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Behind the breath

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Behind the breath photo

I began doing yoga, recently, after resisting it for years. Initially, it felt so boring. As one of those obsessed-with-running runners, it certainly didn't allow for that type of animal pleasure of digging into the earth, ripping through the world, passing people by, grimacing through the snow and the heat and the rain, pushing myself to my limits.

No, yoga was too calm, I had decided, after a dismal, brief attempt. There was no one to fight, not even myself. How aggravating.

Years, months later, housebound with energy begging to be burned, I tried it again. This time, something happened.

I was struck by the (YouTube) yoga instructor when she said "Regardless of what is going on outside of you, how far you are/aren’t stretching, etc., the most important thing is what is going on inside of you. Concentrate on the breath."

I stopped, struck by this simple, novel statement, feeling a rush of exhilaration within me as I realized that accomplishment was, quite literally, within my reach.

The point, l soon learned, wasn't to be somewhere else, to get somewhere else. To become fit, or limber. I was, already there. I was, already doing it. There was nowhere to go. All I had to do was breathe. This euphoric cloud of bliss entered the interior walls of my skin, as each breathe was an accomplishment, delicious, relaxing. I had arrived.

For a few weeks, I was obsessed with yoga, convinced it had solved all of my problems. I was shocked when, after the initial stages of yoga-infatuation faded, life was still a trial. There were still things that bothered my mind, entered into my psyche, clenched and strained my muscles. I was still tense.

Life happens. Stress happens. There are always more challenges and tests in this earthly existence. Such is the nature of things. But I have kept up with my yoga routine, and sometimes, I reach that state again, and I remember.

I remember that it is not the external things that will give me a sense of calm and completion.

That no matter how efficient I am, how many things I cross off of my to-do list, how much my baby conforms to her sleeping and eating schedule, how clean and ordered the house is, or how much money is in the bank, none of these things guarantees a sense of "wellbeing". A sense of "quality of life" that we crave.

I forget this constantly, every day, as I groggily wake up and, feeling the anxiety and the pressures of the day before me, I try to Get Things Done. Moving as quickly as I can, I scan my to-do list. My day seems so short, so little time for life.

As I sit down for yoga, and I start to breathe, slowly, I remember. Something. It starts off as a trickle, as the anxiety and intensity of my former thoughts resume their positions on the sidelines, watching as I cautiously return my attention to my breath. And that memory returns, reminding me that there's nowhere to go. It's all here. It's all good. I'm all good. I do not have to accomplish in order to feel whole, I am whole already.

There's a Jewish prayer, the Modeh Ani, which carries that simplistic message. Meant to be said the instant that we wake up and regain consciousness, the liturgy recalls with our groggy minds that we are indebted to G-d for returning our souls to us, though we cannot say His name yet because of our physical impurity, our contact with death as we slept (Jewish thought says that sleep is 1/60 of death, and your soul "leaves" the body during slumber, sojourning up to the heavens). A deeper explanation of the prayer teaches that, in the midst of this impurity, there is that part of us, that soul, that is completely pure, untouched, regardless. It is that realization of wholeness and perfection we aim to carry with us throughout our day as we tackle the unfinished world.

And that is what I return to, that is what I remember, when I breathe, as I stop. And through the stopping, I am. I am pure, I am grand, I am living, I am there,already.

We do not exist because we think that we do. We do not exist because we get things done. We exist because we are. And what we are is a lot of chaotic, potential energy swirling around a center of calm, beautiful perfection.

Now that's good stuff.

With this thought, the world also loosens up and slowly exhales alongside me.

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