I finished Tim Winton’s Breath while waiting for my bro, Ian to pick me up from Galway bus station. We were hoping to get some waves at Lahinch on Sunday. Although a small swell was forecast, it was a classic case of ya shoulda been ‘ere yesterday. Slop but we paddled out anyway, to the reef beyond the point; after all, we’d just driven 1.5 hours to get there.
Breath could be a book about Yoga, but it’s not. It was deep but not the satisfying, tension relieving kind, more the holy shit, what was that all about, kind. Set on the west coast of Australia, a tale of loneliness, mateship, risk and recklessness; training for the extraordinary but way out of depth anyway; how life can be swept away, loved, choked out, brought back and sometimes not. Young Loonie and Pikelet would dare each other to break the two-minute limit in the dark depths of the local river. Diving deep, holding onto their breath, a tree root and pride till they wigged out and had to surface. By the age of 15, they’d developed lungs like camel bladders, setting them in steed to paddle out after their guru, Sando and ride 20ft+ waves, smashing over deep ocean reefs.
This is what got me thinking about yoga. Observing, understanding and mastering breath control. Pikelet and Loonie learnt the right way around whereas when I started practicing yoga (Bikram), it was all about the postures, breath was a distant second. Although Bikram mentions breathing in his books, at teacher training he was too busy talking about himself to bother going deeper. Bikram lets you work it out for yourself. As teachers, we’re groomed as cookie cutters so small wonder the importance and training of breath can be lost on the student too.
It took approx 2+ years of practice before a teacher pointed out my disconnection with breath. You know how it is, sometimes you’re so busy trying to practice so maybe I just wasn’t listening. Anyway, this teacher told me to shut up, that I was making too much noise. Thanks for that mate! I was that moaning, grunting student so point taken but not exactly guidance. A year or two later, during my 365 day challenge, I was practicing beside Erik Persson (then a student, now a teacher). After class he told me how distracting I was, then gave me some tips which totally changed my practice. I’ve since passed his advice on to many other students.
I wonder at what stage my practice would be now, if I’d learnt how to observe, understand and master my breath first. Nowadays I’m very conscious of it. I’ve learnt how to control it so well, above all else in fact, that I wonder if I favour the calmness of breath over the posture itself, to the point where I’m not exerting myself enough physically. It’s as if I’ve come full circle and starting all over again.
On the way back from Lahinch, we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. They rise up, 214 metres (702 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean. As I crept out on a ledge to take some photos over the edge, I again felt my breath, or lack there of. I was giddy with a mixture of awe and fear. Their hugeness is almost beyond imagination. Far below is “Aileens”, a notorious big wave surf break that Pikelet, Loonie and Sando would have frothed over.
How is your breath control? Do you teach your students the importance of breath?