- Are you emotionally reactive or contemplative?
- Do you approach tough times with aggression & rash decisions?
- Do you hide from your emotions by staying busy?
- Do your life choices keep biting you in the butt?
A big part of my career as a Pilates teacher is teaching people how to breathe. It's absolutely fundamental but a struggle for so many of us. If fact, the more challenging an exercise, the more people seem to hold their breath and contort their faces until they're beat red. Ironically, all that energy used to hold their breath makes the exercise that much more difficult. No matter how hard they try to "push thru" they've already jammed the breaks on fluidity and surrendered their mind-body control to automatic pilot. So momentum and force take over. And while all that effort may build up a sweat and increase your heart rate, it's completely counterproductive to gaining true strength and mobility. Instead, it only reinforces poor postural habits and dysfunctional movement patterns. By relying purely on the reflex action of your muscles rather than patiently breathing through the exercise and feeling proud of incremental progress, the ego interferes and insists you master that exercise today! No matter what it takes. Sadly, that's a self-defeating process.
I, on the other hand, am a great breather if I do say so myself. But... only when I'm moving. When I recently sat in the stillness of a meditation class, that's when I noticed just how fractured my own breathing patterns can get. Stillness makes me feel restless. Because when I'm not moving (read: being productive), I feel uncomfortable in the uncertainty of empty space. If I don't fill that space with something stillness glares back at me; making me hyper-aware of myself, my discomforts, my insecurities, and my weaknesses; including my inability to maintain a steady breathing pattern, damn it! So in the midst of that meditation class, my inner-critic berated me for my inability to breathe correctly and my thoughts drifted to visions of a perfectly executed vinyasa flow that would undoubtedly feel far more liberating and expansive than sitting on a bolster in the prison of my mind. The reality is, sitting in stillness makes me feel out of control. Which makes me feel panicky. Which leads to erratic breathing and the desire to move just for the sake of moving.
I knew there was a life lesson in these observations. Mainly that, when you stop the fluidity of your breath, you stop the flow of life. So when the going gets tough, it's far more effective to stay present in the discomfort of your emotions while making conscious choices to work through them - progressively - with breath and patience. That's far better than motoring through life on automatic pilot because, when we default to the same mindless patterns of behavior, we're destined to repeat the same pain cycles and inhibit our potential for emotional and spiritual growth. Conversely, when life seems to come to a standstill and our future seems bleak; or pure possibility feels more daunting than liberating, it's equally important to breathe through that too. It's in stillness that we get to know our true selves. Stillness is a reflective space, an honest space, a creative space. It's the perfect space to recharge with the expansiveness of a deep inhale, and a deeper exhale.
Describe a difficult life situation in which you held your breath and pushed thru on automatic pilot. What were the results? Describe a difficult situation where you chose to distract yourself by being busy rather than sitting with your emotions. What were the results?
And tell all your sista-friends!