“Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.” ~~ Rumi
If you’ve been to one of my yoga classes, then you’ve probably heard me say that yoga is the union of the breath, the body and the mind. I say it alot, so for those of you who have been students of mine for some time, you’re probably sick of hearing me say it so much. I say it to remind you that yoga is more than just stepping on your mat and getting in a good workout or stretch. The first step in yoga is to recognize the distinct connection of the mind, body and breath. When we can do that, we bring balance that we can take to other parts of our daily lives. And when we can take our practice OFF the mat, wow! You won’t believe what an impact you’ll see to your life.
Many of you out there came to yoga because you wanted to get in a good workout, or you wanted to stretch out tight muscles. I’ve had several of you over the years come to me and tell me about the moment when you realized that the benefits of yoga went well beyond its physical advantages. Some of you have told me how it’s helped you with stress and anxiety. Some of you have told me that it’s helped you sleep better and focus on your tasks more efficiently.
There are hundreds of ways that yoga helps people, and it’s different for each one of us, depending on our individual needs. And those needs can change over the years, so the trick is to constantly be tuned in to yourself, paying attention to how your mind, body and breath react throughout each of your yoga practices.
I have definitely noticed how my practice has changed over the years. When I first began practicing in 1999, a Vinyasa or Power style of yoga was what worked for. The hard, physical work was what I needed to relieve my stress and anxiety. And since I had little time for exercise, I was able to get in my workout all at the same time. I tried more meditative styles and absolutely hated them…I had so much trouble focusing and slowing down, I’d end up more stressed after class than I was before I walked in.
These days, my practice is completely different. I still love the active work that I get from a Power or Vinyasa class. However, just over a year ago, I noticed that sometimes, I’d leave class really frustrated and even more stressed than I was when I walked in the door. I couldn’t figure out why, and that only frustrated me more.
One day, I decided to stick around after the Power Yoga class and take the Deep Stretch class. I’d just run a lot of miles the day before (I was training for a half-marathon), and my lower body felt really tight from it, so I thought the Deep Stretch class would be good to check out.
I’ll be honest. That first class, I spent the majority of the time saying REALLY bad words in my head. In this class, we were holding poses for 3 minutes each, and it felt like torture to me, since I was used to constant movement and flow. But after class, I felt SO relaxed. And for the first time in a long time, I felt more open through my hips and shoulders. And that night, I slept so soundly!
So I went back. The second time, I still said some bad words, but not as many as before. By the fourth time, I wasn’t saying any more bad words. Instead, I found myself really focusing on how my mind instantly started becoming more chaotic whenever I tapped in to a particularly tight area. And when I noticed that chaos, I would instinctively deepen my breath in an attempt to calm my mind.
I’ve learned so much about myself since I’ve changed up my practice. I’ve learned that certain situations stress me out in different ways. Depending on how I’m stressing, sometimes I need that more powerful and active style, while I need the more relaxing and meditative styles at other times. I’ve learned how to read my body, mind and breath well enough to know what style I need and when. No longer do I plan out my own personal practice. Instead, I tap in to my inner self and see what’s up — then, I figure out what it is that I need on that particular day. It really helps.
Not to say that I am wonderful and always do what I’m supposed to. I’m still working on making sure I’m honoring myself and doing what it is that I truly need to do. On the days I don’t listen to my inner Melanie (I affectionately refer to her as “Maxine”…long story as to the origin of that name), I definitely notice that I walk away more stressed, and usually very grumpy. On the days when I listen, that’s when I feel pure and utter bliss. It’s all about being present, so that I can find the balance I so desperately need and deserve.
What about you? Have you reached a point in your practice where you’ve been able to find your balance? That point where you can feel how your body, mind and breath work together to bring you peace and tranquility? Don’t worry if you’re not there yet. It takes practice. But I promise you that if you keep practicing and are patient with yourself, it’ll come. And when it does, the rewards are beyond your wildest dreams!