Apologies for the lack of a moon-day news two weeks ago. I didn’t feel like I was in the right headspace to contribute anything of value, so I gave it a miss.
If the people I’ve been in touch with are representative of the wider community here in Ireland, then it’s fair to say that this latest lockdown has been a lot tougher on most people than the previous two lockdowns. Personally, I had a couple of pretty bad weeks during which Suzanne and the girls had to put up with my bad moods and lack of enthusiasm for life. Thankfully I’m feeling much more engaged for the past couple of weeks and feeling back to myself a little bit more. I’m even almost enjoying some of the home-schooling with the kids… almost… some of it. Ha!
I wanted to talk to you about breathing again this week; how it can help in your ashtanga yoga practice, and also in your everyday life.
Part of the reason that yoga works (and why it has gained a reputation for being one of the ultimate ‘stress-busting’ things you can do) is to do with controlling your breath.
When we practice a yoga posture we, quite often, are putting the body in a stressful position; a position our body has to work hard to maintain (and when I say ‘body’ I mean all bodily systems: muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, nervous system, respiratory system, endocrine system etc.).
The same could be said for many physical activities; when we run it puts stress on the body, when we climb it puts stress on the body, when we lift heavy things it puts stress on the body, even when we dance we are taxing our bodies in a way that causes some strain.
Why, though, does it seem that yoga works in a different way to any other physical activity? One of the reasons is because of its focus on the breath.
When we put our body in stressful situations, and unless we actively avoid it, one of two things usually happen automatically:
- We start to breathe more quickly (when we do aerobic exercise, like running or we are in a stressful situation like a confrontation)
- We start to hold our breath (like when we try to lift something heavy or we gasp after being startled by something)
In yoga practice, we are encouraged always to control the breath; not to let the breath speed up too much, and never to hold the breath. So when we are in the stress-position of a yoga posture and yet we are able to breathe fully and deeply, we are practising controlling our reactions to stressful situations in our everyday lives.
That’s why yoga works as an antidote to stress. It’s not that doing yoga postures is blissfully relaxing. It’s that doing yoga postures is hard, and yet we cultivate control of our breath in order to allow us to eventually feel at ease with that difficulty.
The breath is such a powerful tool and we can use it to help ourselves in almost every stressful situation that we find ourselves. That’s why I also recommend that you download The Breathing App. It’s the most simple tool I’ve found to help cultivate an awareness of your breath during your daily life and I have found it massively useful over the course of this pandemic and through the illness and death of my poor Dad last year.
When I’ve felt my anxiety rising, I’ve opened up the app and spent 1, 3, 5 or 10 minutes breathing. It’s an incredible tonic, I have to say. So simple and yet so effective. I encourage you to try it out.
This isn’t any kind of a sponsorship or affiliate thing by the way, in case you’re wondering. I just really find it very useful and wanted to pass it on. And it’s totally free.
Let me know if you try it out.
Meanwhile, keep bringing your awareness back to the breathing when you’re practising yoga. And never hold your breath in a posture or when moving between postures.