each posture, to really see these thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations for what they are. It sounds so simple, and because it’s not, it makes it all the more worthwhile.
If sitting meditating isn’t your thing but you’d love to know more about mindfulness maybe yoga can be your way into this powerful practice of letting go and living peacefully.