Everyone thinks Yoga is about postures and some funny breathing you do to ‘quiet the mind.’ Or it’s about sitting still and meditating. Either way you look at it, the message we tend to pick up is that Yoga Is About Doing Something to Get Something Else (health, flexible hamstrings, good posture, a yoga butt, etc.).
Actually, Yoga is about clearing space, first. A by-product may be better posture, but it’s not the ‘goal.’ In Yoga philosophy, you are already complete…the ‘job’, if you will, of practicing Yoga is to unravel the knots – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – that prevent you from recognizing this truth. Good posture, sticking with that example, is revealed when what is preventing it is unlocked and released. And remember, that may involve not just a practice in a Yoga classroom, but changes in lifestyle that are reinforcing the obstacles. Remove the obstacles, and the way becomes more clear. Dis-ease in the body systems, stress, anxiety, negative thinking habits, fear, a hardened heart…these are obstacles, these are the knots that may be unraveled in practice to restore the balance of physical health and mental and emotional clarity.
One positive healing habit you can start working with immediately is one that is built into your basic biology. You do it every day without a second thought: breathing. Exhale, you release carbon dioxide (the unnecessary). Inhale, you bring in oxygen (the necessary). There is a great little tale about breathing. All of the senses in the body thought they were the most important sense and started arguing one day. First, Hearing said ‘I’m the most important… and to prove it, I’m going to leave!”…The other senses laughed, because the body was just fine, even without Hearing. And so it went: Sight, Smell, Taste, etc….all took their turn. But, the body was fine. And then, it was just the Breath. And when the Breath left, all of the other senses, yelled “No, no, come back!” Without breath, there is no Life. True in the story, true in fact.
As we approach Spring, the falling away of the old and the birth of the new is a clear message about how space must be created for life and all of its abundance to grow and flourish. This also provides us a simple and lovely visualization to focus on when we incorporate the following equally simple breathing practice into our day. Try this in the morning…or anytime it feels right for you.
Begin lying down, or sitting comfortably, supported, in a chair. Always, comfort is first. Make any adjustments you need in order to feel at ease. Close your eyes and take a few deep relaxing breaths. Allow your body to empty completely when you exhale and fill completely when you inhale.
Now, begin to watch your breathing. You’re an observer. Don’t judge it…just watch…following the stream of your breath, in and out, out and in, letting it flow naturally, fully – beginning to end, end to beginning.
Now, for 8 breaths, focus your mental attention just on your exhalation, and with every exhale visualize letting go of what no longer serves you. It can be one thing or many things…you can give it a color or a name. It can be something concrete…a thing, or an emotion, experience, thought, etc. If there are many things, exhale them all together, feeling them leave every cell of your body each time you exhale. Emptying you out more each time, leaving a feeling of spaciousness and lighter being.
After 8 breaths of exhale focus, turn your attention to your inhalation. For 8 breaths, visualize the beauty of spring…however it appears to you…as light, as sun, as vibrant color, as flowers, as birdsong, as a feeling of joy and growth…and with each inhalation, welcome it into every cell of your body.
At the end of this practice, let go of all visualization, let go of all focus, and just rest.
When you are ready to open your eyes, take a moment first to notice how you feel…energetically, emotionally, mentally, physically. Stretch gently, then roll to your side to sit up (if you are lying down). Move slowly as you return to your day.
Liz Bragdon is a Yoga Instructor & Movement Educator at Our Place Studio 338 N Vermont Street, downtown Covington, LA. 985.875.1182 opcovington.com