Alignment and Yoga

In yoga classes, in the marketing and in mainstream media there is a lot of press around yoga being good for

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: myyogaonline / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

flexibility. If you look around, the ads, Instagram pictures, and selfies are largely very flexible people doing incredible poses. There has been some push back on that to point out that yoga is also good for building strength, which is true. There are some truly challenging postures that require significant physical strength to safely enter, maintain and exit. But both of these focus on a very small part of a yoga practice, the physical aspect.

 

What I see as missing is how yoga helps with alignment. I choose the word alignment because what I am talking about is not just the physical alignment of the postures, which is important, but also the mental and emotional alignment that comes with a yoga practice.

 

To better understand how alignment in the postures leads to mental and emotional alignment, I want to explore each in more detail.

 

Physical Alignment

Yoga helps to adjust physical alignment by focusing on the postures and over time re-teaching the body what it means to work as it was intended. The emphasis on posture, stacking bones and muscle engagement often help to cartoonbigguyyogaalleviate certain chronic aches and pains such as lower back pain, shoulder and neck pain, poor posture and more.

 

This improved physical alignment frees the body to focus on things other than simply standing, or compensating and straining to hold itself out of alignment (think slouched shoulders or uneven shoulders from carrying a bag on one side all of the time). In addition, improved posture allows the body to function more efficiently. Breathing becomes easier because the diaphragm isn’t pinched or compressed. Blood circulates throughout the body more efficiently, carrying fresh oxygen in and carbon dioxide out faster. This helps to increase endurance and concentration and also combats mental fatigue.

 

Emotional Alignment

Emotional alignment is really the ability to deal with what life throws your way and still be able to (mostly) maintain a positive outlook on life. Not everyone is going to be flowers and sunshine every day. At least no one I’ve met yet. Office chaosBut developing an emotional balance through yoga allows you to let the little irritations that used to drive you over the edge, simply roll away. And the big hits in life, well, they still hit but you have a calm, confident mindset that no matter what, you will take that in stride and keep going.

 

With a positive outlook, your heart opens naturally. Your sense of compassion grows, as does your ability to experience the full range of emotions without being controlled by them. You may still be sad, but the likelihood of slipping into an all out depression lessens. The same with happy emotions. You can experience happy emotions at a higher level without necessarily becoming attached to them or feeling sad as they wane.

 

Mental Alignment

This can also be referred to as Spiritual Alignment. This in no way means you are off to shave your head, give away all possessions and sit on a mountain sustaining yourself with the dew of a ginko leaf and the energy of the Universe

Human head withred ladder to opened sky window

Human head withred ladder to opened sky window

(thank you Kung Fu Panda). Although maybe you will, it certainly isn’t a requirement.

Mental/spiritual alignment is more about doing the right thing for the right reasons and being compassionate. It can be the simple things, picking up a broken bottle and putting it in the trash. It can be helping a stranger by opening the door for them, or smiling at someone while taking a walk. It can also be more profound, say starting an organization to help those who aren’t able to help themselves.

 

When it all lines up…

So how does yoga fit into all this? Yoga works in layers. The initial layer is the physical, working through the asanas, or postures. This builds strength, balance and awareness. This leads directly to physical alignment. Once the body is strong and healthy, you move on to the next layer.

 

Once the body is in better alignment, the energy of the body is free to flow. This allows us to clean out the emotional gunk we accumulate day to day in life. With the emotional gunk out, we can experience life from a happier vantage point. There isn’t a dirty lens to look through. We begin to experience a more positive attitude and things that used to bother us seem less and less irritating.

 

The next layer involves the use of breathing to root out and release negative emotions. Sweeping out this gunk that

fine 3d image of dark grunge prison

fine 3d image of dark grunge prison

builds up in daily life quite literally allows us to breathe easier. This is why breath cues are layered into a yoga practice. Matching movement to breath not only increases the abilities of the body by making the physical postures easier, but it also allows the body to release emotions that no longer serve us and where we want to go.

 

With a strong and aligned body and an open heart, the mind flourishes. You may begin to start tapping into your intuition. Your sense of what actions you want to take becomes clear. Your desire to act upon these thoughts grows. You begin to experience a drive to do things that leave the world a little better off than it was yesterday.

