I recently finished listening to the audio version of the NY Times bestselling book called “Breath, The New Science of a Lost Art,” by James Nestor. It is one of the most interesting, informative books I have read (listened to) in a long time. As one reviewer said, “If you breathe, you need this book.”
I have always loved the sister practice to yoga called Pranayama. It is the study and practice of harnessing the breath to create more vitality in the body. I enjoy the effects that thoughtful breathing has for my well-being. This book includes the wisdom and practice of pranayama and then adds in modern science.
James Nestor does a 10-year deep dive into all aspects of how we breathe and how this breathing has changed and evolved or, more accurately, devolved over the centuries. He bravely uses his body as a guinea pig to learn more about his sleep apnea and other breathing related problems, which also affects so many of us. Hypertension, depression, anxiety, sleep apnea, snoring, stress and auto-immune diseases are all problems that could be helped by breathing better.
“The ability to breathe so efficiently in a wide variety of ways-consciously and unconsciously; fast, slow, and not at all-allowed our mammal ancestors to catch prey, escape predators, and adapt to different environments. It was all going so well until about 1.5 million years ago, when the pathways through which we took in and exhaled air began to shift and fissure. It was a shift that, much later in history, would affect the breathing of every person on Earth, ” says Nestor.
Nestor includes practical breathing advice for everyone, no yoga practice required. How we breathe day in and day out truly does matter. Simple changes can be made to great effect. If I could, I would make this book required reading for everyone.
The above photo is of Tao Porchon-Lynch when she was 97 years old. She was 101 at the time of her death this past February, taught classes into her 100s, and held the Guinness world record as the world’s oldest yoga teacher.
She loved ballroom dancing, wine and high heels, saying the high heels brought her to nature’s most elevated places like Machu Picchu. She is an inspiration even if you don’t have a yoga practice, because her zest for life never wavered.
My birthday is here and I love that it coincides with the new year, a time when new intentions are often set. “Be like Tao” might be my mantra for the next year. I have never been a numbers person and once I hit my 50’s I began to lose track of how old I actually am. You could blame it on forgetfulness, but I prefer to think that I have stopped attaching a number to my chronological age. In my opinion, numbers set limits. Why do I now have to be defined by my age?
Part of this thought transformation started a few years ago after reading “Goddesses Never Age” by Christiane Northrup, M.D. She coined the phrase “Ageless Goddess” and her book is full of ideas of how to more fully embrace wherever you are in your stage of life. She asks the question, “Who would you be if age weren’t a factor? Support your well-being through habits that nourish and delight you instead of habits rooted in old defense mechanisms or shame. Addictions, avoidance behaviors, and people pleasing are common behaviors that become habit for too many women who are afraid of or uncomfortable with the regular expression of difficult emotions. We can push feelings like grief, resentment, shame, and rage back so far into our subconscious that we have no idea what we are holding on to. And these emotions secrete inflammatory chemicals into our bloodstream day in and day out, which causes aging. For a goddess to enjoy vibrant health, she has to learn how to grieve and rage without apology and then commit to experiencing more exalted emotions and experiences. That’s how these old, stale, and destructive energies can be released. And that is how we remain ageless, which is our birthright,”says Northrup.
In yoga there is a term called Prana, which represents your life force energy. Healthy eating habits, yoga, exercise, positive thinking, pranayama (yogic breath practices), sleep and meditation all stoke the fires of Prana. This life force energy then becomes a type of shield to help you deal with whatever comes in a healthy way.. “Whatever you put in your mind materializes. Within yourself, there’s an energy, but unless you use it, it dissipates. And that’s when you get old,” says Porchon-Lynch.
So as I reflect on 2020, and look forward to 2021, I set my intentions with these ideas in mind. This past year has taught us all so much. For me, I learned what I truly need to be happy. The desire for material items has been released. I now know that my joy comes from my family, my friends and life’s simple pleasures. In the new year, I want to be fully aware and embrace each moment. I want to remain open to what comes my way and feel that I can say yes to new adventures. I plan to use my full yoga tool box to stoke the fires of Prana to help me live life to its fullest.
“I don’t believe in age,” says Portion-Lynch. “When people ask me about age, I tell them to look at all the trees around them. They’re hundreds of years old. They may look as if they’re dying at the moment, but they’re not; They’re recycling themselves. And in a couple of months, they’re going to be reborn again.”
Auspicious New Year to each of you. Thank you for the support of this blog and my zoom classes through this past year. I am truly grateful that you supported this step out of my comfort zone. It is my hope that 2021 feels lighter and happier for all of us.
"And now let us believe in
a long year that is given to us,
new, untouched, full
of things that have never been."
~Rainer Maria Rilke