The mental ‘game’ of yoga

Couple practicing yoga.

“Ninety percent of baseball is half mental,” New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said.

The same might be said OF yoga.

“It’s not just a physical thing. It’s also mental,” says Brett Bonnist, a yoga and meditation instructor with Kaia Yoga in Fairfield County who’ll be leading a meditation workshop Aug. 4 and 5 at the Heart Health Weekend at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel in Harrison. “It’s a mind-body practice as opposed to an exercise class.

“I usually include mindfulness in the class,” he adds. “Mindfulness is really the practice of coming back, noticing your tendencies, following the breath, any of the sense perceptions. That’s what you want to take away from it — cultivating mindfulness.”

Yoga, which has taken many different forms since its birth in 6th-century India, uses a series of asanas, or poses, as a way to prepare the body for meditation. The practitioner may hold these poses — many of which have highly visual animal names like downward dog, dead bug and flying camel — for a set time or flow from one to the next in a connected sequence, as in the sun salutation. The flowing sequences are called vinyasas. Bonnist teaches a hot vinyasa class, mainly at Kaia in Westport, in a heated room, which, though it may seem counterintuitive, actually helps you move more easily — as if you’re swimming in air. The focus remains on the breath, he says, and accepting whatever you’re feeling in the present moment.

“We’re so used to thinking about our feelings, instead of feeling our feelings,” he says. Especially if they’re unpleasant. “There is a tendency to be attracted to play and avoid pain. But surrendering to suffering is huge.”

This doesn’t mean wallowing in it or seeking it out but rather something akin to The Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

A runner who studied English literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Bonnist says he “stumbled” into yoga in 2015. He had always been interested in Eastern philosophy. Yoga was a deeper way into it.

With 500 hours as a registered yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance, Bonnist will be leading a silent meditation workshop at the Heart Health Weekend, focusing on deep breathing. While meditation has been linked to heart health, not every form of yoga is right for every person. Check with your doctor before beginning any yoga practice, particularly the hot ones, and always inform your instructor of any medical challenges, he says.

Then get ready for an experience that Bonnist says, “gives you the space in your mind to invite yourself in.”

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