By MARIA BOWERS
Those are the first two lines of the Yoga Sutra. It was written down 3,000 years ago, but those words created a sudden ”a-ha” moment where I realized that disturbing and distracting thoughts could be controlled. Yoga gives a method to cope with the emotional roller coaster of our mind that takes us from delight to anguish. These emotions create fear, desire and suffering, but with yoga, they become manageable because we become aware that they are only fluctuations of the mind.
We create mental chatter that gets us nowhere. Our mental and physical bodies become hostages to circling thoughts. The word “yoga” means yoke, to bring together the body, mind and spirit. The goal is to relax the body and quiet the mind by concentrating. Everyone can do this because all you have to do is think about your breathing.
When we control our breathing, we can control our emotions, as opposed to being like a puppet on a string manipulated by the pull of desires and the aversion to pain. Our minds fall into a default pattern of wanting what we don’t have and regretting getting what we have. We squander energy on the lamenting the past and dreading the future, losing the present. We do not have to be emotionally reactive and mentally distracted.
Everyone can benefit from being more active. Any movement, such as walking, makes us happier by redirecting our attention away from stressful feelings. However, unrelieved stress releases hormones such as cortical and adrenaline. These stress hormones begin an activation of the fight or flight response. The blood pressure rises and the heart beat increases. This pattern may repeat many times over a day. But each time our body and mind get excited, the first thing to change is the breath. Our breathing gets shallow and rapid. If we slow down our breathing, we can reverse or cancel the flight or fight response.
When we slow down our breathing, our mind grows calmer. It is a fact that our brains are hard-wired to focus on a single thing. If we concentrate on breathing, we are redirecting our thoughts and on our way to controlling irrational, annoying, relentless and non-productive thinking. The first step is recognizing a negative emotion, right out of the gate. These are the fluctuations of the mind–depression, anger, jealousy, cravings and on and on, we know negative emotions when they are born. They devour you from the inside out. But, when we discover, that these thoughts are created by our minds, we also know that we can deconstruct them. We focus on our breath and as we concentrate on this single task, you will happily find that your mind must release the negative feeling.
So, start with the exhale. Breathe out and pull in your belly button as you count to four – then Inhale as you expand your torso while you count to four. Repeat three times. For deeper relaxation, lengthen the exhale to a six-count and then to an eight-count. (See info box.) Just a few counted breaths can help you to regain calm.
We call a yoga class, a practice. When you practice this technique as a daily practice, it becomes a habit. You replace the negative thoughts with redirected thoughts. Counting is an easy way to focus. You can also imagine the feeling of air passing through your nostrils. You can imagine yourself surrounded by luminous light. You want to focus on the present moment and feel a sense of gratefulness for all the blessings in your life. You will know yourself to be truly blessed. When thoughts intrude upon your concentration, and thoughts will always be present, identify them as “thinking” and let them go. Maintain your calm breathing, your quiet mind and your relaxed body. That is equanimity and that is the path of the yoga practice.
Maria Bowers is a local author who concentrates her focus on the benefits of yoga. This is Bowers’ first Health and Fitness column for TheSpot518.