by Lauren Crosen: Phrases like “focus on your breath” or “come back to the breath” often get thrown around in yoga classes…
I talk about breath a lot when I teach yoga, but when I began my practice years ago, I didn’t understand what this meant at all. I remember thinking, “alright, if she says focus on your blinking next, I am out of here.” I can remember only mouthing the Lion’s Breath every class because it made me feel super uncomfortable.
I would wonder, “why does it have to be so loud?” But, what I really meant was, “why do I have to take up so much space?”
I remember roughly a year into my practice being in a hot yoga class and really struggling through it, both physically and mentally. Practice long enough, and we all experience classes like this—if you’re lucky, you will experience many. I was so frustrated and could barely follow the class because the voice in my head saying, “this is too hard; I am not strong enough; this is a bad class,” was on repeat, and the voice was loud.
And then I remember the teacher’s voice interrupting, “come back to that deep-belly breath and as you exhale, let something go. Just focus on your breath.” And so I tried, partially out of desperation and partially from a sigh of frustration. Finally, it finally made sense. I got it. For a moment, things were really still. Everything felt a little lighter and a little quieter, and even though the class was still really hot and incredibly challenging, at least I could breathe. At least, I didn’t have to hold on quite so tight.
For me, our breath, is the building block of our vitality. It is the physical manifestation of letting go and receiving. I don’t believe this is a coincidence, but a sacred gift.
In order to create space for the inhale, to create space for new breath, the new life, we must liberate the old. In order to feel the serenity of a deep inhale, we have to exhale entirely, to release the breath that no longer serves us.
Letting go is similar; hold on too tightly to what no longer serves you and the space to receive is lost. In many ways, I believe it feels too safe to keep the memories of our pain within reach. These memories are the bricks we lay to build our walls. Walls to keep the trauma out; to keep us safe from our own vulnerability; to protect us from ever suffering like that again.
I believe many of us let go and receive in a way that is similar to shallow breathing (an ancestral fight or flight survival response stimulated when danger is sensed). We let just enough get inside the walls to survive, but then so much of the light is lost. We become so hyper-focused on the memory of our trauma and how to sidestep it, we lose sight of the pleasure in trust, love, and wholeheartedness. Our walls cannot discriminate between love and pain or light and darkness. Heartbreak does not exist in spite of joy, but right alongside it, just as the night exists alongside the day. And as we attempt to cherry-pick the parts of the human experience we want to feel, we lose the heart of it.
We deserve more than to simply survive. Every being on this earth does. To navigate an entire lifetime simply trying to survive is to live a life anchored in fear. This is by no means implying fear isn’t justified, but fear is the thief of joy. When we perpetuate it, we immortalize our pain. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to experience our lives wholeheartedly, not because our fear is insignificant, but because love is stronger and where there is love, there is hope for a better future and a kinder world.
That being said, it takes time to learn how to breathe deeply; how to inhale and exhale completely. And even once you begin, it takes practice to remember to do regularly. I still often catch myself forgetting. But I always come back to it, and when I do, it is as if there could be no other way to breathe.
This is the breath of life. Letting go and receiving fully has the same breath pattern. It is challenging. It takes time and practice and work, but when you begin to, you are lighter, able to receive so much more of the love and the life that is meant for you.