Why I sometimes lose faith in 'yoga' & why I keep practicing anyway...
Sometimes when politics, social media, refugee crisis, and the epidemic of 60-hour-work-weeks are at the forefront of life, it can seem like yoga – with its simple breathing and moving and making sound – is superfluous at best, and damaging at worst.
I only need to open the pages of yoga magazines, or look at my instagram feed, to despair at the many ways in which the yoga industry is capitalising on human insecurities - to say nothing of feeding the myth of the perfect body. Some days I feel like throwing the whole thing out the window. AND YET….I’ve learned to untangle the practice of yoga from the yoga industry. And for good reason…
There is something about the physical and subtle practices of yoga that keep drawing me back again and again. Something about the simplicity of it, the science of the way it can recalibrate the nervous system, and the soothing rhythms of breath, movement, and sound, that genuinely replenish me. Not just conceptually, but in a visceral and vital way. I feel, more than ever, that while the world spins away in its fascinating chaos of pressures and timeframes and political dilemmas, that to pause and breathe is not necessarily an act of escapism, but rather can be an act of necessary replenishment. It's well
understood that the great thinkers and community contributors across the generations, and between cultures, have very often had some kind of contemplative practice underpinning their capacity to discern which action to take, which creative project to pursue, or which issue to advocate for. It is in choosing to step back from our routines and claim some perspective that we can re-enter our work in the world – be it parenting, a job, social justice work, community work, or a creative project – with a renewed sense of connection and care for each other and ourselves. So that we can keep showing up. And keep loving. And keep going.
So…if you despair at the state of things and are a yoga practitioner, I encourage you not to despair of yoga practice itself. And if you haven’t tried it yet - to give it a go.
Yoga, as far as I can tell (and there’s a growing body of research to back this up aside from the thousands of years of practitioners before us), is among the simplest and most reliable medicine there is for distress, fatigue, melancholy, anxiety, despair, and for disconnection with ourselves, or our capacity to care. This is why I offer the Yoga for Anxiety and Depression 8-week Course; Trauma Sensitive Yoga; Yoga Therapy 1:1, Yoga Teacher Trainings, and 1:1 Counselling Sessions that weave the principles of yoga philosophy into the therapeutic process. Because I reckon we can all benefit from this kind of medicine in one way or another.
Want to try a simple breath practice right now?
This is the practice I turn to throughout my day - whether I'm on the yoga mat or not. Whatever you're up to in your day, a few minutes of this 3-part breath practice may feel like an anchor to the present moment, and give you a chance to recalibrate before continuing on with your day with renewed clarity and a regulated nervous system.
Yogic Three-Part Breath Practice
The yogic three-part breath allows the mind to feel awake and aware, even whilst soothing the nervous system, by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. You may like to practice this breathing technique sitting tall with the spine long, or lying down with a pillow or blanket under the knees.
Instructions for practice:
1. Begin in a comfortable position that allows the spine to be long. Inhale and breathe through the nose (if comfortable) into the bottom of the lungs, so that the belly expands with the inhalation. It can help to place your right hand on the abdomen so the extension can be easily felt. You may choose to practice this first part at least three times, or until the breath is smooth and you can feel your belly rising with the inhalation and gently falling with the exhalation.
2. When you’re ready, inhale the first third of the breath into the bottom of the lungs so the abdomen expands as above, then inhale the second third of the breath into the midsection of the lungs, so that you feel the ribcage expand. Practice this breath three or more times until there is a sense of ease with the breath, and no strain.
3. The third part of the breath expands into the upper part of the lungs. As you’re ready, follow stages one and two of these instructions, and then begin to add the last third of the inhalation to the breath, so that you feel your upper chest lift a little, without strain.
4. Slowly release the breath and feel the upper chest softening, followed by the ribcage, and finally noticing the abdomen drawing gently towards the spine at the end of the exhalation.
5. You may continue to repeat this 3-part breath cycle for as long as feels beneficial and support for you. You may like to start with 3-5 minutes of focused practice.
Note: You may find it useful to visualise this breath rhythm to be like a glass of water filled up from the bottom (belly, ribs, chest). Then, as the water is emptied from the glass it pours out first from the top (the upper chest) then the middle (the ribs) and finally empties fro the bottom of the glass (the belly).
Interested in joining me to learn more practices to support mental health, everyday resilience and empowerment through yoga? Check out my bookings page for upcoming courses, or contact me to discuss 1:1 sessions in the Illawarra or on Skype.