Tell your mind: Just hush.

At certain points in your life, surely you’ve heard an inner voice talking to you. Who am I kidding? That voice is talking to you all the time. Am I right? It’s talking to you right now. It’s saying something like, ‘why are you wasting your time with this. You have so many other things to do. Like… oh, when can I get some fro-yo?’

And you may have noticed that the voice isn’t always kind.

It might have said things like, ‘I can’t believe they asked you to dinner,’ or ‘you’re going to wear THAT?’ or ‘well, they’re just being charitable so bow out and eat that pizza from the freezer instead.’

Maybe your voice gets straight to the point: ‘You don’t even deserve their dinner or their charity. Look at you.’

Or maybe it’s more socratic and it does that open-ended thing like your dad used to do that shuts you down immediately. ‘What are you thinking?’ Ugh.

(How’s that for a funny, almost paradoxical question? I mean, THAT is precisely what you’re thinking. Come on, mind! And also, lighten up! I’d be thinking something so much better if you didn’t ask everything with that horrible tone.)

Oh, that voice. Imagine that voice in a body. Sharing your living space. Telling you how little you’ve made of your life. You’d be looking for a new housemate. If it took you to the beach for a fun day out, then told you how crappy you look in your bathing suit the whole time? Please say you’d ditch it. Go for a nice swim. Enjoy your time alone.

Right?

But this voice, we can’t really escape it. It keeps talking. Just today, I laughed when I heard that voice suggest that the meditation I was starting wasn’t going to serve me at all. Wouldn’t it be better, it advised, if you just had a cup of coffee? ‘Oh voice,’ I had to say, ‘just hush.’

Which isn’t to say that it should always be quiet. Sometimes it has really interesting information for us. Like, turn left, avoid that pothole, pick up the wedding present and call your clients.

But sometimes, for a little bit, it would be awesome to get a little silence. So we can listen into our deeper wisdom. Which may sound bonkers to you. Or not. But here’s the deal. That voice you hear endlessly yammering is the voice of your mind. For a lot of us, it get so consistently loud that we lose track of the messages that our intuition has for us. We can’t access that deeper intelligence and power through all that ruckus. For even more of us, we’ve completely forgotten that we have a source of wisdom deeper than the mind. We just… forgot.

And that’s because the voice of the mind tends to go on and on and on. Ceaselessly. Amidst all that flibber flabber blah blah, we forget that we have any control whatsoever over its agitation. All the negativity—the fear, doubt, grief, shame, guilt—that it broadcasts can actually be turned down. We can even work to prioritize a practice that will minimize these emotions. And when we do, we can start to seek peace in our wisdom with a peaceful mind. How can we possibly expect to find calm with the help of a distracted, confused and agitated mind? We’re lost from the first step.

But we have the means and ability to quiet that voice. We can say, ‘just hush, my dear dynamic mind.’ We can ask it to settle for a bit while we explore the reservoirs of joy, intelligence and knowing that come stock in all of us.

How so? Deepening your yoga sadhana to include breathing techniques that will help you understand and shift your energy, meditation practices that will help you identify your mind’s processing patterns, mantra practice that will guide you toward focused attention, and prayer to build your trust in all that surrounds you. These are just a few elements of an integrated yoga practice. This is how yoga brings you to a place of balance. This is what it means to be in union: to master the ceaseless fluctuations of your rambling mind.

Send me a note if you’d like to chat a bit more about this. I’d love to hear from you.

The point of yoga is you.

I’ve got some rubberband hamstrings. I love to stand on one foot. Most of the time, gravity is challenged by me. And sure, I did hanumanasana in the cradle. A man once told me that he wanted a girl who slept in half pigeon. Well. I may or may not have fed that fantasy.

So it’s not surprising I do yoga. It pretty much came with the body. (A functional body for which I am grateful.)

