When I was thirty years old, it seemed as though I had it all. I was living the high life in San Francisco. My husband and I were in business together, making plenty of money. We lived in a big home in a gorgeous, upscale neighbourhood, and had a beautiful daughter, fancy cars, wonderful vacations, a very busy social life, and much respect and admiration. From the outside, we were the perfect image of a successful couple, living what most would consider a dream life.
But inside of me was a very different story.
Most days, I woke up feeling depressed and unhappy, as though there was a deep void inside. The problem was that my marriage was a difficult one and the disharmony overtook everything. On one hand, my husband and I were strong business partners running a very successful company, while on the other, our personal lives were in complete disarray. Torn between material success, marital disharmony and my deeply ingrained Indian values, I did not have the courage or conviction to make a concrete decision about my life.
I was caught in a web of confusion, with no apparent way out. So I did nothing. I waited patiently as the years rolled by, hoping that the future would bring something better. Instead, I was falling deeper and deeper into an abyss, my circumstances worsening and becoming more complex, as my responsibilities grew with the passing of each painful year.
One day, after a chain of very painful events, the inevitable happened and I hit rock bottom. I was forced to make the most difficult decision of my life. I up and left my marriage and returned to India with two young kids. My world was a complete mess. I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained, frozen with fear and panic, shattered by the circumstances in my life.
I had been dabbling with yoga asana in San Francisco, attending various classes and trying different schools. Now that I was in India, in the land of yoga and great spirituality, a thought struck me. I was determined to find a more fulfilling practice: one that went beyond the physical body, to help me find the peace and serenity I was so desperately seeking. But I couldn’t find one. Instead, I was confronted with a series of home teachers and yoga studios offering an ‘exercise program’ called yoga. Frustrated, but determined to find a solution to my distraught and disturbed mental and emotional state, I decided to seek out yoga legend BKS Iyengar. And when I did, the journey to turning my life around began.
The first several months were all about releasing stress, developing awareness and opening up my very stiff body. As my practice evolved, I began to feel much more energized, uplifted and free, and soon, I started awakening to a whole new understanding.
Want to live a happy, successful and meaningful life? Use your breath. That’s right. Breathe your way into it.
We live in a physical environment that is volatile, impermanent and uncertain. We cannot change it and thus, we must learn to live with it, while finding happiness and meaning in everything that we do.
The truth is that we experience our entire lives through our minds. If our mind is not in order, if it is not a healthy place to live, then nothing we do or achieve will ever make us happy nor give us any lasting satisfaction. The thoughts that we think affect how we feel, which in turn affect how we act. Our actions inherently determine the quality of our life experiences. So, to live a happy, successful and fulfilling life, we must carve time out daily to work on the quality of our minds by training it to focus on the breath.
Think about it. Your breath is the only aspect of you that happens in the here and now, in the present. When you learn to anchor yourself to the breath, you train the mind to stay steady, irrespective of what is happening around you or within you. You stop the mind from getting swept away into an imaginary world that is fraught with chaos, filled with negativity, judgment, fears and anxieties.
When you learn to stay present, you allow yourself to just be, accepting what is without judgment, even if you are confronted with a difficult person or situation. By staying present, you can see things the way they really are and this enables you to determine the best way forward, in a manner that supports your well-being. A chaotic mind cannot stop you.
This simple mantra allows you to focus on your breath and can change your life: Stop, Breathe, Think, Act.
No matter what you are confronted with, take a few moments to change the quality of your mind. Bring your attention to the breath like this: slowly inhale and draw the breath up from the navel, while consciously feeling each inhalation and exhalation.
As long as your mind is racing, emotions are charged and your heartbeat is fast, do nothing. Just wait and breathe, until you develop the needed clarity to act in a mindful and creative manner. You cannot change people or the situations that you are confronted with, but you can certainly change the way you respond to all of life’s circumstances. As you train your mind to focus on the breath, you will discover that something new begins to unfold, and with practice, you will become the architect of all your life experiences.
Radhika Vachani, the author of Just Breathe, is a motivational speaker, yoga and holistic wellness expert, and the Founder of Yogacara Healing Arts in Mumbai, India. A devoted student of the Iyengar School of Yoga for 15+ years, Radhika quit her successful corporate career in San Francisco to start Yogacara in 2010, after having experienced life-transforming changes with the practices of Iyengar Yoga, Ayurveda and Meditation.