Using the rhythm of the breath, we can join movements together into a flowing sequence that has no peak experience and no non-peak experience.
I’m rolling the car down the ramp of Exit 70, but in my mind I’m already at the beach and it’s spring again. I luxuriate in the texture of the sand as my toes celebrate freedom from winter’s prison of shoes. I think about the beach beings I’ve met—jelly fish, joggers, park rangers, cartwheeling kids, dogs and their identical people-parents—and the adventures we’ve had, including the time we spent an hour rolling a big log all the way back to the car because we mistakenly thought it would make a great end table, and of course, the usual headstand or two to look at the waves upside down. No matter what the weather, we rest our eyes on the horizon and we rest our breath on the tide.
But really I am only to the end of Exit 70 and just coming up on the McDonalds. The vibrancy of my actual experiences at the beach are in direct contrast to the hour and a half drive it takes to get me there on the very long Long Island Expressway. I try to escape the boredom of the journey by lis- 4 tening to the radio, mentally processing my week and engaging in other “out-of-body” activities that remove my mind from its premises.
But I question the wisdom of ignoring the huge portion of my life that is not a peak experience—not to mention the advisability of paying so little attention to my driving. How can I wake up to my own life at the same time that I am living it?
The answer may lie in breath awareness and manipulation—the invisible bridge connecting body and mind. In OM yoga we use the tidal quality of the breath to initiate each movement and we join them all together in flowing sequences traditionally called vinyasa. This technique encourages us to see and feel everything along the way to and from each pose, so that the transitions and the positions are of equal interest. There is no peak experience and no non-peak experience. There is only the physical expression of path without a goal.
To experience this for yourself, try the following sequence, which is appropriate for any level of yogi, including yoga virgins. This vinyasa creates heat in your body, which softens your muscles and increases the range of motion in your hips, shoulders, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, toes and the entire spine.
Each movement should take as long as each breath, so you never stop breathing or moving. Try to make your inhalations and exhalations slow and equal in length, so that your movements are balanced. If you want to stay in any position for more than one breath, that’s fine. The idea is to stay focused on your breath and to experience the richness of each moment, whether it’s challenging, strenuous, energizing or relaxing. Let your body unfold on each breath and see what it feels like to be you today.
- Assume the ever-popular all-fours position. Check that your wrists are directly below your shoulders and your knees are directly below your hips. INHALE.
- Cow. As you EXHALE, drop your head and tuck your tailbone way under. Feel your belly lift up toward your spine.
- Cat. As you INHALE, lift your chest and sitting bones up to the ceiling. Feel your spine being absorbed into your body.
- Downward Dog. Maintaining the Cat tilt in your pelvis, EXHALE and lift your hips up as you press your palms down and lengthen your heels toward the floor. The Downward Dog position is a partial inversion, which improves digestion, massages your heart and enhances mental clarity.
- Keeping a sense of upward lift in your hips, INHALE and gently lower your knees back to all-fours on the floor .
- Child’s Pose. EXHALE as you press your hips back over your heels into the Child’s Pose. This pose massages the abdominal organs, rests your brain, and stretches the shoulders and hips.
As you INHALE, come back to all-fours and repeat the entire sequence. Try to do it four times in a row.
Practicing this vinyasa will help develop flexibility, strength, coordination, balance and rhythm. At first you might feel stiff or weak or uncoordinated, but that will change over time and by paying attention to your process, you might even notice when your body starts to open, your energy flows more, and your balance arrives.
This method of combining the breath awareness techniques of Buddhist mindfulness tradition with the breath manipulation exercises of hatha yoga can be applied to your everyday life. For years I lived on the sixth floor of a building in New York’s East Village with such steep stairs that it was a little bit like rock climbing. My boyfriend used to huff and puff and always ask me, “How can you stand to do this every day?” Then one day on the landing of the third floor, he had an epiphany and said, “Oh, 1 get it. Phis is just what you’re doing right now.”
And he was right. Over time, my yoga training had organically led me to deepen my breathing as I went up those steps. My inhalation helped my torso and spine feel lifted and supported and my exhalation grounded my feet down on each stair. Letting my mind ride on those deep breaths helped keep it in my body, rather than racing ahead to the top of the stairs where it would then look down on my poor struggling physicality dragging up flight after flight.
So here is a homework assignment: Take the stairs, or if you don’t have that option, you can do this biking, jogging or with any physical activity that you always wish was over long before it ends—such as carrying laundry or groceries for a few blocks. Don’t try to change your experience but rather, change your approach to it. Deepen your breathing—inhale through the nose for upward movements and exhale through the nose for downward movements. And when life calls your name, say “Present!”