Friday, January 28, 2011

Every Breath You Take

Faith is taking
the first step
even when you don't see the whole staircase
Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is one of my favorite quotes, because at first glance, it's about faith. But it's also about taking small steps forward, even if sometimes those steps seem SO small that it may not really matter...but they do.

In yoga, we talk about continually making tiny, incremental small that even someone watching you may not be able to detect the changes (e.g. a microscopic adjustment in a deep muscle in your core, an internal shift of your weight slightly forward). It's these little adjustments that become the steps to an entire staircase of change.

Me, Bryce and my Mom
(three generations of Warriors)
on Daytona Beach 2010
About a month ago, two of my fellow yogis separately commented on how beautiful my yoga practice had become since the last time they had seen me. I knew that it wasn't one big leap forward that had changed my practice, but a series of baby steps along the way...both on and off the mat. And even though they were commenting about the "ON the mat" part of my practice, I realized that my "OFF the mat" changes were equally, if not more important.

Sometimes yoga's impact on my life is more obvious than others. Last fall, my twins, Bryce and Ryan (14), helped me to realize how the incremental changes in my yoga practice had impacted my "OFF the mat" existence in a positive way. Here's what happened:

I picked up my twins, Bryce and Ryan and their friend, Charlie, from his house. My "taxi service" had been summoned to deliver said teenage boys to "open gym" at a nearby gymnastics location. The cost was $10 per kid.

Just two hours before, my sons had called me from school to see if it was OK to go to Charlie's to hang out -- and, "Yes, Mom, his mother is home."

So why, just moments after all three of them got into the car, was Bryce asking me if I could spot Charlie $10 to get in to open gym?

We were just a half a block away from Charlie's house, so I said, "Let's just turn around and he can get the money from his mom."

LONG PAUSE...."Um...his Mom isn't home..." Bryce stammered.

"They lied to me..." I thought, as anger and irritation started to flare up. "I thought you said Christy was home," I said, beginning to breathe more deeply.

Tentatively Bryce said, "But if we told you she wasn't, you wouldn't have let us go."

RIGHT. One of our rules is that a parent needs to be home when the boys are at a friend's house.

Then I got the teenage line, "Mom, if you trusted us more, we wouldn't have to lie."

Does that sound convoluted to you too?

I then notice that my breathing began to and out my nose, making an oceanic sound at the back of my throat...just like we practice in yoga. We refer to it as our "ujjayi" breath, which means "victory." It is at the heart of my warm power yoga practice -- deep inhalations and deep exhalations through the nose, through each of the asanas throughout my practice.

Bryce noticed my change in breathing too.

"I hate it when you breathe like that," he said. "It sounds like you're really mad."

I was mad, but that wasn't why I automatically went into my deep breathing. My deeper breathing calms me, grounds my energy and helps me to stay present.

Instead of reacting (which might result in angry words, saying things I don't mean and may regret, etc.), I breathe in and out slowly, taking a few minutes to absorb what's happening and, then I respond.

By responding instead of reacting, I have more time to process what's happening. I feel more grounded (even though Bryce and Ryan's interpretation is that I sound mad).

The ujjayi breath is just one aspect of my yoga practice. It's one small but continuous movement, that helps me both on and off my mat.

When I first started this style of yoga about two years ago, this type of breathing was foreign to me. I had to focus on it each time I stepped onto my mat, and then it seemed to shut off, the moment I rolled up my mat after final Savasana.

Now, however, this breath not only helps me during my yoga practice, but it has seeped into my life -- EVEN when I'm not angry, upset or frustrated, I tend to breathe deeper into my chest and belly, realizing that this breath (and the next and the next) are my exchange of energy with the every practice, in every pose, in every situation, every day of my life.

I've NEVER heard of a resolution to breathe deeper more consistently. But it has been one of the smallest changes with some of the biggest benefits for me.

My ujjayi (deep victory) breath is just one of the small changes that is building my staircase forward and up...both on and off the mat.


1 comment:

Lori Lavender Luz said...

Wonder why it didn't occur to me to use ujayii breathing OFF the mat?

This is a small change I am taking on starting NOW.

Love the pic of the 3 warriors!