Yoga as a Way of Life for Self Care and Self Knowledge
Let’s begin with a simple breath meditation.
Please begin by sitting comfortably with an upright spine, relax your shoulders and settle both feet evenly on the Earth. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your abdomen, close your eyes and begin to feel each breath at the nostrils. Thoughts will appear but allow each one to pass by with your next exhale. Resist judging your self and just breathe. Feel the sensations under the palm of your hands; the easy rise and fall of expansion and contraction, with each breath. Rest your hands in your lap with palm atop palm and continue to practice for as long as you feel comfortable and when you have finished, take a moment to observe your body and mind.
This simple breath meditation is Yoga and it enabled the natural processes of your nervous system to respond by easing any sensations of reactivity that may have existed in your body and mind at the start of your practice.
The ancient tradition of Yoga, first practiced in the form of meditation, used the breath as the gateway to meditative states and now, two thousand years later, scientific research continues to unearth their healing qualities.
We are living in exceptional times of uncertainty and fear where the call to care for ourselves has never been more insistent. We may easily be swept away by the energy of the daily news cycle and the intense distractions of social media, where so much attention rests upon the pandemic so that we feel depleted, anxious and overwhelmed. While we cannot control the larger external forces at work in our world, we are nevertheless innately gifted to manage and care for ourselves to optimise the health of our bodies and minds both on and off our yoga mat. It is through the practice of yoga that our self-regulating capacities for our emotions is revealed. Self-care and self-knowledge begin with noticing our breath.
Our breathing patterns are an outward symbol of our conscious and unconscious mind conducted miraculously in our body by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The way we breathe from moment to moment signifies our state of mind and determines how we engage with the external world. We are probably most familiar with the sympathetic nervous system that readily defaults into a state of ‘flight, fright or freeze’ especially in challenging times.
We notice our breathing comes from the upper chest in shorter, sharper breath cycles. This part of our nervous system is responsible for action like responding to emergency situations, physical exercise and triggering heightened states of emotion like fear or anger. On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as ‘rest and digest’, operates without our conscious awareness and is characterised by steady, calm breathing originating from the diaphragm. It reflects a calm, easeful non-reactive state of mind. Breath and meditation practices activate our parasympathetic nervous system and is the self-regulating system within us that if we are sufficiently conscious, is always available, just one breath away.
Equipped with knowledge about our nervous system and breathing exposes a landscape to cultivate our inherent skills so that we may more easily flow with the external forces beyond our control with mental clarity and physical well-being.
By Suzie Hoile, body flow yoga student, community member and philosophy and yoga teacher