 

Yes, yoga is good for making us stronger and more flexible physically. But it doesn’t stop there. A regular practice brings us into alignment in other ways leading to a more harmonious life with those around us. I believe that is more appealing than just focusing on the physical side and being able to do the best looking dancer pose.

Patience, Perseverance and the New Year

The ‘P’ words are the hardest, especially patience and perseverance. What makes them so difficult is how easy it is to put them down when facing a challenging situation. It’s easy to get angry or frustrated when things aren’t going well and walk away. And it’s easy to stop or give up when facing large challenges.

 

When feeling pressed, I like to remind myself of this quote:

 

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

~ John Quincy Adams

 

As we move into a new year, I thought it would be a good time to look at what makes these words such powerful tools in helping us achieve our New Year’s goals.

 

Patience, the ability to accept delays, set-backs or trouble without getting upset is the one that for me takes the most

Image courtesy of  ruminatrix.

Image courtesy of ruminatrix.

work. Maintaining my patience allows me to keep a clear head and choose my reactions to situations. As my patience slips away, I notice that my reactions to things become more habitual and not necessarily what I would choose to do under normal conditions.

 

The challenge with patience is that it’s not really something that can be stored up. I can’t do a few hundred extra patience sit ups and bank that for when I’m feeling stressed. That said there are tools that I use when I feel my patience begin to slip; my breathing and space.

 

When I feel my patience begin to slip, it helps me to stop what I’m doing, take a step back and take a few breaths.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

This has the benefits of giving me time to calm myself with my breathing and add space between myself and the situation. The combination of those is what allows me to center myself and approach the current situation with a clearer, calmer head.

 

Perseverance, the ability to continue on a course of action no matter the difficulties faced, is the one that allows me to keep trying no matter how many times I’ve failed. Unlike patience, perseverance comes a little easier for me. My mom would say I’m just stubborn, but I prefer to think that I’m just very good at persevering. Semantics aside, the ability to continue working towards a goal no matter what obstacles are thrown in your way has served me well over the years.

 

When a situation or goal proves to be challenging, exercising perseverance in the face of those obstacles, keeping a cool and optimistic mindset, allows me to stay focused and confident as I pursue the goal. Not being rushed or feeling defensive allows me to stay present and evaluate where I am and make better decisions as I move forward.

 

Of course when I’m at my best, it’s when I can combine these tools. Applying patience to give myself space to be present so I’m able to better focus on my goal and the steps I need to take to achieve it coupled with perseverance to keep moving towards that goal is indeed a “magical” combination. With enough patience and perseverance, I’m pretty sure anything is possible.

 

As the new year rolls around I encourage you to find or set a goal that feels daunting. As you set that goal, don’t just livelifehappyset the goal, but set the intention to approach the goal with both patience and perseverance. Do this and track how you feel about the goal and how you feel about your progress towards the goal when you face obstacles. Using these tools in achieving your goals might just make them easier to accomplish, and hopefully less stressful.

 

Set your goals and set your intentions for some Happy Goal Achieving in the New Year.

Escaping Mental Quicksand

Shane Falco: You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.

 

This is mental quicksand. It sneaks up on us. One little negative thought because one little thing goes wrong or just doesn’t meet our expectations. And that one little negative thought draws our attention. Then all we can do, all we can notice are the negative things. And down into the quicksand we go.Drowning hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can the quicksand be escaped, or better still, avoided? These are questions everyone asks at some point, from top athletes and performers to anyone who is just having one of those days. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured out how to completely avoid the quicksand. I still step right in the middle of it some days. What I have done is work to recognize when I put my foot in, when that sinking feeling starts, and find constructive ways to dig myself out before I start feeling overwhelmed and stuck.Office chaos

 

First, some of the signs that tell me I’m heading in that direction:

  • My jaw clenches.
  • My shoulders start drifting up towards my ears.
  • My thinking is starts getting muddled and fuzzy.
  • I hear myself saying things I really didn’t want or mean to say.
  • The normally kind universe is kicking me in the gut, repeatedly.

 

Now that you have some ideas on how to spot the slide down the quicksand trap, the question becomes how to dig out. Depending on how deep you get before starting, it could be simple and relatively easy. But there are times when you are in pretty much over your head before you realize what’s going on, and that takes more effort.