But here’s the rub: I started doing yoga as an angsty teenager who wanted to find something greater than the world I perceived. I saw malls and bad movies and ugly fashion choices and made my commentary by scowling heavily. As in, I just didn’t have anything else to pierce to lodge another complaint against the world and its inhabitants. So I made myself look at the world differently.

Lucky for me, my crunchy-granola high school offered yoga. Unlucky for me, the teacher really liked my hanumanasana. Not in a gross way. But certainly in a way that pet my ego. I tolerated it because who doesn’t like to be pet sometimes? Plus, I was 16.

As I got older, and the brawn of my ego waxed and waned, I always knew I had hanumanasana. But I also kept hoping to see the world differently.

I meditated sporadically. Did asana with the ardor of a Sound of Music nun. And I played around with pranayama and meditating occasionally. Never enough to feel any different, if I’m honest. The only thing I was finding in yoga was a body moderately changed from adolescence. A good feat, I admit. But at 30, I suspected that my mind had stalled as well. I sometimes felt angry about my life choices. I’d become a lawyer in the middle of all that asana. I was fighting all the time for causes that would never resolve in a fight. I was sad. Sometimes, I was angry.

The truth I was missing is that yoga is a philosophy AND a practice. Or, to be more clear, understanding the philosophy is PART of the practice. And the way to understand the philosophy– in addition to studying it carefully– is to recognize that yoga offers a system for anyone to attend to their body, energy, mind, personality and heart.

The first step, I think, to appreciating this system is to gain control of your breath. When you start to regulate your own breath the deeper purpose becomes much more clear. But controlling the breath takes practice. Pattabhi Jois used to say, ‘practice, practice and all is coming.’

So how does this work? What does the breath have to do with anything?

Pranayama, or the practice of breath, is the fourth limb of the eight-branched system of yoga. It follows the guidance on personal discipline, social conduct and the method of asana. Krishnamacharya, my teacher’s teacher, said ‘Control the breath, focus your mind, and direct it into the heart. That is the meaning of spirituality.’ The breath, then, helps you bridge the divide between moving your body and the more subtle stuff. In Patanjali’s Sutras, it is sandwiched between the practice of asana, or poses, and pratyahara, the mindful taming of our senses. It’s that part of the yoga infrastructure that leads you toward the integration of your body, your personality, your intellect, your energy, your heart. But like bridges in America, we might have let it crumble a bit. Despite having to use the bridge daily.

We really should be a little more attentive to the state of these things.

To jumpstart that attention, look around for a teacher who can help you learn to regulate your breath. It really is just that simple. You can even call me, if you’d like. I promise I won’t totally freak you out.

Though I may ask you to consider your commitment to your own sadhana—your personal practice. This means reconsidering your relationship to your yoga. Not the yoga of poses and studios. The yoga of you. Are you simply doing a series of poses at the gym so your hamstrings get lengthen? Are you even aware of what you’re asking of yourselves when you hang out with your asses up in downdog? Or are you engaging with the science of a personal practice?

I hear you: Ugh. A personal practice. You mean I have to think about what I need? Or, maybe, like a student who recently complained that she didn’t like moving at the pace of her breath, you’d prefer to keep bouncing around like an acrobat for a little while longer? It’s cool. All of this stuff only works when you’re ready. As Patanjali put it: ‘Atha yoganusasanam.’ You have to get to the atha—the now. You have to be ready to perceive the now.

But when you do, you’ll be intermittently overwhelmed by the transformation that happens. Seemingly without your own effort, though, of course, you’re the one doing the work. The thing is, you’ll just be preparing yourself to breathe. Then breathing. Breathing to do the work better.

Which, I think, is the whole point of yoga. That you’re changing yourself for yourself, so you can explore the relationships you nurture—between yourself and your body, yourself and your mind, yourself and others, yourself and your higher purpose. Ultimately, the whole point of yoga, I think, is to help you love yourself. And that love—regardless of the length of your hamstrings, the shape of your downdog—is the highest and best use of your life.

So I guess what I’m saying is that the point of your yoga isn’t yoga. The point of your yoga is you.

