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Discovering the Self Through the Breath in Mysore

I was in Mysore, India, for a month studying with Saraswathi Jois, Guriji’s daughter. I found myself full of emotions, thoughts, feelings. Mainly, my heart was full of gratitude. Below are some of the reflections I wrote down while I was there.

First of all, the breath.

The breath is a powerful and inspiring tool for grounding, discovering the self, exploration, and trust. In our daily life, we rarely pay attention to our breath. Yet, it is there, happening as an unconscious miracle, every day.

In our yoga practice, the breath is also there, just happening. It persists with unrelenting tirelessness. The practice gives us a chance to become familiar with it, to look closely at our inhalation and exhalation, to listen to the sound of our own personal breath.

Through the practice, we learn that a long deep breath gives us more stability, sense of grounding and introspection. A shallow breath may, instead, be the expression of an unfocused mind, a sense of impatience, or of a physical/mental tension.

During the practice, with every single inhalation and exhalation, we are given a possibility for self-exploration. Why is my breath shallow today? What are the thoughts coming up in my mind? What are the physical and mental tensions I am carrying with me on the yoga mat? What prevents me from being totally focused and grounded in my yoga practice today?

By simply asking these questions and observing the feelings (and answers!) that might arise – without bringing in any form of judgement or any intellectual reasonings – we undertake a journey of self-discovery, through the breath.

The mind is there, ready for judging whatever arises. Our inner “enemies” (competition, anger, fear, and so on) are also there, ready to take control. Yet, our challenge is to maintain an observer’s disposition, acknowledging with gratitude and acceptance whatever arises.

If tension or discomfort arises, we can consciously decide to change our breath and make it deeper, longer and steadier, contracting the glottis to produce a gentle sound of ocean. Through the breath, we instill in ourselves a sense of grounding and focusing.

We learn that the breath is there to help us be present. We experience that, in the moment we intentionally decide to breathe deeply and steadily, this will change our practice and our focus.

The presence of the breath as a tool for self-exploration is available in each posture. Every inhalation gives us a possibility to go inwards, to notice our personal “reaction” to the posture. How is our body in that asana? How is our mind? Any specific emotions arising? Any tension? Every inhalation gives us also a new chance for further lengthening, opening, twisting, folding, so we can reach – even with just one more inch – a totally new different space of self-exploration.

And then, the beautiful miracle of the exhalation comes, reminding us to let go of whatever we encountered, to simply acknowledge, with a sense of acceptance and gratitude, whatever was there in our path, present in that specific moment. What is coming up to the surface is most probably what we have to work on. Observing, acknowledging and accepting it, is the very first step for “progressing” in our spiritual path towards the discovery of the Self.

Finally, the breath leads each single movement throughout our yoga practice. When the inhalation begins, we open, we lengthen, we rise, at the pace of our breath, with a sense of being fully present in the moment. At the exhalation, we fold, we twist, we release. How reassuring and calming it is to wait until the very end of the inhalation/exhalation before changing posture, with no rush, no impatience. How beautiful it is to embrace the magic of the moment in between the inhalation and the exhalation and vice versa. A moment of quietness, when we are completely confident that the next inhalation/exhalation is there, about to happen. With no rush, we follow the dance of the breath with trust and patience.

 

Valeria is a freelance consultant in gender and international development, a yoga teacher and practitioner. She has travelled to and lived in several countries. She strongly believes in the power of yoga to empower communities and to inspire social change.

Take It Off the Mat

People say that practicing yoga is walking on the path. Well, it’s definitely not driving on a highway. Sometimes the path runs through a forest with logs and tree branches blocking it, sometimes through marshes and you have to be really careful where you step, sometimes through fields where sweet scented flowers blossom.


Walking the path you need to know where you are to make sure you are not lost. So don’t forget to take time to check your inner compass, consult a spiritual map (Yoga Sutras, for example) or ask locals for directions (someone you respect and trust).

Navigating the spiritual practice gets tricky at times but you’ve got all the equipment to keep you on track if your asana practice is alive. If you are a practitioner, you hear this in most of the classes, if you are a teacher you are giving these instructions everyday. Just take these principles off the mat to your everyday life and practice what you preach.

