I recently took a class with one of my teachers, Rodney Yee. I loved how he was emphasizing the importance of receiving the breath rather than forcing it or working it too much during the practice.
The breath is absolutely amazing. If I could only cite one reason, it would be that it is the force, the energy that keeps us alive. And just for that specific reason, we should be paying a little more attention to the breath!
The breath is also extraordinary because we don’t have to think about breathing; it is happening on its own but at the same time, we have control over the breath: we can deepen it, lengthen it, slow it down, hold it… How cool is that!
Our breath is also incredible as it has an impact on our mind and emotions. I’m sure you’ve noticed when you feel anxious, stressed out or fearful, the breath is shallow and faster and we you feel at ease, calm; the breath is longer, slower.
So many things can be said about the breath…
But coming back to that concept of inviting the breath and allowing it to happen to us.
During a yoga practice, it’s very easy to exaggerate and work the breath. And sometimes we want to do this; for instance if we are working on a specific pranayama or a pose that requires a certain pattern of breath.
But what if, as Rodney was saying, we just receive the breath? This is something I teach in restorative yoga where we are trying to release all control and all efforts but not something I’ve been teaching in my regular classes.
It comes down to this idea of creating enough space in the body to allow the breath to flow freely and deeply instead of trying too hard.
He was taking the example of a friend who comes to see you at your place and in order to sit next to you to the sofa, that person has to step over all the mess that’s on the floor and the pieces of furniture in the way. Instead, you would clean your apartment before receiving your friend so its coming over feels welcomed and easeful. This is the same concept with the breath, how can we create enough space in the body so the breath doesn’t encounter any restrictions?
As I kept thinking about this, I realize that it is such an important concept in every aspect of our life: creating the space physically, mentally for things to come organically instead of over working, over analyzing, obsessing about a situation.
It is actually something I’ve been doing and using a lot in my life. Every time a stressful and anxiety producing situation comes along, I ask myself: do I have any control over that situation?
Sometimes I do, and then I take every step I can to make it better but at other times (which turn out to be most of the times!), I don’t have any control over the situation. In that case, I create some space around it and let the situation unfolds on its own.
A good recent example would be the green card process my husband and I are engaged in.
Even though we started our process more than 18 months ago and got approved quickly we learned just last month that we are allowed to travel abroad again (during the process, you are required to stay in the country). Every month we were waiting to hear from our lawyer to know if we could access the second phase of the process which grants the right to travel. The not knowing when this would happen, as we literally had no time-frame, was very stressful. But in that specific situation, I had zero control so what’s the point in over obsessing about it? I had to create some space around it and, as they say in the yoga world, “go with the flow”.
Have you ever noticed that when you have something in mind or you learn a new thing and all of a sudden you keep seeing that thing everywhere?
So, the other day, I was listening to a French podcast that I recently discovered and enjoy a lot called “Vlan” (podcast de Gregory Pouy). The person interviewed was Perla Servan Schreiber who is a French author (her latest book talks about the joy of growing old: “Les promesses de l’âge : A 75 ans, ma nouvelle liberté”) and among other things, she was asked what is her secret to happiness. Interestingly enough, she said that her secret is: “do not try to change what doesn’t depend on you.” She added that the more we do this, and the more joyful we’ll get.
It turns out there is a religious text written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (that you may know) called the Serenity prayer that says exactly the same thing and is full of wisdom:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
The wisdom to know the difference is the most important so we don’t exhaust ourselves trying to fix what we have no control of. Then the mind can feel free, at ease and we can use our energy towards what makes us happy.
So be it with the breath or the mind, may we create some space around them so everything flows more organically without over efforting.
As always, thank you for reading.