I have practiced yoga intermittently over the past 10 years and every time that I restart my practice after a break, I ask myself the same question: “Why on earth don’t I do this every day?” I find it to be such a refreshing way to practice mindful movement. Not that it is always pleasant… Quite the opposite really. Practicing yoga mindfully reveals a plethora of body sensations that are sometimes uncomfortable but always interesting.
Practicing yoga with the intention to be mindful can open you up to a vast array of sensations in the body. When not being mindful, it is natural to simply find these sensations aversive and to strive to minimize or avoid them. But if you try getting deeper into those sensations- by breathing, softening and allowing them to unfold- their complexity may surprise you.
For instance, last week we invited a prominent yoga teacher to our mindfulness class. She led us through a wonderful set, part of which included the star pose. This pose simply involves standing like a 5-pointed star with legs apart and arms held parallel to the floor. Immediately, I connected to feelings of tingling in my shoulders, which progressed to burning. With each breath I could feel the heaviness of my limbs but rather than dropping them down, I investigated these sensations as if it was the first time encountering them. In so doing, I could step back from my impulses to immediately minimize these feelings and instead, observed that the intensity of these sensations rose and fell- that it was more tolerable than I feared.
Given that mindfulness made its initial foray into medical settings in part due to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s use of mindfulness for managing physical discomfort and pain, mindful yoga is an excellent way to play with the experience of the body and to recognize how much our thinking mind can unintentionally influence our relationship with body sensation.
If you’re curious, check out this 30-minute guided practice of mindful yoga this weekend. I hope that you will be surprised and captivated by what your body tells you when you listen to it.