About two months ago, I began a journey to become a certified yoga teacher. Yoga has been a part of my life for more than 10 years. When I was pregnant with J, yoga was one of the only forms of movement I could tolerate. When Covid hit, J and I would do yoga together in the evenings to wind down. Although it eventually lost its appeal for her, I ramped up my own practice. I enjoy the peace and calm it brings me amidst the chaos. So when my best friend told me that she was going to work towards her certification, it appealed to me. We decided to do it together, as best friends do. I knew I loved the poses and active movement involved, so why not learn more about the history and origins?
What I didn’t realize is just how much the breathwork and meditation components would mean to me. Mindfulness is such an important part of good mental health, as is an awareness of one’s self. I love that you don’t need tools for the breathwork – it is the most portable form of self-care. Many people are intimidated by the quiet and metered breathing. There is a misconception that it is time-consuming and you must sit in silence for an extended period of time.
So for my first yoga-inspired post, I wanted to share the ways that I incorporate breathing and mindfulness in my day, to show that it can be easier than you think. Breathing is something we need to do. Our bodies manage it without us thinking about it. But when we are stressed, anxious or tired our breathing innately becomes more shallow. Scientifically this is because our body stops relying on the diaphragm to breathe. In yoga, the prana (or life force) is brought into the body with our breath. Being aware of it and harnessing it is a huge source of power and strength. I am here to share with you some of the ways I am mindful and practice “pranayama” (Sanskrit for the regulation of breathing) in a real-life go-go-go setting.
ONE: Be present. This doesn’t mean you have to be present at every moment of the day. One of the biggest yoga gurus, Richard Rosen, talks about taking in the small moments of the day. We don’t do anything specific, but instead, do nothing and just observe. I find when I am taking the dog for a walk in the morning, or sitting in my car at a red light, I take 30-60 seconds and become very aware of the moment. I really take in all my senses – what do I hear? Smell? See? Just taking that time to come out of my head and into the moment can be very powerful. Think of it as a quick mental reset.
TWO: Take deep breaths. I find when I’m stressed (and let’s be honest, that is often!) practicing equal-part breath helps me to focus. Equal-part breath is one of the core breathing techniques in yoga and it is easy to access. If you find it helpful and safe, you can close your eyes. I typically do this while I’m driving and the kids are yelling at each other, so my eyes would NOT be closed. Empty your breath, and breathe in slowly for a count of 3-4, depending on what you can do. Then exhale for the same amount of time. If this is difficult you can try just inhaling slowly and exhaling your normal breath. But, ideally, you are focusing on breathing in and out equally (hence equal-part breathing). The focus becomes your breath and not whatever is stressing you out. Again, this doesn’t have to be something you do for 30 minutes. Even a few rounds of breathing can be calming.
THREE: Take five. When we think of meditation, we think of a quiet mind without any distractions. We think of a group of people sitting in a room, with eyes closed and all humming in unison. In reality, meditation is what you make of it. When you are feeling overwhelmed, try this. Just sit down (on the floor, at your desk, on your bed) and listen. Instead of trying to turn everything off around you, just sit and experience it. Listen to the sounds around you instead of trying to tune them out. Are people talking? Birds chirping? A car horn blaring? Feel your body instead of trying to ignore it. Is your skin hot or cool? Is your stomach grumbling? Then focus on your breath… not trying to control it, but just listening and feeling how it moves. Even five minutes of this can be transformative.
My hope after reading this is that you can see that mindful breathing is much more accessible than we fear it is. There is indeed an entire practice dedicated to learning to meditate and breathe more successfully – but that is just it – it’s a PRACTICE. In our crazy busy lives, even taking five minutes to be present in our bodies and minds can be helpful. And at the end of the day, five minutes is better than nothing!
This is life. Love, mom.