Blindfolded yoga is just like your traditional yoga class, but with a bandana, eye mask or some other cover over your eyes. This unique practice has been rising in popularity and can be found at Wanderlust Festivals, yoga retreats, and in a few studios in New York and Australia. I was excited to try blindfolded yoga at a yoga retreat in Lake Tahoe, CA, but honestly wasn’t expecting the class to do much more than challenge my balance. To my surprise, that blindfolded yoga class was one of the most powerful yoga classes I have ever attended. But what makes blindfolded yoga so different than any other yoga class?
Blindfolded yoga increases body-awareness
I never realized how much I rely on my gaze in yoga until it was removed. Even when I practice with my eyes closed, I can still peek to make sure my knee is over my ankle. With blindfolded yoga, there’s no checking that your arms are in one straight line. You can’t look and see. You have to feel instead.
Vision plays an important role in helping us understand where our body is in space, but vision is not the only sensory system involved in body-awareness. Proprioception plays a huge roll as well. Receptors in our skin and muscles tell our brain where our body is and what it is doing. A healthy proprioceptive system is important for a high level of body-awareness, and, like most things, it gets stronger with practice. Practicing blindfolded yoga can help us strengthen our proprioception and grow more intimately connected with how our body feels and moves.
As we stepped from downward facing dog to high lunge, I realized how much of my body-awareness was dependent on my sight. The instructor told us to step one foot between our hands. After stepping my foot forward, I had to grope around with my hand to find where my foot had actually landed (which was quite a few inches beyond my hands and to the far right of the mat), then guide it back to the proper position. Once we were in high lunge, I began to shift around and explore my body from the inside out. Was my knee over my ankle? I couldn’t see, so I had to bend my knee and move my foot until I could feel where both were in space and how they related to each other. Suddenly, I realized that I was aware of my joints and the position of my body in a way I’d never experienced in a normal yoga class.
Blindfolded yoga teaches focus
If you had asked me before my blindfolded yoga class, I would have said I am usually very focused and present in yoga. But blindfolded yoga showed me just how much more focus I am capable of. Take tree pose. In a normal yoga class I can get into tree with little waver and stay there awhile. But once I donned the blindfold I was wavering and shaking and could hardly get my foot to my ankle without falling over. Besides giving my ego a healthy knock, inching my way into tree pose while blindfolded forced me to truly focus in a way I never have before. It demanded my presence. I needed to steady my breath; to feel the connection between my standing foot and the earth; to still the muscles of my standing leg and tighten my core; and to move slowly with a connection to my own stability and stillness.
Blindfolded yoga gives you the gift of pratyahara
The most powerful part of blindfolded yoga was the dampening of the senses, pratyahara. My lack of sight helped me connect with my body and find more focus in my practice. This awareness and focus brought a new depth to my practice. Ancient yogic philosophy teaches that pratyahara helps us to unify the mind, body, and spirit. During my blindfolded yoga practice, I saw a hint of that unification. Without the distractions that come from looking around the room, I was able to begin moving inward instead. I felt I could track the movement of the breath as it traveled through my body and when we settled into savasana, I dropped into a deeper stillness than I had ever known.
Something about being so aware of my body actually helped me get out of my body and connect with something deeper. The focus I cultivated during the practice pulled me deep into myself. When we settled into savasana, and there was no alignment or balance left to worry about, that focus transformed into stillness. I was so far from distraction by that point that it was easy to slip into a quiet calm and let the flow of thoughts and breath move through me while I remained comfortably steady in that place where thoughts and distraction stop and unity begins.
Blindfolded yoga helped me grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, and it is something I would recommend to any yogi looking for a little more depth in their yoga practice. It has yet to be offered at most studios and is mostly found at yoga retreats or festivals, but if you can’t find a blindfolded yoga class, you can still try it at home. Next time you get on the mat, try wrapping a blindfold around your eyes and see how this simple change makes a big difference in your practice.
author credit: Sarah Dittmore on Yoga Basics article link
1. Where you place yourself in the yoga room
When you arrive at yoga class, there is an etiquette to where you place yourself in the room … and challenging yourself to break out of your comfort zone can also enhance your practice, Brown says. “I think it turns to in front, back, or middle … where do you want to place yourself in the room, and what’s your motivation for being at a certain location? The motivation/desire behind the action gives us direction on where the work is,” she explains. “Are you attached to that spot because that’s where you always go? Then, you should practice non-attachment (vairagya). If you see other students come in and you spread out and stack your blocks so that nobody takes the spot next to you (so you won’t feel crowded), you should practice non-greed (aparigraha). If you want to be up front to see the teacher and you don’t want to be distracted by anyone behind you, that goes along with [improving] your drishti, or focus.
