closing your eyes the awareness is flooded by breath alone the soft hiss of air going in, air going out a subtle rustle behind your ribcage reminds you of pulsing life within the peace you find in this silent stillness the soft sense of comfort that resides there is not a separation from the world rather it is our ability to dissolve, to let go and be submerged in the One going inward, is going away it's surrendering the whole idea of self setting aside all the stories that you cling to remembering that they are not real rediscovering what is that peaceful place, that's what's real the softening of body and mind the deep undercurrent of all existence is always there waiting for you to recognize, to rest in
If there is one thing I’ve learned from my meditation practice, it is the importance and value of focusing our minds. I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely don’t think it matters what we decide to focus on. The simple act of focusing itself is what brings us clarity and calm. As someone who is easily distracted, it’s hard not to get caught up on the decision of what to focus on, even during meditation. Should I focus my attention on my breath, my heart space, my connection with the earth, a visualization? There are so many options that it becomes overwhelming. I find myself switching back and fourth a lot of the time, unable to settle on just one.
Until recently, I was under the assumption that breath awareness was one of the simplest forms of meditation. I often get frustrated with myself for having such a hard time with it after so many years. But recently I heard a meditation teacher discuss the challenges of this type of meditation, validating a lot of the recurring thoughts that pop up for me during my practice. For one thing, saying “focus on the breath” isn’t a very clear instruction. The breath is a very complex thing. It is fluid, ever changing, and tied to a lot of difficult emotions.
Another problem with breath awareness is the body image issues that often arise with it. Until hearing this person speak about it, part of me thought I was the only one that struggled with allowing a natural belly breath during a seated meditation. (It’s a little bit easier for me when lying down.) People, especially women, are told to suck in their stomach, to flatten and hide it. Yet now we are expected to allow it to expand fully and breathe deeply into our diaphragm? It’s hard to let go of years of emotional baggage in order to do so. I always get distracted by my feelings of shame and self-judgement while trying to breathe into my belly. Then instead of focusing on the breath, I’m meditating on negative self-talk, which is only harming me.
One thing that I’ve found helpful more recently is to get even more specific with my breath awareness. There is so much going on when we think about our breath. There a lots of different areas we can choose to focus on. For instance, I’ve been narrowing my focus down to the way the air feels as it leaves and enters my nostrils. You might also choose to focus on the way the breath feels in other areas of the body, or the temperature difference on the inhale vs. the exhale. Maybe you’d like to focus on the sounds you make while breathing. There are lots of different things about the act of breathing to pay attention to, if you find the “breath” too amorphous and vague.
At least for me, it’s very beneficial to pick something very small and specific if I want to achieve that soothing, flow-state of focus. Even though it’s tempting to bounce back and forth between options, it’s important to commit to whatever you decide to focus on and stick to it. Rest assured that regardless of what you choose, the result will be the same. It’s the act of focusing that we are trying to practice, so the object of that focus is irrelevant.
Racing thoughts are a common part of anxiety. It feels like there are just so many things demanding our attention. It becomes overwhelming. Focusing our minds is a great way to calm ourselves down when we are feeling stressed out. Even if you don’t have time to sit down and do a formal meditation, you can always find a meditative state no matter where you are or what you’re doing. All you have to do is decide on something small to focus on. If you are walking, you might decide to focus on the way the heels of your feet feel when they contact the ground underneath you. If you are drawing, you might focus on the movement of your hand or the sensation of touching your brush or pen to the surface of the paper or canvas. If you are cooking, maybe focus on the way the foods smell as you prepare them, or the sounds of chopping and heating the ingredients. If you’re washing the dishes you might focus on the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. Or the sounds of the dishes as they clink against one another.
In today’s world filled with endless distractions vying for our attention, it can be especially difficult to stay focused on anything for very long. If you’re someone like me who has had trouble keeping your attention where you want it, try choosing an even smaller, simpler point to focus on. While it hasn’t made things perfect, it has definitely helped me a lot during my meditation and also when stressful moments arise. Most importantly, practice offering yourself compassion when you’re struggling. I promise you it’ll be worth the struggle. Focus is a muscle that we can build up more and more of over time. The older I get the more I realize just how important our focus is. It genuinely shapes our entire reality. The more we strengthen our ability to direct that focus towards what we want, the more ease we will begin to experience in our lives.
Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.
For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.
Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.
Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.
Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.
Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.
There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.
That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.
As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.
Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.
Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.
Breathing in I taste the thick sweetness of summer air breathing out A shimmer of satisfaction ripples through me Enveloped in a world so miraculous and perfect humbled by the chance to simply be my soul sings sweetly along with the heartbeat of existence So much beauty to behold the many layers of this life an endless spiraling inwards and outwards far past infinity incomprehensible complexity Unfurling like a flower to the sunlight my innermost essence opens to encompass the vast vibrations of this earth Five superpowers called senses ten fingers, ten toes a body that heals and grows a brain that questions and creates at one with all there is but also somehow separate How sublime it is to surrender to the deep knowing in our bones that stardust inside of us that says, "all is well" that tells us, "have faith, and you will find all you seek"
Hard to believe it’s already June 2021. This past January I had intended to stop smoking cigarettes. I hadn’t realized just what a difficult task that would be unfortunately. I didn’t really have much of a plan either. I did manage to cut back somewhat, and I am proud of that fact. But just like in the past when I took up smoking, the longer it goes on, the more repulsed I become by it. Each time I light a cigarette I am overcome with guilt and shame and anxiety. Strangely what pushes me to light up is also anxiety. There is a momentary relief as I inhale that foul smoke. I reminisce about the reckless abandon I once felt, the freedom, the sheer disregard for everyone and everything, even myself, in favor of the sickening pleasure of the moment. It made me feel tragic, dangerous, poetic. But these feelings are the foolish fantasy of youth, and like youth they cannot remain for long. What was once an act of rebellion has become the very chains that bind me. So today I want to write about the reasons that I want to stop smoking in the hopes it will shake me free from this secret shame.
One of the reasons smoking causes me such intense shame is the hypocrisy of it. I am constantly railing against the hypocrisy of loving animals while simultaneously eating them, but in the end I am just as absurd. How can a vegan, yoga teacher smoke cigarettes? It’s laughable. I claim to care about my body and my health, but how can I while I continue to poison myself all day, every day? I want to treat my body with the love and respect that it deserves. I want to take good care of it so that it can take good care of me for a long time. If this pandemic has taught the world anything, it should be the incredible importance of our lungs and respiratory system. Even my yoga practice is all about the breath. Yet despite this sacred gift of breath I have been given, I choke myself with soot and black smoke. I pollute the very part of me that gives life.
Time to state the obvious. Buying and smoking cigarettes isn’t exactly “vegan.” While it may not be a food or an animal product, like certain cosmetics, the cigarette industry is no friend to animals. While I’m not sure if they still do (I’m too afraid to google it) I know that cigarette companies are notorious for their horrific animal testing. Whether or not these practices persist, I cannot continue to support such a heinous industry. Not only that, more personally, I am directly harming my own animals by smoking. This is the main reason that finally got me to stop last time. I may not care enough about myself to stop, but I love my sweet babies even more. I genuinely believe that the world as we know it will come to an end before I have to worry about lung cancer, but my fur children have much shorter life spans. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I caused them to suffer and die from the effects of second hand smoke. I’m so ashamed of this aspect of my smoking that my boyfriend doesn’t even know. I’m afraid it would make him lose all respect for me, and I wouldn’t blame him.
I don’t even want to calculate the amount of money I have wasted on cigarettes. They are expensive enough as it is, but I also buy Marlboro so it’s even worse. I definitely spend at least $30 a week on cigarettes. I am such a cheap person though! I don’t even want to spend $10 a year on multivitamins. Or $60 every other week on therapy! I’m basically teaching my yoga class to pay for cigarettes. The irony is palpable. I should be saving that money or at least spending it on something worthwhile. Maybe when I finally stop, I’ll set that money aside and get myself something nice with it as a reward.
