WHY (OH WHY) CAN’T
I BREATHE PROPERLY – DAY 1
New to yoga in the early 90s, I hesitantly approached my teacher. I asked why I could not breathe in during the relaxation period, while everyone else was looking blissed out. I really mean it – I was a teeming mass of anxiety and fear, and I felt as though I was going to die. I simply could not draw breath into my lungs.
If you experience panic attacks, anxiety, agitation or fear-fuelled distress, I am betting you’ve noticed that the breath is always affected.
Then some helpful person will say, “Take a deep breath!”. For me, at that time, attempts to change my breathing pattern ramped up the discomfort, and (sorry to admit) it made me want to punch the messenger’s lights out!
Here’s the unfortunate thing: attempts to use the breath to relax only work if the body is not on red alert for danger. If the body is feeling relatively safe, such instructions can work brilliantly. But if your reptilian brain is telling you “Fight or flight!” and your human consciousness is saying “Take a lovely slow breath in”, there is a clash of the titans inside the mind-body. And, guess what, the mechanism for survival wins every time!
Survival always trumps relaxation.
The need for short, shallow, urgent breathing stays embedded until we understand our background fears, mind-habits and bodily tensions. The breath can change dramatically once we understand that a self-condemning mind is obstructing the process.
When you saw the title of this page, or as you read it now, have you noticed yourself paying attention to your breathing pattern? What has your mind to say about the way you are breathing? When you become intimate with the way in which your conscious mind judges and wants to ‘fix’ or change the breath, you are on the journey towards easier breathing.
Help comes not through changing the breath, but through softening the judging mind.
Day 2 of this course goes further along the route to relaxed breathing.
John Welwood: Forget about enlightenment
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
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