For the past several New Year’s, when I think about the things I want to work on or accomplish in the year ahead, I like to think in terms of goals that I can work towards. A work in progress, so to speak. And this year, I have a goal for my yoga practice: to practice mindfulness more and try to be more present while I’m on my mat.
Now, there are definitely times when I am very much aware of being on my mat for my hour’s class, but there are also times where I settle back on muscle memory for some poses that we do quite often. Even if I love them, I find my mind wandering and the downside can be that I either am not listening as well for the next cue, or my muscles may relax a bit and I come out of the pose a little, sometimes without even realizing it.
In various mindfulness articles I’ve read, I’ve come across the advice to practice being present in the everyday routine, such as making the bed or washing the dishes. But I’ve been looking to incorporate that same thing in my yoga practice when I find my mind wandering. I think okay, how is my alignment? Where is my knee tracking? How is my breathing? Is how I’m holding the pose sustainable for several breaths or do I need to back off a little to hold it? Can I go deeper?
To be completely honest, this isn’t something I started right on January 1. It’s been over the last month or so as I’ve thought about growing my practice and trying to get all that I can from my time on my mat. If there are poses that I find habitual – for lack of a better term – then when I practice it, I may not be getting all of the benefits or building more strength that may enable me to go deeper after a time.
How have I been doing it?
Let’s take Warrior II, for example. If we’re holding the pose for a couple of breaths, and I find my mind start to wander then I mentally examine the pose from the base up. I may look down to check my back leg and by doing so think “am I feeling this leg engaged?”. To the front knee I ask if I’m relying on the habit of where I go regularly in the pose, or if I can go a bit deeper this practice. And then I look to my arms and shoulders to see if I’m relaxed and if my shoulders are over my hips. And then of course there is my breath. How is my breathing?
And maybe the big one can be savasana. Has anyone else been there at first enjoying the restorative feelings that come after a great class, only to then have a little thought creeping in about what waits for you after class? Followed by another?
When that has started happening lately, I will try a couple of things. First, I may think about things for which I’m grateful, or start counting my breath as one meditation technique. And on the occasion where the thought that enters my mind brings excitement or happiness – something fun going on later that day – then sure, I’ll embrace the thought and the happiness that comes with it.
This is the part of a series of posts for The Mat yoga studio, sharing my thoughts and observations as a student only. The views and opinions are my own.