 

Where ever you might find yourself, when you do realize where you’re headed, here are some of my go to tips for digging myself out.

  • Stop and breathe.

    Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

    Image courtesy of { lillith }.

  • If possible, get up and move, be active, go for a workout.
  • If you can’t get a workout in, take a smaller break in Savasana.
  • If you can’t do that either, take a break to go get a cup of tea (or beverage of choice).
  • Let go of everything that has happened up to that point in your day. It doesn’t matter and holding onto it is like grabbing an anchor, you’ll just sink faster.

 

 

 

 

That is a quick list for when I haven’t started sinking too deep yet. And it’s by no means an exhaustive list, just a few idea that work for me. If I do find myself already pretty deep in the mental quicksand, these are my favorite ways to dig out, or at least stop the sinking.

  • Stop and breathe (this works for pretty much any situation).

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

  • Step away, completely away. It’s often difficult to do because of the perceived pressure that can be felt.
  • Put yourself in a mental bubble to shut out all the unnecessary noise around you.
  • Focus on one and only one thing to accomplish. Once that is complete, move on to another one. Keep knocking out the tasks, one at a time, until you feel back on track.
  • Be nice to yourself. Negative thoughts attract more negativity. Positive thoughts attract more positive energy. Give yourself a little encouragement and see how much it can help.

 

The key for me has become less about digging out, but more about figuring out I’m on my way into the quicksand. It is so much easier to make little adjustments to avoid getting sucked in than it is to work to climb back out.

 

This is one of those things that just takes practice. Learning to really tune in to what you are feeling as you feel it is something that as adults we have almost forgotten. Once you do, the warning signs go from being buried in the noise to blaring and nearly impossible to miss. Along the way, just remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll be the only one who is.

 

 

 

Non-Judgmental Compassion or Avoidance?

I’ve written a few times about the importance of being kind to ourselves, the use of a non-judgmental compassion. After all, each day is different and some days are just, well, good days to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

I’ve been asked how I know when I cross the line from being compassionate with myself and listening to what I need over to being just plain lazy. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to this question. I did an article on how to do nothing and the benefits that can be garnered from doing nothing. But it’s a fine line between doing nothing take care of oneself and doing nothing to avoid doing anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have discovered a few telltale signs that help me distinguish between the two and listed them here:

  • Feeling regret about choosing not to work out or whatever it was that you didn’t do. Not the little “yeah I probably should have” type, but the “I really need to do that tomorrow” type of regret.
  • The activity in question is one that you are choosing to be “compassionate” with yourself on more than others. Say almost every time it comes up, “compassion” is the first thought you have.
  • You choose self-care over anything that happens during a televised game or show. Most of us have a DVR, Netflix or some other on demand service. If all else fails, they still have reruns and highlight reels.
  • The to-do list becomes a matter of life or death as you get closer to having to start what you are being self-compassionate over. When doing your nails suddenly comes to the top of our list, you might be avoiding something.
  • You fidget at the very thought of starting the activity you are being self-compassionate about. The anticipation of it sets your skin on fire and your stomach starts churning. A good sign you are avoiding. But sometimes what we avoid the most we also need the most.
  • You take any reason to help or support others (or just any excuse really) to avoid what you were going to do. See fidgeting above.

 

After running through that list, do any of those sound familiar? If not, great you probably have a nice balance in your life. But if you did, then read on, I have some tips on facing those things that you may be avoiding and maybe even make them less arduous.

 

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

First, find a little time to set aside for yourself. Digging around inside can stir the emotional pot. Having some time to sit and deal with what comes up makes this process smoother and more effective. Once you have the time and a nice quiet spot, settle in and move through these steps.

  • Take a few minutes to just breathe and tune your mind into your body. Some breathing exercises such as Ujjayi, Dirgha or similar are useful here.
  • Take stock of your emotional state. Ideally a calm mind will allow you to dig out the root cause of the resistance in your life.
  • Think about starting the task you’ve been avoiding. Notice, without judging, what emotions, what thoughts and what physical sensations come up for you.
  • Next picture what you might feel once you’ve completed the task. Ask yourself if that feeling is enough to get you started. If it is, then breathe a little longer and get started.
  • If not, ask yourself if this is something that absolutely must be done. If it is, then accept that you must do it and look for ways to make it more pleasant, if not enjoyable. If not, consider dropping it from your to do list.

