Saturday, February 28, 2009

Breath + Yoga + Equinimity in our Senses = Fulfilled & Happy Life

Act without any thought of results,
Open to success or failure.
This equanimity is yoga…

Bhagavad Gita (2.48)

One of life’s greatest challenges is to respond to unpredictable events in our lives with a steady mind. Whether we experience times of difficulty, smooth sailing or moments of excitement and happiness – the tool of a physical yoga practice, mindful breathing (pranayama) and meditation helps to maintain equanimity and feel detached from any results.

Stepping away from specific incidents and reflecting on the larger picture is always difficult when swept up in the emotion of the moment. However, looking at life from a larger perspective with a calm mind enables us to learn from our experiences - whether seemingly positive or negative - and use that to continue pursuing our long term goals.

We all make mistakes, experience disappointment, feel anxiety and get excited about something. We automatically try to detach ourselves from what we dislike and grip onto moments of happiness. Yet, these windows of time never last forever – whether we wish them to or not. In these varying moments of life, it is helpful to turn our attention from the external to the internal, withdrawing our senses and responding with mindfulness.

Slowing down in our busy lives is a challenge in itself. This is why we use the tools of the physical and mental yoga practice along with pranayama (mindful breathing) and meditation. Over time, these practices increase our ability to remain still in the mind, replenishing our entire nervous system.

One way to approach life with equanimity is through committing to a yoga and meditation practice, although if you do not have time for a yoga class or are not familiar with meditation, simply taking time to breathe mindfully is a wonderful way to bring your attention inside the body and mind.

When our breath is fragmented, so is our mind. Focusing on the breath allows us to go through life with purpose by responding equally to life’s unexpected twists and turns. Taking the time to breathe creates space in our lives without residue of emotions to cloud our perception of external experiences – paving the path for a life of happiness and fulfillment.

TAKE A BREATH: Try sitting up tall in your chair or lying down on an angle with pillows supporting your entire back and head and let the eyes gently close. Find length through your entire spine and take your hands onto your ribs alongside your upper abdomen. Notice your ribs expanding and the belly filling up as you inhale and the ribs drawing in and the belly naturally deflating as you exhale. Continue this for several breaths, doing your best to have each inhalation equal to each exhalation.

Next, release your hands from your body. If you are sitting in a chair fold your hands on top of one another with the palms facing up and thumbs to touch. If you are lying down, let your arms release a few inches away from your body with the palms facing up.

On each exhalation, begin to count your breath from 10 to 1, then from 1 to 10 and repeat. If your mind wanders and you lose count, acknowledge your thoughts and let them float away as you return your attention to the breath, starting from 10 again. The purpose of this pranayama exercise is to calm the breath, so let go of any expectation of counting – rather, surrender yourself to the process of calming the breath and the mind.

Once you have completed 3-20 minutes of breathing, begin to deepen the breath and slowly come back into the present moment. Remaining still, give thanks for allowing time in your day to heal yourself by connecting to the breath. Slowly open your eyes, feeling refreshed and calm – ready for life’s adventures with a steady mind and open heart.

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