Table of Contents
- Be Mindful, Be Present
- Connection and Awareness
- Set Aside Your Preconceptions
- Set an Intention
- Syncing Breath and Movement
- 5 Simple Asanas for Beginners
- Make Yoga a Routine Habit
- Don’t Judge Yourself
- Be a Little Selfish
Ahhhhh. My whole body released as I exhaled. All the tangled worries of the previous weeks just drifted away. I opened my eyes and felt complete release and lightness. Nothing else mattered in that moment because I was at last present; Right Here, Right Now.
Do you ever wish you could be more relaxed? More focused? Less stressed? Happier? Without pain? More immune to physical and mental ailments? More joyful? Better at remembering things?
These are just a few of the tremendous benefits of a mindful yoga practice. Reading an article about mindful yoga for beginners—like this one—is just what you may be needing in your life right now.
The Buddha famously said “do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment”. As many of us have experienced, living in the future can lead to feelings of anxiety and living in the past can lead to sadness and depression.
Only in the present moment can we fully embrace the beauty of existence and realize that our daily stressors are only temporary.
Be Mindful, Be Present
Mindfulness is simply the act of focusing on the present moment and accepting your thoughts, feelings, and circumstances for what they are. Yoga is the perfect way to catapult your mind into a state of presence and wellbeing.
The science behind these techniques is extensive. Neurologically, our brains are basically wired to reset and rejuvenate through mindfulness practices. Maybe that’s why people in Eastern cultures have been practicing variations of Zen Buddhism, Hindu meditation, and a medley of yogic philosophies for literally thousands of years.
Connection and Awareness
Yoga is an ancient practice from India that has helped people escape physical, emotional, and spiritual confines since around 1500 BCE. While many of us in the Western world see yoga as a predominately physical practice, yoga is in fact a mental and spiritual practice at its core. It is a vital step on the path to self-actualization or enlightenment.
The physical—or asana—part of yoga is just one of 8 limbs of yoga described in Patanjali’s ancient text, the Yoga Sutras. Yoga is not just something you “do” in a weekly yoga class; it is a way of living more in tune with ourselves.
In Sanskrit, the term yoga literally translates to “union”. That’s because yoga is all about connection- connection to ourselves, to the universe (or whatever higher power you may believe in), and connection to the world around us. Mindful yoga offers strategies to achieve that union.
To connect with ourselves, we can use breathing and yoga postures to cultivate a mind-body connection. To connect with a spiritual element, we can use meditation and reflection. To connect with our environments, we can use mindful walks and silence among the natural world. To connect with others, we can use yoga ethics like compassion, patience, and non-harming (ahimsa).
All of these practices—as well as more we will discuss below—actually work because they pull us into the present, which is arguably where the magic of life dwells.
Here’s how to practice mindful yoga as a complete beginner:
Set Aside Your Preconceptions
You don’t need to be a flexy-bendy athlete to do yoga. Nor do you need to be an ultra-spiritual monk. Mindful yoga is accessible to everyone because it is really all about awareness. Anyone and everyone can benefit from being more aware of their thoughts, patterns, and environment.
A lot of people think of yoga as this zen hippy-dippy practice that requires complete abandonment of mainstream society. On the other hand, many see yoga as purely a soccer mom trend to lose weight, work out, or become more flexible. Neither of these are true.
If you are willing to set aside any preconceptions about yoga, you will find that it can offer you a lot of freedom in your mind. You can practice at home or in the woods or at a studio, a retreat, or even at your desk. The first step is removing existing judgements and deciding what you want to get out of your practice.
Set an Intention
Do you need more concentration? Do you want to stop feeling so anxious and stressed? Do you want to be more present with your kids? Do you want to love yourself and let go of insecurities?
Mindful yoga can be incredibly helpful in all of these realms and more. Getting clear on your goal(s) will guide you toward that state of balance. There is a reason most yoga classes start with an intention. You can enter the realm of mindfulness and awareness with a clarity of what you’re looking for.
An intention may come in the form of an affirmation, for example:
- I am calm
- I love myself
- I am free from limitations
- I am focused on my dreams
- I am balanced
- Now is the time to relax
- Everything is perfect in this moment
If you’re anything like me, you might feel overwhelmed by all the things you need to work on in yourself. Remember that progress is steady and change happens at its own pace. Be patient and choose just one or two affirmations to focus on in each session. Keep your intention simple and straightforward.
Syncing Breath and Movement
Now it’s time to breathe deep and enrich your brain and body with as much oxygen and presence as possible. The most important foundation of mindful yoga is breath.
In Sanskrit, focused yogic breathing is called pranayama. At a very basic level, if you can inhale and move your arm up, then exhale and move your arm down, you are practicing mindful yoga.
Syncing deep breathing with movement activates the parasympathetic nervous system in the brain, resulting in lowered heart rate and more calmness. Your breath can literally be used as a sort of “remote control” for soothing your brain.
Breath is powerful! This mind-body connection is crucial for achieving your mindfulness goals. So, before you start any yoga or meditation practice, make sure you are focused first and foremost on your breath.
5 Simple Asanas for Beginners
Don’t get intimidated by all the bendy/showy yoga moves out there. Asanas, or yoga poses, are just body positions. You put your body into certain positions to activate different areas of the body while stretching and strengthening those muscle groups. You have an intention and breath synced with movement, now it’s time to put these to work with awareness and focus.
The best asanas for beginners are:
1 – Mountain Pose:
This pose is all about establishing a firm foundation. It might feel like you’re just standing, but there are so many opportunities for mindfulness here.
