I am often asked, 'why do you talk about the breath so much?' There's a good reason for it- Yoga is more than just exercise. In the west, we typically associate it with poses and moving around and getting fit, but it's so much more than that.
Yoga comes from the word "yoke" which means to bring together. In this case, bringing together mind and body. The "monkey mind" (an actual yoga term, FYI) runs rampant and gets distracted easily. By bringing awareness to breath, we are focusing on the here and now. Being present is perhaps one of the most difficult things to be. Being present means you aren't focused on the past or the future or any worries or anxieties you may have. Being present means you are soaking up the moment. Breath work in yoga is what keeps you anchored to the here and now. If you focus on your inhalations and exhalations, it's much harder for your mind to stray. Of course, there are other reasons for breath work in yoga, but we'll focus on this one for now.
How can you take this presence off your mat and into the world? Here are a few suggestions that come to mind:
- Next time you are eating, close your eyes with every bite. Try to taste every bit of that food and enjoy it fully.
- When someone is talking, actually listen to their words. Don't focus on what you want to say next. Don't interrupt them. Hold space and have an understanding of everything they are saying.
- When something upsets you, count to five (slowly!) before reacting. This will force you to consider the situation instead of letting yourself react naturally. This is a good exercise for breaking patterns.
- When you need to use the restroom, do it immediately. It sounds silly, but many of us ignore that urge and put it off for long periods of time.
- When you walk, try to be mindful. You can do this by feeling every muscle in your leg as you step, or by thinking "left" when the left foot steps down and "right" when the right foot steps down.
- Set a timer on your phone for every two hours, and when the timer goes off, write what you are feeling in a journal or a log. It can be a few sentences or just a word. Try to put a word to your emotions. It's much harder than you think!
If you're ready to dive deep into mindfulness, I recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass. Both books are excellent stepping stones no matter where you are in your journey.