It has been five months since I began my breathing practice. Last May, I realized that I was breathing shallowly and that it was causing me a lot of problems such as anxiety, mental fogginess, tiredness, and some other problems.
May Breathes New Life Into Me
So in May, I began pausing three times a day and taking ten deep breaths.
I saw positive results from this practice immediately. In the first month, I was less anxious, and I felt stronger and more clearheaded. You can read more about that here.
I started walking and realized I could walk long distances. You can read more about that here.
I realized that that these practices helped nourish the highly sensitive part of me. You can read more about that here.
Reconnecting with my breath also helped me to reconnect with space outside and in my house as well. I got rid of my couch, and I have been doing some other cleaning projects that help create more space. I have definitely had more energy since I began my breathing practice, energy that I have used to take on these projects. You can read more about that here.
I look forward to the beautiful changes that happen every month I continue my breathing practice, and in month five, I definitely saw more such changes.
The First Gift of Breathing
The first beautiful change may seem counter-intuitive: I did not do as well with my breathing practice or with walking in month five.
But! instead of responding to these struggles with self-criticism, as I would have in the past, I responded with curiosity and compassion, and that has made a big difference.
During September, school started up again, and the beginning of the semester always feels hectic. In my busyness, I found often found myself forgetting to make time to do my breathing practice, and I noticed some returning feelings of agitation and mental fogginess.
In addition, I found myself struggling to get my walks in or to walk long distances. I felt afraid that the beautiful changes I had made in my life wouldn’t last, and I would just go back to my old habits.
But then I remembered something that I learned from practicing yoga. Yoga isn’t primarily about poses—it is more of an attitude we take up with ourselves and the world.
It is an attitude where we check in with ourselves and listen to ourselves regularly.
We notice our feelings and things in our body or mind and spirit that feel off.
When we notice these things, we do not beat ourselves up about them. Rather, we take an attitude of curiosity and compassion. For example, we might say, “That is interesting. I wonder why I am feeling this way? How can I show myself more kindness and support? How can I make a little bit of gentle progress?”
When I remembered this lesson from yoga, I decided to practice curiosity and compassion with my breathing and walking.
I realized that my new schedule made it difficult for me to continue my practices in the same exact way I had done so in the spring. I realized that this was an opportunity for learning to be flexible and adaptable, rather than despairing and critical.
I also showed myself compassion by realizing that it’s normal for good habits to get disrupted when schedules change. Often after the initial disruption, we adjust and continue to progress in a good direction.
Instead of beating myself up about forgetting my practices as I would have in the past, I did them whenever I could; I congratulated myself for my successes; I learned from my mistakes; and I thought about how I could support my practices during a new semester.
I continue to do my breathing and walking practices regularly, although not perfectly, and they help me a great deal.
In addition, as I kept checking in with myself with curiosity and compassion this month, I noticed something else: my knees were hurting.
I realized that I had been doing so much walking this summer that I hadn’t really been focusing on strengthening or stretching exercises.
The Second Gift of Breathing
And this brings me to the second gift of breathing this month: I began a regular yoga practice again.
As I mentioned, I have practiced yoga before in the past, but I have often struggled sticking to a routine. One reason for this is that I would put a lot of pressure on myself to do long, intense yoga routines so that I could build up to doing difficult poses.
I realized that this kind of pressure always stresses me out and it usually makes me avoid exercising.
This month I decided that I wanted to practice yoga the way I practice walking. When I started walking this summer, I didn’t do it because I am supposed to exercise regularly or because I wanted to maintain or lose weight. I didn’t do it to walk really far. I didn’t even particularly do it to be healthy, although I certainly care about being healthy.
I started walking because I realized that my body naturally loves to move and play, and I had not been giving it enough of these good gifts lately.
So, I started walking gently, with no expectations or clear goals other than to get outside and move and breathe deeply. When I approached walking with this playful attitude, I suddenly realized I loved walking and wanted to walk long distances.
So, when I realized my knees hurt, I decide to start a playful and gentle yoga practice. Here were my main goals:
- Don’t stress yourself out.
- Try to do poses that let all the muscles and joints of your body play (i.e. move).
- Do poses that feel comfortable and do as much as feels comfortable.
This is an old picture of me doing yoga with my hula hoop. It captures the playful spirit I have been taking towards yoga.
So, I started doing about five to ten minutes of yoga a day. Sometimes I do yoga at home. I also brought my yoga mat to work, and sometimes I do it at work.
Yoga at work before the day begins.
