I’m a late bloomer when it comes to doing yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation. If you are similar to me – you like to be active both mentally and physically – it could take you awhile to settle down enough to savour the sweetness of these practices.
Until till then, you might be like an untrained puppy, bucking the leash. Perhaps avoiding the inevitable – even missing the fragrance of yoga.
This morning, at the end of my physical yoga practice, I lay down, and for some time I played with lengthening my inhalations and exhalations. “Play” is the operative word here because I felt that any imposition of my will, any force I might have used, would undermine the invitation to the breath to just flow.
This passive attitude is 180 degrees from being goal-directed. I can’t even think of a word for it. What you do in pranayama is go with the breath. Side-by-side. You’re not standing in front pulling on the breath or behind pushing it, but being with it. You and your breath are being companionable.
Then, maybe by dint of grace, something interesting, even magical happens. I had a delicious experience of my breath opening up into some pauses that just went on, seemingly with no beginning or end. And then, the next phase of the breath would just come along without looking for it.
There’s a beautiful quote from The Radiance Sutras book that describes the felicity of this sort of breathing:*
The breath flows in and just as it turns
To flow out, there is a flash of pure joy —
Life is renewed.
Awaken into that.
Tasmin-sati svasa-prasvasayoh gait-vicchedah pranayamah
When that is attained, breath control consists in a modification of the process of exhalation and inhalation.**
**Patanjali’s Meditation Yoga, translation and commentary by Vyn Bailey.