Asanas Aren’t Enough!

Asanas Aren’t Enough!

So often I have visited gyms and even some yoga studios where yoga classes have become about the physical workout, with little or no time spent on meditation practice.  After visiting hundreds of different yoga studios around the country and experiencing many different styles of yoga I fear that this trend is deepening.  It is not surprising, as we try to squeeze time for fitness into our increasingly busier and more stressful lives.  But what is fitness?  Is it muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, maintaining a healthy body weight?  If we had all of this, would it be enough to make us happy?   It is so important that physical exercise – regardless of the type of activity – be supplemented with the practice of meditation in order for us to achieve our highest potential for well being and happiness.  If you’re like me you may not have grown up with meditation as a way of life, and many in the western world have never been exposed to it at all.  But it’s not too late to learn to train our mind to relax and manage the stress in our lives, because physical fitness alone is not enough.  It is critical to our happiness to include meditation into our daily lives!

You can take advantage of the time during a yoga class to practice meditation.  During the initial breathing practice, do your best to stay focused on your breath, your physical body and the sensation of breathing.  If outside thoughts arise, gently bring your mind back to your breath.  You can practice this breath meditation anytime, anywhere to bring more calmness to your day.  Our minds can only think about one thing at a time, and this practice helps train our mind to better concentrate and relax.  And the more we practice the better we get at it!  During the active postures of yoga, examine your breath more fully.  Follow your breath with your mind as it travels to all of the furthest parts of your lungs, and then mindfully follow it back out.  If you lose your mindful connection to your breath simply bring your thoughts back to your breath, your physical body and the feeling of the movement and your body breathing.  Savasana, or the relaxation phase of a yoga class, is the perfect time to really go deeper into meditation.  The practice has tired our muscles, helping us to more easily relax and let go.  If your teacher provides a guided meditation, do your best to follow their lead and notice if your thoughts wander, gently re-focusing when they do.  If you practice a style of yoga in which quiet time is given during savasana, try spending this time focusing on your breath.  Notice the natural rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.  Follow your breath as it travels in and out of your lungs.  Focus only on your breath and your breath alone.  Do not judge yourself harshly if your mind wanders, this is perfectly natural and normal.  Just gently bring your mind back to that one point of gentle concentration.

I often remind students that savasana is likely the most challenging of yoga postures!  We can no longer rely on large, concentrated body movements to help distract our wandering mind.  But instead we are faced with stillness and our internal mind’s chatter.  Learning to still and focus our mind is what this practice is really all about.  This is what separates yoga/meditation from other forms of physical exercise.  Many types of exercise will provide their own form of movement meditation.  While we are doing the exercise we are busy concentrating on the movement and not worrying so much about outside thoughts.  But this does not offer the opportunity to train the mind to be more calm outside the experience at hand, it is simply a temporary distraction.  When we learn to train the mind through meditation we learn the secret of peace and calm at any time.

Try meditation classes in your local area or yoga classes which incorporate guided meditation during savasana.  Once you are practicing meditation regularly you will notice a tremendous ability to find peace and calm both on and off the mat!

Most importantly have fun out there, yogis!

Anne Dries is the founder and owner of Buddha Nest Yoga.

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