In yoga we are taught to follow the breath. We attempt to be aware of the breath. We learn that breathing is an essence. But what does it mean – “to find your breath?” Is it really just being able to breathe? Or is it really a metaphor for feelings and experiences you are missing in life? Who knows? Could its definition be as simple as, “what we need it to be?” I think probably so.
I also believe that during most people’s lifetimes they lose or miss the opportunities to catch their breaths. This loss is never due to a purposeful act. No one ever says, “Here, take my breath from me.” For most people it’s just a matter of “life getting in the way.” Jobs, marriage, children, and growing responsibilities all “get in the way.” Lives get hectic. They get full of “stuff.” We try to prioritize, but we end up over-scheduling our time. As a result, our breathing gets impaired.
I have to admit that I am no different than most people. Many times throughout my adult life I have found myself not being able to “breathe.” Too often I have been overwhelmed by self-imposed requirements. I have been stressed-out and anxious and absolutely convinced that “someday it will get better.” I survived those times by, at best, sheer luck; no self-intervention took place. At worst, I survived by using unhealthy methods. But having aged and matured; I am hopefully making wiser decisions now.
Recently I have been taking advantage of some healthy opportunities to “find my breath.” Yoga is one of those opportunities. My practice has allowed my body and mind to “breathe” a bit better. And as I “breathed easier,” I realized that I needed more than Yoga. For my breath to be spiritually and physically satisfied, I needed more. To find what was missing in my breath, I looked inward.
My self-examination brought forth something from my past. What I needed was the wilderness. Since I was a boy, fishing with my family in central Oregon, I have enjoyed the wilderness. As I grew to a young man I spent many hours and days hiking the wilderness. West coast, East coast, or Middle America; it did not matter to me where I was – I found wilderness. The Marine Corps even gave the young me some opportunities to enjoy nature (although I must admit, when you are being yelled at by a very large and intimidating drill instructor, enjoyment of the wilderness is a bit far from your mind).
Those that know me will tell you that I am an absolute believer in karma, in destiny, in fate. I believe that opportunities are presented to us at the times when we need them to. It is our choice whether we take advantage of them or not. That being said, wilderness came back to me at the time I really needed it to. It came back in my life by an invitation to assist young adult backpackers on the trails of the eastern United States, trails that included a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail. I don’t know if it was the solitude of the forests, or the hard work of hiking on the Appalachian Trail that allowed me to “find my breath” (probably both), but whatever it was – it was awesome! I found my shoulders relaxing, my mind clearing and my lungs filling.
Have you heard the phrase “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy?” The feeling of “the breath” that I get from the trail is the complete opposite. That breath awareness is something I wish everyone could experience – especially my worst enemy (if I had one).
Calm, silence, hard work, challenge, surviving, and freedom, are but a few of the words that describe my feelings of the wilderness. And experiencing all of them helps me to “find my breath.” But why do I continue to ramble on about the wilderness and my experience with it? There is one simple reason, to reiterate that Yoga may not be the only way to find your breath. Finding your breath is personal. Some may find it in the studio; some may find it in the sea; some may find it on the open trail. The important thing is to figure out where your breath resides. For me, the search is complete. My breath is found in the vastness of the wilderness and in the comfort of yoga.
If you have not yet found your breath, keep looking. And don’t be timid in your search. Make sure you look in unusual places. You may be surprised where you find it. Good luck and Namaste.