Just breathe

Yesterday morning, after led primary, the woman next to me asked, “Where did you learn to breath like that?!” I smiled, and thought of my teacher, and told her it’s taken hard work. Someone once said to me breathing is the most intimate relationship we have throughout our lives. The very first thing we do in this body, as well, the very last, is take a breath. Coming to terms with and surrendering to our breath, or fighting it, is a daily battle for many of us. You would think, as something we usually take for granted and in most parts of our days, the breathing process is just automatic and therefore we are experts. Throw activity, irritants, heat, cold, anxiety, fear, pain, laughter, hiccups, sickness, deviated septums, and choking among others I’m most certainly forgetting right now, into the mix and breathing can go haywire. However learning to control your breath can completely change your life, bringing relaxation, calm, mindfulness, and serenity.

I admit, I wasn’t very good at it. Health issues, fear and just my basic constitution had all inhibited my ability to breath right. I’m still no expert..everyday brings it’s own new struggles and moments to learn from.

Ashtanga yoga is all about the breath. When I first started ashtanga, I could barely keep my mouth closed, that was enough of a struggle, and yet I was also trying to control my breath count as well, in led classes I would even feel as if I was just holding my breath, and never could get enough back inside. It was an immensely masochistic activity. So much intensity and effort went into to each and every inhale and exhale. I shudder at the memory, yet I kept coming back to the mat. I had moments where all went well for a nanosecond but backbending and the traditional pachimottanasa afterwards were a combo one two punch for all the good work I had done leading up to it. My past impressions of fear of suffocation would seize my brain making me hyperventilate..I cringe feeling sorry for whomever was practicing nearby me in those moments.

I had teachers always working with me on it. To me, I felt It was the weakest link of my asana practice. No prana no true asana. Sometimes if I let myself get too quickly paced, which I’m naturally inclined to do, I still can lose it in parts of practice, but I’m usually able to reset back down a notch or two. A favorite thought is imagining my breath as calm but powerful waves on the ocean, ebbing and flowing. Melting in an asana and staying until there is equilibrium between inhale and exhale helps, but the key for me is exhaling fully, enjoying the natural pause, then inhaling, ideally, as deeply.

Getting there has been a physical as well as mental part of practice. Aristotle so wisely said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Stop believing the false impressions. Surrender, faith, letting go, and ultimately relaxing in the knowledge that the worst case scenario is that I’d pass out so my autonomic function could reset, in a computer like reboot..I’m quite happy that has never actually happened! But all learned from practice, from guidance of a highly skilled teacher. I was taught to practice sutra neti as well. (Don’t mock it till you try it!) The intimacy of breath and vulnerability of the fear that losing your breath can bring forth are intense aspects of the practice, at least for me. I can say now, I’m immensely grateful for all those assists, by every teacher, past and present, more so than for help in any asana. The power of breath, and learning to control it versus being controlled by it, is central to practice. Yoga Sutra 1.34 prachchhardana vidharanabhyam va pranayama. The mind is (also) calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice. I’m grateful for the meditative state and calm it brings to me everyday, especially when it works!


5 thoughts on “Just breathe

  1. I know you told me before that you (shudder) do the sutra neti thing. Is that a daily thing, like before pranayama or what? Not that I am asking for me or for a “friend” I just want to know how long it took to learn.

    • Hmm..it’s a post in itself! My teacher was playing with this little orange rubber tube one Sunday and he asked me to come up next to him. He told me what it was for and asked me to bring him a cup of water. Next thing I know he wets it down and demonstrates on himself how to use it by gently putting it in your nose and then you feel it and ever so slightly turn it till it finds the right place at the top to go back down, you feel it come into your throat and can reach back for the end, I, now, get enough curl in it to have it come into my mouth most of the time to just see it and get it. At this horrifying stage you take both ends and gently dental floss it 7 times then pull it back out and switch sides. However that first time I watched just in awe of this he asked me then to go into the bathroom and try it on myself, after of course cleaning it rather well, so yes I’ve swapped snot with me teacher:-) but in any case he said if I couldn’t do it to bring it back out and he’d do it for me! I was way more afraid of him doing it to me, and I knew he would. Lol. I will admit I was never grossed out by it in my desperation to breath better, I figured I’d try…it was easier on one side than the other, right in the beginning and I gagged a lot. Sometimes I’d get it to the back of my throat and just “floss” from my nose figuring it was better than not at all..but right away I noticed a difference in my breathing. My sense of smell improved too..I’m figuring I saved thousands avoiding the deviated septum surgery I needed after my 2 yr old son had head butted me long ago. Haha. In the beginning I was instructed to do it first thing in the morning everyday except Saturdays and moon days. I was pretty vigilant and gagged a lot, I still gag as you shouldn’t try to suppress that very important reflex, but as I’ve gotten better at it there is less struggle and less gagging. Granted this was also when my hubby decided I was a lunatic. He was completely aghast I could and would ever do this to myself based on a teacher telling me to, it scared him. My youngest daughter made up a blues tune called crazy yogi about it as well, funny stuff. I’ve been begging her to send her doing it here to me! I miss her nightly serenades of blues while my husband plays guitar. Now I do it a few times a week, but here I’m going back to the daily, as the heat and humidity in the shala are pretty intense, even a little before 6 am! The learning was an awkward week or two. Hope that answers you!

  2. So I guess it’s not a workshop kind of thing, hahahahahaha! So I guess you invested on your own hose huh? I gag just thinking about it, so we cowards will stick to ocassional neti potting 🙂

    • You are not cowardly! I was desperate to breath better..necessity was my motivating factor..if all works well and your breath is smooth and steady, by all means stick with what works..everyone comes to practice with different strengths and weaknesses. I’m vata overload, with a nice dash of pita…my stamina needed a huge improvement, that only a deeper breath was going to give me.

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