- Place your feet hip width apart
- Activate the glute and leg muscles to strengthen your foundation
- Focus on your feet and how they feel grounded into the earth below you like an anchor
- Look straight ahead as if gazing at the horizon
- Maintain a neutral straight spine with the palms forward and shoulders relaxed
- Pause here and notice your breath naturally moving in and out
2 – Chair Pose:
This asana challenges your balance, core, and leg strength. Moreover, it is a challenge for the mind to remain present and push beyond any perceived limitations.
- From mountain pose, move your feet together until they touch
- Inhale and bring your arms straight up, palms facing inward
- Ground down into your feet, then exhale and sit back as if sitting in a chair
- Flex the core and leg muscles, trying to keep the back as straight as possible
- Do not arch the lower back; keep the core active
- Inhale and lengthen upward, then exhale and try to sit deeper
- Push yourself to hold this pose for 30 seconds to a minute
- As it gets more difficult to hold the chair, observe your thoughts of resistance or random “to-dos” that pop up in your head
- Acknowledge the thoughts, then let them pass, and maintain deep breathing
- Inhale as you push downward and stand back up
3 – Standing Forward Fold:
Release your lower back and gently stretch your hamstrings while inverting the head and improving blood flow. Often times, slight inversions (turning upside down) are just what we need to get us out of a rut and into a new headspace.
- Spread the feet hip width apart
- Inhale the arms out to the side and up, touching at the top
- On the exhale, slowly hinge at your waist and bring your arms down toward the floor
- Slightly bend your knees (don’t worry if your hands don’t touch the floor)
- Release the head and neck, let them dangle, and exhale all your worries
- Sway side to side and feel a release of tension as you relax into the pose
- On each inhale, lengthen the spine to be as straight as possible
- On each exhale, reach downward and straighten the legs to stretch your hamstrings
- Squeeze the glutes (always to support the low back), and slowly roll up the spine one vertebrate at a time back to standing
4 – Downward Dog:
This quintessential yoga pose offers release for the upper back and hamstrings, while inverting the head to increase blood flow and challenge balance.
- rom mountain pose, exhale and step or hop your legs back, forming an upside-down “V” with your body
- Relax the head, pushing the palms into the earth and pushing your glutes up toward the ceiling
- Begin “walking the dog” by slowly lifting and lowering your heels to stretch out those hamstrings
- Remember to move with the breath
- Then sink both heels down, pushing the chest toward your thighs and opening the hamstrings in a deeper stretch
5 – Low Lunge:
Similar to “runners pose”, a low lunge activates larger glute and quad muscle groups while stretching out the hips and hamstrings. You can challenge your balance by lifting the arms up and lengthening as you deepen the pose.
- From forward fold, exhale and step one leg back, keeping the heel lifted and hips square facing forward
- Inhale the arms up above your head, palms facing inward
- Slowly bend into the front thigh, pushing the back heel out and down
- Stabilize with your core and breathe, deepening the stretch and feeling all the muscles strong and tightened
- Repeat on the other side
Make Yoga a Routine Habit
Do you have an extra 10 or 15 minutes? What if you set an alarm on your phone to do a quick mindful yoga practice every morning? We’ve all heard how habits can be formed with consistent practice for about 2 months, maybe more or less depending on the person.
Regardless, making space for yourself to be mindful can easily become a routine similar to your morning coffee or your lunchtime social media scroll.
When mindfulness becomes a habit, it actually re-wires your brain. In moments of anxiety or panic, you can teach your body to move into deep breathing and presence instead of fight-or-flight mode.
When you feel yourself getting angry or sad or any extreme emotion, you can begin to observe this emotion from the outside without judgement, breathing into it and releasing any negative thoughts that may cloud your mind.
When you prioritize your asana (physical) practice as a routine, it will help you more easily bridge mindfulness into your daily life. This incorporation of mindfulness both on and and off the mat is the core aim of yoga- to live in a state of blissful presence and ease.
Don’t Judge Yourself
You may not be very flexible or extremely meditative at first. That’s OK. The cliche of “it’s the journey not the destination” will always reign true in the realm of personal development.
There is no race to the finish line in mindfulness or yoga; you are simply learning to JUST BE with yourself and not judge your thoughts or physical body.
While a mirror can be useful for checking your alignment in certain poses, I recommend starting your mindful yoga practice in a space without a mirror so you don’t judge your body. If attending a yoga studio, try to position your mat in a way that doesn’t make you watch the mirror or other people in the class.
Remember, yoga is not about judging yourself or comparing yourself to others. In fact, it’s the opposite: you are trying to remove judgement and be more content in your soul.
There will always be someone skinnier, fatter, more flexible, more muscular, more advanced, or more meditative. It’s not a competition. This practice is a manifestation of self-love.
You are observing yourself with non-judgement and simply showing up with the best version of positivity and effort that you have in a given moment. If you waiver or fall, simply reconnect with your breath and begin again.
There is no “wrong” way to practice mindful yoga if you are coming from a place of self acceptance.
Be a Little Selfish
Your mindful yoga practice is a space and time just for you. Make it all yours and guard this time as sacred. Don’t let anyone interrupt it or take it from you. Put your phone on silent in the other room. If you have children or other people to attend to, practice while they are sleeping or let them know that you are taking 10 minutes for yourself.
Find a way to ensure that you have even just a short period of silence and solitude to dedicate to your soul, your goals, and your relaxation. It’s OK to be selfish with this short period of time. Frame it in your mind as “me-time” where nothing else in the world matters except you.
Prioritize your growth and healing so that you can offer the best version of yourself to the world.
Just like our lives, mindful yoga for beginners is an ongoing work-in-progress. It will never be perfect because perfection is not the goal. Awareness, connection, presence, and joyfulness are the most important aims of any mindfulness practice.
Even when you can’t get on the mat to practice physical yoga, you can still be mindful. Remember to pause, reflect, and notice your thoughts with the utmost compassion.
Above all else, Be Present. After all, this is the only moment we are guaranteed.