returning to the breath

There’s a lesson taught in every yoga class I’ve ever sat in: focus on the breath, inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth, and clear your mind. It’s really hard to do. But what I like about it is this: every instructor I’ve had will say, just as your mind begins to drift, that it’s okay to lose your focus. It’s okay to get lost. Because the practice isn’t just about staying with the breath – it’s about coming back to it. It’s about knowing your center, acknowledging your imperfections, but always taking back your control and returning to the breath. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to start over. Everyone else is doing it, too.

How true these sentiments are in our world today. We’re supposed to be mindful, to eat healthy, to not drink too much, to not get distracted by social media, to not get down on ourselves, to always strive higher, to make everyone happy – and while we might succeed for a vast period of time, it’s inevitable that we’ll reach a moment in which we fail. Even if we find ourselves in the midst of a good streak, there will be a day that we’re not our best. There will be a day that our emotions get the best of us, that we eat an entire pizza by ourselves, that we snap at someone we love. But what matters most is not that we’ve messed up or let ourselves go. What matters most is that we get back on track, that we reset, that we forgive ourselves, apologize, and start again. We return to the breath because it’s okay to not be perfect. So long as we can recognize that it is entirely possible to still be “good” again.

I say all this because, especially on a format such as this one, it’s easy to say we’ve changed. To say we’ve had an insurmountable shift in our perceptions. To say we’ve created a new habit. To say we’ll stop saying, “I hate my belly,” or “I’m too quiet to be loved by anyone”. It feels good to make that grand proclamation, because saying it makes it feel real.

But just like starting a yoga practice, it’s not easy to get things going all at once. We’re trying to focus on the breath, but also on keeping our abdominal muscles contracted, on holding our back straight, maintaining a centered gaze, one foot straight, the other at a 45 degree angle towards the side of the mat. Just like it takes time and practice to get our mind-body-soul coordination, it takes even more effort and training to change our habits and the way we think, whether it’s based on past trauma or deeply-rooted insecurities. But no matter how determined we are, if we’re constantly trying to improve our diet, exercise, clothing, finances, home, relationships, jobs, and hobbies all at once, we WILL slip up in one way or another. It’s inevitable.

So this is when we return to the breath. This is when we grow, when we learn to re-center, when we acknowledge what’s taking us off track and learn how to get back on time and time again.

I know you’ve seen them on your social feeds – those people who talk a big game about ALWAYS eating healthy or ALWAYS working out or ALWAYS meditating every morning and evening…..but I’m sure most of them have had a slip-up, even if they won’t admit it. Also, keep in mind, that’s their job – to SELL you on their perfection.

But what’s more real to me is admitting failure….and not many people talk about that. They’ll write a how-to book on finding simplicity, finding peace and self-love, washing their face, or getting their weight on track. But very rarely will they say, “Yeah, sometimes I still fall back into those old patterns, but it’s okay, because I’m human”. No, most often they’ll cultivate their Instagram with uplifting quotes and perfect filters. They’ll have us believe that they figured it all out, that they never missed a beat (or a breath, for that matter). And that can’t be the case. I mean, I highly doubt it is.

Last week, I shared a post about loving yourself and taking pictures to celebrate that. But what I forgot to say is that I don’t feel that way every day. I was falling into the trap of selling you this girl who has it all figured out. But heck, even as I hit ‘Publish’ on that very post, I was still hyper-aware of the 1,039 steps on my Fitbit and the nagging fullness of my stomach. I didn’t feel like the girl in those photos. But I knew, for my own sanity, that I needed to push through all that and get that message out there. I needed to remember those good feelings before I let darker moods take hold of the words I typed on this laptop. I needed to return to the breath.

So I did. I shared the post, I made plan a plan to hike with friends, hit my step count goal, and didn’t feel bad about the dinner we ate out afterwards. I returned to the breath. And then a few days later, when my boyfriend took a full-length photo of me out at the lake, I picked it apart piece by piece. But eventually I came back to the breath and found some acceptance once again.

It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we believe we’re not living up to the standards we (or society) have set. We begin to think we’re not improving fast enough, or consistently enough. But for every step forward, we must acknowledge that it’s okay when there’s another one going backwards. So long as we keep returning to the breath, we’ll find a way to get ahead. Eventually it will become easier to overcome those negative thoughts that have a way of getting in our head. Eventually our healthier habits will stick. We’ll have good days and bad days, but maybe the bad days won’t last as long. Maybe the breath will return even quicker.

But even if it doesn’t, just remember. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to feel the need to bring yourself back to center over and over again. Just don’t give up. Keep believing in yourself. Keep breathing. Slow and steady wins the race.

Namaste, Wild Women.