Ah yes, September. Season of self-improvement.
Inevitably, my inner child, deeply imprinted with the yearly drama of going back to school, goes ballistic with excitement. It’s a new beginning! Another chance to finally get it right!
In bygone days, I wrote detailed September plans, complete with daily and weekly schedules that generally involved getting up earlier, working harder and eating less chocolate.
Over time, I’ve learned to scale down the plans.
Last year, for example, instead of a rigidly scheduled master plan for asana practice, I set myself the challenge of doing a shoulder stand every day for 90 days.
There was no restriction on when it happened, how long it was, or what variations I did. It just had to happen. And it did.
This year, my September plan is simpler still.
I want to get up in the morning and do breath observation for 10 minutes every day.
If I continue into a more formal breathing practice after that, fine. If I don’t, fine. But I want to start each day connecting with my breath.
Perhaps because I started yoga in the weak but flexible camp, it has taken a long time for me to identify breath as a central part of my practice.
For most of the past 25 years, I’ve been entranced by the poses and their effects on my body and mind. I’m still stunned that I can stand on my head, do elbow balance and push up from the floor in a full backbend.
But gradually, the truth of breath has begun to penetrate.
I don’t own my breath. I didn’t start it and I have no say over when it stops.
When I lie down on some configuration of blankets, bolsters and/or wood bricks, and consciously remind myself of my real relationship to my breath, then I feel my inhalations and exhalations as part of a universal breath, of a life force connecting every living, breathing being.
That early morning connection changes my orientation to the day, in a way I like.
Last winter, for the first time, I established a regular breath practice, and watched with surprise as it developed from 10 minutes of observation to 35 minutes of mixed relaxation, observation and pranayama.
I am still in the very beginning stages of breath work. Simple Ujayi breath – long slow inhalation, long slow exhalation – has plenty to teach me.
But I noticed that just as doing asana practice improves my posture all day long, my breathing practice made itself felt all day.
Whenever I paused to notice my breath, I found a fuller, more relaxed exhalation.
Once in a while, on one of those relaxed out-breaths, I’d feel a tension I didn’t know I was carrying drop away, like a chunk of ice off a glacier.
And, oddly, when I made one of my periodic returns to the swimming pool, front crawl had changed.
My old pattern, one I’d been trying to correct, was to hold my breath and blow it out just before the next in-breath. Now, without working at it, I could relax into a long, full exhalation.
You’d think I’d never have stopped my breathing practice.
But then it was time for summer Sadhana, and getting up at 5 a.m. to be at the studio just after 6 meant I had no time to lie down and breathe.
And then it was summer break, and traveling, and being away from routine.
Now it’s September. And I’m ready to go back to pranayama school.
As I said, I’m starting small. If I have anything of interest to report, I’ll let you know.
And if you’d like to join me, please do.
September in scrabble tiles by Rosemary, via Flickr.
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