I'd be dead without yoga. I'm sure of it. I've lived a life of risk-taking, I've imbibed a lot of drugs, a lot of toxins. Somehow I was able to maintain a practice in the middle of the Dark Night of my soul. I held to the yoga, and the yoga rewarded me by enabling me to survive without major illness. No HIV, no Hep C. I'm a baby boomer. I don't think I'm alone in saying that aging came as a great shock. Yoga has been precious in helping me cope with the phenomena of aging.
I'm limber and though I might wake up in the morning and walk like Frankenstein for a while, I don't have any onset of arthritis. I owe a debt of gratitude to yoga and I want to convey this most basic of lessons.
Lessons One Through Omega.
The breath is a circle. People tend to think of their own breath (when they think of it at all) as an in/out process. Wrong. The breath is a circle, it's a microcosm of the Great Circle of life.
The secret of good breathing is to use the muscles between the navel and the pubis. There's your handle. Use those muscles to push out the breath, really empty your lungs. Do it once or twice. Consciously move the handle back towards your spine as you exhale. Use it to completely empty your lungs. When you've expelled all your air, relax those muscles. let them spring out. Give yourself a pot belly. You don't need extraordinary effort, but if you push gently outward, the air will naturally rush in to fill the deepest parts of your lungs. Then it's a matter of drawing the air up, up, watch your ribcage expand and then finally raise your shoulders to give your lungs that one extra bit of air.
Then you go back the way you came. Let your shoulders relax, let your ribcage contract until you are finally at the bottom of the breath. Then use the lower abdomen to push out the last bit of air.
I use two basic breath procedures. I've just described the Deep Breath, or Slow Breath. You can take half a minute, a minute or more, just to complete one cycle. The longer you practice this technique, the longer your breath becomes. I
know adepts of the Slow Breath who take hours on each breath. They greet one another with a ritual: May your breath last a month. To which the other yogi responds, May your breath last a year.
The other breath I practice is Easy Breath. There's no effort at all. I just sit, let my body relax, let my lungs operate automatically. I see the center of my body, those vital muscles beneath my navel, as the control panel. Everything radiates from the Center, from the Breath Handle of my body. It's very relaxing and enjoyable.
I like to work with the Slow Breath for a time, getting myself focused. Practicing Slow Breath is a great way to quiet the mind. When I sit down to
do this practice, my mind is going yakkety yakkety yak. It's full of plans, speculations, fantasies, fears, all the stuff of daily life.
Fuggettaboutit! The first Slow Breath helps me shed a great load. The second takes me farther. I feel the mundane prattling of my mind diminish. If I have the patience to practice three Slow Breaths, I find myself greatly soothed. If I'm really on a roll, I'll do more, I'll do five or six. Then all I need is to do is go Whooosh! I let it all out, and go to Easy Breath.
That's it. That's my yoga lesson number one.