Even though all of my other reasons are probably more important, the biggest thing pushing me to stop is shame. I’m pretty much a secret smoker. My close friends and family know, but even so, I try not to smoke around them. I always feel so shitty and stupid whenever I do. They must think I’m such a fool. Besides that, I don’t want to make them worry. I used to sneak out at work and smoke once or twice a day. Eventually I got caught and even though they didn’t seem to care, I was utterly humiliated that they knew. Shame is a toxic emotion. It rots away your insides. It erodes any positive image you have of yourself. It isolates and separates. I want to live a life I can be proud of. I can’t bear to live in shame any more.
I’m sure there are probably many more reasons I could think of that make me want to quit, but those are the biggest ones. To be honest, it was hard for me to even write about this. Denial is part of the way I’ve been able to continue for so long. It’s painful to face your own hypocrisy. I have a plan now though and I’m praying it works this time. I’ve ordered some nicotine salt vape juice. I know it’s not ideal, but I figure it’s still a step in the right direction. I’m not going to buy any more cigarettes. Once I finish the packs I have, I’m going to switch back to vaping. I’m hoping this will be the end of my dalliance with tobacco. Wish me luck.
One of the first things you tend to learn when getting into yoga philosophy is that resistance to unpleasant feelings, situations, or emotions only leads to more intense, prolonged suffering. In fact, it could be said that all of the suffering we experience stems from our aversion to certain things. Life is about perspective primarily. So if we can teach ourselves to see everything through the eyes of loving kindness, there is no where for suffering to take root.
This principle of non-resistance can be seen in the mind, but also in the physical body. I have always been someone who detests the cold and avoids it at all costs. Unfortunately for me, I also happen to live in the northern part of the country where winters can be pretty intense. I read the other day that when you brace yourself against the cold and try to resist it, you are actually only making yourself feel colder! When we tense up our bodies, our blood vessels are constricted. Therefore less blood is able to flow to our extremities, making us colder. If we can breathe deeply and relax our bodies, we won’t be as uncomfortable with low temperatures.
This also works with other types of pain or discomfort. The breath is such a powerful thing, if we can only learn to utilize it. I often notice when I am in some type of physical pain whether it be a stomach ache, a sore throat, or just muscle cramps, I desperately try to avoid and disassociate from that area of my body. Sometimes as a kid I would even visualize boxing that body part off from the rest of me. Needless to say that type of response has never worked for me. Despite my best efforts I am unable to ignore my body’s painful cries.
The other night as I was struggling to fall asleep due to such a pain, I decided to try embracing that pain instead of attempting to push it away. I turned to focusing on my breath. I imagined sending the swirling, healing oxygen to that painful part of my body with every inhale. As I exhaled, I relaxed and accepted the unpleasant sensations. This didn’t make the pain go away, but after a few moments I felt much better. Today I am struggling with a very upset stomach from overeating yesterday. Stomach pain has always been one of the hardest problems for me to deal with ever since I was little. I’ve felt tense and uncomfortable all morning. Nothing I’ve tried seems to have helped. However, as I sit here writing this, I’ve been trying to also take slow, deep breaths down into my belly. I can definitely still feel some discomfort, but it’s much less pronounced than earlier.
Just like with most meditative practices, the hardest part is staying focused. Even after years of practicing yoga and meditation it can be hard for me to take deep breaths as I move through a normal day. In fact, a lot of the time I find that my breath is exceptionally shallow or that I’m holding it! It can definitely be frustrating when it feels like despite your best efforts you aren’t making much progress. The good thing is each breath is another opportunity to practice. Breathwork is something we are able to work on anywhere no matter who we’re with or what we’re doing. Not to mention it’s free! It can even be quite fun once you start to notice the connection your breath has on your body and mind.
I find it really helps me to attach an image or an emotion to my breath to help me concentrate. Recently I’ve started to imagine each sip of air as a delicious food, drink, or even a drug that I get to consume. I look forward to every inhale and exhale. I savor the way it feels as it moves through my body. Sometimes I’ll also picture all of the wonderful things my body will be able to do with so much fresh oxygen. I imagine it providing me with energy and happy feelings. I imagine my body using it to perform all of it’s vital functions: building new cells, cleansing toxins, healing me, etc. Just thinking about it makes me so grateful for this body I have been blessed with. It inspires me to breathe deeply as a gift to this body. Inhale – I love you, body. Exhale – thank you, body.
