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Active to Calm: Why Asana and Pranayama are Important Steps to Cultivating a Meditation Practice

Meditation helps us enter a more open space in our minds and bodies, allowing us to become more present in our day and less affected by dominating thought patterns and untrue storylines that try to disrupt us. However, letting go of continuous thoughts can be challenging. One way to help with this is to start with a yoga practice that combines movement and breath work.

Asana and pranayama can help us cultivate a meditation practice by redirecting attention to the body and breath, allowing for the release of tension and stress. Asana is an introspective practice designed to switch the mind’s focus to the body and breath, loosening the grip of mental chatter. With the mind re-centered, mindful movement and tending to the body can reveal the tension we’re unknowingly carrying and allow for the release of excess stress, creating more space. By cultivating greater awareness in the body, we feel a sense of inner calm and mental quiet that can bring about even more awareness of the breath.

The ujjayi or victorious breath is ideal because you simply listen to the sound of the breath as it moves across the back of your throat. The breath’s calming effect helps you let go and wash away any excess thoughts, worry, or stress. When combined with movement, your body can begin to shake off and free any tension or strain that might also be taking up mental space, calming and regulating the nervous system.

When the nervous system is relaxed, the body and breath feel different. Every breath, especially the exhalations, can become like a release valve for the mind and body. A shift happens that moves us away from the analytical mind into a more perceptive and feeling space. Practicing asana and pranayama helps us let go, becoming more aware of the mind’s chatter and the first step towards becoming more mindful.

Mindfulness is almost like a type of training, where we learn how to focus our attention on something else other than what the mind formulates and offers to us. The combination of breath work and movement opens us up enough to let go of these deep ties to our mind. We become more aware and actively begin to choose not to be ruled by external distractions and thoughts that no longer serve us. This is why these practices are perfect prefaces for a meditation practice.

The body is more open and able to sit or relax for extended amounts of time. The mind is quieter, and the breath is established as a focal point to return to when mental chatter happens. The practice creates a newfound sense of mindfulness that helps us enter into meditation and the openness and fleeting moments of peace and freedom that it can offer. When we meditate, we clear our mind and open ourselves to the present moment, allowing us to remember our own true nature, which I like to think of as peaceful, content, and loving-awareness.

Try this meditation practice:

After your movement and breath work practice, try lying down or sitting quietly for a few moments and tune in to yourself. Notice and observe your thoughts without being dominated by them. Let them pass like the tide that rolls in and away from the shore. Explore how deeply you can let go. Let go of your body, mind, role, to-do list, and current situation in life. Allow yourself to be in the complete experience of non-doing, of just being as you are without changing anything. Whenever thoughts roll in, notice, yet allow them to roll out just like the passing tide. Give yourself the space to keep letting go. Open your breath, open your mind, open your body. Don’t judge your experience. Stay open enough to receive the possibility that is the present moment and the sweet reminder that all is perfect.

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