The path toward inner stillness begins with asana work. Asanas help us reconnect with our body and start to quiet verbal chatter. They supply just the right combination of physical engagement and internal feedback to hold our attention. When our energies are collected and focused on simple posture work, the intensity of mental distractions is naturally diminished.
Postures create a subtle shift in the mind. No longer drawn from thought to thought by an unfocused chain of associations, asana sessions replace noisy thinking with the relatively silent work of stretching, strengthening, lengthening, aligning, and integrating. Like a musician completely absorbed in the sound of his music, asana work focuses the mind thoroughly, so that other levels of experience do not intrude.
Reconnecting the Body and Breath with Simple Yoga
The quieting influence of asana work is deepened when postures are linked to breathing. Lift your arms to the side and then overhead. You will probably find yourself inhaling. Bend forward even a little and most likely you’ll exhale. These and many other movements naturally coordinate with breathing. When awareness of breathing and movement are combined, distracting thoughts become less intrusive.
But some movements are too fast or too slow for a direct correspondence with breathing. For example, swing your arms forward and back to warm up the shoulder joints, and you’ll find the movement is too fast to link with breathing. Shift to very slow motion or hold postures still, and again your movements will lose their direct correspondence with the breath. Despite this, you can keep both the body and breath in awareness. Breath awareness transcends awareness of the body alone. It acts like a thread that runs through every phase of posture work, quieting the nervous system and mind.
The process of observing the breath makes us aware of the subtle differences between involuntary breathing, voluntary breathing, and non-voluntary breathing. Involuntary breathing is breathing that is generally out of our awareness. It flows automatically. Voluntary breathing is the result of conscious control. We use it to speak, to hold the breath, or to whistle. Breathing impacted by pain, emotion, and stress is sometimes called non-voluntary breathing. Simple examples include the forced breathing resulting from anger and the tense breathing often caused by stress.
Breath work leads the nervous system and mind toward silence.
Fortunately, the deep effects of stress and emotional reactivity on breathing can be quieted. When you encounter stress in your breathing you can modify it—restoring calm, even breathing. In other words, you can reduce sensations of anxiety and pain by breathing deeply and smoothly. This is how breath work leads the nervous system and mind toward silence.