Catch Your Breath and Find Your Bliss

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about breath and breathing.  Throughout my seventy years, I’ve been a little fascinated by the very idea of breath.  In a recent yoga class, the teacher said that breathing is the very first thing you do when you enter the world and the very last thing you do when you leave it.  Hearing this, after I took a deep breath in and out to really take that idea in, I was reminded of how many times in my life breath has made a difference. I remembered trying to learn to swim with a gasping breath taken to the side.  I remembered running feeling breathless in my first 5K, watching a loved one with emphysema struggle with an oxygen tank, seeing my daughter take her first sweet breath, and listening to my mom take her last deep breaths so bravely over several days in a hospital room.   As I constantly run around in all directions trying to do just one more thing and one more thing and one more thing, I often hear myself saying to myself, “I just need to catch my breath.”  Recently, I’ve realized I need to stop chasing my breath to catch it and just slow down and find it right where it has always been, here inside myself.  I am thankful for yoga and the way it reminds me of this simple fact over and over again.

Carol Yoga Knee pose

Yoga has been in my life for twenty-five years. There is rarely a day where I am not on my mat or longing to be there. When I feel stressed and joy is nowhere to be found, I know that I have stepped too far away from my mat for too long. I know I need to find my easy seat and find my breath, go inside, and find home again. I know this path leads to a place of comfort and peace that is as close to bliss as I get.

Twenty-five years ago I saw a small ad for a yoga class at a library an hour from my home in an Indianapolis suburb. Intrigued by the idea, I dragged my sister along to yoga on a tile floor with a group of other puzzled-looking but hopeful yoginis. I tried 3-part breath yogic breath, dirgha, unsuccessfully willing myself to get it right. I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it, but I was pretty sure it was a good idea. A couple of years later, still wondering about the possibility of what yoga might bring, I did a class in a meeting room in a southern Indiana Unitarian Church, where again I gave 3-part breath a try. Still no success but I continued to think it was a good idea.

Five years later, a friend invited me to a class in my new home in Montpelier, Vermont, where yoga is as ubiquitous as maple syrup, dirt roads and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cones. This time, I walked into a lovely old antique building to a quiet studio with sunset streaming through floor to ceiling windows, a padded floor, soft music that went straight past my brain and into my very heart, and a lovely young teacher named Lindsey. Her voice was sweetly soothing and together with the music and the setting, it took me to a place of exquisitely peaceful relaxation. I sat up after Shavasana and said to my friend, “If I did yoga every day, I know I would become a better person.”

I don’t manage to do yoga every day, but taking classes, teaching yoga and my own home practice still take me to a place I know I need to go. Twenty years later, yoga is still my go to place for relaxation, peace, and joy that feels like the closest thing to bliss I can identify. By the way, dear sweet Lindsey’s older soothing voice is still my favorite guide and yoga music along with a good sunset still just calm me right down Finding myself on my mat took me through a challenging adjustment to a new home. It got me safely through the most difficult of professional experiences, and a teetering-on-the-edge-of-sanity scary divorce and recovery. It has come with me to a new marriage that makes me smile every day, the delight of becoming a grandmother, the pure exhilaration of retirement, an intense yoga teacher training that challenged me on every level, and a reasonably calm transition into my 7th decade this fall.

Now, FINALLY, I love three-part yogic breath. I love breathing in so deeply that my whole torso is a container full of fresh clean energy and my lungs expand so that my diaphragm presses my belly into my waiting palms. Then, taking in more air, my ribs rise and then my collarbones rise; and exhaling so deeply, my collar bones fall, then my ribs fall. My belly button drops back to my spine. I love teaching to help seniors in assisted living do chair yoga to find breath, movement and hopefully some bliss. I love using my own breath and movement to find my own peace and my own place in the chaos surrounding us. I love taking that peace off my mat to share with others. Yoga may or may not make me a better person, but I know it makes me a more peaceful and joyful one. Bliss takes daily practice.

Find yourself a yoga class. Get on a mat or get a chair. And find your breath. And maybe even a little bliss.

Carol Bokan is fairly blissfully retired and practicing bliss daily as a yoga teacher, counselor, grandmother and the owner of WiseWomen VT.com

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