A few weeks ago, I was teaching a morning yoga class and we were practising tree pose (for non-yogis, this involves standing on one leg, bringing arms up above the head). We were all wobbling around and just could not stay still. We’d been having a lively session, experimenting with postures, chatting away, and it was proving hard to come back to calm. We were all trying too hard, so I asked everyone to go for the easiest option by putting one foot up against the other ankle, with hands on hips and to concentrate on breathing.
Once we allowed ourselves to just be, our minds began to settle. The chatter stopped and the room became silent. Suddenly we were all perfectly balanced on one foot, reaching up to the sky with our hands. Of course, we were not stiff like statues, but gently swaying, as if with a soft, warm Summer breeze. Everyone looked serene, peaceful and graceful. It was a great to watch. Tree pose is one of the best postures to ground yourself at the start of the day or whenever you feel unstable. It’s so simple yet has a profound effect which is why I love it.
And it goes to show there is no need to be tying ourselves in knots with complicated yoga postures. What’s important is the connection with our breath to become more centred and in the moment. This gives a delicious feeling of being able to step off the merry go round of day to day life for even just a few minutes. This ability to push the pause button when we need to becomes easier and eventually becomes an awareness of everything we do.
That doesn’t mean we have to become macro-biotic vegans and sit in silence for hours (although I have to admit, going on a retreat for that is on my to do list). Actually, this type of consciousness can be about enjoying things a lot more, whatever it is. So if I want to sit in front of the TV with a bag of pop corn, so be it. But I’ll make sure the programme I watch is something brilliantly funny, and the pop corn will be a just-big-enough bag of healthy-ish organic pop corn from Wholefoods rather than a huge bucket of the mass produced variety laden with additives, salt and sugar.
Equally, being balanced works when things get tough. During highly stressful work days for example – I know that bringing myself back to my breath will allow me to re-focus. It doesn’t mean there are any short cuts or substitutes for putting the hours in, but my priorities will be in order, and I know that if I don’t panic, everything will get done. Even when I’m angry or frustrated, I find I can get back to calm more quickly. Pausing, coming back to breathing settles the mind, and well, you see the pattern.
Still, the most simple tasks can be the most confounding and elusive. That definitely applies to breathing. Life will always be full of distractions which tend to make us hold our breath, which in turn brings us off kilter, but the point is we can choose to come back to equilibrium. Yesterday, at a seminar in London with the speaker and author Max Strom, I learned many ideas on how to maximise fulfillment in a modern life via yoga postures, a little Qi Gong and much more. Amongst them was a real gem he calls ‘ocean breath’. Effectively it’s breathing in and out through an open mouth deeply to expand the chest and lungs, making a gentle wave-like sound. Guess what? That soothing sound brings instant balance to mind and body.