Something magical happens when I start my yoga practice. I can feel a change in the way that I breathe.
As I inhale, I’ll raise my arms slowly—“as if lifting them through the thickest oil or the sweetest honey,” says my teacher, Jaye—and then I’ll lower them at the same pace and repeat the movement.
In moments I’ll notice how my shoulders loosen, how the muscles around my lower ribs let go, and how my upper chest relaxes and my breathing slows.
With each breath I’ll feel a sense of peace fill my body.
As long as I follow my breath, as long as I move with care through the poses of our class or in my home practice, I can feel this sense of peace filling each muscle, each pore of skin.
But the moment that I become distracted and forget my breath, I’ll lose track of the connection between movement and breath, and I’ll feel a sense of isolation and disconnection, even dislocation. In the blink of an eye the peaceful quality of my practice will disappear.
Only when I am able to match my movements so that my breath mirrors each forward bend, each lunge, each stretch and twist do I notice peace fill me again.
With each breath I’ll notice how this sense of peace expands beyond each pose into the space between each pose, into the pause between breathing in and breathing out, inhaling and exhaling.
With each coordinated dance of movement and breath, I notice how this sense of peace keeps expanding and helps me expand so I can move with more ease and more comfort.
And I’ll notice, too, how this expansive sense of peace connects me with the other people practicing in the room, as well as with all those outside our classroom—practicing, moving, breathing, being.
Our breath is like an invisible bridge. It leads us from one moment to the next, and it helps us find our way through the most challenging poses, poses that can feel like we’re balancing on a high wire or crossing a narrow bridge from a place that no longer exists to a place that does not yet exist.
If we can follow our breath in each pose, we can learn to let go of the previous pose while simultaneously summoning the courage to cross that narrow bridge and enter a new pose.
And for a miraculous moment, we can feel suspended in thin air, held there by our breath and by our faith in the next pose, the next breath.
Practice Journal: Describe how your breathing changes when you step onto your mat. Does noticing your breath change the way you enter and leave a pose? Do you find it hard or easy to coordinate your movements with your breath? What happens when you move in rhythm to your breath? Do you think your breath guides your movements, or do your movements guide your breath? Write: 15 minutes.