Yoga: A Mindful Practice
Mindfulness is a refinement of awareness. The Sanskrit word smriti (Pali: sati), most often translated as ‘mindfulness’ actually means ‘to bring to remembrance’ or ‘to call to mind’. There are various forms of, and approaches to, mindfulness.
Sustained practice may, among other things, help us to further engage our senses, to deepen concentration, and to remain in the present moment. In ‘Yoga: A Mindful Practice’ classes we practice this awareness using both the body and the breath as our vehicle.
When we first begin the study of yoga we are immediately confronted with our body. This body, even if you are supple, carries the stresses and tensions of your day, week, job, environment and lifestyle. Unchecked, this tension becomes habit, lodging itself in our system and eroding away our happiness, sense of well-being and our general health.
As long as these tension habits exist, our breathing will be restricted. Shallow breathing with minimum diaphragmatic movement is a common picture. If our breathing is tight and tense applying rigid control to either body or breath without first recognising and then diffusing the original tension in the breath we would meet one force (the tension) with another (the control), which can only be counter productive.
For our yoga to become effective we have to return to and fully experience a relaxed breathing pattern. Yoga or breath control exercises without this in place fundamentally changes nothing as we are only changing the form of our breathing and not the underlying tendencies. To discover this effective free and natural way of breathing it is essential to relax and with our minds fully merge with our breathing. This is not a technique, method or form of breathing, but a feeling that arises naturally whenever we really relax and focus.
In this truly relaxed state the breathing will become more balanced and still, and our minds at peace. This is not so much a learning process as an unlearning one; the natural breath is a birthright. If we begin our yoga with this foundation then we are no longer trying to control form but working with pure feeling, sensation, and awareness. If we begin posture work (asana) when our mind and breathing are still relatively tense it will be tempting to grapple with the form of a posture, we will strain. We would be again imposing force (the idealised posture) upon force (the tense body). And in our breathing exercises, if we begin from a relaxed state with the relaxed natural breath in place, we are no longer controlling the form of our breathing but entering the practice of pranayama (or energy control).
First we relax and then fully focus our awareness on the breathing. Then, using movement and posture, sensitively we can discover that each asana has a very distinct effect on our breathing. Each exercise opens up different parts of the body and lets the breathing in. In this way of working asana isn’t seen as a means to stretch but as an aid to opening up and becoming aware of our breathing. The posture will feel ‘perfect’ because of the mindfulness we bring to it, not because it has text book perfect form. Working in this way will greatly develop our understanding of asana and enhance the experience of breathing and deep relaxation.
The natural progression from this point is meditation.