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Asana, aka postural yoga, is a great way to prepare the body for mindfulness practices such as seated meditation. But it's also possible to cultivate the practice of meditation within your physical practice of yoga.
This method can be extremely rewarding, allowing you to reap benefits both for your physical and mental well-being.
Here are my top 4 suggestions to integrate meditation and yoga and get the most out of your practice.
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Whenever I teach or attend a class in a city, I am struck by the lack of importance some students place on Savasana, the relaxation posture at the end of the class.
You may be thinking: that’s the best bit! And I would certainly agree with you. But others see it as a dispensable part of the class or a chance to skip the changing room queue.
This stillness at the end of the class in the form of Savasana has many benefits:
Savasana also acclimatizes us to the conscious act of being still with ourselves. In a world where everything is always moving, getting accustomed to stillness is challenging but so rewarding.
Remembering stillness within the actual class itself allows you to integrate your mind and body. When we practice styles such as Vinyasa Flow, which places a lot of importance on the transitions between postures, sometimes we can forget to be present in the stillness of the posture itself.
When you arrive into a posture, try not to look around or anticipate what is coming next. Perhaps the next tip will help you stay a little longer where you are…
What an incredible thing!
To breathe is to live. We cannot breathe in the past or the future. We can only breathe right now. This is one of the reasons it is such a perfect tool in so many types of practices. Even if the mind has flown away to a distant memory or an imaginary future, we continue to breathe right now.
When we center attention on breathing, we bring attention to the present moment.
The fourth limb of the Ashtanga Yoga System is Pranayama, commonly understood as the breathing exercises of yoga. These are traditionally done in a seated position, but of course, we can bring the teachings of conscious breath through to our asana practice.
When we breathe in harmony with the movements of the body, it assists us both physically and mentally. A good teacher will be able to instruct you in the best breathing rhythm when moving through or holding postures.
Modern science finally started to explore the claims the yogis have been making for hundreds of years about the power of breath and breath control. Studies increasingly prove that conscious breathing can effectively lower anxiety and stress, among other things such as high blood pressure. (By the way, conscious and mindful breath also stands for a large chunk of these yoga benefits).
So when you are in a particularly challenging posture, listen to your teacher and remember…to breathe!
Due to the highly visual nature of us humans and the tools we are now using to spread information (think social media), the focus has been placed on the external aspects of yoga. Which, in its turn, has disproportionately placed the emphasis of the practice on how it looks.
To create a more meditative yoga practice, we must flip this emphasis on its head!
Rather than thinking about how a pose looks, one must ask oneself how does it feel?
We're beginning to remember that there's no one correct alignment. Everyone and everybody is different. The best thing to do is shift the focus onto the sensations of the posture or flow. By doing so, we not only shift into a more internalized state, but we are also doing a favor to our physical body.
This suggestion is closely tied to the previous one.
Without shifting focus inward, we cannot start to listen. By listening, I mean noticing what comes up - emotionally, physically, mentally, or even spiritually.
Many of us live our lives from the collar bones up and don’t have a strong connection with our bodies. When we begin to live a more embodied life, we can learn so much more about ourselves. Our body can teach us about our habitual patterns, reactions, joyfulness, and trauma.
When we begin to listen in our practice, we begin to untangle ourselves and live more authentically.
Just like in a traditional seated meditation modality, one is not suddenly expected to become completely embodied, connected, and present! Instead, we are encouraged to notice and move on.
When we can’t achieve a posture the way we want to or when a posture makes us feel a certain way, try to bring awareness to this sensation. By doing do so, it may naturally shift.
Perhaps there is a particular group of postures like backbends or twists that bring up certain emotions. By listening to yourself, you give yourself a chance to become more aware. When we are more aware, we have more control. When we have more control, we have more choices.
Just like yoga is an umbrella term for many practices, the practice and process of meditation can mean different things to different people. One thing that works for you may not work for your neighbor.
Be curious, explore and play! Find out what challenges you, what works and what doesn’t, and incorporate it into your practice. Just like everybody is different, so is every mind. Curiosity and consistency are key.
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