We live in a dualistic world, or really a multi-istic one. As a woman, you are expected to be smart, caring, creative, and dedicated at your job, with your significant other and your family, plus you are supposed to make time for yourself in order to stay healthy and sane. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you start thinking of all the aspects of your life that you are constantly juggling.
For me, this is where yoga comes in. In the west, we mostly view yoga as a physical practice and that is definitely how I got into it. But what I’ve realized in my 10+ years of practicing yoga, is that it has become more than just something I do to stay in shape, it has changed the way I view myself and the world and consequently how I interact with others.
Yoga is a mind body practice. Notice the mind comes before body: it is a practice for the mind. Yes, the route in is through movement and breath, but the practice is about creating change in our internal thinking patterns and our reactions to external stimuli.
The yoga term for these patterns and reactions is samskara, literally meaning some scars. Just as a river carves away the land to form a canyon over many years, so the thought processes flow in your mind creating a deeper rut each time you have an experience and respond in the same manner. These ruts make it even more likely you will react the same way in the future.
The good news is that samskaras can be changed. We can create dams to block old habits and begin making new ones, but it takes awareness of the pattern and continual monitoring of your breath and response triggers. Your whole being is inter-connected – body, mind, emotions and spirit. So as you create awareness in your body through yoga, you also become more aware of your mind, emotions and spirit.
Here is a quick breathing exercise that helps create awareness: Sit or lie in a comfortable position, close your eyes and start to notice your breath. Don’t change it in any way, just observe it. You will notice your breath start to get a little deeper – anytime we bring awareness to our breath, it automatically deepens. Start to count the length of your inhales and your exhales while breathing naturally. Initially, one may be longer and easier than the other; if inhaling is easier, you are more receptive, if exhaling is easier you are more giving. After a few rounds, start to even out your inhale and exhale and continue breathing equally for 2-3 minutes. Then slowly start to lengthen both the inhale and the exhale by 1-3 counts and continue with a slower breath for another couple of minutes.
Over the years, yoga, breath work and meditation have helped me heal my crumbling marriage, my low back and hip pain deemed chronic by my insurance company, and are now supporting me through my next ventures: trying to start a business and a family.
My love of yoga (I knew it was for me in my very first class), led me to begin training to teach after a year. I took my time learning all I could and finally became a Yoga Alliance registered teacher in 2005. Since then, I have become a certified yoga therapist through Loyola Marymount University’s Yoga Therapy program and will soon have my Yoga Alliance 500-hour teacher certification.
This blog will cover topics related to yoga poses and breath awareness that will help you to find the graceful warrior hidden inside you: Strength to manage the everyday stresses in your life as you gracefully create new habits and patterns that allow you to find comfort, health and hope in all areas of your life.
Gina Shelton is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher and Loyola Marymount University certified yoga therapist. She lives in Venice, CA with her husband and weimeraner puppy Fleur. You can read more about creating a healthy lifestyle on her blog thrivacious.com
By Gina Shelton