Clover At Gwithian Towans

…hold the breath….exhale…I thought I’d talk about breath, since it’s something we all do, but not something that we necessarily always think about in our day-to-day life!

Living is breathing. Sounds obvious, right?… Well, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. An ex-colleague of mine recently passed away. She was in her thirties and died of cancer. I’d seen her not long before she died and some of my colleagues, the day before. The news was a real shock…

Her death got me concentrating on my own breath. Often in yoga, breath is talked about as part of our life force and this has really resonated with me lately. It might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but our breath is what defines us as being alive. The difference in our body from the second before we die to the second after is our breath or lack of it. It is a little more technical than that, but essentially without it we can’t function. And when I think about it that way, I realise how powerful breathing actually is.

Couch potato?

Often when you’re touched by death, it gives you a kick up the butt — a reality check — that gets you thinking about your own life — putting things into perspective or making things clearer. For me, I started to investigate how I use my breath in every day life. Am I breathing like I’m already dead or like I have something to live for?…

When I’m practicing yoga, my breathing is good, I’m connected with my body, my breath is deep and I’m feeling alive (one of the reasons I so love yoga), but I was blo*dy shocked when I caught myself off the mat and hardly breathing. In front of the TV is the worst place…and driving. I’m not about to give up TV, but I could literally feel myself checking out of my body and zoning out. My breathing was shallow and my brain heavy, tired and I’ve gotta say – stupid 🙂 Maybe that’s OK sometimes, but I definitely don’t want to live life like I’ve checked-out!

It was bad while driving too (especially the routes I know well) I go into auto-pilot with the breath as well as the driving. Who cares, you might think – especially in front of the box, but when I’m not breathing I’m kind of outside of myself and I’m definitely not savouring the moment nor as alert as I could be. I’m not feeding myself with energy either… probably why it’s so easy to fall asleep on the sofa… Hmm, better start breathing properly while I’m behind the wheel!

Take a deep breath

Joking aside, I got asked a difficult question the other day. It was one of those times when you feel under pressure and on the spot. You want to tell the whole truth, but you also don’t want to offend… I took a massive deep yogic breath (the guy I was talking to probably thought I was crazy) and suddenly I was awake and the right words just flowed out.

I’ve been using breath with my injuries a lot lately too, since I’ve been on a bit of a roll, I thought why not?! In my life before yoga, I totally abused my body with high impact sports, especially running. The ‘no pain no gain’ mentality from yesteryear has definitely caught up with me. I’m way more aware of my injuries now than ever before because I’m taking notice of them. I wasn’t before – I was just ignoring them, hoping they’d go away, living with the pain…. of course they won’t go anywhere, only get worse. In Forrest yoga classes, you’re often asked to pick a painful spot or an issue you’d like to work with and focus breath — fresh energy — into it throughout the class. I’ve been doing that, but I’ve also been doing it day-to-day. Breathing into the injuries or problem areas has really heightened my awareness of what’s going on with the various parts of me that have a tendency to hurt. Not only that, because I’ve not zoned out on myself, I’ve figured out that some of my everyday actions aren’t helping me to heal. As and example I had dodgy wrists from boxing training and they play up occasionally (which isn’t great for handstands!), turns out that the way I put my bag on my shoulder every day exacerbates the problem. My solution: stop putting my bag on my shoulder that way!… I guess my point is, that if I hadn’t been concentrating on my breath, which gets me out of auto-pilot, I probably wouldn’t have noticed what I was doing and wouldn’t be able to fix my wrists.

Fresh breath feels so good

So as well as feeding our bodies, the action of taking a deep breath gives us time to react eloquently to situations (I was tempted to say that it ‘calms’ us, but that all too often gets misinterpreted as being a soft touch and in some situations you need to be firm. Practicing yoga doesn’t mean you have to be a push-over!). It gives us a beat to un-jumble the words, so that we say what we mean and do as we intend. If that also means I don’t sound like a complete numpty in tricky situations — freakin’ fantastic!

Best of all though, when I’m breathing, I know I’m alive.

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