By Gopi Rao
Is it possible to add mindfulness meditation in a yoga class? Many would argue this mixing of two healing modalities is not “pure yoga.” On the other hand, yoga has been evolving and absorbing modalities over many thousands of years. In fact, we have always practiced breath awareness meditation in many styles of yoga…and guess what? Breath awareness meditation is another form of mindfulness meditation. Additionally, we constantly remind our students to be present for yoga practice – Presence is a cornerstone concept in mindfulness meditation.
Focused Awareness and Stillness
Mindfulness is being fully aware of the moment, an awareness of what you are sensing and feeling, without judgment or interpretation. Mindfulness can be formal and involve sitting down and focusing on your breathing or merely being conscious of the things going on around you. Mindfulness can take place when one walks in the forest, or reads a book, but not both at the same time. For the mind to achieve stillness, it must focus on one task as a time.
In the classroom setting, the student can achieve mindfulness through a variety of techniques. The mindfulness meditation portion of a yoga class will teach students to learn how to accept moments, free from judgment or interpretation, and with an ability to disassociate feelings from the present moment. The student can practice mindfulness in the classroom, but students also can apply these skills to their everyday lives. So, how do you teach mindfulness in a virtual or in-person yoga classroom?
In the Beginning of Class
Before a yoga class, a 5-15 mindfulness exercise can begin each session. During the asana portion of the class, the instructor can occasionally prompt students to reminders of what was learning during mindfulness. Below are some examples of mindfulness exercises.
In this exercise, the instructor has the class sit down, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. During this exercise, the student focuses on the chest rising and back down. The student will focus on their breath that is going in and out. During this exercise, the instructor will prompt the students that when their minds begin to drift to worries, concerns, to gently go back to focus on their breath going in and out.
This exercise involves leading the student to scan their entire bodies and take note of sensations, pain, or feelings that arise while examining the body. It is important never to judge what has been discovered sensations in the body scan but to note what thoughts or feelings occurred. In this exercise, the instructor will ask the student to focus on their scalp, ears, eyes, mouth, throat, and moving down the body to the toes. The instructor will ask the student to notice any pain or thoughts associated with each body part. After this exercise is over, the instructor can ask the class to personally review thoughts came up. With privacy laws setting the tone, it is best for students to review any issues with a professional.
In this exercise, the instructor will ask the class to imagine the face of someone that they love or maybe even dislike. Think of the image of this person and send them well wishes. Imagine sending out a message to the universe. The instructor can ask the students to sincerely wish that this person achieves nothing but happiness. Students will find a challenge with a loving kindness intention toward people they do not like. The key is to focus one’s intention on the positive qualities of those we do not like.
In this exercise, the instructors ask the students to think of a place, like a forest. The instructor can ask the students to imagine what the trees look like, image how the leaves or needles fell, and how the tree smells. Visualization is an essential lesson in learning how to live in the moment. How often do we go to nature, but never take the time to live in that moment and enjoy it?
This exercise is all about taking time to appreciate the small things. It could be the student focusing on whether they have a place to live, a job, food to eat, and you are safe. You can have gratitude for meeting online or in person with a group of like-minded people and practice mindfulness and gratitude. You can be grateful for someone in your life or thankful for the gifts and abilities you possess. It can be just a reminder that everyone who made it to the class today is fit, healthy, and alive.
If you have not already taught these methods, mindfulness meditation can be an excellent addition to a yoga class for the instructor and students. Yoga can be a more focused and rewarded effort when we are fully engaged. For those teaching fitness based classes mindfulness meditation in a yoga class will add to the entire experience. The result is a satisfied student who has enjoyed a “cool down” (stillness) before retuning to life’s daily routine.
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