Just Breathe

The importance of breathing need hardly be stressed. It provides the oxygen for the metabolic processes; literally it supports the fires of life. But breath as “pneuma” is also the spirit or soul. We live in an ocean of air like fish in a body of water. By our breathing we are attuned to our atmosphere. If we inhibit our breathing we isolate ourselves from the medium in which we exist. In all Oriental and mystic philosophies, the breath holds the secret to the highest bliss. That is why breathing is the dominant factor in the practice of Yoga.”
― Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body

 

Enough
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.

David Whyte

I had to write a paper answering the question What Is Yoga? as my first assignment for Yoga Teacher Training. We sat around in a circle and read our responses. I guess I set the standard for my TT that night, as I quoted the above poem by David Whyte, along with another by Mary Oliver. My essay was very different from most of the others in the class. They  all answered beautifully, but more in the vein of attempting to “define” yoga, while I wrote more about what yoga means to me personally. And that has continued to play out in class. I am the one frustrated by the asana and teaching work; and captivated  by the poetry …..the philosophy, the teaching scripts where we get to write themes, the deep conversations about anatomy.

Anatomy?

Yes, I said that.  Look, I don’t have any plans to go take  anatomy classes when this training is over, but it is astounding what a teacher with  passion for a subject can give and transmit to students who have even the slightest interest, or perhaps none at all. I surprisingly found myself fascinated by the beauty and depth of the human body, something I have been so out of touch with for so long. I swoon when we talk about heart opening poses and other romantic things, when we discuss faschia and, surprisingly enough, I loved the snippets of film we saw about dissection. Seriously fascinating. There is one woman in the group who just says over and and over “will that be on the test”?, harshing my buzz for sure, but there are different people and styles in the class and  part of what we are learning is non-attachment, to people, places, things, and outcomes (like tests).

But it is interesting how every time I have some sort of “breakthrough” moment, it seems to come on a Friday night, in anatomy.

Last Friday was no different. The class was interesting. We talked of muscles and faschia, and the Yin Yoga that I love talks about all of that, so I was entranced. And then  MC (Maria Christina, our teacher) brought out the dissection DVD’s. They were not disturbing at all, fascinating really. The man who was offering them, Gil Hedly, often reached right in and would grab and flex or extend an actual muscle; what a way to learn! ( He leads dissections for body workers, rather than doctors, and MC has taken part in several). The thing that got me though, that moved me beyond measure were the lungs. Hedly actually pumped breath into the lungs, showing their action. We could see the lobes opening and closing,  the rise and fall of the diaphragm .It was fascinating and so spiritual, and a little hard to explain.

I thought about my disconnection to my body, for so long. Disconnected because I wanted to die, disconnection because I didn’t want to feel so I drank. And  then I watched breath moving the dead lungs of a  dead human being in and out. And it struck me  that breath could transcend death, that it lives on, in all of us, far past the point we are dead and even before we are alive. That we don’t die.

(does it sound like I am on some seriously good drugs? just checking…)

We are reading the Sutras of Patanjali and reading about Karma and re-birth and it makes sense. We read about Prana, the underlying life force that flows through our body on breath … but not really.   I could quote Joni Mitchell here, “we are stardust, we are golden”. I could quote  this http://www.thethinkingblue.com/eulogyfromphysicist.html I could quote all the stories of rebirth and resurrection and scientific  thought  that I have negated or championed in the past. There is religion and science and “Woo-Woo” and it ALL make sense to me. Because it’s all  just the breath.

The presence of it . The absence of it. The IT of it…”this opening to life we have refused again and again until now”.

I didn’t realize I would come to this 8 weeks ago when I wrote that paper and added that poem. I also didn’t realize I would see that film last night after finishing a LONG-ASS midterm (take home, but still, Jeez!) all week, that kept me working, sweating and swearing every day. The very  last question asked us  to describe in one sentence each what is the most important thing we have learned in asana, in anatomy and in philosophy. My answer was breath, breath, and breathe.

