July 22, 2011

Just Breathe.

Photo: Gradwells

I wish I could be a morning yogi.

It just doesn’t seem to happen. Every couple of weeks I resolve to get up and on the mat first thing. But the alarm goes off, my body feels tight and another half hour sounds good to me! Besides, wouldn’t I just spend the whole practice thinking about breakfast?

So the afternoon comes around, and to the mat I go—usually for a home practice alternating between Ashtanga and a Vinyasa flow. I unroll my mat, stand at the top, inhale my arms up, and off I go…  But then it begins. The citta vritti: the mind chatter of self-doubt, lethargy, fear and worry. Suddenly the practice I’ve looked forward to seems to loom over me, and I wonder how in the world I will get through it. Do I want to move through the poses quickly? Do I want a gentle practice? And then, inevitably, eating disordered thoughts appear, encouraging me to make this yoga practice into a calorie torching workout. Or perhaps I should have just gone for a run instead. Faster is better after all, right?

Many poses stand before me: some simple, some advanced — all equally feared. Simple postures are accompanied by increasingly louder mind chatter, filling the space that lack of a physical challenge leaves open. Meanwhile, advanced postures bring on the fear of failure.  Will I fall?  Will I be flexible enough? Will I ever get there?

But where is “there?”  And where am I going so fast?

Photo: pikimota


The breath is where these thoughts, the citti vritti, dissolve. As the thoughts — eager to be heard — make themselves louder, my breath responds, becoming deeper, more powerful. The breath fills the space of mind chatter. I still allow these thoughts to pass by, but instead of becoming absorbed in them, I simply notice them and move on. At times I tell the thoughts I will deal with them later, but later often never comes. The yoga has done my thoughts.


The breath is often not the first thing we learn in the yoga classes of today, taught in athletic clubs and personal training studios. However, the breath is the key to yoga. Learn it and embrace it. A wise teacher once said to me that without the breath, yoga is simply gymnastics. This resonates deeply with me and acts as a guide both on and off the mat, for without our breath we cease to be.


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