I teach four yoga classes every week and they all started out as “Multi-Level Yoga.”
Well, in a few short weeks, they evolved into four drastically different classes, each one with its very own personality. One class has all beginners, people who have never heard a Sanskrit term or been in Downward Dog. They have to watch me carefully as I show them each movement and need direction in every moment. Then another has serious yogis who want to sweat profusely and deepen his or her practice, combined with newcomers. Half of the classes are full of laughter and the other two are bit more serious.
Obviously, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to name my class: “Multi-Level”. I had subconsciously created a massive challenge for myself.
But man, am I glad I did. It’s taken a little work and quite a bit of focus (and more to come), however it caused me to meet so many types of people—all ages, colors, sizes, and levels of yoga practitioners. Initially, I freaked out a little inside when I had a person completely brand new to the entire practice of yoga in the same class as someone who has been practicing for over five years.
But now, I see that a little patience, attentiveness and compassion goes a long way, to help each person go where they need to go in his or her practice. Whether it’s modifying postures, taking more advanced variations of them, or pushing back into Child’s Pose to rest for a few breaths, I find having “Multi-Levels” in one class can create a compassionate communal harmony among the group.
However, there is one exercise that all of my students can do with great ease: Breath of Joy.And everyone smiles or laughs at some point. It just never fails—at least from my yoga teaching experience so far. It is one of my all-time favorites.
In a nutshell, Breath of Joy is three inhalations and one exhalation- first inhale with arms out in front at shoulder height, second inhale with arms out to the side like wings, third inhalation with arms way up over head and one exhale with knees bending and arms sweeping back behind the body with a sigh, grunt or a scream (which hasn’t happened yet).
It is a little ridiculous and sometimes, my students (and myself included) feel a little ridiculous doing it. But it is the one practice I have in all of my “Multi-Level” classes. It may be easy and silly but it is powerful, too.
Every single person in front of me is at least a little bit happier by the completion of five to ten repetitions of Breath of Joy. It does not matter how serious, how nervous or how fearful a person may be on any given day—there is always at least a little bit of joy created inside. How do I know that? I can just tell—I have never had a student not crack a smile during Breath of Joy. To me, that is what yoga is about.
Personally, yoga has helped (and continues to help) me to find my inner joy, even when my external situations have been draining or depressing. And I am a firm believer that yoga can be a healing technique for everyone—if they let it. So, I make a conscious effort to add Breath of Joy in the middle of all of my classes- so we can let go at least for a few moments, and everyone can experience and share their own joy, despite whatever struggles they may be facing.
I’ll never forget one day in my Wednesday night class, a class full of hard-working business people who come to sweat a little and let go of stress they accumulate from work. We were in the midst of Breath of Joy, and all of a sudden, we were all hysterically laughing. No one really knew why but it didn’t matter.
We live in a fast-paced society that makes it easy to be swept up in fear and uncertainty. So, we have to keep spreading the joy.
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Editor: Tanya L. Markul