Posts Tagged ‘breath’

The Possibility of Beginning. Maybe.

Well friends,

It’s a New Year.  We huffed our way through the holidays (in a spirited, good-natured way, one hopes), and we’ve crossed the threshold into 2009.  

I’ve often felt that this (somewhat arbitrary) point in one’s calendar should elicit some kind of significant transformation, some sacred renewal, some refreshing sense of purpose, meaning, intention, whatever. 

Yes, I went there.  The Caterpillar representing Transformation.

But I’ve rarely actually experienced anything of the sort — At least on or around January 1st.

However, many people regularly do.  And if you’re one of the regulars – It may be worth giving a quick thanks for such a palpable sense of Beginning.  

And I’d like to request membership into your club, perhaps just this time around, as I’m feeling a small bit of transformative Good happening beneath the surface.  

The purpose of Yoga, to whatever extent you practice it, and during whatever time of year, is actually… transformation.  Which makes the New Year a great time to let it shed some light in your corner…

Tree Pose

I describe Yoga as a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that leads you to your next and better place — Regardless of where you start.  

I started Yoga in a very isolated and frightened place.  At the time, I was dealing with undiagnosed depression and a hefty bit of self-doubt and self-hatred.  I was accustomed to working out in order to reach specific physical goals, and Yoga, at first, was another work-out option for me.  

The jarring thing was that the practice was so hushed.  Even when I felt like I was sweating through it, the idea of counting breaths made me… breathe.  And it made me listen to the breaths.  

I slowed down.  I felt calm.  (Unintentionally I assure you!   Calm was scary!)  It was utterly different than anything I’d done before.

Not to mention that in some of the poses, as I breathed, I would feel my body loosening and letting go.  I saw how physically uptight I was, how closed in… And how, with a bit of time and attention, it was possible to open up.  I saw distinct parallels with my emotional life, although I didn’t want anyone drawing them at the time.Gavel.  (Sentenced; get it?)

From the beginning, I think Yoga gave me a vague sense that nothing was sentenced.

Everything was changeable, even my own self-perception.  A lovely new idea.  

I still grapple with my will: With wanting to overtake a posture rather than allowing it to show me something about myself or my body.  I’m Type A, so it’s likely that this will continue to be my greatest Yogic challenge for some time.  But I also credit Yoga with teaching me a couple key Type-A-Take-Notice things:

1. You can always breathe – No matter how stressful or difficult the situation is…

2. and you can always let go just a little bit more.

Letting Go.

The practice of Yoga, even when seen only as a physical “workout,” will bring about some amazing transformations.  In addition to a more toned physique, increased strength & flexibility, lower blood pressure, improved respiration, reduced stress, supple joints, and better sleep…

…you may notice some sweet bonuses along the lines of greater ease with your body, a more objective view of anxieties, a practiced kindness toward yourself, more mindful consumption, a sense of having done something healthy… Etc.

This comes as a result of Yoga’s peculiar approach (at least in the world of physical training): In which you enter each posture not only to reach a physical goal but to truly take notice of where you are, right now, here on this mat.  

What is your body truly capable of?  Does it need rest?  Where do you feel the most sensation?  Are you clenching your jaw?  Can you take one more deep breath?  Can you relax anywhere?

The noticing is the beginning of the Change.  

Right now, my personal practice of Yoga is teaching me about vulnerability.  I often hide from my emotions, using physical or mental challenges to busy myself away from issues of the heart.  So you could say that it’s my practice of Yoga that’s given me a sense of Beginning this year…  

Here’s why:  As I mentioned, I’ve often gone about my practice by attempting to overtake each posture by sheer will and strength. (“I will get into headstand without a wall, I will not arch my back, and I will stay up there so help me until someone else falls down first!”)

I'm Fiercely Ambitious and Unaware!

Such focused ambition can be helpful in some arenas, but mostly what it does for me is block out anything unsavory.   By making my goals the only things that truly capture my attention, I give myself  a way out — A way to ignore the process, the moment, my actual life — with all its difficulties, questions, doubts, disappointments, and depression.  (I should note that I also wind up missing its joys, loves, inspirations, celebrations, etc…)

Choosing Not to Look.So as the year begins, I’m contemplating the idea of process.  In Yoga, I’ve seen that it’s possible to be fully aware of each moment, and to be truly kind to myself  — Even if I’m still on my way toward my “goal.”  

