Teaching Meditation to Asana Junkies Bringing Mindfulness to Yoga Asana Classes - Article by Sara-Mai Conway, 500 hour Certified Bodhiyoga teacher

Many thanks to Sara-Mai Conway who recently qualified as a 500 hour Certified Bodhiyoga teacher having completed the presencial training Remedial Yoga & Applied Mindfulness Advanced Teacher CPD Training, 500 hour Certification in November 2019 and written and practical assignments in July 2020.
Sudaka and Sadhita

I personally came to yoga through the path of asana and find myself teaching others who aren’t yet aware yoga is anything other than asana. For many students, yoga and meditation are two separate things, and they haven’t signed up for the latter. This post is for yoga teachers who find themselves in a similar situation. May it be useful as a guide to those who wish to gently nudge their doing-addicted students toward being. 

Hot and sweaty yoga asana classes meet us where we are in our addiction to movement and serve a useful purpose as an introduction to the path. On a physical level yoga asana provides us with strength and resiliency, but also flexibility, spaciousness and freedom from pain. As we progress in our yoga practice we begin to see that strength, flexibility and freedom from pain are not merely attributes of the form body, but apply to the subtle body and mind as well. 

As teachers, we can mindfully encourage even our most movement-addicted students to embrace all aspects of yoga using skillful means. Skillful is defined as balancing the student’s perceived needs and wishes with mindful pointers toward more subtle limbs of the path. 

Through the application of mindfulness, asana-focused students can safely achieve the physical progression they seek, while reaping the benefits of a complete practice. We shift the students' gaze from some future achievement ‘out there,’ such as an advanced arm-balance or handstand, towards realization of the contentment that’s already available within.


Introducing the Eight Limbs of Yoga

Introducing the eight limbs of yoga is a helpful tool whereby we can introduce mindfulness and meditation, as well as their significance within the full spectrum of yoga. In asana classes, yoga’s eight limbs may be introduced as themes, incorporated via intention or as a daily, weekly, or monthly point of focus. 

Intentionally discussing the eight limbs of yoga, yoga texts and yoga as a path decentralizes asana in the mind of the student by making them aware of the many arms of the practice. When working with students attached to asana, it’s particularly helpful to note how each limb of yoga spans both body and mind. Over time, students begin to understand the arms of yoga are connected not linearly, but each to another, and that body and mind are also connected and interdependent. 


Physical Application

Mindful Application


Ethical and moral guidelines - things we do with our bodies, behaviour.

Acting ethically clears the mind so we can meditate with less distraction.



Physical postures performed with the form body to manipulate energy.

Trains our ability to hold the body still for long periods of time. Meditation becomes more comfortable. 


Control of the breath quiets the mind.

A quiet mind is better suited for meditation.


Turning awareness within keeps attention on your mat, your body, your pose.

Turning awareness within allows you to see your own mind. 



Related to the root “dhri” as in drishti. What are you looking at physically? 

What are you looking at with the mind’s eye? The ability to hold/keep a single point of concentration.


Contemplation/reflection upon sensation and the poses. (There’s a seer and a thing seen)

Contemplation/reflection upon what the mind contributes to your experience.


Integration of body & mind

(The seer and thing seen are no longer separate)

Integration of body & mind

The view that yoga and meditation are separate is not uncommon for students who practice yoga asana online or in a studio setting. They have never been introduced to the full eight limbs. By introducing the what and opening awareness to the entirety of the yogic path, you can help your students begin to ask why. Asking questions, asking why, is a necessary step along the path towards wisdom.  


Why Your Students Need Mindfulness

Even students who understand there’s more to yoga than asana may not understand why ethics or meditation should be of any interest to them. To successfully integrate meditation and mindfulness in your yoga classes, students must understand the purpose of doing it. Meditation will be met with impatience or disinterest if its benefits have not been made clear. 

While meditation and mindfulness are becoming increasingly popular, those who have yet to meditate are most likely those who have yet to internalize the benefits of meditation. A student is much more likely to embrace a practice when they understand how it personally applies to them. As teachers, we should each have an answer to the question; why meditate?



