When I’m teaching a class, I try to remind my students to keep coming back to two things: breath and body. Whether I tell them to engage or relax a muscle or focus on each and every inhalation and exhalation, what I’m trying to do is center them into their experience of what’s happening right now. In that way, centering is another word for presence. As humans we can get so caught up in memories of the past or anxiety for the future that we forget to stay present in the here and now.
The practice of yoga can be such a beautiful reminder that if we want to center our mind, we have to be with our bodies and breath in each moment.
Though there are 8 limbs of yoga we can incorporate into our lives through daily practice, movement and breath are two “spokes on the wheel” that can be really transformative in centering our minds. As Maria Carrico, from Yoga Journal states, “These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature”. Basically, these “guiding lights” help to streamline us towards a more centered, calm state of being.
In our Western world, when people hear the word “yoga”, an image of people moving their bodies into particular shapes arises. Some might also think of deep breathing. These are the two limbs, asana and pranayama, that are extremely helpful in being able to center the mind.
Asana, or postures, are the shapes our bodies make in order to strengthen our vessels. But asana goes far beyond just making shapes with our bodies. When we come into a posture, we are embodying movement and energy while creating space in a physical way. And in creating space through our physical selves, we also begin to create space in our minds and hearts as well. And surely there’s no way we can talk about staying present and creating space within our bodies without also talking about the breath.
Awareness of breath through asana and/or meditation is essential. You might even argue that centering the mind really only needs to come from focusing on the breath. Whether that’s true for you or not, it’s a pretty important (vital!) component of the practice. Just taking a few deep breaths in and out if you’re in a stressful, anxiety-provoking or anger-inducing situation can really transform how you feel and help you to take a step back to assess what’s really happening. After taking some deep breaths, you might be better able to focus on the present moment and act from a centered state rather than a frazzled, emotional one. Next time you’re feeling stressed or upset, try it out!
I’ve noticed a huge difference in my life and relationships when I’m consistently practicing how to center my mind through yoga (breath and body). It has really helped in situations where I’m feeling anxious or fearful. By practicing consistently, I feel that the resilience builds up and I’m able to center my mind (almost) effortlessly. What are your thoughts? Have you noticed that by practicing yoga, it’s easier for you to center your mind? I’d love to hear from you!
Taylor White, RYT500
Wilmington Yoga Assistant Instructor