Pine Tree Pranayama

Via Hilary Lindsay
on Mar 10, 2011
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Rob Lindsay photograph

A stand of pine trees grows at the summit of a nearby hill. I walk my dogs purposefully toward it every day anticipating the scent of pine the way a runner anticipates the drink of water to cool her fire at the run’s end.

Approaching the pines, before I can smell them, I feel my lungs open like a gaping baby bird beak remembering worms. This is my pranayama; my body charged with the desire to inhale energy, to bring the sap and bark and needles and earth of those trees into me.

I’m often stingy with air, hoarding it by taking only little bits at a time, taking only what I need to survive. Where did that come from? Despite the bus and car fumes, New York had a wonderful breeze from the water. My home in Los Angeles was in the hills and the air was often perfumed with sage and pine and wild flowers. Was it the polluted air of Nashville which sits in a basin that the Indians called the valley of ill health? When did I start holding back energy? Was I recoiling from a bad smell or was it less conscious than that! Did it begin in the oppressive summers and become habit that kept me from breathing in the Fall and Winter?

Springtime in Nashville is a feast for the eyes. Flowers fill the sky in blocks of blooming trees. A bouquet of colors quickly covers the newly green grass in daffodils and hyacinth. The winter jasmine is still bright yellow with branches that are often mistaken for the forsythia that comes on its tail. Pink quince and white hawthorn, tulip magnolias, redbuds and the weeping cherry outside this window will explode like a shower of fireworks in pink, purple, red and white any minute now. The sweetly scented mock orange bush will bloom with the climbing wild roses and yellow jasmine next. Rainbows of tulips will join them.  The light has changed and not just lingered but has begun to migrate from my front rooms that are like a solarium in Winter, to the back terrace that hosts so many gatherings every year. In its course, equal and soft light spreads everywhere.  Am I breathing?

The spectacle of affirmation that this planet is a great place to visit has a secret weapon in the form of allergies. There is something here that makes asthma thrive and covers us with pollen that puts us to sleep like Dorothy in the poppy fields. I find myself in the confusing dilemma of wanting to draw the earth into me and off of me at the same time. The metaphor of this paradox is not subtle.  Are we not faced with contrariness regularly whether it is ambivalence toward work or friends or life in general? Has the yoga in my thinking taught me to be generous with myself and recognize that which must be left behind without regret? Can one fully inhale life without letting antagonizers that also come on that breath harm you? Yes. My answer is yes.  What must one do? Adapt and filter. What does it take?  Faith and courage.

How strange that I began this as a ditty about stretching my lungs to receive a favorite smell and I’m talking about faith and courage. I could rework this but I think I’ll let it stand as is. I think it does take more than pleasure to take this walk. This writing is not unlike my yoga classes that begin with some inane moment in my life turned into what my student Laura refers to as a dharma rant. What metaphors I may have drawn without a life of yoga may have been the same but teaching yoga has made a context for sharing my perceptions. It is in this way that yoga has given shape to share my wonderings.

This holding back to take just enough to survive bleeds into the second basic need for survival which is drinking water. Most water just doesn’t taste good anymore. I hadn’t realized how stingy I’d gotten about drinking till my friend put a $2,000.00 filtration system in his house and I found myself drinking eight ounces at a time and wanting more without feeling full. I was starved for water. I’ve been starving myself of water. Back home taking a glass from my filtered refrigerator, I can barely stand to finish it even when I let it sit at room temperature. I’m done with a sip as I am from most bottled water. I hadn’t realized that not all water feeds you the same way. But one must drink.

I encourage my students to notice the satisfaction of drinking the breath in so it hits the back and travels to the tips of the lungs. A little imagination helps and so they imagine the smell of the sweetest thing that pleases them. I remind myself to do that with water so that I won’t deprive myself.

What stops us from breathing may be habit or the recoil of living with aggressive air. What stops us from drinking may be the same. We may not notice until we take that breath of pine or a drink of spring water.  We don’t always have the opportunity for that breath or drink but we have the opportunity to adapt and filter where possible. We have the brains to be aware of the difference between what habit is and what a necessary filtration system is and most importantly, what joy is!

As I replace the red velvet couch cushions with silk plaid pillows in shades of rose and green, I embrace the season of contradictions with a light heart. I will adapt and filter. I recognize joy like the old friend who never lets me down.


About Hilary Lindsay

Hilary Lindsay created the first comprehensive yoga program in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, choreographed videos for athletes, introduced yoga and meditation to the Nashville public school system and continues to work one on one with private clients including the Nashville Predators. She has been covered by popular magazines and television shows and has worked for a variety of publications as a yoga expert. She authored a chapter in Yoga In America, a book published at the forefront of the discussion among yoga teachers about contemporary yoga in America. Additional writing can be found at as well as the Journal pages of her yoga site. Hilary teaches classes and workshops in consciousness through movement. Her medium is yoga. Her method is exploring the language of the body in light of the eight limbs. Find her at


18 Responses to “Pine Tree Pranayama”

  1. CarolHorton says:

    Wow, beautiful writing, Hilary. "Adapt and filter." I'm going to try to remember that.

    Love the photo, too.

  2. Corey Emerick says:

    I have been practicing the deeeeeeeep breathing you taught in class Monday! Love your article 🙂

  3. Wonderful, wonderful, Hilary. You've outdone yourself with this beautifully written blog.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  4. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage

    and to the Elephant Journal main Facebook page .

  5. Pat says:

    beautiful Hilary. I look forward to your postings. keep 'em coming.

  6. Hilary Lindsay says:

    Thanks Carol,
    That was one of those easy posts that just come up unexpectedly, fly out quickly with ease, kind of like the birth of my second son! Glad you liked it and thanks for taking time to read and comment.

  7. Hilary Lindsay says:

    And loved having you in class! Thank you for joining in there and on Elephant.

  8. Hilary Lindsay says:

    Thanks for that and so glad to be part of all the great writing and thinking on Elephant.

  9. Hilary Lindsay says:

    Thanks Pat. I've got a few more up my sleeve.

  10. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  11. clo says:

    Awesome H. tonight we spring ahead, can't wait.

  12. Naoma says:

    Absolutely beautiful post! Just as I love the burn of the orange blossoms in my own nostrils here in Phoenix, I also feel badly for my son, whose asthma is triggered by all of the beautiful blossoms, among other things. And I love how you relate it to taking in life, with all its blessings as well as the negative influences. We must focus on breathing in the living air (and water)…and not give energy to the things that do not feed us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

  13. Hilary Lindsay says:

    Thank you Naoma. Here we all are, taking in life as consciously as we can. We are one, together, (one of my favorite Crosby, Stills, Nash lines). I hope your son may outgrow that asthma. Thank you for reading. All the best to both of you.

  14. Jerilyn says:

    Blossoms, Breathing, Awareness, Nurturing, Water, AIr, Life! What a beautiful reminder to breathe in all that is good and exhale all that is stealing life force. I breathe in love. THank you for posting. At this moment, when love is walled off from me, I breathe in love conscciously. I am reconnected with the source of life.

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