Have you heard or read that yoga is amazing for your body and mind, but are afraid to give it a try? The first time I tried yoga I spent the entire class trying to do the same things the people around me were doing. I paid little attention to my own body, and instead spent the class evaluating the movements of others. At the end of the class the instructor had us all lie on our backs and she asked us to close our thoughts and connect with our breath. I had absolutely no idea how to turn my brain off, let alone connect with the breath in my body. It felt like the longest four minutes of my life.
With my left-brained tendency, I went home and read up on the principles of breath and movement. I came to the next class armed with my new knowledge, ready to implement phase one of relaxation training. Over time my nontraditional, left-brain approached to yoga helped me to calm and connect in a way I never thought was possible. I recognized I was not good at “clearing my mind”, so I gave myself jobs instead that involved focusing on my body instead of outside thoughts. As I moved into each pose, I would inhale through my nostrils for a count of three (eventually I was able to get up to 10). Then, I would try to hold the breath in the pose for a count of three to five. Finally, as I moved out of the pose I would exhale through my mouth making a Ha sound with a slow breath release. Eventually I learned how to exhale through my nose also, while still keeping my throat open like when I made the Ha sound with an open mouth. I became so wrapped up in the process that a few weeks into the class I found myself shocked when the instructor gently turned up the lights to signal that class was over. I had finally found a way to let go of time and judgments and just connect with the breath and movements of my body, but through a non-traditional way. The teacher praised my progress and as I walked out of class I had a little internal chuckle, as I had finally mastered my left-brained block to yoga by harnessing its need for a job. If you find yourself struggling with a meditation or yoga class, I urge you to give your brain a task so it stops worrying about everything else around you. There is truly something powerful that happens when you allow the rhythm of your breath to take over your mind.
Want to know more about the brain benefits of yoga? Check out this great blog from Women’s Health entitled “Your Brain on Yoga”.
Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD