We hear this word all the time in yoga classes, but what does it actually mean?
In a literal sense, most people consider mindfulness to be a sort of state of being or may relate it to meditation. In the context of this article, I mean it in the physical sense. I’m talking about body awareness.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ll watch students get into a pose I’ve instructed and look physically uncomfortable or even in pain. It drives me nuts, especially because I very deliberately offer modifications and say things like, “Just because I’m demonstrating this does not mean you should be doing this, especially if [insert contraindications/bad sensations here].” And then there are the students who demand I spike the heat in my hot classes so they can sweat and feel like they’ve done a lot, even though they practice sloppily and fail to get the most out of each pose. Yes, sweat is an indication of physical effort. But when the room you’re in is pushing 110°F, you’ll be sweating when you’re on your back in savasana.
Mindfulness is one of the best things a new yogi can develop to improve his or her practice faster, however even some long-time practitioners don’t practice mindfully. For those who come to yoga to aid physical ailments, this is going to ensure you don’t exacerbate an existing issue. For those taking yoga classes for fitness, it is going to allow you to get the kind of exercise you’re craving even if your class does not involve any advanced poses or vinyasas.
Next time you’re in class, pay extra attention to the sensations you’re feeling in the body. If there is any pain or discomfort, you should be adjusting or grabbing your props to support yourself in your pose. Listen to the cues your instructor is giving you and always assume he or she is directing that cue at you specifically — most instructors cue to what they are seeing in front of them, which means that correction very well could be intended for you. If it’s not and you still try to correct it, you’ll only become more familiar with how that pose should feel. And if something your instructor says doesn’t resonate with you make sure you talk to them about it after class. Asking questions gives you the opportunity to get some more in-depth information and is a great step to ensuring you’re practicing better and safer.
Check out my top three tips for getting mindful in your yoga practice:
1. Arrive to class ten minutes early to stretch and move on your mat. Take some time to open areas that feel tight.
2. Sit in Easy Pose (Sukhasana), with legs loosely crossed. If your lower back starts to round, place a block underneath you for added support. Rest your hands on your knees or thighs and get as tall as you can through the crown of your head without losing the natural curves of the spine. Take a few deep breaths and begin to scan the body from the crown of the head to the feet, taking note of how you’re feeling.
3. Tell your instructor about any pain or injuries you have recently been experiencing. If they know what you’re working with, it is a lot easier to suggest modifications in class that will benefit you specifically. This is especially important if you are new to yoga.