Sandra Pribanic on the Wisdom of Yoga and How to Start Practicing

I found yoga in 2010 and I fell for it hard and fast. If you met me before that time and told me that I will be waking up around 5:30 am six days a week, I would have probably laughed. Fast forward to now, and I’ve been doing exactly that ever since I did my first Ashtanga Yoga class, when the overwhelming feeling of “where have you been all my life” swept me off my feet and onto the yoga mat.

It is still dark outside; I roll out the mat and begin a stiff practice at my studio.  Slowly, postures open up the space for my sleepy joints and organs, my breathing wakes up the circulation. Eventually, I’ll find myself in a difficult pose and my breath hikes up. More often than not, my mind begins to play tricks with me, and the familiar internal monologue takes me elsewhere. On good days, I find patience for myself. On good days, I quiet the judgments in my head. Sometimes I am able to catch myself, and that awareness opens up the possibility for new choices and experiences to emerge. It does not matter if I can hook a leg behind my neck, or balance in a handstand. What matters is that if I can stay with my practice, I can take that feeling into the rest of the day, stay present to myself, to the ebbs and flows of my thoughts and emotions, to the everyday needs of life, bills to be paid, to having energy and attention for my child, family, friends. Sometimes, I catch myself feeling strong and powerful. Sometimes.

A Personal Experience

There are many reasons to do yoga – for one’s physical, emotional, spiritual, mental health – to name a few.  Any practice, if done daily, will bring things up. Any practice, if done daily, has a potential to facilitate healing. Each pose (asana) can be a teacher. Yoga is not about “accumulating poses – the more I can do the better _____ (person/spiritually worthy/insert your own word) I am”. I remember seeing some more advanced practitioners, and being very self-conscious about my own limits; however, truly, it does not matter where you are at: the pose is a catalyst to take you places. Places such as inside your body, heart, and mind. David Robson often says that “(yoga) just shows you where to put your body (asana), where to look (drishti), and how to breathe”. The rest is our own story and personal journey. If we take it, we can make it ours, and it will take us beyond the body-mind barrier.

An Emotional and Physical Experience

There are parts of ourselves that we bring consciously into yoga-class; some of our stories are shared, oftentimes if related to previous or current body-injuries, some of it is not shared. Regardless, the “not-shared” is present: you might be going through a messy divorce, or changing jobs, or have lost a loved one. Many of us come to class not just in need of a physical workout, but often in some emotional pain. Our bodies “keep the score” of many experiences that we go through, both positive and difficult. Oftentimes profound stress, anxiety, or overwhelming or traumatic experiences are communicated through the body through physical ailments such as aches, pains, numbness, or agitation. Yoga directly addresses “where” such experiences are held, and relieves built-up tension, as well as to “re-establish ownership of your body and your mind – of yourself” (Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score).

When we go through difficult experiences, we might experience the carpet being “pulled from under”. That yoga class can help re-establish the feeling of groundedness, re-establish the relationship with one’s body, one’s center of gravity, and feelings of safety and being in charge in one’s life.

The Significance of Breathing

Kino MacGregor says “The real star of every yoga practice is the breath”. Besides keeping us alive, our breath is deeply connected to the movement of life-energy through the body, and a sense of wholeness and aliveness. As the breath moves, so the thoughts move, and as the mind moves so does breath. The more scattered our thoughts are, the more shallow and irregular our breath will be; the more attention we pay to slowing and deepening our breath, our thoughts will follow. This may sound deceptively simple – it is not. But the more we “rain the wild horses of the mind” and the more we find a direction we’d like the mind to go – focusing on breath and turning inward – the more of your inner landscape will become available to you. And that landscape is truly worth knowing… So our yoga and mindfulness practice can ground us, helpus find steadiness on and off the mat, find what is deeply meaningful to us, and lead us to insights into the nature of who we really are.

Finding Your Practice

Your practice is ready for you; it might be fun to try it!

  • Although practicing in a yoga studio can bring many benefits, sometimes it can feel less intimidating to try it at home. Check out different styles online or find your favourite app!
  • Find a studio where you feel welcome, where you can bring your messy, amazing, tired, not-in-the-mood-to-do-it self and where you do not need to feel like you’re “performing”
  • Let that be your time; turn off your phone
  • Class is NOT a yoga-therapy; however, things might come up while you practice. That is OK!
  • It is OK to ask questions
  • It is OK to say “no” if a pose does not feel right that day; modify and gently wonder what that pose brings up for you. Sometimes saying “no” and setting a boundary can feel very empowering
  • Physical practice is just one aspect of the journey; mindfulness, creating meaningful inner life, discipline, meditation, and other aspects are important and crucial if you’d like to enjoy the full benefits of this particular spiritual journey
  • Get curious about your own emotional flow and structure, nurture and grow your awareness about relationships (to self and others)
  • Get to know your breath, and your amazing body that is breathing without you having to do…. anything!

This article was written by Sandra Pribanic, a seasoned practitioner here at AYCT and a Registered Psychotherapist in Toronto. This post was originally found on Seek Safely’s blog, and we are lucky enough to be able to post it here!

Posted in

Melissa Singh