Yoga Is Saving My Life
Updated: Apr 13, 2018
If you knew me a few years ago you know sometimes I had trouble sitting still even to watch a movie. It was always coupled with another activity like painting my nails, vacuuming or working out. Workouts were always high intensity such as fast, short distance running or intense interval training. Anything that was slow was a form of torture and a waste of my time. I now know that in that period of my life I struggled with being present and time with myself and/or my thoughts was unbearable. I’ve since then become softer and slower but still have a tendency to fight with who and what takes up my time. Before January, I maybe went to 3 or 4 total yoga classes in my life. Again, torture. But was great for stretching, another activity I never dedicated any time to. So how is it now literally saving my life?
Last year I hit a peak in stress and suffered from epic post-traumatic stress disorder episodes. I was desperate and came across a unique opportunity to participate in a yoga teacher training series. What drew me in was the requirements to participate included a personal commitment to developing a daily practice. My intuition strongly said this was what I needed to continue my healing journey and so figuring I had nothing to lose, I signed up. Now, in my third month of training here are some of the key things I’ve learned.
I’ve learned how to breathe! This alone is a huge credit to my recovery. Not only do many of us limit our breath to just our chest area but we may also breathe in a way that increases our stress. Learning to control my breath in a way that fills and calms me has eliminated many symptoms of stress and anxiety. In fact, this practice has given me great control and power over my actions and reactions. Breath is literally life. Yoga teaches us to lead with our breath. For example, we are all familiar with the phrase, “take a deep breath”, when facing a difficult situation. This act helps to ground you and provide space to frame for your next move. Yoga teaches this to be your instinct. It’s also important to inhale through your nose to calm your nervous system as opposed to your mouth, which elicits a stress response. Try breathing each way now for a couple of breaths and note how you feel. I can actually feel my heart beat a bit faster when I breathe through my mouth!
Our posture also plays a huge part in our ability to breathe. It’s simple space management. When our upper body and torso are crumpled and hunched over the air has nowhere to go. Straightening our spines and pulling our shoulders back creates a maximum space allowing for a greater intake. Aim to maintain this openness while sitting or standing. Once you have created the space use it entirely by pulling your breath down to your belly. You know you are doing it correctly when your belly expands when you inhale. A great way to practice is to lie on a mat on the ground belly down. Practice breathing in with your belly and feel the resistance against the floor as your stomach expands.
Once you are connected to your breath movement is added. As you inhale you move into expanding positions and on exhale into more restricted while always maintaining an openness through the shoulders and torso allowing breath to flow freely. Quickly into practice now this becomes a trance-like rhythm and I sometimes laugh at myself because I forget what the heck I’m doing. My mind is so quiet; my worries are not present. One of the concepts I’ve learned is that our troubles stem from incorrect understanding. When I feel anything but peace and my mind is wild, I’ve learned to let myself get lost in my practice, let my mind and heart quiet and become open to other considerations. Often I gain either a greater clarity or a new perspective to become curious about. This has been an incredible tool in a time where I feel I have such little control over just about everything. "Breath Is Life" is also now a cornerstone activity of my six-month group and corporate coaching programs.
I could go on and on but I hope sharing these experiences shed a new light on how you can gain some peace even with just some simple breathing practices. Yoga, in its entirety, is not simply a fitness routine. As my teacher states, yoga is energy management. When the world outside feels crazy and hopeless and you don’t know what to do, find peace within and then give what you can back. This is how yoga is saving my sanity & life!