A note from The Daily Downward Dog: This post originally ran on July 17, 2012. As I prepare for the Top Thrill Yoga Retreat at The Hotel Breakers this August 28-30, I pulled this out of the archives for inspiration and thought you might like to read it too!
I talk a lot in my yoga classes about taking your yoga off the mat, and I got to practice what I preach recently when I agreed to take my 12-year old niece to Cedar Point (one of the best amusement parks in the world, which just so happens to be in my backyard).
With over 15 roller coasters, Cedar Point is known for its thrill rides, and of course my niece wanted to ride the scariest one in the park – Top Thrill Dragster! I didn’t know this before, but Cedar Point has a rating system for its rides, and Top Thrill’s rating is “Aggressive Thrill 5” (the scariest on a scale of 1 to 5). Cedar Point is not messing around when they call this ride aggressive; this coaster simulates what it’s like to be in a race car as it launches you from zero to 120 MPH in less than 4 seconds, then shoots you up 420 feet into the air, then straight down a twisty slope and back to the finish line. Total ride time – 17 seconds, but each one of those seconds is power packed with pure adrenaline.
As we were getting strapped into the ride, I looked over at my niece and noticed her angst level had reached an all-time high, and I have to admit I was freaking out a little bit too. My natural yoga instinct kicked into gear, and I started to direct my niece and I through some deep pranayama breathing. After our fifth deep round of inhaling and exhaling, a dramatic change in our anxiety level had occurred. I can’t tell you that I was totally blown away by this transformation because I know the power of my breath; instead, I was comforted by the fact that our Top Thrill breathing exercise had effortlessly brought us so much peace and calm just seconds before the madness ensued.
Breathe in; breathe out – what a powerful tool we have the ability to harness both on and off our yoga mats.
Right before the ride took off, I looked at my niece and said, “Frannie, make sure you keep your eyes open so you can be fully present and enjoy each and every moment of this ride.” The reason I told her to do this is that the very first time I rode Top Thrill Dragster, I closed my eyes, and let me just tell you, when you close your eyes, this ride is a real drag, not a thrill at all. It’s only 17 seconds, and in those 17 seconds you can miss a whole lot.
We both kept our eyes wide open and had the ride of our life! I got to see the panoramic views of the park and Lake Erie as we crested the top of this 42-story rollercoaster. And I got to see my niece’s ecstatic, smiling face as we cruised into the landing platform high-fiving each other.
I ask my yoga students to close their eyes quite often in class, but it’s not because I want them to miss the ride. Rather, I want them to go inside and experience what is really happening inside their body and their breath. I want them to let go of the chatter in their minds, even if it’s just for a short while during class. Most classes I teach are only 60 minutes, and in those 60 minutes you can miss out on a lot if you don’t let go. I guess if you think about it, letting your mind wander in a yoga class is the equivalent of closing your eyes on Top Thrill Dragster: you’re going to miss all the fun. When you can truly “open your eyes” in yoga class and go within, that is when your yoga practice really begins to take off, when your yoga practice becomes a thrill.
As we walked off the ride, super charged with adrenaline, my niece turned to me and said, “Aunt Maria, that was so much fun I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was feeling pure joy.” Another priceless moment of bliss courtesy of Cedar Point.
That same joy can be had each and every time you come to your yoga mat if you just let go and allow yourself to be fully present in the moment. Stop clenching the handlebars, let go of the fear, relax, tap into that powerful pranayama breathing, and just go with the flow.
Your breath can be such a powerful thing. I’ve used it in the dentist chair, the boardroom, and now I can add Top Thrill Dragster to my list of cool breathing experiences. Next time you’re in a stressful situation, instead of running away from it, give that pranayama breathing a whirl and let yourself go from stressed out to blissed out in less than 4 seconds.