 

One of the biggest reasons we are resist something because it’s challenging us in some way that is outside our comfort zone. This is a good thing. Growth is challenging. It can also be daunting. The steps above can help you figure out why you’re feeling resistance and give you a little support in moving through it. If this doesn’t work the first time, I encourage you to keep at it. It can take time to deal with resistance and setting an expectation that it may take a few rounds takes pressure off yourself.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

At the end of the day, when you have a chance to sit and quiet your mind, you will know what you did to be kind to yourself and what you did to avoid something. Everyone has challenges and the key here is that even when you find yourself avoiding something, don’t judge or criticize yourself. Just acknowledge it’s happening and take the conscious steps in the direction you truly want head.

10 Reasons Yoga is Good for Men

Yoga has a long history of being beneficial physically, mentally and spiritually. On top of that, at one time yoga was also only taught to men. Interesting as that is, yoga today seems to be perceived as a woman’s domain. That small obstacle aside, what are the benefits that interest men today? How can yoga help me in today’s world where I don’t have the time or inclination to sit on the top of a hill all day, live in a cave at night and survive on nothing but meditation, the dew from a leaf and the energy of the universe? I’ve put together my top 10 benefits modern men get from yoga.

 

  1. Flexibility of both the mind and the bodycartoonbigguyyoga

In a world where we sit all day, every day in front of computers and in meetings, muscles tighten up and physically we lose range of motion in the hips, shoulders and back. Mentally, all that staring and concentrated focus leads to mental stiffness where we lose the ability to see things from other perspectives or points of view, diminishing creativity and problem solving. Flexibility from a yoga practice can counteract these effects.

 

 

  1. It pushes us out of our comfort zone

    Image courtesy of David Flowers

    Image courtesy of David Flowers

Physically yoga makes us stronger, more flexible and helps to keep us healthy. When paired with a structured breathing practice, yoga can also open up emotional locks. Growing up, boys are often taught that emotions are for girls and that the best way to deal with them is to stomp them down and lock them away. It’s how I grew up. Through my meditation and yoga practice, I learned how to let go of that control. I can now experience my emotions but not be ruled by them.

 

 

 

 

  1. It teaches humility

Standing or sitting in a class and listening to the instructor guide the class into a posture and think “you want me to put my >body part< where??????” Emotionally and mentally I find humility comes to me in the form of little life lessons. Something as simple as remembering to breath during stressful times, or something more profound, such as releasing resistance to change in my life.

 

  1. It teaches us to laugh at ourselves

There can never be too much laughter in the world. Laughter is contagious and an instant mood changer. Don’t believe me, try not to laugh or at least smile when a baby starts laughing. It just can’t be done. Learning to laugh at ourselves relieves stress, tension and things like fear, failure or embarrassment.

 

  1. It gets us away from everything electronic

    Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

    Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

Ironic, I know as I sit here writing this on my computer. However the benefits of disconnecting are numerous. Putting aside the gizmos opens up space for our friends, family and ourselves to come center stage in our awareness. Without the distractions of the next ping-like-tweet, insta-pin-snap-ring-whatever, allows for our brains to stop being digi-distracted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. It shows us it’s okay to take care of ourselves too

    Image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn   / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn / Flickr.

As men we spend a lot of time taking care of others, especially our family. A very wise friend of mine once gave me some advice; don’t forget to take care of yourself. The point he made was that if I did nothing but give of my time, my energy, myself, I would very quickly burn out and have nothing left. At that point, I wouldn’t be able to be helpful to others. Instead, taking some time for myself, to take care of myself, would allow me the ability to stay charged and be able to continue helping family and friends.

 

 

 

 

  1. Strengthens muscles we didn’t remember we had

Take enough yoga classes, and no matter how fit you are, there will eventually be some class that either modifies a known posture, or introduces a new one that finds some muscle or muscle group we didn’t know we had. I don’t always realize it that day, but the next day, I feel it.

 

  1. It can help us be more patient (eventually)

    Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks    / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks / Flickr.

Standing or sitting still is tough. With technology that keeps everyone connected all the time, instant gratification just isn’t fast enough anymore. Sustaining a posture, a breathing technique (or both) allows us to move past the point of struggle and resistance to a point of acceptance. Not acceptance of things which are not good for us, but acceptance of change, acceptance of others and most importantly, acceptance of ourselves. That acceptance breeds a humble, strong mind.

