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51 Breaths

Arriving in Bangalore I am greeted by my taxi driver, Ravi, whom I have known for several years. There is something settling in being greeted by a familiar face when so far away from home. It is 4:30 a.m. but it feels like mid-day from the activity at the airport.

Heading toward the car, I comment on the weather being cold. Ravi replies, “Not hot madam. Medium temperature.”

As we make our way along the Bangalore-Mysore road the one thing in my mind is starting practice again with my teacher. The traffic is surprisingly heavy as we pass oversized billboards and glide from one side of the road to the other. In one sense, the Bangalore motorway is a kind of analogy for practice. There are clear parts, troubled areas, challenges and on-going disturbances. The honking horns are like the endless fluctuations or vrittis that enter the mind during practice.

Returning to my teacher is my check-in point as to where I am in the scale of practice. Over the last few years my physical practice is less under inspection as it is my ability to focus and to ‘be’. Maybe it is only in India and from a Master I have been told, “Doing bodily exercise, yes, but nothing on the mind.”

Going to practice under a teacher in India always keeps my practice on par. Am I just trying to accomplish more asanas? Do I identify my progress with the physical result? Can I challenge myself to remember the ultimate connection between the body and mind? What effect is the pose having on me mentally?

It is repeatedly mentioned in the Yoga Sutras, a text written 2,000 years ago, that the practice will not be understood by the asanas alone. And yet the third rung out of the eight limbs is a huge step to move beyond since we are using the body to reach beyond it and into the mysteries of the mind.

How then to work with the fluctuations of mind through the asanas? It’s a step that continuously eludes me and why I return to India to find out.

As my practice grows, it is less about the physical postures now as it is observing and watching the breath. Over the next several weeks, my practice will be on holding a single pose for up to 30 continuous breaths then up to 50.

We are still on the Bangalore-Mysore road, which seems like a never-ending stream of construction. It is a continual journey for which I am so grateful for. And at my 50th breath, I may be ready for a pit-stop or maybe even the 51st breath.

Let’s see.

Note: There is no significance to holding a yoga posture for exactly 51 breaths. It is a marker in which 10 breaths are done in 1 minute. Holding a posture for 5 minutes is a starting point toward a therapeutic approach and need, not one for physical ascetics but internal endurance. Breathing less and more deeply is a central aim of many ancient Yogis in which life is not calculated by one’s years but one’s breath.


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