Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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Posted by on in Family

With baby #3 fully cooked and safe to arrive any time in the next couple of weeks, I wait. Or rather, I try to go about my everyday life despite the fact that something incredible is about to happen, that my body is preparing for a powerful physical experience, that our family’s life is about to be forever changed.

Friends wonder (and place bets) on whether I’ve had the baby yet, my mom is certain every time I miss her call that I’m in labor, and several nights recently I’ve gone to bed wondering if tonight is the big night.

WaitingI sit in wait with my huge belly and savor this in-between time in a world where waiting has gone out of fashion. Have a few minutes before the next train arrives? Pull out your phone and suddenly you’ve transformed what would have just been a wait into productive and/or entertainment time. But the last weeks of pregnancy are all wait, all wondering, and surrender to the fact that there’s no app for predicting the onset of labor.

I sit in not-knowing with this new person who is either a boy or a girl, one or the other, and though I could have found out months ago I revel in my ignorance of this key fact about our new family member. My dreams are of no help – last night I dreamt of a sweet cheeked blond boy who looks remarkably like my son, but a few nights ago the baby was a cuddly baby girl. It’s not often I get to not-know something so big for so long. Not even a conversation-ending google search on my phone can give me this answer.

I sit in surrender because I have no control over when labor starts, how the birth goes, or any of it. I like control, so this is hard. Meditation helps, as does yoga practice.

I’m practicing the yoga of waiting for baby. Maybe it’s the hormones, but it’s not as difficult as I remembered. I’ve given up bargaining with baby (“Please wait until your grandparents are back in town, until I wrap everything up at the studio, until our teacher trainees graduate…”), realizing this is not a negotiation I can win. It’s refreshing to loosen my grip on schedules and plans and just say “I’ll be there if I haven’t had the baby yet!”

The present is the only thing I can count on. This is always true, but never more obvious than right now. Sometimes I have to stop and catch my breath after walking up the stairs to our apartment, other times I feel strong and vital, like I could walk miles without issue.

I’m overflowing with gratitude to feel as good as I do at this stage of the game. Each time I’m asked how I feel and respond with a smile, I’m careful to not get too attached to this whole “feeling good” business.  While the yoga, meditation, massage, and walking I’ve done throughout my pregnancy certainly helped, I’ve just been incredibly lucky, too. And I know that could change at any time, so I enjoy any day where I can get up from my mat without grunting.

There’s nothing more to prepare: the names are picked out, the carseat’s installed and awaiting a tiny passenger, and we’ve done our best to prep big brother and big sister for the intensity of life with a newborn. Now, again, it’s just the wait.

I breathe in and feel baby wiggle and adjust in the private world of my belly. I breathe out and know there will only be so many more times I get to experience his or her movements from the inside. 

I breathe in, I breathe out, I am grateful. 

My breath will get me through whatever comes next – wait, birth, and afterwards.

 

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Posted by on in Health


After a late night work session I drag myself onto the yoga mat at 6am for a brief practice, knowing the fully scheduled day ahead will leave no room for the complete yoga class I'm really needing. I stand at the top of my mat in tadasana, or mountain pose, trying to ground, to rise, to be the mountain, but it seems the only mountain in my life right now is the mountain of work that awaits again today.

As my arms float out to the sides I begin to draw in a deep breath, but by the time my arms have reached shoulder height I realize I'm holding it, the inhalation has petered out. My breath is completely held as I make my way up to urdhva hastasana, or upward salute. I begin the exhale as I fold forward and it seems that the breath can go out forever, like there's no limit to how long I can exhale. I play with the inhale again as I extend into half forward fold, but the same thing happens. My in-breath starts out strong, like a flood, then midway through there's no more room to expand and take in. My deep exhalation as I fold into uttanasana, or standing forward fold, confirms it:

My breath is trying to tell me something.

From a physiological perspective, there's nothing 'wrong' with the breathing I've just described. The lungs do their job whether we are conscious of it or not, and the body and brain will get the oxygen they need just because the human body is an incredible system. But the writer in me couldn't help but notice the analogy here.

I'm less than two weeks away from graduating from 10,000 Small Businesses, the small business education and support program I've participated in for the past few months. Since January, in addition to my regular work load and family obligations, I've been fortunate enough to participate in fantastic business education modules that have encouraged me to think about Bloom in a new way, to come up with better systems to keep the studio running well, and to consider a variety of ways to help Bloom to continue to grow and flourish in the future. It has been nothing short of an incredible gift and an opportunity I'm endlessly grateful to have had.

That doesn't mean it's been easy (as rewarding things often aren't).

Because I've had to sacrifice on sleep and self-care in order to get all my work done these past few months, I've actually become quite comfortable in that mode. For the first month or so I was surprised to find myself voluntarily signing up for additional commitments - 'Sure, I can head up that sub-committee!' or 'I should volunteer at both kids' schools this month!' I realized that to some degree it felt safe to put my own well-being last. If something had to give, I knew I was tough enough. That something could be me.

