You know how those ‘experts’ say it requires 10,000 hours to achieve mastery at a particular skill? Well, good news. When it comes to breathing, not only have I surpassed that 10,000 hour mark, but I actually just recently past the 200,000 hours!
And, as much as ‘Mastery’ might be enough for some of us, when it comes to breathing, I’m always down for a bit of improvement. In fact, just a week ago, after spending a week practicing Power Yoga, I learned a new way of breathing that causes the exhale to sound like the whisper of the ocean. It’s called the Ujjayi breath, and you can learn more about it here. Essentially, you inhale first into your lower belly, expanding your stomach outwards, then imagine inhaling horizontally to expand your ribs outward, and then finally inhale to fill up your chest and collar bone (all in one breath!). The beautiful sound of the oceans occurs after you hold the breath and then release it in the reverse direction that you inhaled. First release the chest, then allow the ribs to contract, and finally the belly comes in. By the way, all this inhaling and exhaling occurs through the nose.
The key to achieving the ocean-like sound is releasing the breath instead of forcing it out. Just let go.
When I first learned how to breath in this new way, a couple things happened.
1. I was incredibly excited because I tangibly grew in self-knowledge of the physical workings of the body.
2. Just a hint of ridiculousness crossed my brow as I wondered how I lived 23 years without knowing how to breathe like this.
And then, more recently, a yoga teacher proceeded to inform me of several other methods of breathing, all of which I’m currently operating from that place of conscious incompetence…that is to say…I know that I don’t know how to breathe 😦
Alas, not knowing how to breathe is not the end of the world, and thankfully I enjoy learning new things.
Just as our heart continuously pumps heart through our body without us being consciously aware of it, often times we treat our breathing in the same way. We breathe automatically, whether or not we give conscious attention to it, and as a result it’s very easy to take such a process for granted. However, as I learned during my Yoga Journey, there is a whole lot of Peace, Power, and Presence to be found in each breath, if only we become aware of it.
A few of the wise words from the Yoga Teachers regarding breath that continue to resonate with me:
- Your breath is fire.
- Your breath is your fuel.
- Your breath is energy.
- With each breath comes newness.
- Remember yogis, your breath is there to energize you.
As I practiced 17.5 hours of Power Yoga in just 7 days, there were many times when my body felt exhausted and like it was about to collapse. Precisely at those times, the teacher would remind me that my breathe was on it’s way to invigorate me. Imagining the breath filling up the heart on the inhale and radiating out to strengthen the arms and legs on the exhale helped me overcome many yogic challenges.
If we all spent a few minutes each day to simply breath, I think we’d realize much greater peace in our personal lives and, as a result, in the world. Breathing is the universal act that all of life participates in at all times, Even the trees are breathing!
Also, if we’re all just breathing, then what really separates us? Even just to be aware that other human beings are breathing is a pathway to empathy, connection, and oneness.
The breath unites us. If we want it to be, it can be our fuel and fire too. With each breath is newness.
p.s. Just the other day, I met a man named Dove. I said to him, “Just to be clear, you’re an angel, right?” He initially said, “No, I’m not an angel.” I pushed him further asking, “Are you sure?” His words…”I am whatever you want me to be.” The same is true with our breath.
We create our perception of reality with the choices we make. You can choose to perceive your breath as fuel, just as I choose to perceive Dove as an angel, even if he doesn’t admit it.