Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Flowing Breath

It was my senior year in college when I really started doing yoga on my own. It was not until my first year in law school when I started going to classes, and it sort of became my life, but my senior year in college was the beginning of that path. I would practice in my living room with little more than a book to guide me (looking back, perhaps not the safest choice, but here we are).

Breathe is the most common label on this blog. And I have previously told the story of how I remember learning to breathe my senior year in college and how I then found my breath again in the mountains of Yellowstone. Nature has a way of bringing us back to our internal awareness and breath. Trees provide us with oxygen, and the Earth grounds us and heals us.

But we have the breath wherever we are, wherever we go, and in whatever we are doing. The breath can, therefore, heal from anywhere as long as we know how to find it.

Just knowing the breath is there does not mean we all know how to use it properly. In fact, I would think most of us do not. There is more to the breath than just trying to get as much air in as possible. I think I have finally realized this. When we try to take a deep breath with effort, we are actually fighting the breath rather than receiving the breath. And that is how so many of us try to breath, even when we think we are relaxing into the breath. We do not flow with the breath. We fight it.

The modern world does not make relaxing into the flow of the breath easy to do. Doctors and anyone else who studies anatomy (yoga teachers often included) know how the breath enters through the nose or mouth, travels down the windpipe, and goes into the lungs. The muscles of the diaphragm expand and contract the lungs for the breath. But that does not tell us how we can receive the breath. It tells us what muscles are used and where the breath goes.

Many people are stuck in fight or flight mode. Lawyers are particularly adept at this. We live in an adversarial world. When we spend our working hours thinking in an adversarial manner, it is difficult not to be adversarial with ourselves, even with our breath. We tense up our driving and computer muscles, furrow our brows, and forget what it means to be soft. And so we fight with the breath.

As you are reading this, notice if you are simply allowing the breath or if you think the breath needs to come differently. Even as I write it, I can feel the tension building at times. And when the breath becomes stilted and tense it stops being an avenue for healing and becomes an avenue to strengthen our patterns. We often talk about samskaras as mental patterns, and ways of being. But they work on our body similarly. We all have our own ways of walking and moving. Think about how you can tell someone walked in the room long before you see their face simply by how they move. When we hold our tension through our breath, we ingrain those patterns even more rather than relaxing into the healing power the breath can bring.

The breath can heal nearly anything. The stories of miracles I have read this year are long, and while there is a logical part of me that doubts it can happen to anyone, the yogi in me knows otherwise. I know the breath is capable of producing miracles. But we have to let the breath guide us instead of trying to guide the breath.

I just started reading a new book called, Awakening Somatic Intelligence: The Art and Practice of Embodied Mindfulness, by Risa Kaparo. I have read a lot about movement, somatics, and breathing, but this book puts it all together in a way I have never seen before. But the most important aspect it teaches is that we have to get our beliefs out of the way. We cannot understand the breath through our eyes or even our anatomical understanding. The only way we can understand the breath is by letting it teach us.

When I sit in a courtroom, I can feel all my tension patterns and can see everyone around me fall into theirs as well. Everyone’s breath tightens as we await whatever is going to happen. We rob ourselves of our own health in those moments.

What would happen if while sitting in incredibly stressful situations, we just listened to our breath? What would happen if we just allowed the breath to come? No force. No pain. No tension. Just allow it to come. That is how the breath flows. That is where healing can happen. But we have to get out of our own way.

It is amazing to think that almost 10 years after learning to breathe my senior year in college I still feel like just a beginner.

How about you? Where do you notice your breath?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, The FlowingBreath, first appeared on Is YogaLegal.

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