During yoga practice there is a strong focus on the breath. We inform the inhales and control the exhales. There is deliberate influence to reach a certain experience with the breath. The breath is very important. I have made really good friends with my breath, or so I thought.
Alongside my yoga training I am also taking a self-defense course with my daughter. It was her idea and I was all for finding ways to spend time with this ever-independent teenager. While I will always be growing in my relationship with my breath, I thought I was at least pretty good at understanding its importance and not losing sight of it. Yet, during each self-defense class I’ve attended, the instructor shouts to me “don’t forget to breathe!” In an attempt to break out of a hold or block an attack, I hold my breath. This relationship might not be as far along as I had thought.
When I sat in a 6th grade Language Arts classroom the other day, I noticed something on the wall that caught my attention. It read – “Inhaling is reading, exhaling is writing”. Again, a realization that my exhalation has been stifled. I have been reading, but not writing.
My breath might be all wrong. Maybe I’m unintentionally holding it because I’m focusing on my body doing the right thing or I’m so engrossed in what I’m reading, I forget to make time for writing. Life is the ebb and flow. The in and out. The insight and the expression. The intention and the execution. The thought and the action. We need both.
I am learning to start the yoga practices that I lead with a dharma talk – setting an intention for those in my practice. The intention for the practice might be allowing oneself to relax, releasing judgement of yourself, or maybe using a breath ratio that will invigorate and energize your mind and body. Then after a series of asanas, or yoga poses, pranayama is practiced. Pranayama is intentional ways to use your inhalation and exhalation to influence the energy you release and the energy you take in before settling into meditation. Through asanas and pranayama we ready ourselves for the deep stillness of meditation.
I am entering my fourth month of yoga training and the process in which I find myself changing is difficult to put into words. For someone that has easily found expression through writing, it now feels encumbered by a shifting of every cell in my body. I never expected my physical, mental, and spiritual self to be affected as it has. Alongside raising babies, this is the hardest work I’ve ever done. Maybe it’s just different enough in what it requires of me that makes it feel so unique. I have been through college and graduate school, never feeling myself tested in the ways I do now. The language is foreign, the intricacies of meaningful and mindful actions, the depth and stillness of body and mind, is all rocking my world. The work I have done and continue to do as I learn more about my place as a student of yoga is something I can not name. My disposition has changed. I feel that my temperament has changed and an angst that enjoyed being scratched from time to time just isn’t there. I am profoundly content – so much so that it feels a bit unreal and definitely unknown.
I do not doubt that my life journey has led me to the study of yoga. It is apparent to me that what I seek has been seeking me. I am grateful for this incredible opportunity to learn about myself, but also to learn about what I have to offer to others. Could each inhalation be my learning and each exhalation my teaching? I have always been more of an observer and love to take in my surroundings and learn. With all my might I am now honing the skill of expression and reaching people at a very intimate level to teach them about their capabilities. It excites me and frightens me all at once. Allow me now to turn this table and ask you how you’re doing with your breathing? Tell me – do you feel connected to yourself? Or did you need this reminder, like my self-defense instructor has reminded me – “DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE!”