In class, my yoga teacher says, “When you meet resistance, breathe through it.”
This statement carries a powerful truth, not only in yoga, but in every aspect of life. When I have been brought to my knees by something—by the hardship of marriage, by the realization of my body’s limitations, by disappointment, by crippling grief—I have passed through this paralyzing moment simply by telling myself, Just breathe. That’s it. Just keep the air moving in and moving out.
The breath teaches us the natures of resistance and impermanence. The moment we try to hold onto the breath, whether at our fullest or emptiest, we notice a resistance; our bodies continue to move and shift, and so we must continually renew our acceptance of the nature of impermanence. In yoga, when we are challenged in a posture, the first reaction is to hold our breath.
Standing in tree pose, sensing the small muscles in our feet and ankles grab and struggle to hold balance, feeling the strain and stretch of our shoulders as we reach our branched arms above our heads, tempted to let our gazes and minds wander away from the task at hand, we tend to lock and tense, just wishing for the pose to be over. Remembering to release into the in- and out-flows of breath, we release and relax into the posture, accepting the reality of what is, neither clinging nor resisting, but allowing.
In my years practicing yoga, I’ve slowly peeled back layers of understanding about this ancient practice. The physical component that most people think of when they hear the word “yoga” is simply one of eight “limbs.” One of my meditation teachers says that the yoga practice is all just a big preparation to sit down and meditate—basically, we are getting the wiggles out so that our mind can focus. I’ve experienced this, but I also have experienced the entire practice as a meditation in and of itself. Within the eight limbs of yoga, the seventh is specifically dedicated to the act of meditation, but each limb serves to focus the mind, the attention, the awareness, so that we may enter a state of being that is settled, connected, and free.
The longer I’ve practiced yoga, the more opportunities I’ve had to settle and open into this inner quiet. The distinctions between the lenses of neuroscience, energy healing, quantum physics, meditation, religion, or nature have become less important than the understanding that all of these belief systems are pointing to the same unnamable thing. I suppose it’s a rather poignant cosmic joke that, after searching everywhere for God, I found Him in a handstand.
My yoga studio is nothing special to look at. The walls are bland white, decorated spottily with a few pieces of yogic art work—a mandala, a tapestry of Mother Teresa, a down-dog in ceramic relief that a student made and donated. The ceilings are cracked, the ceiling fans outdated. A few crystals, singing bowls, and statues grace the small table in the front left corner. After my six years of membership there, they finally renovated the cubbies in the back—light wood now instead of dark, unmovable as opposed to the old system with pegs that kept getting dislocated and/or lost, causing the shelves to wibble and wobble.
The studio itself is simple, a little beat up, but well-used and well-loved. For, absorbed into that small rectangular space—a white box with wooden floors, and a few windows—is the energetic outpouring of every person who has practiced there. With each effort, each out-breath while holding an uncomfortable posture, each in-breath that signifies a renewal and a yes to this moment, to this practice, this life, we are giving of our essence, and in return, we are filled, and made incrementally more whole.