Oftentimes, when I talk to my friends about trying yoga, they respond that “they’re not flexible enough” or “don’t know how to do the poses”. Their fears are valid, as many people (even myself at first) think that yoga is about contorting the body into various postures and being able to do crazy inversions. While these things do come along with the practice- for some more than others- they are not the main point of the yoga practice.
It took me a few months of practicing until I finally learned what yoga was truly about and what was actually required to be able to “do yoga” …the breath.
You see, the basis of the yoga practice is to focus on the breath, which allows you to become present and mindful: the goals of yoga. This breath then allows you to flow through and get deeper into the postures while also building strength.
When I come to my yoga mat, the first thing I do is become aware of my breath. This awareness draws my attention away from stressors in my life and what is going on off of my mat and brings my focus to my body. I become conscious of how my body is feeling and where my mind is at that moment. I don't try to change anything about where my body and mind are, but rather just continue to breath. As my breath deepens, and I begin my ujjayi breathing*, my focus turns inwards even more, and only now am I able to begin moving my body.
Without the breath, you are just doing the postures. Only once your breath is rhythmic and your focus steady are you practicing yoga. While it is simple to describe, maintaining this breath, and the calmer mind that comes with it, often becomes difficult as the flows become faster and postures become uncomfortable. Even after practicing yoga consistently for over a year, I still find that some days my breath is weaker and more difficult to control. These days, I make sure to take time to slow down, go into a resting posture, and draw my attention back to building my breath.
It is the days in which my breath is strong and my focus steady that I am most proud of my yoga practice. These are the days I walk off of my mat calm, with peace of mind, and ready to tackle whatever comes at me.
You see, everyone is capable of practicing yoga. Even if you do not take a class or own a yoga mat, I urge you to take a step back, close your eyes, and focus on your breath – you might be amazed at what you discover.
*The ujjayi breath is a deep, diaphragmatic “ocean-like” breath that is done through the nose with the mouth closed. As you breathe outwards, you constrict the glottis, which makes a hissing or wave-like noise.