There are plenty of reasons why I practice yoga. My choice to teach, however, came from the desire to share the healing aspects and the belief that the earlier in life we learn the mind/body connection, the better. I spent my late teenage years with a paper bag close at hand. Breathing into a paper bag to stop anxiety attacks is not cool when you are in college. Fortunately, I went to school in “granola head” Boulder where meditation and pranayama (breath regulation) were all the rage. So I slipped into yoga though the backdoor. I did not even qualify it as yoga at the time. Asana (physical poses) were not mentioned, nor did I need them since I found plenty of pleasurable ways to get my heart rate up outside in the mountains. Yoga was all about calming, centering and allowing myself to slow down.
As babies, we all come out breathing fully in and out of the belly. By the age of twenty, when I was instructed to inhale and fill my belly, it felt completely awkward. At some point in childhood, my natural breath stopped flowing below the lungs. And worse, but also common, was that I was a reverse breather which means the abdomen went in on inhalation; one of the side effects of stress. Thankfully, I had a holistic doctor and just enough hippy in me to enroll in a class called SMART (Stress Management and Relaxation Technique) for actual college credits. As humiliating as breathing into a paper bag was, imagine my distrust and pessimism when I was told plugging one nostril and breathing out the other would calm the anxiety. The idea that my breath was was not just oxygen and carbon dioxide but a powerful universal energy source was difficult to fathom. I had reached the age of skepticism. Dorothea Hover-Kramer explains the difference between skeptics and cynics: “ Skeptics are persons who ask a lot of questions and evaluate results for themselves, so healthy skepticism is a good stance toward any new or unusual approach… Cynics, on the other hand, are people who deny the existence of anything they do not understand.” Skip ahead twenty five years. After successfully controlling panic disorder with meditation and pranayama, even through two hormonal pregnancies including twins, there is no skepticism surrounding the healing power of yoga. Like most people, I could make all the excuses in the world not to practice, but know the alternative is returning to prescription anxiety medications. The Alternate Nostril breath that was once ridiculously uncomfortable is as natural as brushing my teeth now – and I can tell if I forget to do either.
The body’s ability and desire to resort to a healing state at any age is amazing. The trick is to reach inward and find the method that works. Even old dogs can learn the tricks of intentional breathing and meditation if we are open and willing. But kids intuitively get it. They still know who they are. They can watch the attached Avatar video explaining the Chakra energy centers with open-minded amazement instead of cynicism. The research side of me wants to know if there is an average age when we begin to doubt the universal connection. The mother in me knows it is my job to help my kids remember who they are. As a yoga teacher, the motivational “what if” that perpetually goes though my mind is: If someone had taught me before I was twenty that learning to control the breath controls the mind, would I have had full blown “I think I’m having a heart attack” panic episodes? And if we can share this tool with our children, shouldn’t we?