My relationship with the breath is so profound and yet so simple. I came into this life on an inhale; wailing away as a nurse wiped snot from my nose and, hopefully, I’ll go out on a peaceful exhale.
Between that big roar and that quiet dissolution, I’ve realized that my life is a sort of retention. I’ve retained a particular life-form as I’ve shed cells, grown hair and gained wrinkles.
There have been lots of smaller breaths inside the big one and if I’m average, I will have had 675 million of them by the time I die. Each round is a little different from the one before. Observing it is the simplest way to be in the moment.
Watching the breath move is also the clearest way for me to experience personal transformation. Both me (the observer) and the breath (the observed) change. Yet the action of breathing is always there, faithful and dependable till the end.
When I breathe it is with the understanding that the breath itself is a shared phenomenon. Breath comes into my body from outside and then leaves me to find others to inhabit for a moment in time. It reminds me that we are all in this together. Despite our differences of attitudes, temperaments and ideas we all share the elements needed to inspire and expire.
When the yogis become fully realized they retain their breath for many hours, purifying it with their energy. They eventually send it out to others in a heightened form.
I use a mixture of techniques in my pranayama practice. Nadi shodhana, ujjayi, and viloma 1 and 2 all find their way into my day. By watching and controlling my breath, I develop a deeper relationship with each action.
Lately I do japa while I breathe, witnessing each creative, sustaining and parting moment. I practice because it has had positive effects on the stabilization of my mind and thoughts. It has helped me regulate my diet and hold off illness. And, most of the yogic texts I have read suggest that it is an important “limb” of study.
Maybe one day I’ll even catch a wisp of lustrous yogi breath. Perhaps that’s how enlightenment comes, you catch a molecule or two of breath that has been touched by a true yogi and let it venture for a retention inside your own strong yet impermanent home.