The next time you are feeling upset or you’re in pain, whatever it may be that you find yourself resisting, try to honor that feeling rather than running from it. Perhaps it will even turn out to be a gift. It is easy to go through life without growing or changing when things are going well. However, pain and discomfort are necessary signals that we can learn so much from. For instance, my stomach hurting this morning is a reminder to take better care of my body. It is my body asking me for love, kindness, and respect. Instead of being frustrated and upset with my body for not behaving the way I want it to, I am going to listen to it’s urgent request. I am going to use this unpleasant morning to push me to do better for myself today and from now on. It all begins with the breath.
So just breathe
Each morning when I sit down at my desk, laptop in front on me, WordPress open and waiting, I struggle to think of something to write about. I have a list I keep of a few ideas I could expound upon, but a lot of them seem too depressing to dwell on first thing in the morning. I keep losing sight of the reason I started writing again everyday in the first place. This is for me, this is to amp myself up, to get excited, to have fun. I don’t have to find a new fascinating topic to delve into every day. It really doesn’t matter what I write at all. Rather it’s the simple act of creation, of pouring myself into words on a page, with no other goal than to enjoy doing so.
I mentioned before how visualization before bed has helped me to wake up feeling better, more animated in the morning. Today I wanted to try that same visualization but in order to prepare me for the rest of my day. I have taken the next few days off from work because I had some PTO hours I needed to use up before July. Even though I am always excited for a day off, I never seem to let myself enjoy it. I get all in my head about every little moment, feeding my anxiety all throughout the day. I’m hoping that by sitting down, taking some mindful time first thing in the morning to mentally walk through my day, I’ll be able to feel more present and happy as I move through it.
Today is going to be a great day! I got to sleep in so I am feeling nice and rested. What a beautiful gift to be able to dream all through the night and wake up gently of my own volition. It’s a rather chilly day outside so I am going to spend my time warm and cozy indoors. I am going to have a very productive day. It will be a delight to clean up my house and organize things later. It will be an act of self-love. Tending to my nest so that I can feel more at home, more at peace. It will also be a great joy to show off all my hard work to my vegan boy tomorrow when he comes over again. Once my work is all done and the day is winding down, I’ll reward myself with a relaxing evening playing my new favorite video game.
Before I start my cleaning for the day, I have a lot of wonderful self-care to complete. I do most of these things every single day, yet the intention behind them has faded over time. Theses small acts aren’t supposed to be more chores for me to begrudgingly trudge through. These are small gifts to myself, chances to be present, chances to appreciate myself, my life. Today I am going to be mindful of this sweet, loving intention as I move through my to-do list.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the time while I am going about my business, I’m holding my breath! Or I’m breathing very shallow and quick. Today I am going to keep coming back to my breath. How might it feel to breathe mindfully, lovingly for an entire day? Won’t it be fun to try it out and see? Yes, fun. Above all I want to have fun today. I’m going to keep a light heart, a soft eye, a kind energy. I’m going to be curious and playful, grateful for this new day to spend with myself. My yoga practice today is going to be a celebration of this life I’ve been given, a beautiful flowing dance in tribute to my lovely body, my mother Earth. My meditation will be a much deserved rest, a surrender to that sweet mother. As I kindle that inner fire, that prana, with my workout today I will rejoice at all my body is capable of doing for me. The theme for today is passion, fire, playfulness, admiration, devotion. Each a simple word, yet able to bring such powerful emotions bubbling up to the surface.
One last intention to set before I finish up and move into the rest of my day. Today is just one day. I will focus on the time I have, not the foggy future to come. Perhaps I will have time for everything I’ve got swirling around in my busy mind eventually. Perhaps not. Either way, all I am able to do is focus on the day in front of me. There is not enough time for me to do everything. Instead I will concentrate on doing what I can. Doing it well, with deep breaths, and with many sips from the well of my own self-love.
