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!

Who says ignorance is bliss?

I really am enjoying the country and culture of India. it is vibrant and beautiful, with hard working industrious people, adorable children and sacred cows that wander everywhere:-) Yet, still very much a developing nation, and the growing pains that exist with all that. As I most definitely am used to first world rich man problems like whether we lay a new pipe line for oil and the pollution it potentially causes. Here, they have almost daily blackouts, some days more than one. None have mercifully been terribly long. It’s just part of life here, overloading the grid in the heat of the mid day not just in a fluke or bad storm. One happened as I was sitting in the middle of a busy downtown restaurant, no one skipped a beat around me. It’s all in what you are used to.

I wrote a post a few days ago, called Welcome to India. I was really just trying to point out how little I know of India and that my street smarts are rusty from suburban living, not that they were ever great. My point was more that regardless of where you are; New York, London, Paris, Munich, Mysore…you should probably not walk up to a white van full of unknown young men as a woman alone, even if they are the friendliest people out there, because in this world we live in, that is not always the case, and better safe than sorry. However, the comments I made were misunderstood by an unknown stranger who chose anger and threats versus open dialogue.

I admit last night I was in fear going to bed, wondering if he really would come here to hurt me. He had briefly succeeded in creating terror in my body, I felt physically vulnerable as he had not just commented on my blog but a friends as well, explaining how easy it would be to find me here and use violence as a means of retaliation of his misinterpretation of my words.

As a favorite scientist and philosopher, Karl Popper, has so nicely put it, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.” But alas, is rage ever the right choice of action? Where does rage arise and why? Avidya, Samskaras and Kleshas. Ignorance, past wounds, and the impediments we create in our desires, aversions, ego, and false knowledge. I have no idea what types of horrors or abuses this human being has faced, or whether anyone has shown them ahimsa, compassion, and if this person is even capable of acknowledging such acts of kindness. As we all can in moments is it just the lowest level of reptilian brain striking forth as protector of territory?

Yesterday in conference, Sharath spoke of being a young boy and seeing a group of either Japanese or Chinese tourists. He was young and naively ignorant of their purpose in his city. It was also rare to see someone so different visiting at that point, at least in the eyes of a child. I think he said one of his friends dared him to go up and say hello to them, but he said he said no, they know karate and might hurt him. It was a funny story of a child’s innocence and avidya bringing out false assumptions and fears.

As we differentiate ourselves more by culture, faiths, race, politics, sex, diet, how much you recycle, do you eat chocolate? at what point do we choose to decide animosity is ever the right option over debate or discourse? When do we allow fear or assumptions to be better choices than asking why? When did clarification questions get tossed aside? At what point do we allow broad ranged stereo types to override the fact that we are equal as human beings, deserving of compassion? There is a difference between being a mother bear protecting your threatened cub and an ornery bear. I would hope that mindfulness could exist to allow pause before reaction when accidentally coming across a mother bear..time to assess a true threat from false knowledge.

Does having compassion mean being friends? No. It means having respect, allowing privacy, natural compassionate consequences, kindness, or just leaving someone be if you don’t get along well. I know this anger and hatred has nothing to do with me personally. I truly wish they understood the word yoga, union, and grasped that there is room for knowledge and the veil of ignorance to be lifted without ever a violent action or thought.