Discovering the Self Through the Breath in Mysore


I was in Mysore, India, for a month studying with Saraswathi Jois, Guriji’s daughter. I found myself full of emotions, thoughts, feelings. Mainly, my heart was full of gratitude. Below are some of the reflections I wrote down while I was there.

First of all, the breath.

The breath is a powerful and inspiring tool for grounding, discovering the self, exploration, and trust. In our daily life, we rarely pay attention to our breath. Yet, it is there, happening as an unconscious miracle, every day.

In our yoga practice, the breath is also there, just happening. It persists with unrelenting tirelessness. The practice gives us a chance to become familiar with it, to look closely at our inhalation and exhalation, to listen to the sound of our own personal breath.

Through the practice, we learn that a long deep breath gives us more stability, sense of grounding and introspection. A shallow breath may, instead, be the expression of an unfocused mind, a sense of impatience, or of a physical/mental tension.

During the practice, with every single inhalation and exhalation, we are given a possibility for self-exploration. Why is my breath shallow today? What are the thoughts coming up in my mind? What are the physical and mental tensions I am carrying with me on the yoga mat? What prevents me from being totally focused and grounded in my yoga practice today?

By simply asking these questions and observing the feelings (and answers!) that might arise – without bringing in any form of judgement or any intellectual reasonings – we undertake a journey of self-discovery, through the breath.

The mind is there, ready for judging whatever arises. Our inner “enemies” (competition, anger, fear, and so on) are also there, ready to take control. Yet, our challenge is to maintain an observer’s disposition, acknowledging with gratitude and acceptance whatever arises.

If tension or discomfort arises, we can consciously decide to change our breath and make it deeper, longer and steadier, contracting the glottis to produce a gentle sound of ocean. Through the breath, we instill in ourselves a sense of grounding and focusing.

We learn that the breath is there to help us be present. We experience that, in the moment we intentionally decide to breathe deeply and steadily, this will change our practice and our focus.

The presence of the breath as a tool for self-exploration is available in each posture. Every inhalation gives us a possibility to go inwards, to notice our personal “reaction” to the posture. How is our body in that asana? How is our mind? Any specific emotions arising? Any tension? Every inhalation gives us also a new chance for further lengthening, opening, twisting, folding, so we can reach – even with just one more inch – a totally new different space of self-exploration.

And then, the beautiful miracle of the exhalation comes, reminding us to let go of whatever we encountered, to simply acknowledge, with a sense of acceptance and gratitude, whatever was there in our path, present in that specific moment. What is coming up to the surface is most probably what we have to work on. Observing, acknowledging and accepting it, is the very first step for “progressing” in our spiritual path towards the discovery of the Self.

Finally, the breath leads each single movement throughout our yoga practice. When the inhalation begins, we open, we lengthen, we rise, at the pace of our breath, with a sense of being fully present in the moment. At the exhalation, we fold, we twist, we release. How reassuring and calming it is to wait until the very end of the inhalation/exhalation before changing posture, with no rush, no impatience. How beautiful it is to embrace the magic of the moment in between the inhalation and the exhalation and vice versa. A moment of quietness, when we are completely confident that the next inhalation/exhalation is there, about to happen. With no rush, we follow the dance of the breath with trust and patience.

 

Valeria is a freelance consultant in gender and international development, a yoga teacher and practitioner. She has travelled to and lived in several countries. She strongly believes in the power of yoga to empower communities and to inspire social change.

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