Breath is the food of yoga. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built. The breath is where I return when I arise, am lost, tired or ready to celebrate. It is a first altared space.
I think about the tree in my front yard. It’s a big willow and her umbrella branches provide gobs of shade in a summer of scorching heat. This tree is enough to scrub the air clean to feed my family the oxygen we need to live. We exhale toxins that are life breath for her green leaves. I love this cycle.
Breath washes clean. Back and forth it goes from tree to me and back again; each of us scrubbing the air for the other. We live in perfect harmony underneath the cool refuge of shade on a summer’s day as we offer water to a deep root system that sustains us.
Trees help me to breathe in all ways. Obviously they help in this literal way. But when I meditate on trees I grow deeper roots and am more fully anchored as I stand in Tadasana. My great toe and smallest toe I send deep into the ground. I think about my heel equally balanced and heavy.
I had a class once with Richard Freeman and he began the class with breath. As we stood in Tadasana we inhaled 5 or 6 times simply allowing breath to lift our arms; breath that filled our back body, our armpits, the branches we posses. I felt this breath inhabit me; breath that had been cleaned by trees; breath I was sending back to them.
This cycle of constant renewal is Grace to me. Mistakes bother me. Well, that is an understatement. Mistakes haunt me. But when I allow the truth of this cycle of breath to inhabit my body, like food that sustains me, I can breathe those mistakes in and make friends with them. Breathing fully is a friendly gesture.
I like making friends with my body. This is why yoga helps me. Ever at odds with my body (too fat, can’t do a wheely on my bike, my mouth betrayed me by talking without my permission and embarrassed me), I like the spirit of breathing in and breathing out. I like feeding the tree that feeds me. It is constant renewal. With this I am calmed.
So I breathe through my toes. I breathe through the branches on my back. I allow breath to flood my body as the toxic cleanse it is and my mistakes, my toxicity flows to the trees where it is made green by the magic of the sun and photosynthesis.
This is how, quite literally, my mistakes are fixed. This is how I see Grace. My toxins become life; the food I eat. My salad needed the poison of my breath to grow. To those green leaves growing, my toxic exhale is life force.
Now I eat, grow strong, and exhale some more to keep the cycle of Grace flowing. It’s all good.
Having a home practice of yoga can be a challenge. I know it is for me. There seems to always be something else distracting me. But when I take the time, even 8 minutes, to breathe, go around the sun salutation a couple times and sit for 8 cycles of breath…well, I can actually feel the Grace.
Here’s a link to a simple animation reminding you and me of how easy it is to circle the sun and inhale some photosynthesis on our mats. I’m giving myself a gold star for every time I do just that this week. Please let me know how you’re doing with your yoga practice. I like knowing I have friends exchanging air with trees.