There are so many benefits to having a practice in meditation, yoga and pranayama. If you cultivate a regular routine then expect to see a decrease in anxiety, an increase in mental and emotional clarity and profound physical changes in strength and understanding of your body. I'm currently practicing the Primary Series in traditional Ashtanga yoga which is meant to purify the body. It's rigorous but transformative and I've already learned a lot about myself through this study.
Part of the reason why I like this method best so far is it takes the physical asana practice and makes it more of a meditation. In regular, more western power yoga classes, I never could cultivate that relationship between the breath and the poses. I would immediately lose awareness of my senses and just literally go with the flow. What I was doing was keeping myself from really dropping in. It's the same type of meditative experience that a surfer could have dropping into a wave. It's powerful and kind of addicting to be honest! I think it's really important to drive this fact home because when I started yoga I didn't breathe and solely focused on it as a workout entirely which is something that happens when you hear the word "yoga" in the West.
So how can you make your asana more meditative?
- Learn the Ujjayi breath. You want this sound to be audible and it happens entirely through the nose (sorry, mouth breathers!). It sounds a bit like Darth Vader. Close the mouth and breathe in and out through the nose. Relax the tongue off the palette of your mouth and constrict the throat so you hear that deep, strong breathing sound. Try making each breath 3 counts long.
- If you're not used to the Ashtanga system that's ok! It takes years to learn and cultivate. But you can incorporate elements of this into your existing practice. Try involving the Ashtanga vinyasa way of breathing during your sequence of sun salutations and vinyasas (think chaturanga, up-dog to down-dog to start).
- Breathe out in chaturanga, breathe in during up-dog and breathe out to down-dog. This rhythm will begin to exercise the lungs and help your breath control overall which has huge impacts on anxiety. As I'm learning more advanced poses, I'm realizing a lot of it is actually about how you enter the pose on an inhale or exhale. It should all link together. For example, when entering into a handstand it should always be done on an inhale. We tend to cultivate habits over years and one of those for me was exhaling every time you do something strenuous. Not sure where it came from but it was a habit I had to break in order to properly synch in a more harmonious way of practice.
- Take time. Asana practice is not a race. It should be thoughtful and intelligent.
- Throw out your playlist. I know, what will we do without spotify playing in the background?! Well, if you eliminate any outside noise, it forces us to listen to our breath. This is extremely meditative by nature. Once I cultivated a strong breathing practice linked to my physical practice I can add music back in and still stay focused.
Hope this helps bridge the gap between the mental and the physical. It's helped me tremendously in life overall and I hope to grow more this year to offer even more guidance on this topic.