Mindfulness for Self-Awareness

Growth is dependent upon self awareness. In asana practice, students are familiar with the application of awareness to their physical form and alignment, but may not be as familiar with applying this awareness to their state of mind, nor to the quality of awareness itself. A skilled teacher will not only offer physical cues, but will prompt students to check in with what they are thinking and feeling, and will also remind them why this application of awareness is helpful.

Awareness of our state of mind allows us to act not out of habit, not from our thoughts and emotions, but more out of intention, aware of our thoughts and emotions. While this insight is available through seated meditation, seated meditation is not something everyone cares to do.

When the student who mindlessly fidgets in half-pigeon becomes aware they’re moving without awareness, or when a student in chair pose notices they stood up in reaction to discomfort without ‘deciding’ to stand up, mindfulness arises.

Guiding students through such powerful moments of awareness via asana can be a useful way to begin integrating benefits of meditation into asana practice, and the benefits of yoga into our daily lives. A mind that’s self-aware may also become more inclined to explore further with a formal meditation practice. 


Mindfulness for Freedom

Even the most physically-focused students choose yoga versus other fitness regimens because on some level they understand it offers profound benefits that transcend weight loss or strength. The promise of yoga is freedom from our suffering. And yet, those in the depths of suffering don’t always understand that’s where they are. We’re largely unaware of the water we swim in. Far off goals like enlightenment, awakening or becoming one with the universe don’t always resonate or feel real. 

By understanding your students and their unique desires you can speak to their wishes. The basis of our attachment can become the path, and even the goal. A student who’s attached to the body will be interested in hearing more about using the body itself as a tool for awakening to transcend attachment to the body and arrive at a new understanding of the body.

Teachers can speak to using the body itself as a conduit of mindfulness, asking students to become aware of the body itself, sensations in the body, how the mind contributes to the labeling of those sensations, and how those sensations (and the body as well as the mind that notices) are impermanent, changing, and do not exist in any one way. 



Mindfulness for Wisdom

Our role as teachers is not to fix our students, nor do they want to be fixed. Our role as teachers is to help students heal themselves by realizing they are already perfect just as they are. 

Students come to yoga asana with a history of self-criticism and a slew of goals, the same baggage we all bring with us when we begin to meditate, or when we start any new activity for that matter. It’s human nature for us to apply grasping, forcing, pushing and pulling to yoga as we do to all other goals in life. This comes from believing the results of yoga or meditation are something that we “get.”

When we’re in doing mode we create pain for ourselves. We do this physically by straining to ‘get’ postures the body isn’t ready for, by tiring ourselves out with 100 chaturangas and extra push ups, or by otherwise using asana to feed our ego and punish ourselves, causing greater stress. Mindfulness is what prevents us from using either asana or meditation as a tool for self-flagellation. Only with mindfulness do yoga and meditation become tools for awakening. 

As teachers, we must learn to know when to step back. Students will experience their greatest insight when we’re silent. Notice how your cues might be unintentionally requiring perfection, encourage a body awareness that promotes intuition, and give space for students to respond to their own voice, not yours. Create a safe space in which students have permission to be imperfect, to laugh and to rest. 


Awareness & Mindfulness

Vinyasa is commonly defined as “to place (nyasa) in a special way (vi).” We can place the body in a particular alignment, and we can place our attention in a special way as well. Mindfulness is the intentional application of attention to the present moment, in a special way. We pay attention with curiosity and without judgment. 

Applying mindfulness in an asana class most obviously begins with proprioception and the student’s awareness of their body in space. From there, there is endless depth to explore.



  • What’s the overall shape of the pose? I’m standing, I’m lying down, I’m moving.
  • What about the physical details? Alignment of hips, shoulders, fingertips, toes.
  • How is my breath? Inhale versus exhale, length, quality of breath.
  • My heartbeat? Is it possible to be aware of other internal organs? 



  • How does the body feel in relation to the mat, the floor, other body parts? 
  • Where am I looking and what do I see? 
  • Do I notice temperature, energy, movement?
  • Contraction, expansion, lengthening, shortening, tightening, opening?



  • What’s the involvement of the mind in labeling these sensations?
  • Am I heaping sensation into categories of pleasant, unpleasant; is anything neutral?
  • Am I labeling poses as liked or disliked? 
  • Am I telling myself stories such as ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can,’ or ‘I should?’



