The practice of yoga encompasses a wide-ranging spectrum of styles, settings, and applications. It is a versatile tool that can create significant outcomes for just about anyone. Because yoga is so vast, it’s helpful to get an overview of yoga’s various forms and uses before designing a plan of attack to incorporate it into your life.
From a steadying routine to achieve some weekly calm and quiet, to a robust cross-training or strength-training tool that can help you achieve athletic or wellness goals, here is an exploration of the ways yoga can be utilized to create positive benefits for both yourself and those around you.
Yoga’s Mindfulness Benefits
Mindfulness is a general term that refers to the practice of being engaged with the present moment and your immediate surroundings. It encompasses a number of different types of activities, including breathing exercises, guided routines, and prompted imaginative instruction that helps participants use imagery to achieve outcomes.
How Mindfulness is Incorporated into the Practice of Yoga
Mindfulness is a central component of the core values and methods in which yoga is based. Though the form it takes can vary substantially across the family of yoga styles and the huge number of different teachers, studios, techniques, and approaches that exist across the yoga world, it would be difficult to find a manifestation of yoga that doesn’t include some element of mindfulness teaching and practice.
Traditional yoga comprises eight distinct areas of focus, or “limbs”, that can be further broken down into elements that make up the entirety of yoga practice and philosophy. Most of these components relate to mindfulness in some way. These include:
- “Yamas,” or ethical choices – A framework that focuses on interpersonal engagement and involves developing one’s awareness of his or her attitudes and choices throughout life, and then working to incorporate more of yoga’s central values (like contentedness and truthfulness) into those patterns.
- “Niyamas,” or personal observances – Similar patterns of introspection and discipline that are incorporated more personally and intrinsically rather than interpersonally and communally.
- “Asanas,” or posture practices – Seated postures that are used to facilitate mindfulness and meditation.
- “Pranayama,” or breathing practices – Breathing exercises that promote a connection between the conscious and unconscious, as well as between the mind and the body.
- “Pratyahara,” or sense withdrawal – Exercises that focus awareness inward. These are meant to help quiet outer sensory perceptions and remove distractions, especially in preparation for meditation.
- “Dharana,” or concentration – The practice of quieting thoughts in exchange for maintaining a singular inner point of focus.
- “Dhyana,” or meditation – A state of mind that transcends even a singular point of focus and allows one to experience his or her surroundings without the mind interpreting that experience.
Clearly, the practice of yoga includes a wide range of ways to engage in various forms of mindfulness. Each of these components has a different emphasis and desired outcome for its mindfulness activities. Different instructors and studios will incorporate each element to varying degrees. Not every expression of yoga will include all of these elements.
As you engage with yoga, try out different elements of mindfulness and varying techniques for incorporating them into your practice routines. This might look like learning from different instructors and the ways they incorporate each element when they conduct their sessions. Or, if you want to develop your own personal routines, try using a mindfulness or yoga app that can guide you through different mindfulness flows.
Each of the elements above can provide a starting point for further exploration into how mindfulness can work for you.
How the Positive Effects of Mindfulness Can Extend Beyond Yoga Practice
Mindfulness is a unique way of harnessing, disciplining, and exercising one’s mind and conscious thought. Practicing mindfulness techniques doesn’t just increase one’s proficiency at yoga. It can create substantive outcomes that can show themselves in every realm of life.
Mindfulness can increase calm, focus, and ability to make rational decisions in the face of stressful or charged contexts. Mindfulness can provide a way of practicing more healthy and positive reactions to the difficulties of life. It can also strengthen one’s ability to think deeply and problem-solve.
Because of its capacity for positive effects, mindfulness is being increasingly incorporated into all kinds of settings. It is being used in classrooms and learning settings, as a part of therapeutic interventions, as an element of personal and professional development programs, as a tool for athletes and other high-performance individuals, and more.
Tips for Implementing Intentional Mindfulness Practice into Your Yoga Routines
Whether you are designing your own at-home yoga plan or attending a yoga studio and engaging with a structure designed by an instructor, here are a few tips for engaging with mindfulness aspects of yoga that will help you get the most out of your mindfulness practice:
Engage with it Seriously
Especially for those that are new to mindfulness, routines and prompts can feel uncomfortable, strange, or silly. It can be easy to laugh or treat it as a game or a joke. However, only taking mindfulness seriously and being open to how it may benefit you will allow you to unlock its capacity. Treat it with respect and it can do wonders for you.
