a lesson in breath

The other evening I was walking to my usual monday night yoga class, and found myself hesitant to go inside once I reached the studio. I was pretty tired, I still had a running list of things I wanted to do for work/life (it was 8pm), and I also just kinda wanted to be in my bed with homemade cookies and an episode of Breaking Bad. (Side note: I’m finally finishing the final season, after I wikipedia’d it…)

But something told me to just go inside. It was only an hour, I’d be home by 9:30, and if I had been up and moving since 8am and still had stuff to do, it could wait until tomorrow. (And Breaking Bad gives me meth-nightmares, anyway.) 

The class ended up being pretty empty, which was a nice change since we’re usually packed like sardines in the studio. (It doesn’t help that it’s hot yoga too, which =’s a lot of stranger-sweat on you.) As we began doing some forward folds and slow vinyasas, our teacher starting sharing her #zenwisdom with us, which is half the reason I go. She began explaining how all of the position in yoga, asanas, make up only 1/8th of this whole “yoga” thing. Basically, that means the warrior II you’re holding forever, the crow pose you can’t nail, or the head stand you won’t even attempt, is so incredibly insignificant when it comes to looking at yoga as a whole.

She continued talking about how breath is another 1/8th of yoga. Breathing: the thing we unconsciously do all day, all night — over 20,000 times a day (says David Wilkins from Quora…) — carries the same weight as all of the hundreds of poses (and all their variations) that exist in yoga. Combined. 

Of course I tried to apply this to real life instead of focusing on squaring my hips, not sweating on the person next to me, etc. Usually in yoga, a tough balance pose I’m sucking at can feel like the only thing that matters. And in life, any present moment — whether an interaction with someone, a time where you tell yourself you can’t fuck up, or an opportunity that can feel so important or powerful (an interview, a promising date, a work meeting, a beautiful sunrise), is just one tiny slice of your life. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t define you. It matters, but it doesn’t matter. 

But breathing matters. Whaaat? Yeah, it sounds weird, but when I thought about it more, it made sense. First, breathing keeps us… alive. This is a very good thing. But it also can shape and effect us beyond just “existing.” I’ve slowly learned how powerful breathing can be when it comes to reducing stress, running and working out more efficiently, and making my body just feel better. And it’s tricky because we breathe without thinking about it — unlike a challenging yoga pose, or a challenging GRE question, or a challenging conversation — but it’s ultimately more powerful, more important, and more significant than the small stresses and special moments that we hone in on throughout the day.

As the class was winding down and we moved into savasana, our instructor turned off the music — something she normally doesn’t do. Rather than a soft ballad playing the background, the studio — and what felt like new york city in its entirety — fell silent, except for the sound of everyone’s breath which sounded like waves. And for one of the first times in corpse pose, I was actually able to let my mind stop wandering, to do some semblance of meditation, and let go of every asana and every moment that usually carries so much weight in my life. And I just breathed.

(This post was brought to you by Zen Laura. Namaste.) 

About Laura

marketing director at Possible. formerly at Greatist. Still running, finding zen, and searching for the perfect bloody mary.

Posted on December 10, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. It was some years ago, six years to be more precise, that a yoga class I was attending ended on a similar note. So beautiful and so profound an experience, I began meditating with regularity soon after.

    This particular class deviated from the many that came before when the teacher turned off the light music, allowing silence and our own breathing to fill the room. Initially a bit thrown off by this change, I began really paying closer attention to rhythm of my own inhalations and exhalations. I found, just from a simple aderence of counting my breath cycles, that I could almost hear something aside from my own breathing, more than the breathing of those around the room. Thinking it rather external, it was only after a few minutes I realized I was aware of the beat of my own heart.

    Not that it always works, but I found that with the regular meditation, I feel as though I found the controls to my own anxiety. Affects of adrenaline be damned. I was in control, and after the initial wave of panic spiked my heart rate, disciplined meditation/breathing could set things right.

    Thank you for sharing. ‘T’was very lovely. Namaste

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