Your Breath Is Your Teacher

I’ve been thinking about breathing lately, which is not something I usually do. Even though breathing is the most necessary thing for staying alive, we tend not to give it our attention. Luckily, our bodies breathe involuntarily. What a thankless job. We should appreciate our breath. It has a lot to teach us.

I started thinking about breath recently when I found myself stressed beyond my normal level. When I had to step away from the situation, I closed my eyes and inhaled as deeply as I could. As I released the breath, I felt the space it had made in my mind.

While before I could not see beyond my stress, the breath made room for understanding and compassion for the person who caused the stress. I was taken aback, actually, by the calmness that came over me after. I replayed some of the things this person had said and done, and I found the possible sadness and pain in them, rather than just the annoyance they evoked in me. Then I realized I’ll never know why they were that way that drove me up the wall, but I knew they wouldn’t affect me so if they weren’t poking at an issue of my own. 

Our breath is powerful, the most powerful thing about us. It is more powerful than our minds and our bodies, and our breath is us as much as our minds and bodies are. We are our breath.

Expanding and contracting. Taking in and giving out. Ever ebbing and flowing as part of the whole process of being.

That’s a bit mind-blowing. And that’s good. We should blow our own minds, because we are not just our thinking minds or our acting bodies. If there is any part of the human being with which we should identify, it is our breathing breath.

Notice your breath throughout the day. At any given moment, pay attention to how you are breathing. Then observe your emotions, your physical sensations, your thoughts. Do any of these change after you inhale deeply and exhale completely three or four times? 

When I first started doing yoga, I was intrigued by the concept of “sending breath” to a specific part of the body. Surely breath only goes one place, into the lungs, right? How could I possibly make my breath go to my quads or hips or side body?

But I found it easier than I thought. All it takes, is focusing on the area where you feel tight and breathing deeply. You will feel what it means to send your breath. The life force will go where you direct it. For example, in Warrior 2, the thighs begin to burn and the hip joints reach a limit. Yet, when I “send my breath” to my hips, they open up, relax, and let me sink a little deeper into the stretch.

The truth is your body wants to stretch and grow. Your mind wants to stretch and grow. You want to grow! That’s why you find yourself in challenging situations. You want to be there. Because you want to learn the lessons you can learn only through difficulty. 

So the next time you find yourself feeling like you’re at the end of your rope, breathe and then listen. Be open to what your breath has to teach you. This is the only way forward. No doubt you’ll find you’re more flexible than you thought.