There’s a new pranayama in town

Back in the era where I had hours to myself to set my own schedule and wrap my writing around a sense of centered intelligence, I found that yoga helped enormously. My practice helped my body, my balance, my breath, my thinking, my writing.

But I haven’t put any time into my practice since Peanut was born, and I’m feeling the loss. My posture, my flexibility, and my breath are all distorted. But mostly, my sense of balance is off. Mentally and emotionally, I’m a mess.

My sense of what I need on any given day to be a patient, present, decent human being is totally off. So I was thinking this morning when I gave myself a timeout (I’ve decided I need timeouts more than Peanut does, because he’s just exploring and testing boundaries and doing his job by driving me to drink, and it’s MY job to find the patience, creativity, and flexibility I need to parent him respectfully. The only way I’ve found to regain my centered willingness to teach and play in the heat of the moment is to breathe and think. And being in the circle of a screaming toddler maelstrom is not a great place to breathe or think. Plus, I love just leaving the room when he’s pushing my buttons. That technique is totally Spouse’s m.o. for conflict with me, and I loathe being on the receiving end of someone who has to leave the room to avoid saying something nasty. But it’s been successful so far to leave a frustrating small person to figure out what he really wants while I go breathe. He seems to find clarity around his choices much more quickly when I’m in the other room refusing to play his reindeer games.)

Anyway, I was thinking, as I forced long, deep inhales to calm myself, that maybe I need to bring pranayama (yoga breath) back into my life. Even if I don’t find time for the full practice, complete breath should help, no?

One breath answered my question as it brought tension to my shoulders, neck and face: Nope. There is a time and place for warming, meditative breath. While you’re pissed off is not one of these times.

As humans, we need a lot of oxygen. As yoga practicioners, we need a lot of oxygen, too, but we try to still the breath and make it rhythmic, sustained, and transformative. And pranayama focuses on steady breathing that creates warmth, sound, and an internal metronome. All of those require friction in the airways, a slight constriction that serves as a gatekeeper for the large volume of air flowing into a yoga-engaged body that needs the breath to last a long, centering time. But even shitali pranayama, the cooling breath, takes a lot more constriction that I need when I’m counting to ten and trying to regain my balance.

Trying to calm anger requires a lack of constriction. Anger needs big, open gateways for air to flow through, because it’s precisely the cooling flood of air that squelches the fire of rage. Angry people need to breathe like runners–mouth open, chest swelling, maximal oxygen without interruption.

So that got me thinking that maybe I could begin to practice again, if only a few moments at a time, if I tried to do a hybrid yoga, changing breath from a single rhythm to a double. Maybe I could engage fully in a vinyasa with a deep, open runner’s breath if there was a whole cycle for each asana. Instead of moving through the poses as each half of the breath cycle completes, I could inhale freely, then move on the exhale. Inhale, exhale, move. Inhale, exhale, move.

I tried it (later, when he slept), and it worked. The same sense of rhythm, even if it was less meditative, returned to my newly rejuvenated practice. I was thoughtful about my movement, I was present in each asana. I wasn’t forcing a kind of breath I just can’t sustain right now. And finding my own kind of balance, even if it goes against what I’ve been taught, makes sense right now. Because I’m not the person I was, I’m not living in the body I once had, and I’m not trying to calm and focus the mind I once trained. I’m playing a whole new ballgame now. And I might as well write the rules to fit my search for a new self, body, and mind.

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