Let your yoga grow up.

For years, I practiced Ashtanga.

With all the enthusiasm of a kid, honestly.

Intermittently, my practice may have been a touch irresponsible. I pushed myself into certain postures for no other reason than I wanted to achieve. So simple; so rambunctious. Urdva dhanurasana, with an ankle bind, is a good example from my old circus repertoire. I knew my body would eventually give into the pose because my hypermobile body does that. And my mind, well, it’s an achievement-oriented mind anyway—anxious to prove and succeed. Very little gets in the way of my mind.

If I’d been a little more thoughtful at the time—or prepared for this kind of thinking—I would have recognized that a better way, for me, would be to challenge myself to be strong enough to forego the pose. Or, let’s say, honor what might be a principled tightening of my body to strengthen the musculature around my loose-goosey ligaments. And that, honestly, might have yielded a better experience in the pose. I might have actually experienced the function of the pose, rather than appropriate the form for one silly purpose: showing off.

And I did show it off. To my teacher, to other students, to my students. I didn’t blow up balloons or throw confetti. But I always knew I could do it. Gold star for me. Woo.

Until I was injured. Whoops! I had to go through 6 months of physical therapy to fix my shoulder. I was 31. Sigh. It sucked to discover mortality.

But a little suffering is okay if it doesn’t get in your bones and sink you. And that experience, honestly, became the catapult that made me learn yoga. It made my yoga grow up.

I’d been practicing for 12 years when I hurt myself. I honestly believed that challenging poses would quiet my mind. And they probably did. Sometimes. But I hadn’t come to understand what yoga really meant for me. That the quiet mind would come with the practice of calming detrimental instincts. Like needing to achieve at the expense of my humility. Like believing I wasn’t good enough if I couldn’t achieve. Like ignoring pain.

What I realized then was that, as a teacher, if I planned to share yoga with others, I had to figure out how to be safe about it. And it’s taken me another few years (and some really good teachers—Gary Kraftsow, Juris Zinbergs, Neal Ghoshal and Vincent Bolletta, among others— to work my way through this idea. Here’s where I’ve arrived: safety means understanding the principles of yoga as a system of transition. Not a system of achievement.

My teacher Gary refers to Nathamuni’s stages of life when he describes the way yoga should change as we age.

For the first 30 years or so—what Gary calls the sunrise period—we’re growing, cultivating power, learning balance, discovering morality. Through this period, yoga should be rigorous, disciplined, designed to improve character. From this point of view, practices like Ashtanga make sense. Training the body restrains the mind. But then the body starts to change. And so does the mind.

We approach our midstage—midday—and our interests shift. We find that we’re subject to death; we want to delay it. We want to protect our health so we can nurture others. We want to protect our bodies so they carry us along a journey whose distance we start to appreciate. This is when we discover that asana alone isn’t resolving our stress or helping our diet or improving our relationships. If we’re lucky, someone suggests that we might want to refine our asana to move with our breath. We may want to work with our breath. We may start to meditate. Even if we’re not so lucky, we intuit these things and seek our way alone. We age.

By the time we reach our sunset phase, we might be well-oriented toward self-realization. Or not. But inevitably we’re going to have to turn inward. Maybe. Or, at least, we acknowledge the fact of an approaching demise (may the approach be languorous and quiet). Yoga in this phase should focus on meditation, prayer and ritual. On the ways that allow us to manage our impermanence. To resolve our karma. Arguably, this could be the most strenuous phase. Especially if we haven’t learned the discipline of asana and breath.

The thing about yoga? It’s a system. It’s so much more than asana, if we let it grow up.

Yoga offers a practice for every phase of life, for anyone breathing, for everyone willing. From asana to pranayama to meditation, prayer, ritual and conduct, it’s a comprehensive system comprised of discrete, but complementary, elements. And these elements are available at every stage for anyone looking to find them. Someone at 25 may want a more transcendent practice. Someone at 75 may want to keep up their asana. It’s all good. Yoga provides. And it transforms.

