Some teachers will tell you that the breath is the most important part of your yoga practice. I agree with that. Our breath tells us a story. If our breath is smooth and steady, it is likely we are calm and relaxed and the breath can travel more easily to every nook and cranny (you are thinking of Thomas’ English Muffins right now, aren’t you?) in our body, opening up the energetic pathways. If our breath is erratic and labored, it is likely we are straining in our posture or stressed in our body and that is not beneficial whatsoever.
Therefore, it is easy to see that our breath can be our teacher in our practice. If we listen carefully, if we are aware, then our breath will tell us when to slow down the practice, when to back out of a pose. Or if our breath is slow it may tell us that we have further to explore. Since our practice is different from day to day, it is important to not take the breath for granted and to listen each and every time we arrive on the mat. At the beginning of a yoga class a teacher will typically begin with a centering exercise to bring us to the present moment and to help us release any thoughts from what happened before we arrived on the mat and to work toward refraining from thinking about anything that may be planned for later in the day or something else that is ‘on our mind’.
The breath keeps us in the NOW…. In the moment and when we are practicing yoga, that is what we are working toward – noticing if we can be aware of what is going on right now. Once we begin to really understand and benefit from that technique, then we can take that off the mat and begin to think about how awareness of our breath can help us off the mat, like examples Sharon shared in her postings.
Yoga is NOT about whether or not we can bring our foot behind our head or do a ‘fancy’ pose. It is about being in the moment, releasing from the one-hundred-and-one things that go through our mind at any moment so we can find stillness – it is in the moments of stillness that we become more familiar with our true Self and we can begin to integrate the body, mind and soul/spirit!
In an upcoming posting in our Self Examination series I will share more about Pranayama and specific techniques as well as information about Meditation.
In the meantime, next time you step on the mat, see if your breath has a story to tell you!