Saturday, March 17, 2012

Breath of Joy

I teach four yoga classes every week right now, and each class is drastically different from the next. One class has all beginners, people who have never heard a Sanskrit term or been in Downward Dog. They have to watch me carefully as I show them each movement and need direction in every moment. Then another has serious yogis who want to sweat profusely and deepen his or her practice, combined with new-comers who just want to get flexible and learn basic yoga postures....You get the idea.

Honestly, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to name my class: "Multi-Level".  I had subconsciously created a big challenge for myself.

But man, am I glad to take on this challenge now. It's taken a little work and lots of focus (and more to come), but it has caused me to meet so many different types of people- all ages, colors, sizes, and levels of yoga practitioners. At first, I freaked out a little inside when I had a person completely brand new to the entire practice of yoga in the same class as someone who has been practicing for over five years. I thought, maybe I need to change the name of my class. 

Now, I see that a little patience, attentiveness and compassion goes a long way, to help each person go where they need to go that day in his or her practice. Whether it's modifying postures, taking more advanced variations of them, or pushing back into Child's Pose to rest for a few breaths, I find having "Multi-Levels" in one class can create a compassionate communal harmony among the group.

However, there is one exercise that all of my students can do: Breath of Joy. It just never fails- at least from my yoga-teaching experience so far. It is one of my all-time favorites. In a nutshell, it's three inhalations and one exhalation- first inhale with arms out in front at shoulder height, second inhale with arms out to the side like wings, third inhalation with arms way up over head and one exhale with knees bending and arms sweeping back behind the body (with a sigh). Although it sounds a little ridiculous, and sometimes, my students (and myself included) feel a little silly practicing Breath of Joy, I have found it is one of the most imperative parts of my class. 

Every single person in front of me is smiling (or laughing!) by the completion of five to ten repetitions of Breath of Joy. It does not matter how serious, how nervous or how fearful a person may be on any given day-- there is always at least a little turn up in his or her mouth. And that to me, is what yoga is all about. 

Personally, It has helped (and continues to help) me to find my inner joy, even when my external situations have been draining or depressing. And I am a firm believer that yoga can be a healing technique for everyone- if they let it.  That is why I try to add Breath of Joy into the middle of all of my classes- so we can let go at least for a few moments, and everyone can experience and share their own joy, despite whatever struggles they may be facing. 

I'll never forget one day in my Wednesday night class, a class full of hard-working business people who come to sweat a little and let go of stress they accumulate from work. We were in the midst of Breath of Joy, and all of a sudden, we were all hysterically laughing.  No one really knew why but it didn't matter. That's the only time I've lost control of myself completely while I am teaching, and boy, did that feel good. 

We live in a fast-paced society that makes it easy to be swept up in fear and uncertainty. So, we have to keep spreading the joy. 


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