My adventures with yoga began when I was about 8 years old hiding in the trees with my friends. We were spying on my mother, a yoga instructor who was meditating. I told my friends my mother was in a trance and when she responded, “no” we screamed and ran away.
Somewhere along the way the torch was passed from my mother to me as I made many trips to India, New Mexico and California to study with some of the world’s greatest Yoga Masters, Swamis and Gurus to become a Level 2 Internationally Certified Yoga and Meditation teacher (500+ hours) with advanced training in Yoga Nidra (guided meditation).
I have been a competitive elite athlete most of my life and a fitness trainer for more than 20 years including being President and CEO Agrios Mindfitness. Before I went on this “yoga journey” I had this “gut feeling” there was more to the picture than just getting everyone physically fit. As I listened to my clients tell me they were stressed out, anxious, depressed, not sleeping, not able to focus, concentrate etc., I realized there were many unanswered questions. This fueled me to want to learn more, to go deeper and explore yoga and meditation. I felt this could be another tool to offer my clients and perhaps find some answers to some of my questions as well.
While travelling to these places to learn more about yoga and meditation was an exciting new adventure it was also a very foreign experience for me. What I was about to embark on couldn’t be more opposite than what I was doing. At the beginning it was quite a struggle to go from an extremely competitive environment of speed, strength and power to sitting for hours meditating, still, quiet, slowing down my breath and heart rate, silent yoga & meditation retreats and chanting mantras with yogis in turbans, long beards, orange robes etc. In essence I went from this fast paced go go go “doing” lifestyle to just “being”. In fact, one of the yogis I met in India commented, “In North America you are so busy doing, you do this, you do that and here in India we just be”. I must admit on numerous occasions this comment has resurfaced as I question what it is that I’m really so busy doing and it kind of keeps me in check.
At first I had a great deal of difficulty sitting still for even a few minutes and on top of this the more I sat in silence and meditated the more questions I had. In fact my questions were often met with more questions and my thoughts often led to more thoughts. I actually remember thinking when I was meditating, I must be doing something wrong since isn’t the purpose of meditation to not think, clear your mind, not have more questions and go into a thoughtless state. I thought meditation was supposed to be relaxing and calming yet my mind was racing. What I didn’t realize was that my mind had always been racing, but I just wasn’t aware of it since I was so busy “doing” like the yogi from India said. Fortunately over time, my mind quieted and there were less questions, in fact sometimes no questions at all. My thoughts lessened and I was able to sit still and meditate for extended periods of time sometimes over 2 hours. I began to go into these deep states of relaxation both physically and mentally and somewhere along the way the dots started to connect.
Overtime I began to find the balance to compliment my competitive Type A athletic personality and my athletic performance also improved. As well, I was able to help my clients deal with stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression in a better and more effective way and improve their mental focus, concentration, memory etc. As a result, many of my clients went off their medications under the supervision of their physician and psychiatrists, as their new “meds” became meditation as opposed to medication.
How did I do this and get to this place? The simple answer is through meditation…breath (breathing techniques). The great thing about this is you don’t need any special equipment. All you need is you and your breath. I also learned it’s important to be still and quiet so you can listen to what your body, mind and spirit are telling you otherwise you just continue repeating the same ingrained habits and patterns over and over again and miss (override) the “true message that is being delivered”. These ingrained habits and patterns are much like a record that gets stuck in a groove. Through meditation (sadhana, daily meditation practice) you can find balance, relaxation and focus on what really is important to help you lead a healthier and happier life. Things that may have bothered you before or caused you a great deal of stress or anxiety no longer bother you to the same degree, like “water off a duck’s back” and you can be “in the eye of the hurricane”. I’ve often said you can’t control your external environment, but you can decide what you bring to your environment, how you perceive it.
MEDITATION TIP - LONG DEEP BREATHING (Yogic Breath)
Sit tall with a straight spine, chin in, chest lifted, relaxed shoulders or lie down with eyes closed. The breath is through your nostrils and you want to slow it down since simply slowing down your breath to 8 breath cycles can be calming and relaxing.
On the inhale the abdomen fills with air (relaxes and expands), then the chest expands followed by the upper ribs and clavicles lifting. The exhale happens in reverse order with the clavicles relaxing, then chest emptying followed by the abdomen pulling in and up forcing out any remaining air (navel point pulls in and up toward the spine).
Find a quiet space in the morning, afternoon or evening to practice your long deep breathing for 3-11 minutes. If your mind wanders try counting backwards from 27 to 1 (Inhale 27, Exhale 27, Inhale 26, Exhale 26 and so on) or mentally say the following mantra Sat Nam (pronounced Sut Nom…Nom sounds like mom). Inhaling Sat, Exhaling Nam.
*Check in throughout the day to see if your breathing is shallow and in your chest or expansive and in your belly. You can set your watch to go off every hour or two as a reminder to do this.
By Susan Agrios