I have attended a yoga class here and there over the last few years; I have enjoyed the instructors and classes- but never put myself out there to meet any of the people in class, or "yogis" I'd soon learn, nor linger to visit with the instructors. I attended, sweat like crazy in hot yoga, and did the best I could at the time- that said only to share that I had NO idea what foreign language these poses (positions) were spoken in nor how to do them. I certainly didn't understand the loud, forceful out breath, and I never chanted. I just participated in my reserved way so no one would notice if I made mistakes or chanted off key. I have, however, become more intrigued by this practice (a new term of yoga reference to me this year) and have been digging into what it all means and how it benefits everyone...yes, even you.
When the seasons of my life changed last year, I recognized that I was not managing the emotions I was flooded with very well at all. I needed to find something (other than a doctor's office) as a coping skill as I was bracing myself for significant life change. I returned to yoga.
While I've always understood that breathing is obviously something we all do all day, every single day we are alive, it's free, and it's available anytime, I have come to a deeper understanding of its power. Our breathing is often on auto pilot, thanks to our sympathetic nervous system, but in learning to control the rate and pattern, I've come to appreciate the breath as the most powerful tool that we all have within our reach. Our ability to train our breath literally brings the stress response into being something we can control.
Some of you may be familiar with My Calm Beat or other apps that are conveniently located on all of our smartphones and other devices. The premise of these apps is to teach the user that taking fewer breaths within a certain period of time. By expanding the lungs to their full capacity to get that full lung volume with every single in-breath, and matching the breath rate and pattern on the out breath- anxiety, depression, and even Blood pressure (a measurable marker of the breath rates effects ) are reduced. I wanted to just go a little further now that I knew that Western Medicine had a tangible tool for data on yoga practices. In searching the statistics of using yoga in traditional medicine for anxiety and depressive disorders, I found that director of the Yoga Institute, Michael D Manincor, had great data showing a 33% reduction in stress and over all negative neurological responses by doing yoga an average of just 12 minutes a-day for period of 6 weeks. Incredible. Let me remind you: Breathing is FREE, always available and in your control, as then are the benefits of training it.
Yoga, through the Western point of view, research shows that these practices enable people to manage their stress response, and in all of my coaching sessions, I encourage client's tackling their stress to focus on what they can control and the choices they can make. By shifting away from analyzing everyone else's role in our problems, we can better recognize our own lives and take full responsibility for how it's going. You can control your mind, and in practicing this, you can change your life.
So once I made up my mind to take advantage of breathing being free, always available, and something I can learn to control, I wanted to revisit my yoga practice (which is new phrase for me within the last 6 months as it may also be to some of you reading this blog). I have learned that it is very beautiful, and it can help anyone reconnect with their true self. Yes, all of us can experience a love of life, a love for life, and even share with the love of their lives. Hummmm. Yoga is actually an amazing gift you can give yourself that all ages and abilities can experience; literally anyone can do with some modifications if necessary.
OK, let's rewind to my first sporadic yoga classes a couple years ago. It was awkward for me, I didn't think yoga was my thing, so I just dismissed it entirely. I went right back in to my own world- which revolved around my career at the time. Then fast-forward to 6 months ago. When I started going through the yoga motions this time, and got over feeling silly with the chanting, heavy breathing, and going into poses, I had never heard of nor could I possibly pronounce- I really thought about how I was judging myself in every single moment. THAT took my breath away. I came to realize that I rarely had been gentle with myself in my thoughts. As powerful as the mind is, this judgement of self had programed me to plan, plan, plan, so I wouldn't make future mistakes. Yuck, what a vicious cycle! However, I could see it now so change was finally possible. Yoga studios may seem pretentious, but everyone there is just like you and I- looking for a way to reconnect with who they are. Back to that whole, "what's my purpose", question. Well, maybe yoga and breathing practices can help. And forget about what you think of the yoga studios and yogis- that's part the judgement I speak to of self and it extends to others. Drop that and just walk in.
I consider myself pretty new to yoga practice, though I am growing passionate about what I'm learning and how I'm connecting even deeper with myself, with my higher power; which is God for me. I have dropped the self critical voice. I came to the phrase "spontaneous yoga" today after a Hot Yoga Sculpt Yoga Class because every second of that was choreographed...a.k.a. planned. The instructor was talented and led class with energy. She is the perfect person to lead this class, yet today; it wasn't what I was looking for. I understand there are many different classes; today it wasn't what my body, mind nor spirited was called to enjoy. I also understand that repetitive motions of the same poses are a fantastic way to learn them and the fast pace of Sculpt doesn't allow for much slow anything, let alone breath work. Just a thought, a realization I collected for myself. It simply came to mind today, while going through the motions of doing laundry, that I'd like to get further away from a planned and structured format. I am appreciating my body in healthy way, so I'd like to just let each moment of a class move my body, along with my soul and spirit. I have found giving myself permission is very freeing, and I want to just find a way to just enjoy the stretching, the strength and movement. Ha! I knew there was a bit of a gypsy soul in me; I just never found a way to express it. Ahhh...yes, there is a Yoga way.
When you are trained to see one, do one, teach one throughout your professional life, it may filter into other thoughts of one's learning curve and ability- it did mine, and that led to decades of judging myself if I couldn't keep that pace. Dropping the judgment attached to if I could keep up with the person next to me in class, my inability to hold a pose right away, or to fear my Ohm chanting was off key, is a breath of fresh air. I guessing in finding Yoga, am finally honoring my "Just Breathe" tattoo on my forearm.
As we all are, I am a work in progress. I'm learning to live and trust in the moment, as well as to trust in myself and give myself permission to move freely. Yes, back to my thought: Spontaneous Yoga. Many of us calculate and plan every moment in fear of messing up or fear of the unknown, but when that fear is released, when you give up on the fear of making mistakes, we can feed our faith. Feed our faith in not only our higher power, but in ourselves, in humanity, in our personal growth, maybe we can unfold an even deeper level of understanding of who we are.
In my mediation, also a new practice for me of clearing my mind, the thoughts of how yoga may be shared with the world around me floated in, well, I connected to yoga as a way to clear my body, so I needed even more practice to quiet my mind, of course- Mediation. Anyway, I thought of how the Challenge of learning the many different yoga styles, appreciating the various instructors I've practiced with, learning new poses combined with breath practice- brought me to a place of gratitude. When we step back from our routines and distractions for a minutes, we can really notice beautiful things happening. Once I released the fear of making mistakes trying new poses or my chanting being off key, and trained my breathing, (which I continue to practice even when I'm not in a yoga session) other things showed up in my life. Yoga practice allows me to re-direct my attention away from stress in the outside world. Who knew out of the anxiety I would feel learning new poses, while having to continue breathing, I literally could learn a new way of coping with stress and anxiety. I am applying everything I do in a yoga studio to the outside world. I hope it's contagious! What is learned on the mat, I take with me- off the mat and into the world where it really matters. I feel something so much bigger than I am working through me to influence people around me and encourage me to share techniques that may lead others to finding themselves and reconnecting with their souls too.
I started yoga because I was looking for something new for my toolbox of coping skills when stress and emotions seem to be unmanageable. What I continue to learn is that it yoga is transforming me emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. I embrace spontaneous vs. scheduled now. I love every opportunity I have to share and grow in my practice because when you learn you can control your mind, you will change your life.
Nicole Muilenburg, RN
Health and Beauty Consultant