Even though many people start practicing Yoga to stay fit or to treat physical ailments, many people new to Yoga say that their main objective is to relax and reduce stress. For years stress used to be a problem that affected mostly (I think almost exclusively) people in industrialized countries. Now stress affects an increasing number of people around the world. For instance, this year the World Health Organization released a publication aimed at raising awareness of stress at work in developing countries (PDF). It is clear that stress has physiological, emotional, cognitive and behavioral effects. How can Yoga help?
In The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar talks about the great significance of the connection between mind and breath. This connection is evident in the changes of our breath according to our state of mind, for instance, our breath becomes faster and shorter when we feel anxious, and conversely the breath is slower when we are relaxed.
During asana practice, paying attention to the breath helps us tune into the rhythms of the body so we can learn how to change them to feel better. In order to connect our Yoga practice and our everyday lives, I often suggest to students to try a simple homework to notice the relationship between the breath and how we feel. The homework takes just 4 minutes a day. Why four minutes? Because we generally tend to feel that we are too busy already to find time to add more activities to our days. However, finding 1 minute four times a day seems more than reasonable.
Here is the homework: Four times a day, take one minute to pause whatever you are doing, observe how you feel, close your eyes, breathe deeply, either lengthening the inhalation or the exhalation (without forcing the breath), finally observe how you feel and see if you find any noticeable differences between how you feel before and after the pause.
The effect of taking a one-minute pause is incredibly powerful because it shows us that we can relax just through breathing. After observing the effects of this simple practice is very easy to take as many of these pauses as many times as necessary.
Would you like to try the homework this week? Does it work for you?
Simple guided meditation with Rubén