Yoga is very much a physical practice. It is also an exercise of the mind. Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in perfecting the body and then we unintentionally neglect the mind. Though any yoga is better than no yoga, we only get half the benefit if we are not actively cultivating our mental powers along with bodily movements.
To achieve the true unity of yoga we need to bring our brain to the studio — wide awake. Here are three steps to yoga as a mental discipline.
When you go to the studio, or set out your mat for home practice, set an intention. Not just “get through it” but something specific and meaningful that relates to your thoughts or mental processes. Are you frustrated? Bored? Struggling in a relationship? Coping with grief, or conflict? Whatever state your mind is in, acknowledge and accept this — and set one small intention for how you are going to shift this energy.
One way to quickly build your mental discipline is to concentrate on your physical practice. It is so easy to switch into auto-pilot, especially if it is a familiar class or sequence. Resist this temptation. There is always something to learn if you are alert and focused. Stay present in your body, notice your breath, listen to what the teacher actually says (instead of letting the words drift in one ear and out). This is a form of meditation. Not only will it calm your mind, it will enhance your powers to focus outside the studio.
Yoga shouldn’t stop when you step off your mat. It is easy to feel positive and generous in the comfortable confines of the studio. Then you head back into the hustle and bustle and face all sorts of distractions and irritations. It is no good being all peace and light in yoga class then going out and snapping at your colleagues and family. When you can bring the same intention and concentration to your daily interactions that you do to yoga, you have achieved real unity and power.