Yoga to relieve stress

Staying Grounded in Times of Chaos

Today’s practice was a strain. I arrived to the studio very early. I had time to warm up and connect with the space. But my mind, oh, and my heart, both are so heavy right now. It is hard to read about what is happening and not think humanity is devolving into chaos. It makes me want to put my gloves on and fight! It also makes me want to hide under the covers.

This is not a political blog. With that being said, I am human, I am a parent, I am a woman, I am an American, and I am very unsettled by the current global and American sociopolitical climates. But this is not a political blog.The whole idea behind Slow Lotus is to bloom, grow, and find peace through yoga. This is a blog about practicing yoga.

So, how can we use yoga to remain grounded in chaotic times?

It might start with breathing. Taking time to notice the breath, to experience it. You do not need a special venue, to dress for exercise, or to know asanas to find peace via yoga… You need to breathe. Breathe like you were born doing. In, and then out. Then again, and again, and again. Like the sun delivers energy to Earth’s flora and fauna, the lungs deliver oxygen and life to our cells. Then add intention to the breath… this is yoga, becoming aware of the breath and intentionally taking a physical thing and tying it with the mind. Today, the few times I was able to quiet the jabber of worrisome thoughts, I reminded myself to breathe with the asanas, and those were the moments of clarity and calm.

I do not know much about the many forms of yogic breathing. I do think it will take a lifetime to learn them all and perhaps they can never be mastered.

I repeat, today’s practice was a strain. It feels so selfish. How privileged am I? I am able to leave my warm home, deliver my healthy, exuberant elder child to her safe and highly ranked public school. I can snuggle my healthy, growing toddler while delivering him to the nursery, before stashing my belongings in a locker and taking my place on the mat. I have this time to practice, this safe space, my relative health…

It feels so selfish. Until the old adage comes to me, “Put your oxygen mask on first.” There is a reason this is the rule if you are in flight and happen to come into chaos… without oxygen and breath, you will not survive to assist those around you who are less able to help themselves. So I will remind myself, when I feel like things are spinning out of control, my first response must be to breathe.

Notes on today’s practice
Attended an advanced class. It was a very sweaty, “twisty” session, but my mind was not focused and I was not breathing properly. Essential oil used during savasana: myrh, which Teacher L said was “used commonly for focus, meditation, and grounding.” Sometimes I feel like she is reading my mind.

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My yoga teacher said...

When We Do Things Slowly, We Notice the Details

File under: things my yoga teacher said that spoke to me.

“When we do things slowly, we notice the details.”

In twelve years of off and on practice, I came to realize, the slower you move, the tougher yoga asanas will be.

If we move too quickly, we will not notice when we are out of alignment, or if we are going beyond what is helpful to us. If you use velocity and momentum, you may achieve the pose, but the pose itself is never the goal.

The goal is the experience, to feel each millimeter as you glide into position, and to stop just at the edge of comfort and pain. We do not practice asanas to perfect our form.  It is when we slow down, and even stop, that our body and mind connect. With subtle movement, we can know that YES, this is where we are meant to be. This is how we move. And just when reaching that stretch that feels like a little too much, at the edge of pain, we stop. We hold. It is here we are meant to be.

Notes on today’s practice
Attended a beginner class. I did not break a sweat but did achieve some needed stretching, learned more about the benefits of child pose on the lower back (keep knees together if you need to open the lower back… knees apart and big toes touching puts the lower back in a more neutral “resting” position). Essential oils used during savasana: tangerine and sandalwood. Teacher L recommended I read “Autobiography of a Yogi,” at least I think that was the title.

Books about yoga, Home yoga practice

To Tie the Strings of the Mind Together: Reading “The Heart of Yoga,” by T.K.V. Desikachar

As the calendar rolled into 2017, I got in my mind that I should start practicing yoga regularly at home. But what would that mean? What would a personal yoga practice look like?

I asked myself these questions because, after twelve years of taking yoga classes for exercise, off and on, I have come to realize that yoga is more than asanas. Asanas are the physical poses and breathing that typically come to mind when one hears the word “yoga.”

I asked my yoga-loving friends for book and/or website recommendations that would help me develop what I called a “home practice.” Most of the recommendations I received were centered on doing asana routines alone. I already have a number of books, videos, and apps to help me exercise. So I asked my yoga teacher for suggestions, and she had only one: to read the book The Heart of Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice, by T.K.V. Desikachar, which I will from now on refer to as THOY when writing, for brevity.

My local library network did not have any copies, so I ordered from the behemoth online seller we all hate to love. At first blush, I thought maybe it was a mistake for me to read a book like THOY. It begins with an interview with T.K.V. Desikachar about his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya. I am not going to lie. The first page or two were labor intensive, with many Indian names and phrases I am unfamiliar with. To be brutally honest, I did not care at all about the author or his father… in my head I kept thinking, “OK now let’s get to the HOW to develop a personal practice for ME.”

I stuck with it, because I could see that chapter one is titled Yoga: Concept and Meaning, and I just knew I had to get there. I’m so glad I didn’t put the book down, because there… on the first page of that chapter… I found what I was looking for. Desikachar writes:

“Many different interpretations of the word yoga have been handed down over the centuries. One of these is ‘to come together,’ ‘to unite.’ Another meaning of the word yoga is ‘to tie the strands of the mind together.'”

DING DING DING! This is what I was feeling at yoga classes recently… the meeting of my physical body and the intellectual or spiritual me, the “tying together” of these things. Desikachar continues:

“While ‘coming together’ gives us a physical interpretation of the word yoga, an example of tying the strands of the mind together is the directing of our thoughts toward the yoga sessions before we take on an actual practice. Once those mental strands come together to form an intention, we are ready to begin the physical work.”

YES! YES! YES! As I read the paragraph I felt purpose vibrate through me. This. THIS is what I am striving for, “to tie the strands of the mind together.” To spend time, each day, practicing yoga with intention and purpose. THOY makes it clear that yoga does not have to be asanas, it can simply be setting the mind on the intention of yoga… reading, meditating, drawing, asanas…

I now understand. There are at least 8 zillion ways to practice yoga. And what does a home practice look like for me?  It is different every day. I am learning. I guess that is why those who really “do” yoga call it practicing.