Because everything is always shifting. The way we do yoga, and teach it, should respect this by becoming as mature and wise (and generous and playful) as our natures will possibly bear.

Yoga on the inside.

Ah, re-entry. I’ll use the metaphor of that awesome Philae probe landing on a hurtling comet to announce myself back in the world: where are my harpoons?! (I would also sing for you. Like this.)

Fortunately, like the Philae, I’ve made a ‘fairly gentle landing’ and I’m curious all over again about what’s what. This old, familiar terrain is new again. And because I’m more human than machine, I get to feel out the sensations of shift even as I operate ground control. Whoop!

So what am I on about? For two weeks, I camped and learned at a phenomenon I call hippie-yoga camp. I do it twice a year with the American Viniyoga Institute’s Foundations for Yoga Therapy program. We are a strange batch of yogis. If yoga remains in anyway subversive, this form of yoga is perfectly tailored—or, maybe, purposefully left seamless—for the misfits.For two weeks, we discuss body mechanics, the physiology of the breath, yoga philosophy, sequencing skills and a bit of esoterica. The asana practice, while understood as the gateway for the west into yoga, is taken fairly lightly. We don’t pretend that perfection is possible. Not in the physical manifestation of a pose or in the emotional result. We are flawed and deteriorating bodies. Our goal is to rot gracefully, as free from our neuroses, attachments and silly limiting behaviors as possible. The time we spend cultivating this grace is what yields the grace itself.

(I won’t prattle on about how much I’d like the training to go on and on; you can snoop on my love letter yourself.)

When the two weeks end, we disperse to our worlds. The worlds where we didn’t/don’t fit so well. We try to figure out how to fit again with this insight into the things we really should leave behind.

So here are some impressions. The rocks and dips around me matter far less than my internal topography. Which is to say: what is outside me is all perception gathered by my busy, seeking mind, which, in its great hubris, has decided to identify as me. The thing is, my mind is overstepping its place.

What I am isn’t a matter of the elements around me but an inherently balanced energy within. Because my mind is so damn communicative, however, I’ve listened to it for most of my years. What a nag. Let this be a lesson to us highly verbal humans: watch the word count else others begin to believe our bullshit.

Being heard has given my mind power to say that it knows how to describe my nature better than anyone else. It says things like, ‘you should be really worried’ and ‘people probably don’t want to read this blog.’ Oh mind of mine: please hush yourself.

I write this now because I’m highly aware that the privilege of hippie-yoga camp is the access to these kinds of insights. As time distances me from the wild turkeys who accompanied me down the hill every morning, and the deer who gathered at my campsite like I was some sort of Snow White, my mind will probably regain some control. Or maybe I’ll be able to keep it at bay? Asana is a start. Pranayama is a whole other experience in silence. And the moment after I let go of controlling the breath? That’s the glimpse of quiet that I’d like to grow.

Defenses usually dismantle upon observation, just like monsters in the closet. And if the mind is offering anything to any of us, for the most part, it’s a fortress hiding the light of our true nature. With practice and letting go, these obstacles clear up.

Patanjali said, abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodha. My teacher says that it’s practice that allows the letting go. So, onward to the yoga. In all of its forms. It is the cause and effect of innate faith.

Viniyoga and me.

You may or may not know that I’m a student of Gary Kraftsow. Good guy. To be honest, despite studying his work for over a year now, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to call him my teacher until the last two weeks. I read his books, signed up for his 2-year training, spent two weeks with him in April and now, after another two weeks breathing the redwood air with him and his faculty in the Santa Cruz mountains, I’m ready. Atha yoganusasanam. Now’s the time to do some yoga.

So what happened?