 

  1. It can reduce stress

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Sweat and distraction are great cures for that. Getting the body moving opens up the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Fresh blood gets circulated throughout the whole body. Putting your entire focus onto the workout at hand opens up mental space to clear out preconceptions and allow for new points of view to be evaluated. I’ve solved more than one tough problem while on a yoga mat or out for a run.

 

  1. It teaches us to breathe

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

In, out, repeat. Breathing is automatic and happens without conscious thought. However, when we think about it, focus on it and guide it, breathing becomes much more than something that “just happens.” Breathing becomes a tool to unlocking our potential. Through breathing we can calm our body and mind. We can also use breath to energize ourselves and create focus and clarity.

 

Yoga is beneficial for pretty much everyone. I think the viewpoint that yoga isn’t for men or excludes men is very limited for both yoga and men. I believe a male perspective on yoga, the sutras and the like adds flavor and a unique view that might otherwise be missed.

 

With this list in mind, I encourage all the guys out there to try out a yoga class. I’ve posted before on ways to approach yoga classes and some translations for what gets said in those classes to make the introduction a little easier. Find a yoga class and if nothing else, just breathe.

The Experience of Options

This topic has come up many times recently, and I wanted to share. Options, and no, not stock options (although those are nice too), frame how comfortable we are in a situation. My wife recently posted about how she gets nervous when I drive, even knowing I would never do anything to endanger her or our daughter. And when she drives, she often feels frustrated and finds herself stuck behind slow or erratic drivers.scaredchickenclipart

 

In working through an advanced curriculum in her own coaching career, she determined that the difference was options. When I drive, I see options everywhere. Some options are better than others and based on where I am and where I want to be, I choose the best option available. When she drives, she doesn’t see as many options on the road as I do. So when she isn’t driving, the mismatch of perceived options makes my driving seem more daring from her perspective.

 

 

 

Applying this to a larger scope, take a moment and think about a time where you felt trapped or pressured in a decision. Keep thinking about that time and remember the number of options or choices you felt you had at the time. Now think of a time where you felt completely at ease in making a decision. And think of the number of choices you felt you had then. Odds are the more pressure you felt, the fewer options you felt you had, and vice versus. That has certainly been my experience.

 

The question becomes how to change what we perceive in order to be able to see more options. I have a few techniques that work for me.

 

Breathe – My go to method for dealing with almost anything. Take a moment (or more), step away from the situation and just breathe. Breathing settles the mind and the emotions and allows for decisions and reactions to be made from a place of choice and not reflex.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Meditate – For the really big ones where I have time, I look at meditation as breathing on steroids. Same benefits of adding space and allow for shifts in reaction to become consciously chosen and not a habitual reflex.noncompete

 

 

 

 

 
Gut check – There has been a lot of buzz about the importance of our digestive system in overall health. I’m a big proponent of listening to my gut (instincts would be a good substitute here). Sometimes I will picture the scenario I’m in and choose one of my options. Then I wait for that tell-tale tightening that signals a less favorable decision. If I get a calm stomach, I’m probably on the right track.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Make a list – Make a list of options you see. Make a second list of what the outcome you’d most like to see. Set the two side by side. Are there any options that get you to any of the acceptable results? If yes, you have a starting place for working towards your ideal resolution. If not, take a step and, breathe and think a little more. If all else fails, move on to the next one.

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Ask for help – I don’t know everything. Sometimes the options I see are limited by the fact that I don’t know enough about the topic. In those cases, I find a friend or mentor who knows more, and I ask for help. Not that they will make the decision for me, but they will be able to help me see more options so I can make choices that get me to or at least closer to my ideal outcome.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Listen – I put this one in because it’s probably the most important tool. It is an essential component for all of the above to be successful. If you don’t listen to what you feel, to suggestions, to the other options that arise, you won’t be able to expand your available options and will likely remain stuck, see limited choices and feel frustrated and pressure.

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

 

Each of these can be used alone, or in groups (except for listen, which I advocate using in all of them). The thread that weaves all of them together is space. Making space for yourself to clear your mind, bring your full attention to your choices and see if you are able to lift some of the pressure, get creative and see the other options that might be available. Because the more options you see, the less pressure you’ll likely feel and the happier you’ll be with your choices.

