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"The breath is a private affair," my student tells me. This is one of those moments when everything stops, and you can perceive the profound meaning of the words still echoing off the walls. Taken at face value, your ego filter interprets it as a stuffy statement, a refusal to follow along with the suggestion of the teacher. If you follow The Four Agreements and practice #2: "Don't take anything personally," you uncover a gold mine.
You can easily observe the breath on the outside. Watch someone's ribs and stomach expand and contract, or even watch their back if you're clever. The thing is, that's the tip of the iceberg; the vehicle form of a Transformer.
Here's where it gets more absorbing:
Every body has different geometry- my bones are different sizes, muscles are stronger and weaker in different ranges of motion, and my organs are organized in a way that is completely unique. So, right at the start, before adding any learned behaviour about how to move your body (sports, martial arts, dance training), we already have poses our body is better suited to perform. That means every body will move differently. This means each set of lungs will take in a different volume of air into different places. It's not possible for you to breathe like me, or me like you.
The breath is our connection to what's going on inside of us. Since we don't have eyes that can look inward, we have to use the breath. Most of us leave breathing to be controlled by the brain stem; part of our reptilian, primal brain. Its purpose is to keep us alive long enough to replicate (AKA marry and mate for those more romantically inclined). It controls motor function so we're dynamic targets instead of static ones- pumping nutrients to the rest of the body (heart, lungs) to fight or take flight, and making facial shapes to attract a mate. Stuck in this mentality, breath remains a basic, automatic function. If you choose to turn the attention of your forebrain (the frontal lobes) on to your breath, you immediately discover you're only breathing into a fraction of your potential volume.
With the power of the frontal lobes at work, the practice of breathing into more spaces in the body instantly turns the awareness inward. We unearth the ability to use the breath as a window to the places the outer eye can't see. You might even discover that space between the thoughts where consciousness contemplates consciousness- meditation.
Unite your data of the observation of breath on the outside and observation of breath on the inside, and you have a yoga practice. It could be any kind of movement: simple or complex, martial or venusian, East or West. It doesn't matter what you're doing with the body when you are aware of how you are doing it. When you work on this level, it's always a private affair.
Keep listening for the gold.
Written by Corey Loftus
Founder / Visionary : constantly quotable
Corey is a voiceover artist, yogi, and father to a fur-child named Eddy.
He'll work for almond butter.
corey [at] iamhom [dot] com