By Mary Moscarello
One of my favorite songs (I have many – in many genres – maybe that’s for another post) is by the band, Incubus. The song finds its way into my class playlists often and it is called “Drive”. The opening stanzas could not be more poetically perfect, in my opinion.
Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear
Take the wheel and steer
It’s driven me before
And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal
But lately I am beginning to find
That I should be the one behind the wheel
The lyrics speak plainly about how fear makes us passengers in our own life, rather than the drivers. There’s an honest admission that although we know it is our job to drive, walk, run, move through our own journey – the act of letting things just happen to us has a “vague, haunting mass appeal”.
How clearly this illustrates the nagging feeling we get when we are not in control. It can be appealing to move through life without being fully aware. We are bombarded with negative messaging and “waking up” to that fact can feel, well, yucky.
Applying this to the yoga practice, one can see many parallels.
A student in class last night told me she enjoys a slower paced yoga class, so that she can actually feel what’s happening – she can feel “the yoga” taking place. Yoga as a workout is definitely a thing, you will stretch, build strength and lung capacity as you practice regularly. But the mental part can often be something we leave aside. The thing that is crucial to a yoga practice is control of the mind.
B.K.S. Iyengar, author of “Light on Yoga” writes,
“A lamp does not flicker where no winds blow, so it is with the yogi, who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him.”
So how does fear get wrapped up in all of this? Our thoughts themselves can be scary. Looking within can be terrifying, especially if we are facing a challenging time in our lives. Think about being alone with your thoughts – to pause and see where your mind goes, unfettered – what do you feel when you think about doing that? For some, this is just too much to take. The mind is so noisy. So rambling. You may have heard it referred to as “the monkey mind” – where one thought just rolls into the next, with no pause or chance for reflection.
We breathe all day every day of our lives, but often without noticing it. By tapping into the sound of your own breath, you can begin to calm that monkey mind and deal with your own thoughts. Fear may arise, maybe tears, sometimes joy… but you can control them. You don’t have to be in a yoga pose or even seated in any particular position to begin this meditative practice.
Here are a few steps you can take to begin a breathing practice that will calm the mind and allow you to begin to control your thoughts.
Step 1: Get comfortable. Seated or laying down. Place one hand on your belly, one hand on your chest.
Step 2: Take a moment to just notice your breath and how your body moves in response to it. The belly will lift on your inhale and soften and lower as you breathe out. Breathe here for at least five breaths. Just the act of counting your breath will begin to have a calming effect.
Step 3: Now begin to focus on your exhale. Press the navel to the spine to fully release all the inhaled air. When you think all the air is gone, press more. You’ll be surprised to find more air in there! Breathe like this, focusing on the exhales only for five more breaths.
Step 4: Slowly breathe in, counting to five. Notice your stomach lifting, your belly moving up and away from your back. Feel your chest widen up and out to the sides.
Step 5: As you exhale, try to count to seven. Really push the navel in to empty all the air completely. Repeat inhaling for a five count and exhaling for a seven count for at least five full rounds of breath. More rounds are welcome if you are feeling up to it. Build up slowly and eventually you may be able to commit to a longer, regular breathing practice.
Done regularly, at any time of day, this breathing practice will help you feel focused, refreshed and mentally alert.