At times our daily challenges can get a bit too much, and turning to yoga is a great way to improve both our physical and mental health. But unfortunately, we don’t always have access to a yoga mat, a class, a retreat or a wellness trip when we need it!
So how can we use what we learn about presence, calmness and mindful practices on the yoga mat to improve our wellbeing away from it?
First, what is mindfulness?
If you’ve ever started eating a bag of candy only to look down and find them gone without even realizing you ate them all, that’s the complete opposite of mindfulness!
Mindfulness is the act of focussing our awareness on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, emotions, bodily feelings and sensations. It can be used as a therapeutic technique in combating stress, anxiety, and depression.
We often rush through life, jumping from one activity to another and without noticing much in between. Mindfulness is about slowing down and paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, but also accepting them without judgment, not as right or wrong, but simply as being. By doing so we can then work to be more conscious of our choices and contest negative thoughts, by asking ourselves if they are really accurate to the situation.
In short, mindfulness can increase your focus, help to reduce depression, improve your emotional wellbeing, promote clearer thinking, and even be effective in pain management.
The link between mindfulness and yoga
Have you ever been in a yoga class or meditation where the instructor tells you to ground yourself, be present, and acknowledge how your body feels without judgment? These are practices of mindfulness. Things like traveling can help us to improve our wellness in general, but yoga is great for learning to be more mindful too.
Yoga can teach us to react as an outsider to our own body and mind by acknowledging pain, tiredness, tension, boredom, and emotions, without giving into them. By using mindfulness we can gain an alternative point of view. It could be that we are able to feel gratitude for the ability to practice yoga instead of feeling the discomfort, or realize that all moments pass and we’ll soon be finished the class.
If we have a shaking in our body as we try to hold a yoga pose, instead of allowing that to ruin the moment or attack our self-confidence we are able to allow the feeling and accept the moment as a whole.
Taking a yoga class or going on a yoga retreat are great ways to learn about mindfulness, but how do we transition that awareness outside of the classroom or vacation? It’s easier when we’re in the calming atmosphere of the studio or retreat, listening to an instructor away from the usual rush. But it is possible to develop the ability to practice mindfulness off the yoga mat too.
Here are 5 ways to get you started!
Concentrate on breathing
We’re always breathing, but how often do you actually take notice and acknowledge it? If you’re trying to focus but finding your mind is wandering and distracted then working on your breathing is a great way to bring you back to the present. You don’t need to go fully into pranayama practice, but some of the simpler techniques you can begin with.
First, pay attention to how you’re breathing. Does it feel shallow, tense, or strained? You don’t need to focus on this, just recognize it and move on to trying to breathe as smoothly and relaxed as possible. If you focus on trying to extend the abdomen as your inhale and contract as you exhale, with a pause after each, your breathing should become deeper and more relaxed.
You can do this anytime you need to, wherever you are.
Part of practicing mindfulness is letting go of the need to be busy. We don’t have to multitask all the time, and in fact, it can be better if we don’t and instead give your full attention to each task. If you find yourself feeling anxious about all the things you have to do then use what you’ve learned about mindfulness to turn your attention fully to the present moment and what you can do at that time.
Remember not to be judgmental of yourself and allow negative thoughts to rule your mind. Prioritize what’s important and accept your limitations.
Turn your attention to your feet
The simple act of placing our feet squarely on the floor can help to ground us in the moment and be more presently aware. Tension can manifest itself in our bodies, and until we stop and realize how we’re holding ourselves we may not notice it.
You might also find that sitting on the floor helps to ground you and make your more conscious in the moment too. Just be careful where you do it!
Feel bodily sensations without judgment
Feeling tension, pain or lethargy are not necessarily good or bad things. Notice how your body feels when you’re working at your desk, or when you’re walking outside. This can help you to be more mindful and appreciate the moment, or work out what is bothering you.
Practicing mindfulness can change our perceptions to stop negative thoughts and instead promote interest in why we feel like that and acknowledgment.
Choose an intention for on and off the mat
Our practice can be greatly enhanced if we choose an intention or focus like self-love, or balance, rather than striving to push ourselves to what we perceive as the best we can be, and feeling some kind of failure if it doesn’t go as we thought.
If you choose the intention of peacefulness you may find yourself being more patient and positive when facing challenges in your daily life, and being more forgiving of any perceived shortcomings on the yoga mat too.
Realizing that what we learn on the yoga mat can be translated into daily practices in our lives is the first step to becoming more mindful. Don’t wait for your next yoga retreat or wellness vacation to make a marked difference in your life, instead, set about practicing mindfulness whenever you can.
You’ll be surprised by how much the calmness of the yoga studio can be extended to other areas of your life too!