The body can teach us so much. This year of studying anatomy has reinforced that for me more than ever. The physiological process of inhaling and exhaling is actually very enlightening, not just from an anatomical standpoint but from a spiritual one as well.
Very simply, when we INHALE our diaphragm moves down, our ribcage moves up and space is created for the lungs to take in air. The lungs are not muscles, they don’t actually pull the air in, rather when space is created in the cavity, the lungs accept what is being offered. The larger the space (the larger the inhale), the more the lungs can accept. When we translate this out of the body, there is a powerful message; The more open we are in the mind, heart and spirit, the more space we have to receive what the universe is offering.
What is there to be learned from the EXHALE? When the body exhales, it releases out what it no longer needs, what is not serving it. Again, from a spiritual perspective a lesson is there; We can use the exhale as our opportunity to surrender and let go of what is not serving us spiritually.
We began practice in seated meditation and visualized the air moving in and filling the lungs (taking in what the universe is offering) and then moving out of the lungs (as we surrendered that which is no longer serving us). In the opening Sun Salutes each movement connected to an inhale or an exhale. As we moved from Warrior 1, to Half Bound Parsvokonasana and then into Half Moon, we continued our journey into the breath. With each inhale we accepted what the universe was offering in our bodies, in our hearts and spirits as well. With each exhale, we surrendered, released out into the universe what we no longer needed, what was not serving us.
From there we began a series of balancing postures with the intent to appreciate one more aspect of the breath, the concept of BALANCE. Air moves into the lungs when the pressure outside the lungs is greater than the pressure inside and vice versa. The universe (and the body as a participant in the universe) is striving for balance, to equalize the pressure. So, just as our bodies are constantly working to achieve this balance of pressure, we worked on finding and cultivating balance in our poses. As we interlaced the hands in Warrior 3 and slowly lowered to Standing Split keeping the hands clasped behind our backs as long as our balance would allow, we appreciated all the subtle things that were working together to achieve that balance.
Off the mat, these lessons still apply. I spent quite a bit of time in my breath last week, visualizing the process and using its powers. It’s so amazing and comforting to have it. When I needed to be open to what the universe was offering (or throwing my way as it sometimes felt), I focused more on the inhale. When I needed to let go of something (an action or statement that wasn’t serving me) I embraced the exhale. And when I just felt overwhelmed or out of balance, I connected to the relationship between the two.
As the asana practice began to wind down it was a chance to start the transition of these lessons from the body to a deeper place. I encouraged them to learn what the breath can teach; to be open and accepting of what the universe is offering, to practice letting go of negative or unhelpful energy and to appreciate all the factors that work together to create balance in our lives. As we sat in our final seated meditation, we all inhaled and exhaled together. I felt such gratitude for the gift of the breath and all it can teach us, in our Yoga practice and in our lives. Namaste