I’ll admit it, I love to push my limits when I do yoga. It’s my nature, I just can’t shake that competitive urge, which is probably why lately, eight weeks into weekly chemo treatments, I run out of breath after the first Chair Pose. Enter Tao Porchon Lynch, the worlds oldest yoga instructor at age 98. I was skating around Facebook in the wee hours of the morning on a post-chemo steroid buzz and ran across a post someone shared of her. Tao reminded me, it’s all about the breath, so I’m thinking this might be a great time for me to slow the burn and reconnect with my breath.
We hear it all the time in yoga, connect with the breath, but we rarely hear it in life. Breath is the life force that keeps us going. Inhale and we nourish our cells with life ensuring oxygen; exhale and we get rid of carbon dioxide and all sorts of other cell waste, clearing the way for more life affirming oxygen. So why don’t we pay any attention to our breath? Is it because it’s automatic? Our lungs faithfully inhale and exhale, changing the tempo as needed without our input or guidance? Much like our heart, they chug along doing their thing, until one day we notice something isn’t quite right. Until one day, we are out of breath.
So I’m not saying I can’t breathe, I’m saying, it’s time to give some love to one of the things I take for granted. I’ve always been fit, waltzing up the stairs at work without even a blip in my air intake. I mean it’s only one floor, what’s the big deal? Until day by day, week by week, the waltz has become more of a climb, the handrail my only insurance against the possibility of a backslide instead of the expected forward motion. You would think I was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, not one flight of stairs. Emerging from the stairwell, my lungs bellowing in and out in confusion, my brain not comprehending how one flight of stairs could possibly have that effect, I wonder how this has happened, how all of a sudden, without forewarning, my breath and I were strangers.
It seems like an odd concept, reconnecting with your breath. I like to see it more as reconnecting with your life force. In the bustle of day to day life, more and more of who we are gets pushed aside, supplanted by the outside world’s clamor for attention. There was a time when at the end of the day we went home, took a deep breath and reconnected. Some called it unwinding, often a glass of wine or a beer helped, but really we were reconnecting. We were shaking off the day and refocusing our attention on what really mattered, ourselves. Can we really even do that anymore, with smart phones and smart watches and Google glasses insisting that nothing be missed? The ever present ring and ding of telephones and text messages and calendar notifications? Are we ever really free of the outside world’s perpetual tug? How often do we do double duty, checking emails between bites of lunch or dinner? Our phones accompany us everywhere, for some even to the bathroom.
It’s frightening when you think about it. That’s why I long ago turned off all my email accounts on my cell phone. When I am not at a computer, there is nothing so important that I need to know about it right this instant. It can wait. The same goes for work. When I leave work, I leave it. When I get home, I am home. My home is not an extension of my work, it is an extension of me. I have reclaimed it 100% as me territory. I have turned it back into the sanctuary it was always intended to be.
Back to the breath. I have boundaries, I have my sanctuary, so what’s up with my breath? Time to reconnect my breath, my life force, with me. Since I do yoga, the easiest way for me to reconnect with my breath is through my yoga practice, to let my breath move me, physically, mentally and spiritually, rather than being in reaction to it. Different yoga traditions do different things to accomplish that, but I am a basic kind of gal, so I reconnect with my breath by connecting it to movement without trying to manipulate it through ujjayi breathing. Put simply, I just connect every movement to an inhale or an exhale. One movement, one breath action. If I raise my arms overhead, that an inhale, if I extend them out to the sides that an exhale. If I start to get winded, I stay in a pose for a few breaths until my lungs catch up. It’s all about connecting, and to connect each part has to honor the other, remember how to dance together again until the rhythm of the parts becomes the rhythm of the one.
When I focus on moving with the breath, I find my practice is much slower and more mindful. It is easier to stay present in my poses without having to complicate them to keep me engaged. When I am connected with my breath, I find dynamic energy in all poses, not just the ones that challenge me physically. And, when I connect with the breath, I don’t run out of air. When my physical movements are flowing with the breath, they are one, and one doesn’t sap the other.
This is pretty much the yoga version of living in the moment. Instead of moving through a yoga practice, or any physical or mental modality for that matter, looking ahead to something more impressive and complicated to do with your mind or body, just enjoy the place you’re in. Instead of running your body at full tilt until your lungs burst, marry the two, breath and body, and let them glide along together, one nourishing the other. I find, when I move with the breath, my lungs are open, I breathe more deeply, I don’t have to struggle for air because air is always available. Long, deep, calming droughts of air are always moving in and out, in and out, in and out, and my mind, body and spirit respond in kind. Much like if you cultivate a place of calm in your heart then calm is always available to you. When I find myself getting agitated, I just go sit by the pool of calm within me and it comes back. When I find my breath slipping away, I remember those long, deep calming droughts of air that used to come so naturally and I smile, because I know that feeling is always available to me, and I’m not opposed to working for it.