The physical limb of yoga, asana, was initially performed by ancient Indian yogis with the intention of physically preparing the body for seated meditation. But I’d argue that in the 21st century, our minds need as much preparation as our bodies do!
The idea of sitting still and simply being runs counter to the cultural elevation of productivity and ‘doing’. In a society where our worth is defined by our performance, the importance of the mind is elevated and the significance of the body is largely ignored. As a culture, we’ve forgotten how to be in our bodies. Many of us have learnt to ignore our bodies for years – conditioned from a young age to sit for hours on end, suck our tummies in and wear uncomfortable shoes. Because of this socially-reinforced mind-body disconnect, if we choose to embrace the cultivation of the countercultural ‘being’ mode many of us struggle to extend our awareness beyond our minds.
Becoming aware of our thoughts is no small feat but if our mindfulness excludes the somatic level, then we are missing out on further possible healing opportunities. Notably we are missing out on benefits associated with somatic awareness, the awareness of our physical experience in our bodies.
Fortunately, the practice of yoga poses or asanas helps us to rediscover the connection between our minds and bodies. As we practice various asanas, we create sensations in our bodies by using and stretching our various muscles. If we invite our awareness to the aforementioned sensations and become mindful of our bodies in our physical expression of yoga, the practice of asana becomes both a movement meditation and an opportunity to experience and cultivate embodiment. In this way, by explicitly expanding our awareness beyond our minds to include our bodies, asana supports the experience of the present moment on a somatic level.
I know in my own practice, I find it easier to drop down from my mind into my body with the assistance of the sensations created in asana. When I am focusing my attention on my physical experience, mentally there is less room for mindless thinking.
In the mindful practice of asana, our physical movement helps us cultivate mental stillness.
Photo credit: Russell Posner.