Ashtanga is a breathing practice. The rest is just bending. – Sri. K Pattabhi Jois
Warning: potentially obnoxious new-agey yoga post below
Today’s practice was like any other, in that it changed everything. And I mean that sincerely. Each practice is a transformation, no matter how small, and when I can focus enough to recognize it, it fills me with this fundamental joy. I feel light, expansive. And it’s something I’ve REALLY needed lately.
Usually, when I do yoga, I am attentive to the BIG things – not dying, alignment, pain, sweat dripping into my eyes, etc – and can forget completely about the less obvious, but no less important aspects of the practice, like breathing. Also, if you practice a set sequence like Ashtanga, the poses can become so routine that you’re not even thinking about doing them. You’re just moving, counting. Muscle memory. I notice this going-through-the-motions routine, usually when I’m really tired or hungover. It’s deadening but sometimes it’s all I can do to just keep going.
Which is why breathing is so important – it’s an act of self-creation. My body will forever pop and moan and strain, but the breath is my purpose, the unifying force that connects my puny self to the universe.
I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been clinging, to my emotions, to the past, to the routine comforts that I’ve grown so dependent on, (to hyphens, apparently), and today I was able to let go — briefly, brilliantly! – with the help of the breath. Through deep, conscientious inhalations, I swallowed all the world had to offer, and then I exhaled and let the world go. I realized that I was fixating; I was abusing the present. Or, as Susan Sontag put it: “The inner life dims and flickers, starts to go out, as soon as one tries to hold fast. It’s like trying to make this breath serve for the next one, or making today’s dinner do the work of next Wednesday’s as well.. .”
So I breathed into my fixation, into my torn hamstring, into my shaky legs after dropping into a backbend. I breathed into the uncertainty that I find so terrifying and let it fill me up instead. And you know, for the first time in a long time, I thought I could cry with joy. And that joy wasn’t just relevant, it was salvation. After that, it didn’t matter that my back was kind of killing me from wonky landings. It didn’t matter that I was lonely or exhausted or feeling rejected. It only mattered that I keep breathing.
In and out, in and out.