Yoga and Mindfulness
People talk about yoga, and people talk about mindfulness. But the magic really happens when yoga and mindfulness are used together. Here I will talk about 3 ways – using our 3 internal senses – that we can bring more mindfulness into our yoga practice.
What are you thinking of when rolling through the postures of the sun salutations? Or when holding tree pose for what might feel like the thousandth time?
“I like that lady’s leggings”
“Shit I forgot to get cat food”
“I hope the weather holds for the BBQ on Saturday”
“Does my bum look bog in this?!”
I know, because I’ve been there many, many times, that while we’re doing yoga, our minds aren’t always on, well – yoga.
But if we’re not in the present moment, breath by breath, feeling into our bodies and the changes that are happening there, we really aren’t doing yoga at all. Yes, you will find physical benefits from asana, but you don’t have to wait until you’re in savasana or meditation before you focus on the mental benefits that our practice has to offer us.
In class, I am always trying to move people away from their five external senses and into their three internal ones – yes, you have eight main senses. (And actually, the argument can be made for many more than that, but people from different fields tend to have different answers.)
So let’s have a brief look at what these are, and how they can help us continue to be mindful all the way through our practice, not just at the beginning and the end.
The Vestibular System
The vestibular system is a sensory system that contributes to our sense of balance and spacial awareness, allowing us to consciously move through space and coordinate our movements without falling over. This is the one most readily taught in yoga, even if it’s not explicit. As we know, there are many ways to balance in asana and the vestibular system is what allows us to do that. I teach balance in almost every class because as I like to say, when you’re trying to practice standing on one leg – or one arm as the case may be! – it’s pretty hard to think about other things without wiping out. This is what I like to call the Waitrose Wobble – the mind drifts to your shopping list and….whoa….you’ve over. So, focus on what you are doing, and only what you are doing, and you have a mindful asana practice.
Interoception is something that I’ve started to talk a lot more about in class – and you can read my blog about how this sense can also help boost your immune system here. Interoception is the way that our body communicates with the brain – it is the perception of the internal state of the body. It has been shown that our unconscious bodily states….digestion, heart rate, breathing etc….influence our emotional behaviour and decision-making (Eric Ceunen, 2016). An example of this, and one we can probably all relate to, is the feeling of being ‘hangry’. We feel the hunger in our bellies and our emotional response is one of anger. Our inner state is changing our outer behaviour and once we can start to learn to notice, we can make positive changes so as not to be so reactive. Keeping your focus on interoception is integral to your yoga practice. It gives us another tool for focusing on the present moment. I will frequently ask, how is your body feeling right now? Not just when lying down in savasana – although using interoception as a way to really bring your awareness from the external to the internal is a great way to start practice – but in all asanas. What sensations are arising? What is your breath doing? Are your muscles fatiguing? Is your heart rate increasing because a particular posture is hard work, or makes you nervous, or excited that you finally balanced on your hands? This is mindfulness in action.
Proprioception is the awareness of our bodies in space and is how we know where our limbs are positioned without having to look at them. This is important in even everyday activities, but even more so in movement practices and can be improved with training. In warrior ll for example, the back arm is cued as being parallel to the floor, but it often isn’t until we see ourselves in the mirror doing it that we realise the back arm has been at an angle the whole time. Learning how to feel where the body is in space doesn’t come as naturally for some people as it does for others and for some it is actually much harder than you might think. So again, this sense gives us yet another tool of focus. Really trying to feel into the arm that is behind me because I want it to be in line with the one in front but I can’t actually see it.
All of these senses are really a case of ‘knowing’ the body intuitively rather than having to actually touch it. But it’s an intuition that has to be cultivated and some will find it easier than others. But like a lot of things, the end result isn’t necessarily the point. The point is the process. And the process takes us from a practice that will make you more flexible, stronger and with a nice arse, to one that is all that but also quite literally life-changing.
Yoga and mindfulness, take your next steps
So there you have 3 ways that yoga and mindfulness together can seriously take your practice to the next level. You can come and practice with me and see the life-changing benefits for yourself by visiting my website and booking a class!