Mindful Yoga For the Soul

Pay attention to the sensations of your breath and your body. When the mind wanders to a thought (or something else), gently but firmly bring your attention back to experience of breathing and the sensations of the body. Bringing a kind and compassion attention to the present moment. Repeat over and over again.

These are commonly thought to be instructions for sitting mindfulness meditation practice but they are also instructions for mindful yoga.  This shouldn’t be surprising considering that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 says Yogash citta vrtti nirodha:  “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind” or the stilling of the mind.  

In essence, yoga entails moving through postures with the attention on the sensations of breathing and the body, in  the service of calming the mind. The act of bringing your attention back to the body and the breath takes you away from the ruminative, obsessive, and mostly negative thoughts that generally go through our minds. And, it is estimated with have about 50,000 thoughts a day!! That’s a lot of unnecessary thinking.

As in sitting meditation, in mindful yoga practice you will discover first hand that your mind wanders a lot. You’ll be in down dog and suddenly you’ll remember something you forgot to do at work, think about a difficult conversation you had with someone, or start comparing your down dog with the person next to you, finding yours lacking in some way. Research by Killingsworth & Gilbert (Science, 2010) estimates that our mind is wandering about half of the time.  We are lost in thought—thinking about the past or the future. And, that the more the mind wanders, the less happy we are.

While sitting meditation practice was my “go to” mindfulness practice for many years, I have been turning to mindful yoga as an equal partner to my sitting practice. I love them both and I believe that each one gives me something just a little different. Mindful yoga brings me more joy and peace, while sitting meditation seems to provide the space for more clarity and insight into the workings of my mind and solutions for my life.

The possible differences in benefits of mindfulness practices was recently published in the journal Mindfulness. Sauer-Zavala and colleagues looked at sitting meditation, body scan and mindful yoga and found that all three provided significant improvements in the tendency to describe one’s experience, rumination, self-compassion, and psychological well-being. However, (1) mindful yoga was associated with greater increases in psychological wellbeing than the other two practices, (2) sitting meditation and mindful yoga were both associated with greater decreases in difficulties with emotion regulation than the body scan, and (3) sitting meditation was associated with greater increases in the tendency to take a nonevaluative stance toward observed stimuli than the body scan.

Because of my own deepening yoga practice and its impact on me, I have also been increasing how much I teach mindful yoga and other mindful movement activities in my Eat for Life (mindful eating) classes and people LOVE IT! It is not uncommon for people who struggle with food and their bodies to feel out of touch with their bodies. To watch people become embodied through mindful movement is truly a joy. Helping people discover that movement can be delicious also helps them to tune into other bodily messages of hunger and fullness. Our bodies are quite wise and it is important to live in them fully.

As the research indicates above, mindful yoga also serves to increase psychological wellbeing. When we are happier, we are less likely to reach for food to fix a difficult emotion. A regular practice of mindful yoga can build up our emotional bank account so that when difficult emotions pass through our lives we can be more resilient.

If you want more mindful yoga in your life, here are three ways you can join me. Also, I have a new “yoga” tab on my website that describes some of the offerings I’ve listed below.  

            1. Take a class at alleyCat Yoga in downtown Columbia. I teach on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Fridays at 4:30 p.m.

            2.  Watch one of my yoga videos from the luxury of your own home (found under  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on the multimedia tab of my website).

            3. Join me in Costa Rica next February 1- 8, 2020 for a week of yoga and mindfulness. If you live in Columbia, come to my Informational Meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. Email me at MindfulRossy(at)gmail.com for more information.

My motto is “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” And remember that your movements should feel delicious (not painful). Afraid to get started? Contact me and I would be happy to give you a free, personalized yoga session to help you feel more comfortable getting started with classes.

See you on the yoga mat!