By Deborah Ross, Training Specialist—eRYT500 Professional-Level Yoga Teacher, TSYT - Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Teacher, CYMC - Creative Yoga & Movement for Children Teacher
In times of prolonged trauma or periods of chaos and uncertainty, the one thing I can count on is my yoga/meditation practice. And sometimes it comes down to two simple yet effective actions: Breathe in. Breathe out. This is especially poignant in a time when members of our global community have contracted COVID-19 and are struggling to draw breath. Even more so considering the recent death of George Floyd, pleading for breath in his final moments of life. Right now, this practice inspires humility, gratitude, and compassion. The daily ritual serves me today as it has for thirty years, as both anchor and launchpad.
Yoga is an equitable practice, transcending race, gender, socioeconomics, age, language, and geography. The practice is instantly accessible, easily modified and the benefits are immediate. Many of the forms are tied to body memories from infancy through toddler. Have you ever watched an infant delight in moving their body and discovering what they can do? Babies are natural yogis: full-body breathing as they sleep, grabbing onto their feet in “Happy Baby” pose, rolling over onto their tummies and pushing up into “Baby Cobra” pose to discover there’s so much more to see than the mobile over the crib, making the journey to hands-and-knees in “Table” pose to eventually gain mobility and access, pulling themselves up as they explore balance and stability, and squatting in “Frog” pose to examine blades of grass or an ant parade.
In the yogic practice of pranayama (breath mastery), the foundational technique is full-body breathing. We fill belly, ribs, and chest in 3D—deeply front to back, wide across the ribs, and the full length of the spine. We exhale and chest drops, ribs narrow, and the belly retracts gently. We invite a gradual deepening, lengthening, and equality of inhalations and exhalations. We surf the circular wave of in-and-out breath in our bodies, enjoying the familiar rhythm, as we do when we experience the ocean coming to the shore and returning to itself endlessly. Inhale. Exhale. In. Out. Full. Empty. Expand. Contract. Lengthen. Shorten. Widen. Narrow. Deep. Shallow. External. Internal. Rise. Fall.
Similarly, our natural world provides endless imagery and examples of that rhythm as well. The ever-shifting moon reminds us simultaneously of constant change and the stability of her cyclical nature. How fortunate we are to live in New Hampshire, where the seasons afford us a similar experience on a grander scale! Root, grow, wither, hibernate. Repeat. The practice of pranayama (breath mastery) invites a deep connection, not only to our internal rhythm in times of turmoil, but also, to the profoundly dependable rhythm of the natural world. The surety of these ancient rhythms is comforting and vital now.
The practice also invites us to commit to the present moment. When present, we are connected to the body, mind, and spirit. We feel whole and fully alive. Once we master this practice, it becomes second nature and the relaxation response becomes instantly accessible.
Bringing yourself fully present is easier than you might think. Take a moment right now to give it a try!
BREATHE—allow your breath flow freely in and out of your body
RELAX—invite muscles to soften, release mental tension
FEEL—attune to the physical sensations and emotions flowing through you; is your spiritual well dry or full?
WATCH—observe your experience with compassion, neither grasping what is pleasant nor pushing away what is painful
ALLOW—accept yourself and your experience exactly as it is, dropping the need to change it in any way