Adding Breath

Breathing. Something we do automatically; without thinking. I’ve discussed different types of breathing and why it’s important in other posts. Today I’ll explore the effects of adding different breathing techniques to yoga (or anything else).

 

Breath is the central focus of many disciplines ranging from yoga to martial arts to various meditative disciplines. The reason for this is the impact that breathing has on, well,manwatchingtv

everything. For example, I can be sitting in a barcalounger and use a calming breath (ujayii, longer exhale than inhale, dirgha, to name a few) and it will settle my body and mind. Sitting in the exact same chair in the exact same position but using a more aggressive breath (kapalabhati, bellows, fire breath, short inhale/exhales, etc.) will result in my heart rate increasing and my mind becomes more alert. The difference is how I breathe.

 

First a little experiment. Sit comfortably, or lie down. Take a moment to connect to how you are breathing now. Notice if it’s fast and shallow or a slower more full breath. Next take inventory of your mind. Are you feeling sluggish and foggy, or is the monkey mind reigning at the moment. Depending on where you fall, go through the exercise below that most closely fits where you are in this moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Monkey mind:

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

To settle a monkey mind (you know the one; it jumps from thought to thought and never sits still, whirling around like crazy), I’ve found this breathing technique to be quite soothing.

 

Place your hands on your belly. As you inhale focus on your lower belly expanding like a balloon. On the exhale, feel the belly sink all the way back to the spine. Start with about a 4 second inhale through the nose and a 5-6 second exhale through the lips. Repeat this cycle until your breathing natural slows and allow it to move to a 5-6 second inhale/exhale pattern. When the breath gets to this point, gently seal the lips and breathe through your nose only. Continue this pattern as long as you like until your mind settles.

 

If your mind still won’t settle, begin to count the thoughts as they fly through your mind and let them go.

 

With time, patience and practice, I’ve found this to be a simple and highly effective method for calming the monkey mind.

 

 

Foggy mind:autoresponse

It’s been a long day, just after lunch and your ability to focus is sort of like looking through coconut oil; you know those days.

 

To refocus the mind and get your day back on track, here is a breathing exercise that I find helpful. Sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your belly. Take deliberate, slightly forceful inhales filling your lungs about 75% of the way and then an equally forceful exhale emptying out about 90% of the air. Repeat this pattern for about 10-12 breaths. Slowly let a normal breathing pattern return and open your eyes. Open your eyes slowly and notice a new sense of alertness in your mind and body. If, during the forceful breathing, dizziness or a headache starts to occur, resume normal breathing immediately.

 

 

Now that you’ve seen first-hand the effects breathing can have on the body and mind, I want to explore how adding different breathing techniques can change the experience of things like yoga, meditation and even just standing.

 

For this post, I’d like to explore standing. That’s it, just standing, no funky twists, bends or contortions, just good old teeth brushing, dish washing standing.

 

To start, stand up. Find a comfortable standing position, weight even on both feet, knees straight but not locked, abs engaged in and up, chest loose, shoulders relaxed and lengthen through the crown of the head. From there, notice (no commentary, no criticism) where you are breathing. Chest, belly, all over. Lungs full of air or only partially. Now notice how you feel mentally. Alert and present or a little fuzzy and disconnected.menyogaclothes

 

Changing nothing else, start breathing using the Foggy Mind method above. Just a few minutes is enough. Now notice how you’re feeling. The same, or different? Hopefully you feel a little more alert and are breathing deeper into the lungs with each breath.

 

Now switch to Monkey Mind as described above. Again, a few minutes are all it takes. Notice the changes in your mind, in your emotions and breathing. Ideally you now feel calm, centered and steady.

 

If this didn’t work for you, I recommend trying it sitting (if comfort was an issue) or just trying it again but perhaps for a longer period of time. Once you do start feeling the differences, breathing (at least for me) becomes this fun, fascinating tool that I can use to augment pretty much anything in my daily life and not just on a yoga or meditation mat.

 

These are two very simple breathing techniques layered with a simple posture. I encourage you to play with other types of breathing and to do it in other “postures” and situations. The effects are often unexpected and spectacular.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.