A post by instructor Kim Neer
When practicing yoga asana (poses) in a class setting, it is certainly not to your benefit to let the wandering mind take over; the pace of the practice forces you to concentrate and listen to the teacher. But even more than listening to the teacher, in a yoga practice you must also listen to your own breath. We do this just by following the guidance of the teacher: inhale reach up, exhale forward fold, inhale rise, exhale fold. For me, there is something very soothing to break my practice down breath by breath. I don’t have to think about the poses to come, or what I’ve already done, but I can focus completely on the current moment, allow myself to fully feel the pose and the breath. It comes as a relief to me when I can take refuge in the present moment of my yoga practice, knowing that all I am is a moving, breathing body, and that that is all that matters right then.
Of course, being mindful of the breath and the present moment is much easier to do during a yoga class than it is during almost every other moment in daily life. However, it is possible to take this lesson from the mat and use it during moments of turbulence, confusion, sadness, or even boredom. When I think of all that I’ve accomplished in my life thus far, both big and small, each of those goals were reached by a series of small steps. Whenever I feel lost in something big, it’s helpful to remember that life is nothing but a series of small steps, a series of movements accompanied by the breath.
In yoga, the practice of controlling the breath is called pranayama. Prana means life force, that which fills us. Prana is not good or bad, it just is. The breath itself simply is what it is, a constant rhythm of expansion and contraction, and it will continue to flow, giving us life, whether we are conscious of it or not. The practice of pranayama is a chance to not only learn to work with the breath, but to observe it, to listen to it, and to learn from it. A few minutes of breathing practice can calm even the most distracted minds.
In my personal practice, as I am learning to follow the breath, and to experience it fully with mindfulness, I am learning more and more that what I need to do is just let things happen. Pranayama is about learning to balance between control and surrender. For me, this means when I am feeling confused and lost, I remind myself to consciously take just one step at a time, and trust that the next step will happen, as I need it to.