Wait, did I actually remember to turn the stove off?
What should I make for dinner tonight?
How is everyone else doing this with their bodies? Will I ever get there?
Oh thank goddess, finally savasana!
Sound at all familiar? At times the constant inner dialogue that underlies our lives can check us out of the embodied experience of yoga practice. Mindful movement invites us to literally slow down, become more aware, and appreciate each moment of the journey.
Over the past several decades mindfulness has burst into mainstream culture in the West in unprecedented fashion. This can largely be attributed to an insight that appeared in the mind of a man named Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn on a meditation retreat in Barre, Massachusetts during the late 1970’s. The insight was to find a way to apply the ancient wisdom of mindfulness meditation to bring healing to the troves of suffering patients filling medical centers in the United States. This insight eventually bloomed into what is now known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (or MBSR for short), a thoughtfully crafted 8-week curriculum offered today at hundreds of medical centers worldwide.
MBSR allowed mindfulness practice to be put under the scrutiny of modern scientific research, which made it possible for the practice’s benefits to be validated and distilled into language easily digestible for the average Western layperson. Dr. Kabat-Zinn intentionally incorporated mindful hatha yoga into the MBSR program because he saw its value as an accessible way of discovering embodiment by simply exploring the body in motion.
Yoga practice essentially brings together three elements: the mind, the body (encompassing the breath), and awareness. Mindful yoga naturally privileges awareness because mindfulness in short is awareness. In a few more words, Dr. Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Paying attention in this way allows us to better understand the nature of the mind, what contributes to well-being, and what alleviates suffering.
In alignment with the attitudes that support mindfulness practice (non-striving, non-judging, patience, acceptance, etc.) in this context, the poses offered throughout a sequence are not a means to any end. They are not a way to improve performance, fix the body, fulfill any agenda or get anywhere in particular. This attitude is beautifully encapsulated in a passage from a piece titled, ‘Beneath Arriving,’ by the spiritual writer and poet Mark Nepo:
“Of course, there will always be times that we need to find our very precise way. But more often than not, our image of a destination is only a starting point that we cling to needlessly. When we can free up our sense of needing to arrive in a certain place, we lessen the weight of being lost. And once beneath arriving and beneath our fear of failing to arrive, the real journey begins.”
In mindful yoga the guidance offered becomes secondary, and serves only as a support for the student to attend to the moment-to-moment experience of living within the body. This can empower the student to take a more active role in the practice, trusting in the body’s wisdom to be the ultimate guide. Explore for yourself the benefits of incorporating awareness-centered movement into your yoga practice using the audio linked here! (practice adapted from one by Diane Reibel, PhD, Director of the Myrna Brind Center for Mindfulness):
This post was submitted by Dylan Scott.
You may know Dylan as the smiling face behind the check-in desk at Maha every Thursday night. Beyond his role in the work exchange program at Maha, Dylan is a contracted mindfulness teacher with the Myrna Brind Center for Mindfulness within the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Jefferson. He also works with medical students at Jefferson offering the Koru Mindfulness program, which is a curriculum specifically designed to introduce mindfulness practice to emerging adults. Separate from his teaching, Dylan serves as Koru’s social media manager working to create an inclusive community to support students in practice. With an organization called Roots2Rise, Dylan co-facilitates monthly meditation and yoga drop-in sessions for employees at Prevention Point in Kensington.
Dylan was first introduced to mindfulness practice during college in response to struggles with panic disorder, and is in the process of writing a forthcoming book titled, “The True Compass,” to serve as a resource for others looking to find more freedom from anxiety.