And now I am writing to you about Mindful Yoga. What in the heck is Mindful Yoga, and are all these styles really that different? Are they even still yoga? As with many questions, the short answer is both yes and no. It’s true, the practice of yoga has evolved significantly here in the West and continues to do so, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to say that what we are currently seeing can still be referred to as yoga in the traditional sense. The same can be said for the practice of Mindfulness. Like Yoga, Mindfulness has gained much popularity in the West over the last decade or so since entering the mainstream. In addition to Mindfulness Meditation, we can now also find Mindful Eating, Mindful Movement, Mindful Conversation, Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programs, Mindfulness Based Therapy, Mindfulness Based Recovery Programs, and yes Mindful Yoga. It seems that Mindfulness, too, has evolved significantly since its traditional roots in Buddhist Spiritual Practice.
Photo by Simon Johnston
So now this brings us to Mindful Yoga. Not quite traditional Mindfulness, and not quite traditional Yoga but taking inspiration and wisdom from both traditions to combine them into something new. I first arrived at the practice of Yoga and Mindfulness around the same time almost ten years ago. I started with Hot Yoga, but then was drawn more towards slower paced Hatha and Vinyasa styles. With Mindfulness practice, I found it very challenging to practice sitting Mindfulness Meditation but enjoyed other forms of Mindfulness practices such as Mindful Walking. Before long I began doing my Mindfulness Practice during yoga classes, purposefully choosing to attend classes that were slower paced (as opposed to the fast workout-style yoga classes meant to make you sweat) which provided a perfect environment for me to become present and tune into my body and my breath. Once I completed my Yoga Teacher Training and began teaching classes of my own, this is the style I found myself gravitating to. Not knowing what else to call it, I called it Mindful Yoga. Figuring I was probably not the only one drawn to this type of practice, I wanted to appeal to other folks out there who might have been sifting through all of those options trying to find the right fit for them.
After all these years of teaching, I continue to be drawn to this way of practicing both Yoga and Mindfulness. What happens during a Mindful Yoga session? The movements are slow and deliberate, with as much emphasis on the transitions between poses as the poses themselves. There are plenty of opportunities to pause and reconnect with the breath and the body, especially after a more challenging pose or sequence when the mind might start to take over: “I can’t do this,” “I am so out of shape,” “I was able to do this last week, why can’t I do it now?”, “I wish I could do it as well as that girl there,” “Come on, get it together! You can do this!” We pause, notice our thoughts: “Thank you, mind.” We become aware of the breath again. It’s still there. We follow it for a moment. We push our feet into the earth, feeling grounded. We allow our thoughts to fade into the background as we bring our full attention back into our physical body. We feel the air on our skin, allowing sounds to wash over us like waves. We take extra time to stay in poses in order to really feel what it is like to put our bodies into different configurations, noticing sensations and the corresponding feelings that might arise. Sharp sensations, warm sensations, sudden emotions unfurling, soft and tender feelings emerging.
Zlata is a Psychotherapist and Yoga Teacher practicing in Toronto. She focuses on weaving Mindfulness into her work with both her Psychotherapy and Yoga clients.
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