In my experience it’s the simplest principles of breathing that are the most difficult to master. As a teacher of these principles, they are also the most difficult to convey with clarity. Whatever clarity I have to share in language, I owe to my training at The Breathing Project.
The first bit of “languaging” that I have found useful in understanding and teaching the breath is Leslie Kaminoff’s definition of breath as the shape change of the abdominal and thoracic cavities. Just having a working synonym for breath has been useful… ‘shape change.’ Ahhhhh….
Don’t just read this definition. Close your eyes and feel it. Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest as you inhale and exhale. Notice where the shape change is occurring and whether you are feeling ease or constriction in those spaces. Notice when your attention has turned away from the breath. Notice whatever else you notice. Take your time before you come back to this text.
What you’ve just experienced is advanced pranayama technique :). In practice, we will often focus our breath attention on a particular technique such as Ujjayi or alternate nostril. Whole books could be written about these special techniques, but breath awareness?
Consider this: until you are aware of what you are already doing, until you know where you are in the breath, how can you know if a particular technique is being employed correctly, is benefiting you and/or appropriate to what you are doing? In fact, much of what these fancier techniques offer in terms of benefit can be boiled down to improving your ability to propriocept what’s going on in the first place. Once you can feel what you are feeling, then you can make conscientious choices. Until you know where you are, you have no idea where you can go.
Stay tuned for more on breathing from Kerry.