SCENE: A yoga class. Students are standing in Mountain Pose like a Buddhist “army.”
Teacher: Breathe in…
Class: (A subtle, yet audible “sucking” sound is heard.)
Teacher: And breathe out…
Class: (A subtle, yet audible “whooshing” sound is heard.)
Teacher: Good. Now three more deep breaths just like that.
Class: (They are audibly compliant until…)
Teacher: Now step your right foot back.
Class: (The sound of 25 left feet strike the pose, and no more breathing is heard.)
Teacher: What, no more breathing? Let every movement be a prompt to remind you to breathe for the next 90 minutes.
Class: (Sound of breathing is amplified again, and class proceeds smoothly until … well, the class forgets to breathe again. And again. And again sporadically throughout the class.)
What’s going on here? Why do so many of us forget to breathe? Did you actually finish breathing?
It seems laughable, the notion of “finishing breathing.” Our nervous systems are actually built in such away that breath happens automatically, without us prompting our breathing muscles every few seconds. Think about it, a lot of mental energy is actually required to control every single breath (instead of letting it happen on its own), and our brains have a zillion other tasks to balance. But the breezy thing about breathing is that we can control it, and in so doing we can deliberately impact every system of the body.
Have you ever wondered what to prioritize when you are doing a yoga pose? What is the most important thing to focus on when doing Triangle? Or Downward Dog? Or Savasana? Ask 15 different yoga teachers from different yoga lineages and you will likely get 15 different answers. Is alignment the most important? Is it the breath? Awareness? Eye gaze? What is it?
I have wrestled with this question myself and have attempted to deconstruct hundreds of poses to figure out what is most important … but after 29 years of practice (yep, I’ve been practicing since I was a kid!) there is one element that I come back to again and again — and it might surprise you!
Practice yoga with Chrissy Carter’s Chaturanga Vinyasa Flow video on GaiamTV.com.
It is impossible to know hope until one has experienced hopelessness — that feeling of suffocating permanence, as if you will be forever trapped in your present situation. In a place of hopelessness, all feels irrevocably lost. We harden and brace ourselves for permanent pain in the same way that we gather and store reserves in preparation for a long, hard winter. It’s as if the shutters have been closed and all the lights turned off. Lost in the darkness, we succumb to avidya (ignorance), the belief that our finite experience is all-pervasive and interminable. Helpless, hapless and hopeless, it is impossible to imagine a light at the end of the tunnel, and we start to lose sight of the big picture.
But in these times, hope can be a light in the darkness, filtering through the slats in the shutters, shifting the shadows in our dark room from ominous to promising. Suddenly and against all odds, we can find compassion for ourselves in the face of suffering.
I often say to students that you cannot stay the same when you practice Kundalini yoga. The very nature of what we do is to awaken the energy of consciousness, to practice in a way that sheds light on our self-imposed limitations, and invites us to think out of the box and develop our intuitive mind. Being able to live from our intuitive mind is one of the main goals of a Kundalini practitioner.
I practice and teach both Hatha and Kundalini yoga. I see my Hatha practice as daily maintenance — a great way to work out kinks in my body, get grounded and calm. My Kundalini practice is a place of transformation.
Inhale, pause… Exhale, pause… The pendulum of the breath swings effortlessly back and forth, in and out.
During these cold days of the year, we may catch ourselves fascinated with the phenomena of the breath. And in your child’s first year, you may be constantly listening to his or her sleeping breath.
But most of the time, the breath goes unnoticed. As yogis, we harness our minds and balance our bodies by observing the breath and the life force vibrations that travel inside the fabric of the breath.
Peep into any of the thousands of yoga classes across the globe and you will find that students are donning more than just yoga outfits. In addition to the latest leggings and tank tops by Zobha, Gaiam and Alo, you’ll also find students of every age, both male and female, sporting a different kind of accessory. These, however, are not made from lycra, mala beads or precious metals, but rather from an overzealous nervous system.
Glance around the room after the teacher calls out “Twisted Half Moon” (Pavritta Ardha Chandrasana) and you’ll see students with arms akimbo, clenched toes, fingers curled and faces contorted beyond recognition. These students are “accessorizing” their poses with parts of their body that don’t actually need to be involved.
Every winter, I yearn for a vacation. Surprisingly, ice and snow, the post-holiday blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder are not the chief motivators. What drives me is the chance to stop routines, habits and patterns — even the healthy ones: the dietary habits I’ll resume, the exercise routines I worked hard to put into place. Ever since I took my first meditation retreat over the week between Christmas and New Year’s, vacation has meant more to me than just fun and sun. It has meant permission: permission to relax, to reconnect inner body and outer body, and, most of all, to stop talking.
The forces of the universe are conspiring to make these early months of the new year a powerful time to assess where you’ve been, acknowledge where you are right now, and dream your most beautiful life into being. To align with these forces, you must move from the limits of your thinking mind to tune into your divine mind. In three evolutionary phases, The 21-Day Consciousness Cleanse will connect you to this inner source that will lift you out of resignation and mediocrity and into hope, excitement and a future filled with surprises, possibility and deep purpose.
Do you find it especially difficult to get out of bed these days? As winter approaches, and the days are shorter than ever, it is so hard to “up and at ‘em!” The bed is comfy cozy and it’s dark and cold out there…. Can’t we all just hit a global “snooze” button and wake up when it’s spring?
Karen, my yoga instructor, doesn’t claim to offer answers. Actually, she’s more of an “ask a question” type of instructor, consistently encouraging each of us to look within for wisdom.