We met Sheila Ewers of Johns Creek Yoga on the mat for a chat about how to find peace in 2021. You can find the studio's schedule at JohnsCreekYoga.com or by calling 770.619.1283. Here's our interview with Sheila.
SC: We are all looking forward to breathing easier in 2021. What breathing exercises can you recommend for us to do at our desk or at home?
Studies show that the breath is the most powerful tool at our disposal for down-regulating the nervous system and managing stress. In addition, the movement of the diaphragm can create a sort of internal massage for the digestive system and heart that helps to keep both working optimally. Most people use approximately 70% of their full lung capacity, and that number tends to decrease with age, illness, and lack of mobility, but we can train the body to breathe fully and properly with relative ease by taking full, conscious diaphragmatic breaths. With the spine straight and the chest upright, place a hand on your abdomen and a hand on your chest. Take a long, deep inhalation through the nostrils as you feel your abdomen swell. Then draw the breath all the way up to your collar bones. Breath out slowly and completely through the nostrils. Repeat 10 times and notice if you feel more settled and peaceful afterward.
SC: Why does yoga work for so many people as a remedy for stress?
The very definition of Yoga according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and ancient Sanskrit text, is “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” When we experience stress, the mind is overactive, projecting into the future, revisiting the past and scattering in multiple directions. Yoga helps to anchor the mind in the present moment by calling attention to what is happening right NOW. Movements in Yoga asana emphasizes awareness of sensation and breath. Breath awareness, literally noticing each inhalation and exhalation, harnesses the mind to keep it from wandering, and meditation helps us to more keenly observe the transient nature of thoughts and emotions. Over time, as we learn to be more present and awake to the moment as it unfolds, the mind becomes more settled. In addition, the deep diaphragmatic breath we practice in yoga stimulates the vagus nerve which can reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
SC: For bodies that aren't flexible or fit, can yoga offer a successful practice?
Absolutely! There are many ways to practice yoga, and it is important for beginning students and experienced practitioners alike to find what will works for their unique body and goals. Vinyasa yoga can be vigorous, building strength and stamina, but a more slower-paced-gentle practice is equally valuable. The goal of yoga is not flexibility or fitness, it is presence and equanimity, and every person can arrive at that destination no matter where they begin. Good teachers can help students adapt poses and use props to modify the practice, and practices like Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra that emphasize stillness offer enormous benefits. Even when movement isn’t possible at all, we can still breathe and meditate which may be the most important yoga practice of all.