“Surrender your body to gravity. It’s when we don’t that the tension creeps in.”
I’m lying on a yoga mat, staring up at the ceiling and trying to follow the instructor’s advice. The problem is my body doesn’t seem to want to!
I think that’s sort of the point of mindful yoga though.
It’s not as physically dynamic as other forms of the exercise (especially not my personal favourite, hot yoga) but it does encourage you to relax and focus more intently on what your body wants to do. Unfortunately, for me, that’s often the opposite of what I think it should be doing!
The idea, I’m told, is to become more familiar with your body “just as it is”. Lying in shavasana (yogis also call this ‘corpse posture’) you’re instructed to mentally scan yourself from head to toe. If you find there are areas of tension you’re asked to “inquire into them” rather than try and change them – it’s about paying more attention to your body’s natural state, and just “going with it”.
As we move slowly into the postures (we only did four or five in an hour), it’s hard not to tense my body into a stretch. Just letting mother nature “do her work” doesn’t feel like the right way to exercise – it feels like you’re not really trying. It takes a few instructor-led adjustments to get me into the positions, particularly when I’m told to simply ‘lift’ my body off the mat rather than push up with my hands. Even though I’m informed there’s no right way to practise mindful yoga, it does feel a little bit like I’m doing it wrong!
At the end of the class, I admit to the instructor that I don’t really get it. Apparently, I’m not the only one. I’m told that’s a common reaction to mindful yoga and that people usually need a few sessions to get used to it. A fellow class member who practises regularly encourages me to stick at it, saying, “it can really open you up to some incredibly restorative, even emotional, feelings”.
I can see how that might be the case. In mindful yoga, you’re encouraged to express your aims for the session in the present, like you’re convincing yourself that they’re really going happen: “I am relaxing”, not, “I want to feel relaxed”. Towards the end of the class, as I start to feel less self conscious, I do feel my body unwinding a bit. When the instructor urges us to finish by expressing our deepest desires a few class members seem to be tapping into something that I haven’t quite grasped yet. I imagine the combination of meditation and physical relaxation practised in mindful yoga would leave you feeling more emotionally vulnerable if you’ve really engaged with this during the session. Unfortunately, though, I’m not sure my mind and body were quite in tune enough with each other for me to feel the same emotional release my fellow class members were experiencing.
Having practised mindfulness (without yoga) occasionally in the past, I do think that kind of dedicated relaxation could be helpful to try now and again, particularly when you’re busy and stressed. But it will probably take a few more sessions of mindful yoga for me to co-ordinate my mind and my body into similarly peaceful states – even then I’m not quite sure it’s in my nature! So, while I’m not entirely convinced by mindful yoga, I guess I’m not quite ruling it out forever!
What’s your experience of mindful yoga? Any other relaxation exercises you’d recommend giving a go? I’d love to try them!