What is mindfulness and how can it enhance your practice and your life?

You’ve likely heard the expression ‘You get out what you put in’. This couldn’t be more true than in our yoga practice. How we go about our practice, be it where our minds are or how we move through our bodies, has all the power to influence what outcome we get from our time on the mat. One way you can impact this outcome is by incorporating a focus on mindfulness into your practice. In previous weeks, we’ve deep-dived into meditation and how it can affect our yoga practice. But when we think about the benefits that we can gain from our mental state in yoga practice, we’re thinking not only about a sitting or laying meditation, but also about an ongoing mindfulness practice. To deeper understand mindfulness and the benefits it can bring us, let’s break down what mindfulness is and what it looks like during our yoga practice. 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness as a practice is far from new. In fact, Buddhist monks have been using mindfulness for thousands of years. The word mindfulness comes from a rough translation of the Pali word sati, which Psychology Today explains translates to something like ‘awareness’. In practicing mindfulness, you’re maintaining “a moment-by-moment awareness”, as explained by Berkeley’s Greater Good Center

Professor Ellen Langer of Harvard University explains mindfulness as “the simple process of noticing things about the familiar”. An important part of this process of noticing is a non-judgmental curiosity. As explained in Yoga Journal, “rather than judging or diminishing thoughts, feelings, or sensations throughout your body, you accept and acknowledge them in a non-judgmental manner”. So to practice mindfulness, you first focus on noticing what’s going on in your body and then around it, and then try to note these things without judgment. 

The Benefits of Mindfulness

Like meditation, the practice of mindfulness can have many benefits for our overall health and well-being. Mindfulness has been suggested to reduce stress, ease depression, and improve well-being. Mindfulness is also thought to improve memory, attention, self-regulation, and empathy. It can connect you with yourself and your values, and even make you more resilient.

Mindfulness’ Role in Yoga

It’s believed that the benefits of mindfulness come from a repeated practice over time, which means incorporating mindfulness into your life will take commitment. But that’s why pairing your mindfulness practice with your yoga could be so powerful. If you’re already taking the time to come in for class, why not attempt to practice in a mindful matter and get even more out of your yoga?

In furtherance of incorporating mindfulness into yoga practice, a type of yoga called mindful yoga has been introduced. Mindful yoga takes the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness, mindfulness of body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of mind, and mindfulness of dharma and incorporates them as a focus of your yoga practice. One way of doing this is through body scans, where one scans the body in search of ways “in which your perspective on your body, thoughts, and whole sense of self can shift when you change postures” as explained on PositivePsychology.com. Body scans in general are a way to connect with your body and one of many ways to practice mindfulness. 

Mindful yoga is not the only yoga practice that incorporates mindfulness. In fact, Yoga Journal explains mindfulness is incorporated in all hatha yoga. Once you learn the concepts of mindfulness, you could apply in in any practice, or even in your other workout classes or your day-to-day life. 

If you’re new to practicing mindfulness, yoga can offer the perfect location. You’ll learn to incorporate mindfulness in a place where not all conditions are under your control, but where you have the time and freedom to put aside your life outside of the studio for the time being. But there are many other simple ways to incorporate mindfulness, such as focusing on breath, a walking meditation, or simply living in the moment. Take the time in your next yoga class to focus on mindfulness and see how it can affect your practice. Find an upcoming class at your local studio and see how a focus on the present can affect your practice.