Sunday, March 30, 2008

Yoga: Mind and Body or Spirit

You're at your favorite yoga studio and your yoga practice is just starting. You've chosen your favorite spot in the room and unrolled your yoga mat. The teacher begins instruction and you follow along. You come into your first Downward Dog of the practice.

The house is finally quiet and you've seized the opportunity to practice some yoga. You've got some soft New Age-esque music playing in the background and you're moving through some Sun Salutations to get warmed up and into the yoga groove.

Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? Or perhaps you're more familiar with a variation on one of these themes. Regardless, I have a question for you -- where is your head at?

I happen to think that unrolling your yoga mat and moving your body doesn't necessarily mean that you're practicing yoga. When you're on the mat are you:

Thinking about what you're going to be doing after practice
Intently listening to the yoga teacher on your DVD, often sneaking peaks at the TV/computer screen
Watching the yogi a few mats over from you
Trying to please the teacher by thinking about your alignment
Moving your body from memory

You get the idea. The question is -- if you're doing any or all of those things are you practicing yoga?

Since I see yoga as a holistic (think whole person) practice, I'd say no. What's happening with your breath? Is your mind wandering or is it engaged in the practice? Are you feeling your body or simply moving it? Is your breath coordinated with your movement?

Often, yoga is seen as more effort than mindful practice. Yogis push themselves through a practice, get a good sweat going or test the limits of their body's flexibility -- that's a good day on the mat. What's happening during that practice though? Is the breath long and even? Is the mind calming and focusing? Is the body feeling strong and comfortable? If not, it might be time to try a different way of practicing. If the practice stays physical, then the benefits of the practice will also remain superficial.

I challenge you to practice yoga holistically, which means that you get your mind, body and breath into it. Pay attention to your breath during your practice and let all movement become an extension of the breath. Believe me, when you're coordinating your breath and your movement, your mind will be too engaged to wander.

If your practice is only serving your body, ask yourself what would happen if you went deeper. Bringing more presence to your practice could change the whole tone of your practice -- and most likely your life.

And this week when you practice yoga, ask yourself where your head is at. Are you on your mat in the moment or are you elsewhere? Is your body moving consciously or automatically? Start paying attention to your breathing and how your breath and movements work together. Welcome to a deeper, more transformative yoga practice.

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