A Life in Five Breaths

Last weekend some of us were lucky to attend a workshop with Yogeswari. She said something obvious but easily forgotten that prompted a whole range of epiphanies about life, death and breathing.

"When you are born, you inhale, and as you die, you exhale as you leave the world."

Okay, no brainer. But really, that kind of statement really drives one to the depth of existence if not for just a moment.

I've for a while considered the breath a powerhouse of support for my practice, even if I fail sometimes miserably to acknowledge and attend to its depth all the way through. In fact, I consider it to be a dragon of sorts, that I ride. If I stay with the dragon, my journey through a Mysore practice is significantly eased as all things are taken in their own moments AND my body just has a whole lot more prana flowing through it--"the dragon carries me."

These days, I've started thinking of breathing another way, too. If you look at any Asana and you really examine the possibilities in the five breaths, you can say there is a life in each one.

You inhale as you transition and are "born," exhale into the pose at its "infancy." It's all new, every day, if you want it to be. There you are in this position and what to do? Inhale ... exhale.

You are now a "teenager," smack in the middle of breath two, confident and striving forward, grasping, reaching, pushing, flexing, balancing, focusing, pulling with the shoulders (come on, admit it, it takes until another breath for most of us to remember to let that one go completely).

Here comes "adulthood," when you know better, or you realize you know better, or you think you are wise but then realize you are not quite wise yet but are getting there as breath three awakens you to the fact that you're using your shoulders in Paschimottanasana. "Holy crap," you think, "I'm too old and experienced to think my shoulders will get me anywhere with this--there, ahh, mula bandha--what a waste of energy that was back there, anyway, I forgive my 'inner child.'"

You are suddenly feeling a challenge at inhale four. You came all this way and there's still a ways to go and yet ... something's tight, some joints are stiff, some don't move, you feel weak, vulnerable, exacerbated, bewildered and humbled by the challenge as you push through "old age."

And suddenly, you or someone you momentarily love to hate to love says "fiiiiive,"and you suck in that last moment, the mind lets go of its mantra of suffering, because you've pretty much made it to the end of a long and productive Asana life. You just bask, tune into a bird call, stay at the edge of your physical limits or push them a bit more to see what's on "the other side." You exhale, you've passed, the closed self is dead and gone, and you are ready to be born again, into Purvottanasana.