By: Lisa Venancio, FreshJax Yoga Teacher + Blogger
In Kripalu yoga, class begins with a centering meditation and pranayama (breath), followed by a mindful series of warm-ups and asanas (postures), and ending with a relaxed shavasana and closing centering. As a yoga teacher who mainly practiced Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Hot Yoga prior to becoming a certified in the Kripalu tradition, it took time for me to understand the importance and benefits of incorporating all of these components into my practice. This is not to say that these other styles of yoga did not value or incorporate relaxation and warming up, but it was not until I found the Kripalu tradition that I become comfortable with the stillness and progression.
Admittedly, before I became a yoga teacher, shavasana was my most challenging posture. This may sound silly to some people. We’ve all seen the yoga t-shirts and memes that say, “I’m here for the shavasana.” However, I was always half present during centering and shavasana. These practices meant quieting the mind chatter, becoming still, and receiving the benefits in full. I knew it was important, yet my mind often wandered to my to-do list, or replayed a recent conversation, or overanalyzed something for the twelfth time. This was the place where the anxiety, insecurity, fear, sadness, anger, or self-criticism found a way to creep in. This momentary relaxation was my biggest challenge. I fought it. Why? Because I was not okay with being still. I was not being present. Momentum was where I thrived, which is not a bad place to be, but we can miss the benefits of warming up and slowing down the mind and body if we stay here.
By performing warm-ups prior to the formal yoga postures, we release tension while improving muscle and joint flexibility. We also generate heat in the body from the inside out. Early in my yoga practice, I was always itching to get through centering and warm-ups quickly and jump right into the postures. Then once I was in the postures, I wanted to flow from one to the other without staying anywhere too long. I was always one step ahead of myself, and sometimes even the teacher. Who knew yoga would challenge me in patience, humility, and mindfulness. After all, I was just there to burn calories and stretch, right? Wrong. I’ve realized that if we cannot be mindful while standing, walking, and sleeping, we certainly cannot be mindful through sun salutations and asanas. Centering warms up the mind, next we warm up the body, and then we explore the asanas.
Mindful yoga even approaches asana as meditation. When we practice mindfulness through triangle, for example, we ask ourselves what is happening to our bodies when we progress into triangle. This builds on feelings and sensations, rather than emotions. What does it feel like to hold a posture like warrior one or pigeon? When a posture feels pleasant, we enjoy holding the pose, but if it feels unpleasant, we desire to come out of it. I always tell my students, “It is when we want to come out of the posture that the posture truly begins.” If we experience sensations as our limbs start to ache, the yoga mat becomes a safe space to understand the difference between discomfort and pain.
When we learn to spend time with unpleasant feelings as they come up on the mat, we are able to build coping skills in facing challenging situations off of the mat. This self awareness is where growth begins, and as we carry positive energy, mindfulness, and peaceful intentions into our world and relationships, change happens. I have learned to love centering, meditation, warm-ups, and shavasana just as much as I love the asanas. I have also learned to truly experience each asana. It is here that I have found healing, both physically and mentally. At FreshJax, we find joy in facilitating healing and growth in your yoga practice and encourage you to discover a positive relationship with mindful yoga.
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