Journal entry: Yoga breath, asana & mindfulness

It's easy to view your Yoga teachers as being separate from you as student. They walk around instructing you while you work through the poses and challenges and they tell you to 'breathe deeply' while your lungs are constricted in a spinal twist and you feel like you can barely take a sip of air. Teachers can forget to remind students that they are no different to them and have experienced those same challenges during Yoga practice. Teacher or student, there is no difference. Read about some of Eveline's personal journey as a beginner and beyond regarding breathing, Asana and mindfulness and gain some perspective about your own practice.

Breath

When I found Yoga I was actually looking for Pilates. I had a chronic musculoskeletal issue of my thoracic spine and I was quite a shallow breather having been an asthmatic since I was 6 months old. I was always in a hurry; I was impatient and most definitely was not aware of my breath. My thoracic spine ached and became agitated and tight which contributed to the continuation of my shallow breath and vice versa. On top of all of that I was still a cigarette smoker and I used to wonder if the teachers could smell me and hoped they never knew.

Not long after starting to practice Yoga I gave up smoking. I realised that my commitment to and obsession with smoking was actually fulfilling a need to step away from whatever I was doing and zone out with the action of inhaling and exhaling. My teacher Michelle, speaks about the breath connecting us to the life source and breathing being the first and foremost ingredient to attaining a balanced and fulfilling life. I believe I knew this intuitively and having wandered down the wrong path, found my way back by using the inhale and exhale in Yoga to slow down, take a break, reflect, manage stress and negative emotional states as well as tension in my body.

Seven years on I am reaping the healing benefits of breath work. After 3 or so years, x-rays revealed that my spine straightened over time. My spinal issue still exists but it has healed significantly and considering it's been with me for 20 years it's quite a remarkable change. Now that my breaths is slower and deeper, I am slower in my daily activities but more thorough and accurate. I experience less stress and I no longer fall ill with tonsillitis (or much else), which used to be a regular occurance.

 

Asana

“What would she know?” I used to think, “She doesn't know what I've been through. It's easy for her to say when she can do all the poses easily." I remember being in class with Michelle one day and I couldn’t get my foot to hook behind my calf in a lying down Garuda twist. It just wouldn't go anywhere near where it was 'supposed' to and felt as though it never would. 'My legs are too short and will never be able to do that,' I thought. I remember being completely shocked when Michelle came over to assist me and told me that she could never hook her foot around either and it took her years to get there. She told me I was perfect just where I was.

It's so easy to judge ourselves throughout the Yoga practice and believe the thoughts that we have about our bodies not measuring up or being more capable of a pose than they are truly ready for. Your teacher wasn't born doing Yoga (well most weren't) and went through a learning process just like you. I never would have believed at that moment that I would not only be able to wrap my foot around my calf in Garuda one day but that I would also become a Yoga teacher.

The practice of asana can have a remarkable effect on ones’ life. Little by little, bit by bit, your body begins to change. Even more remarkably, so does your mind. The asana, when practiced with commitment to the breath and on a regular basis have more to offer than you may ever imagine when you first begin practice. One of the most inspiring elements in my Yoga practice was when the teacher would guide the class into a pose one step at a time rather than calling the pose and allowing us to make our own way into it.  I would arrive in the pose having not had a chance to think about whether I could or not and I would feel so victorious and empowered. This was a perfect recipe for changing the mind because the mind had no chance to tell me I couldn't before I entered the pose.

Yoga isn't about how far you can get into a pose. In fact all that happens is that we look more and more deformed and freakish, the deeper we go. Becoming a preztel is the result of long term practice but it isn't the goal of practice. What’s important is that we work our edge; synchronise our breath with the movement to the point at which your body can get to. That is the correct and advanced practice of Yoga asana but it is something that I am constantly needing to be reminded of. It's easy to get caught up in the fast pace of a Vinyasa class and attempt to keep up with the student in front of you. I like to use those times as a great opportunity to resist the demands of my ego and really tune in to my body and my breath. It's always your practice, not the teacher's and not another student's.

Mindfulness

It’s one thing to go to class and practice the breath and the asana but if you don’t know why you’re doing each pose or what there is to benefit, how can you ever apply that to your life?

Some of the more traditional practitioners advise against the use of music in Yoga and foster a very quiet, non-stimulating environment. This has wonderful benefits as it promotes non-attachment and encourages students to become comfortable with being by themselves and tuning into the body. In fact more recently, since starting to teach Vinyasa Yoga, I've taken to the Ashtanga mysore practice because I can move and breath at my own pace in quiet.

However, without the use of music and mindfulness coaching in the earlier stages of my practice I don't believe I would have continued the practice. My monkey mind was incredibly difficult to harness and I wasn't easily inspired. I had tried Yoga once or twice before and hadn't thought much of it until I found Michelle and Clare whilst living on the Gold Coast.

Mindfulness coaching has been adopted in the field of Psychology due to increasing evidence that meditation has amazing physiological and mental benefits. Mindfulness coaching in Yoga guides students into poses and more importantly into themselves. It gives context to the pose and encourages us to continue. If we don't know why we are practicing the pose then why do it? Or if you practice the poses in good faith that it's 'good for your health' how long can this notion sustain your motivation? When the practice is described in the context of students’ lives, not just the physical experience they become inspired not just motivated and inspiration is much more powerful than motivation.

What we do in the body  - stretch, bend, flex, balance - we simultaneously do in the mind. This can literally enable students to re-write the story in their mind about who they are, what they want and what they are capable of. This practice without a doubt led me to discover myself, become comfortable with who I am and to follow a path to success and fulfillment.