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Mindful Asana

Hatha Yoga, Integral Yoga Teachings   |   November 5, 2015  |    Francesca Gobeille

There are periods of practice–and they are occurring with increasing frequency, the delicious fruit of recent years of growing pains and resulting deepening practice–during which I experience the absolute profundity of asana (postures). Today I experienced such a practice: each breath easeful and deep, movements sensitive and almost imperceptibly slow, mind patient and absorbed in raw sensation. The more I practice, the less I’m interested in external shapes or “correct” alignment, and the more I’m enraptured with feeling and how mindfulness – of sensation, of breath, of thought – can infuse asana with meaning, depth, and insight.

Mindful Asana 1Frank Jude Boccio, author of Mindfulness Yoga, recounts his delight at discovering mindfulness meditation practice: “[it lifted] the physical practice of asana from a mere preparatory role for meditation into a very real and deep meditation practice itself.” Today, as I felt my way through living postures, I realized that there is, indeed, no difference between my morning sitting meditation and evening asanas. Pigeon Pose, and there it was: total absorption in the sensations (textures, densities, forms…). And tears unexpectedly arose as I witnessed impermanence. Sensations were changing each second, and the kinder my mind—the more it could feel sensations without interfering or resisting – the more my body opened. How miraculous!

Injury taught me this. For two years, my body compelled me to move in an exceedingly slow and respectful manner. If my mind wandered for even a second, or if I decided the posture wasn’t “good enough” and pushed just a millimeter, I would be in pain the following day (or two, or three). At the time, it felt like a terrible and incomprehensible curse. My postures weren’t as they used to be, as they should be. How unfair to be punished so directly for a little pushing, a little judging, a little mind-wandering.

Now I understand. The injury was a most exquisite gift, completely transforming my practice and approach toward myself. It led me to mindfulness training, and taught me about the potential of asana – to instruct us in clear seeing and equanimity, in unconditional acceptance of our bodies, our minds, and of our lives. I am coming to understand, practice by practice, that just as in meditation, asana can reveal to us both that which is small and constantly changing and that which is infinite, eternal, within us.

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