Who among us loves to meditate? If you’re like most people, meditation is probably the hardest part of your yoga practice. Most of the time, our minds are so overloaded with our busy lives that it’s difficult to stop the ongoing chatter and just be.
Shameless plug: this month, NJ Yoga Collective is hosting a free meditation immersion series – 16 days of short meditations led by local yoga teachers, sent directly to your email inbox. All you need to do to subscribe is provide your email on the website. I strongly encourage you to join in, especially if you, like me, find it exceedingly difficult to meditate.
In the meantime, if you like to move but find it excruciating to sit in silence for more than a minute or two, one way to instill more quietude into your practice is to incorporate more of a meditative nature into your active asana practice. To meditate is not, as some people might think, to empty the mind of all thought. Meditation is the development of a laser-like focus on the current moment, peeling away the layers, and allowing your mind to rest on what you currently feel. I’ve found that my most satisfying physical practices occur during the somewhat rare times when I’ve been able to achieve a meditative state during my asana flow. Here are a few steps that I follow to bring meditation into my asana practice:
Pay particular attention during the initial “centering” portion of your practice, when you are settling in, sitting or lying quietly, pulling your mind away from the activities of the day. Allow yourself to relish this important part of your practice – the signal that now is the time you can take for yourself to go within and explore.
Set an intention.
This doesn’t have to be a grand plan to save the world singlehandedly. It can just be anything that comes to mind that you want to focus on during your practice today. Some of my personal favorites are: I am present. I accept. I observe and explore.
Focus on your breath and allow your movements to synchronize with your breath.
In general, inhale when moving into more expansive movements like extending your torso or lifting your chest; exhale when moving inward as in folding forward or twisting. Let your own personal breath pattern dictate the speed of your flow. Use ujjayi breathing (ocean-sounding breath) to help keep your focus on your breath.
Pratyahara is literally translated as “withdrawal of the senses”, which sounds like an impossible task. But, if you think of it more as pulling your senses inward, focusing more on your internal state than the sights and sounds around you, it’s much more achievable. Start by focusing on your breath, then bring your attention to your physical sensations – what parts of your body are you grounding and firming, what parts are you softening and relaxing, how does each action feel in your body? How are you initiating your movements into each pose?
Try to find equanimity in your motions.
Rather than pushing to your “edge”, once you get into a pose, find a balance between engaging your muscles and softening into the pose. By not overexerting in the pose, you may find that you can stay in it longer while staying calm and serene. Check your breath – if it becomes short and labored, it’s a sure sign that you need to soften rather than push. Keep focusing on finding the balance and it will start to come more naturally.
Cultivate beginner’s mind.
Approach your flow without preconceptions. Take each pose with intention and explore each action as if you were doing the pose for the first time. Pay attention to how the pose makes you feel today.
Allow yourself to sink deliciously into your savasana.
Savasana is the ultimate meditation. After a satisfying asana practice, now is the time to withdraw further, release completely and let the practice sink in. If your mind tends to wander, simply count your breaths. If it keeps wandering, as it probably will, just keep bringing it back to your breath. Try to keep still, but if any part of your body feels uncomfortable or starts to settle differently as you relax, allow yourself to adjust your position without judgment. Send your breath to any body part that feels tension.
It won’t always come easily but try any or all of these to find more mindfulness in your asana. And, do please sign up for the Meditation Immersion!
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement last year, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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