On Breathing

(and yoga)


I’ve heard talks and read different things about Yahweh (the name God gave himself to Moses) being breath… that when you say “Yahweh” as it is written in Hebrew, it actually comes out as breath. Many take this deeper, believing that when we breathe in and out it is a sacred act, that the very act of breathing is saying God’s name, a name that transcends language and is spoken each time a living thing takes a breath.

I’ve been intrigued by this idea ever since. 

I’ve also been intrigued by yoga. My friend Michelle has always been into it, and I think she’s fantastic, so I’ve always wanted to try it.

When Tobin started his school, I started doing yoga. It was my first year of healing and I was taking my health seriously for the first time ever—taking fitness classes, running, lifting, and then doing yoga.

I started in restorative yoga. This is relaxation yoga, focusing on restoration. In this type of yoga, you do poses and hold them for long periods of time.

And I learned so many things. About breathing. About life.

The first of which is the idea that yoga comes down to the breath. My instructor always tell us that if you do nothing else but breathe in yoga class… you are still doing yoga. 

I learned that typically, in our everyday living, we breathe very shallow breaths… we don’t breathe deeply enough. (By “deep,” I mean taking deep breaths through your nose, where you expand the chest and breathe into your belly. You create space between your shoulders and your ears and really focus on the breath that moves in and out of our bodies, giving us life.)

There are so many benefits to deep breathing: we can slow down our heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and help us focus and relax.

Recently, I learned of a sport called freediving. This is where divers deep sea dive without any gear, relying solely on the breath. Freedivers are able to hold their breaths for several minutes underwater and go hundreds of feet below the surface.

When I picture this, I picture the divers charging themselves up by taking a big gulp of air and then going underwater, kinda like I did when I was a kid trying to beat my dad at how long I could stay under. I would suck in a ginormous gulp of air, puff my cheeks out and then plunge into the water, staying under until I started to panic, then I would rush to the top as fast as I could.

But, no. That’s not how it works.

These divers sit and calm themselves prior to their dives. They calm their mind and their body by breathing deep breaths. And then they take a breath (not a gulp) and go under. It takes so much training to get themselves to relax enough to do these amazing feats, but freedivers are able to dive down over 200 meters (656 feet) on a single breath!

The breath is so powerful.

In yoga, one of the first things I learned is that when you are in a pose, you “breathe into the resistance.” Pain is a red flag, of course, but if you feel resistance in the pose, you don’t give up but you also don’t force it. You “breathe” into the resistance. You picture where the resistance is in your body and you breathe into it.

And it works.

When I first started doing yoga, this blew me away: I would start at a certain place in a pose. Then I would breathe into where I could feel the resistance, those places that don’t want to move and stretch—and change. By the end of our time in the pose, I would end up deeper into it than when I started.

And something started to happen inside me.

I would be doing the physical work of yoga, but I would also be thinking and focusing on the hard in my life. And as I would breathe into the hard of the physical pose, I would “breathe” into the hard in my life.

Yoga became a moving metaphor. A sacred space for me to bring my hard and heavy to God and breathe God into those areas. I began to feel a peace and a grounding I had never felt before. Not in a magic “wooey” sort of way, but a consistent peace that comes from the practice of bringing my hard to God.

In our yoga, the instructors tell us to bring everything to the mat. It’s not a “leave your troubles at the door” place. It’s a “bring it all here” place. So when I lay on the mat to start my practice, I’m bringing everything with me.

And then we begin.
And I breathe.
And I work through the physical. And I work through the mental. And I work through the spiritual. Breathing deeply the sacred, holy breath.

That first year of yoga, I brought all of myself to the mat: my failings, my flaws, my misconceptions, my dashed dreams, my perspective, my weaknesses, my strengths, all of it. All of my hard, all of my highs.

That first year of yoga, breathing through the poses while breathing through my life, I felt forgiveness and empowerment. I was healing.

Once I got the hang of restorative yoga, I moved to hot vinyasa.

I had tried a few of these classes before, during Year 1. But I was also doing other things at the gym, and yoga was supplementary.

In this Year 2 of yoga, I’ve been taking the class almost every day.

At my gym, the vinyasa class is intense (at least for me!), with movement connected to breath. You move through guided Sun A and Sun B and then the instructor teaches you a creative flow (Sun C) and you are on your own for a while. It’s very challenging for me, as I struggle through not only doing the poses but remembering everything, and all the while the room is 90-95 degrees.

But for me, that seems to be how life is.

Just when I get the hang of something, life “heats up.” The challenges get more intense, the world spins upside down and the way I navigate through the world isn’t the same.

And still… the Instructor is guiding us, telling us to breathe… to not judge ourselves or how we look in the pose. To just be where we are. And breathe

“It all comes down to the breath,” she says, as she pushes us to do things we don’t want to do. Hard things. Things that push us past our limits. Poses we never expected. Poses we never saw coming.

And we breathe.

And we change.

And this second year of yoga, I brought us to the mat: our failings, our flaws, our misconceptions, our dashed dreams, our perspectives, our weaknesses, our strengths, all of it. All of our hard, all of our hurts.

And in this second year of yoga, breathing through the poses while breathing through our life, a deep healing has taken place.

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This is how I feel in yoga. So. Good.

Not because I nail the poses, but because I’m learning how to breathe as I try.
As I stumble and fall.
As I reach a goal.

Because sometimes life looks like this:

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And sometimes life looks like this:

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Because that’s what Pursuing Tob, pursuing the Good, is: breathing into the hard and the highs. You can’t just have successful poses—you have to work to get there. You have to fall to get there. You have to breathe to get there.

In yoga the breath is the focus.

One of my favorite exercises is when in inhale as far as we can go and then we hold it until we start to get a little uncomfortable. And we remind ourselves that everything we need is right there, just a breath away.

We exhale. And when we exhale, we push all of the air out of our lungs… pushing and pushing until all that old air is out. (I’m told that for most of us, when we exhale we don’t exhale all the air out because most of the time we don’t fully exhale all the air out of our lungs… so we have “old” air in there. Stale air. Air we need to let go of.)

In the exercise, we exhale and we hold the exhale until we start to feel uncomfortable. And we remind ourselves that everything we need is right there, just a breath away.

And it’s the breath that fuels us.

It’s the breath that makes those hards and highs Good.

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