2.2
July 27, 2011

What’s the Deal about Five Breaths?


Photo: judepics

What’s the big deal about five breaths?

I mean, how do you explain this five count of yoga teacher? Is it that they like to hear their own voices? Or more to the point, do they enjooy seeing your veins pop out of your forehead as you grimace?!

Let’s put those perfectly normal yet dubious theories aside and assume tradition has something to do with it. And what is that tradition about? I wonder. Here’s one idea that came to me lately.

If you look at each Asana, you can say there is a life in each one. It’s the same Asana yet all new, every day, if you want it to be.

You inhale and are “born” into it right before exhaling into its “infancy.” There you are in this position and what to do? Do you have a choice? Seems the choice was already made: you are alive. Inhale aaaand exhale.

You are now a “teenager,” and as the teacher calls out “twoooo,” you confidently strive forward, grasping, reaching, pushing, flexing, balancing, focusing, pulling anything you can with the arms and shoulders. Totally enraptured by the ego and how you look from the outside, you think: “my approach to this is quite unique and noteworthy, who’s watching me?”

Here comes “adulthood,” when you know better, or you think you are wise, but then realize you are not quite wise yet but you’re getting there and proud that you don’t act too proud.

As the teacher says “threeeee,” you notice you’re hiking up your shoulders in Trikonasana. “Holy crap,” you think, “this is a standing pose, and I’m way too experienced to think my shoulders will get me anywhere with this–byebye shoulders, squeeze perineum and I’m so proud of myself for using that word and also ‘Mula bandha’ … gosh, all that time wasted with the shoulders; anyway, I forgive my ‘inner child.’”

Inhale four—you just entered a crisis. I mean, the teacher doesn’t even say four. You panic. You came all this way and there’s still a ways to go and yet you wonder: “Does the teacher know we are seriously suffering? Can’t they hear us gasping, see our eyes darting? What is this all about?”

It’s too late, and you can’t afford to care anymore because your body is making all these demands—something’s tight, some joints are stiff, you’re off balance, you feel weak, you wonder what you’ll eat when this is all over, you feel regretful thinking that, you’re vulnerable, exacerbated, bewildered and humbled by the challenge as you push past the midlife crisis into “old age.”

Suddenly, like a call from the heavens “fiiiiiiiiiiiiiive,” and you realize in fact you are totally in love with the teacher again. What was once abysmal hatred has transformed to blissful adoration! You lift your head a bit and suck in that last moment as the mind lets go of its mantra of suffering. You’ve pretty much made it to the end of a long and productive Asana life.

You bask in that last moment of the Asana and tune into a birdcall. The most important thoughts involve warm mittens and whiskers on kittens before you exhale and pass away.

Trikonasana on the other side,” comes the call.  Your teacher looks familiar—what was her name again?

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