But for how long and at what cost?

It's easy for me to short the inhalation, like it's easy to short self-care and that which nurtures me. This morning when I was on the mat it seemed as if my exhalations could go on forever, like I could just keep giving, keep putting energy into external projects without any thought of recharging or nourishing myself in order to do so.

But though I can sustain the movement of my arms up overhead without breath to accompany it, it feels much more satisfying to slow down the breath and let it accompany the movement all the way up. While I can use dark chocolate to fuel work sessions that last until 2am, I'd rather spread out the work as best I can, play with the kids after dinner, work for an hour or two once they've gone to bed, then get myself to bed at a reasonable hour.

As my graduation date nears, I'm as excited to usher in a change of habits as I am to celebrate the completion of this big project.

For now, I'm satisfied to be on my mat for even a few minutes, glad for the chance to explore the connection between breath and movement. With my next breath I slow down the inflow, allow it to sustain the full motion instead of forcing the air to rush in up front, and the breath is still coming in as my arms pass shoulder height and reach overhead. The pinnacle of my inhale syncs with the press of palms together, then I begin the exhale, dive forward, and release into what comes next.

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Posted by on in Health

Some days it sneaks up on you, like the slow rise of a thermometer on a summer afternoon. Other days it hits all at once. However it arrives, stress is an unpleasant, obtrusive, and all-too-frequent visitor that leaves you feeling physically tense and mentally unsettled.

This past week has been particularly stressful for me. I have no fewer than five unfinished time-sensitive projects to deal with at work, my kids have been home sick from school, and it looks like a tornado blew through our house (how did that sock get on the ceiling fan, anyway?).

Pressed for time, I’ve been pushing myself to the limit in an attempt to be hyper-productive and somehow catch up and conquer my workload. I’ve been staying up late, working on weekends, neglecting to make adequate time for both activity and rest, and just generally sucking all enjoyment out of my daily existence.

Today I'd finally had enough.





During a quiet moment when no one was needing my attention, I inched to the front edge of my chair, sat up straight, rolled my shoulders a few time, placed my hands in my lap, and closed my eyes. As soon as my eyelids closed, I felt a shift. I took a deeper breath and felt some of my shoulder and neck tension release.

Without the visual stimulus of the stressors around me – my computer, the stack of papers I needed to address, the pile of mail that had to go out – my nagging to-do list seemed a little less important and I could see that in the big scheme of things it didn’t really matter if my house was a disaster for a few busy days. Things will settle down eventually – the projects will be done, the kids will go back to school – there is always enough time. I just have to choose to make space instead of stress.

I don’t like fancy labels, so if you asked me what I was doing I’d say I was just paying attention and tuning in.

Meditating?

Nah…..I was being present, I was taking care of myself. Meditation is something a yogi does under a tree at an ashram in some beautiful remote setting.

How can I call this ‘meditation’ when it's likely that the phone will ring at any moment?

What if I don't have more than two minutes to sit calmly and quietly? That can't still be meditation, can it?

Meditation, mindfulness, being present – it doesn't matter what you call it, or how long you spend on it. The practice of getting quiet can profoundly impact your stress levels and can be a key component of your daily stress-management toolbox. It’s amazingly simple and easy and it doesn’t take long to be effective.

Start by just closing your eyes, observing your breath, and noticing how you feel. And stay tuned for some specific ideas and techniques for how to incorporate meditation into your workday.

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Posted by on in Yoga

Ever had one of those days when you’re trying to be so efficient that you never actually complete a single task?

In many ways, I love multi-tasking. The technology available today and increased speed of communication means I can work on several projects simultaneously in a way that was just not possible 10 years ago. Now instead of having to wait for one project to be completed before starting the next, I can chip away at several at the same time.
Multi-tasking
But the other day as I bounced back and forth between text messages, email, a document I was editing, and social media updates, I felt downright unsettled.

With my mind racing, knees bouncing, and heartbeat elevated, it seemed that in my quest for greater productivity I was now spinning, buzzing, and mentally scattered. As a result I was unable to focus long enough to even make a dent in any of the five tasks I was simultaneously working on.

Too many of us have had this experience in the workplace, though studies have shown that multi-tasking is not actually as much of a time-saver as previously thought. It turns out it just makes you feel like you’re accomplishing more.

In reality, multitasking is the new procrastination, a sneaky way to postpone doing something unappealing or challenging. This week I've been working on compiling some research into a spreadsheet, a task I've been putting off for the past few days. Instead of hunkering down with Excel and my sources, I kept getting distracted by bright, shiny objects like incoming emails, text messages, and articles in my news feed. Switching gears, although a joyful escape from the hard work of completing a dreaded task, made it hard to sustain a thought or to know where I'd left off in my process.

