Until I step onto my mat, I’m unaware of my breath. I’ll forget its beauty and mystery, remain unaware of each inhalation or exhalation, fail to notice the space between each breath.
Even during those first few minutes on my mat, I’ll pay attention to everything but my breath--the tightness in my calves, the tension in my hamstrings, the ache in my knees. Or I’ll worry about the blood rushing from my head when I rise too quickly from a forward bend or how my back groans if I reach to touch my toes too quickly as we begin our practice.
But with each twist and turn, I notice how each breath supports my being in each moment, carries me forward into the next pose and the next. If I pay close attention, I’ll begin to notice how my breath comes in different rhythms–faster if I’m doing Sun Salutes, slower if I’m resting in Mountain Pose, loud as a steam engine when I’m kicking into handstand, soft as a kiss when I rest on my side after a gentle twist.
In each pose, I can hear my breath move into my body and out again, linking me to the mystery of life. I can feel the air flow through my nostrils, filling my chest and lungs, and then I can feel it retrace its passage out again.
During my early morning practice on the patio outside my bedroom, I can hear my breath blend with the whistles, chirps, screeches, tweets, caws and hoots of birds in our backyard. When I lay on my back in Savasana, I can feel the breath touch my upper lip, tickle the inside of my nose, soothe the back of my throat.
Listening to my breath reminds me that my breath is as essential to life as bones and blood, love and joy. Each time we step onto our mats, we can take a moment to listen to our breath. Then, inhaling, we can step into the next pose and savor the joy of breathing and being.
Bruce Black, the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press), is a teacher, editor, and blogger who lives with his wife and daughter in Sarasota, FL. [email protected]