Off the Mat Yoga

What it Means to “Find Your Breath”

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.

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  1. Amanda


    August 27, 2016 at 9:12 am

    I really like this. Everything in yoga had a parallel in everyday life, and this is a great way of looking at the breath, the life force. As our society gets more and more hectic, finding the breath, wherever it may be, becomes more and more important. 🙂 Thanks for writing!

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    August 27, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    Makes total sense!

  3. Michael Duncan

    Michael Duncan

    August 27, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks for the comments Amanda and Megan. I recently read an article on another site that talked about Yoga in the wilderness – using trees for support (I love it, using a tree for tree pose), small inclines in the ground to help in getting a bit more of a stretch, etc. I can’t wait to try. The wilderness, nature or the back country is really a cool place to “find your breath”

  4. Megan Reddix

    Megan Reddix

    August 29, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Love this! You are spot on. I’ve noticed that there is no possible way for me to be focused, calm, or mindful if I cannot find my breath. Even in my meditation practice I constantly draw myself back to my breath, because of course life is as along as the number of breaths you take, not the number of seconds that pass. I want to extend my life and to live life to its fullest, so bringing my awareness back to my breath, finding my breath, allows me to feel and experience each of life’s moments more clearly.

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    Maria Sam

    September 2, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Hello Michael ,
    Very inspirational post you’ve shared with us. Your article gave me a great pleasure. However I don’t like all the poses in yoga. Thanks for sharing the experience!

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