The Surprising Lesson This Silent Yoga Class Taught Me
  • September 15, 2017
  • mindful breathing

    As my Sencha alarm tone blared at 5 am, ushering me out of bed and into yoga gear, the only thing propelling my feet forward and out the door was knowing that the feeling after Savasana would make it all worth while.

    On heavily booked-up weeks, I treasure my personal workouts and guard the time on my calendar fiercely, and I place a lot of weight on that precious time. This 6 am class was exactly that – my own time to sweat everything out and clear my head. And I’ve come to trust that a super hot, sweaty, hardcore yoga class early in the morning will give me just what I need to start the day on the right foot.

    The instructor walked into the packed room this morning and called “Supta Baddha Konasana,” signaling that class was starting. “Yes, I made it, here we go,” I told myself as I settled into the pose and waited for the music to start. Only this morning, it didn’t.

    Music is arguably the most integral part of my cathartic yoga experience, and because I protect my one-hour workout so vehemently, my immediate thought at 6:01 am was, “Shit. I got out of bed for this?”

    At this point, I had two choices: to be bitter about this unforeseen change in how I was going to start my day, or to live up to my intention of the day, which was (so pointedly, I might add) to see possibility instead of barriers.

    Thankfully, I went with the latter. The unexpected silence opened reminded me of something I desperately needed to get back to and focus on: tapping into my breath. I didn’t realize how good it would feel to work on breathing more deeply for a full hour until all other distractions were removed and I had no choice but to do so. The benefits of mindful breathing aren’t new, but I clearly needed a refresher.

    Here’s what that class helped me to remember.

    Mindful breathing calms your central nervous system.

    Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a Yoga Journal article, “There is a very direct relationship between breath rate, mood state, and autonomic nervous system state.”

    When your body starts to go into fight-or-flight mode, what’s the first thing you notice? An uptick in your heart rate and faster-paced breathing. A few deep breaths as you pay attention to the length of your inhales and exhales can reverse those effects in your body. Ultimately, it buys you some time to decide if you need to fight, run or stay and breathe.

    It can literally change how you feel in an instant.

    Quite literally, when you inhale you expand the space in your chest cavity. You have more space in your body. A bigger breath can feel like a yawn or a first-thing-in-the-morning stretch if you let it. Exhales release stale air – carbon dioxide – flushing out toxins and leave you feeling fresher.

    It’s an opportunity to practice instant forgiveness.

    Robin French spoke about instant forgiveness at aSweatLife’s last #SweatToInspire event, but practicing it doesn’t only mean easing up on criticism when you make a mistake. It means eliminating negative self-talk on a smaller scale, too.

    Conscious breathing in and out (meditating) is hard, and it’s easy to get frustrated when your mind wanders away from the task at hand.

    In this case, even after I made up my mind to really focus on my breath, there were still times that I got distracted. “You said you were going to do this and look, you’re not even trying,” I’d start to think to myself. But with no music, I actually heard myself think that so I could catch it and choose to think something different.

    It totally changed how I saw the class environment.

    Once I flipped the switch to notice the possibilities around me, I realized it wasn’t silent at all – the breath of the class was powerful, and it inspired me to join in the deep breathing and stick with it longer, too.

    I wasn’t aware just how much on autopilot I was until every other distraction was removed. Through silence I finally tuned into breath and tuned everything else out. Eventually, I forgot my initial reason for showing up (to get my butt kicked in a hard class) and 55 minutes later, that savasana was as sweet as I imagined it being, only for a totally different reason.

     

    Sitting in silence showed me what I had been too busy to see and allowed me to listen for the first time all week. If you take a minute of silence, what would you notice? What are the possibilities on the other side of your expectations?

    About Maggie Umberger

    Maggie moved to Chicago in 2014 from North Carolina, a proud Tar Heel at heart. She began her career in advertising but was equally passionate about her fitness endeavors, and ended up spending as much time instructing yoga and other types of fitness as much as in her advertising job. Now she works full-time with aSweatLife to continue to grow our community of amazing fellow fitness junkies in Chicago. And when she’s not running around with Jeana making #Sweatworking happen or instructing corporate and private yoga classes, you can find her leading bootcamp classes at ENRGi Fitness and vinyasa classes at Bare Feet Power Yoga and Yoga Six.