Gary’s a kooky guy. Like most of my faves in this life, he’s mildly neurotic and intensely bright. Also, earnest. And flawed, but occasionally apologetic for his quirks. The combination intimidated me at first; because he doesn’t rest on pretense, interactions with him are notably sincere—with all the challenges this brings. He’s pretty funny too, which means he’ll offer up Vedic philosophy, biomechanics and mild esoterica with analogies to Tastykakes and, without awkward prurience, allusions to sex. (We’re adults. Partaking is our privilege, you know.)

But at the get-go, and fully acknowledging that I’m making a telling confession here, I was skeptical. Gary is the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, an organization dedicated to sharing a safe and healing approach to yoga based on the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya and his son, T.K.V. Desikachar. Gary makes no bones about honoring the ancient teachings passed along a long family line to Krishnamacharya while recognizing that our modern lives (and dysfunctions) require reconsidered practical application. I told you: he’s smart. And thoughtful.

But I wasn’t quite ready for him. Not at first. It took some dismantling of defenses for me to get there. And Viniyoga helped. As my body gained integrity, so did my interest in improving my relationships. Especially with myself. The best teacher is patient with a student’s reluctance. Gary told me to think, practice and wait. It was very good advice.

So while it’s the case that he teaches yet another brand of yoga, his brand deliberately explores zones other brands won’t dare approach. His brand is, actually, yoga. It’s a holistic approach to realizing the great potential of our lives. It isn’t limited to asana practice; it resolves to care more about the bodies and minds it engages than the poses and procedures it promotes. To watch bodies doing their Viniyoga may mean watching someone completing an asana practice in five poses, taking a seat in a chair and sitting still to breathe. Or, as is my current practice, it may mean I match my occasionally limitless energy with an initially strong asana practice that tapers into soothing pranayama.

It’s a foundational approach to yoga therapy: honor the body and mind by respecting the unique relationship they’ve forged. In the process, understand that this relationship will change both. The body will become stronger; the mind will catch glimpses of clarity more often. Everyone around will wonder what happened.

So why am I writing this post? Because I encourage my students to be skeptical of yoga brands. And because Viniyoga, as taught by Gary and his faculty, rises to the pinnacle of my long experience in this wacky yoga world. In other words, I’ve found a path and I hope I can share it with as much authenticity and passion as it deserves.

I write it also as a love letter, I suppose. And an invitation. Because this process is transformative—body and mind, and, dare I say, heart—and I’d like to serve anyone seeking a path toward change. At the very least, we’ll strengthen the spine and relieve tension in the neck and shoulders.

Viniyoga means that the appropriate techniques for me may not be appropriate for you. That what pains us both may have two different causes. That what works for me may require modification for you. It’s a path that gives us options depending on our abilities, conditions, perceptions, interests and limitations. We’re all looking for happiness and we’re all responsible for finding our way toward it. We should wander together, open to mutual support, but we’ll wander uniquely. We should practice together, but we may never practice the same thing.

If you care to dip your toes into a Viniyoga-style practice with me, please come along to PB Yoga & Healing Arts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 8:45, or on Wednesdays at 6pm. Or, contact me directly to schedule a private session. I look forward to working together!

 

 

Circling and circling

Every once in a while, I find my yoga practice leads me back to a place I’ve been before.

Lately, I’ve been following a sequence to balance my courage and fear. For you chakra lovers out there, it’s a manipura thing. I have a habit of hanging out in the ether and failing to find ground. Which makes it really hard to endure the ether sometimes.

See, we all have to give ground to our higher pursuits. As in, foundation. And vice versa. The earth in us has to be worked to produce fruit. At our very center, we channel the energy cultivated by our base instincts into our greater accomplishments. If we fail to feed ourselves or steer clear of danger, it’s unlikely that we’ll survive to contribute anything more than exhausted CO2 to the universe. On the other hand, if we indulge in food and fear, sex and sleep without transforming this energy into action, we can turn toxic. Or dull. Or fat.

