While yoga has long been a form of great relaxation and a fitness tool for many, the body, mind, and spirit approach has other implications for the busy brains of students. For me, there are three yoga teachings that help me with my studies: breathing, focusing, and tackling challenges.
1. Breathe: Take control of body and mood
At the beginning of each yoga class, breathing is always the first step to prepare for the rest of the practice. We are often instructed to put one hand on our chest to feel it rise and fall, and the other on our abdomen to feel it expand and collapse. But why do I need to be taught how to breathe or when to breathe? Am I not doing it all the time already, automatically? The yoga teacher says: the yogic breath builds upon diaphragmatic breath and it is mindful and conscious. It is different than the normal breath which largely depends on different situations.
When stressful situations hit, the breath can become shallower and quicker, and is often held back. In contrast, yogic breath is a continuous full inhalation and exhalation cycle, regardless of exertion, or the rise and fall of any thoughts. It is like listening to the sound of ocean waves crashing against the seashore: it simply makes me forget everything else, and transforms me from the fight or flight mode into a state of peace and tranquillity. It’s a simple but profound truth: if you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace. This teaching is especially helpful for students before an exam or a presentation when anxiety often sets in. It really helps you gain control of your anxious mood through the adjustment of physical breathing.
2. Quiet your mind: Focus on Now
When I started yoga, I asked a yogi friend: you look sacred when you’re meditating, but exactly what is going through your mind? She shrugged her shoulders saying “nothing.” This is a very interesting concept; it’s totally the opposite of what life has conditioned me to do.
We live in a world where everything is designed to grab our attention: world news, media, all kinds of buzz feeds . . . the list goes on! I have a hard enough time focusing on anything. How can I focus on nothing? But not until I meditated more did I realize it’s not solely about thinking about nothing. It’s more about disengaging thoughts of the past or future because neither of them really exist. The only thing we have is the present moment. It’s a sharp focus on the pureness of being right here, right now. A still, present mind is like the calm, undisturbed surface of a lake, which allows true reflection and clarity. Focusing on the present moment not only helps students to be more efficient in their studies, but can also help relieve their anxieties about past performance or future stressors.
3. Relax: Perception is the only challenge
When I practise yoga, the teacher constantly asks us to challenge our boundaries—physically and emotionally—with compassion and ease. I remember I was doing the “dancer’s pose.” I was struggling so hard to stay in the pose, when the teacher said, “Now relax into the pose.” And I simply fell out of it. She asked us to simply observe the challenging sensation, to notice how the muscles start to fire more vigorously, and how our minds move from the breath to the physical challenge. Within that observation, one can gently pull the attention back to the breath and keep breathing. It’s so unbelievable to just “observe” the challenge without reacting, as if my legs were not my own. With more practice, I gradually got it: the challenging situation itself is not the real challenge, but rather the perception of that challenge. By separating myself from the situation, and consciously adopting a relaxed, mindful attitude, I can not only bear with the challenge, but I’m actually able to complete it with great ease.
I am very thankful for signing up for my first yoga class three years ago. Yoga teachings are not only relevant for fitness purposes, but for me, on and off the mat, they have become a practical way of life.