The power of breath
January 15, 2011 § 3 Comments
It goes without saying that breath is important. Without it we would die and other species with us. When the ozone levels rise in the summer and I start to wheeze, I am acutely aware of the quality of air and the difficulty of breathing. Yesterday’s realisation was, however, different. I was struck by the connectivity and interplay of breath and the machinery of my body.
At the height of my physical fitness I was aware that I needed to breathe through stitches, hill climbs and worst of all when “hitting the wall”. My mind told me that I would be fine if I kept breathing and moving the legs. It worked. The mantra got this most unlikely of distance runners through two half and one whole marathon. It was, however, soon forgotten when life conspired through injury, work and family commitments to draw me away from my newly found running base.
Five years followed during which I did precious little in the way of exercise: an occasional gym session, some Pilates following a car crash and a little cycling when I briefly lived in Amsterdam.
Aware that I was on the slippery slope to becoming a burnt-out lawyer and yearning for a more balanced life, I tentatively started to re-acquaint my body with yoga. I committed to practice yoga every day, even if only 10 minutes a day. “Practicing” really is the right verb for yoga. One plays tennis or cricket, runs, does fitness but yoga requires practice.
From my limited patchy experience of yoga over the years, I am in no doubt that yoga is an ever-changing process and journey rather than a means to an end. During my student years I pitched up at a yoga classes, which passed in a haze as I focussed on following the instructor’s sequences and trying to contort my body into the poses I thought I saw my colleagues master with ease. At the height of my physical fitness I flirted with ashtanga yoga and marvelled at the complexity of the stretches I could ask of my body. Yesterday was different… I listened to my body!
The asanas I tackled would have paled into insignificance compared to the pigeon, crow and shoulder stands I used to do but their simplicity allowed me to focus on my breathing. Steadily I became aware that my body’s synchronising with my breathing coincided with me enjoying the gentle flow between poses. My breathing was helping the fibres of my muscles, tendons and nerves to relax into the poses and as they did, they in turn relaxed my breathing allowing my lungs to expand even further.
As I rolled up my mat for the evening the line from the psalm and Mary Hopkins’ song went through my mind: to everything there is a season. It was not the first time I had done yoga; it was not the first time that I needed to co-ordinate breathing with physical movement. However, it was the first time that I heard my body call out to me in a whisper how closely breath and body movement are intertwined. Maybe I needed to reach my mid-thirties or to have become an uber-tightly coiled spring for this to be my season to hear my breath and body intertwine and to understand the power of breath.