The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit. – Moliere
The ocean is a mighty harmonist. – William Wordsworth
When I started practicing yoga many years ago, I was lousy at it.
At the time, my biggest failure, the thing that struck me the most, was that I was always finishing a pose, or series of poses, before everybody else. For the life of me, I could not SLOW DOWN. I did everything FAST. I would finish the pose and look around wondering what was next. GET ON WITH IT PEOPLE! was my mantra.
Those of you who are yoga devotees will realize with that statement just how much I truly needed the lessons of yoga.
In Saturday’s yoga class, I realized something BIG. Something HUGE for me.
I am no longer the first to finish. In fact, I am often THE LAST. And sometimes I just flat out ignore the teacher and stay right where I am, if I am not personally done with what the pose has to offer me.
I thought about this a lot. I wondered if my ‘slowing down’ was just due to age. Truth be told, my body creaks a lot these days, my knees are a mess, and after a long period in one position, the unwinding is far from fast or elegant.
But I don’t think age alone is the explanation for this change.
Today, in my classes, I am captivated by my breathing, by that wonderful Ujjayi sound.
Ujjayi breathing is often compared to the sound of the ocean. In Ujjayi breathing, you slightly constrict your throat on the exhale so that the breath comes through slowly, in a slightly hissing sound. Imagine that you are fogging up glasses with your mouth closed. Try it: Breathe in and breathe out slowly and really listen to it as it comes in through your nose, and then slowly crosses your throat on the exhale. I dare you to try to think about anything else while you are doing Ujjayi breathing. It’s really not possible. The breath takes over. It’s your own personal ocean, right there inside you.
I used to think the whole breathing thing was total crap. My mind was completely NOT in sync with my breathing. My mind was always racing, moving, thinking – about the next pose, or what i had to do after class, or what trouble my kids were into this week, or what bills I had to pay, or what deliverable I had to get done for work the next day. Breath was not even an after-thought.
But breath is critical to yoga. Absolutely critical. Yogis are convinced that everything is prana (energy). The breath links the physical and energetic universe. By applying the correct breathing technique, you can open a gateway to unlimited energy.
There is an intimate connection between the breath, the body, and the mind. Attention to breath brings attention to NOW. Only NOW.
Ojjayi breath is called “conqueror” breath. The English translation of ‘Ujjayi’ breathing means “to become victorious” or “to gain mastery”.
Five years ago when I started this blog I was known to my son as ‘Dammed River”. In the wisdom of a twelve-year old, I was so stressed out that I had stopped flowing. My goal with Running River was to become un-dammed, to learn to flow again, to be in the moment and enjoy it.
I’m certainly not declaring victory, but there has been huge progress here.
I have learned how to breathe. Deep and slow and rich. And on the waves of the breath, I might just be close to conquering the whole speed thing – that need for urgency, speed and completion that has haunted me for the last twenty years.
When I slow down and really explore a pose – that moment when breath and mind and body are one – I am able to plumb and truly know its depths. And in the process, I learn to know, not just the pose, but my own depths as well.
The important stuff of life just doesn’t need to be done fast. In fact it’s the exact opposite. It shouldn’t be done fast. There’s a whole fantastic world – and a personal ocean of opportunity – that comes alive within each of us when we learn to do it slow.