Yoga has always been my sanctuary. It is my portal for wisdom and my catalyst for growth. I have always been able to find that connection between mind, body and soul, but in physical terms, between breath and body. I always relate yoga + meditation in comparison to peeling an onion. We have layers upon layers of life, toxins, fears, scars, emotions (anger, sadness, anxiety, stress, overwhelm, lack of confidence, the list goes on and on) that build up on a daily basis and separate us further from love, our hearts and our truth. Our boss pisses us off and doesn’t appreciate us, our partner is not treating us the way we long for, our family is stressing us out, we are overwhelmed and anxious. And then there are those layers that have been there for years. The ones that keep getting deeper and deeper, maybe even from child hood. They hold us back every day without us even noticing. The wounds that were never healed. Yoga is my therapy, the place I go to heal these wounds and peel off those layers.
Ever have a memory from being a child that you can’t understand why you still remember? I was in Staten island, maybe around 13 years old, my cousin had taken me to her friend’s house and he was a hottie! I was from N.J. and considered “un-cool” bc of it (no matter how much dark brown liner and badge lipstick I wore to fit in). So as I’m flirting away he mutters, “you’re from NJ, shouldn’t you go milk a cow or something” Today I would LOVE to own a cow! Back then however, I was mortified. I started to laugh with him bc I had zero self-worth. At the time I had no idea how heavily this experience would affect my life. But as experiences like this one began to pile up, that lack of self-worth and confidence followed me all the way to my post college jobs and that memory stayed scarred on my brain for many years to follow. Sure, I could chalk it up as a silly experience and forget it, or I could use my practice to explore my subconscious mind, grow, release old limiting beliefs and fears and become a stronger woman capable of achieving my greatest dreams because I was no longer being held back by old silly wounds.
As I mentioned yesterday, I had been going through a bit of a rut in the latter portion of Dec. and the beginning of January, not leaving the house much or practicing yoga. To be honest, my personal practice started to slack the more I started teaching yoga. I stepped into the studio last night ready for a great practice and to deliciously dive deep into my body. As I began to flow, I couldn’t feel anything. I mean I felt my tight muscles, the stiffness of my joints and my physical breath, but I could not find that connection where my breath started to change my body. As the practiced continued, I felt something shift. My mind had slowed down …below is how the experience continued….
1. Slow down – Patience is your friend! – just like in meditation our monkey minds are racing, without even realizing we are moving fast. I found myself inhaling my arms up and then beginning to fold forward before I was done inhaling and ready to exhale (remember each pose is specifically linked to either an inhale or exhale). It is like when you are so hungry and begin eating fast, diving for another bite of that pizza before you even swallowed your last one, inhaling food as opposed to tasting it, you want to taste your practice and fully experience each pose. Yoga and your breath are the same scenario, they should be approached with mindfulness. Slow down enough to stay with your breath. Experience your full inhale before you move into the next pose that is associated with an exhale. This doesn’t mean you need to have a slow practice. You can have a powerful practice with a lot of flow, or quicker breaths, just make sure your breath and the pose are always linked – make this top priority over everything else (including what the pose looks like).
2. Inhale Expand, Exhale Move In - Use your inhale to add space into your body and your exhale to sit into that new space, further expanding it and loosening your body. Take my hamstring for example, last night it hurt like a bitch. I used my mind to find one tiny place that felt really tight and was keeping the other areas of my leg from opening up into the full pose. Finding this spot was more of an intuitive guess on my part, so don’t think about it too hard, just go with the spot that pops into your head- (this is building a relationship with your inner guide and intuition). I focused on that area intently and sent my inhale there, using my mind to picture it lengthening and creating more space in my body. I then sent a powerful exhale to move deeper into that new space, as if my inhale had stretched a rubber band (my hamstring) and then a tiny person came and sat in the middle of my leg, expanding it slightly further on my exhale. I repeated this with patience until something clicked and my leg released a bit.
Life Connection- Take your boss, he/she hurts like a bitch. You need to breathe space into the situation just like you would into your hamstring. I had a boss that really stressed me out. If I was 3 minutes late, she would give me the death stare and a snotty passive - aggressive comment, one of the many examples of how she irked me. I found these situations piling up into layers of toxic stress. Just like I would with my hamstring, I used my inhale to create space in these tight and stressful situations. I would close my eyes and feel my inhale creating distance from me and the situation, allowing myself the space to breathe easily again and feel at peace. As I exhaled, I would fill that space up with emotions of love and gratitude for her. I repeated this for as many rounds as it took until my emotions calmed and I was no longer angry at her, but most importantly until I was no longer subconsciously beating myself up for how I was a failure, unworthy, unappreciated and never enough.
3. Use Your Exhale like a breath of fire – I remember there was this guy Dylan that broke my heart years ago. He was one of the many soul mates that walked into my life. I read an article once that explained the difference between your soul mate and your life partner. Your soul mates are intense relationships, full of passion. They can be romantic or platonic, but they are placed in your life to teach you a lesson that you are ready to learn. They normally do not stay in your life for very long and as quickly as they magically appear out of the blue, they generally leave quickly as well. This relationship had turned into an internal scar, a layer of the onion that I could not release. I took a hot yoga class in Princeton one day and as yoga tends to generally stir up our deep emotions, I found him popping into my head. It was about half way into this intense class and we were going into a twisted lunge with the room at a temperature of around 98 degrees. As I began to twist, I imagined my exhale as a breath of fire, similar to a dragon’s breath. I saw this relationship as a hard rock and used my exhale to burn and turn this rock (the pain) into a melting lava that I could release. With each inhale I pictured adding space and oxygen to the flame and with each exhale I twisted deeper, spitting a raging fire and burning the wounds from the relationship away. At the end of the class I felt light and liberated. Yoga had truly began healing and releasing my wounds.
4. Close your Eyes and find your portal – There is a headspace meditation that talks about finding an anchor in your meditation, whether it be where your body roots to the ground or where your belly rises and falls. I like to focus on my heart and picture this little man sitting there, a spiritual monk waiting for me to cross over and dive into a deeper realm, where he is waiting to share with me the wisdom of a higher source. Whenever you find your monkey mind chattering away and drifting off, you are supposed to use this anchor to return to your breath and detach from your thoughts. In yoga, I think it is easy to get distracted, to look at what our neighbor is doing, to wonder what we look like and to feel like everyone in the room is watching. I like to close my eyes and use my practice as a time to go somewhere else. I think that when I first got into yoga, it was at a time in my life when I was so miserable, I used yoga as an escape from the “real world”, so it was easy for me to dive into this portal. Try to pick an anchor that carries you into a more meditative state, close your eyes to block out the room and focus on connecting with the community of people through their energy. Allow your practice to become a moving meditation.
I hope these tips have made sense and will help you to dive deeper into your spiritual practice and build a relationship with a higher source. Please let me know if you have any questions and how these tips have worked for you in your own practice!