The following article was published on oregonsportsnews.com on 24 May, 2013.
Whether you’re new to yoga or you’ve practiced for years, you may notice that your mental state can easily affect your physical performance. Good thing for us yogis, though. It’s our belief that our practice can train our mental state and vice versa. The two can work together to create a balance. Asanas, or yoga poses, are designed to keep the body functioning to their best ability. They’re designed to both physically and mentally prepare us for the more difficult challenges of the mind.
After an intense and surreal month of hot, sweaty asanas, lectures about Kundalini energy and chakras, spiders as big as my face, and geckos crawling above my head on a jungle island in Thailand, I completed my Yoga Teacher’s Training. I became a certified yoga instructor with a plan: I was going to live in the northwest. I moved to Portland to become a yoga teacher. It was a leap of faith, a commitment I wholeheartedly believed in.
I’m now once again on an airplane. This is my ninth flight in just over a month. I’m headed back home to Colorado.
Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned; however, I hold strong to one of the valuable lessons from my teachers in Thailand: everything happens for a reason. My weeks in Oregon were spent preparing and memorizing yoga flows, attending auditions across the city, applying for more jobs, and finding myself constantly disappointed. It was a stressful three weeks, but yoga helped me keep my cool.
A difficult day at work, some off-putting words from a friend, or even getting sick is enough to throw the best of us off in trikonasana or Warrior 2. It doesn’t take a major life transition to fall off balance.
While it may be trickier to balance in a pose if you’re feeling mentally lopsided, finding stillness can calm both the body and mind. While mental clarity was hard for me to find on Indeed.com, finding balance in a pose follows the same protocol no matter what kind of battle one is fighting. Pranayama and meditation are key.
Pranayama techniques are a way to control the breath. They will not only help to focus breathing patterns, but will slow the heart rate and blood pressure, positively affect metabolic and nervous system function, and will help to calm the mind. The first step of any pranayama technique is to remember to inhale and exhale through the nose. The Ujjayi breath is a technique that can be used by anyone at any time.
Ujjayi breathing is a technique which constricts the glottis muscle in the back of the throat. This may make you sound like you’ve turned into Darth Vader when you breath, but don’t worry, that’s totally normal.
With a long and straight spine, inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the ribcage and belly. Hold for several comfortable counts, then slowly exhale through the nose, drawing the ribcage in and tightening the core.
Close your eyes and count your breaths, trying to lengthen the count of your inhales to even those of your exhales. Got that? Now try to double the length of your exhales.
Give Ujjayi a try. Play around with your technique. Stop thinking and focus solely on your inhales and exhales.
Pranayama is an essential aspect of yoga. If you’re struggling to find balance within a pose or otherwise, remember the simplistic beauty of yoga: it’s simply about being. And what’s more vital to being than breathing?
Breathe on, beautiful people. Namaste.