After taking a few months off from this site to focus on my day job, training, teaching, and work travel I’m back and ready to go–even if “ready to go” also means “ready to let go.” In yoga classes I’ve been teaching these last several months a couple of themes continue to echo as I work with these concepts in my own practice. The first is finding comfort, stability and ease in every shape, every breath. The second is about letting go to let things move through–breath, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations. We’ll focus on the first part in this post and in December we’ll bring our attention to letting go to move through.
Let’s start with stability, comfort and ease. A simple but difficult task. Stability requires engagement, work, effort, a way to hold ourselves up, whether that is in a yoga posture, a project at work, or how we show up with our family. We need a foundation that can hold us and all we do. Let’s think of something physical to keep this idea tangible, how about Warrior 2?
In order hold this shape comfortably, I need to engage, press into my feet, draw my legs towards each other to fire up the mid-line of the body, and activate the pelvic floor and abdominals. I might need to make subtle shifts in my feet or my bent knee to create a more stable pose. Turning on the engagement to create stability allows me to be here as long as I like, or need (well almost always). If I remove all engagement, turn off the abdomen and legs, I can loose my balance, endurance and focus.
Now, moving to comfort. We are all working so hard, trying so hard, constricting our muscles, breath, thoughts, emotions, etc. We so desire for everything to be “right.” I see so much over-efforting every day, in myself and others. If we stick with the Warrior 2 example, over-efforting might unfold in tight shoulders riding up to our ears resulting in aches and pains, it might look like a clenched jaw creating tension in our heads and necks. Just typing that makes me reach for my neck to stretch. Comfort does not mean we aren’t working, it means we are working mindfully. We bring awareness to our experience, see where we are stable, where we are holding on a little too tightly and where we can soften.
Ease comes back to the breath. When we constrict and over-effort we can start to hold our breath, creating even more tension and rigidity. This too is simple, but not easy. Sticking with a deep, continuous, easy breath is hard when we are pushing ourselves beyond our limits on the mat or in life. When we are overscheduled, overstressed, and overwhelmed, we can feel paralyzed. When we lack ease our self-limiting beliefs and stories begin to find their way in, our views can narrow, and everything feels difficult. We can feel an inability to move forward.
Start by moving the breath, allowing the breath to function in its natural rhythm. Let the breath move through everything. Practice deep, continuous breathing in moments that are just out of your comfort zone; this provides practice to grow the “breath muscle,” taking your breath to the gym. Gradually we practice this ease of breath in more and more challenging situations. When we breathe we are able to hold the engagement of stability, the softening of comfort, and simply be with whatever is arising in the experience–the good, the bad, the neutral.
Practice to find your breath: Sit tall on the edge of a chair, both feet connecting to the floor or a stool. Take a soft gaze or close your eyes. Take a deep breath in and on your exhale let the shoulders relax. Place a palm on your belly. Take 3 slightly exaggerated breaths, inhales a little deeper than normal, exhales a little longer than normal, to feel the belly expand and fall with the breath. Now find your natural breath in and breath out, still inviting the breath to be deep and continuous without trying too hard. Take 10 breaths exactly like this. Release your hand, open your eyes, and notice how you feel.
Being human is hard. If we can begin to lessen the self-imposed suffering just by checking in for stability, comfort and ease, isn’t that worth trying? Where do you find stability? Where do you need more comfort and ease?