These days, having my own little studio tests the boundaries between ambition and panic. Just when I wonder how I’ll ever endure, someone pops up looking for help and, lo, I’m the one who can. Just when I question my choices in life, I experience a profound joy with a client who is feeling a little tranformed. Choices, it seems, always come right, come what may. But that knowledge doesn’t always stop me from swinging between audacity and dismay.

So to balance my pendulum, I worked up a practice to balance myself. My checklist:

  • contend with my courage so it yields to caution;
  • honor my caution and move forward.

Simple enough. I sequenced it with help from Yoga International and a whole lot of thought about the Viniyoga I’m studying.

It initially required a damn lot of tummy work. It had a navasana built for stormy seas, some tadasana to urdva dhanurasana drop-backs and planks scattered throughout. It’s for me, not you, so don’t go plopping onto your head. To transition through my energy builders, I added dynamic chakravakasanas, vajrasanas, and shalabhasanas. Also, it begins and ends in savasana. Intentionally. To start in a place where I can find my breath. To finish in a place where I can let it go.

And then I move into a pranayama practice of nadi shodana and sama vritti. There might be more nuanced exercises I could do, but these two serve me well. Calming, balancing, even. They also served to teach me this lesson about circles.

I practiced my sequence early this morning. I had clients coming in later and wanted to feel calmly confident about my abilities and powerfully centered for their benefit. But I’d also practiced last night. And taught two classes. And seen two clients earlier in the day. In addition to meditating in the morning and going for a run.

I was settling into my sama vritti breathing after practice this morning, plumbing the depths of my lowest bandhas, actually, when my sweet monkey mind hollered at me.

‘Hey,’ it said. ‘You’re doing it again.’

‘Shut up,’ I said.

So he repeated himself. Again and again. When I was done with my breathing, when I was ready to slump, I finally listened in.

This thing I was doing? I was trying too hard.

The practice I’d just done was too much for my energy level. It was depleting me and leaving me fatigued before the day had even started.

Which, ultimately, is a good lesson. And one I’ve learned many times in my past. It’s the very lesson that this manipura thing is trying to teach me. I have to care for myself to endure.

So, silly me, and yep, I’m humbled to admit how many times a lesson must be learned before it sticks. But it’s the same for all of us. Especially these lessons that teach the mind and body to honor the presence of our true nature. At least I’ve learned enough since the last pass through this particular pattern to see my monkey mind’s suggestion as a hat tip to my nature. It means my mind is starting to understand there’s something greater than it. Greater than reckoning with fear and courage. Greater than pushing too much. We’ve glimpsed that stable soul together and know it’s watching. But it won’t watch if we don’t find ways to nourish it.

And all of this reminds me of this perfectly meme-able T.S. Eliot quote.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

On my next journey through this place, I wonder what will be new. And how my monkey mind will kick me in the ass to see it.

Breathe like you love it.

At the start of every class, I guide students through a breath awareness exercise. Natural breath. Breathe in; breath out. That kind of thing. Try it a minute.

Feels good, right?

My posture sequences are made to follow the breath so I jumpstart the process. The breath ignites the body. Animates it coherently. If I don’t offer some breath awareness at the get-go, I’m guaranteed a few students with arms waving around completely out of sync with the rhythm of their bodies as we move into asana. It’s like watching animation mishaps. Like seeing Mickey Mouse getting all pompous but his arms are on the opposite side of the screen.

So, we breathe. We take a moment to observe the nature of the breath. Sometimes there’s a hunt for the breath. The other day, a student’s eyes popped open. He asked me, ‘Where the hell did I put it? I mean, where has it been?’ He looked a little frantic. Like maybe he’d left it in the car with the windows up.

‘Breathe,’ I said.

And he did. Hunt successful.

And, like people do, he settled in. Students start to breathe and their bodies move with the breath. Subtly in some places. A bob in the head. A little nod in the knees. The movement is more pronounced in other places, especially as the breath begins to naturally deepen. The ribs expand and contract. The belly rises and falls. Up and down. In and out. Just watching all those bodies puts me at ease. They’re an ocean of waves.

