For the last decade, I been a yoga practitioner. If you observed me doing it, you might come to the conclusion that I should be way better than I am by now but regardless, I enjoy what it brings me in terms of strength, flexibility and balance. It also offers me an opportunity to slow down, focus on my breath and let whatever is happening off the mat shift into the background of my mind. Some days go better than others…
This past Wednesday morning, I struggled mightily just to get to class. The chatterbox in my head started up right away, bringing up all of the reasons why I shouldn’t go that day. “You didn’t sleep well, your left thumb still hurts, you have to make it to that meeting at 10.” I somehow managed to get in the car and head in the direction of the yoga studio, in spite of all of these excellent reasons not to. It is important to know that I passed four coffee shops on the way there and when I arrived, the door was locked. Yes, I was about 5 minutes early, but the first thing that came to my mind was that this was another sign that I should skip it. My inner roommate’s insistence that I turn around and go back home was getting louder with each passing minute.
Alas, the door opened and in I went. I bet you are expecting me to say that I was rewarded for my persistence by experiencing a satisfying, strong practice. This did not happen. Instead, the whirling dervish in my mind went into hyper-speed and took my breath right along with it. The yoga I was doing that morning is called Ashtanga. This is rarely ‘led’ by a teacher but instead, you show up anytime during a 3 hour period, start your practice of a prescribed set of poses and moves, and then the instructor helps as needed. I enjoy going at my own pace and am okay with the fact that only in a future life time will I be able to do all of the postures. This particular morning, it was obvious even to me that I was doing a Speedy Gonzales imitation as I rushed from pose to pose. (Why was I so far ahead of the woman in the corner when I started after she did?) Finally, my teacher couldn’t take it anymore. She came over, stood next to me, and suggested that I try to actually take an inhale instead of just exhales. She simply breathed slowly with me, which helped immensely.
All of this did cause me to reflect on my breathing patterns and how I do the same thing outside of yoga, as I am moving about in the world. My tendency is, and I think always has been, to take a short inhale, hold it in my upper chest, and then a long, slow exhale. It’s kind of a “let’s get this done…and then relax” approach. I know that I am pretty committed to my To Do list and getting things accomplished on schedule. This wasn’t the first time I wondered what opportunities I had missed over the years to enjoy the present moment or learn important lessons by sitting with some discomfort. Brene Brown, in her most recent book, “Rising Strong”, talks about the space that exists between being flat on your face in the mud and standing tall again. She suggests that most of the ‘good stuff’ happens in the middle there, even if it is painful, and that we have to take it slow in order to truly come to know all that we are capable of. It is human nature to rush through that which causes distress, and if you have ever done a ‘bind’ (pictured above), you know what I mean. See how nice and easy that looks? Try to take a deep breathe doing that!!
This awareness of how I breath and behave when I am “in a bind” in my life – rushing to finish something, having a difficult conversation – offers me the opportunity to choose to behave differently in the future. Slowing down and focusing on what is most important will be a life long goal for me. I am grateful to have wonderful family and friends who are willing to come close and simply breathe with me.
PS: Remember those coffee shops? Well, that voice finally got the better of me and forced me to pull in to one for a latte and muffin. It was glorious!