I have been feeling really drained and stressed out lately. I feel like the weeks have been flying by without leaving me any time to do the things I need to do. It seems like I have an ever increasing list of chores, but less and less time to take care of them. Whenever things start feeling frantic like this, I tend to lean on self-medication hard. I start to use marijuana, kratom, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. as a crutch to get me through the day. Inevitably these things become less and less effective as time goes on. And when that starts to happen, the panic sets in.
There is so often this lingering sense of fear that looms around me. It is an ever-present unease, a whisper in my ear, telling me I need to go, run, flee, get away somehow. From what? I couldn’t say. To where? I don’t know. Yet this feeling is powerful, it waits for those moments of weakness and overwhelms me. It is momentarily placated when I am able to “escape” my own mind for awhile with some substance or another. But as I’ve said, that is only a highly unhealthy, temporary fix at best.
While I was meditating today, I came back to a realization that I’ve had a few times before. Even though I was pressed for time and could only sit for 5 minutes today, it was enough for a few moments of profound healing. Just like always, I felt a lot of resistance to the stillness at first. It never ceases to amaze me just how hard it actually is to just breathe. Once I allowed myself to surrender and drop into the soothing rhythm of my own breath, I found so much peace within that was waiting for me. Everything always seems so simple in those moments, so clear.
I remembered that I already have everything that I need inside of me. I don’t need any chemicals or substances to calm me down. All I need is this breath. I have the power to go within whenever the outside world becomes to much. I can go to that silent, still, safe place. A place that is even deeper than the constant noise inside my head. My own private sanctuary where I can heal and stay as long as I like. All I’ve got to do is give myself permission to go there. To let go of all of the things that are weighing me down. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but it is possible.
Short meditations like today’s remind me that even a few minutes can make a huge difference. It isn’t always necessary to set aside a half an hour or more for meditation. There is always time to center and ground yourself in the breath. Even if it’s just a minute, even if it’s just three deep breaths. Anything is better than nothing at all. And I don’t need to limit myself to practicing once a day. This isn’t just something to check off of a list. Meditation is a tool that I can utilize in my most difficult moments. It is also something I can do when I want to savor a particularly good one. There is really no limit to the potential of this mindfulness practice. I would like to learn to integrate it more into my day to day existence. It isn’t simply a healthy activity like daily exercise. It is a way of life, it is taping into that deep peace and wisdom that we all have inside of us. It is an opportunity to drink from that bottomless well of energy within.
Everything is going to be alright. You have everything that you need. You are more powerful than you know. You are the love, you are the peace, that you seek. Just breathe.
Before yoga, I never really paid much attention to my breathing. It was just something my body did, like blinking or swallowing, nothing very interesting or worth my attention. I think most people live their entire lives without really thinking about their breath. Even a lot of people that do yoga still don’t have a strong connection with their breathing. I certainly still have a LONG way to go myself with that aspect of my practice.
When I first began doing yoga, I was only concerned with “doing it right.” Certain poses were paired with inhales, others were paired with exhales. That much I knew. However, it was still difficult to keep this in mind when bending my body into, at that time, strange and unfamiliar positions. I didn’t know the significance of breathing in a certain way as I practiced. I was just trying to follow along. As my practice grew though, so did my connection with my breath and my understanding of its importance.
The breath is possibly the most important aspect of yoga. Not only that, but it is one of the easiest parts of practice to take with you into your daily life. You don’t need to do a 90 minute class to destress. Just a few deep, conscious breaths can work wonders. I used to think it was magical how, for some reason, doing yoga always managed to calm me down. Now I finally realize that it isn’t necessarily because of the movements and postures, it is because when I practice yoga, I am breathing differently.
It seems hard to believe at first, but the way we breathe can completely change how we experience life. There is a feedback loop between our mental state and our breath. When we are feeling anxious or upset, our breath naturally becomes quick and shallow. Our bodies are trying to prepare us to fight or flee. I’m sure this was once far more useful to us than it is in modern times. The good thing is, while our mental state effects our breath, the reverse is also true. We can use our breath to change our state of mind.
