Yoga insights

The last time I had my Yoga session I felt ecstatic during and after the class.

I am ashamed to admit that I have always been somewhat skeptical about the benefits of Yoga, despite hearing and reading so many opinions to the contrary. I signed up for classes simply for the benefits of exercise. I didn’t think the practice could help enhance mental clarity or develop equanimity.

I always felt my mind was too distracted and too out of control to reap such benefits. I think a lot of that skepticism stemmed from just not being attuned enough to subtlety, from experiencing life at a very superficial level.

I prided myself on that, the fact that I couldn’t really be touched by much, that I could skate through life until the time life itself came to a peaceful conclusion. But that is not how one needs to live life. One needs to experience every nuance, every detail. One needs to live every nanosecond to the fullest; to keep ennui at bay.

What changed for me in the last class was a determination to focus on breath.

I was scared stiff last week when there was a minor recurrence of an old ailment: asthma. I sat up in the middle of the night when I realized I couldn’t breathe, except in short and jagged bursts. The last time this had happened to me was over twenty years ago and one of the best things to have happened to me since was the complete disappearance of it; except now it was back and I was wondering about how much of it was psychosomatic and how much of it could be attributed to an evil allergen.

I couldn’t go back to sleep that night and kept trying to think of the homespun cures people had prescribed for me back when I was constantly dragging around the shadow of asthma behind me; inhaling steam, ingesting caffeine etc. Some of that did help a bit but I was mostly a wreck. I had my violin concert the next day and I was sure my jagged breathing would seriously disrupt my rather tenuous control on the fingering and bowing that was required. Some over the counter cures helped me tide over that misery until I could see a doctor. The culprit this time appears to be mold. We were using our humidifier the night it struck with such vengeance. The house is as mold free now as we can possibly make it.

In many ways it seems as though this episode was a reminder of sorts, about not taking ones breath for granted, about focusing on every inhalation and exhalation, while doing anything.

In my last Yoga class I was determined to make the most of the breath; instead of trying to observe and mimic my more experienced classmates in order to get the asana right. I decided to tune them out and just listen to the teacher as she called out each movement and the breathing sequence. It worked. Every pose simply flowed into the next one and for the first time in my life I felt this brief period of oneness, as if someone had just turned the round knob on a telescope or a projector, eliminating the out of focus blurriness, the double vision, I was one resolved entity, at least for the duration of the class. I have a long, long way to go, before this becomes a lasting state of mind, a permanent way of life. What I experienced in the last class was probably a breathtaking glimpse at the possibilities.

I was compelled to think of the experience in terms of riding the breath (yes, I do realize I am not the first one to think of the practice of Yoga in these terms), like being in a zone. I had heard about surfers feeling this way whenever they were able to ride inside a tube formed by a wave folding over itself. The feeling can only be described by poor analogies.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible to bring this experience into everything I was doing, my vocal practice sessions, my violin sessions, my attempts at art, my work, my home, my relationships…not necessarily counting each breath but being fully engaged, as it were, being attentive to every nuance and not skimming over any seemingly unimportant detail. In other words, doing away with my approximist ways and understanding for once and for all that there are no unimportant details.

There are so many things that have seemed unnecessary and superficial to me, pride and ignorance always making it worse. For instance, when my music teacher asked me to spend a lot of time singing the notes in the lower octaves for sustained periods of time; trying to push my voice to go to each successive note in the lower range, the benefits of this exercise weren’t immediately clear to me. I was very surprised when she told me that she herself devoted hours of her practice simply singing these notes, dwelling on them. I was just singing them once everyday because she had asked me to, with no clear understanding about the benefits of that practice.

But I do it now. I do it for thirty to forty minutes and explore the flats and the sharps in that lower range, feeling my way through each nuance. I try to form visual images of the notes…how a series of naturals might form a perfect arc and how the introduction of a sharp note might introduce a curl in this arc…hard for a beginner like me to elucidate but some foundations are being laid and concepts are starting to take shape and even though I can’t really judge my own vocal capabilities, I am beginning to notice an ease in gliding over even the higher notes these days, simply because I paid more attention to the lower ones! I have noticed how effortlessly my teacher enhances every note, how she is able to add the emotional element to her singing as she adds the glissandos that take her from one note to the next; years of nuanced practice at the heart of it all.

Another thing that is often stressed on Yoga sites and often reiterated by our Yoga instructor is the declaration of intent, thinking about what you want from your practice and not letting go of that thought as you move from one stage to the next. What could be more intuitive and more sensible than that bit of advice? I did that once when I was learning how to drive. I used to visualize myself taking the turns, staying between the white lines, parallel parking…a very visual declaration of intent. Why did I stop doing it with other things?

This neglect, this propensity to take shortcuts is affecting me the most when I take a look around my home. If there is such a thing as “negative energy” it must be present within the walls of my home. Maybe because it has been years since I paid any attention to the arrangement of things, maybe because messes are always overflowing and spilling and things aren’t organized in the most efficient way.

It would appear as though I have been seeking sanctuary from this negativity in my long commute, in my long work hours, in inordinate degrees of task avoidance because I am usually so overwhelmed with the upkeep of my own home. All it takes is for me to resolve to minimize the clutter, organize things in better ways, move furniture around and make it more of a sanctuary than a place to which I dread returning.

There, that then is my stated intent and things will soon be changing, c’est possible, n’est-ce pas?

2 Comments

  1. I found myself agreeing with you on your yoga practice on many counts.I have restarted my yoga practice recently and have been able to carry forward the balance I gain in that 1 session to the hours that follow..There are times when i feel am in a zone of my own during the breathing exercises.The beauty of it all is as my teacher mentioned..when upset/angry or at a loss..just do one thing-'watch your breath'..It helps as long as i remember to watch it :Dthanks for sharing this.

  2. I came back to this as I did a session this morning at the crack of dawn. I know I have far to go, but I can already sense the energy around me…focus, focus, focus – the keyword, and like you said, we need to carry that along into everything we do. Maybe it's time to stop working, doing those mundane chores, or just zooming through life in one breath…time to take charge and do everything one breath, one step at a time! 🙂


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