About Breathing, Yoga off the mat, Yoga to relieve stress

About breathing, pt 1: It’s hard to breathe

(post #1 on breathing, part of what will be a series)

Breathing. We begin in utero, and we spend our entire lives doing it. Maybe you think about breathing when you’re running, but we generally don’t pay attention to our breathing. We just do it.

Have you ever been stressed and noticed your whole body reacting? We all experience stress on the regular. You spilled your coffee. You’re twenty minutes late. The subway construction means your commute will double tonight. Your kid bit another kid at daycare. Something happened at work. You lost your keys. Your mind races, your heart-rate increases, you might sweat, your chest feels tight, you’re breathing hard (or quickly, or shallowly)?

Your body was having an acute stress response. You were in fight-or-flight mode.

Did you notice that when your hart-rate and breathing return to normal? Maybe not, because it just happened. Or maybe when you did realize things were back to normal, you looked back and realized how awful it felt at the peak of that fight-or-flight stress.

What if you could *make* those awful feelings, your reactions to stress, go away?

Poof, gone!

What if you had skills to make the most stressful situation feel almost relaxing? I know this sounds crazy, but yoga can do that. Not overnight. Not over the course of a year. (Or maybe it can for some, but it certainly didn’t for me!) The breathing you practice in yoga can do this.

I have had friends tell me that they tried yoga, but the breathing stressed them out. That was me, for many, many years. A teacher would say, “Inhale, sweep your arms above your head… exhale and fold forward.” And in my my mind, I would say, “whatever, I’m just gonna put my arms up, breathe, and bend over.”

And that was fine. It was my yoga. I was there, on the mat, primarily for exercise. Ok, I’ll admit it. It was all about exercise. I wanted that quintessential “yoga body.” (Ha! If you know me, you know that despite the many hours I spend doing yoga, I never did achieve that “yoga body.” Actually, I AM a yoga body. But I don’t have a ballerina build).

It was many, many years before I actually “got” the breathing.

The first time it clicked, I wasn’t anywhere near a yoga mat. I was 23 years old, in a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan, in the middle of a medical procedure that would remove what turned out to be pre-cancerous cells from my body. I had never undergone a diagnostic medical procedure, and I was panicked. I found that if I mentally counted while breathing… “In, two, three, four… out, two, three, four,” and tuned out the worries I had in my head, I felt better. Paying attention to my breath gave me something to focus on. Counting the breath made me slow down. At the time, I had been “doing yoga” (generally via books and tapes… yes, VCR tapes) for about two years, and I did not make the connection with yogic breathing at all.

In fact, it would take another ten years of on again, off again yoga practice before I ever really figured out the connection between yoga as exercise and yogic breathing, and exactly how it could lower my reaction to stress when I was off the mat.

Practice. It is all about practice. You can read all you want, you can be as fit as an Olympic distance runner, you still have to practice yoga to get it.

Experiencing yoga “off the mat” was life changing for me. I immediately realized it was a skill I wanted to hone. I have been practicing for twenty years.

Yet, I am still working on it. Believe me. I am still a “beginner” at breathing. Which is why this is the first post of what will be many, many musings about breathing.

post #1 on breathing, part of what will be a series. See series About Savasana here.

meditation, Yoga to relieve stress

Loving Kindness Meditation

May you be safe and protected,
May you be healthy in body and mind,
May you be happy,
May you live in comfort, and in peace.

This is my simple Metta, or “Loving Kindness” meditation (LKM). I learned of LKM from a yoga teacher years ago, and it popped up in a mindfulness pregnancy app I used during one of my pregnancies throughout my infertility journey.* It is a highly effective meditation that has gotten me through some really tough times. In my experience, you can do this anywhere! While you’re in the shower, while the dental hygienist cleans your teeth, at the checkout line at the grocery store, as you fold the laundry, lying in bed and trying to sleep… no special prep or props required!

First, direct the phrases/thoughts/intentions at a pure loving person. Your child, the Dalai Lama, your best friend, your spouse… whoever warms you and fills your love cup.

Second, you direct the phrases/thoughts/intentions at a person you have difficulties with, or who needs these intentions. Or a people… this could be your partner, Syrian refugees, a friend with an illness, republicans… Someone that really needs love and kindness.

Third, direct the phrases/thoughts/intentions to yourself:

May I be safe and protected,
May I be healthy in body and mind,
May I be happy,
May I live in comfort and in peace.

Finally, direct them at all humankind:

May you be safe and protected,
May you be healthy in body and mind,
May you be happy,
May you live in comfort and in peace. 

Loving Kindness is one way I can get through the rough days. I hope it helps you, too.

* I will share details of my experience with secondary infertility… eventually.

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.