Yoga Challenge Day 6- Yoga is the Breath
There is perhaps no greater mystery than the breath. Ask yourself this—by what force were you empowered to take your first breath and by what force will you be compelled to take your last breath. In the space between your first inhalation and your last exhalation is the entire journey of your life. Each inhalation carries with it the promise of life and new beginning. Each exhalation carries with it the inevitability of death and the decay. While it might seem pessimistic or negative to include the shadow side of the breath, life is not all inhalation and rising up. Life is a balance between the yin and yang, the forceful thrust towards birth and the gentle arc of decline. People who think that life should only contain the positive deprive themselves of depth and meaning.
Any ecosystem, such as a natural forest, goes through cycles of regeneration, which often include periods of devastation. The fires and volcanic eruptions that ravage the landscape lay the fertile ground for the next cycle of growth. Any upward trajectory that never dips down is imbalanced and unrealistic, perhaps even delusional. Understanding the power of both inhalation and exhalation unlocks the wisdom of some of life’s deepest secrets.
Yoga is a process of attaining balance between inhale and exhale, just as it is also a process of finding the middle way between the two emotional extremes that these aspects of the breath represent. Everyone has a preference for their natural resting breath towards either inhalation or exhalation. If you try and extend your breath you will find that it’s easier to lengthen either your inhalation or your exhalation. Of course there are probably a few rare people who find it easy to lengthen both and others that find it hard to lengthen both. Over time, and through ample practice, the breath finds its equilibrium point, just as the mind too finds its peace.
The most magical places on the arc of the breath are actually the spaces between inhalation and exhalation. At the top of the wave of inhalation there is a moment when you’re neither breathing in, nor breathing out. At the bottom of the valley of the exhalation there is a moment when you’re neither breathing in, nor breathing out. Sustaining your awareness in the space between breaths is a hidden door to the mystical. It can be tempting to hold your breath in or out, but the delicate pathway to the unseen realm happens only through communion and grace. You cannot force yourself to be in those in-between spaces, but you can gently coax your mind to glide into them. It is rather advanced actually to think about extending the space between the breaths, just as it is rather advanced to keep the mind focused in the space between your thoughts.
For today, try this—be aware of the cyclical nature of the breath as you practice. Focus on evening out the length of inhalation and exhalation as you apply the yogic breathing technique. Then, towards the end of your practice as you lie down and take rest, see if your mind is able to tune into the space between the breaths and the space between your thoughts. There may just be a moment or two of thoughtless, wordless unity with the whole universe.
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