Our yoga practice often focuses so much on stretching our hamstrings, strengthening our core, and opening our hips that it’s easy to forget that yoga can offer us a chance to know our mind, as well as our bodies.
When I first started practicing yoga, I enjoyed exploring how my body could move and stretch in new ways, taking pleasure in the process of movement without thinking much about what I was doing.
But after more than a decade of practicing, I’ve come to see that I am always thinking. Even when I struggle to touch my toes in Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) or lift myself into Upward Facing Bow (Urdva Dhanurasana), I may be thinking my hamstrings can’t stretch any further or my knees are on fire.
By thinking, I mean noticing thoughts that flow through my mind while I move from one pose to another.
Just the other day, for instance, I noticed the way my body flowed forward into Standing Forward Bend and the sensation of cool air flowing over my skin as I raised my arms over my head and swept them down to the ground. And I noticed my ability to bend only so far and no further.
These “thoughts” –some pleasant, some filled with frustration–are as much a part of each pose as the parts of my body.
It’s interesting how our way of thinking can influence our perspective. Just thinking positively (I can do this!), for example, can aid me into the pose, while thinking negatively (I’ll never be able to touch my toes!) may actually hinder my ability to reach my toes.
The ability to notice my thoughts came about as part of my yoga practice, though I wasn’t aware of it in the beginning.
Over time, though, as I began to notice my thoughts in each pose, I learned gradually how to quiet the chatter and criticism. I learned how to listen to what was actually happening to my body in that moment.
My yoga practice helped me stretch my body, but, just as importantly, it helped me expand my way of thinking about the poses and about yoga and its relationship to life.
Now in my weekly practice sessions I try to acknowledge whatever I am thinking in the moment. I let the poses help me quiet my thoughts and quell my fears.
Each time I step on my mat, I find a kind of peacefulness and equanimity that’s hard to find elsewhere.
I think it’s because yoga has helped me learn how to understand life not as something divided into separate parts, such as body and mind, or earth and sky, but rather linked together as one.
Practice Journal: What is your focus in practice–your body, your mind, or both? How does your practice help quiet your mind so you can sink into the stillness of each moment? And how does noticing your thoughts in each pose help you expand into the fullness of the pose with greater grace and ease? Write: 10 min.