Month: June 2019

Where attention goes, energy flows

Officially the first month of summer, June sees us rolling towards more daylight and warmth, and subsequently more time outdoors, a reconnection to nature, and a reconciliation with our environment. If you’ve spent the past few months hiding indoors and stuck in your head, for your June intentions try stepping outside more often (in between showers!), and engaging with the world around you.

A long time ago, June and July were collectively named Liða (pronounced lee-thuh), Old English for ‘calm’ or ‘mild’. With longer hours of daylight, more opportunity to linger in the sunset, coupled with perhaps the opportunity to retreat on a much anticipated holiday, it seems these months were indeed made for down time. The thing is, even when you’re away, it can be difficult to take a holiday from your own head, which is why this month, our collective mantra or sankalpa should perhaps be; “I direct my attention towards what matters. I make peace with what I cannot change”.


Our attention could be thought of as a light – our own personal ray of sunshine – so what we shine it upon tends to grow and flourish the most. Where focus goes, energy flows. Where our thoughts are directed hugely impacts how we feel in every sense. Perhaps pause for one moment and think about the three most prominent things you’ve been focussing on recently. Do they bring meaning to your life? Do they enhance your physical and mental health? Do they contribute to healthy and balanced relationships? If the answer is no, then it might be time to shine your light in a different direction. Your ‘light’ is your energy and your spark – it’s important to look after it.


Author Paul Dolan – who describes happiness as “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time” in his book Happiness By Design –also notes that it’s not the overall ‘snapshot’ of our lives that we should look at when reflecting upon happiness, but the ‘film’ of our everyday moments. The little things make up the big thing called life. Our every moment makes our every day. Every day combines to make a year, every year soon becomes the story of who we are.


As a practical exercise for your June, try writing down three things in your life you absolutely cannot control, and make a pact with yourself not to dwell upon them for more than ten seconds. If you can contribute to changing it in any way, do what you can and then let go of the outcome. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita; “Be intent on action, not on the fruits of action”.


 When we realise that the things we have no business with are really none of our business, we find more freedom to focus on our own dealings. When our light is no longer scattered and deflected in all directions, we’re able to really illuminate what matters most. So maybe this month, as the sun in the sky shines a little brighter on all of us, we could practice shining our own light on what really matters and contributes to a happy, calmer and fulfilled life. We could practice focussing not on the snapshot of life, but on the film of those everyday present moments. Where attention goes, energy flows.

A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years. -Swami Sivananda

If we breathe automatically and hardly think about it during the day, why is breath emphasized so much during a yoga class? And how is it even possible to breathe incorrectly?

These questions are common among beginner yogis, and they’re worth discussing! Awareness of breath, as well as synchronizing breath to movement, is an integral part of  yoga and what makes it so much more than an exercise routine.

Mechanically speaking, the act of breathing can be either automatic (an unconscious, involuntary behavior) or deliberate (a conscious, voluntary behavior). By making an automatic behavior deliberate, we begin to affect our neurological programming through a state of intentional awareness. This conscious breathing affects us biologically, emotionally and physically. And now for the science!


During most of the day when we’re breathing unconsciously, our breath is controlled by the medulla oblongata (the primitive part of the brain). When we switch to conscious breathing, it stimulates the cerebral cortex (the more evolved areas of the brain). It’s in that moment that the magic starts to happen! Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on our emotions, which leads us into the next benefit of intentional breath.


When you begin to tune into your breath like this, emotional stress and random thoughts vanish. Your whole system gets a break. Your body’s energy begins flowing freely, disrupting any emotional and physical blockages and freeing your body and mind. This results in that “feel good” effect you experience after a yoga practice.


In our physical yoga practice, the breath works side-by-side with our structural alignment. Our natural tendency is to hold our breath or use stress-induced breathing (short and shallow) while holding a posture, especially in a challenging pose. This creates stress and tension in the body. That’s why you always hear yoga teachers reminding students to continue breathing intentionally during the toughest poses and sequences.

Still not convinced about the power of the breath? Try taking deep breaths for the next 30 seconds. You will realize the calming effect deep, controlled breathing has on your nerves, stress, and muscle fatigue. Even the one you hadn’t realized. Pranayama yoga makes you habitual of breathing deeply, and being in control of your breath. As a result, gradually, you become and then remain more aware, calm, and relaxed at all times. So, shoulders back, head up….and breathe!