The practice of Pranayama allows us to become more skilled at controlling our breath, but before control comes awareness.
I had a wonderful opportunity to practice this recently. A couple weeks ago I participated in my first race. The day before I had some early pre-race jitters and thought it would be a great opportunity to observe the variety of breath I experienced throughout race day.
The first breath I observed was upon waking and not wanting to think about what was ahead—if I was prepared for the swim, if I could handle the hills. I just focused on breathing in, breathing out, and not getting worked up. This steadiness became more and more difficult to cultivate as start time got closer and closer, right up until I found myself standing at the edge of Lake Berryessa.
And suddenly the breath changed. I am a fairly new swimmer and it still amazes me how foreign breathing feels when swimming through water. I take for granted I can open my mouth and inhale air unobstructed; swimming in the chill of early morning, trying to avoid being kicked or kicking others, I was reminded of how satisfying a free and easy breath of air is.
On the bike, the breath served a different purpose—warming my hands. Cold from the swim, and chilling further from the air racing past I exhaled upon my near frozen fingers as I feebly tried to warm them up. When I could no longer afford to take hands off the handlebars, I imagined each breath penetrating my fingers, waking them from their numbed slumber.
Looping back down the mountain, the breath became more joyous. The gasp at those morning clouds rising off the lake—only an hour prior I had swam right through them. The sigh of relief as the merciful sun broke through and shone upon my fingers and the sensation of feeling returning. The first inhale upon finishing the run, fully stopped, heart galloping, and the satisfaction held within.
Later on, in the afternoon, observing my lungs expanding and contracting, with a napping loved one in my arms. Later still, now alone in my apartment, in front of my altar meditating—experiencing the lengthening of inhale and exhale, each working to further ground me deeper into my seat.
A race day may offer an extreme example but the lesson is universal—our breath changes with us and our encounters throughout the day. Maturity in practice comes with awareness. It is true for Asana, it is true for Pranayama, it is true for everything we undertake.
Josh believes in the importance of moving yoga beyond the studio and into everyday life. His even-tempo flow based classes focus on consistency of effort, breath, and attention. Beyond yoga, Josh spends his free time biking, swimming, and listening to hip-hop.