As a yoga teacher I am often asked what ‘kind’ of yoga I teach. My teaching style does not have a fixed label. It’s the result of the evolution of my experience as a student and teacher of yoga, which I’ve been for over 20 years. During this time I have studied with and learned from teachers in many styles – Iyengar, Sivanananda, Kripalu, Anusara, Moksha and Vinyasa.
So what do I teach? At a yoga studio it would be labeled “Hatha”, a general term that encompasses any of the physical kinds of yoga including the styles listed above. In today’s yoga world, however, Hatha yoga has come to mean a slow-paced and gentle way of practicing. As a teacher, I incorporate elements from each style into my teaching. However, there is an additional element I bring to my classes which has led me to refer to my style of teaching as ‘Mindful Yoga’.
It was about 5 years ago, I started a daily meditation practice. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the positive affects of daily meditation had crept into all aspects of my life and onto my mat. This mindfulness, or presence, deepened my yoga practice and heightened my awareness of being fully in the moment. Meditation reinvigorated my own practice.
A simple definition of mindfulness is ‘paying attention, on purpose, without judgment’. In Mindful Yoga, we observe how movement and posture affects breath and how breath affects the body. We notice our mind’s incessant thoughts and ongoing commentary and how they affect our experience of a pose. We become aware of how we compare and judge, grasp for the pleasant and push away the unpleasant, and of our preoccupation with the (unknown) future.
For instance, do you hold your breath when balancing or holding a challenging pose? Do you inadvertently tense muscles not involved in a deep stretch? Do you compare yourself to others in class? Does your mind wander in repetitive movements or slow, static poses? Do you react negatively when practicing a pose you don’t like or aren’t ‘good at’? These are all natural, but unnecessary reactions, which keep us out of the present moment and take away from the full experience of the pose.
When we practice Mindful Yoga, we focus on the experience of the ever changing sensations of the body and mind. We practice building strength, dissolving tensions and increasing mobility and circulation through yoga poses with the added benefit of deepening of awareness, insight and equanimity. When you roll up your mat at the end of class, my hope is that you take these qualities with you into your daily life.
Meredith teaches Mindful Yoga Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 am.