The practice of yoga is, essentially, the practice of breathing. In preparing to exercise, we first concentrate on our breath. Become mindful of it, use the stir of air through our lungs to feel out our body and expel anything problematic, whether thought or that niggle in the lower back. I have a lot of those. Niggles. As such, I find the beginning of practice difficult.
Part of it is the sitting. I’m…getting on…and sitting cross-legged is really only comfortable for toddlers and people with mechanical knees. My thighs hurt, my ankles feel as if they’re being crushed, my skin itches and my back…oh, my back. When my mind isn’t wandering among myriad hurts, it’s skipping and bouncing through plot problems, my to-do list, and what I want for lunch. And I’m supposed to be breathing. Finding those points of tension and loose thought, collecting them into a bundle of insignificant noise, let’s say a hum, and breathing them in and out.
It sounds hard and it is. It’s pretty rare that I get through the beginning meditation without switching position ten times and having to chase after my thoughts eleven or twelve times. But you know what? That’s why we call it practice. Also, the very act of trying is a meditation of a sort. Really, it is.
Once we’re on our feet we move through a series of more physical exercise, again using our breath to direct and power these motions. It’s ALL about the breath. In and out. Find that point of contention and breathe through it. I do much better at this part, even when I think something might snap, because I enjoy movement. I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to sit through a three hour film because, for the love of all the cheese in the universe, who can sit still for that long?
After moving comes another round of meditation. I like it when we lie down on our backs and imitate a corpse. I often feel like one at that point. The final meditation is designed as a cool down period, but also to ‘set’ the changes wrought by the preceding exercise. It’s also another chance to find your breath and use it for good (as opposed to thinking up ways to destroy the yoga studio).
Last week, after making like a corpse for a bit, we listened to some final thoughts from our instructor. I always find these thoughts…instructive. After twisting this way and that for an hour, chasing my breath and sometimes finding it, it’s nice to hear something encouraging. Something I can take away from practice—other than pain.
(Gale, if you’re reading this, grant me artistic license on that last part, I usually feel pretty good after practice!)
The final thoughts that week were about the practice of breathing, and how by simply taking a moment to think about breathing, we can practice yoga. Wherever, whenever. We can exist only in that moment, right here, right now.
The pace of our lives might seem very much in line with this. We do a lot of living in the right here, right now. We’re all about instant gratification. We can 1-Click just about any book ever published. Same with music. We can stream TV and movies. We can video chat with our friends and family. We can Google things we never needed to know, or could have quite happily lived without knowing. FOREVER. We Tweet about what we’re doing right now. All the time. Twenty-four hours a day.
But none of that is, well, breathing. That’s simply living. When was the last time you took a step back from all that instant gratification and existed in a moment of…nothing? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone where all you did was listen? Do you always watch TV with contingencies plans and distractions close by? Phone, book, laptop, remote, knitting?
How often do you miss what someone said because you were looking at your phone?
These questions and situations all come from my own life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up from one screen or another and thought “was someone just talking to me?” And I often have to compete with the same when talking to someone else. And sometimes I get really tired (not just because I’m, er, getting on). I think it’s because so often my days are filled with INPUT and I haven’t taken the time to make like a corpse for a bit. To just sit still for one minute or five—right here, right now—and let it all ‘set’. To pay attention to my breath, follow it through all the information, sort it, get rid of what I don’t need and file some for later.
So, yeah, to me “right here, right now” has taken on a new meaning. Sometimes we just need to take a little time to breathe.
For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. ~Sanskrit Proverb