After becoming a mother, I discovered mindfulness and it changed my life. But most of all, it changed my yoga practice. Movement on the mat slowed way down, and I became a mindfulness junkie by all accounts.
While I was never one to rush through poses in my Vinyasa practice, mindfulness brought a truly distinct flavor to my home practice, such that it almost ruined studio yoga practice for me because I got to blissfully savor everything at home. Not only did mindfulness keep me coming back to the mat for more, but it helped me advance my practice, increase strength, flexibility, and cultivate a quieter mind.
As a yoga teacher and yogi on Instagram, where I sometimes share video clips of my practice, students often ask if I am an ex-dancer or gymnast because of how I move with such control. While I’m flattered by the question, I’m always happy to answerno because that tells them this level of movement is attainable! I grew up a tennis player—not the most slow and controlled sport—so I attribute all my strength, flexibility, and style of movement solely to my consistent, mindful yoga practice. My follow up with these curious students then always goes into the benefits of bringing mindfulness into the asana practice, as that’s ultimately from where the quality of my movement stems.
Mindful movement inspires and has completelyelevated my practice, and it can elevateyours, too. Here are three main concepts around how to incorporate it into your practice.
Slow Down. Get present with your breath. Rather than going on autopilot, slowing down cultivates a beginner's mind and keeps everything fresh. Approach the poses and transitions as if it were your first time, remaining open and curious about new sensations, and ways to work in the pose. Breath takes center stage.
Feel, Don't See. Mindfulness is about feeling sensation, exploring and getting curious about your movement, and less about how it all looks. Notice the changes in your body, your mindset, and your emotions. Notice how or whether you’re engaging all the muscles you need to work the posture or transition. Less attachment to the aesthetics of the pose will also take you into a deeper understanding of how it feels best inyourbody.
Get Grounded. Use the floor in new ways! Notice and feel texture beneath you. Notice how rooting down helps you stabilize and build strength as you move your bodyweight around more effectively. Notice how supported you are, and your mind will eventually relax a bit more in challenging postures. Trust the support of the ground and trust the heightened awareness of where you are in space.
Of course, this isn’t just about beautiful, controlled movement. There are seriousbenefits to elevating your practice with mindfulness that goes way beyond aesthetics.
It builds strength. It's easier to move quickly than to move slowly. This doesn't mean you don't let go and "flow", but every movement is intentional and this asks more of your body and attention. Alignment stays on point, and you can do more by doing less. Slowing down uses less momentum and creates resistance, which intensifies the load. This then strengthens you not just in a pose likeChaturanga, but it enables you to recruit more strength when it comes to working flexibility, as it demands all muscles are turned on to take you there safely, breath by breath.
It prevents injury. Injuries happen most often when our attention strays or we rush through movements. It's hard to "find our edge" without going way over it, especially when we're going so quickly! When you bring mindfulness into play you are paying attention—alignment is on point, proper technique is employed, and you can’t cheat your way through the pose or transition. Slowing down protects you from injury because you are fully present.
It's sustainable. Mindfulness shifts focus from the what (the pose) to the how (mindful movement), which is really what yoga is all about. In creating a practice of merely noticing everything (which is ultimately what mindfulness is), you will cultivate such a deep understanding of your own body and experience. The voice of the teacher within you (whether or not you teach yoga, we all have an inner teacher guiding us) will grow louder and help carry the practice through many different seasons of your life.
It’s yoga. Patanjali’s second yoga sutra states that yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind. Mindfulness in itself is a practice of yoga, in simpler terms. Bringing that heightened awareness and curiosity of the present moment into your movement is merely that same union of another color. Being present, slowing down, letting the breath guide you rather than your desire to attain a pose—that’s the yoga, and it always has been!
So, are you ready to elevate your movement with a mindful yoga practice? Perhaps you have been doing this all along and you didn’t even realize it! Mindfulness is such a supportive concept to invite into your mat space, and I hope it allows you to challenge and explore your asana practice in new ways, inspiring you to come back to your mat again and again.
Cat Valadez is an Inner Fire Luminary who has been practicing yoga since 2006, and is a full-time 500HR teacher in North County, San Diego where she lives with her husband and son. Her teaching style is clear and candid, focusing on cultivating stability, strength, and mindfulness on and off the mat. Online, she offers yoga tutorials via Instagram at @catvaladezyoga and starting April you can #bendstronger with her via the Playbook app’s online classes (iPhone only at this time). Learn more atwww.catvaladezyoga.com.