The practice of yoga is meant to calm both the body and the mind. With slow movements and a focus on breath, we learn to quiet the mind and focus on the present moment. Most often, we need to be calm enough to handle the stresses of daily life, regret over past actions, and worries about the future. It is easier than it sounds to think only of the present moment. Our minds wander quickly, and thoughts tend to “snowball” toward worst case scenarios. When our minds are in an anxious state and we forget about the present, we may notice our breath quickens and our heart beats faster. Whatever we are doing in the present is quickly forgotten.
To counter this snowball effect and to become calm and develop awareness, we must learn to be in the present. This starts with a focus on the breath. Yoga posturing is a physical practice of the body’s core and limbs, which work alongside the breath. In a Vinyasa style class, as students move from one position to the next, the yoga instructor will note whether to breathe in or out, for example: “breathe in, upward-facing dog, breathe out, downward-facing dog,” and so on. Breathing in this way with each posture allows the body to flow easier and gentler through the positions. This method is especially valuable for beginners who may feel that some of the movements are difficult to master at first. Adding the breath makes each position flow into the next and provides a fluidity that could not be achieved otherwise.
Additionally, controlled breathing helps practitioners to be present while they practice flowing through the postures (asanas). When you are thinking about breathing in and breathing out, you cannot also think about the fight you had with your sister last week or the yard work that needs to get done. The practice of yogic breathing teaches our students to be mindful. Being mindful means simply observing what is happening in the present moment; not trying to escape it by thinking of the past or future and not criticizing it, but simply observing it.
Here’s an Easy Way to Explain it to Your Students
We think too much as humans, and our minds need a rest from our racing thoughts, so as you breathe in and then out and move from upward-facing dog into downward-facing dog, for example, think to yourself: “I am breathing in, upward-facing dog, I am breathing out, downward-facing dog.” These are not random thoughts, but observations of the present moment. You are being present. You are being mindful. You are in the here and now, aware of others practicing alongside you, aware of the instructor’s voice, aware of the feel of the mat beneath you, your muscles as they stretch into position.
Remember, thinking about other moments in time is not bad. We must be able to learn from the past and plan for the future; but we must not forget the most important time: the present.
The Yogic Concept: I Am
The concept of “I am” is meant to help those who are participating in an activity designed to develop the mind’s focus, in order to participate in meditation successfully. It is essential that anyone who is interested in pursuing yoga understand that the practice will not be as fulfilling, unless the mind is trained.
The “I am” concept is designed to help the student better focus on the self. More importantly, it is vital that the only sense of focus be in the moment, rather than allowing the mind to race from one thought to the next. In order for yogic methodology to work well within the human body, as well as the mind, it is imperative that the student learn how to successfully deal with the stresses that normally occur throughout daily life. Otherwise, it would be virtually impossible to focus on the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s teachings (The Yoga Sutras).
Students who are practicing yoga must be able to focus on the body and control the thoughts of the mind while they are engaged in yogic practices. It is essential to control the breath and steady the mind long enough to allow one to reach a state of self-realization. Otherwise the student is merely going through the motions without any real concept of the deeper meaning of practicing yoga. In order to maximize the benefits that can come from its practice, students alike must make a conscious effort to remain focused in their thoughts.
In its purest form, yoga is a meditative exercise involving mind, body, and spirit. It combines the most effective elements of its many methods to help students develop physically, emotionally, spiritually. and mentally. Many practitioners find that they are able to develop spiritually as a result of learning the “I am” concept and practicing it on a regular basis. The ability to center one’s mind and focus only on the here and now is one of the most important things that anyone can do to improve his or her overall health. In addition, a great deal of insight can be gained regarding an individual’s ability to excel in life, even in the face of challenges.
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