Mindful Yoga Practices
Impulsive reactions drive our behavior, often so fast that we don’t have time to decide if this instinct is really how we want to behave. Millions of years of evolution have built impulsivity into our brains. This type of behavior is helpful in cases when time is a factor, such as if we are in danger. For example, if you put your hand on a burning stove, your immediate impulse to remove your hand saves you from getting burned. It would not be helpful to stop and decide whether or not to take your hand away; you need to take it away immediately. However, in situations where physical danger isn't present, acting on impulses can have negative consequences such as hitting a classmate or skipping school.
Importantly, humans are the only animals who have developed higher-order thinking processes that allow us to intentionally override our automatic reactions. Doing so requires internal awareness and inhibitory control, both of which are benefits of mindful yoga practice.
We spend much of our time in the passenger seat of our own bodies.
We are the only species with the capacity and the tools to intentionally enhance our development. Why not learn to take advantage of it?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply “being in the moment," and is often defined as non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.
It's as simple as noticing what you're doing, and paying attention to the moment. When practicing mindfulness, you direct your attention to the environment, the task you are doing, and/or your thoughts and feelings. You become an “active observer” of the moment, just as it is, trying not to make any assumptions or judgments about what is happening. When thoughts inevitably come to mind, you notice these thoughts and let them go, redirecting your attention to the present moment. Noticing your thoughts and bringing awareness to your own thinking is called meta-awareness, which is the foundation of mindful practice. Mindfulness is a foundational component of yoga, and is also practiced through guided meditations.
An Example of Mindful Thinking
"What an interesting tree. I wonder what kind of tree that is? I saw a tree like that on my vacation. I'd love to take another vacation. Where should I go..."
Notice what is happening in the present moment
Your mind may start to wander...
Notice that your mind is wandering
"Wait. My mind is wandering."
Bring yourself back to the present.
"I can bring myself back. There is a street sign ahead. The steering wheel is pressing against my hand. I see the road. I feel the air blowing through the car vents."
"I am driving. I see the road, I notice the trees and bushes at the side of the road. I pay attention to how the steering wheel feels under my palm."
What is Yoga?
While there are many different styles of traditional yoga, in the United States we primarily practice Hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga essentially refers to yoga that teaches physical postures (as opposed to more meditative yoga). Most yoga research focuses on Hatha yoga, but it is important to note that there are many different branches of yoga within the Hatha umbrella (i.e., Ashtanga, Vinyasa). Research studies have examined all types of Hatha yoga, with a common finding of increased psychological well-being. Throughout this website, when we refer to "mindful yoga", we are referring to any form of yoga under the Hatha umbrella.
In short, the goal of yoga practice is to create a calming synchrony between mind and body. Stretching alone is not yoga. Yoga requires a deliberate focused attempt to link mind and body, breath and movements, in a quest to strike a balance between strength and relaxation in each pose. In other words, yoga is an active, mindful practice.