Practical Yoga: Catch Your Breath
Editors' note: We are honored to welcome Will Donnelly to our team of bloggers at SpiritualityHealth.com. Trained at the renowned Golden Bridge Yoga Studio in Los Angeles, Will is a pioneer in the field of yoga, having developed a style of practice called Practical Yoga and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV. Will currently lives and works at Kalani, a yoga and wellness retreat center on the Big Island of Hawaii. He will be blogging regularly here about the ideas behind Practical Yoga, and how we can benefit from incorporating yoga more fully into our lives, on and off the mat.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” - Howard Thurman
As a teacher, my simple purpose is to help you live a happier, healthier, and more spirited life, regardless of whether you practice yoga or not. As a yogi and teacher, I offer tips and inspiration to help you find ways to make the techniques found in yoga more practical in your daily routines.
Students often ask how yoga might be able to help one “keep up” in today’s fast-paced world. That’s an important question. In our society, we're required to take in extraordinary amounts of data on a daily basis. Phone calls, texting, email, television, internet surfing, and workplace requirements all have our nervous systems on constant “go.” It can be a challenge for us to simply catch our breath.
Yet it’s important to put things in perspective. First, it’s valuable to remember that some stress is actually good for us. Certain levels of stress actually increase mental acuity and bring us to peak performance. We feel more alive when we are under a bit of pressure. Too much stress however, can cause us emotional distress, often presenting itself as physical and mental ailments. It is all about finding balance, and we are the only ones who can gauge that balance in our lives.
This is where yoga can help.
Yoga reminds us that our wisdom is always available. Even though postures like Downward Dog (Adho Muka Svanasana) and Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) might not be acceptable during a board meeting at work, many of the breathing techniques and mental perspectives gained through the practice of yoga can help us in many ways beyond our mats.
But what is yoga? Is it simply a series of postures to make us sweat? At its core, this 5,000-year-old practice is about stilling the mind. Paradoxically, this stillness simultaneously allows us to see clearly and listen to the still-small voice within us that urges us on to live our lives to the fullest.
In the seminal text on yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipka, it is said that “when the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”
So let’s take some time to catch our breath and experience some yoga right now.
Wherever you are, if you can, sit for just a moment and take a few steady, deep breaths. Inhale slowly through the nose to a full breath, hold for about three seconds, and exhale slowly through the nose, pressing gently at the navel center to complete the exhale.
Use your mind’s eye: As you inhale, feel as if you are sipping from an infinite pool of life force. Imagine healing energy (yogis call this prana) entering your body and making its way to every cell. As you exhale, continue to use your imagination to see stress and tension leave your body. (Perhaps you see an image of a balloon deflating; use whatever image works for you).
As you focus on your breath, allow your facial muscles to soften. Let go of all your cares as you inhale and exhale. Try it for a few moments, or for up to three minutes. Notice how it makes you feel.
Breathing techniques are one of the most potent, and portable, tools found in yoga. Yogi Bhajan, the renowned Kundalini Yoga master, has said that the only difference between an enlightened teacher and a student is that the teacher is aware of every one of their breaths.
So, even if you don’t attend yoga classes, ask yourself this: What is it that is holding you back from feeling fully alive right now? Remember that your breath is a key component to living with vitality and clarity.
I look forward to sharing many yogic tools with you over the coming weeks and months. May this breathing technique be the first of many healthy steps for you to “catch your breath” and find yourself fully alive.