Once again, just like my breathing practice, I immediately saw benefits. Even from doing very simple poses like downward dog, tree pose, warrior pose, and simple twisting poses, I noticed that my knees felt much better, and I felt stronger and more capable doing basic household chores. (I am not suggesting that knee problems are always helped by yoga–they just happened to help me.)
The best surprise is that as I have done yoga, I have become a faster and stronger walker as well.
So now, I tend to alternate walking and yoga. Sometimes I do my own yoga routines, and sometimes I do video routines by one of my favorite fitness people: Ellen Barrett. She has made a series of lovely routines that are a combination of yoga, ballet, and Pilates. The are graceful and gentle and playful, but they also help me feel strong. (Below are two of my favorite Ellen Barrett videos. You can find them on Amazon.)
I’m Almost Halfway Through a Year of Breathing Beautifully
I intend to chronicle my breathing practice for a whole year, and I am almost halfway there.
When I look back on how much I have changed since May, I realize that while I have experienced wonderful physical changes, the best change is the mental one I have experienced.
I have realized that big changes come from small changes done consistently over time. I have also realized that the most powerful changes are ones rooted in curiosity, compassion, and kindness to ourselves.
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You can continue reading about my breathing adventure here:
Month Six and Seven of Beautiful Breathing
This post describes the beginning of my breathing practice:
I Practiced Deep Breathing Every Day for a Month, and Here are All the Cool Things That Happened
This blog is dedicated to healing and strengthening our spirits through kindness, compassion, and respect: this is love. It is dedicated to the belief that we can learn how to practice love and that when we do, it can transform our relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with the world. Consider following my blog—Let’s change the world for the better together.
9 thoughts on “Month Five of Beautiful Breathing: On the Magic of Curiosity and Compassion and Playfulness”
Gorgeous, Shelly. I have had a similar experience this September. On holiday in August I practised daily yoga and walking and guess what? September has been challenging! I too have aimed small, and whilst I am not managing hour-long walking or yoga sessions, I am doing much more than I was in July, or in fact for much of the last 12 months.
I think I have also internalised your message about being playful and curious with my body, because I too have been noticing how positions I take in the garden relate to yoga poses: I was crouching down to pick up pears this morning, and playing with a yoga-type squat, challenging my balance to reach out and then twist to pass the pears to Stevie. And it was fun!
I so appreciate your message about love and compassion. I attempted to share your blog post earlier today with someone who reacted in an unexpected way to the blog post I wrote today. It didn’t go so well! I found this disconcerting and worrying.
In his beautiful, calm, considered way, Stevie reassured me that you can’t always take people with you when you put forward a calm, reasoned argument. I showed myself self-love by backing away and baking instead. We enjoyed chocolate refrigerator cake in the sun with our whole family and it was blissful.
Peace, joy, love, a few minutes of yoga here and there, and keep doing what you’re doing. x
Ali: I am so sorry to hear this person responded to you the way they did! 🙁 I have had this experience before, too, in which I try to respond in a calm, reasoned way and am met with incredible hostility. That is always so confusing and painful to me. I think you responded in a perfect way. Our first duty in love is almost always protecting and nurturing ourselves, and that is what you did.
The other day I wrote on my FB page, “There are some really mean people in the world. I’ve met them. I bet you have, too. This is why it is especially important to be kind to ourselves. When we are kind to ourselves, we build up inner reserves of peace, compassion, and safety that can help develop an external force field. This doesn’t make mean people go away, but it does help us protect ourselves better.” Keep being kind to yourself as you are. It is so important.
I am looking forward to reading your recent posts soon! Thank you so much, as always, for your beautifully kind and thoughtful comments.
That is excellent advice. I am pleased that I identified quickly what was going on. There is so much emotional fallout right now; I can feel a collective pain and it’s so awful. But I am truly grateful to have the support of my partner; he has really taught me a lot about calm reason! And I am grateful for the community of people who are mirroring my emotions. The world has gone a little mad, but plenty of people have noticed!
So glad this continues to go well for you and provide amazing benefits!
Thank you so much, M.B. I am so glad i started this practice. It has helped me in ways I never expected.
Your entire post made me smile and thrilled 🙂 Breathing, walking, conscious compassion. yoga as an attitude, yoga postures as regular practice, celebration of what can be – everything exactly that I can agree and resonate with as a way of well being 🙂
I am so glad you read and liked it, P! I thought about you as I was writing the yoga section and hoped it would ring true to you.