5 Focal Points To Help You Stay Present In Yoga – Plus Poses to Prep for Mindful Meditation
The first thing most people say about yoga, if they’ve never done a class is, “I’m not flexible.”
No doubt they are vividly imagining having to put their leg behind their head at the first class… I’ve even had some people say it directly: “I can’t put my leg behind my head,” at which point I give them a wry smile.
Neither can most…
Yoga is not just about having a flexible body, this a misperception of yoga – rather, yoga is about developing the threefold nature of the being: body, mind and spirit – and ONE way of doing this is through harnessing the threefold nature of the body: strength, flexibility and balance. These three aspects work in synergy to help focus the mind in a constructive way, and help the spirit be more present in the person’s daily life.
If you enjoy sitting meditation, yoga is a great way to limber up a stiff body, so that you enjoy your sitting meditations more. It can also be used as a mindful meditation in and of itself, rather than just ‘doing’ the postures.
Body and mind are linked, so a relaxed open body means a better flow of energy and awareness in your meditation.
Focus your awareness inward, on the breath and the way your body moves with the sequences below.
You will reap many of the same rewards that seated meditation provides— heightened focus, balanced energy, a sense of grounding, and blissful stress release. The focus and concentration that yoga brings naturally leads to meditation…
5 Focal Points To Help You Stay Present
Use these five focal points to stay present, elevating your practice into a moving meditation:
- SPINE: Ask yourself in every pose, “What is my spine doing here?” The answer should always be that it is extending or lengthening. Try to lengthen in every posture by creating space between each vertebrae, utilising your back and core muscles for support.
- SENSE OF GROUNDING: Tune into which parts of your body are touching the floor as you practice. Actively push those parts into the floor as a way to engage your whole body and build strength – yoga is about ‘head to toe’ awareness.
- TRANSITIONS: As you transition between poses, be aware of how your body moves. Pay attention to physical sensations—both muscular and skeletal. Pay attention to ,more subtle energetic sensations that come up as well – cold, heat, tingling, heaviness, lightness.
- GAZE: Keep your gaze steady! A wandering gaze means a wandering mind…
- BREATH: Throughout your practice, check in with your breath regularly! Is it rhythmic, fluid, and consistent? If you are a yogi, use deep Ujjayi Pranayama, if you know it, with even inhales and exhales.
Warm Up First!
Tip: If your hips don’t touch your heels (i.e. your bum is up in the air, and there’s a large gap!), you can use a rolled up towel to put between your hips and your heels. Tune into your breath, take 5 conscious breaths, noticing how your body feels without trying to change anything.
The tendency is to close the eyes in this position because it’s so relaxing but since you want to energise and wake up the body, keep your eyes slightly open if you can.
If you wish to, do a few ‘Cat Cow’ movements to gently warm up your spine – it’s a great way to start, using the floor for support before you get into the stronger standing postures:
Next come to standing at the top of your yoga mat.
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), pressing your feet into the floor, making sure the base of your big toes and little toes are “rooted” evenly, and that you are evenly weighted along the length of your feet too. The pressure at the front and back of your feet should be relatively equal.
Place your hands in “Anjali Mudra” (prayer position) at the center of your chest.
As you inhale, lift your arms overhead; as you exhale, lower your arms to the side, suck your lower belly in and bend from your hips (not your waist!). Bring your hands to touch your shins, tops of your feet, or the floor as you fold forward (depending on your flexibility and awareness). As you rise up, lift your arms overhead, bring them to touch above your head, then back to Anjali Mudra in front of your chest.
Do this for three cycles total, or extend up to six, nine or twelve cycles if you feel intuitively guided to do so.
10 Minute Flow Practice
For a quick 10 to 15 minute practice, do 4 rounds of the following sequence – one “round” means the sequence is practiced on both the right and left sides of the body. In round 1, hold each pose for 4 breaths. In rounds 2 and 3, hold each pose for 2 breaths. And in round 4 hold each pose for just 1 breath.
Skip “up-dog” pose if you are beginning this practice and are either not very strong/athletic, or if you have pain in your feet or toes.
- Padahastasana (watch the video)
- Step back to down dog (if your heels can’t touch the floor that’s okay… if your back is not lengthening out, try bending your knees a little)
- Come into up dog (with the tops of your feet on the ground, and your thighs off the ground)
- Step your right foot forward into a high lunge, with slight backbend (look up)
- Spiral your back foot down, and sink your knee over your front right thigh (to make it work) – ‘warrior II pose’
- Reverse your warrior by taking your front arm back and over your head – stretch! (Use your back arm for support by placing your hand on your thigh)
- Come back to Warrior II pose
- Step back to down dog
- Step up – or jump – to the top of your mat
- Repeat, but on the other side (left side)
If you want more of a challenge, do chaturanga between down dog and up dog.