The ABC's of Yoga

Sometimes it is good to take a refresher course on what you do. It is easy to get in a monotonous routine of habitual moves or thoughts. This truth applies to more than just your yoga practice. Being a teacher of yoga, I introduce new ways to pursue a move or get to a new edge. After having the same students for over three years, I assumed they understood the most fundamental part of yoga...breathing. A brand new student to yoga ignited me to ask the class: "Does everyone know how to practice ujjayi (ocean) breath?"

To my surprise (and disappointment in myself), most of the class admitted they did not. It was a humbling reminder that it is imperative to re-visit the foundation of what you build yourself on...whatever it is. One can add various structures on this base; however, it is wise to check on the foundation to make sure you're on solid ground. This realization about the folks I have been teaching was a divine reminder that they did not necessarily make it to the class that explained breathing. So, I taught them as if they (and me) were all beginners. We went back to our ABC's of yoga.

So, let's discuss the three points that help you build a solid foundation upon to build your yoga practice on. I prefer the KISS philosophy in just about everything. Plus, it has nothing to do with being "stupid", so my translation of KISS is: Keep it Simple Soulmate. Let class begin.

A is for attitude. Whether it is your first or you've lost count yoga class, your attitude of having a beginner's mind is a must. A beginner's mind is also known as a Zen mindset. The way to do this is to be aware of each moment. Focus on feeling the body's sensations when you're in a pose. Feel the sensation of the breath flow in and out. Leave the critical aspect of the ego outside the door. Yoga is a lifetime practice which means there is no finish line to cross. The sooner you understand that, the easier it is to enjoy the practice without an agenda. Just learn, baby, learn.

Have you seen the awe in a child's eyes when they experience or see something new? Can you remember that feeling you once had as a kid? Yoga is helping me remember. Each yoga practice is different. It may seem the same based on the poses you do; however, that is impacted by your attitude. When make a shift in perspective to experience something deeper, a lot happens. You can start to feel the heart beating, the muscles tightening or loosening, and more. The forward fold is discovered to be much more than just bending over.

Then, you can become aware of the mind working. But instead of it running amuck with an onslaught of thoughts, by being an observer who is learning, you become able to observe the thoughts that emerge. Being a student of yoga and life, imagine your thoughts being written on a chalkboard. Grab that square eraser and wipe the slate clean. Let the mind write what comes and you observe what is written, then erase again. Sooner or later, the mind will tire of this task of writing on the board.

It is much easier to talk freely than having to write it down. Notice what happens when you change roles with the mind simply by making it do the work and you erase it. The attitude of being the observer and letting whatever sensations arise be a source of learning makes it a much richer practice.

B is for breathing. There are various breathing techniques out there that achieve different results. To stay with my KISS philosophy, it is best to master "ocean breath". A great analogy for this type of breathing is that you sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Focus on inhaling in a slow, steady pace and equally on the exhale. In yoga, a great way to remember to focus on breathing is what you are doing in your moves. When you are starting a move that opens your chest or has you reaching up, you inhale to receive. When you are going into a move that closes the chest or moves your body downward, exhale to give back what you took. It is a beautiful flow of give and take.

Great breathing feeds your body and mind what it needs to function at its best. We all know what it feels like when you do not eat enough and you start to feel weak because of the drop in sugar levels. Consider filling your lungs with air as critical as filling your belly. This may sound like a silly statement; however, there are a lot of people who have forgotten the power of breathing. Your belly should rise and fall when you breathe.

 Let's go back before we were kids and we were babies. If you notice, babies' bellies rise and fall when they breathe. Perhaps that is where the saying, "sleep like a baby" came from...for that rhythmic and deep breathing is very calming and imperative for the entire body to get what it needs. If you check this link on breathing, it will give you a very explicit explanation of what goes on with our most basic function...breathing.

C is for calmness. You will notice that if you practice A and B, you will ignite C. So to integrate a little mathematics in our basics of yoga...A + B = C! As you erase the thoughts of deadlines and goals to get to a certain level by a certain time, you relieve that internalized pressure. When you consciously breathe in with the attitude of nourishing the body, you induce physical and mental calmness. There is a lot of strength in being calmer.

We all know what happens when we're stressing to get something done by a certain time. This state of panic and worry usually impairs our better judgement and the ultimate results of the task. As you re-learn what it is like to feel calm without utilizing external sources, it permeates into every cell of your body. As your cellular structure gets the oxygen and positive chemicals ignited from the mindset that all is well, they function better.

It may seem extreme to take the practice of yoga to the cellular level; however, your cells are the foundation of what you are physically comprised of. Give the cells what they need and they will happily return the favor. Deprive them of what they need and they will do what they can, but will eventually weaken and surrender.

Now when you get on your mat to practice yoga, remember your ABC's. Have the attitude of a beginner, breathe with purpose, and let the calming effects flow through you. Explore new ways of doing poses and reaching new edges. Take some time to learn more about yoga's history or the anatomical benefits it has on you. It is fun to learn; especially when it is what truly intrigues you and there are no tests to pass.

Knowledge is great; however, don't forget the core foundation of what got seeing new horizons. By allowing your roots grow deeper in solid ground, you just might find that you can lean just a little bit further than you ever expected. Remember your ABC's and the rest will fall into place...
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