I’ve also seen that when it comes down to it, that very kindness is the whole point.  

And that it takes a lot more mastery than headstand.

Headstand.

Sunday, November 30.

A review!  🙂

At the first class for our December series, we talked about some of the foundations of a Yoga practice, beginning with the idea that the practice is an opportunity to bring awareness into the physical body.  (We often ignore our physical bodies, or we’re at least unaware of them… Which is how we wind up with all kinds of muscle tension, why we can’t relax or sleep well, etc.)  Yoga is an opportunity to listen to your body and see where it is, how it feels, what it has to say right now.

We also talked about the Breath, and how breathing is foundational in Yoga.  In fact, you can have a Yoga practice even if you’re bedridden — Because you can practice pranayama — or breathing exercises.  

We began by learning the dirgha, or 3-part breath: Bringing the breath into the belly first, feeling it gently expand; then into the mid-chest, feeling the rib cage expand in all 4 directions (back, front, side, side); then into the top of the chest near the collarbones, feeling the tips of the lungs coming up beneath the collarbones.  You can also think of this as the three areas of the lungs — The very bottoms of the lungs, the middle area, the very tops.  This may help you visualize bringing all of the oxygen possible into your lungs, especially when you consider that we usually breathe shallow breaths, bringing oxygen only into the tops of our lungs. (As an aside, this kind of breathing naturally amps stress.  In fact, you can increase your anxiety purposely, just by breathing only into the tops of your lungs.  I don’t recommend experimenting though.)  🙂

After the Dirgha 3-part breath, we learned the Ocean-Sounding Breath (Ujjayi), where you breathe with sound, controlling both the inhale and exhale with smooth motions, making that Darth Vader kind of sound.  This kind of breath strengthens the diaphragm (since you must use the diaphragm in order to breathe this way), promotes relaxation, and brings oxygen into your body more efficiently.  Here’s a great quick explanation, taken from about.com:

Another way to think about Ujjayi Breath is to visualize your throat as a garden hose, with the breath passing through like a trickle of water. If you put your thumb partially over the opening of the hose, you increase the power of the water that is coming through. This is the same thing you are doing with your throat during Ujjayi breathing. The air that comes in through your constricted throat is a powerful, directed breath that you can send into the parts of your body that need it during yoga.

After breathing consciously, we moved into some warmups (especially for hips), and then learned Downward-Facing Dog (the upside-down V), Child’s Pose (resting over the knees), Mountain Pose (standing with grounded-ness and awareness), and a modification of Warrior 1 (much like a kneeling lunge, with arms overhead and hands in a temple position).

We ended the practice with the Seated Half-Moon (sitting cross-legged, stretch right arm overhead while leaning to the left, repeat on other side), and then the Supine Spinal Twist (lying down, bent right knee crosses over straight left leg, then you twist the spine to the right, and repeat on other side).  

And of course, the spinal twist was followed by Savasana, Corpse Pose, where we consciously relaxed from head to toe, and allowed ourselves to be still for once.  🙂  Savasana is often the most difficult of all Yoga poses, and it’s certainly one of the most important.  It integrates your physical practice, calms the nervous system, brings the mind to rest, and provides time and space for true relaxation — which is necessary to develop self-compassion, and to maintain a truly healthy body and mind.   

Thank you for practicing!

Beginnings–

Hello friends,

Welcome to the new home for Tasha’s yoga news, tips, and more–

I’ll be updating regularly with insights from teaching, reading, and practicing, and I’ll keep an ongoing journal of the postures/etc practiced in my December classes (so that students can review at home if they’d like).  

Check back to find out what’s been inspiring my practice (like the quote below), as well as tips for managing stress, sleeping better, developing patience and compassion, fighting fatigue, finding motivation, combatting illness, dealing with negative emotions, and improving physical health.  

Yes, more to come.  We’ll make this the tentative and happy beginning.  Cheers!

“The basic teaching of Yoga is to cultivate strength and steadiness of mind alongside the flexibility of spirit that allows you to move through the most challenging situations with wisdom…

“Your response to change reveals your basic notion of yourself…

“Vision is a living, breathing thing whose very inspiration depends on spontaneity… It is the flexible, strong mind of a Yoga practitioner that will have the humility to let go of the past when appropriate, move forward with necessary, and accept the bell of change when it rings…

“You will see in the world what you have cultivated within yourself.”

–From Kino Macgregor in Yoga +