Life is a magnificent journey and you never know where it will take you.
Back in 2014, I spent the whole year “living yoga”. I had dedicated the year to diving deeper into yoga and all its various facets, researching and reading, learning and practicing, going to different studios, workshops and retreats. I was in the process of transforming my life and searching for more joy, balance and fulfillment. And my investigation of yoga lead me to practices and places I’d never been before.
As I explored yoga, I was inspired to take a yoga teacher training course to further deepen my personal practice. But finding a yoga teacher training is a really hard thing to do! There is an overwhelming number of options. To me, it seemed like every yoga studio in the world wanted to offer a teacher training program, there is no control over the quality of the teachings, and many didn’t feel credible or reliable.
I spent months researching and considering and questioning and hesitating. Then one day when I was on a yoga retreat with teachers I really respected, I asked for a recommendation.
And just a few weeks later, as if following a trail of breadcrumbs, and after making a very quick decision, I found myself in the countryside somewhere north of Valencia in Spain.
I had arrived for the Bodhi Yoga mindfulness yoga teacher training program lead by two ordained Buddhists. I remember feeling excited, uplifted, and, strangely, with no apprehensions or worries about what would happen or who I would meet. It somehow felt like the right thing to be doing, right at that moment.
Of all the yoga teacher training options available in the world, I had ended up choosing mindfulness yoga!
Without the ability to put words to it, I instinctively knew that “awareness” was something I was lacking in my life. I used to be busy busy busy, I spent a lot of time lost in my head, thinking and planning and rehearsing and problem-solving. So much that one day I had a wake-up moment and realized that I hardly noticed my life flying by. I knew somehow that I needed to find a way out of my head and an anchor to ground me into the present moment. What I didn’t know until that teacher training is that mindfulness was the way.
We were seven students, seven women, perhaps seven is a magic number for harmony, generosity, compassion, support, sensitivity. In a magnificent mountain retreat perched above a valley, safely protected by hills and cliffs, we practiced facing stunning views, the statue of Buddha watched over us everyday, the symbol of our growth and transformation, and of the possibilities ahead.
Everyday we strengthened our bodies and explored our asana practice from a very different perspective. We learned how to bring awareness to our bodies, our breath and our emotions. We learned how to explore and investigate each pose through the lens of our awareness, and to experience them from the inside out. We learned to bring mindfulness to our yoga practice, and to our selves and to the every-minute experience of our lives.
After a few intense weeks, we all came away with an authentic and solid learning experience, many magical moments, and an invaluable practice for life.
And I’ve been practicing mindfulness ever since.
I believe that these practices, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, have helped me to find those elusive things I was looking for…unconditional joy, unleashed creativity, a greater sense of purpose and fulfilment, a balanced lifestyle, and the ability to face all of life’s challenges with grace and serenity.
You may ask yourself…WHAT EXACTLY IS MINDFULNESS YOGA?
First we need to understand mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention to all of our experiences (inward and outward), in the present moment, with kindness, curiosity, and without judgement. This involves acceptance, meaning we pay attention to our body sensations, thoughts, feelings and experiences without believing they are right or wrong, good or bad. They just ARE.
Mindfulness is a very powerful tool. Tuning into the present moment with keen observation, in daily life and through yoga and meditation, can help us to develop better awareness of what is happening in our minds (self-awareness), a better understanding of the world around us and of our own sensations, perceptions, thought patterns and reactions. By seeing things differently in this way and by appreciating life moment by moment, we can transform the way we think, feel and act, we have tools to deal with challenges in a serene and positive way, we can find you more joy, creativity and a much deeper sense of self-confidence.
Yoga, being grounded in the body, is a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. The poses offer a chance to develop an awareness of our mind, breath, and body. This awareness allows us to explore each pose gently and in-depth, as though we are experiencing them from the inside out.
And then we can go beyond the physical awareness and notice the sensations and the emotions that arise from them in the mind.
It’s important to understand that mindfulness yoga is an approach and not a specific style of yoga. This means that you can apply mindfulness to any style of yoga.With a little guidance.
“Mindfulness yoga” on a more fundamental level is about three things: mindfulness + meditation + compassion. These aspects lead to an investigation (dharma vichaya) of the body and mind through the postures and their variations, and in the quiet pauses between them. It’s an attitude rather than a technique. Approaching a pose this way allows you to experience it from the inside out.
4 WAYS TO TRANSFORM ANY YOGA PRACTICE INTO MINDFULNESS YOGA
1. Investigate your pose - As you move through each pose, focus on being aware of the specific sensations that you experience in the pose (asana). Practice being aware of your body and breath. Really notice the details of your experience. To do that you need to stay present in your body, not lost in your thoughts Here are some of the ways you can apply awareness to your practice and investigate each pose:
REMINDER: just notice and acknowledge what is happening in the moment of the experience, physically and emotionally, and without judging.
2. Explore your mind with meditation - In quieter moments between each pose and during relaxation practices (such as savasana or longer-held yin style poses), meditation helps you to calm your mind and bring awareness to your emotional landscape, to your thoughts and emotions. As with body awareness, we just notice, acknowledge and stay with whatever comes up in our minds without judging.
And I invite you to end your yoga practice with a few minutes of formal seated meditation. You could try an breath observation practice (anapanasati), an easy "so hum" mantra meditation or a sound awareness meditation.
3. Use your breath as your anchor - As you investigate your body through awareness of the poses and investigate your mind through meditation, it’s really easy for your mind to wander, for thoughts to intrude on your practice. To truly practice mindfulness, in yoga and in life, it’s important to stay present and grounded in the present experience.
A very helpful tip is to use your breath as an anchor. The breath is at the heart of both yoga and meditation and so makes an ideal anchor, easy to use, always present, constant, steady. If your mind drifts or wanders, as it invariably will, just remember your anchor and gently guide your attention back to your breath, and come back to the present.
4. Be kind and compassionate with yourself - This means bringing a sense of gentleness, caring and patience to your practice, being kind to yourself as you practice. It means letting go of any attachment to “results”.
And it means staying aware and responsive and loving to ensure that you practice safely. Always listen to your body and respect its limits. Everything is changing in every moment; what might feel good one day may not feel good another day, so just accept that and always do what feels right for your body. A little muscular discomfort during the practice is a good thing, a sign of effort. However, if at any time during your practice you notice pain, adjust your pose or come out of it. There are enough poses and enough variations of poses that you can always find something you can do, no matter your level or how you feel on any given day.
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