I like to live in my thoughts. Sometimes I’d rather stay there than drop into my present reality. Often, these thoughts are introspective and growing. But other times my thoughts spiral into a cave of pandering what-if scenarios. This is where anxiety creeps in.
In order to stay focused on what is here and now, I practice yoga. It’s a spiritual discipline that allows me to drop the noise of the outside world and focus on what is right in front of me. When I take time to cultivate a daily practice, I am generally a more pleasant human.
Practicing yoga teaches me to lengthen the space between stimulus and response. If a posture feels uncomfortable or difficult, I harness the power of my breath and stay in it longer than my nervous system thinks I can. This practice of staying— choosing to breathe instead of react— is where my grit is refined.
My personal practice of yoga is a very spiritual one. It’s the place where I’m able to reunite the fragmented pieces of myself into the whole being God created me to be. Moving on my mat gives me time to reflect on the power and mystery of my body. Listening to my breath brings me into a posture of worship and thanks.
Yoga is largely understood as a set of movements linked with breath. However, the postures are only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Holistically, yoga is an entire system of physical and moral disciplines. This complex practice can feel intimidating to embark on. As an instructor and regular practitioner, I think starting at home is a great first step. Here are my tips for starting your own yoga journey
As a toddler mom, I know this one can be difficult. But creating a space free of clutter and distraction is really important. I point my mat towards the big windows in my office so I can see the sun and trees. The only thing in front of me is creation. Alternatively, when I am not able to practice in this space, I make sure I move any clutter or mess behind me. This act of creating a distraction-free space sets me up for success to be fully present.
Assess what you need in this moment. Has your day been full of noise? Perhaps sitting in silence or with soothing ocean sounds would serve you best. Do you need a bit of truth or grounding? Turn on your favorite worship playlist or recall a meaningful passage of scripture. Sit on your mat in a way that feels comfortable. Then, settle in.
Start With The Breath.
Breath is the life-force that sustains us, and it has the power to relieve anxiety and stress. Spending 5 minutes breathing deeply and fully can calm the nervous system, even in the middle of extreme anxiety. Practice inhaling and exhaling for the same amount of time, counting as you do so. Try to lengthen the depth and duration of each inhale and exhale. This teaches us to use the full capacity of our lungs, and gives us a single point to focus on.
As you sit still, perhaps for the first time in a long time, it is common for anxious thoughts or feelings to creep up. Let whatever comes to mind come up, but don’t give it attention. Meaning, feel what your body is prompting you to feel, and then focus back on your breath. Whatever your mind wants you to think about will still be waiting for you when you are through.
Explore The Movement.
I like to use the word “explore,” when it comes to movement. It gives me freedom to adapt postures according to how they feel in my body. The same posture might feel wonderful one day and terrible the next. This part of the practice is where we learn to accept ourselves as we are. We do not arrive on our yoga mat with judgement or expectation of how our body and mind should be. We get to show up and be who we are, exactly as we are in the moment.
There are plenty of free online classes to guide you through the postures. However, I do believe beginners benefit greatly from a teacher-led class, where the instructor can help you adjust postures to suit your body.
If you try a class and you don’t love the style or the instructor, try again somewhere else, with someone else. I strongly believe yoga is for everyone, and if it does not feel that way for you, you have yet to find what suits you best.
Yoga has changed my life, and continues to be a grounding tool for my spiritual journey. The time I spend looking inward connects me with the heart and voice of God. And my outward movement manifests an offering of prayer and thanks.