The next time you are feeling less than ideal, take a step back and notice your breathing. Is it quick and mainly staying up in your chest? If it is, try taking at least 5 mindful, full breaths. Consciously directing each inhale down into the belly, using the diaphragm. Try making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, pushing out every bit of air. Breathing in this way naturally calms down our nervous system. We are using our breath to show the mind that we are okay.
The most incredible thing is, this always works. Always. Even when I have moments where it feels like it’s not working, I realize it isn’t that it isn’t working, it’s that I am just having a hard time controlling my breath. I let my mind carry me away too quickly. I am not able to stay with my breath long enough to utilize it. But with practice it becomes easier to do no matter what state our minds are in. We are able to use our breath to help us wherever we are, whatever we are doing.
I used to roll my eyes at the constant obsession with the breath in yoga. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Now I understand the emphasis. It can be frustrating not being able to express to someone what immense power we all have that we are not tapping into. However much you preach about breath work though, it is up to each individual to find out its importance for themselves.
As I’ve mentioned before, I began yoga for pretty superficial reasons. For years, my practice was about changing my body, trying to make it fit into a certain mold through simply practicing different shapes. Yet, even with a practice that hasn’t yet scratched the surface of yoga, it is impossible to avoid receiving some of the more spiritual benefits. Even without meaning to, you start to drop into the breath. You start to really become acquainted with it, maybe for the first time. You have moments of perfect peace, of true presence of mind. In the beginning, these were just pleasantly surprising pluses from my practice, not the focus of it.
Throughout the years my practice has grown. At times it almost feels like a completely different activity all together from those first forays, which I would now think of more as simply stretching. Back then yoga was all about the body. Now it is also about the mind and spirit. It is incredible how much this mental shift has changed my practice. On the outside, it may look identical, but now I am able to more fully absorb all the goodness yoga offers me and use it to heal.
I no longer care to push myself into my fullest expression of every pose when I lay out my mat each day. I am not trying to prove something to myself or anyone with my practice anymore. If I learn to do a handstand without a wall to support me, that’s great, but these types of things are no longer the types of goals I set for myself. Now it is more about what I would learn on the way towards such a goal. How do I deal with frustration? How to I react when confronted with limitations? Can I be patient? Can I embrace where I am now? Can I be resilient? Can I persevere in the face of adversity, of failure? Can I trust? Now most of the work is going on inside of me. When you approach your practice (and life itself) in this way, no effort is “wasted.” If after years of working towards a handstand, I never quite make it, that’s perfectly okay. I will still have gained so much through my efforts.
Now it isn’t about how a pose looks. It is more about how a pose feels. How it affects the breath. What thoughts come up? Can I allow them to pass through me without clinging to them or pushing them away? Can I find the perfect balance between effort and ease? Can I notice what my body needs today? This inner work, this is what yoga is truly about. Truthfully, learning how to do impressive physical feats is cool, but ultimately doesn’t matter much in life. What we really learn from yoga is how to live. I am much better off having done all of that inner work and never being able to do a handstand than if I learned how to do a perfect handstand but nothing else.
Yoga allows us to explore what it means to exist in this body, with this mind, through this breath, right now. It teaches us how to cope with life’s struggles, how to more fully savor life’s gifts, how to work through anger and frustration and sorrow, how to be there for ourselves. In my opinion, yoga is therapy. Except you are the therapist and the client. You design and guide yourself through your own healing journey. After all, who is better equipped for this than you? All of the answers that we seek are already within us. Yoga teaches us how to tap into that wisdom, how to listen to the body, to the heart.
I still have a lot to learn, but each moment is a lesson. Not only during my work on the mat, but off it as well. True yoga isn’t left behind when we step out of the studio. We try our best to take it with us into the rest of our life as well. When you stay mindful, every moment can be part of your practice.
All of this, this is the reason I became a yoga teacher. I am overcome with gratitude whenever I think about this gift of yoga that has been passed down through the ages, eventually finding its way to me. I simply had to do whatever I could to share this gift with others. It is my sincere hope that this beautiful practice continues to help the whole world to heal. I will keep doing my part by learning how to heal myself through this ancient art and passing it along to others so that they may begin their own healing.