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We start a class with cleansing Kapalabhati breathing to remove impurities and make space for fresh air and fresh energy to come in. When you are facing a problem or just feel low without realizing the reason, start with simply cleaning around your space, throw away (or donate) things you no longer need. Think if there is something or somebody in your life that is a little bit too much to handle. If there is, may be it’s time to take a break. Make space for wonders to come.

Next thing is respecting your limitations, keeping in mind they change day by day. So maybe today (or this week or this year) you are a little stiff and just can’t cope with as much work (or socializing) as usual. In this case an extra hour of sleep or just relaxing and doing something you enjoy may help.

We build an asana from the foundation. Decide what your priority is and concentrate on it. Arrange everything else around it. Find grounding and stability in the most important and valuable things for you, may it be the family, education, or health.

Safe asana practice emphasizes correct alignment and encourages not to compromise it for some doubtful achievement. So if you have some goal in mind, make sure the methods you are using are not in conflict with your moral principles. Otherwise your peace of mind is at risk, So take good care of yourself and remember that the result is not all that important; the way is.

And of course, the key to the practice is the breath. No matter how hard it gets, you can breathe through it. Your breath is always there for you, honest and welcoming. It is a safe place to come back to.

Take it off the mat! Balance is never stillness, it’s constant adjustment to the change. Keep balancing, keep practicing.

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Yoga found Kate on her short (as she thought) visit to India for His Holiness Dalai Lama’s teachings. Soon after she arrived and took her first ever Yoga class, she enrolled in 200-Hours TTC and has been practicing and teaching Yoga ever since.

If You’re Waiting For A Sign – This Is It

We’re told as children to “dream big” and that we can be anything we want to be. And with the imagination curiosity of a child, we do dream big. We dream of becoming astronauts, or performing on the stage or silver screen, or of becoming a great lawyer or a successful veterinarian. What did you dream of being when you were growing up? Our souls grow and change as we grow and change. If there is a dream you never said “yes” to, perhaps now is the time to think long and hard about why not. Oh, and maybe it’s time to give it a try.

You don’t have to chase a dream. You can plot a course, track your progress and achieve it. The universe is telling you to go for it. Are you listening?

 

Breathe

It’s so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day routine. We are creatures of habit, but sometimes our habits become monotonous. Do you make a daily habit to focus on your breath? Tuning in to your breath is one of the simplest ways to check in and see what you’re really feeling. As you learn to listen and evaluate the breath, the faster you’ll be able to recover from any stressful situation and move through your life with a greater sense of peace. Your breath will provide the sail for your soul searching to drift upon. Learn to control it, and you’ll be a better captain of your own life’s vessel.

Woman Meditating On Beach In Lotus Position

 

Get Outside

Nature is one of the world’s most wonderful teachers. Connecting with the outdoors can be a very centering way to better listen to your intuition. The natural world has so many amazing things to see that we have forgotten about. The concrete jungles we live in have created an unnatural box that we are confined to. Our smartphones occupy much of our time, and we forget that “unplugging” can be a most restorative experience – one that’s truly needed to determine our next steps.

 

Say “Yes”

We all have the thing we’ve always wanted to do but never do. Why? You may have constructed an alternate reality of the “stuff that may happen.” You can’t know the outcome all the time. That’s scary for a lot of people. What’s the absolute worst case scenario? Is that scenario going to cause you or another harm? No? Then what’s stopping you? Create a memory. You’ll be surprised at how many times you look back on the experience and are glad you went for it instead of standing on the sidelines.

 

Be Present

Don’t let dreaming of the future get you ahead of yourself. While you’re preparing for the dream, enjoy the moments along the journey. You’ll look back on your life and remember the smallest moments – ones that may seem really inconsequential at the time. You may get to the end of your journey and realize that it wasn’t about the dream at all, but the work of getting there that was your true calling. It may not be about achieving something. It may just be about becoming who you were meant to be. This is it.

 

We are educated with thought systems based on fear. This fear can cause us to stay in jobs we hate, continue in unhealthy relationships, and be generally anxious about everything. If your soul is calling you to something greater, take a breath, don’t let the fear take over, and see just how far you can go.

