Why I Breathe the way I do, Thank You India
Can you remember your first Yoga Practice, I can like it was yesterday. Although my first yoga class was experienced in local community centres in Ontario Canada; they don’t count, not to discredit them, it just wasn’t the Yoga I was looking for. I found it years later and half way around the world.
Rewind over a decade, and find yourself in Varanasi India, I was travelling there for some time after college. To explain India would be a book in itself, but with this short story and others to come, you will gain insight and understanding of they way we breathe in North America that may be differently than others in the world.
Travelling throughout India was exhilarating and exciting, but it also poses you with some challenges, not knowing that a little perseverance will help you prevail in any situation could be detrimental in your enjoyment of the entire experience. The English did one very good thing for India, the wonderful snake of silver tracks that criss cross the country make travelling relatively easy and inexpensive. The trains in India are in no comparison to Via or Amtrak, the only thing they have in common is their schedule. But the Indian Railways with a train to every corner of the country, makes your travel experience complete while in India.
While travelling, I thought I would stop in Varanasi, a city of around 1.3 million back in 1999. It doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but when you factor in the population density, this city situated along the Ganges River is always buzzing. Typically Varanasi is a place you go in your elder years, let say in preparation to leave the physical world. Varanasi may be the the oldest continuously habited city in the world, considered holy in Buddhist, and Jain and the holiest place on Earth in Hinduism. Sounds like a great place to stop for a day or two for a weary traveler. Arriving was no problem, just stepped off the train (probably into a large pile of cow dung). Getting back on the train was a whole other issue. Apparently there were no trains leaving for 1 week, although this may or may not have been the case, I decided to make the best of my time.
- Regular gathering along the Ganges. Beautiful
After you have seen your share of temples, walked the gardens of the university, and watched the human ashes being placed into the Ganges only to swirl past you in their return to cycle of life and energy. The next best thing when you have time to spare, is Yoga. Finding a place to do yoga is quite easy, you just have to ask. So I was set, dressed appropriately and ready for the asanas. Little did I know that there would only be one position that would be expected from me. Pradmasana or Lotus for some, more like regular, knee high, cross legged for me. Yoga in India is done at the local temple, (there is one on every corner) so you don’t have to travel far. I entered and bowed offering my hands in prayer. I was asked to sit across from another gentleman that was about to begin my first real yoga lesson.
Now, I should explain that the temples in India are all made from marble, the floor especially. I sat cross legged across from my new friend on a cold marble floor, at first the marble was soothing, as the temperature outside was in the mid 30’s so the marble was cooling my body nicely from the days heat. Then we started chanting OM, we chanted some more OM, and then some more. I was corrected numerous times to straighten my spine and sit properly over the course of two hours while keeping my eyes closed and chanting OM. Yes, two hours of sitting cross legged chanting OM on a cold marble floor. I just couldn’t wait for the yoga to begin, and if you know India, all good things come in there own time. Sadly after the chanting was over, I was asked to leave and come back tomorrow. I was completely confused now, when were we going to do yoga?
I returned again, my bum still sore from the unforgiving marble of yesterday, figuring I had passed the test, and was now allowed to practice yoga. I was asked to sit, cross my legs, and begin chanting OM again. Two hours passed again (very slowly), I didn’t want to interrupt during that time for fear for being singled out. But, I really wanted to know when the real yoga was to begin. Before leaving the temple that second day, I asked my new friend “What type of yoga am I learning?” I explained that I was expecting something else. My friend explained to me that until I learn to breathe, it would not matter what I do with my life. The way it was said, might have been a little more blunt, and poignant. I was saddened, “I thought we all were born with the innate ability to breathe” I said to him. “Ahh Yes”, was the answer, “except you breathe like a North American”. Now I was beginning to get frustrated, feeling left in the dark and scratching for a smart thing to say. I think it came out like this “Why I am here then”, now I would like to say that it had “not a pinch of sarcasm” in it, but that might not be entirely true, it did.
At that very moment, I was to have my greatest epiphany. Here it comes, it was explained and ingrained within me, that your breath is your prana or “your life force” and when you breathe, and pay attention to the moment of each inhale and the moment of each exhale – this is Yoga. Smiling now, I understood why I was there, to learn to breathe for the first time.
A few more days of chanting, and trust me when I say this, the marble floor did feel like it softened just a bit, or maybe that was just my ego letting go. In the years that followed, my yoga practice has come and gone through many studios, but my breath remains my only constant. I would like to call it my Indian Breath, for I breathe differently now, honouring each ebb and flow, rise and fall for an eternity of bliss and calmness.
When I teach my own classes “Exploring the Chakras with Crystals” I gather this experience that I have gained, sharing with one another so that we can all grow closer together as one. If I could leave you with one small thing, something I truly believe in….. the best moments in life are the few micro seconds between each breath. Your breath is a cycle of “in and out”, just try to pay attention to that small place before the “in” and after the “out”. You will soon realize how abundant that small place is. For within that space holds the greatest of possibilities and endless amount of creation.
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