These days it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to discuss the idea of mindful yoga practice. In fact, many teachers would argue that yoga asana practice is a mindful practice if you’re doing it correctly.
True, but the mix of Yoga and Mindfulness practices is a relatively recent phenomenon pioneered by teachers such as Cyndi Lee, Sarah Powers and others. Lee’s book Yoga Body, Buddha Mind explores the intertwining of these practices deeply and offers many suggestions for practice.
Frank Jude Boccio gives a clear idea of the difference in emphasis between teaching yoga and teaching mindfulness: ” “While other forms of yoga may teach students to practice asana with mindfulness, I teach and practice mindfulness through the form of asana.”
How Mindful Yoga Works
Yoga coordinates our breath with movement, which I believe is a large part of what makes yoga practice a powerful force. Mindfulness is already a large part of yoga. What I’m talking about when I’m talking about using a yoga pose as a mindfulness exercise is to take a simple, very stable asana pose and to use it as a framework for being grounded in the body, being aware of the sensations and feelings that rise and fall as we hold the pose.
There is no end point in this exercise, really, and no need to deepen the pose or take any action really, beyond observation.
There are a number of videos of flows sequenced by teachers with a mindful practice in mind. Truthfully any yoga you do slowly, even if its purpose is to build strength, can be approached as a mindfulness practice.
Mountain pose is perfect for experimenting with mindful asana. It allows you to think about what is going on in your body without having to worry about balance or twisting, and you can do it anywhere. No one is even going to know that you are having a mindful yoga moment.
Begin with your stance. Stand straight and try shifting your feet different distances apart. Try feet together, touching, and try them at various distances. Feel the way that changing your base changes the muscles that are involved, shifts the bones.
Next, take some time with your toes. Spread them, and try to slowly, individually press them into the mat. Ground yourself for real by pressing the balls of your feet down, then the heel. Feel how each change in the way you engage the various parts of your feet and toes reverberates through your body.
When you find your stance, stand in Mountain with your arms by your sides. Feel your energy coming from your feet, traveling up your legs. Engage your legs, pulling your thighs upward away from the knees. Allow the energy to draw your body upward, engaging your abdomen then moving your chest upward and shoulders down.
I’ve included a great clip from Yoga with Adriene where she talks about supporting your chest with the abdomen and not getting into a tilt where chest is pushed out and the hips are back into a cow tilt rather than tucked into more of a cat tilt.
Even though I’m no yoga teacher I have included a video I made where I talk about noticing the lines of energy running from and through your body. I also talk about bringing the arms into a prayer pose, which brings into play the idea of not just letting the arms be there in prayer but to feel the hands touching, and pressing them gently while keeping the shoulders down and relaxed. Finding the spot of just enough tension but not enough to disturb the pose or its energy.
When you are in Mountain pose you can take time to focus on the feelings in your body, your breath, whatever you like and hang out here. It’s a great pose for standing meditation or for bringing some attention and love to your body during a busy, stressful day.