I come from the world of "miles on the legs," "push through the burn into another one," and my personal favorite, "no one has lost a limb from it shaking." No exclamation mark needed as they are not statements made to motivate—they are a way of thinking. Then I was introduced to yoga, which is a world of this strange emotion labelled as: compassion.
The world of dance, cycling, body building, and even business are all environments I was raised around or chose to be a part of. The mindset I was developed in wasn’t of negative competitiveness, however, they wouldn’t keep score if it wasn’t about winning.
I am not here to criticize these worlds, but to recognize that they allow space for us to criticize ourselves. Yoga is a world where the only place flexibility is important is your mind, strength is shown from willpower, success is releasing the attachment to the outcome.
The question is: how do we step onto our mats with this new label called self-compassion? I don’t have all the answers, however, if you would like a simple, applicable tip, try starting with the 5-breath step.
Why FIVE Deep Breaths?
Five deep breaths is the shortest amount of time I hold any pose. I keep mentioning the word ‘deep’ because experience has shown me that as soon as someone enters a pose, one of two things happen: the breath gets held or you end up panting like a dog. This is not a step towards giving your muscles oxygen!
Dancing taught me to hold poses for 3-5 minutes and grin through it. Everyone has their own techniques to manage the burning sensations raging through your body, little did I know that my deep breathing was actually strained breathing. Allow me to explain.
Yoga has different branches and pranayama (breathing) is one limb. I was instantly attracted to the various methods of using the breath to benefit the body. I am not talking about calming yourself down or for relaxing; I am talking about understanding your body from within.
I would inhale deeply and exhale through gritted teeth or while still clinging to the breath inside my lungs. Sure, I got through my 5-minute stretches, but I didn’t need an hour and a half to get “deep enough” into my stretches. Instead of focusing on the breath as something separate, I:
- Inhale and hold the breath while I feel which muscle is tightest. Exhale and bring my awareness to engaging my core muscles through activating my pelvis.
- Inhale and focus on the band of muscles taking the most strain. Exhale and feel the breath moving through their tension.
- Inhale and feel my ribcage open SIDEWAYS and fill with air as I often find the third breath a mental barrier. Exhale expelling all the air that I could have held onto in the first three inhalations (normally pushing the air out through my mouth on this one)
- Inhale and allow my body to soften – whether I have moved deeper into the pose or not, I accept where my body is. Exhale the non-softness out.
- Inhale deeply while moving more into the pose. Exhale even further while pushing the pose to its limit for that exhalation.
This is self-awareness disguised as self-compassion as your focus shifts from what the body is doing to how the breath is making it feel. You don’t need to look like those stunning yoga photos on Instagram, but you do deserve to experience the ultimate benefit of the pose by tuning into your breath.
This simple technique and way of breathing will allow you to get deeper faster, release whatever physical or mental strain you may be experiencing, and ultimately find self-compassion in yoga.