I remember in my 20's how they - the proverbial they - spoke of how practices change as bodies grow older. Of course, there are 90-year-olds still achieving some frame of a youthful physical compulsion and combustion, but for the rest of us, there is a glory and a transfer of internal knowing when the body starts to change... they say there is wisdom in it. I'm just starting to feel it. We begin to pick up different movements, and curiosities around what we can now actually feel and have the patience to witness.
Back in the day (like 2010) in San Francisco, I subbed a mine-day yoga class comprised of 9 folks under 30 and 11 folks over 60 (apparently, everyone else is working at 10:30 on a weekday). The under 30's toughed out the practice with sweat, muscle, and a squeezed face. The over 55 glided through poses, proof of pranic movement: access to vital life source. The younger ones suffered actively, angry almost, and the elders held poise - nearly nonplussed.
That vitality planted the seed from which I now write, in the middle of all of that, at 45, and at the gates of natural endearing.
That's why I'm compelled to write this morning about a breathwork practice that is emerging in my daily practice, as a marker or metaphor, or actual example of how things are changing in body, in mind, and wonder abounds. The truth is, I wouldn't have had the patience to even explore it until now.
It was introduced to me at birth. I don't totally remember that day, but maybe with enough soul retrieval, I'll catch a glimpse. Oh, you, too? Excellent. Maybe some of us needed a slap on the bottom to move from water creatures to earth beings, but generally, we are all here because we inhale and exhale. One of my favorite books that my teacher, Janet, wanted to write about the practice had just two pages - the first one said inhale, the second, exhale, and to my recollection, the instructions would be to repeat.
The practice of whatever we did as children formed our breath practice. Maybe there was a free-flowing breath and lots of sighs around. Maybe it was more impulsive, maybe there was bated breath. Perhaps lots of rapid breathing from running: towards, away, beyond. Holding the breath. Whatever it was, it created a pattern. And that pattern, ping-ponged and formed by experience, evolved into the breath that we have today.
Mine has been constricted, challenged, and maybe even fortified and muscled from the intake of smoke - both voluntary (tobacco) and involuntary (forest fires) over the last years. Coupled with constriction in the chest from a recent anxiety development, I had a serious pain in my heart/chest that of course, was undiagnosable at Kaiser Permanente.
Enter a transformative experience, some hero dose of something I took as a teenager, likely to heal the same thing, and of course, under the guidance of a licensed professional. Wow. That was an experience in and of itself. It opened something.
The following morning, I was still feeling constriction, and some pain, though relatively alleviated. It was as if I was no longer wincing from pain, but had the energy and curiosity to look under the hood a bit. I decided that after a gazillion teacher trainings and pranayama breath practice, I surely had the tools that I needed to explore this. So I gave myself the morning to do just that.
I started breathing deeply.
Inhales and exhales - see how big I could make my lungs,
see if I had damaged myself to no end.
Practices discipline us, and then we dance around them like we were dancing around a maypole. They become ours, embodied. This means that we learn the notes, we practice the movements and the turns of phrases, and that builds upon the embodied practice. Something to stand on. We could do this for many years - and as it begins, perhaps in late-stage capitalistic terms, as a path to achievement, it can quickly move into another ether altogether. It becomes a standard of self, a place to meet and know the difference of what is true.
Then, after many many moons - the practice relinquishes itself (a gift of the exhausted ego), and moves from maypole to the mast of a sail. The body a ship, the pranic winds sending us forward.
The practitioner begins to glide on the surface, just like the elder folks in that class so long ago.
The practice: the source, the seed, the original pattern, is still embodied, its imprints are self-aware, and like winter's end or summer's beginning, a whole new season presents itself. It is the reality and the knowing, and the best example, having seen so many seasons move and change.
So this month, I see my breath changing. Yes, I do some variations of Wim Hof, I work with a couple of breath practitioners to prepare myself for ice baths (a new curiosity- 11 minutes and counting- I could have NEVER done this earlier in life... it makes me think about what else is possible). I have endeavored somatic breathwork and used the breath as a gear to shift into different states of consciousness. Sometimes I can register my capacity, my nervous system, my trauma and anger (of self, world, all the things witnessed and experienced), and even get to see my grandparents from time to time.
So, in this subtlety, without the distraction of a partner or children (the original ache, or so I thought), my body has started to move on its own. It has begun to transmute practices into new ones. That morning, going back - because maybe everyone loves a psychedelic story - I experienced a new kind of breath moving through. I was able to move it directionally in new ways - let it skate across my sternum, feeling the heart, wrapping breath around the heart. I was able to isolate the right lung and then the left lung. Belly. I went around the "world" of the heart numerous times, and located the breath into the collarbone, the neck, identifying new spaces in the head, and down the legs. Been practicing it since - a way of taking temperature, and even offered it once for other folks in a Nidra.
In the times that I have offered practice and stewarded that space for more than just me (aka teaching), I always used to say "If you can't feel it, imagine it, it will come." For folks who are not familiar, or this might be the one time that we get to meet, it is a lot of pressure to hear a new voice (teacher Pavlovian effect is real and valuable for the dive into this practice), experience new movements, and the like. So, if you can't feel it this time around, perhaps you can just move around it, look at it, begin to introduce, a soft handshake to the self. With breath.
So, then what? As I stand here (or sit, sadly... wait. Getting up), I can see how the seeds planted so long ago (at what age it doesn't matter because each traverse across this universe is an individual one), have now transmuted into another experience all together. And not altogether.
All the parts are starting to introduce themselves to the others and ask, "How are you, friend?" Breath says to heart. And the heart says to lungs. And then onward, we get more and more and more experiences that just blow our minds, because the insides have so much capacity, and we never give them credit.
So, this is to give credit where credit is due. It's not just the "wisdom of the body" or another similar platitude. It's the actual and factual, anecdotal, and even intuitive (dare me!) experience of learning, from the inside out.
So, why and who cares? Well, because this is my blog this emergent practice is forming some impetus to share along the way. This year for me is the Year of the Senses. It is a time to expand out of my forest dwelling that has given me such solace and see what is out here. Here being right here, near you- in some form or fashion.
So, with the senses, and the organs, the breath, and the fundamental humanity that is currently not at the top of mind, or top of body given the destruction that is happening that is so unspeakable, that one can only speak on it, I will be offering some of these inquiries so that we can move from discipline to discovery.