Two weeks ago when I was prepping to teach my classes I realized I didn’t have a message to share. I sat quietly the evening before my first class and thought about why that was the case. I knew it wasn’t that the universe had no messages for me, instead it was clear that due to the end of the school year/beginning of summer frenzy I hadn’t been mindful enough to receive them. That experience prompted me to take some time to be with my thoughts; to prioritize what is really important, to focus on the fundamentals in my life and to be more mindful in the moment.
In addition to teaching my regular classes this past week, I began teaching my summer curriculum at an acting school in Manhattan. The first class usually brings with it a variety of experiences with Yoga from never ever to all the time therefore I always start with 4 priorities to focus in the first asana practice. I label them the fundamentals of the asana practice; Breath, Spine, Core, Drishti (gaze). Focusing on these 4 aspects teaches us how to have a mindfulness practice on the mat.
Bringing together my personal experience over the last couple of weeks (recognizing the need for space in my own mind and connecting to my priorities) partnered with revisiting these “asana fundamentals” reminded me of this quote “If you don’t change it, you choose it”. Mindfulness is an incredibly powerful tool both on the mat and off. If we aren’t mindful then we can’t make mindful decisions and instead we find ourselves on the hamster wheel of life; experiencing the same patterns over and over and possibly, by not inviting change, making choices that may not truly serve us. This became my message for the week.
The students started class in a comfortable seat and explored a retention breath practice (count to 4 on the inhale & exhale & hold a count of 2 at the top of the inhale & the bottom of the exhale) as a way of connecting more deeply with the first asana fundamental, the Breath. From there they moved to cat/cows and core warm up to practice the connection between the Spine and the Core. As they transitioned into their first Downward Dog I asked them to notice where their gaze landed. Committing to these fundamentals helped keep the students mindful throughout the asana practice as they each made conscious mindful choices about what would serve them in their bodies.
When we break it down simply on the mat, those mindful choices become easier. The physical practice is not about how many Vinyasas we do, instead its about how we honor our body in its journey in that particular practice on that day. Off the mat it is largely the same process. When we practice connecting to our own personal fundamentals and making mindful decisions from that place we know that we are actively choosing our path, not letting it choose us. And sometimes when we do this work we realize that there are many things in our lives that we don’t want to change, that are going wonderfully right. With that realization we are still making the mindful choice, this time the choice is not to change, but to be grateful.
Back on the mat, students explored ankle to knee variations in Downward Dog, Utkatasana, Side Plank and even Grasshopper (pictured above) to help release the hips. Getting deep into the places in the body where we store clutter can help not just the body be more free, but the mind as well. When the mind is less full, we can be more mindful.
Towards the end of practice we came onto our backs for final back bends and spinal twists with a slow transition into Savasana. From there I asked the students to surrender the asana fundamentals. I heard the quieting of the breath as once again it became part of the subconscious processes in their bodies and I reminded them to let their spines relax into the earth and their bellies soften. Finally I asked them to close their eyes and draw the Drishti inward.
As we sat in our final moment together on our mats, I could feel from my students a deeper connection to the practice. Connecting to the fundamentals in the body helped to ground them in the practice. Connecting to what is truly important off the mat helps us make conscious mindful choices. I thanked them for sharing this powerful energy with me and found myself in a moment of true gratitude for the immense power of mindfulness; the clarity to be grateful for our blessings and the wisdom to see the changes we need to make. Namaste.