What sets a yoga practice apart from lifting weights at the gym, or raising your heartbeat at a kickboxing class? Why, when you leave a yoga class do you feel a sense or renewal and calm that is different than the feeling you get form just a good work out? When you practice yoga, be it a restorative practice or an advanced vinyasa class, you are tying breath to movement. You are creating a dance between your physical and subtle bodies, enabling you to travel inward through the physical layer to the deeper layers, or koshas, within. Physical motion without mindfulness and breath is just exercise. There is a reason people say ‘just breathe, as slowing down your mind to the pace of the breath enables you to connect with your higher self, to find the peace within.
Did you know: that your breath can affect the inner workings of your body, including your heart, brain, digestion, immune system and more? And that your breath works like a brake for your nervous system when you face a stressful situation? By bringing your awareness to your breath, slowing it and deepening it, it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous reaction just like when you hit the brakes on your car.
Theme: Let your breath be the metronome for your body. As you move through your practice, synchronize your movements with your breath, encasing each movement within the breath, for the duration of the breath. Slow both the physical body and the mind down to the pace of the breath, letting it calm you and letting you sink deeper into the subtle body. Just breathe.
– While in a supine pose, feel the difference between breathing just down into the collarbone area (shallow), then down into the lungs (more heated/energizing) and the down into the belly (grounding). Encourage yogis to experience different types of breath throughout the practice, using the prana vayus within the asanas or incorporating a pranayama practice like nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breath.
– A slow, mindful sun or moon salutation, encasing each movement in the inhale/exhale. You can also have yogis slowly walk around the room, first carrying their center of gravity up in their chest, then seeing how it feels to bring the weight down into their feet, using a very apana breath as they walk. Grounding your center of gravity to the earth immediately grounds the rest of your being and is something you can do in an office, or really anywhere when you feel stressed.
– Keep bringing yogis back to the metronome rhythm of their breath. Remind them to encase each movement in breath and to let the duration of each movement last the duration of the breath. Using phrasing tied to breath, or the flow of tides, like ebb and flow, expansion and grounding, lift and fall. Experience poses using different breath patterns – breathing up the front of the body, the back of the body, in and out from the heart, or may up and down the side bodies.
– As yogi’s lie on their mat, prompt them to visualize the energy in the room around them, like moving, colored pixels. Have them observe the interchange of energy – full of color, light, texture, motion – as they inhale energy and exhale it back out. Let them see their physical shell as thin and permeable, their breath emanating from their being, their whole being moving gently with the breath.