How to Breathe – What I Learned at the Yoga and Climbing Retreat

25 - August - 2009 -- Breathe

Breathe, by reway2007, on Flickr

In my earlier entry, Catching the Run-off, I mentioned small, obtainable goals, such as the ones listed in 40 Tips for a Better Life. My problem appears to be that I set big hairy goals, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s when I get so impatient with my progress that the frustration and discouragement sets in – that’s the bad thing. I frequently discount small bits of progress as insignificant. Take learning how to breathe for example….

I had specific goals when I went to the New River Mountain Guides Yoga and Climbing Retreat. The first was easy – get away from work for a while to reset my internal equilibrium. Easily achieved by making the reservation, taking annual leave and getting in the car. Check. Once there, I decided, I was going to lead climb a 5.7 outdoors and I was going to come home with a new sequence of yoga poses that I could add into my personal practice. How did I fare?

As I filled out my evaluation, I thought, well, I didn’t exactly lead climb the 5.7, but I battled fear and I won. So that counts. 10 out of 10.

On yoga, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to take home with me. I didn’t have a sequence that I could remember. All I know was that I struggled to understand the Sanskrit pose names. I struggled to understand what Erin meant when she said to “soften your heart” or to engage the inner thighs by pushing them back push when standing in
Tadasana or Mountain pose. I was disappointed to learn I had been doing Downward Facing Dog wrong all this time, (apologies to my shoulders). The number of small, minor body adjustments never seemed to end. Just scan over this blogger’s description of Tadasana for effect: Brad’s Iyengar Yoga Notebook. He notes that the description is not intended for beginners, but rather for those already familiar with the basics to become more aware of the 10 printed pages worth of subtle alignments.

I also struggled with sitting meditation. That incessant inner monologue was tenacious. It refused to simply pass by like the cloud of thoughts over our heads that we were supposed to envision. With each breath, I had to mentally force each thought up into the stratosphere. “Get up there. Hush. Quit it. No, you’re not doing it wrong. At least I don’t think so. Look, this is me breathing. Haughhh, haughhh haughhh….. I wonder if it’s still snowing….

As I finished up my evaluation, I felt somewhat disappointed in my yoga experience. (By disappointed, I mean a 9 out of 10 rating). I went off for one last climb, wondering what I had from my yoga experience that I was going to take home with me. As I climbed, I got to one sweet little corner crack where I had to lay back. Oh, that crack was so comfortable. (Not really). I didn’t need to move. (Yes, yes I did). I could stand there for hours. (Blood trickled off my knuckle, my calf began to do a little Elvis shake.) I simply refused. to. move.


Do not forget to exhale. Breathe by Silent Observer, on Flickr

“Breathe, Kerry,” Tracy reminded me. I started breathing that throaty inhale, throaty exhale, the kind that would fog up your bathroom mirror, but more forceful. “Haughhh, haughhh haughhh.” My tunnel vision lifted. I saw the next move. I trusted my weight on my stick shoes and reached up to the next hold.

When I finished the climb, I excitedly ran back to amend my evaluation. I had learned how to breathe.

“Some minds learn most when they seem to learn least.”
– Walter Bagehot, 1826-1877

Thank you, Erin. Nameste.

Have doubts about the effects of controlling and using your breath? Check out this NPR article: Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever

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