Yoga is such a big part of my daily life, but I’ve never written about it beyond the odd Instagram post. I’m currently in Vancouver on business away from my kitchen so it’s given me time to sit and reflect on the incredible breadth of the lessons I’ve learned since I started my practice 15 years ago. Since it seems like too much to cover in one post, I thought I’d share one lesson to begin with. After all, one is always the best place to start…
1.When in Doubt- Just Breathe. As a beginner when things get challenging in yoga class one of the first things to go is calm, steadying breathing. That can lead to a racing heart, a shaky, unsteady feeling and a face the color of an almost ripe strawberry. With practice you learn to notice when you’re holding your breath, or when it tightens up and gets jagged. With that awareness you gain the ability to bring your breath under your control again, to deepen it and slow it down. Sometimes, during a particularly arduous sequence of poses, this requires taking a break. It means you have to physically stop to focus solely on breathing before you’re ready to tackle the next pose. Whether you stand in Mountain Pose, or rest in Child’s Pose or Shivasana, after just a couple of minutes of stillness and slow, full breaths, the heart rate slows down, you regain energy and feel ready to jump back in with increased vigor. Slowly over time you build endurance and strength and the calm steady breath comes naturally during even the most challenging series of poses.
In life outside the yoga room there are moments that challenge us in a very similar way. The breath gets short, the heart races, we feel unsteady and maybe even turn pink in the face. Most often it is not a physical challenge, but those emotional challenges that take us out of our comfort zone. Maybe it is starting a new job, giving a presentation or performance, or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of little day to day stresses that leaves us feeling overwhelmed. In any case, taking just a few minutes to deepen and slow the breath has a tremendous benefit. Sometimes we can do this right in the middle of the situation like during a meeting, other times it means taking a few minutes in the bathroom to ourselves until we feel ready to jump back in. We all feel “in over our head” from time to time. The magic happens when we learn how to take the time we need to breathe deeply and to move forward anyway. In these cases too, we are building strength and endurance. Instead of looking at it as only a negative when we feel challenged, we start to see that it means there is opportunity for growth.
The great news about anything we learn on the yoga mat is that we get to apply it in the world outside too! Any skill we build in our practice is something we take with us wherever we go. Nothing in life has helped me more than practicing those two little words uttered in countless yoga rooms across the world every day. Just Breathe.