While some say the brain is the sexiest feature one can have (yours truly agrees with this), I believe the second sexiest feature are your lungs. Now this isn’t a PSA about how smoking kills your lungs, I am not here to judge (yours truly also struggled with smoking). I found the importance of deep breathing to help my yoga practice, ease my anxiety and helps me relax so much that I feel so beautiful while walking out of a class on a Sunday morning in my yoga pants, no make up and a messy ponytail.
I have been practicing for the past ten years, off and on, this activity that dates back to 3rd century BC. The word Yoga in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism means “spiritual discipline”. The earliest signs of yoga traces back to ancient Shamanism. Yoga original focus was to comprehend the world but then it has manifested to self focus. Self-enlightenment has become the ultimate goal. And one I am still struggling with. Poses and meditation were introduced in sixth century BC by the Buddhists, the blueprint for today’s Modern yoga.
There are many popular forms such as Hatha – slower flow and stronger focus on meditation, Ashtanga – sequential sets based on constant change of poses while maintaining a regular breathing pattern; this is a more intense practice and another popular type of yoga is Bikram or hot yoga – Hatha yoga practiced in a 100 degree room. The heated room promotes deeper stretching, injury prevention while reaching deeper relaxation. Ashtanga is what I normally practiced. It was also this class that taught me to breath properly in class – through my nose only.
As awful as this sounds but I am, at times, a open mouth breather – especially during running or any other intense physically activity. I’m also asthmatic so I tend to get paranoid that I won’t get the proper amount of air if my mouth isn’t open – my nose usually gets stuffed easily since I have year round allergies. It wasn’t till I began Ashtanga yoga classes at my gym, Equinox. I wasn’t just asked to close my mouth while taking part in breathing exercises, my instructor demanded it. I also wasn’t use to being told repeatedly to breathe through my nose, I hated my teacher…at first. By the end of class, JD, my instructor challenged me in poses because he believed that I could do it when I thought I couldn’t. He is still my favorite instructor and I’m so sad that he no longer teaches at my gym.
Because I would take JD’s classes on my lunch break, I would have to leave early. Before leaving he would urge me to take a few minutes to observer, Shavasana. In this pose, you lie on your back with your arms and legs spread at about forty-five degrees. You close your eyes and melt into the floor. I use to just fall asleep but slowly I am learning that this is the time to remain aware of your surroundings while surrendering to the moment.
It’s harder than it sounds but I am getting better with each practice. There are some days, I can’t let go of my work stress or I make a mental inventory of what needs to get done when I get home from work. With each deep breath, my stress begins to fade away. I can’t spend as much time as I’d like during a week day class so sometimes I feel cheated in this pose. Sunday classes are the best times when I walk out of class uplifted and elated.
As much as I love the challenge of JD’s class, my Sunday Vinyasa class (intense pose sequences) really sets the tone for a relaxing Sunday. My instructor, Alley is wonderful in the nurturing yoga teacher way. The first time I did a Shavasana pose in her class, she adjusted me by stretching my shoulders out, pulling my legs a little further apart and giving me a mini scalp massage. I swear the feeling this gave me was equivalent to a 60 minute massage that I would pay $100 for – she is awesome.
Regardless of type of class or instructor, I am really aware of my breath. If I am in a very challenging pose, I focus on the pattern of my breath. The challenge lies in timing my breath with each pose. Again, because of my paranoia of not getting enough oxygen would cause me to rush through my poses. I’m getting better trusting my lung capacity. Breathing through you nose really forces you to relax and find trust in yourself. With this, I am finding a deeper stretch and I’m getting stronger. Weekday classes erases the stress from work and Sunday’s classes gets me ready to enjoy the end of the weekend while easing anxiety I experience when I know Monday is just less than 24 hours away. With the busy holiday season beginning this week, I’ll really rely on my classes. I do tend to get a little grumpy when I’m too busy to attend just one class.
Each time I walk out of class I feel stronger, I’m relaxed, I have better posture and I feel naturally beautiful. If you do decide to check out yoga for the very first time, please let your instructor know and take your time. Do not try to compete with everyone in class – most are at different levels. The goal is to reach relaxation, please go at your own pace and remember relax, smile and breathe…
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