 

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Sara Sherman is a freelance writer, yogi and accidental island girl living on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Contact Sara via her website at www.SaraMSherman.com, and read more about her island adventures at www.IslandersFromIowa.com.

Healing Yoga: How to Get off the Emotional Rollercoaster

We all have a daily grind that can become monotonous. Underwhelming. A bore (or chore). And then of course there are days when things out of our control happen, causing an unbelievable bomb to be dropped into our worlds. Your heart can go from beating to breaking in one breathtaking moment.

Are you feeling out of control? Do your emotions roll from high to low and back again in the same day? How about in the same hour? Your life is not meant to be this way.

Healing yoga can offer a stabilizing force in your life. When we learn to come into a place of stillness even in the hardest, sweatiest yoga practice, that stillness begins to permeate into the rest of our lives. If your feelings are dictating your thoughts and actions, here are five ways yoga can help you get off an emotional rollercoaster that’s causing unrest in your life.

Learn to Listen

We spend a lot of our day in autopilot mode. We go through the routines that we have created for ourselves that are supposed to make up a meaningful life, not necessarily experiencing the most important moments happening all around us. You may get frustrated because your toddler refuses to put pants on and you need to get your other kids to school. Perhaps your meeting presentation bombed and you shrug it off, suppressing your feelings to avoid crying at the office. When you get on your yoga mat, you must listen to the inner conversation of your mind and heart. You’ll hear all the thoughts you’ve been avoiding and the ones that won’t go away. Listening is the first step to healing. By slowing down and taking a breath, you’ll start to hear a different inner dialogue.

Use Your Breath

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.” — Thích Nhất Hạnh

If breath unites your body with your thoughts, then learning to use your breath to your advantage will only create a more connected life. Your breath can tell you a lot about what’s happening in your body, even as your brain is busy with other thoughts. By pausing to notice the breath, you can recognize patterns in which you are becoming stressed and take action. You can learn to reassess your needs in any given moment and approach the situation with a clear mind. Yoga teaches us to listen to the breath and to use it as a tool to help us through the most difficult postures. If you can breathe easily while your body is being tested, you can breathe through a stressful situation outside the yoga studio.

 

Face Your Fears

So much of yoga is facing the unknown. This unknown comes in the forms of a new studio, a new teacher, or an unfamiliar pose. These factors dig into a deeper place of fear within you. Are you afraid of not having control of your kids’ whereabouts every minute of the day? Are you afraid you won’t get the promotion at work and make enough money? Are you afraid of losing your aging parents? Facing these fears in an intimate and immediate way will show you how strong you are, and what little control you actually have. That loss of control may sound scary as well, but will actually liberate you into a new way of living. With less fear, you’ll have emotional space for so much more joy, peace and wonder.

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You Must. Let. Go.

Along with letting go of fear and the illusion of control, you must let yourself fail. You’re going to fall on your face. You’re going to lose your balance. Your legs and arms will shake as they get stronger and gain experience. You’ll probably catch a glimpse of your not-so-perfect form in the mirror and compare yourself to the superwoman next to you. It’s all ok. You’ll learn that the only freedom is in letting all of it go. Letting the effort and work you put into your practice wash over you in a wave of breath during savasana will become a place you crave. This place will teach you that the only moment you have is this one. Then the next one. And that your emotional rollercoaster does not serve you. In letting go of control, you gain a greater strength than you thought possible.

 

Heal and Move Forward

There are no doubt some really painful things that happen in our lives. You’ll hear opinions from friends and family about all of it. But in the stillness, there is a calm, clear voice. Yours.

Once you’ve listened to your thoughts, faced your fears and breathed new life into your yoga practice, you’ll find a new sense of calm in your life. The emotional rollercoaster of day to day living has no power over you, because you can breathe in any moment and let go of what you can’t control.

Through yoga, you learn that you are your own best teacher, and empowering that inner voice will always lead you in the right direction.

 

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Sara Sherman is a freelance writer, yogi and accidental island girl living on the island of St. Thomas. Learn more and contact Sara via her website at www.SaraMSherman.com, and read more about her island adventures at www.IslandersFromIowa.com.