Sometimes, I forget how to breathe. Does this ever happen to you? Most often, this happens when I am concentrating on my breathing, like during the opening Bikram breathing exercise. When it is at its worst, I sometimes have to take a quick in and out breath while I am waiting for others to finish exhaling. This is especially true when the teacher is a slow counter. Rarely do I lose my breath to that extent during the rest of class, although sometimes in camel, but that’s another story.
Last week one teacher was extremely focused on the opening breathing exercise, to the point where I could not really function. It was interesting because she spent a lot of time explaining how to take the breath in and out through the throat to make the appropriate “HA” sound, but it was also very challenging. There were so many details to focus on that it began to feel unnatural. I forgot how to breathe, and started to panic. This, of course, made me need to breathe faster, which just compounded the problem. I eventually calmed myself by counting slowly in my mind, but it was an unnerving experience.
Since that class I have had some time to reflect on my breathing fiasco. It reminded me of the feeling I had at my first yoga retreat during some of the guided mediation exercises. The quiet and the extended focus on breathing made me nervous to the point where I again forgot how to breathe. Maybe it has something to do with the experience of being 100% present. There is nothing more self-aware than focusing on your breathing, which is something you take for granted most of the time. This is why breathing is the core tenet of mediation, because it draws you into the present. Perhaps that continues to be an area of struggle for me.
Or maybe it is that the physical act of the breathing exercise is so complex. The teacher was asking us to control the vibration and path of the breath, in addition to the typical areas of focus like the pace of the breath, the placement of the ribcage, the tightness of the abdominal muscles, and the body’s overall posture. This is quite challenging when you think about it, particularly right at the start of class.
Or maybe it is both of these things put together. In any event, the experience forced me to refocus on my breath, which is always a good thing, and obviously something I need to continue to work on within my practice. And it reminded me of one of the many reasons why I love this yoga. While the postures are always the same, they are never identical, meaning there is always more they can teach you about your mind, your body, and your spirit.
Fellow yogis, do you ever forget how to breathe?