"Yoga can be practiced off the mat, too," my instructor said with an inhale, resting the sole of her foot on her inner thigh and pressing her hands toward the sky as she exhaled into Tree Pose. "If you really want to practice patience, choose to wait in the longest line at the supermarket." I snickered at the absurdity of such an idea, remembering my experience just a few days prior at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Breath is the bane of our existence, yet as Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Many people are alive but don't touch the miracle of being alive." It wasn't until my hips were pressed toward the ceiling in Downward Dog that I exhaled and remembered the power of the breath, the miracle of being alive.
I pushed through the boisterous crowd in a long-winded attempt to find my friend who claimed to be standing right on Fifth Ave, yet had blended into a crowd of identical black jackets. I held my breath as I shimmied through the mob, seeming to get further away from my destination with each step forward. After a stranger's elbow stabbed my lower back and a young boy pounced on my toes, I shot a text message to my friend expressing how I wanted nothing more than to jet in the opposite direction. Why did I voluntarily stick myself in this tourist trap? More importantly, why did I move to New York City again?
I'm ashamed to admit that I failed to acknowledge this universal symbol of holiday joy, a site thousands of people flew over oceans to admire because I was holding my breath, waiting for this experience to be over. I didn't appreciate how fortunate I was to have such attractions only blocks away from my apartment or even how lucky I was to be alive for another magical Christmas season. When I got home that night and began to recount the day's events, I struggled to recall an experience in which I hadn't been mentally present -- as I folded into the crowd in a tizzy of discomfort, my consciousness and self-awareness melted away with my breath.
On the day before Christmas Eve, I stared out the window on the train running away from Manhattan along the Hudson River. I fled from the bustle of tourists toting present-filled bags in Grand Central and began my weeklong holiday vacation with an attempt at mindfulness. I vowed to slow down, be more in tune with my emotions, and find serenity through my breath. I flipped the switch to the left on my iPhone, disconnecting my work email for the first time ever like a doctor cutting an umbilical cord. I sunk deeper into my seat, bubbles rising from the pit of my stomach as I envisioned the hundreds of emails piling up in my inbox. I fought every judgmental thought about my anxiety and let my breath take over, returning home to the present.
As I reflect upon my mindfulness exercise over the past month, the most difficult part has been the attempt to acknowledge every thought as it flutters through my mind without passing judgment and replacing it with long, drawn out breaths. When your jaw starts to clench as you scroll through your ex-boyfriend's Facebook photos from the weekend, just breathe. Next time you find yourself standing in the longest line at Fairway, your shoulder blades freezing at your earlobes, remind yourself that this too shall pass with each new breath. You're here now and that's all that matters.