Monday, February 15, 2016

Do you know how to breathe?

By Beth Mota, Social Media Manager, Zuna Yoga


Beth in Bali


Do you know how a Yogi breathes?

This was the opening question of my first private yoga session with Lead Facilitator/Creator/Founder of Zuna Yoga, Everett Newell. Just minutes prior, we had met outside of the Monkey Forest in Ubud, and was hitching a ride on his motorbike to his home in the rice fields. I was marveling at the peaceful surroundings: the green fields stretching as far as you could see, a gentle breeze blowing, and a lovely fountain with trickling water. All of which were compliments to Everett's calm, kind demeanor. 

Was this a trick question? "Of course I know how to breathe," I thought, "I only do it every second of my life!"  But, as I sat there contemplating it, I realized I had never actually given it much thought at all.  As embarrassing as it is to say, I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA how to breathe.  And now I was considering there might be something in the reference to how a yogi might breathe differently than the rest of us normal humans. For the first time, I realized that my breathing has been something I’ve admittedly taken for granted. It was then that I also realized the lesson with a real master yogi had begun. What followed was nothing short of profound.

First, Everett simply instructed me to lie down on my back with knees bent, and take a full breath. And so I did. There was a short pause.  
“Now relax and listen carefully,’ he said.  “Take a full and patient breath.” 
"Mm-hmmm," he said with a slight smile after my exhale.  
“What does that mean?” I asked.  
He simply remarked, “you can tell a lot about a person by how they breathe. More importantly, how you breathe will greatly effect the way you see the world.” 

He placed a yoga block on my chest, and then instructed me, "Now breathe without moving the block. You must learn to direct the breath into the lower body as well as the upper body. But for now, just concentrate on the lower body. Draw the breath down.” 

I found this to be greatly challenging. My breath was trying to fill the chest. Apparently, this is the type of breather I am. A chest breather.

After some practice and continued concentration, the breathing muscles began to cooperate and an elegant coordination of inhale and exhale ensued. Everett then instructed me to breathe more directly into the pelvic floor.  This was the most difficult, conceptually and physically, because I had never before in my life taken a breath and sent that breath into my pelvis.  The result was earth-shattering.  Immediately, body issues I have had throughout my life, namely my lower lumbar disc degeneration, came flooding into my mind.  "I have been neglecting to send breath here for so long. This feels amazing.” I thought, imagine would could have been possible if I had been consciously and actively been breathing like this my whole life?  I had been neglecting the most important and powerful resource I possess - my own life force, my own breath.  This was my "ah-ha" moment.  It was then that I truly understood what Zuna Yoga means when they say that they awaken the power to thrive. All these things were happening and we were only about 10 minutes into the class.
  
After having semi-mastered the breath in my pelvis, Everett asked me to breathe into my belly, and exhale fully, navel to spine. Next, directly into my chest, the thoracic region and feel my ribs expand ... and then exhale. Finally, into my collar bones, into the clavicular region and exhale.  He then shared that these were all just practice for the experience of a full yogic breath; every inhale drawing down into the pelvis and patiently filling through the body to the collarbones, and every exhale beginning with pelvic muscular contraction followed by abdominal contraction.  It felt so empowering to breathe so fully and patiently, to feel the awakening of the pelvic muscles and connecting them to the cycle of breath. I felt so connected to the tide of life moving through me. 

I remember thinking, “If this is yogic breathing, I don't know if I will ever be able to move at all in a yoga class again, because my every movement will be consumed with my conscious breathing."  He read my mind. "Imagine you are doing this type of breathing, going through an asana practice; it would be difficult to think of much else aside from the flow of your breath, would it not?”  I was thinking to myself, “ Yes. Yes it would be”.  But before I could answer he spoke, “It might be challenging if you were trying to breathe like this while finding your groove to an entertaining playlist and also listening to the quickly changing cues of a fast-paced class. But to really taste the power and deepest essence of yoga practice one must allow the breath to be the conductor of the inner orchestra of mindful intention and movement.  Otherwise we are simply practicing to do yoga rather than actually doing yoga. Which is sometimes quite necessary.  But do not confuse the two.”

I was then led through a serious of simple movements comfortably linked to the pace of my own breath.  With every inhale and every exhale, I was to lead my body movements like a surfer riding a wave.  I could immediately feel how the breath was informing the entrance and exit of every posture.  When the poses were held longer, I could feel how following this specific breathing technique the deepened the experience of not only my alignment but more importantly, of myself. 

The idea of how how movement should flow with my breath has taken on a much deeper understanding.  Many yoga teachers have offered me various pieces of wisdom in my practice, but ironically never before has any one of them fully explained that each movement should flow from my own breath, nor has anyone ever mentioned anything about a full yogic breath.  It is truly remarkable concept, and mind-boggling to me that teachers don’t actually share this.  It’s so profound!!!  I’m feeling for the first time that I know what it means to breathe in yoga.

The realization that I am in conscious control of my inhale and exhale; that “I” have control over my body and how I engage in any classroom setting, was an amazing revelation that I will have with me forever. I now take classes in an entirely different light. Even in daily life, when I have something that I am struggling with, just taking a minute to practice sending my breath to all areas of my body, really helps me to center and overcome any feelings of being overwhelmed or frightened.

If the very foundation of yoga is breath, why do very few schools and teachers teach us how to breathe? Everett says, “Learning how to use the body for a strong practice of yoga is very important. The body is a tool meant to expand our abilities and challenge ourselves on so many levels. How we meet and over come these challenges is the difference between any other form of physical exercise and yoga. In Yoga, the primary tool should always be the breath. The breath and how it moves through the body is a big part of what defines us and the gateway to the deepest most beneficial practices of yoga, such as meditation.

By the time we had come to the end of the class, after just an hour, I had gained so much more than I could ever thought possible. This was by far the most profound yoga experience of my life.  I can only imagine the insight to be gained by spending an entire month in a Yoga Teacher Training with Zuna Yoga.  I simply can’t wait to begin my training. 



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