I invite you in for a little practice with me.
Take a deep, full inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds. Hold it in for 16 seconds. Exhale it through your teeth, making a hissing sound, for 8 seconds. Repeat 3 times with your eyes closed.
The breath was central to this class. So often in the classes I’ve taken, we’re reminded to breathe, but sometimes, we’re not reminded HOW to breathe or why. Why it’s important to remain connected to that breath and how to ensure that the breath is maintained in a sustainable way is often overlooked and in some classes, never explored at all. Mindful awareness of the breath in both Yoga and in Meditation practices is the act of connecting the mind and the body. By bringing the breath into the mind through pranayama practices such as ujjayi breath or any of the banda practices, we remain alert, attentive, and deeply connected to an automatic process. The more we come back to our breath, the more we come back to our bodies as they are in the current experience. Not only that, but the breath is what supports us in everything we do. It tells us when we’re stressed and frustrated. It tells us when we’ve gone too far. It makes us laugh and speak. It provide a sweet cushion of the lungs to support our structure. It is prana – life – energy – the force that keeps us alive in the physical body. Inhaling is the first thing we do at birth. Exhaling is the last thing we do at death. This breath is incredibly important and vital to any sustainable process. Not just to breathe, but to breathe mindfully and fully in a way that supports your movement and thoughts.
Take a moment to come back to your breath as it is now. Draw three full breaths in through the nose and blow them out through loose lips, allowing them to bounce and release.
Somewhere between a long hold chaturanga and the desire to growl like a lion, I heard “Sometimes in a yoga class, especially when there is a teacher guiding our movements, we just come to go to work on our bodies.” (Or something very similar to that). Kate hit the nail on the head of something that’s rather bothered me the past few weeks… this concept of “going to work on ourselves”. We go to work on our cars, homework, a major project at our jobs… if you’re me – the occasional meal (crushed it..). This aggressive attitude that sometimes slips into a yoga class is really intense and in many ways, has been pretty off putting .. getting to work often misses the innate compliment of compassion that is required in the process of transformation… If there is no holding of ourselves as we move down the path of transformation, the changes we receive will not be sustained with understanding of what, how, and why. If it’s not supported by these attitudes and truth, we have a tendency to feel failure, incompletion, competition, and frustration. Remembering to support ourselves on this journey is essential and that is our job anytime we come to the mat. Yes, the teacher is there to remind us of all the work and guide us through a practice, but the job of transformation and compassion is ours alone.
Come back to your breath. Close the eyes and mindfully watch the rise and fall of your breath by counting each inhale up to 10. If you get derailed, simply start over. This will be here – come back when you’re ready.
These two things go hand in hand in every single way. Without the breath, we have one hell of a time staying in the present moment and intimately connected with our bodies and what they have to tell us. Without that mind body connection, we push, crank, and force to go beyond our limits (tell me you haven’t just held your breath to muscle through something before.. come on, be honest) as a way to get to work and get our bodies into some shape or form that we crave. The more we crank and force, the less we breathe and the further we actually get from ourselves. The further we are, the harder we push.. it’s a cycle. A vicious one at that. But that’s the thing about yoga, you can always start over. If you catch yourself in this pattern in practice or in reflection, the next time you’re on the mat, you have the chance to try again and see if you can release yourself into compassion and breath. The tapas and transformation will be there for you, but arrive to it with breath so you can remain aware and honest the entire time.
Come back to your breath. Gently place your hands on your belly and feel the breath come in and out as your belly rises and falls. Maybe close your eyes and rest in this observation of breath for a minute or two.
Next time you’re in class – see what being aware of your breath does to support your practice and how it informs the notion of “getting to work” on yourself. We’re all seeking transformation and connection on the mat. We’re all excited and eager to explore the wisdom inherent in the practice. We’re all stoked on yoga butt. I’m not saying don’t get to work – I’m suggesting we start working mindfully.
Take a breath in.
Release and notice how you feel.
The light within me salutes, celebrates, and honors the light within you!