Yoga Teacher Combats Confinement by Creating a Space to Breathe

Yoga Teacher Combats Confinement by Creating a Space to Breathe

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Yoga and mindfulness teacher Sarah McNabb Snyder © Chantal Mistral-Bernard

I discovered yoga years ago, first coming to it as a form of exercise for a very inflexible person. It made me feel refreshed physically and mentally, but at the same time, there was something that drew me to go deeper. I trained to teach yoga in a fabulous studio outside of Washington DC, just before moving to France. Little did I know my yoga journey was just beginning.

I started teaching adult yoga classes here in Paris just over four years ago. Soon I had the opportunity to take over a kid’s yoga class. I was hesitant at first about working with this young age group and often I wasn’t sure if they were even listening! But then I saw the positive impact yoga had on my students. One day, a French teacher tracked me down to tell me about a seven-year-old who would come into her class the morning after our yoga sessions and teach the other kids the new poses and breathing techniques he’d learned. A physical education teacher was so impressed with the calmer state of young students after a yoga class that she made plans to implement yoga into the sports curriculum and began to take yoga classes herself.

During this time, yoga was gradually evolving into something more than physical exercise for me. I wanted to bring more “zen” to my life off the mat. The next step was clear: a course solely focused on developing my own mindfulness practice. The benefits were so profound that I next trained to teach mindfulness to kids, which has allowed me to reach children not interested in taking yoga classes. Realizing that physical yoga has its limitations, particularly to those with health issues or disabilities, I also sought to provide an adult yoga class that is truly available to everyone.

So I trained to teach yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep.” This entire class is done in shavasana pose – lying on your back. Students are invited to listen to a script that begins by relaxing the physical body, then moving to breathe work and visualization. It is very restorative, and a half-hour yoga nidra session can often have the benefit of a full sleep cycle.

The author demonstrates a pose in Paris. Photo © Chantal Mistral-Bernard

Finding Space Within

Now, creating a “Space to Breathe” is the primary goal for all my classes.  I try to build an energetic space where each student can find some peace in the moment, be it physically, emotionally or spiritually. A space of connection, a space of gracious presence.

Yoga is an opportunity to come as you are, meeting yourself with honesty and dignity.

It is not about achieving the perfect pose, rather becoming more connected, starting from wherever you are in life.

A practice of deepening presence and of acceptance, allowing the energy you have created to then flow into life off the mat.

Due to Covid, the tempo of my life has slowed, bringing more time for personal reflection and growth. I have been able to explore new areas of spirituality and being, which has brought greater depth and energy to my teaching. Covid and confinements have created opportunities that I might not have had otherwise. I was able to engage in training online with people all over the world. I offered Zoom classes during the first confinement, not at all sure if it would work, primarily as a community service.

Since then, I have adapted by holding short mindfulness and yoga exercises through Zoom for schools with groups of students and teachers. In addition, I have coached young people one-on-one, giving personal sessions, providing tools to help cope in these challenging times. I continue to choose to hold classes “live” – it is rare that I make videos. In my opinion, live classes are important for creating a positive energetic space and maintaining the human connection.

The author takes a moment to practice breathing techniques by the ocean.

Calming the mind and body

The following are a few exercises that I would recommend to create some “mental space” easily at home.

  1. One basic breathing exercise that is easy to do with kids is called “balloon breath.” We often breathe only engaging the lungs, not the diaphragm. Yet it is the deep, diaphragm breaths that tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, where we “rest and digest.” In our fast-paced life, and with the added anxiety of Covid, we can often remain stuck in our sympathetic nervous system, in “fight or flight” mode.  To counter this, begin by placing hands on the belly, then with each inhale, imagining that a balloon is slowly filling up, pressing against your hands, and then gently deflating on each exhale. Repeat several times, gradually lengthening each inhale and exhale.
  2. Another breathing exercise that is simple to remember is the “+2 breath.” As you inhale, count to three, then exhale, counting to five, an additional two counts on every exhale. Longer exhalations are naturally calming to body and mind.  Continue for several breaths, adjusting the length of the inhale (as needed) and always adding two counts to the exhale.
  3. For a final centering exercise in mindfulness, which is extremely helpful when stress or negative emotions threaten to overwhelm, begin by grounding attention into the lower half of the body, noticing sensations in the feet. Focus on the feet for several moments, really feeling the connection with the earth. Next, gently bring the attention to the breath, noticing the inhales and exhales, not trying to alter them, just observing. Lastly, take several moments to just be, calm and centered, existing in this space you have created. The beauty of these exercises is that they can be practiced anywhere, anytime, standing or sitting, even in the midst of a crowded metro car!
Cynthia Coutu, a certified wine expert, and the author at Yoga and Champagne event © Cynthia Coutu/Delectabulles

Connections and Community

I thrive on connecting with people, being present, creating relationships. Creating community and developing partnerships that bring women together is an important part of my purpose.  One of the most delightful collaborations I have had is with Delectabulles champagne club for women. We host sessions of yoga with a champagne tasting, as well as champagne-yoga-spa weekends and we can’t wait to get back to our sessions this summer!  Another creative partnership combines yoga and coaching. These workshops are designed to help you uncover your personal vision and purpose. These were very impactful during Covid, bringing together women from across the globe.

I look forward to connecting with the women of INSPIRELLE, creating community and growth together!

Join Sarah for a Restorative Yoga Workshop for Everybody and Every Body!

Learn to tackle tension and create inner calm through this relaxing and restorative session. Sarah will lead you through 30 minutes of gentle yoga followed by another 30 minutes of yoga nidra. Suitable for students of all levels.

When: Wednesday, May 26 @ 18:30 (CEST/Paris) via Zoom
Cost: Free for INSPIRELLE members; 5€ for non-members*

REGISTER HERE

Sarah McNabb Snyder
Sarah is an American who lives just outside of Paris. Before her move to France, her primary job title was “domestic engineer and logistics manager” for her three kids and the family’s many relocations. Since then, she has happily expanded her job description to include yoga and mindfulness for both kids and adults. Sarah is passionate about creating serene space and community. She hopes to positively impact the mental and physical health of all she comes into contact with, and believes that creating “Space to Breathe” can be an attainable lifestyle choice for all people.

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