breath, considered as a life-giving force.
There’s a technique that my Yin teacher uses to help us wage gentle battle against the aches and pains that arise while holding postures for a particularly long time. She urges us to use ujjayi breathing to “wash the area with fresh prana” — in other words, breathe deeply into the sensation to fill it with energy and openness. As with most things Zen, you have to draw upon your imagination and faith a bit to accomplish this; sweeping your breath past the biological limits of your lungs and down through your body to your lower back or hips or whichever spot is making noise. The art of pranayama means “extension of the prana or breath” or more accurately, “extension of the life force.” Pretty deep when it works. Unsettling when it doesn’t.
For the past few weeks, I haven’t been able to breathe correctly. It’s not noticeable all the time, and it’s not like I’m wheezing or struggling to fill my lungs. There’s just a hitch. A hitch in the path between taking a breath and breathing. I can’t get past my chest, I can’t get that fresh prana into my head. It’s like there’s a bubble between my throat and my lungs, and I can only fill that particular bubble. I can’t bring fresh breath — clean, open, healing breath — to any of the parts of me that really need it, like my heart. The nature of this problem is obviously not physiological; it’s a big honking obstacle in my brain, in my attitude, in my cosmic balance. You don’t need to be on the lookout for a metaphor to see the situation for what it is: I can’t get out of my own head. I’m suffocating myself.
A series of disappointments in my personal life have undoubtedly been the catalyst for this, but it’s also possible that since I took all of my love advice from Jody Watley in 1987, I’m looking at things the wrong way. I think I become so certain about who I was, and who others were, and it blinded me. Another version of reality came knocking on the door, and I didn’t want to accept it. Photography allows me to create things as I see them, writing stories lets me have everyone saying what I want them to, but life? Not so much. Life tells you that it’s unattractive to be so querulous; don’t seek to straighten out everyone else, do a harder thing instead, and straighten out yourself. One of those things I’m hesitant to admit because I don’t like the way it sounds. Not very charitable of me, huh?
I’m working on it. I received some kindness last week from a place I never expected. It shook me up and spit me out and made me look at things from two or three degrees over. Not a complete sea change, but just enough to make me willing to sit and try to breathe past that hitch today. And tomorrow. And that’s far enough for now.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.