Maintain a Quiet, Undisturbed Space
This is especially important for those who are engaging with yoga from their homes through videos, online sessions, or self-designed practice. Trying to achieve mindfulness when the kids, the dog, the husband, the phone, or all of the above are vying for your attention or running through the room can be an exercise in frustration or futility.
As much as humanly possible, try to create a space separate from the stimuli that bombards you the rest of the day. Even if you can get ten minutes of undisturbed quiet and tranquility, those ten minutes are often more valuable and effective than a half hour that’s constantly interrupted.
Treat it Like Practice
Every new skill takes repeated tries, mistakes, learning, and slow improvement over time. Mindfulness is the same. Practicing mindfulness is exactly that – practice. Over time, you’ll watch yourself get the hang of it. It will become easier and more effective. You’ll grasp more advanced concepts and find that what seemed hard at first becomes easier and easier as you continue. It takes sustained engagement and dedication to improve at any skill. Mindfulness training is worth the time and effort to do so.
Incorporating Yoga for Strength
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, yoga is more than mindfulness. It also incorporates physical movements that can advance into very challenging, athletic feats. Yoga encompasses many styles of “flow” that each emphasize different elements or activities. Flows are sequences of movements and poses that are knit together purposefully into a single routine that accomplishes a purpose.
How Yoga Can Build Physical Strength
Different yoga styles have unique characteristics and can create a number of strength benefits. Several styles in particular are designed to emphasize physical strength, agility, and endurance. For instance, “yang” yoga incorporates poses that challenge entire muscle groups and quicker movements, making this a more complex and physically difficult style of yoga than some of the traditionally slower or more beginner-friendly styles that are more stereotypical.
“Vinyasa” yoga is a fast-paced style that also incorporates poses with higher degrees of difficulty that beginners will need to work up to mastering. “Ashtanga” yoga could be considered one of the most physically advanced styles of yoga, combining rapid movements and sequences with challenging moves and poses that require endurance and muscle strength to perform.
Tips for Maximizing Yoga Strength-Training Effectiveness
Engaging in these more physical and athletic yoga styles will promote strength gains, improve endurance and stamina, and lose weight. If physical strength gains are a goal, here are a few tips for getting the most out of your yoga strength work:
Experiment with Different Styles to Find the Yoga Type that Works Best for You
Sometimes, experiencing big gains in effectiveness or strength is simply a matter of incorporating a new style of yoga that you haven’t tried before. Get out of a rut or shop around as you get started to see what styles create the biggest impact for your needs, targets, and lifestyle.
Wear a Heart Monitor
If you are serious about physical endurance and stamina gains, wearing a heart monitor can help you pinpoint what activities, styles, and flows maximize your cardiovascular system and give you the most bang for your buck.
Give Yourself the Tools to Succeed
As with any physical practice or activity, you’ll perform best and make way for the best results if you give your body what it needs to perform. This includes getting proper sleep, emphasizing good nutrition, stretching, cross-training, and making sure your muscles get enough recovery time before each session.
More than Personal: Creating Yoga Routines for Others
Those that experience the power and the positive effects of yoga are often inspired to pass along those benefits to others. For some people, that may just look like inviting a friend or two along to the studio from time to time. But for others, this might look like more structured and committed involvement. Some become yoga instructors, or even study an area of physical movement like exercise science or kinesiology and become qualified to offer more official physical instruction and expertise.
Are you interested in introducing others to the world of yoga? This can take different forms depending on your interests and desired level of commitment. From the workplace to school, friends, and family, any of your circles might be able to benefit from an increased awareness of yoga and the benefits it affords. Introducing others to yoga in one or more of these settings might look like inviting your yoga instructor to offer a special one-time session in your workplace or school.
It might look like organizing a group of friends to all follow an online yoga session together either once or at regular intervals. It could include committing to a thirty-day or three-month yoga plan with a friend or two. Or it could look like completing an official yoga training program to become qualified to start offering your own yoga sessions.
Whatever your interests, needs, and passions surrounding yoga and its wide range of benefits, there are lots of opportunities for getting involved and creating a yoga routine either on your own or with friends, family, and community members. The only limit is your interest and dedication!