By Megan Ridge Morris
Over the past decade, A-list celebrities like Sting, Madonna, Adam Levine and Jennifer Aniston have brought yoga to the mainstream, claiming that their beautifully sculpted bodies are kept in pristine condition due to a dedicated yoga practice. It’s well known that physical benefits are inevitable with a consistent and strong asana (yoga poses) practice, so where else can we place our attention to give the practice purpose and meaning beyond the physical? The answer lies in the breath.
Without the breath, the poses would just be another great form of exercise. Smooth, voluntary breathing is what makes the practice transformative for the mind. Think of your asana classes as “breathing classes,” with poses mixed in, and you may find that it’s no longer about perfecting the most challenging pose in the sequence, but about breathing in that pose the same way you breathe while at rest– smoothly and evenly. Practicing with the intention to breathe in this way allows us to seamlessly shift out of stress mode (fight, flight or freeze), and into calm mode at our own volition.
Our senses are powerful. They can be very distracting. They can trigger memories of the past and signal hopes for the future. The senses keep us connected to our external world. Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that your natural instinct was to sit down and hold your head in your hands, shutting out the senses as much as possible? That’s essentially where we start in the asana practice– doing our best to minimize external distractions so we can focus inwardly. During class, we must resist the temptation to look around at our yogi neighbors, listen to the traffic outside, pick the lint off our mat… We must live instead in our present, conscious breath, curiously observing our INTERNAL sensations in the present moment, which can sometimes be awfully intense or even scary. At times, it can also feel deeply comforting and peaceful too. We bring sensation to the surface, emotion to the forefront of our mind, to let go of what no longer serves us, making space for what’s best for us today.
We practice building this kind of subtle awareness in a controlled, safe environment so that when we’re launched back out into our out-of-control, sensory driven world, we remember that we have tools to help us in times of stress, temptation and crisis. Eventually, we can skip the part where we get reactive, and instead, breathe deeply, and drop right into a place of calm productivity and thoughtfulness. It is in those moments, off the mat, when we see our yoga practice shine.
I am very thankful for celebrities praising the benefits of yoga. I wonder how many people are more willing to give an “Intro to Yoga” class a try because it’s trending. I am in support of whatever gets a newbie through the studio doors. After you find the right teacher for you, it’s finding time to get on the mat that is likely the hardest part. Once you truly arrive and commit yourself to the journey, the opportunities for physical, mental and spiritual growth are endless.
Megan Ridge Morris is the winner of the yoga category on the Lehigh Valley’s 2014 “Happening List.” To learn more about Megan, and to enjoy her instructional yoga videos for beginners, please visit her website at meganridge.com.