Breath is Life

We, humans, are a fantastic species. We take many things for granted and one of those things is our breath. We breathe involuntarily, we cannot force ourselves to not breathe. We can only hold our breath for a certain amount of time before we are forced to breathe again. We are not dolphins whose breath takes conscious effort. Dolphins can decide to stop breathing and will only breathe again if they choose to do so. However, we can make our breath conscious. We can focus on the breaths we take to change the quality of our breath.

The fourth limb of yoga is important: pranayama. Breath control is not an exercise that can be taken lightly. Done improperly it can cause harm. Done properly, some yogis believe that it can help us as humans live longer. For me, it helps in my practice to increase stability and balance. It also helps me to breathe through more challenging asanas. Initially, I struggle with pranayama and partly this was due to my not fully understanding what prana meant. Not fully grasping the importance of focusing on my breath even when told as a child to “count to ten and breathe”. That made no sense to me and it rarely, if ever, calmed me down.

What I have learned with yoga and the continued practice of breath control is just that, I have to practice! We are not taught how to breathe, we just breathe. This leads us to not understanding our level of control in regards to our breath. Off the mat, when I am feeling moments of anxiety, frustration, anger, or an emotion that threatens to take control of my behavior, if I am able to pause and breathe, I find that I am able to actually calm down! Not only calm down but also remove the fuzziness that comes into my head in high emotive states that lead to responses that are not the most productive. I am not saying this works all the time, it does not. Sometimes, I am unable to calm myself or relax. Yet, I believe that with continued practice, I will be able to achieve a firm grasp of breath control. Breath is life, to honor myself, I must also honor my breath (that also means brushing and flossing!).

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5 Things I Wish I Knew when I started Yoga

1. You do not need special clothes to practice yoga in. One yogi is not better than the other because one yogi pays higher prices for a yoga name brand and another yogi chooses to wear affordable and comfortable clothing to practice yoga in. It is not a competition between who has the cutest yoga attire (okay, it is for some). However, this goes against the niyama: santosa. Santosa means contentment, if a yogi is focused on whether or not she has on the best yoga clothes, she is not content. If she is not content, she will not be able to be in the present and concentrate on her practice. This applies to life in general, when we focus on comparing ourselves to what others have or trying to get more (of what we do not need), we are not able to be in the present on focus on what we do need.

2. Yoga practice is best done in the morning on an empty stomach; particularly the more vigorous practices. The empty stomach is very important, trust me on this one. Initially, I balked at practice in the morning, I’m barely awake and my body is stiff. However, that is perfect, it is a great way to wake up mind and body. It allows for me to shake the cobwebs out from dreamworld, clear my mind so that it can be pure and fresh for the day. Śaucha is a niyama that means purity. An evening practice can also bring about this same level of mental purity by helping me release the strains of the day. In a yoga practice, we utilize pranayama which assists with physical cleansing, opening and aerating our lungs. This assists in purifying our body which for me in the mornings, means loosening the tightness that sleep brings and in the evening, letting go of the tightness that comes from sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, using my cell phone, or physical stress from interpersonal interactions.

3. Instagram yoga challenges should be done in moderation (if at all). There are many yogis who frown upon IG yoga challenges and see them as narcissistic grabs for free yoga swag from a company or focusing on the look of an asana rather than teaching people how to properly get into an asana, how to breathe, or even just focusing on the first step of the asana. This can lead to those who participate hurting themselves attempting an asana that is beyond their ability. In addition, those hosts running the challenges are not practicing tapas, a niyama that means working without a selfish motive. Not to mention, many are not licensed yoga teachers so potentially can cause harm because they are not providing safe instruction and guidance. When I initially began participating in yoga challenges, I stuck to the challenges that offered classes that focused on the asana of the day. This was most helpful and helped my practices. However, I started joining challenges because a friend was participating and there was no specific focus it seems outside of the asana was “cool” or had a silly theme like Game of Thrones. This did not help with svādhyāya or study of self, which is an integral part of yoga practice. There was no relationship between myself and the host(s) of the challenges so no mutual respect and comradeship. There was just me trying to copy a picture and not learning.

4. Start from the beginning and practice the foundations daily. Having a strong foundation will lead to growth. There is no need to push my body harder than necessary. No need to frustration and see reaching a level as a battle to be won. I was seeking personal gratification in getting myself in an asana rather than how my practice was enhancing my relationship with myself and my faith. I would find myself despairing when I could not do a certain asana. This happens in my daily life as well, if I made a mistake or if something did not go the way that I wanted, I despaired. I was not practicing the niyama: Īśvara pranidhāna, faith in a greater power than myself. In having faith in a higher power, there is no need to despair because all things will come through that power. Life should not be seen as a battle, its a journey, an adventure which means there will be mountains to climb, hills to fall down on, and as long as I am able, I will get back up and keep moving.

5. It’s way more to yoga than asanas and meditation. I thought yoga would be boring and have a lot of chanting. I was wrong in both aspects. Yes, some yoga methodologies do have chanting such as ashtanga. Speaking of ashtanga, I had no idea that there was diversity in yoga. I thought it was all the same, was not aware of the different types such as: kundalini, vinyasa, hatha, bhakti, and many more. It would have been helpful to do a little bit more research before jumping into yoga. It is okay that I did not as I am doing it now. I am a self-taught yogi, this is possible no matter what anyone tells you. One thing that I have taken from my yoga practice; a beautiful thing, is that I will continue to be a learner and there is always room for growth.

Less is More

When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and past in order, too.

Marie Kondo

Currently, I am reading multiple books simultaneously. This does not seem very mindful, does it? It is for me as they each serve a specific purpose but a the same time, one purpose. In fact, they work together, specifically Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. You may be asking yourself how right now. For the past month, I have been writing about the first limb of yoga: yama. I have now come to the fifth yama: Aparigraha which means to be free from hoarding and collecting.

Marie Kondo works to help people essentially declutter and she writes in her introduction that when people declutter their homes, this affects them in a myriad of ways including aspects outside of their homes. For me, clutter in my home also leads to clutter in my mind. I am not referring to the normal clutter that brings me joy such as my child’s toys scattered everywhere or my many books on my bookshelf. I am referring to the clutter of objects and things that I do not need. Kondo mentions those who are very good at prettily storing things are still essentially hoarders. Is what you are storing something you actually need? Iyengar connected aparigraha to another yama: asteya which is non-stealing. Just as I do not steal things that I need or do not need, there is no need to hoard and collect things that I do not need immediately or even in the future.

This does not only apply to items. Holding on to anger or hurt, allowing it to build within is the same thing. There is no need to hoard and collect anger and hurt. It serves no purpose besides causing further pain within and eventually without. Hoarding negative energy is stealing positivity from your life. This is not to say that you nor I will not experience negativity, this is to say, we do not need to collect it and carry it with us like extra luggage. Yoga helps me to release negative energy, not hold on to it, leaves me feeling lighter yet full. I practice yoga in a decluttered space because with clutter, I am focused on the clutter around me rather than tidying the clutter that is within. How often does your mind feel cluttered? When you look at your surroundings, what do you see? A tidied space or a space cluttered with items you have no use for? What about in your mind? Is it cluttered because you are hoarding thoughts that serve no purpose besides making you feel worse than you already do? Tidy up your mind just as you would tidy up your personal space.

Since its Earth Day, when you are tidying up, make sure you recycle and if possible repurpose items.