Cultivate a Flexible Mind in Your Yoga Practice

bendy-treeI have always hoped that my boys grow to be flexible thinkers. I think this will lead to a happier, more creative and interesting life. So I try to do little things to cultivate this. Like expose them to different kinds of food (they love everything from sushi to grilled cheese!), encourage them to read any book that grabs their fancy and encourage them to question things (this one backfires sometimes…).

To have flexibility of mind means to be willing to consider different and new ideas. To be willing and able to adapt to new experiences and ideas.

People sometimes say they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible. Yoga is in part, a physical practice. Getting on my mat helps me to stretch physically, creating space in my body. It also helps to stretch my mind by letting it find a place to rest in order to make room for new possibilities. You don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga; it helps you build flexibility of both body and mind.

Here are some ways to cultivate flexibility of mind in your yoga practice.

1. Drop or change things that aren’t working.

Have you always practiced triangle a certain way? Or maybe you feel it just isn’t yoga unless you do Sun Salutations. I used to love doing wheel pose. But then I injured my shoulder. Now, it doesn’t feel good. So I practice other backbends like supported bridge or fish pose. I have dropped wheel from my practice, as it no longer serves me.

You are not the same person you were 10 years ago or even just a day ago. Your yoga practice doesn’t have to be the same. It can grow with you and support you. You just need to be open to changing it.

2. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Learn to be ok with it.

“Namaste” is one way to close a meditation. This week mine ended with the less traditional (yet quite heartfelt) “MOM! Patty farted on my bean bag chair…” I am sure anyone with kids, pets or a roommate has experienced interruptions like this before!

We live in the world, surrounded by other people and constant activity. Perhaps how we deal these everyday interruptions is a part of the practice. It doesn’t mean that it was a waste or unsuccessful. The “snag” was just a part of it. So next time you are lying in Savasana and your little one asks you for a snack or the dog licks your face, smile, do what needs doing and continue on. Or not. Eithr way, it’s ok.

3. Don’t accept anything as absolute truth.

Question, experiment then question more. “Hands should be shoulder width apart, middle finger pointed straight ahead, eyes of the elbows facing each other…” While this might work for some people it won’t work for everyone. Bodies differ a lot. As yogis, we tend to hold fast to these alignment “rules.” But think of them more like guidelines.

One of my yoga mentors says, “There is no universal alignment.” We need to learn to feel what works for our own bodies. This involves trusting ourselves enough to bend the rules and let go of rigid thinking. It’s about bringing a flexible mindset to our individual practice.

4. Develop a growth mindset.

In psychology, a growth mindset is characterized by the belief that our basic abilities (intelligence, talent etc.) are not set but can be developed by hard work and practice.

In yoga practice, genetics and body structure certainly play a role in our physical flexibility. However, there is still a lot we can do to increase it by stretching muscle and fascia through mindful posture practice.

Likewise, we are not born natural meditators, but can learn to quiet our minds through regular, consistent meditation practice. It may help to reframe your self-talk: “I can’t meditate” becomes “I am someone who practices meditation.” The belief that that things can be learned exemplifies a flexible, growth mindset.

Yoga teaches that if we are aware of the constant fluctuations in life and we can accept them, then we will be open and available to anything. Flexibility is not a goal or an end point. It is a practice. Yoga is a pathway to flexible bodies and flexible minds.

Thoughts? I would love to hear them. Just leave a comment below!

Photo courtesy of Pamla J. Eisenberg

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