Inevitably in the midst of most every yoga class there is a point when I stray and begin mindlessly executing the poses. A point where the teacher’s voice communicates directly to my body as my mind is allowed to wander off, out of the classroom and into my past or my future. And then it happens… wait for it… the invitation to reconnect to my breath. I hear the teacher calling to me, “I invite you to take a deep breath in.” Or perhaps the calling is more choreographed, “Inhale as you lift your chest and exhale as you fold forward, and release.” The cue is irrelevant; what matters is the synapse that occurs suddenly reconnecting my mind to my body. My mind reenters the classroom. In that moment of reconnection, I allow myself to be present. I allow myself the space to notice what is. I direct my breath in through my nose, feeling the coolness in the tunnels of my nostrils as the conscious act of breathing moves the air into my chest tempting it to expand and then spill that precious breath into my belly. And I begin again.
Over the last few years this awareness has gently swelled from my yoga mat into the rest of my life. Well, that is, when I allow it. Right. When I allow it. I actually have to be present enough to become aware that I am disconnected. That seems confusing even as I type the thought. You need to be aware in order to be aware. That doesn’t help does it? Off the mat there is no teacher inviting you back to the present moment. Until, of course, you realize the teacher is you. My inner teacher is slowly training Me to be aware when my thoughts and emotions stumble back into the past or leap into the future. That is the leap to awareness we must strive for. Once aware, the synapse occurs and I reflexively take a dang breath! To breath during the times I feel out of control, anxious, uncertain, fearful, etc., etc., prevents me from being swept away by the thought or emotion that is pushing or pulling me. I inhale the space to think and act differently. Just three rounds of breath will give me the room to reset. Thirty seconds – 30 seconds for cry I! That is all it takes. But this breathing space is a practice and it takes so… much… flippin practice.
No matter what is going on in my life, the ability to take a breath brings a levity that is not attainable any other way. Drugs, alcohol, avoidance, justification, blame, lashing out – none of these responses to my thoughts or emotions have the effect that reconnecting with the breath brings. Ok, well maybe a drink or a verbal lashing brings some immediate gratification to the thought or emotion that provoked it, but I think we can all agree the satisfaction is short lived (not to mention the underlying thought or emotion remain).
Do you have thirty seconds? Ok, good. Think of something that just pisses you off. (If you need a prompt, think politics.) Get yourself really riled up. Are you angry yet? Heart racing? Feeling frustrated?
Now, I invite you to hold your hand directly out in front of you with one finger up. Take a deep breath in and, as if you are blowing out your birthday candles, exhale until you can feel your breath on that finger. Do this three times.
Now, notice how you feel. I hope that you feel calmer. Only thirty seconds will give you the space you need to bring peace to yourself, or another (if you breathed instead of lashed out).
The breath is the great equalizer.
It does not matter
what color we are,
what religion we practice,
where we where born,
the family we were born into,
what our job is,
that we have a job at all,
what we look like,
how much money we have,
our sexual preference,
or genius –
WE ALL BREATHE!
To exist on this earth, we must each inhale, we must each exhale. I wrote about this a while back in a post called Begin Again describing this most basic act of existence. But here I want us to think about breathing a collective breath as a way of bringing a sense of peace into the world.
On a packed subway into the city I looked around and noticed there was a beautiful diversity to the group of humans surrounding me. I was suddenly humbled to understand that the air in that train car was filled with the inhalations and exhalations of individuals from different “_______” (you can fill in the blank with any number of things such as countries, religions, backgrounds, sexual orientation, etc.). We were sharing the journey from point A to point B, all just getting along, breathing in, breathing out. Taking one collective breath after another. Subliminally offering each other the space to be who we are. Instead of being swept away noticing how different we are from each other, I believe focusing on the collective breath invites us to realize our sameness. Humans need breath for life. Period. I closed my eyes and inhaled the collective breath of each and every person on this little Red Line train car, in this little dot on the map called Boston, Massachusetts. I breathed in the suffering, the pain, the joy, the frustrations of those humans sharing space with me. I exhaled compassion, acceptance and love to my fellow humans. Each breath offered more space for me to understand we are one.
Breathing is not only our birthright it is the great equalizer. If each of us choose to notice the collective breath we share, especially in the small spaces in which we breath together, wouldn’t this simple act give us the space we need to bring peace? Think of it. When you are on a plane, commuting on a train, bus, subway or perhaps in an elevator, yoga class, office, grocery store, stadium or restaurant… take a moment to breath a collective breath. Humbly accept all others who share that breath. Inhale the differences and send love and compassion into the space as you exhale. The more we practice this random act of kindness, the more strength we give the synapse that reconnects us to each other, overriding (hopefully replacing) the synapse that separates us.
I invite you to collectively breathe with me today – anywhere and everywhere.