When I walked into my first yoga class, I walked in with preconceptions, drawn from pop culture exposure, that told me yoga was a bunch of girls stretching and sweating in tight stretchy clothing. It took me years to realize that yoga is much more than stretching out on a rubber mat. So what is yoga? To practice yoga is to cultivate an inner stillness that allows your true identity, that of a spiritual being connected to all creation through an infinite consciousness, to emerge. We are all connected to an infinite (universal) consciousness and to be a yogi means you have set an intention to recognize that truth in your day to day life.
"Yoga is a union of the individual unit consciousness with the infinite consciousness." Yogi Bhajan
That inner stillness is most readily reached by intentionally minding your breath. Ancient cultures the world over recognized that your breath is the most powerful link to your soul. That's why when you enter a yoga studio, the teacher is constantly reminding you to be mindful of your breath. Consciously modulating the breath has an immediate affect on the mind and for that matter on the whole body. Hence, the buzzword: mindfulness. It wasn't just ancient India that discovered this. You know the word Aloha? When I visited the Big Island, a friend explained to me that Aloha means "the breath of God within me recognizes the breath of God within you". Hawaiians believe that where breath goes, energy follows. A bare chested Hawaiian could easily read the intentions of another by observing the chest move with the breath. When Captain Cook reached the Hawaiian Islands, the natives referred to them as Haoles, which means without breath. Cook and his crew wore clothing which covered their chests, thereby covering their breath, and for the Hawaiians who believed that breath carries the infinite consciousness, to hide your breath was at best strange and at worse sinister.
What does this mean for us? A lot actually. Being with our breath strengthens our presence. So if you are having a conversation with a few friends, being mindful of your breath will bring you more fully into the flow of energy connecting you to your friends. It will put you "in the zone". It means that by controlling our breath, we control our mind and body. We can quiet the chatter in our heads and bring forth renewed energy to the moment.
Intentionally minding your breath will bring awareness to your true self, a place deeper than surface thoughts and feelings. The inner light which connects us all together will shine forth and increase the compassion and love you have for yourself and others which will greatly increase your happiness. Minding your breath creates your own reality. Whoaaaaah.
"It is by obeying the suggestions of a higher light within you that you escape from yourself and, in transit, as it were see with the unworn sides of your eye, travel totally new paths." Henry David Thoreau
You and me can use this wisdom all day by simply choosing to be aware of our breath. Short mediation sessions are a great way to start you on your path to night and day awareness.
Here's short primer:
- Stand straight (no slouching) or sit in a comfortable position (keeping your back straight and your knees below your hips) or lay down on the floor.
- Now, without moving your head, focus your gaze on a space (this is called a drishti in yoga class).
- Notice how you feel.
- Next, breath deep into the belly before expanding the breath up into the chest. Notice the space created by your breath. Notice the energy spread throughout your body.
- Keep aware of your breath and notice each and every thing within your field of vision, but don't move your eyes.
- Close your eyes.
- Your mind may try throwing all sorts of chatter and "important" stuff into your head. Acknowledge them but do not entertain them. Return to minding your breath. Do not judge yourself for these thoughts trying to redirect your awareness away from the meditation. This is what the mind does. The mind wants to be in control. Meditation is how we stay in control of our minds. Any negative self-judgement will only strengthen the chatter.
- Go for five minutes at first. Set goals that you feel are attainable. Notice how you feel after meditating.
You can also go for a walk (click here for examples of walking meditations).
Put on your favorite song and stay with your breath. Notice how the music makes you feel.
The next time you feel anxious, refocus on your breath by exhaling longer then your inhale. A longer exhale will calm the nerves. I put that particular breath practice to the test while raft guiding on the Chattooga river, and if it worked in serious whitewater it can work anywhere.
My personal favorite, and the one I feel to be most effective at strengthening my perception of the connection my consciousness shares with the the Spirit-which-moves-within-all-things is to get out in nature and be barefoot. To walk along the beach or along the river or out in the woods, and to set an intention to feel the Earth through the bottoms of my feet, to feel the Earth through the energy field of my heart.
Yoga is mindfulness. We can be mindful anywhere.
Sending good vibes,