So much of our instruction in yoga has to do with breathing: Breathe through your nose. Find your breath. Breathe normally. But I'm pretty sure I'd never heard any of the teachers talk about a complete exhale before. So I started paying attention to my exhale, and sure enough I would breathe deeply in and push out a quick, sharp puff of breath before pulling in as much new air as I could.
Which, it turns out, is far less than I can when I'm taking the time to allow for a full exhale.
I've learned that I'm much calmer and can go deeper into the postures if I honor my breathing first. When I hold my breath to push through, or when my breathing is ragged because I've pushed too far - that's when I hate yoga, hate my body, hate my life. Dramatic, yes. But the heat and the humidity and the heart-exposing stretches leave me with little defense.
For the rest of that session, I consciously finished an exhale fully before allowing my inhale to take over. What I found (no surprise to anyone but me) was how much deeper I was able to inhale and how much less dizzy I got during the harder poses.
It's how I live my life. Impatient to fill myself with information, truth, the world around me, I pull in as much as I can. But I have a harder time pushing out what's no longer useful, necessary, helpful. Just like it's hard to allow that small pause between each part of a breath: inhale, pause, exhale, pause.
My pattern has been: INHALE, pause, exhale, INHALE.
I often have a hard time breathing deeply enough to feel like I've drawn in enough air. And then I hold my breathe. Reluctant to release. Afraid to rest in the betweens, to trust the next breath to come on its own and to bring exactly what I need.
It's becoming increasingly clear to me that I'm not going to be able to skip over the foundation and get right to the good stuff in yoga. Even more important, I'm finally beginning to understand that focusing on my breathing, the foundation of it all, will eventually get me to deeper postures and a stronger core in a way that my own stubborn determination will never do.
image from Flickr
image from Flickr