Mindfulness and yoga are like two peas in a pod. Although they come from separate teachings with different origins (though both originally from India ), both of these practices can be combined for maximum effectiveness.
Yoga is much more than just a fitness regiment or a series of postures for flexibility, strength and balance of the physical body alone. It is a system of health and wellbeing from ancient India, a vast field of study covering nutrition, meditation, breath control, concentration, sense withdrawal and ultimately samadhi, merging with the divine One (atman, brahman) that connects all beings and existence. Today there are all kinds of yoga styles, from the more physical like Ashtanga/power yoga to the more gentle like yin and restorative.
On the other hand, mindfulness is a secular awareness practice that grew out of Buddhist philosophy. It is the basic practice of paying attention to the present moment; being here and now rather than lost in thinking about the past or obsessively planning for the unknown future. Mindfulness is especially helpful since our modern lives can be so full of tempting distractions. Mindfulness can be done in traditional seated meditation or combined with any activity, such as while walking, eating, speaking, dancing and — naturally — practicing yoga.
Why combine mindfulness with yoga?
Now you may be wondering, why? Why should I combine yoga with mindfulness. Well, there’s a couple good reasons why you should combine them both.
One great benefit is that you train yourself to become mentally and physically fit on one go, two birds with one rock so to say, i.e. you reap the physical benefits associated with different yoga poses and breathing techniques while stilling and relaxing the mind through mindful awareness. Plus the increased attention to breath and bodily sensations during meditation or yoga asanas help in cultivating a stronger connection between body and mind.
Another benefit is the increase of control of your physical, mental and emotional expressions, especially how they arise in varying circumstances. By practicing yoga and meditation/mindfulness, you’ll find yourself more and more in a calm, cool and collected state, regardless of where you find yourself. You see, a great deal of people pay little attention to the inner workings of their minds and emotions. They are completely at the whims of their capricious thoughts, feelings and moods. Yoga in combination with mindfulness allows you to control your inner state to a certain (significant) degree. Awareness precedes control.
A third benefit, which is largely related to the second, is that by paying attention to your breathing and sensations in the body during yoga asanas you develop a stronger connection between body and mind. You bridge the gap between the two realms and allow yourself to be more psychologically healthy and sound.
Having said that, here are seven great ways to incorporate mindfulness and yoga into your life:
1. Get grounded
If you can breathe, you can do yoga. If you can pay attention to your breath, you can cultivate mindfulness. Feel where your body connects to the Earth. Feel how gravity is grounding you to the planet. Breathe in a sense of belonging and of being completely right where you are.
Practice walking meditation. Walk in super slow motion, feeling gratitude for the ability to move in this way. Focus on the sole of the foot. Notice the heel touching the ground, then the ball of the foot and the toes. Walk more slowly than you’ve ever walked before. There is no goal or destination. The simple act of walking is the practice. Nothing more, nothing less.
2. Go with the emotional flow
Experience and express emotions as they occur. Transcend the need to judge or label things. Just feel whatever you feel. Notice any sensations, images or memories brought up by the different feelings. Body movement helps. Breathing helps.
Don’t constrict, resist, or hold back. It’s okay to cry, laugh, yawn, sigh. It’s okay to feel whatever we feel. Choose love over fear, peace over war, communication over secrecy, silence over noise, compassion over complaints and openness instead of being closed.
3. Take back your power
Get in touch with your willpower, discipline, strength and initiative. Mindfully strengthen the core: abdominal muscles, lower back. Breathe deeply, cultivating compassion for your body, and moving in a way that both challenges you and makes your heart sing. Pay attention to your physical sensations inside the body, in the muscles, on the skin. Honor your body’s wisdom, know when to exert physical energy and also knowing when and how to relax.
4. Be heart-centered
Live from the heart. Be grateful for what you can do. Be grateful for the awesome gift of your physical body. Send out love, kindness, compassion and abundance to all beings, including yourself.
Lay down on your stomach, imagining a green light glowing at the heart center. Visualize a cord of light, about two inches in diameter, extending from your root center, down into the Earth. The light can be any color you wish, any shade which resonates with your heart.
See this grounding cord growing and deepening until it makes contact with the huge crystal at the Earth’s core. When your practice is complete, imagine the heart releasing this cord and the light dissolving gradually into the soil.
5. Speak up, when appropriate
Mindful speech is a challenging practice that involves speaking in an authentic, clear and balanced way, with compassion, not too much and not too little. Using our voices to communicate, inspire, share when appropriate. Knowing when to speak out and when to remain silent.
Practice the yoga of expression: chanting, singing, speaking, praying, sharing, writing. Start to pay more attention to both your body language and spoken words. How are you telling your story? Say only that which is true, honest, necessary and helpful.
Listen to the whisper of your breath. Listen to the music created by all the sounds in this moment, nearby and further away. Sounds are always occurring in the present. Open your ears to the subtlest of sounds. They can serve as your anchor. Practice with natural sounds, indoors, outdoors, alone, in a crowd. The key is to keep practicing, staying open, listening and working with what is.
7. Dedicate the merit
Dedicating the merit of our practice is fundamental to all meditation. Here is a beautiful, simple dedication of merit you can recite at the end of your practice: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, which means:
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.”