What do you do when you can't break free from your addiction to efficiency and multitasking long enough to focus in on a single task?

Start by slowing down and simplifying your experience.

Close your eyes and take a deep breath.

The simple act of shutting out external stimulus can remind you of your priorities and pull you out of the frantic multi-tasking mode so you can refocus.

This is what yoga's all about! The fabric of yoga philosophy is woven together by the practice of stilling mental fluctuations. That means harnessing your focus and concentration so that the fleeting thought about the TED Talk you wanted to look up doesn't stop you from finishing the less exciting work you need to get done right now. It means making conscious decisions about your behavior rather than being at the whim of the endless incoming pings.

Yoga practice can be both an antidote to efficiency and a place to practice greater concentration in an attempt to slow mental fluctuations. When you sit mindfully, focus in on your breath, and practice letting go of all the chatter and busyness from your day, you are undoing the harmful effects of excessive efficiency. When you successfully resist the urge to mentally flit off to some new exciting idea, you allow your body to settle and signal to your mind that it’s okay to just do one thing and do it well. And so you more closely approximate true efficiency, the appropriate use of time and energy in the accomplishment of a task. Be still my fluctuating mind.

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Posted by on in Yoga

As 10, then 15, then 20 students rolled through the door for my Gentle Yoga class yesterday morning, I felt like all was right in the yoga world.

It used to be that Gentle Yoga was stigmatized, the redheaded stepchild of yoga offerings. Injured? Go to Gentle. Over 60? Go to Gentle. Looking for an "easier" practice? You get the picture.

But as evidenced by the diverse and dedicated group of students who show up to move and breathe with me on Wednesdays at 10:30am, word is spreading
that Gentle Yoga is a deep, therapeutic, satisfying practice, and as my students and I regularly note, it's far from easy.



What does Gentle Yoga look like?



It depends on the day, the class time, the students who show up, and what their needs are. But the essential components remain the same regardless of those other variables. Gentle Yoga means a commitment to a slower approach to the practice, and one that emphasizes supported poses and poses that are done on the floor. Though it's possible to practice standing poses in a gentle way, the bulk of the sequence is usually in seated, kneeing, supine, or prone positions. We don't bang out a bunch of traditional sun salutations, though I will occasionally use a half sun salute to align movement and breath. Props play a big role in gentle practice, and we typically incorporate at least a few restorative poses throughout the course of the class. The slower pace of a gentle class affords the student time to luxuriate in a conscious breath and to pay attention to the details of alignment, all of which results in a deeply calming and re-energizing practice.

Gentle Yoga can be a very meditative practice because it is focused more on being in the pose rather than on the flowing transitions from one pose to another as is typically emphasized in vinyasa-style classes. The practice prioritizes mobility and support rather than pushing for strength and flexibility, and it provide students a space to listen to their own needs and practice accordingly.

Seated spinal twist

In the past few years, Bloom has grown our Gentle Yoga class offerings from one class a week to eight and have delighted in hearing the wonderful stories from gentle students who've experienced increased range of motion, reduction of pain, and overall enhanced feelings of well-being. Our students range in age from 25 - 75+ and they come for a variety of reasons, such as a need to slow down and be more 'grounded,' to provide a counterpose to their other physical activities or the stresses of work and family life, or to relieve discomfort from anything from typical aches and pains to injuries and medical conditions. There is no 'typical' gentle student, but they almost all share one thing in common: they are fully present whether we're doing a simple head circle or seated spinal twist.


To me, Gentle practice embodies the essence of Yoga and is the answer to moving yoga beyond just another form of exercise to be something far more therapeutic and holistic.

Supported child's pose

After class the other day, one of my students was remarking at how surprising it was that a floor-based gentle could feel so deep and so challenging. In many ways, moving more slowly, paying close attention to alignment and breath, and keeping the mind engaged despite the lack of flashy poses to focus on, makes for a much deeper experience on the mat, and one that translates well into the challenges of daily life.

The philosophy behind Gentle Yoga makes so much sense when taking the long view of yoga. I want to be practicing (and teaching!) when I'm 85, so each time I step on the mat I need to be reminded that I'm in it for the long haul. Does it particularly matter if I do a million sun salutes or the trickiest arm balances? Will a super vigorous class keep me healthy as I age, or might my practice better serve me if it's focused on maintaining mobility, stability, balance, and relaxation?

As yogis, we all face continuing evolution in our practice. I began as a vigorous practitioner and have gradually refined over the years to come to a place of greater balance between active practice and a softer approach. Gentle Yoga is a natural place to cultivate balance on the mat because the goals of the practice are less pointed and the experience is more spacious.

If you are a loyal practitioner of this beautiful practice, you're in good company! If you've never tried Gentle Yoga, I encourage you to give it another look and consider what may be in store for you if you slow things down on the mat.

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