Use what you’ve got
Laughing Buddha opened in August of 2012 and I was one of the lucky few present to see the beginning of this amazing community. At the time, some of the familiar faces were different and, as everyone who has been at LB for more than 3 months at a time knows, the layout and furniture have changed, but LB consistently embodies warmth, support, and comfort. And while the positive impression that LB makes continues, one of the early students at the studio, way back in the day, made a comment that sticks with me even now. While he may not have intended his comment as a critique, his assertion that the way we, as teachers, talk about breath, could be off-putting always sat strangely with me. As a teacher that may cringe slightly at the more “whoo whoo” side of yoga spirituality (if the words blessed or goddess ever come out of mouth in your presence, you should probably take my temperature and get me to a hospital) the implication that talking about breath is somehow too intangible and metaphysical, continues to make me wonder: when I talk about the breath in a classroom setting, am I adequately conveying my understanding of yoga’s reliance on breath as a practical tool? While yoga may be a spiritual practice, for its less “whoo whoo” practitioners, it is scientific. It teaches us how to use the very real, very solid instruments we carry with us to cope with the difficulties life brings.
The breath in a yoga practice does too many things to explain in a 500 word blog, but as a beginning, it acts as metaphor for so many of the tenants that make yoga useful and utilitarian. The breath, like a moment in life, comes and goes. Each inhale we accept brings with it a new opportunity, a new beginning. Each inhale literally fills the body with fuel for new cells and new life. With each exhale we allow a passing, we let go, we can sigh and remind ourselves that holding on only creates a struggle. Again, to boil this down to something more practical, each exhale allows us to get rid of the air in our bodies that has been used and needs to be made clean again with the next inhale. As such, we have a cycle in breath that mimics the cycle in life. Each breath begins of a new life and each breath out is the end of that life—the life cycle of breath. This in and out is also a mirror is the dichotomy we find each day as we move through this world. There can be no good without bad—no light without dark, not out-breath without the in-breath that precedes it.
Similarly, the moment that we are born, we begin our journey ever closer to death. While some may see this as a depressing way to look at life, that does not make it any less accurate. And so, the talk of breath in yoga highlights this ever-present mechanism filled lessons and we carry it with us each day on this planet.
I am a believer in the usefulness of things. I do not consider myself a collector just for the sake of collecting. If I do not use something, why keep it? And so, I continue to exhale as each breath has completed its purpose—as each breath provides me with the new and allows me to get rid of the old. This is about as practical as you can get.