Illustration: from Kipling’s Just So Stories
The Elephant in the Room
So there you are with your yoga. Now what?
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
Before we go on to the 3rd Principle of Personal Practice, here’s another yoga experiment for you.
Teach yourself to notice how you breathe.
Breath is the key to a lot of body chemistry – and life.
Breath is the sweet spot of focus. It’s the intersection of what we have the ability to control and what has the most effect, on the most aspects, of how we feel.
Breath can change how we feel emotionally, mentally, and physically, and determine how much energy is available for whatever we’re doing.
There are two key steps to better breathing that will immediately improve your daily life.
Step 1 Notice when you’re holding your breath.
Step 2 Exhale.
You will experience more benefits the more often you do these two steps.
How to Teach Yourself to Notice
You might want to add breath work to your personal practice. Here are two simple and effective forms of yoga for the breath.
Breath work 1 Breathe in a regular way, so you can check things out. Put your hands on your abdomen and then on your chest as you take a few breaths, just to explore what might be moving.
Now, put your hands on your abdomen and exhale completely.
This breath doesn’t have to be really forceful or especially slow.
Do it this way: pull the muscles of your belly in toward your spine and keep exhaling until there’s no more breath. Relax and inhale. Deliberately let all your belly and abdominal muscles release.
Take a regular, natural breath or two. They might turn out to be deeper breaths.
Repeat exhaling completely twice more, resting with few regular, natural breaths in between.
Breath work 2 When you practice yoga, after you are in the posture, practice a complete exhale or two. Then take a full breath in and hold it for a beat. Exhale in a regular, natural way and come out of the posture.
Breathe a natural breath or two before going on.
Starting a Personal Practice: Recap
So far in our series on beginning a yoga practice
we’ve covered 2 of the 3 Principles of Personal Practice.
- You don’t have to know as much as you think you have to know
The important thing is to try the posture yourself and to pay attention while you’re trying. Notice the sensations and effects of trying. How do you feel?
Really. Just move around a little to loosen up, do some postures and pay attention to yourself doing them. Notice how you feel afterward.
The breath work (above) will help you teach yourself the feeling of noticing.
- It helps to have at least one clear-to-you reason why you want to practice Maybe it’s easy to describe or maybe you can’t really put it into words. Either way, whenever you are practicing yoga,
stop and feel the gut feeling of your motivation with your whole body.
Remind yourself of it when you start, and thank yourself for doing something about it when you finish.
Which brings us to bullet number three.
- You’ll find out more, understand better, and see results that matter to you the more consistently you stick with it
When you practice on your own, you’re there with the elephant in the room and nowhere to hide. The elephant in the room is you.
When something doesn’t feel right to you, you don’t have the option to ignore your own feelings just because someone else says you should, or to default to enduring feelings just because you were told to.
Instead you’re alone with the only question you need to answer every moment of your life, the question most of us prefer someone else to take on for us, someone who knows what they are doing or looks like they know what they are doing.
Someone who doesn’t hate us the way we do, or screw up the way we do, or go all blank, or silent, or motor-mouth or inappropriate or awkward, the way we do.
You’re alone with the question,
Why am I doing this?
You don’t have to know what you’re doing, you don’t have to do it right. You just have to show up.
It helps to have one motivation you feel in your gut that you make a choice not to deny. You don’t have to explain it to anyone. You just have to show up.
The more consistently you show up, the more experience you have to observe: It feels better this way. I like doing this next. I feel tired or happy or confused or at peace. I feel.
And there’s no one there to contradict you or tell you any different.
It’s the most complex bullet but it has the simplest explanation: It’s always you. A personal practice is real life.
Because there’s nothing to lose.
I had been a runner all my life. After a few years of doing yoga, thousands of miles of foot-pounding-pavement compression began to release their grip on my hips. My yoga teacher would observe me in a posture and ask, “How does that feel?”
Instead of that single feeling I had known from the waist down, the either/or feeling of locomotion or locked up, I could move my feet to experience many variations of postures, whatever was right and useful for each practice.
For the first time since my childhood, I could feel my legs. And I began to know where I wanted to stand.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.