Beginning a yoga practice can be daunting. The idea that flexibility is a pre-requisite often stops many people from stepping into a yoga class. It is difficult in general to start any new practice, whether it's yoga, a new sport or hobby. We all start from a relative place of inexperience and inability. Like anything else, if we push into something too fast, we succumb to a higher risk of injury, frustration and failure. These same principles apply to yoga. By starting out slow and easy, progression and change will happen faster, and it will be safer for your body!
I like to call the social media display of yoga, "the yoga circus". Now, there's nothing wrong with a stereotypically correct body doing a stereotypically correct yoga pose...however, our media is flooded with yoga pictures that reflect only one side of the spectrum: skinny yoga bodies performing super-flexible yoga poses. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. Many people are flexible and very strong and some poses come easier to some than others. However, there is a lack of representation showing the same amazing yoga poses from the not-so-flexible and not-so-strong, like the others. That's the problem. Because only the "yoga circus" seems to exist in the eyes of the media, it's easy for most of the viewing public to begin to misunderstand what yoga really is.
We often get so caught up in what yoga looks like, we forget that 87% of yoga is completely separate from the pose itself. A huge part of what makes the yoga poses so stimulating and sensational is the breath. Without a focus on the breath, the pose is only a position to hold. With the participation of the breath, we start to bring life, or an energy, to each movement, and each pose becomes a total experience. Like many others, I started out going to yoga classes to learn the poses and get my body in better shape. But like many others, I quickly noticed, with the integration of my breath, that each pose became a story, a completely new experience.
Find Your Breath
We all breath, involuntarily. It's been happening within us for years and years, since we were born. Each breath has been a constant pattern, an unwavering in-and-out. It's natural to lose touch with this breath, especially if we live very "outside of the body". My dear friend Ekstasy just recorded a bold and honest podcast on connecting to and living from the physical body. This energetic act is a participation of breath and a participation of life in the deepest form. How come no one tells us that we ARE our breath? Why don't we learn as children that we have the power to become a living part of breath, riding the wave of each inhale and each exhale in a controlled manner to facilitate a sense of calm, ease and peace. There is so much pressure in life, not including the societal epidemic of stress, depression, worry, fear and anxiety.
I think the very beginning to yoga is to find the breath, notice how it feels in the physical body and then learn use it in a way that is significantly more valuable than to just support a beating heart.
What is a beating heart without the recognition of its sweet methodical tune?
What is the breath without the awareness that it is so much more than a rise and fall of the chest?
Change Your Breath
Besides just breathing naturally, there are numerous ways we can use the breath to increase the quality of life. One of the very first ways we do this it to become a "witness". Just noticing the rhythm of our breath, maybe the even or not-so-even pace of the inhales and exhales, or what parts of the body rise and fall when we breathe. Where do you feel the breath in the body? Can you feel it spread past the space of the lungs and chest?
After a few moments of playing the witness role, it will seem natural to want to start to control the breath. For many of us, this means feeling something different in the body. Expanding places in the belly that are perhaps so vulnerable and shy. Spreading open and stretching past places of deep tension. It can be scary to take the reins of the breath and drive it forward with our own rule book. But these are the first steps. This is expansive action of pushing past boundaries, or knocking down the fences we've built up to safely contain our life within our own limitations.
It is here you will begin to plant seeds. Seeds of conscious awareness. Awareness of the breath, expanding and contracting, will summon awareness of the body. Awareness of the body will trigger awareness of your mind, your intuition, that deep place of knowing and achieving - your powerhouse. Your "resources", as one of my yoga trainers would say.
Transform Your Breath
The more you practice using the full capacity of your breath to create mental space and physical body awareness, the more clarity you will start to have in each moment. With more clarity in each moment, maybe there will be more opportunities each day to smile, more chances during to feel happiness and joy in work or in traffic. Maybe there will be a calmer calm during the evening rush, or a sense of freeing carelessness when surrounded by tension and anxiety.
Maybe the breath will bring life and sustainability to more than just your beating heart, but to you...as an intelligent, creative, playful, silly and sometimes reckless human being.
And what if, all you have to do is breath on purpose.
Follow Your Breath (The Yoga Poses)
And we arrive now back at the physical practice of yoga, asana, or the practice of the poses. We should think of the breath as the driving force behind each pose in a yoga practice. It is the breath that initiates the movement and it is the breath that stops the movement.
Each pose tells a story because each pose allows the breath to move in a different way. Scientifically speaking, the breath comes in and out of our lungs of course, but we can use our practiced-awareness to direct our breath to help us engage or disengage certain parts of the body that need tension or release. We can send the breath to specific areas in order to expand, open up space and illuminate the energy that already exists there. The physical body holds all the stories of our lives, and over time some of those stories can create pain, tension and compression. The breath, through the movement of yoga poses, can unravel those stories and we can transform, one experience after another. This is the practice of self-healing, the practice of self-rejuvenation at the very least, and who doesn't need that?
Archived Blog Post + Free Breath Practice: "The Breath of Yoga"
Hello, I'm Julie.
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