Mind Full to Mindful

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Life is challenging and so is our yoga practice. In our busy day-to-day lives we rarely have time to reflect on how we are reacting, deflecting, projecting or doing what we do to cope with challenge. On the other hand, our yoga practice creates a setting that lends itself to becoming more aware, making new choices and firing up the re-programming process so we can experience zen and find calm in the face of challenge on + off the mat!

Here are 3 key ways I personally use yoga as a tool to positively retrain my reaction to challenge:

Scenario: I am attempting to do a standing balancing posture that I find difficult. More time is spent falling over than standing up.

1. Recognize:

I take a moment to ask myself:

What do I feel physically? Locked jaw, scrunched eyebrows, shallow or held breath. What is my mental chatter saying? I’m bad at this, everyone can do it but me, I give up. What do I feel emotionally? Frustration, embarrassment, and unworthiness.

2. Release

After recognizing my current state I choose to let it go.

I take a conscious, clearing breath in through my nose and sigh it out through my mouth. With this mindful moment I symbolically push the pause button. In this timeless space I’ve created, I make the choice to change.

3. Reform

I take a moment to ask myself:

How can I shift my physicality toward ease? I unhinge my jaw, soften my gaze, and deepen my breath.

How can I talk to myself the way I would a friend? I tell myself I’m learning a new language, body language, and that no one learns a new language overnight. I encourage myself to be playful and view my falling over as a chance to get back up. I remind myself that it’s not a competition; it’s an opportunity to nurture my personal potential.

Now, what do I feel emotionally?

Calmness, patience, and compassion!

4 Ways to Make Yoga a Moving Meditation

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1. Intention (Sankalpa) 

Before you begin your practice take a moment to clarify why you arrived on your mat. What is it that you want to create more of in your life by practicing yoga? The answer you receive may change from day to day so take the time to check in. Make your intention one clear word or phrase that you can keep in the forefront of your mind as you move. Use your intention as a mantra. Let go of any un-serving thoughts by mentally repeating your intention as needed. Call upon your intention as inspiration, especially, in times of doubt or challenge. The quality of your intention will infuse itself into your practice and inevitably into your life. Here is an example list of intentions that I’ve integrated into my practice: -Patience, acceptance, forgiveness, freedom, release, playfulness, connection, courage, vitality, empowerment, peacefulness, love, ease, unity.

2. Victorious Breath (Ujjayi) 

Each time you take a breath it exists only in the here and now. When you observe your breath your mind shows up for the present moment. The breathing technique used in Flow Yoga is called Ujjayi which means “one who is victorious” because yogis who use this breath win a major victory over their distracted mind. A resonant sound is created in the back of the throat by gently constricting the glottis. The steady and rhythmic sound is easy to observe and much like a lullaby it soothes and focuses the mind. In flow yoga the breath is connected to the movement of the body. When your mind connects to your breath and your breath connects to your body you generate the meditative quality of unity. It’s important to give the transitions in and out of a posture as much breath and body awareness as the posture itself. Visualize the postures like beads which are connected by the steady string of the breath. This ability to connect within your practice leads to a greater ability to connect without; to connect with your family, friends, foes, strangers, nature and ultimately the universe. Union (in all its limitless possibilities) is the meaning of Yoga.

3. Gaze (Drishti) 

Your eyes are a part of your body, and therefore are a part of the pose. Every pose should have a specific gaze (drishti) to help you develop concentration. If the eyes wander then the mind wanders, you lose focus on the breath and the body becomes unstable. The use of drishti re-directs your attention inward so that you can remain undisturbed regardless of external influences. When your eyes are focused on a neutral object, your awareness soars inward to your breath and you create a profound state of relaxation, a calm amidst any chaos. Practicing concentration in your yoga practice will also enhance your ability to focus in your daily life.

4. Non-Attachment (Vairagya) 

Vairagya is the ability to observe a situation without getting caught in reactivity to it. Throughout your practice unwanted things may happen and wanted things may not happen. To remain meditative it’s important to be observant and non-judgemental. For example, when you’re faced with a pose that you find challenging do you react with a negative emotion? Can you observe how the negative emotion is affecting you physiologically? Do you clench your jaw? Do you forget your intention, hold your breath or lose your drishti? The emotional reaction is prohibiting you from creating a moving meditation. Instead, try to remain neutral and understand that a challenge is simply an opportunity for growth. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Accept and enjoy the reality of what each moment in class has to offer you, each moment as it is. Your yoga practice is a reflection of your life. If you can shift to right thinking, to non-attachment, during your practice the same positive patterns will be mirrored in your life.