What is Mindfulness? Yoga and Mindfulness


Mindfulness is different from simple awareness. One is aware of a discomfort in the knee. Being mindful of the discomfort involves a deeper recognition and reaction to pain. Awareness can be a passive recognition and reaction to the pain. Mindfulness is the active form. It is the thought focus.

Being Physically Mindful

Everyone alive breathes. Being mindful of breath in yoga is focusing on breathing; for example, when drawing the breath into the base of the lungs with Mountain Pose and audibly exhaling into the fold position. Be mindful to use the breath to rise taller with the in-breath and fold and relax completely by emptying the lungs.

With this activity the mind is filled with the breathing and the movement. No cluttering thoughts flutter through. Being mindful allows existing in the moment.

Being Mindful of a Mood is Different from Experiencing the Mood Itself

There is a difference between being mindful of a mood and experiencing the mood. It takes some objectivity to step back from a situation where anger is the dominant emotion. An example might be feeling anger when the last parking place is taken and one is already late for class and then discovering there is a substitute teacher. Awareness of the anger is only a step toward mindfulness. Being mindful of the anger means not embracing it or allowing it to clog the mind’s pathways. Being mindful of anger prevents it from escalating into a verbal assault or internalizing it into high blood pressure. Breathing through the anger acknowledges it and then dissipates it.

Applying Mindfulness to Yoga Flow

The opening asana done in class can be only a simple warm-up exercise. But awareness of bringing the right foot forward in runner's lunge, then bringing the left foot to join the right before jumping forward or stepping back into a plank is not the same as being mindful of the flow. That state allows for continued learning instead of hypnotic repetition. Mindfulness allows the exercise to be new and fresh each time.

Be mindful of the knee not hyper-extending. Be mindful of the feet side by side almost touching. Be mindful of the body’s weight on the arms and lifting the hips into the air to float back into plank and of the hips not collapsing lower than the shoulders. During this movement no other thoughts are able to swirl around and toxify the mind. This is mindfulness.

Another way to understand mindfulness is to recognize mindlessness. This is also an empty head but without focus. Mindlessness is pulling the shoulder by twisting into a position without proper breathing. Inattention to a movement can cause trauma. There is awareness of the discomfort; there is only mindfulness of when a conscious counteraction is employed protectively. Then the path toward a destructive movement is learned so the process not repeated. This isn’t an instinctive reaction (though it can become so). Mindfulness is learned behavior.

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