Finding Space for Breath
When I started my practice 5 years ago, I concentrated solely on the physical aspect of yoga: asana. That I was all I knew, other than seeing the occasional picture of someone sitting in lotus with his/her eyes closed in meditation. But meditation was some New Age stuff I wasn’t capable of. And prana what? Pranayama was not in my vocabulary. I had heard yoga was good for reducing stress, which I had in spades, so I bought a $10 mat at Target and rolled it out at a local dance school offering yoga classes. But the story doesn’t end there. I am constantly learning and exploring, not just about my practice but about myself, as well. I have learned many lessons over these past 5 years, but the one I’ve learned over the last 2 months may be the most surprising to date.
I like meditation and pranayama. There, I said it. How did I discover this? Well, my teacher made me do it. Sure, I had practiced some meditation and pranayama during class, but nothing extensive. But then it was assigned to me as part of the 200-hour teacher training course, so I started setting aside time and space every day for it. Eventually I went from feeling like, “oh, I have to do this,” to “I can’t wait to do this.” I now look forward to meditation and pranayama. I found space in my home, the space in my day, and a sense of balance I had been desperately searching for. It was no longer assigned homework; I was the opportunity to discover.
I discovered I become chilled the longer I meditate, so I like wearing a scarf to help keep me warm. I discovered during my workday I practice what I refer to as “half-bee breath.” I do not close my eyes and ears or place my hands in mudra, but I will take a deep inhale and exhale with a hum. It allows me to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by the other dings and beeps of my computer.
I discovered I consider pranayama a physical practice. While not a traditional one requiring standing and moving from asana to asana, there is a level of physicality when breathing. I find the length in my spine as I sit tall. I find the space in my rib cage as my lungs expand. Kapalabhati, skull shining breath, engages the transversus abdominis with each exhale. Agni Sara is a form of abdominal pumping. It is very physical. I feel the isolation and movement of the belly, rib cage, and clavicle when I practice Dirga breathing.
During asana practice, teachers frequently ask students to check in with their breath. Can they breathe easily? If not, they should ease out of the pose or use a block to help create space for the breath. These past two months I created space for my breath off the mat, and it has made all the difference.