  • What I’m experiencing is dependent upon the mind
  • What I’m experiencing does not exist in any one way
  • Neither the body nor the mind comes first in defining my experience
  • Body, mind and the relationship between the two are changing 

Once we’re aware of how it is that we take in information, process it, label and judge we can begin to slowly unravel each step of that process. We can slow it down, or let it go altogether. What began as body awareness evolves into an understanding of the truth of existence, and our role in the perpetuation of our own suffering. Thus through the experience of asana the body becomes a tool for awakening, but only so far as mindfulness is applied.



Including Loving Kindness

As teachers, we must not only emphasize paying attention, but how it is that we pay attention. We must place our intention in a special way. To be curious and non-judgmental is a good place to start. But if the depth of our awareness is to safely reveal the true nature of reality, we must imbue our attention with compassion or loving kindness. Compassion helps qualify wisdom by creating a positive container in which the insights of wisdom are safely held.


Self Compassion

Students should frequently be reminded to check in with how they’re bringing loving and kind attention to what’s present. This is particularly important when working with physical pain and discomfort. When discomfort arises we have a tendency to tighten around it, to protect through constriction, or to fight against pain by pushing through, aggravating injury in the process. 

By working with both awareness and loving kindness we learn to soften around pain and we give ourselves permission to be more patient. With patience arises slower, more intentional movement. We allow for a spaciousness in which our experience of pain has room to change, and our habitual patterns of movement do too. 

We can also bring loving kindness to what it is that we notice about the expectations we have for our asana practice, our habits of self criticism, the ways in which we push ourselves, and the ways in which we label each class as good or successful, or bad.

As our asana practice begins to move prana more freely through our bodies, self-compassion helps us stay present with strong or uncomfortable emotions, past memories or intangible pain.   



Compassion for Others

If our asana practice is working, the spaciousness we create in our bodies becomes spaciousness in our hearts. Teachers cueing awareness of both this physical and spiritual heart opening can encourage compassion to blossom. As students expand their awareness through asana and applied mindfulness, compassion is the catalyst that compels us to carry our insights off the mat and into daily life by being kind to others. 


Practically Integrating Mindfulness into Asana Classes

Yoga teachers have at best 90 minutes of studio time to offer both the physically challenging class their asana junkies expect, as well as the mindfulness training and time in meditation that will bring depth to their students’ practice. To achieve a fun balance that encourages students to come back, keep the following in mind: 

  • Keep the focus simple. Set your own intention before class and stay on topic during class. Let the class itself become a meditation with a single anchor as a point of focus.

  • Avoid the spiritual sandwich. There’s plenty of space for mindfulness other than seated meditation at the beginning of class and again at the end. Find ways to weave mindfulness cues into poses and the brief spaces in between.

  • Balance speaking with silence. Carve out spaces for meditation or contemplation in long holds or in a restful pose after strong standing sequences. Balance speaking with silence. Give students space to work out the topic in their own minds, and to develop their own insight.

  • Practice mindfulness yourself. As a teacher, we need to be aware of our students and the non-verbal cues they are giving in relation to the material. We must change course as needed. We need to be self-aware. What verbal and non-verbal cues are we sending?



Full Integration

Neither asana practice nor mindfulness are easy activities. Both require steady and consistent effort in order to reveal benefits. A student interested in asana likely comes to the practice with virya, or joyful effort. Faith can help keep that student engaged in a path that includes meditation and mindfulness. 

To assist students in the development in faith direct their awareness to the benefits they’ve already received. This can be as simple as asking them to notice how they feel in a particular posture, or at the end of each class. Mindfulness goes far beyond noticing what’s wrong and what needs to change, and must include intentional awareness of contentment, happiness and joy. Help students notice how good they feel thanks to yoga, and they’ll develop faith in both their current practice, and in what may come. 

Finally, a student’s faith in you as a teacher goes far beyond what you do and what you say. As your own meditation practice progresses, your teaching will naturally become more confident, authentic and powerful. The entirety of our manner is a reflection of what we do, say and think. Our own work in developing mindful action, mindful speech and mindful thoughts will keep our students coming back.