On the Purpose of Breathing.
Meditation is a journey I, like many others, began accidentally. It started because I absolutely, unquestionably, hated Yoga days. I was living in NYC. I worked 20 hours a week and had nothing better to do than hang out in museums and coffee shops, go to shows, and get into the best shape of my life. Somewhere early along my journey, I read this:
No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training,” Socrates said. “It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
I embraced this mission wholly. In the pursuit of fitness, one becomes both the marble and the sculptor. I tried p90x and, amid the corny jokes and cheesy, motivational 80s-fitness-jazz music, the fitness coach Tony Horton introduced me to this simple mantra:
Embrace the journey… try your best, and forget the rest.
And so I did. I embraced Yoga. I opened my heart and really tried to do well at this thing when I knew my performance was was bad. Side note, I am a perfectionist, and as a proper perfectionist, I have a strong distaste for anything at which I do not immediatly excel. I’m such a perfectionist, that even alone in my room, with no audience, I am critical of myself for not being a natural. No jeers, no judgment, but my own. But, day after day, I internalized the message and I tried my best, embraced the journey, and with varying degrees of success, learned to let go of my Yogi shortcomings.
Through this process, I discovered several important things. I learned that Yoga is the most effective and interesting tool for improving my own fitness and for accomplishing my physical goals. I learned that perfectionism is a useful tool, but sometimes, you must set aside the chisel and embrace a different tool. I learned that when the sculpture isn’t instantaneously great, you need to learn to love the process of chipping away at it instead of the goal itself. But the happiest accident of all was that with no intentions to do so, I taught myself the value of meditation.
Yoga, properly practiced, is fundamentally guided by one thing: breathing. Breath has four distinct parts and purposes:
1. Inhale, and God approaches you.
2. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.
3. Exhale, and you approach God.
4. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.
By following this pattern, you set a rhythm for every move, every posture, every awkward stretch. It’s funny, really. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), it is unquestionably true that we are always approximately 2 minutes from death. Our lifeline? Breathing. But how often do we turn our attentions to something so small, so automatic… so absolutely critical to life?
As a consequence of learning Yoga, I learned the foundation of meditation. Clear your mind, focus on the basics. One simple, pure breath at a time. Writing of all the benefits of meditation is something I will save for another time–suffice it to say that in meditation, I have found a deep wellspring of peace and stability that I always lacked. Learning to breath has given me a guide for other struggles beyond Yoga.
One final thing: just, breath.