I walked into the yoga studio and unrolled my extra-long mat, disgusted. I was tired, I was hungry, and my rent was due. Outside, the freezing winds were bringing cold drifts of snow. I had forced myself out of my cozy apartment and down the street to my daily yoga class. The instructor began, and while my body was physically present for half moon pose, my mind was at home in front of The History Channel with a cup of coffee.
I took a deep inhale and continued to go through the motions for the next two poses. One eye on the clock; thoughts primed on what I would make for dinner. The instructor interrupted my pasta daydream. “If the mind wanders, bring it back to this space. Remember why you are practicing yoga.”
Why do I practice yoga? Good question.
I practice yoga because it helps me remember to breathe deeply and focus on the present. I live in New York City, where it’s easy to get swept up in the quick pace of the streets, the constant crush of people, the continuous assault on all five of my senses. With practice, I’ve learned to slow down and ground myself. To actually live life and not plow through it like a race.
It’s the same with running.
Why are you running? To get somewhere faster? Or do you run so you can feel the rhythm of your body, breathe fresh air into your lungs, and give your mind a much needed break?
The first step to truly being present during exercise is so simple, yet so difficult. Focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose – your stomach should inflate. Pause for two slow counts, then exhale. No matter how quickly your heart races, keep your breathing steady, and as your mind slows down, your body will follow. This will allow you to be calm, focused, and energized.
The next step is to keep your mind on what you’re doing, which should be breathing and moving your body. That’s it.
Try not to think about what you did before your run, or what you want to do after. Just focus on the breath and putting one foot in front of the other. Your mind will wander constantly at first, and possibly even for some time, but that’s ok.
Realize when your thoughts have drifted off, acknowledge it, and then bring yourself back to your breath. Think of it like training a puppy on a leash, you don’t pull and tug and scream. You gently lead your unruly friend down the correct path until the training becomes second nature.
After the instructor’s friendly reminder to focus, I let myself forget about bills and weather. I listened to my heart beat and felt my muscles gently stretch. Camel pose flowed seamlessly into rabbit pose and before I knew it, it was time to roll my mat back up and head back to my apartment. I walked out of the yoga studio and into the blizzard. I took a deep breathe. I focused. And I walked home.
Photo Credit: a4gpa on Flickr