The first time I did yoga, I hated it. I didn’t understand the point of breathing, posing, more breathing, more posing and finally ending up on the ground as if you were going to sleep. Over time, and I mean a LOT of time, I have learned the yoga is one of the most crucial practices for me to incorporate into my life to stay balanced. The times that I do not want to go to yoga are the times I have found that I need it the most. Kind of a funny concept.
How does yoga become important to the balance of life? I think it is the recognition (and this may sound familiar as most teachers repeat this sentiment quite often during class) that the breathing is the most important part of yoga, even more important than the physical practice. Until you can really appreciate the concept, those words sort of go in one ear and out the other. To be able to stay focused or even want to stay focused for an entire practice on the breath is really the game changer in one’s yoga practice, or at least it was for me. I should clarify that I can’t quite focus on my breath for an entire practice but I do try! I used to go to yoga and think about what I was going to wear to work the next day (deep thoughts I know) or the errands I needed to run after class so I would say there has been much progress. When I started to really focus on the meaning of what “breath” is and taking what I learned in yoga into my general life, that was the moment yoga started to become more than a physical practice.
How do you take yoga into your general life? I think if you can figure out how to focus on your breath in a yoga class, it gives you the ability to focus on your breath during stressful moments in life. It has the ability to center your mind. This practice finally gave me a way to take a break from my racing mind. Of course, I am not always a calm buddha sitting on a mountain top but I am definitely more centered than I used to be.
I have to give credit where credit is due as it was Vytas Baskauskas’ class at Power Yoga in Santa Monica that really changed my practice. I have been taking his class for a few years now and while I still go to other classes, his is still the best. The class is very challenging, the music is amazing and while he doesn’t talk a lot, it is very clear that you are supposed to focus on your breath….and he has a way of simplifying the way to think about yoga/your life. We will be holding a pose and people will be breathing super hard, making it seem so difficult and he will say — the truth is, all we are doing is holding our arms up. Very true.
I was in class one time and there was this guy next to me who really needed to blow his nose (something extremely noticeable when the whole class is quiet and we are supposed to be breathing!). I tried to get in the yoga zone, tune it out and it just wasn’t working. I could not get my mind off the gross sounds I was hearing. I started looking all around, thinking that there MUST be another place in the room where I could go. As everyone was in down dog and there was no Kleenex in sight for the guy next to me, I literally stood up to look around to see if there was another space in the class where I could move. Immediately Vytas saw me looking around and came over to ask what was wrong. Without me even saying much, he figured out I wanted to move my mat to another spot in the room….his response to me was that “today, this is your yoga practice…there isn’t anywhere else for you to move in the room”. Sounds kind of like an obvious statement but if I had tried hard enough, I could have made room in a different spot in the class but that wasn’t really the point. The point was that I needed to just stay in the moment, tune out my mind and Mr. Needs Some Kleenex and just do yoga. Again, being reminded that when situations in life that come up that are annoying, disappointing, anxiety producing or any other challenging emotion, focusing on the breath can always get you through it.
Cut to this past year where even up to the day before I went into labor, I was going to yoga. Yoga took some interesting turns during my pregnancy. I tried pre-natal yoga and hated it so I just decided to go to the same classes I would usually do and modify the poses. That plan worked out until my stomach was too big and the last month or so I did some easier classes. I had to learn to think of yoga in a different way as my body changed its shape as I was often surprised by my stomach greeting me in every pose we would be instructed to do.
Once SCB was born and after getting clearance from my doctor (who asked me “what’s restorative yoga?”), I started going back to yoga. As in, I started going to class where there was no flow, no music, no sweating and certainly no physical intensity. The intensity was in my mind as I realized that I had not been on my back in practically ten months! Poses that I used to be able to easily do now felt unfamiliar and even sometimes painful. I found myself getting frustrated and irritated. I wanted to be back to my regular classes with my regular body but what better time to remember to be grateful for my body that was able to actually produce a baby!
This past week, I went to a more “flow” type of class and told the teacher I had a c-section so when she saw me in child’s pose potentially more often than not that she would know why. The teacher ended up telling me she had a c-section as well and told me to take it super slow. Toward the end of class, as I was telling her it was really crazy getting back to yoga, her response was “It’s insane” and she is right in the perfect kind of way. Everything I am doing in yoga feels like the first time but rather than thinking that I can’t wait to be back to where I was, I want to just keep going forward and accept these new changes in my practice. I just went back to Vytas’ class yesterday (with my sister who was in town!! I had a hard time staying focused b/c we like to laugh so much) and I was once again reminded how important the breath is. If you have never done yoga, I highly recommend it! If you have had to return back to yoga after anything — an injury, a pregnancy, just stopping in general, write in and let me know what your experience has been! Happy Friday to all!