Our perception and our beliefs are shaped by what we have been told, taught, and what we have come upon in our own experience. Very few people have been told, taught or have experienced on their own that there are many options for the breath to travel through the body. Like with so many things, there are many options, many choices, for how one breathes, for how the breath can travel through the body. Exploring these many options allows your breath to be responsive, resilient and adaptable, just like in your asana practice and general movement choices.
For the longest time, I thought slow, long and steady was what I was striving for when breathing because I was striving to be calm and peaceful at all times, or at least that was what I thought being a good yogini was all about; a constant state of calmness. And by the way, I was unable to achieve this state, especially if I wanted to be in relationship with any other person. This ideal state of calmness was something I aspired to, and when I wasn’t calm I would work to find calm again because I was determined to achieve what I thought was the ultimate goal of a good yoga practice. Those days of such ideals are long gone.
What I have realized is that if I am trying to maintain a certain state of calm then that goal limits my options to experiencing a variety of states of expression in my breath and in my being. By limiting my perception of what my breath is supposed to be and always striving for and seeking calm, I was not allowing my breath to also be shallow, quick, rhythmic, erratic, uncertain, or changeable and adaptable. What if my breath was allowed to have a range of expression?
If I allow my breath to respond to what I am experiencing then my breath can become a dynamic tool, another experience that I can observe, pay attention to and respond to. I can learn something about myself by paying attention, based on how it is I am breathing in the moment. I can also change how I am relating to the moment by directly manipulating my breath, choosing from an expanded experience of possibilities.
Having a limited idea about what my breath is supposed to be, limited me in how I related to moments in my life. Creating resilience in my movement options as well as my breath options cultivates more resilience in my life.
Do you have the ability to breath wherever you are, in whatever situation or shape you find yourself in? Can you find a way of breathing that relates to the situation you are in? Does your breath arise organically or do the ideas you have around your breath enforce a particular way in which you are breathing? Whatever way you are breathing right now, can you find a different way to breathe? Do you have options in regards to your breath? What is moving when you breath and what is not moving?
This whole discussion about breath relates to my previous blog about habits…any pattern of breathing is problematic because a whole set of choices are not available to you if you only think that one way of breathing is correct. All of our habits are based on our ideas, assumptions, hopes, dreams, histories and any notion of rightness. Therefore, it is in the act of observing, practicing and spending time paying attention that the breath becomes a very potent place to explore our patterns and inquire about our experience.
Some people believe that a big breath is best or exhaling is relaxing. Others believe there is a right and best way to breathe. Perhaps it would be best to simply let your breath just be what it is. As you breathe, observe what is happening right now and then observe if there is an obstacle to your breath or a place it is getting stuck and then make a different choice. Everything can help our breath and everything can be an obstacle to our breath.
I find that part of my job as a teacher is to do my best to create an environment in which people feel safe and can begin to find comfort and settle into themselves so that they can begin to feel the movement of their own breath. Our patterns determine how we see the world and our breath is just another layer of our practice in which we can make new choices and experience ourselves differently.