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ten perfect breaths

The importance of breath in yoga cannot ever be understated.  In fact, teachers the world over will encourage their students to focus on getting the breath correct before even the pose.  Not at the expense of safety, of course, but before stretching yourself to achieve the full measure of a pose--just settle yourself in comfortably enough and breathe.  I mention breath, because breath alone is the intention of the second exercise in Tibetan Heart Yoga.  

It is exactly this preoccupation with breath that will put us in the mind-space of yoga.  Out of the world around us and tuned into the world within each of us. You are a piece of the world outside of you, above you, and around you and it is time for you to take your place in it.  My Reiki teacher always said that all of these healing arts are aimed at releasing the patterns, the thoughts, the reactions that no longer serve us and sending them back to the earth where they can be transformed into something more life-giving. 

Remember in Exercise One, we learned all about the importance of song {song + breath}to open up our central channel and get those good "winds" flowing freely.  In that pose, we were sitting with our legs crossed, hands to heart center.  Remember that when you crisscross-applesauce your legs, your feet should be flexed--not rigidly so, but restfully flexed in order to protect the ligaments around your knees.  To enter Exercise Two, we will release our hands on the in-breath, then--on the exhale--and rest them lightly on our knees (palms up) with index finger and thumb lightly touching. That's one.  Inhale, then exhale again--that's two.  

The way I am counting is significant in Heart Yoga.  Normally, when we begin some new thing, we count from the in-breath.  In-one.  Out--nothing.  In--two, etc.  A giant gulp of an inhale, as if we are about to go underwater.  Then we exhale from that breath.  In--we count one.  Out--we don't count. The exhale becomes the back end, the forgotten half of the inhale. But in Heart Yoga (and in all yoga, really), it is reversed.  The exhale is the beginning of the breath, the inhale is the follow-up.  Physically, we begin the pose at the exhale, the inhale is the hold-space.  And there are no wasted breaths in yoga. Many times we hold for a series of exhale-inhale breaths, but they are intentional--the building of strength (of mind, of body) through stillness. 

The theory behind this conscious switch from inhale-exhale to exhale-inhale is that the first thing we do at birth (after getting fluid out of our lungs) is to take an enormous breath in.  That is the beginning of our lives on earth; of our lives as a body. That last thing we do in life is exhale.  And, that...that breath is our first breath back to our lives as spirit.  And our spirit life is the one that truly, truly matters in the end. 

Buddhists believe that the choices made as a spirit-within-a-body on earth will determine their next life.  Christians more frequently call the spirit a "soul", but still believe the same thing--that the choices we made in our life on earth will determine our life in Heaven. The spirit is the part that is holy.  And the spirit?  Well, hopefully the creation of a healthy, balanced spirit is the goal of every moment--but it most certainly is the goal of meditation and yoga.

 

We begin this exercise on the exhale, on the out-breath.  Remember, we are sitting comfortably, hands resting lightly on our knees, eyes closed.  And here we go:

exhale--one--inhale;

exhale--two--inhale; 

exhale--three--inhale

...and so on. 

We only have two minutes here, so it isn't a long process.  Ten perfect breaths.  What constitutes "perfect"?   That you are only conscious of your breath--and maybe not even that, after a while.  

And I am exceptionally good at breathwork for the first three.  And around exhale number four?  I start to wonder if I turned off the hose.  Yes.  Yes, I did. But the back of my neck itches...and are my feet flexed?  And what was that noise? Okay, wait. 

Start over. 

exhale--one--inhale;

exhale--two--inhale; 

exhale--three--inhale 

Around breath number four, for me, the world creeps back in.  The to do list.  Laundry. Bills. Maggie. Will.  Work, Dan, Roman.  Funny things.  Worrisome things. 

I read a fascinating piece of scientific data the other day that the human body sends 11 million bits per second to the human brain for processing.  I have no idea what a "bit" is...but, no matter what it is, at 11 million per second it's mind-boggling.  But don't worry--the conscious mind is only aware of around 50 bits.  PER SECOND.  Isn't that wild?! Fifty!  No wonder breathing--JUST breathing--is so much work!  We have a mountain to overcome!

But when the world creeps back in, we have to start the exercise all over again.  Because the exercise is 10 Perfect Breaths.  Only breath. Only ten.  Implausible, impractical, insurmountable ten. But not impossible. We can do this.  

And the reason we need to do it, specifically in Heart Yoga, is that all those world thoughts stir up the winds in those side channels along the main channel.  Remember that?   And those side channels, expanding and filling, will squeeze the main channel where they cross over. That main tie-up point at the heart gets clogged like a traffic jam, and the heart can't expand anymore. In a sense, the heart can't breathe.

And this is hard.  My new favorite quote was delivered to me by my (quasi) sister-in-law, Meghan.  "We can do hard things!" It's so inspiring to me--such a call to action.  The indominable human spirit on display.

But, friends.  I swear, I did just these two: Exercises One and Two for ten days in a row.  I didn't even worry about the exercises that followed.  Just this--I wanted to get it right.  And you, too.  Be patient with yourself, but take it seriously.  I started over...and over...and over.  The visualization helped and I would encourage that if these ten breaths are a struggle.  But like all my teachers before me, I encourage you.  Take the time to get the breath right. Make it a practice to build that foundation on sturdy ground.  We need big hearts in this world.  But in order for the heart to expand, we have to breathe.

My son Will has a favorite quote from Carl Yung, "Modern people can't see God because they won't look low enough." We have to be willing  to see the holiness in the small things.  To see that the divine already exists is us--in breath and in connections. 

I once came across a quote by the Dalai Lama which made me laugh.  "What?  Did you think Heaven and Hell were built by construction workers?"  

We have to be willing to see that we are spirit; that we can be heaven on earth through these things that already come naturally to us.  We just have to learn to breathe.  We have to learn to JUST breathe. 

Only ten times. 

Ten perfect breaths.  

To learn more, follow the link to The Gift of Taking

 

 

 


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