Your breath is the path to healing
Breathing is the easiest thing to forget to think about. We don't even have to think about breathing before we breathe, and we do it all day and all nightlong. Yet, the simple act of inhaling and exhaling is more powerful than you may realize. In yoga classes, many teachers spend a lot of time talking about the breath, counting out the breaths, encouraging their students to listen to their breath. When is the last time all you did was think about your breath?
How about now? Stop what you are doing (you are probably reading, and this little blog post will wait for you) and breathe for five breaths in through your nose and out through your nose. Make breathing the only thing you do. It helps to close your eyes and count out each breath in your head. Take a long slow inhale and count for 1… 2… 3… Pause. Let out a long slow exhale and count for 1… 2… 3… Begin again. Do it four more times. This might take you 30 seconds or a minute.
Do you feel different? Breath is the quickest path to healing. Breath can ease pain. Breath can lessen frustration. Breath can increase focus. Breath can find calm. Breath can give you energy. Breath can bring peace. You can stop and focus on your breath anytime, anywhere. Try it the next time you are in a situation that you don't like. Try it the next time someone says something that hurts or if you have been standing too long in a long line. Try it at night before you go to sleep. Just try it.
Yoga poses can build confidence
In many yoga classes, teachers teach a pose called Urdhva Hastasana, which translates (from Sanskrit to English) to Hands Up Pose or Upward Hand Salute. This pose generally falls into the flow of a Sun Salutation, but take it separate and apart and it offers quite the benefit. Self-Confidence.
You can do this pose standing or seated. Lift your arms up overhead. See if you can allow the palms to face one another and send energy all the way to the tips of your fingers. If your shoulders are really tight, bend your elbows. Fix your gaze on something out in front of you. With each inhale feel your chest expand, and with each exhale allow your shoulders to drop. Stay here for five breaths.
Here in Urdhva Hastana, there is a part of you that is connected to the earth — grounded and steady and stable. Another part of you is lifting up — energized and spacious and open. As you continue to hold your arms up above your head, you can look up to the space between your hands (go slow and be mindful of how your neck feels). Raise your chest. Maybe even reach your arms wide into a V-shape. Take up more space. When you are finished drop your arms by your sides. Feel the buzz of energy. Stand or sit still for a couple more breaths.
You can live in the present
If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
A good friend used this quote the other day in her writing. The second I read it — I'd never heard it before — I wanted to tattoo it on my forehead so that everyone could read it. Yoga brings you to the present. The stuff of breath awareness and asana (yoga poses) is a direct route to the here and now. I've spent chunks of my life living in the past. Being really sad and angry about my dad's brain injury and all the changes it brought to my family and our lives, as we knew them. My mind was stuck in the way it was. It took a long time, but I pulled myself out of that mentality. Then, I launched myself into a new dimension. I started living in a future full of what ifs. I imagined every possible worst-case scenario, just so I would be ready if and when that terrible thing happened. I had crafted being strong through being scared.
After a lot of time on my mat, I got present. I got real. I got to know my body. Every single day was different. Thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow was useless. My body lived only in the here and now. There were days that felt great and days that felt like garbage, but I was starting to feel my days. I got real. I got to know myself. I taught yoga to my father. My father got to know his body and his brain. Through the lens of yoga, he was able to see his brain injury. It was no longer the thing the rest of the world was talking about or the problem everyone told him he had. It became real. After 15 years with a severe frontal lobe TBI, this was revolutionary.