As a client stepped foot in the gym yesterday, I felt his energy before a word was spoken between us. Unlike his typical timely arrival, he was running a few minutes behind and carrying the weight of the day in his body and mind. His posture and facial expression radiated a sense of stress and worry. We started the workout and I noticed his frustration build as he had difficulty completing basic movement patterns correctly, an easy task for him on any other day. His A-type personality would not allow these mistakes and I saw him getting frustrated for being frustrated.
“My boss pissed me off, today’s been a mess and only getting worse and now I don’t have enough time for my full workout!” he mumbled as he lackadaisically moved through the warm-up. I knew I needed to say something, do something to bring him back to center.
The last seven weeks of my yoga teacher-training program kicked in almost as if on autopilot. I instructed him to come to balasana (child’s pose) on a mat. In this resting posture of yoga intended to reconnect an individual with their breath, I walked him through breathing and calming exercises for the next few minutes. The words flowed from my heart and a part of my brain was in shock at how naturally prepared I felt for this moment.
Reminding him to focus solely on breath, he began to take increasingly longer inhales and exhales. I encouraged him to release any thoughts that did not serve him at that moment and simply dedicate the next hour to himself and the workout. I felt a sense of ease arrive as he relaxed deeper into his posture through my guided meditation. Moments later, the shift in energy was incredible. When he stood up, the transformation was visible in his smile and relaxed, confident posture. He looked at me in awe, unsure of what had just happened.
“I’m not sure what happened just there, but whatever it was… was amazing,” he noted. What I didn’t tell him at that moment is that I wasn’t quite sure what had occurred either. I don’t mean to say I have no memory of the experience whatsoever, but I cannot recall the words that I used through the meditation. The words were coming from a genuine, caring place that truly wanted to lift the stress of his day away and bring him to peace.
He finished the workout at a record pace with intensity and focus. He thanked me for the time and departed, smiling with a slight sense of astonishment. He still couldn’t believe the power and intent he was able to cultivate through breathing. The text he sent later in the evening is pictured above.
A simple breathing exercise that can be used on or off the mat to calm the mind, lower the heart rate and circulate highly oxygenated blood is what we call Ujjayi breathing in our yoga practice. In a comfortable posture with eyes closed and lips sealed, inhale and exhale through the nose. With each inhale focus only on the breath and audible oceanic sound created. With each exhale relax the body and find stillness. Unwanted thoughts will arrive; acknowledge them and return back to the intention. After 10 progressively longer inhale/exhales, slowly reawaken the body and take note of how different you may feel.
If you have never taken control of your breath for a specific purpose or intent, you are missing out on the single most incredible, innate gift you have been given. Our breath is our life force. Pranayama, the ability to guide breath with intention, has served those who practice it for thousands of years. Releasing non-serving thoughts or energy, meditation, or simply a way to press the reset button, the process always begins with the breath. Control the breath and you control the mind.
-Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow-
Mike Sherbakov, CSCS, CPT, RYT