During this time, I cue students to release into the ground. To feel themselves letting go so that when they start to move, they’ll do so from a place of calm. As they begin to build strength, it’ll grow on a foundation of integrity, not rigidity.

I’ve noticed that some students resist initially. They twitch. They fidget. They breathe like someone frustrated with a messy kitchen. Sharp little inhales upon seeing the chaos. Exasperated exhales, like a resignation to the task of cleaning. Resignation that this breathing is just a gate they must pass through before the asana starts.

Dear, dear impatient, breathless students. Your breathing is the heart of the process. (The heart and lungs?) It’s essential. Try not doing it while you read the remainder of this post if you don’t believe me.

Actually, don’t. Please keep breathing. Long, slow exhales. Let’s continue.

I cue the sharp breathers to pay attention to their breath. To ascribe qualities to their observations. Does this breath feel smooth and deep, like an old river flowing? Or does it feel sharp and jagged? Geologically new and unsure of its path? We note it, as a method of letting our body know how closely we’re listening. Then we let the breath move deeper. Eventually, all bodies find their rhythm. Eventually, all bodies know how to breathe themselves. We just just have to get out of their way.

Which is what leads me to this post. We don’t always have to be mindful about the simple act of breathing, but it’s a good idea to acquaint ourselves with the rhythms of the breath. You might find, when you do, that you’re breathing like someone facing imminent attack, someone who believes the call is coming from INSIDE the house. You might find that you’re breathing by lifting your shoulders up to your ears, a recruitment of body parts that should be doing other stuff. Like, not hurting, for example. Like not contributing to your overall stress.

You’ve probably heard lots from your personal trainer people and maybe your huffpo exercise gurus about anaerobic exercise. I think people just like to say it. Anaerobic. So many vowels! So smart. Well.

Anaerobic literally means without breath. And while it’s okay for short periods of exertion—even a highlight of our physiological function that’s saved us from lions and cars that don’t slow down for pedestrians—it isn’t your everyday wear. These days, we mostly use it for high intensity interval training, over durations of 30 seconds to two minutes, with the intention of building strength and endurance.

But you need to breathe. Producing energy without oxygen increases the lactic acid in your body (which might be detrimental to muscle function, over the long-term) and you won’t burn fat or, really, do much of anything positive metabolically when your body is oxygen deprived. You might build up tolerance to withstand fatigue and build some muscle. And that’s a good thing, occasionally.

But, let me ask you, aren’t you already withstanding fatigue? And, those muscles don’t have to be massive to have healthy mass. Anaerobic work has its place. But it’s a short, small place. The place that could use some expansion is aerobic. Filled with breath. So much long breath that you start to relax. Try it. This is where you’re body finds its way to a healthy metabolism, to calm responses, to healing.

Fortunately, our bodies won’t let us go without air. Unfortunately, we do a pretty damn fine job of testing this. We rush and do and push ourselves into constant connection with a world we can’t touch. We forget or don’t know that connecting to the world inside us requires this breath awareness.

In a previous post, I gave you four restorative poses to try during the high holy month of yoga. (Yoga month is a strange concept to me, but I digress.) But in honor of the intention, and if you’re curious, try this little exercise and see how it makes you feel.

Get comfortable. Maybe even come to savasana. Once you’re there, start deepening your inhales and exhales. Inhale to a slow count of four, then exhale to a slow count of five. Let your breath expand until your inhale count reaches 6 or 7. Your exhale might get to 7 or 8. Keep your exhale longer than the inhale, a practice called langhana breathing that naturally calms the nervous system. Feel how your breath simply flows. When the inhale is done, the exhale comes. When the exhale is done, the inhale arrives. Continue through 10 breaths and slowly let your breathing come back to a shorter count of 4-5. When you’re done, spend a moment just letting your breath flow normally. Feel your body breathing itself. Then get yourself up slowly and pat yourself on the back. Nice job. You’ve just cultivated a little love for your breath.