attention to the sensations of your breath and your body. When the mind wanders
to a thought (or something else), gently but firmly bring your attention back
to experience of breathing and the sensations of the body. Bringing a kind and
compassion attention to the present moment. Repeat over and over again.
These are commonly thought to be instructions for sitting mindfulness
meditation practice but they are also instructions for mindful yoga. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that Patanjali’s
Yoga Sutra 1.2 says Yogash citta vrtti
nirodha: “yoga is the cessation of
the fluctuations of the mind” or the stilling of the mind.
In essence, yoga entails moving through postures with the attention
on the sensations of breathing and the body, in
the service of calming the mind. The act of bringing your attention back
to the body and the breath takes you away from the ruminative, obsessive, and
mostly negative thoughts that generally go through our minds. And, it is
estimated with have about 50,000 thoughts a day!! That’s a lot of unnecessary thinking.
As in sitting meditation, in mindful yoga practice you will
discover first hand that your mind wanders a lot. You’ll be in down dog and
suddenly you’ll remember something you forgot to do at work, think about a
difficult conversation you had with someone, or start comparing your down dog
with the person next to you, finding yours lacking in some way. Research by
Killingsworth & Gilbert (Science, 2010) estimates that our mind is
wandering about half of the time. We are
lost in thought—thinking about the past or the future. And, that the more the
mind wanders, the less happy we are.
While sitting meditation practice was my “go to” mindfulness
practice for many years, I have been turning to mindful yoga as an equal
partner to my sitting practice. I love them both and I believe that each one
gives me something just a little different. Mindful yoga brings me more joy and
peace, while sitting meditation seems to provide the space for more clarity and
insight into the workings of my mind and solutions for my life.
The possible differences in benefits of mindfulness
practices was recently published in the journal Mindfulness. Sauer-Zavala and
colleagues looked at sitting meditation, body scan and mindful yoga and found
that all three provided significant improvements in the tendency to describe
one’s experience, rumination, self-compassion, and psychological well-being.
However, (1) mindful yoga was associated with greater increases in
psychological wellbeing than the other two practices, (2) sitting meditation
and mindful yoga were both associated with greater decreases in difficulties
with emotion regulation than the body scan, and (3) sitting meditation was
associated with greater increases in the tendency to take a nonevaluative
stance toward observed stimuli than the body scan.
Because of my own deepening yoga practice and its impact on
me, I have also been increasing how much I teach mindful yoga and other mindful
movement activities in my Eat for Life (mindful eating) classes and people LOVE
IT! It is not uncommon for people who struggle with food and their bodies to
feel out of touch with their bodies. To watch people become embodied through
mindful movement is truly a joy. Helping people discover that movement can be
delicious also helps them to tune into other bodily messages of hunger and
fullness. Our bodies are quite wise and it is important to live in them fully.
As the research indicates above, mindful yoga also serves to
increase psychological wellbeing. When we are happier, we are less likely to
reach for food to fix a difficult emotion. A regular practice of mindful yoga
can build up our emotional bank account so that when difficult emotions pass
through our lives we can be more resilient.
If you want more mindful yoga in your life, here are three
ways you can join me. Also, I have a new “yoga” tab on my website that describes
some of the offerings I’ve listed below.
1. Take a class at alleyCat Yoga in downtown
Columbia. I teach on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Fridays at 4:30 p.m.
2. Watch one of my yoga videos from the luxury of
your own home (found under Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on the
multimedia tab of my website).
3. Join me in Costa Rica next
February 1- 8, 2020 for a week of yoga and mindfulness. If you live in Columbia,
come to my Informational Meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 30. Email me at
MindfulRossy(at)gmail.com for more information.
My motto is “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” And remember that your movements should feel delicious (not painful). Afraid to get started? Contact me and I would be happy to give you a free, personalized yoga session to help you feel more comfortable getting started with classes.
See you on the yoga mat!