How-To in Cultivating Mindfulness in Your Yoga Teaching

Mindfulness is a set of mental skills that, when practiced regularly, help you regulate your emotions and focus more effectively. It’s like exercise for your brain.

Begin by choosing a base of attention – for some people it’s their hands, for others the breath or a soothing phrase. Then, gently bring your attention back to this place when experiences become overwhelming.

Focus on your breath

In yoga, the breath is your most immediate and tangible link to the present moment. It serves as an anchor, drawing the wandering mind back from past regrets or future anxieties, and directing it into the “now.”

Focusing on the breath is a foundational practice for cultivating mindfulness. When you teach your students, encourage them to notice the sensations of their breath, noticing the subtle variations in the flow (e.g., sighing, unusually deep or shallow breaths), the ebb and flow of the inhalations and exhalations, and how the body responds to the changing patterns of the breath.

Over time, with practice, the breath becomes a solid foundation for the practice of awareness in the body and the mind. It helps your students learn how to concentrate their attention and direct it where it is needed most. Try to visit a wellness retreat in Bali for 4-8 days to have better well-being and peace of mind.

It also allows them to become aware of their habitual reactions to unwanted or wanted but unhealthy experiences and emotions, which are usually rooted in fear, anger, self-pity, sadness, cravings, and addictions. Mindfulness enables your students to notice these automatic and unhelpful cycles of thinking, feeling, remembering, imagining, and fantasizing before they get out of hand, which can cause physical and emotional suffering, and then to respond in ways that will bring freedom, wisdom, and compassion into their lives.

In your yoga classes, try introducing simple guided mindfulness practices in the beginning of class. This will help your students learn how to direct their attention into the body, allowing them to move through the poses with greater ease and awareness.

A key aspect of mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness, which means that you don’t judge the quality or quantity of your thoughts and feelings. It simply means recognizing that these are just part of your human experience.

For some of your students, standard sitting and walking forms of mindfulness meditation may not be appropriate, especially if it causes intense anxiety to rise or scatters attention, leaving them ungrounded. For them, a more active and movement-oriented mindfulness practice such as Iyengar yoga or Qigong might be a better match.

Listen to your body

Practicing mindfulness in yoga involves paying attention to the sensations of the body and tuning into how you feel in each moment. This can be done during a formal meditation session or in smaller moments throughout the day. Eventually, this practice can lead to the integration of mind and body. This is often referred to as “befriending the body” and can include learning how to accept all its parts, forming healthy relationships with it, and compassionately healing the physical injuries or traumas that may be present.

To practice attentive body listening, start by finding an object of focus that can serve as a ‘base’ and safe place to return to when experiences become overwhelming. For many people, this will be their breath; for others, a word or phrase like “breath” or a comforting image or memory of a safe place can work well. Then, practice gently bringing your attention back to this focus each time it wanders.

As you progress, begin to extend your awareness beyond the body to other senses, such as sounds, scents, the temperature of the air and the surface on which you are sitting, or even the sensation of movement, whether in your own body or in others’ bodies nearby. Eventually, you can work up to a full-body scan of the entire body, from the top of your head down to the bottom of your feet, welcoming all sensations with curiosity and acceptance.

If you have a history of trauma or abuse, this might be especially challenging for you. You might need to learn some basic emotion-regulation skills and/or get professional help to work through lingering distress or painful memories before practicing this skill. Also, if you tend to dissociate (blank out or leave your body in stressful or upsetting situations), this could interfere with your ability to practice mindfulness.

If you do have some of these challenges, it is important that you practice only in the presence of a qualified teacher or therapist and that you are prepared to stop the practice at any point if you experience becoming not just perturbed but overwhelmed by painful feelings or memories during your practice.

Be present

One of the most important aspects of yoga and mindfulness is the ability to be present. This means being aware of your thoughts and emotions without judgement and allowing yourself to experience each moment fully. This practice is especially helpful when you’re teaching a class, as it can help to reduce the stress response and keep you centered.

While it’s common for teachers to be distracted during class, it is important that you can stay anchored in your own experience. If you find yourself getting lost in thought or judging your own progress, try taking a few deep breaths to ground back into the present moment. Keeping yourself in the flow of the students is also a great way to be more present. This may mean flowing through your own practice along with the students or demonstrating a few poses yourself.

It’s also a good idea to get familiar with your students’ strengths and challenges, such as whether they have a strong grip or struggle to balance. This will allow you to make appropriate modifications for each individual student.

Be careful not to confuse mindfulness with letting yourself go through unpleasant experiences without resistance or reaction. Mindfulness is a tool for cutting through automatically unfolding chains of associated feelings, thinking, remembering, fantasizing and story-telling.

A skilled teacher can see these cycles as they occur, and can then choose to take a more thoughtful approach to the situation. It’s important to know that this does not necessarily equate to passively accepting harm, or failing to protect yourself from victimization. Rather, it is a resource for navigating life’s challenges with wisdom and compassion.

Cultivating mindfulness is a journey that takes time and effort, but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both you and your students. With the right support, you can begin to experience yoga and mindfulness as a profound transformation of being. It will help you to be present in every breath and movement on the mat, unearthing the profound beauty and unshakable presence that lies within each moment. It’s an exciting journey that will help you to be more resilient and wiser in any challenge.

Be kind to yourself

It can be easy to get caught up in the work of teaching yoga and forget about taking care of yourself. This can lead to burnout, which is why it’s important for teachers to practice self-care regularly. This can be as simple as making sure you have enough food and water to last the day or as complex as finding a way to balance a demanding career with time for your own personal practice.

Being kind to yourself is a key component of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a set of skills that can help you to relate more positively to your experiences, including difficult and painful ones. It is often a journey of exploration and growth, with roadblocks and setbacks. But with persistence, it can be a reliable way to respond with freedom and wisdom to a wide range of human experience.

One way to be kind to yourself is to avoid judging yourself or comparing yourself to others. This can be hard for new yoga students, but it is important to remember that every person’s body and needs are unique. If you find yourself struggling to stay present, try rephrasing your negative thoughts as observations instead of judgments. Viewing these thoughts as information rather than an attack on yourself will help you to release their grip and move beyond them.

Another way to be kind to yourself is to remember that your actions and words have a positive or negative impact on others. So it’s important to be thoughtful about how you interact with your students and colleagues. This includes being aware of your tone of voice and how you speak to others. Using positive language and being thoughtful in your interactions will help to create a more supportive environment for everyone.

Being kind to yourself is also a great way to prepare for your classes. For example, if you’re feeling nervous about leading a class, try taking some deep breaths and focusing on your intention for the class. You can even use the power of gratitude to help you remain grounded and centered. By focusing on all the things you are thankful for, you’ll be less likely to get overwhelmed and anxious.

Rebecca Alderson
Rebecca follows and writes about the latest news and trends surrounding crypto currency. She's currently investing in BTC and ETH.