Breathe to Be Free

Sometimes, my mind is a terrible place to be.

Yesterday, I spent most of my brain power thinking about one thing. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. For hours. Even while I was doing other things, it kept creeping back in. I was trapped in my own head by my own thoughts.

I didn’t want to be thinking about it because thinking wasn’t going to do me any good. I was thinking about something out of my control, which is fruitless, and which I’m usually pretty good at not doing. Usually.

But, as is the way of things, the harder I tried not to think about it, the more the thoughts took root in my brain.

Don’t think of pink elephants.


It wasn’t until I went to yoga that I was able to free myself from this thought process. Allow me to explain.

Yoga is all about breath. In some ways, the breath is the most difficult part. Sure, the poses are hard, but trying to keep your mind focused on the moment — rather than on the thousands of worries waiting for you outside the studio — is another challenge altogether. While sweat is pouring down your face, and your muscles are burning gloriously, and your mind is darting from one thing to the next, maintaining that inhale… exhale… is really freaking hard.

But that’s the point.

Yoga teaches us how to be calm when we’re uncomfortable. It’s an invaluable skill, particularly when not doing yoga.

And so it was only when I started to focus on the breath that I was able to break free from my mental captors.

If you’re focusing on the breath, you’re in the moment. The breath is what’s happening right now. If you focus on the inhale… and exhale… you’re not worrying about what happened today, yesterday, what’s going to happen tomorrow or when you leave the studio, even if it’s just for a moment.

And that’s comforting. Because if you really focus on the breath — the way the air feels as it gets pulled in through your nose and fills up your lungs, and the way it feels as it leaves the body, taking with it everything you don’t need — you are reminded you’re alive. And that’s a very good thing.

My thoughts come back, of course. But rather than fight them, I merely observe them. I don’t try to force them out. I watch and let them pass by while I breathe.

Sometimes it takes a lot of breathing.

When the mind is loud and crowded, it can be a terrible place to be. But if we learn to quiet it, and empty from it all unnecessary thoughts, our sense of calm can be reclaimed.

Inhale… and exhale.

And practice.

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