Your Ayurvedic dosha also may play a role in where your comfort zone is in the yoga studio, Brown adds. “If you’re in the front to show off and ‘prove your moves,’ in Ayurveda we would describe that as an overactive pitta, type-A kind of thing. Pitta is great and helps us stay driven/motivated, but when it’s out of balance, it shows up in negative qualities of competitiveness, showmanship, or overactive ego (ahamkara). The lesson here is to go in the back or the middle to work on that. I also often cue these students to place their drishti downward — some of us need our gaze upward with the intent of enhancing self-esteem, but those with overactive pitta may need to look down to look inward.
Conversely, if you always place yourself in the back of the room, you may need to step forward to stop hiding and being afraid, Brown explains. “You know what you’re doing [in class], and you need to stop comparing yourself to others. By moving up, you move into self-study, witnessing yourself instead of turning away and hiding. Some of these students may have the heavier qualities of kapha in not wanting to be more dynamic. Kaphas like to be comfortable. They need to challenge themselves and own it a little more. The aim of yoga and what we practice in asana is to be on the edge of discomfort, so you can soothe that edge and know how to do that in real time in the real world.”
2. Taking modifications
Taking modifications of a pose is totally fine — except when it’s not, Brown says. “I encourage students to find their own enhancement or modification of a pose. It’s also OK to take creative yogic license, for example, to replace Upward-Facing Dog with Cobra. That does NOT mean going to Handstand or taking a seated twist while we’re in Warrior II,” she explains. “It’s poor etiquette — yoga is a collective and dynamic practice, and you’re an individual within the collective. Your vibration and actions have an impact on the people around you, and you have to be responsible for your how your energy impacts the space. It requires tapas(self-discipline) to be responsible for your actions within your environment — another tool to be practiced on the mat and taken with you out into the world. This also applies when you have to leave class early — be sure to let the teacher know, and position yourself near the back of the room. It’s about being respectful of the environment, the teacher, and the people around you.”
When you you come to yoga class, you want to be as clean as possible to show respect for the practice and for your fellow students, Brown reminds us. “The Sanskrit word saucha refers to purity and cleanliness. Here, it applies to the simple act of washing your feet before getting on the mat, being mindful of body odors and excess perfume as well as excess sweat. We’re supposed to sweat in yoga, but just like when you sneeze you cover your mouth, you don’t want to spray sweat all over the room. Try placing a towel over your mat and using another towel for your face and hands,” she recommends.
4. Loud breathing
If you sound like you need to “get a room,” you might be breathing just a little too loudly in class, Brown says. “I cue people to unhinge their jaw a lot, because of all the tension we hold in the jaw, and to exhale through the mouth, but some people sound like they are getting hot and heavy or should ‘get a room,’ which is distracting,” she explains. “I encourage students to express themselves, but with awareness of others. This is about respecting the collective sangha, or community.” Same rule also applies when you unroll your mat (no need to make a lot of noise like you’re flipping a sheet). “When you unroll your mat and it has a dramatic snap to it, think of brahmacharya, which is usually thought of as celibacy, but in a bigger sense in means to not waste your energy on non-important thoughts/actions. In other words, it means don’t drain your energy and deplete yourself by being loud and overly active.”
5. Cell phones
It seems like an obvious “don’t,” but some students do check their cell phones during yoga class, Brown says. “Some students will prop their cell phones up next to their mat. Others will record the class without asking, which is stealing (asteya). It’s OK to tell a teacher you’re on call at work if you need your phone next to you, but sometimes it’s about breaking a samskara, or a habit, and simply unplugging. If you’re Shazaming the song the teacher is playing, you’re not totally present, you’re not practicing mindfulness, and you’re hijacking your own practice. Take a little tech fast.”
author credit: Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman on Yoga Journal article link