In Part 1, I explained how the type of movement I practice and teach has evolved. Here in part 2, I’ll explain why mindful awareness is a HUGE part of my yoga classes.
Have you ever been to a yoga or meditation class and heard the teacher say things like:
- “notice how relaxed you’re feeling...”
- “clear your mind...”
- “pluck out negative thoughts like weeds...”
- “feel the prana moving down your arms...” or similar?
In response to this guidance, you may find yourself wrestling with thoughts such as:
- “If I’m not feeling relaxed, does that mean I am doing something wrong?”
- “How can I clear my mind when it is churning around like a washing machine on spin cycle?!!”
- “How can I get rid of these negative thoughts? However hard I try to stop them they just get more intense – aargh!”
- “What is prana supposed to feel like? Am I just not spiritual enough to feel this?”
In the past I have struggled with receiving this type of guidance and the adverse reactions triggered in my mind and body. When I learned mindfulness meditation, I realised that there are more skilful ways to inquire into present moment experience.
Mindfulness is being present with what is already there, rather than trying to change anything. Years ago I used to do relaxation exercises which had the effect of me feeling more and more tense, as I tried and tried to achieve relaxation through effort. It was through the mindful approach that I learned to relax by not trying to achieve anything, and just noticing body sensations, thoughts and emotions, and allowing things to be just as they are. Practising focusing on the body and breath, and seeing how the mind tends to wander away – to the future, past, daydreams, worries, judgements, etc – acknowledging those thoughts, then persistently, patiently, kindly, steering the attention back to body and breath. Again and again, many times over.
When we practice letting go, non-striving, patience, acceptance, kindness and curiosity, we discover all kinds of interesting things. Noticing what movements feel like in the body. Becoming aware of sensations that are unpleasant, neutral, and pleasant. Seeing that in any moment there is a wide variety of events unfolding within our experience. Sounds and thoughts coming and going. Body sensations changing from moment to moment.
Learning to be present with what is going on in the mind, body and heart with kindness and curiosity. This has a calming and nurturing effect on the nervous system, relieving stress and tension.
This doesn’t mean we don’t challenge the body. But we “play the edge” - becoming aware of an intense sensation as we are doing some strengthening moves, or a movement that feels new and unfamiliar, and working to balance out exploring that sensation, with cultivating an attitude of friendly curiosity and kindness towards the body, as best we can. We can get curious about how we respond to difficulty and challenge, noticing if there is a tendency to back off and avoid, or to over-strive and strain to achieve.
It’s been a great privilege to undergo mindfulness teacher training with Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice since 2016. Learning this teaching style has transformed how I teach yoga, and how I give massages, as well as feeding my own wellbeing and personal development.
So, if you are interested in:
practising a kindly awareness of the body
learning how to relax by letting go of striving to achieve anything
cultivating the ability to come back to the present moment
calming the nervous system through mindful awareness and practising acceptance of what “is”
gently inquiring into present moment experience
Then please get in touch!