Conscious Breathing

Your breath reflects the way you feel. Take a moment here. Close your eyes and just notice your breath. Is it quick and shallow? Is it forceful? Is it characterized by long inhalations and exhalations? Don’t try to change anything, simply notice. “Self-Observation Without Judgement”, as Swami Kripalu teaches.

In the practice of yoga, we focus our attention on our breath as we move through the various postures. As we hold more difficult postures, we put even more emphasis on the breath to help us keep the postures longer. Breathing consciously can be calming and relaxing. Bringing full awareness to the breath, is also a form of meditation.

Your breath can tell you much about yourself and how you are feeling. For example, I know that when I am going through a set of strenuous moves while rock climbing, I get out of breath. The result being that as I come out of a crux (the most difficult portion of a climb) I have difficulty breathing. This is because I simply don’t breathe when I make those moves!

How is this relevant to anything? Well, for climbing or any other strenuous activity, it is very important. The body’s priority is to provide oxygen to the brain first. This means that if the body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs because you are retaining your breath, it automatically starts channeling what it has left to feed the brain leaving the muscles and the rest of the body without oxygen, making it more strenuous to move and eventually leading to hyperventilate or to faint.

And so, in daily life situations, when we get angry or nervous, if our breath becomes fast and out of control or if we restrict its flow, we quickly become physically ill. This being said, becoming more conscious of our breathing can affect positive changes in our lives. So take a deep breath, notice your posture, your heartbeat, relax and let go.

Namaste.

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Yoga at the Centre of One’s Life – Part I

This is a written collaboration with my dear friend, Yoga practitioner and soon to be Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher, Joanna Wolczyk.

To balance in the space between movement and stillness is to practice asana with complete present-moment focus. […] By learning to stay balanced and focused in these poses, we bring that awareness into our everyday lives”  by Linda Sparrowe. Excerpt from her beautiful book entitled Yoga.

VB – Although Yoga started as this thing I did and that I did not really understand, I felt good doing it and that is why I continued. As I continued, I inevitably became more aware of the connection between spirit, mind, soul and body and wanted to know more.

When I think of Yoga, I find myself breathing more slowly, taking a step back and allowing myself to see what is around me. It has brought much peace into my life and it continues to change me, making me more aware of my own happiness but also that of others. I feel I have discovered the path I was looking for.

Joanna, how did you encounter Yoga in your life and what did you find it brought you?

JW – Yoga made its way into my life when I was about 16 years old. I couldn’t believe that my 80-some years old teacher was more flexible than I was! I don’t remember the content of the classes themselves but one thing I do remember is how good Savasana felt, lying motionless on the floor while looking at the fake stars pined to the ceiling…

Throughout the years, Yoga came in and out of my life, and it became a reference point for when I needed to heal from a physical or emotional event. There was a period where I thought I didn’t have enough time for Yoga, but it eventually came back and has now found its place in my life; this time it felt different and I wanted it to stay. This happened when I decided that practice would become a daily ritual.

Yoga brought me to my centre and, since it’s a lifetime’s journey, it continues to inspire me to inspire others. Through consciously working to connect with the body, the mind and the spirit, Yoga is what made me realize what life is all about. Creating space in our environment, in our body and our hearts leads us to our true Self: the best guide one will ever have. It all starts with oneself.

VB – Interesting what you say about Savasana as for me it was probably the part of the practice I struggled the most with at first! Now, I really feel that it enables me to fully integrate and take the practice into everyday life. This daily ritual you talk about is still fairly new for me, yet I already notice such difference in my physical and psychological well-being on days I practice Yoga from days I do not.

JW – Indeed, a lot of students struggle with the Savasana posture at first. It’s normal, actually. Why? Let’s take a few steps back. In our society we are constantly rewarded when showing signs of performance. So, when we find ourselves laying on the ground, not doing anything, aside from the crazy mental shuffling of our brain planning the next to do thing on the list, it can be hard to give yourself permission to just stop and be. Integration, which is a key principle and very present in Kripalu Yoga, is exactly what Savasana allows us to do. And so, even at first, only a few minutes of Yoga and/or meditation in the morning will be beneficial throughout the rest of your day because of this integration.

VB – You mentioned that you turned to Yoga when you “needed to heal from a physical or emotional event”. Can you tell me what it was about Yoga that you felt had the properties of healing you?

JW – From a physical point of view, I think that simply taking the time to stop, move slowly and consciously, using the breath to send energy back into the parts of the body where healing is most needed, pretty much did the trick. It is all about Prana, or the life flow, this field of energy that inhabitates each one of us and which is always there for us to use.

From an emotional angle, again, just being and feeling emotions that arise gives you a new sense of direction. It does not mean that you will find all the answers right away, but by allowing those emotions to come to surface as opposed to repressing them, as some of us may have been taught since early childhood, then allows a natural healing process to occur. And so, Yoga heals by making space in our environment, our bodies, and our hearts…

To come – Part II will focus on the principle of integration.

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