By Gopi Rao
Is it possible to add mindfulness meditation to a yoga class? Many argue that mixing two healing modalities is not “pure yoga.” On the other hand, yoga has been evolving and absorbing modalities over many thousands of years. 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 a state of being fully aware of the present moment, an awareness of what you are sensing and feeling, without judgment or interpretation. This state of awareness can be formal and involve sitting down and focusing on your breathing or merely being conscious of the things happening around you. Mindfulness can occur 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 at a time.
Within the Classroom
In the classroom setting, the student can achieve mindfulness through various 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 and apply these skills to their everyday lives. So, how do you teach mindfulness in a virtual or in-person yoga classroom?
At 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 learned 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 breathing. The student focuses on the chest rising and backing down during this exercise. The student will focus on their breath that is going in and out. During this exercise, the instructor will prompt the students to gently go back to focus on their breath, going in and out when their minds drift to worries and concerns.
This exercise involves leading the student to scan their entire bodies and note 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, and throat and move 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, the instructor can ask the class to review thoughts that came up personally. With privacy laws setting the tone, students should review any issues with a professional.
In this exercise, the instructor will ask the class to imagine the face of someone 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 wish that this person achieves nothing but happiness sincerely. Students will find a challenge with a loving, kind intention toward people they do not like. The key is to focus 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, 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 they are safe. You can have gratitude for a meeting online or in person with like-minded people and practice mindfulness and gratitude. You can be grateful for someone in your life or thankful for your gifts and abilities. 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 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 returning to life’s daily routine.
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