I’ve been interested in practicing asana (yoga postures) as a mindfulness practice for a long time. With hindsight it feels like my asana practice has been about exploring mindfulness well before I knew mindfulness was a thing. I’d like to share a bit from my experience of bringing mindfulness to the asana practice, starting with a definition of mindfulness.
I particularly like Thich Nhat Hanh’s definition: mindfulness is “keeping our consciousness alive to the present reality”. It tells us that mindfulness happens when we are fully present with our immediate experience. By implication it also tells us that mindfulness training is about learning to direct our consciousness to what is happening right now internally and externally. Asking, with a willingness to hear the answer, ‘how am I right now’?
The Buddha offered a clear mindfulness practice path by defining the four foundations of mindfulness. My experience is that as one focuses on one foundation of mindfulness one inevitably develops in all four. Here I would like to focus on the first foundation of mindfulness: mindfulness of the body.
One of the things I find interesting about the bodymind system is that while we often treat the body and the mind as separate systems they actually mirror each other closely with one important difference: the mind has the ability to engage a range of defences that hide what is going on from itself while the body doesn’t. Because the body does not know how to hide anything one of the mind’s defences is to shut the body’s chatter out of one’s consciousness. By strengthening our ability to be mindful of the body’s conversation we learn how to keep our consciousness alive to the present reality. The outcome of this learning path is that we learn how and who we are.
So what might this look like in practice?
In a mindfulness centred practice the postures and sequences are there to facilitate an enquiry rather than as something to be achieved. Instead of aiming for a predetermined shape we place our awareness inside and explore muscle tone with our breath movement. The postures and sequences don’t matter! They are just the scaffolding that supports our enquiry of how things are right now.
During the practice, whether we are in simple standing posture, moving into a posture or holding a posture, we are constantly in a state of arriving. This attitude of arriving creates space for observation and micro-adjustments of our bodymind system. In this way we let go of rigidity and become stronger and more flexible, internally and externally.
 Thich Nhat Hanh (2008) The Miracle of Mindfulness, p.11