Mindful Yoga & Therapy: Two paths to mental clarity

Many people practice yoga for stress relief, the health benefits of the exercises and for the mental acuity that accompanies the practice. Originally, yoga was developed as a way of preparing the mind for meditation – to sit in silence, stillness, and detachment from the normal thoughts and emotional patterns that fill everyday life.  This aspect of yoga and meditation is similar to the therapy process.

A common practice in contemporary mindful yoga and meditation classes is for the teacher to give a short talk at the beginning to help students develop an intention for their practice or to draw out themes they will return to later. These talks can be profound, silly, or anything in between. In two recent classes I attended, the teachers drew out themes around quality of mind – basically, our ability to see and understand our mindset and how it relates to our emotions and actions.

Recognizing our mental state is a crucial aspect of the self-knowledge people seek in therapy as well as in yoga and meditation.  To begin developing this awareness, one teacher encouraged the mindful yoga class to identify the quality of their minds in that present moment. She asked, “What is the quality of your mind right now? Does it feel active or calm, alert or dull, muddy or clear? There is no good or bad way to be, just note things as they are.”

We sometimes notice these aspects of our mind in more heightened moments, like if we miss our morning coffee (dull thinking, muddy perception) or during a panic attack (alert mind, active thoughts). However, we don’t tend to notice the qualities of our minds at times when things seem more normal. Identifying the qualities of your thinking can be a transformative check-in to have with yourself or your therapist, especially when you simply note them as they are, without judgment.

Using this information about your quality of mind can potentially help you make better decisions or respond differently to people in your life.  This is one way yoga provides stress relief for your mind. Another teacher recently read a short poem from Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism. The poem read:

“Do you have the patience to wait

Till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

Till the right action arises by itself?”

So often in life we want to take action, whether to get rid of a negative feeling or to feel in control of our circumstances. We utilize the information at hand – mostly our own feelings – to base our judgments of a situation causing us distress. Our brains feel active, alert, and muddy with thoughts influenced by difficult feelings. However, as the poem recommends, another course of action is to remain patient and still until the quality of our minds turns from active to calm, from muddy to clear.

By noting the quality of your mind, you can get into the practice of determining whether it is a skillful time to take action or not. You can begin to see the transformative effects of a calm mind, and how a right action can simply “arise by itself.” A great place to begin noticing these aspects of your mind is with a therapist who utilizes mindfulness-based therapies. If you’d like to set up an appointment with one of our therapists, click here.