written by Tien Langlois, Director/Instructor, Scholars Together Learning Community
I love yoga.
I love what it teaches that is waaaaaay beyond the physical stretching or conditioning. It is certainly an amazing, well thought-out workout for sure, that utilizes all of my muscles, and of course I like that. But the things that stay with me when I walk out of the yoga room are what are most dear, most practical… “listen to your thoughts, notice what is there, let the ones float away that aren’t helpful, don’t push them under the carpet to struggle with later, but let them go! …listen to your body, honor your body – don’t push it past where it is today, be gentle with it, be grateful for it…notice your breath — for heaven’s sake, breathe! Don’t hold your breath, let it flow, notice it going in and out, play with it, let it fill you up, let it out slowly, and breathe with fire sometimes, let it flow on its own at other times. Set an intention, know that there are choices and making a good one is SO helpful, visualize what you want and need for the day, see it happening. Don’t compare yourself with others, do what is right for YOU. Lie still, just be still, just BE, let the earth support you…and so much more. These instructions are with me no matter where I am, they are my teachers.
Just like the lessons in that familiar book by Jim Fulghum that says that all the important things in life are learned in kindergarten, like share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that aren’t yours, say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody, take a nap every day, etc. — so it is with yoga for me. Due to some physical injuries and time constraints, I have had to take some large chunks of time away from yoga, at least the going-to-class yoga, which I have always loved. But, in the meantime I have had the opportunity to do that “off the mat yoga” — bringing all those lessons to my daily life…and to my teaching. And it has helped me sooooo much.
I have come to notice more often how I am breathing in certain situations and to come back to that natural, calming breath much more quickly than I used to do. I recognize my thoughts more often and see that keeping them or not is a choice I make. I don’t have to violently push them away, but can notice that they are not helpful to me and can let them float away like the movement of the clouds…they are not who I am anyway. It’s sort of like just changing the radio station and tuning into what is good for me (sure, I still work on that one). I can be grateful for all that my body allows me to do, instead of being angry with it, straining it, ignoring it…that is a big one! I can honor myself and set my intention each day for what is right for ME, without worrying that I am not doing as much as someone else or with as much grace…or maybe that IS the grace.
And I can’t help but notice that when I do this with regularity, with gentleness, my students do it, too. We can talk about all these things in just this way when we do yoga and when we sit together in the mornings, being quiet and still together. Yoga is a wonderful way to address all these issues and kids really “get it.” Whether they know it or not, they use their yoga, too in the way they relate to each other. They stretch and breathe into what they do. They notice that something doesn’t work, so they try something else without being attached to it. I see that there is yoga all around and that I/we can step into it often, taking my/our place on the mental mat, that reminder to breathe and be gentle, to push just to edge, to be aware of the “edge.” And I am grateful to be finding my way once again to my actual yoga mat, in classes where others come to breathe together, to go inside and see what is there… to be okay with what is and visualize what is possible, step by step.
The following was written by Stephanie Ruopp, Scholars Together Instructor
When I first came to yoga, I encountered tremendous resistance to the concept of breath. More accurately, I struggled with the importance of breath as the foundation of the practice. It seemed so utterly simplistic. And at that time, I associated simplistic with stupidity. Breath is important? Well, duh. But it’s an involuntary thing. I learned that at school, like, a million years ago. This yoga thing is just a bunch of new age hooey. I decided to ditch it and carry on with my anxiety-plagued life.
Eventually I returned to yoga, at which point I finally recognized what the ancient yogis were teaching regarding breath; seeing it as the lifeforce – the prana – the energy that moves through me and gives me vitality. It was also at this point that I realized I had always been a chronic hyper-ventilator. When my lungs weren’t trying to handle the breathing pattern of a hamster running madly on a wheel, they were retaining short oxygen deprived breaths. Yeah, I was getting the oxygen and letting go of the carbon dioxide. But rather than making the exchange with the flawless ease of a well-crafted Rolls Royce, I was a sputtering Pinto crawling along the highway. I just hadn’t fully realized that so much of the anxiety I experienced was ultimately of my own creating. I didn’t know how to breathe.
I guess I’m running a little more like a well maintained middle aged Honda now. I understand and grasp the importance of breath, but I’m not always diligent about it. There are days when it still escapes me. And off the mat, I’ll catch myself mired in shallow breathing as I wait at a red light or worry about the balance of my bank account. The amazing thing is, when I tune back into the breath, both on and off the mat, everything changes. It brings me into the present moment. As long as I’m breathing, I’m alright. It’s the only thing I ever have – at any time in any place. I need only to come to my breath.
It’s as simple as that. And sometimes, it’s the hardest thing in the world. This is the practice. This is what I what I hope to share with my students.