It is in that breath that we live, the life-force that keeps our organs and bones and muscles and brain cells working and alive in us, in our bodies.

The breath in  asana is crucial, we hinge our practice on it, on keeping the Prana flowing as we go deeper and deeper into poses and what they might teach us about our selves and life. Breath drives us deeper into our practice, makes us energetic and worthy, burns us with heat, Tapas in practice

And the breath we take as we study philosophy,  that asks us to dig deeper, to not settle for the explainable universe around us but to ask deeper questions of the world and ourselves and our bodies. The breathing in meditation that we do to uncover our true selves, the coming back to the breath that  feeds our soul or Purusha. That clears our  wrong perception and ignorance, our  Avidya. The breath that flows out, changes and returns, changed but still us.

My practice this weekend was intense…backbends and forward fold. Lots of emotion, lots of feelings. But  besides a little crying just from the release of it all, I wasn’t thrown off. I wasn’t disturbed by the things I couldn’t do, unlike ever other week, nor proud of the things I could. It was all the same. It was the breath.

I have been holding my breathe for so long.  Perhaps too long. But I am breathing now.  If nothing else is gained from this adventure, I am breathing now.

 

 

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Stepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices

 

 

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12 Comments

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  1. Oh my goodness. That was beautiful.

  2. I sent this to Jamie – hope you don’t mind.
    Love it.

  3. Shivers. So beautiful.
    I wish i could come learn with you. To spend time talking about each breath. Each sutra. Each moment that becomes a celebration of life.

    I did reiki training this weekend and truly felt that power of the universe flow through me.

    In both my teacher training and reiki I was mainly surrounded by people looking for a job, asking if it was on the test.

    I long for an opportunity to just immerse in the learning. I know I will find more of that some day.

    Namaste

    • Oh Ann…
      how great it would be to chat. I know you’ll find it too. You know i live in L.A. right?
      I can spit and hit 3 yoga studios…not like where you are I’m, sure.
      But not everyone is like this and not every studio is either. I feel really lucky. I had an experience tonite with doing a class observation (we have a list to observe, write the sequence and then our impressions of the class). There was another person from case there with me and we were both moved to tears by the teacher, the way he handled the class, the care. And it was a packed class, with all sorts of different levels altho ostensibly a 1-2 class. It was profound. I feel like here at week 8 something has shifted, and it makes me really happy.
      I bet you are the BEST teacher…i wish i could take your class! and reiki too! that is remarkable!

      • Some day I will travel around and experience different teachers and styles.
        I live in a small, remote city in northern Alberta that is really only here to support oil sands production.
        I am finding that there is a small spiritual community, though. I expect if one is drawn to that you find it!

  4. Oh! I love this and totally get what you mean about how sweet and innocent our bodies are- how it amazes me that I flat out abused myself for so long: and without a thought sometimes. I love my body so much for still showing up! Every day it still shows up even though I tortured my lungs with a thousand cigarettes and slammed my liver with drink after drink- my dear old bod just keeps waking up and forgives me. (And even with all the smack I talk about my fat thighs!)

    I have been doing a lot of thinking about my breath because I have a “flaccid” pulse according to my acupuncture man. And since the breath nourishes the blood…I feel like I forget to breathe a lot.

    Maintaining breath and remembering to breath in my practice is my hardest thing. I find myself holding my breath all the time. Or breathing in when I should be breathing out, and vice versa. Then I get all concerned about that and lose my place. I guess that’s why it’s called “practice”! 🙂 I am open to all suggestions if any came up.

    I love how steady you sound here. xxxooo

  5. Beautiful capture, Michele. It was YOU who brought me to yoga and taught me to breath even before you wrote about it. I count you among my many blessings every day. xo

  6. Love, love love your journey and your generosity in sharing it. Your interpretation, how you are absorbing the things you’re receiving and reflecting that beauty here.

  7. I missed this one. It’s stunning. ❤

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