I tend to harp on the idea that connecting to ourselves through the vehicle of movement is a way to connect + stay connected to our inner Selves – capital “S.”
I believe this wholeheartedly. But it is much easier typed out than done. It’s one thing to be able to find moments of ease, understanding, and patience when we slow down our workouts or the physical practice yoga. It’s another thing to be able to pull on that energy and use it out in the world, when someone cuts you off in traffic, for example.
Anyone out there familiar with New Girl? The episode when Nick meets an unlikely friend on a park bench who shows him the art of being peaceful, he immediately returns home to exclaim all his anger is gone, just like that. (Of course, it was not.)
Can you relate?
For a long time, I went to my mat for the physical practice of yoga. And I felt better immediately after, but when something happened during my day that I didn’t feel equipped to deal with, I booked another yoga class.
It took a lot of those asana classes to understand a key ingredient I was missing: Agency on my part. Participation on my part. I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing on purpose.
This is where the other tools of yoga come in. They are there to help us pay attention and create a practice built on awareness. Pranayama (focusing on breath) prepares us for more of the eight-fold path Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi…) BUT it doesn’t happen in one go.
The same can be said in our movement practices off the mat. Building strength is as much mental participation as it is physical. Any coach will tell you that it’s about training the brain to engage certain muscles at the right time to lift heavier weight.
This week, I invite you to spend some time noticing what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Whether you’re in a workout or a yoga class, or taking a walk outside, pay attention to your breath.
Try this: Take a big breath in, and let it go. What happened when you did that?
Did your shoulders shrug up? Did you feel breath go into your chest? Was your mouth closed or open? Simply notice.
Now try closing your lips if they weren’t already. And instead of taking a big breath, take a deep breath.
Did anything change?
Now, try placing your hands on your ribs and take one more deep breath, but slow it down. How do you feel?
According to studies, our arterial blood supply is already almost fully saturated with oxygen (between 96 and 98 percent) during normal, healthy breathing, so taking a “big” breath is not necessarily beneficial to our bodies. But focusing on where we send our breath and how we take deeper breaths is incredibly impactful.
When we focus on breathing through our nose and into our diaphragm, we are utilizing a natural filtration system (the nasal cavity) to send the most healthy, usable air into our system and towards our main respiratory muscle (the diaphragm).
One thing to try out the next time you’re working out or taking yoga:
Can you breathe for the majority of the time through your nose? When you start to feel short of breath, can you pause, place your hands on your sides, and focus on slowing down your breath, sending it deeper into your body, rather than just taking bigger breaths to get more oxygen into your system?
When you have your hands on your ribs, focus on breathing into the sides of your rib cage and into your back, not just your belly, to allow the diaphragm to work to its fullest capacity.