As I continue to deal physically and mentally with everything that’s happened over the last year, I find myself discovering and rediscovering the magical practice of yoga, even in the most unexpected places! Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the powerfulness of the breath. Sure, I know the breath is important, I mean I teach that over and over again all week long! But, in my own life, it’s not so easy to always tune-in, be aware and maintain a calm breath.
This becomes even more difficult once the body and mind reach a profound state of stress, as I’ve realized mine has found as a consequence of the physical and emotional hardships of the recent past. As I’ve tried to return to breath work, practices that once felt easy and natural are more difficult and require much more focus and patience.
For example, you may hear teachers talk about 1:2 breathing or letting the exhale be twice as long as the inhale. This is one of the best ways to relax the nervous system and take the body (and mind) out of fight or flight mode, which many of us, especially those of us high-anxiety individuals, reside in much of the time. Although once a cornerstone of my practice, as I’ve recently returned to focusing on this breath, I’ve found that I simply “run out” of air and my body becomes tense and stressed as I try to “push” those last counts out to double my inhale count. And, on the other side, I almost feel as though i can’t take enough air in on my inhale, so it begins to feel as though I’m hyperventilating. Not so relaxing.
Ironically, as I struggle with my breath work in my designated practice time, I’ve found that there is one place where it seems to happen naturally. I’ve taken up swimming as a cross-training practice for my half-marathon training. I’ve noticed that every time I climb out of the pool, I feel incredibly relaxed and clear-minded. When I started paying more attention, I realized that when swimming, particularly when doing the breaststroke, I was naturally doing a 1:2 breath! I would pop my head up for a quick inhale, and then, underwater, as I completed my stroke, would release a long, full exhale through my nose! The combination of physical exercise and breath work left me with that relaxed state of mind and body I was working so hard to find when I was “trying” to do yoga!
I realized that while it’s important to continue making time for “designated” practice, this is not the only place that yoga occurs. It is even more important to honor your own version of your yoga practice and to find it, perhaps in unexpected ways, in the places that make sense for you in this particular moment in your life.