SPECIAL GUEST AUTHOR: Bess McHugh
Just breathe. Seriously, try it out. Inhale then exhale. Do it again. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. What do you notice? Inhale, exhale. Are your inhales equal to your exhales? Is your breath smooth and cyclical? Inhale, exhale. Notice any areas of stickiness? Inhale, exhale.
For being an innate quality possessed by all living creatures, breathing correctly is pretty damn hard. Until you delve into some form of breath practice and begin to understand the phenomenon that is breath, you are in danger of under utilizing a natural wonder.
Case in point: two years ago I decided to deepen my yoga practice by signing up for a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. Quite frankly, I had NO idea where the path would lead me. I was in a bit of a ‘rut’ and was yearning for a new adventure and a change of pace. Well I’ll be damned, you ask and you shall receive. On the first night of our teacher training, the teacher asked everyone in the room to state ‘what yoga is to me’. At the time, I had a devoted practice but mainly on the physical level. I was beginning to appreciate and comprehend the effects of yoga in relation to calming my mind and easing my stress level but I did not know the ‘whys’. I wanted to know the secret behind yoga’s magic.
During one of our YTT classes, the teacher kept queuing the breath. God…I was so off! I realized I wasn’t even really breathing. I was getting into all the challenging postures but I was sacrificing my breath. I learned my first lesson on breath that class. Let your breath move you and direct you into your postures. Unfortunately, that meant letting go of my Ego. I realized reaching the floor in Triangle didn’t matter if you compress your shoulders, crunch your side body and hold your breath (insert: my new yoga friend, the block). With a lot of frustration, I continued to move through yoga classes with breath in mind…sometimes I succeeded, other times I failed…miserably.
One of my yoga instructors says "breath is the main event; the asana, the supporting actress." Such truth to this statement. Without a meaningful and mindful breath practice, asana just becomes body movements, plain exercise. You need exercise to stay physically strong and fit. But without mindful, directed breath you fail to incorporate the mind. I can’t stress enough how awesome yoga becomes when you cater to both the breath and body. It’s intoxicating and leaves you desiring more.
Breath is the magic that is yoga.
Currently I’m reading Richard Rosen’s The Yoga of Breath, A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama. In the foreword, he paraphrases a story taken from The Thirteen Principle Upanishads that wonderfully illustrates the importance of breath.
Now once upon a time, Tongue, Eye, Ear, Mind and Breath were arguing about who was the best among them, who was the most important to the life of the body. They appealed to their father, Prajapati, Lord-of-Creation, for his opinion. “Sir”, they cried, “who is the best of us?” The wise Prajapati suggested a simple way to settle the dispute: “He by whose departure the body seems worse than worst, his is the best of you.”
When the tongue left, the body couldn’t talk but survived. When the eye left, the body went blind but was able to function. The ear departed leaving the body deaf but alive. Even the mind left and the body surprisingly managed. When the breath geared up to leave, the others quickly realized they could not live without breath.
And so, the parable concludes, people don’t call these five the Vital Tongues, the Vital Eyes, the Vital Ears, or the Vital Minds, but the Vital Breaths (prana), “for the vital breath is all these”.
Your breath is your life force. Treat your breath with respect and honor the beauty that arises when you sip it in and fill your body with its glory.