‘Breathe’ is the first of the Yoga Club Rules. To be fair, they aren’t really rules as much as guiding principles. But hey – ‘breathe’ is a rule in the yoga club, and it’s also a number of other things too. It’s a statement of the obvious, a call to action, and a reminder altogether. It’s also the beginning of a set of practices too.
It’s a statement of the obvious because if you weren’t breathing – you wouldn’t even be at yoga club. You probably wouldn’t be around at all. You need to breath to live so it’s a recognition that you are alive, and you’ve turned up and are ready for yoga.
But because we are breathing all the time, maybe we are ready for yoga all the time too.
Simply being aware of our breath, and that we are breathing can be an advanced position for many of us. When we are distracted, or caught up in the hurly-burly of life, or when we are being pulled around by our emotions or our thoughts we can forget our breathing until we realise that we are literally out of breath, or full of breath – fizzing like a bottle of pop. The short, frequent, shallow breathing of annoyance, anger or frustration, or the bubbly breathlessness of frivolity, distraction and chatter are both good barometers of our state of body and mind.
The 2nd yoga club rule says “start from where you are”, but to do that you need to know where you are. That is why the first yoga club rule is breathe. It’s shorthand for stop what you are doing and bring your attention to your breathing. This is why this rule is a call to action and a reminder. Drop everything, stop what you are doing and focus on your breath.
We can tune into our breathing, and use this to consider our physical, mental and emotion state at any given moment. Because so often we are so distracted by stuff, that we haven’t considered how we are and because of this we find that we are caught in the net of our emotions or thoughts.
So to do this “breathe” rule, we begin by simply observing our inhalation and exhalation. Observation is essential. Don’t dive into judgement or intellectualism – just observe. Then when we have observed, we can begin to consider what our breathing tells us about our current state of mind and body. Perhaps we caught up in the emotion of something, maybe angry or frustrated. Perhaps we can begin to breath deeper, slower and longer. Perhaps we find that our state of being slows as we slow our breathing. Alternatively we may find that we are sluggish and our breathing is equally so, and as a result, perhaps we wish to bring more focus to our breathing. The key is to explore how our breath can bring us to a place of calm and equilibrium.
We may find that the mind and the thoughts slow down as we slow down our breathing. The quality of our thoughts becomes clearer, and less cluttered, with more depth and space between each consecutive thought.
It is at this point that we can being to think about the 2nd yoga club rule – “start from where you are”. This means taking an inventory of your body, and mind – working out how you are and also considering how you think you can be. That’s not as esoteric as it sounds.
It simply means recognising how your body feels, how your mind is – and also how your energy levels are. And beginning to form some intentions regarding how you wish to be if you wish to change from your current state of body, mind and energy.
This means that we can shape our practice of yoga to make it relevant and personalised, rather than follow the instructions from a Youtube or textbook style, standardised practice. Many people have been led away from the power of yoga by following a practice because it looks good or are persuaded that its the right practice, while all the time their bodies and minds are craving something quite different.
If we explore breath observation and reflection beforehand, once we start our yoga practice we will have a bit of a map of the terrain to help guide our practice.
We will know for example where in our bodies we need to be careful, cautious and gentle, and where perhaps we can seek to explore the boundaries of our asana practice by deepening a posture. But it’s not just about asana (postures) that I refer to here – yoga practice is more than just posture. This can apply to relaxation and meditation practices, our reading of texts, our approach to learning, relationships with others, and our practices of kindness, as well as our approach to truth or keeping an orderly household. In fact, it can apply to pretty much anything and everything in our lives.
Check in and observe your breath. And simply follow the inhalation and exhalation. This is helpful when we are seated or laying down. For any physical movement the guide is expansion and opening moves are carried out with an inhalation, and contraction and closing moves are carried out with an exhalation. But that is another story.
For the moment #1 Breathe.