“A Matter of Life and Breath.”
Dedicated to my Mimi and the late Michael Abraham.
As summer approaches, Mother Earth seems to breathe life again into everything around. Her warm exhales melt the snow and ice; her slow inhales raise wildlife from a deep slumber. Breath is something we take for granted every day. Without it, we are dead…literally.
Yet how many times daily or even weekly do you think about your inhales or exhales? How often do you take note of how your breath feels and actively change it or enjoy it? If you are a student of yoga, you might answer, “everyday”. With any asana (yoga posture) practice, the student learns to focus on, be aware of and control the breath for improved mind and bodily function.
One breathing technique used in the traditional Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, as cultivated by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, is called ujjayi pranayama. Ujjayi is defined as extended victory, and pranayama as the development of life-energy. This breath is created by gently contracting the glottis area at the back of the throat which results in a soft but raspy noise, not unlike that of Darth Vader. Just as powerful as it’s Star Wars counterpart, the ujjayi breath creates a heat in the body conducive for stretching as well as cleansing and purifying the body through sweat. Yet in spite of its essential nature, the breath is often neglected.
Since the recent death of a very young friend, I find myself focused on the simple act of breathing. Now as the weather warms, instead of giving in to my desire to sleep late like a school child on break, I think of this life force flowing inside; I get up; I start my asana practice; and I breathe. I breathe for friends and family lost, for my grandmother fighting pneumonia, for millions across the world who can’t. I breathe extended victory for life.
Courtney Smith is an Astanga yoga teacher at The Aspen Club where she teaches 5 classes per week. She has practiced all over the world including Australia, Europe and Asia. And has studied under Brian Cooper, David Swenson, Matthew Sweeney, and Dharma Mittra among others.