Each part of yoga practice is just that, a practice. In coming to the beginning of your yoga practice, whether it is meditation, pranayama, asana... traditionally there is attention to the breath, for many reasons. Focus on the breath calms the nervous system, since a “watched breath” tends to slow and become full and deep. Where your attention goes, your awareness grows. This paying attention then allows us to tune in and notice what we are arriving with: where is there tension in the body, what does that tell us, how can we release unnecessary tense areas and perhaps the emotions connected to them, how to use breath to create space, and more. Slow deep breathing diminishes sympathetic drive and allows the parasympathetic functions to override, and thus the calming aspects begin to take effect: heart rate slows down, blood pressure drops, muscle twitch diminishes, blood volume shifts back to the internal organs, and the body cools down. Deep breathing helps to build respiratory resilience, lung capacity, and oxygenate the body more efficiently. More importantly, from a yogic perspective, using the focus on the breath at the beginning of your practice allows the mind to have a one-pointed focus, to ease the brain away from its racing and scattering habit: it is an exercise that allows you instead, to cultivate the habit of being present.
Once we are present, once we have left behind what we just came from, once we have tuned in and released the tense habits of the body, we feel lighter, spacious, collected and ready. The next step is to give our practice an “intention.” Even when this is new, we realize that placing an intention is a significant step. We say it, hear it, resolve to it while focusing our mind on it as we practice. What comes to happen is that our intention travels with us, off the mat and into our day. We have planted the seeds of the intention alongside our physical practice (the first of the five koshas), but over time and with consistent repetition, anything we practice becomes refined. Every time we practice with the particular intention in mind, we not only deepen our resolve, but the seeds of the intention that we planted in the physical body, begin to resonate with the energy body(second kosha), and over time with the emotional body(third kosha), and so forth. Our practice deepens and shifts from focusing on the technicalities, to what opens up in our life due to our practice, and how that makes us “feel.” We begin to understand ourselves better and appreciate the intricate nature of our inner-workings and the myriad of relationships in our life. Give attention to intention, and be present to how life unfolds. Enjoy your practice!
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