Do This 8-Step Mindful Yoga Flow to Jumpstart Your Healthy New Year

by | Updated: January 7th, 2022 | Read time: 6 minutes

For years I used the term “mindful” to coax myself into paying better attention to ordinary activities. I served the humble word to friends who felt adrift, to myself when I felt scattered. It also headlined a yoga class I taught.

Then suddenly “mindful” became so en vogue I felt smothered, its omnipresence akin to “mantra” popping up a decade prior in everything from marketing shticks to business plans, when in its purest form, “mantra” has a precise meaning linked to spirituality and includes a vibrational component.

This is all to say: If you’re tired of hearing about mindfulness or confused about it, it’s easy to understand why.

But there’s also good reason to explore what being mindful, in its truest sense, can offer. And in order to do that, exercises in mindfulness help, especially if you’re not familiar with the whole “being mindful” thing. Think: personal evolution with a blueprint NOT trendy catchphrase that doesn’t translate in practical terms.

Our vehicle will be yoga, in particular the modality’s physical movement — and attention to what you are doing, thinking or feeling, aka being mindful. Yoga is an accessible and productive way to learn to how to be mindful because yoga’s physical practice, or asana, provides a safe space to be present with your actions, thoughts and emotions (that said, some people who’ve experienced trauma need tailored frameworks in which to practice yoga so that they don’t get triggered).

Mindfulness during a specific pursuit (here, yoga asana) actually primes you to be mindful when you step away from that pursuit. What’s more, you can use a simple, mindful practice to help set and follow healthy intentions for yourself. To learn how, read on and follow this sequence, which is suitable for most levels and bodies.

Set up and strategy

If available, use a sticky mat. Have nearby tools to take notes or record your voice. Try the sequence in two rounds, taking or recording notes during the first round, if doing so seems helpful. Otherwise, flow from one step to the next, remaining observant throughout. If a step includes a prompt, consider that prompt as you experience its corresponding physical components.

1. Mountain Pose with lotus breath

Stand at the front of your mat with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Inhale, feeling your rib cage expand. As you exhale, draw the heels of your hands together, fingertips touching hand-to-hand, so that your thumbs rest on your sternum.

On your next inhale, draw your fingertips overhead while lifting your crown, and then open your arms outward with palms facing up while you drop your head back gently. As you exhale, draw your neck to neutral and trace back the shape you created with your arms and hands until your thumbs again rest on your sternum. Repeat as many times as you’d like.

Mindfulness prompt: Acknowledge the expansiveness you feel as you lift your arms and open your chest with each inhale — or do you? If you feel something else, acknowledge it. Acknowledge the calm you feel as you exhale — or maybe you don’t feel that; if not, what do you feel? Again, acknowledge it.

2. Half Chair

On your next exhale, lengthen your movement by bending your knees deeply enough to hinge from your hips so that your torso draws toward parallel to the ground. As you inhale, lift your torso up but maintain the same shape in your legs. Repeat as many times as you’d like.

Mindfulness prompt: Which body parts are working the most in this movement? Your glutes? Quadriceps? Muscles somewhere on your back? Which part of you feels the most powerful in the motion you’re performing? Which part or parts feel weak? Acknowledge that you have both strengths and weaknesses — here and in other facets of life — and that is okay.

3. Plank

On your next exhale, drop your palms down under your shoulders. As you inhale, step back into a Plank. As you exhale, dip one knee, and then inhale back to Plank. Repeat with the other knee. Now repeat with both knees at once.

Mindfulness prompt: Are you struggling to dip both knees? Just one knee? Are you struggling to hold Plank, and did you consider that you could do the shape while keeping your knees down — or release to your forearms, if your wrists hurt? Barring physical issues (if you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, do Forearm Plank instead of Plank, for example), none of the aforementioned options is better or worse than the other, so be aware of the mental dialogue informing your actions.

4. Cobra with twists

On your next exhale, drop both knees down, and then release your front-side body all the way down. As you inhale, draw your shoulders away from your ribs and lift your head and chest. As you exhale, twist to your right. Inhale back to Cobra. As you exhale, twist to your left. Inhale back to Cobra. Exhale to lower. Repeat as many times you like, and then inhale back to Plank.

5. Downward Dog

On your next exhale, lift your hips to create an inverted V shape with your body. If your lower back rounds, bend your knees but keep your hips high and continue pressing your chest toward your front thighs. Hold for as long as you’d like, following the natural flow of your breath.

Mindfulness prompt: From hands to feet, what do you feel? Make slight physical adjustments, and note how they change what you feel where you made them — and in other parts of your body; there is a ripple effect.

6. Transition

On an inhale, walk your hands back to your feet. As you exhale, create a forward fold, hinging from your hips. As you inhale, stand upright and lift your arms overhead. As you exhale, draw your hands to your hips.

Mindfulness prompt: Pay attention to each step of this transition. Often in yoga practice, we’re guilty of mindlessly moving through transitions, which seem easy compared with the named shapes we are trying to create. That’s probably different from how we handle transitions in the rest of life, when change feels tumultuous, right? Hmm. And yet notice that in this part of the sequence, you are changing from one state to another, just the same. You will gain something from this tiny transition, which you can carry into your intention-setting — but only if you pay attention.

7. Standing leg balance

On your next inhale, lift your right leg ahead as high as you’d like. Continue to breathe and balance for as long as you can. Then on an exhale, lower your leg to again stand on two feet. Repeat with your other leg.

Mindfulness prompt: Are you wobbly? Standing firm? You’re about to insert qualitative judgment into this exercise. Mindfulness can mean strictly observing: My leg hurts when I lift it. But mindfulness can also mean you observe — and then consider so that you can be intentional about what happens after you observe: My leg hurts when I lift it, and it’s because I’m developing strength, so I’ll stick with it. Or My leg hurts when I lift it, and it’s because I’m totally drained from that argument I just had, so I’m going to be gentle with myself and lower it.

8. Final rest

Find your way to a comfortable shape on your back, and rest for several minutes. That’s it. Just rest. The effects of your practice will become apparent as you move through the rest of your day or night and be even more pronounced if you do this exercise several times a week for a few weeks.

Mitra Malek is a former Yoga Journal editor and has taught yoga since 2006.

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