Embracing the Breath of Fire

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By Donna Olendorf

I caught a cold last week, and for the past few days I’ve been stuffed up and sneezing, nonstop from morning till night–with one small respite. My head clears and the sneezing stops from 4 – 6 pm. That’s when I’m in Yoga.

I practice at a local studio, staffed by wise, kind yogis, and the classes I seek out for practice are Vinyasa flows. When I enrolled two years ago, I understood Vinyasa as a posture or asana that began with a Sun Salutation and ended with Downward Facing Dog. Between those poses, new movements would be gradually introduced and repeated, until the Vinyasa had grown to a chain of flowing poses, each separate and unique, but also linked to the one before like a pearl added to a growing strand to create an unbroken chain.

At first, I focused on the movement. But gradually, I heard the teachers, one after another as if in unity, guiding us students to focus on the breath. The priority is the breath. Allow yourself to connect to your breath. Explore the movement of your breath.

There are so many types of breathing in yoga that it was hard to keep them straight: Kundalini Breath of Fire, Ujjayi Victorious Breath which sounds like ocean waves rolling in and out of the shore, Lion’s Breath that almost roars. But over time I learned that each one is a type of Pranayama yogic breathing and each has its place in the yoga flow.

And that’s when my practice started to deepen into a spiritual connection with God. The Anglican liturgy is filled with references to the breath of God. “Breathe on Me Breath of God,” was written by the Anglican priest Edwin Hatch in the late 1800s. On my mat, in a dark heated room filled with students, I close my eyes, and welcome in that image.

The sound of my breath drawing in and rolling out, like ocean waves, anchors me in the moment. I begin my practice. Breathing in, I raise my arms overhead to the sun, breathing out, I fold at the waist and touch the floor, hanging low. My breath guides my body through the poses and in the resting moments between the movements, I connect with my spirit. This is the essence of me, since birth and till death, the self that God created and nurtures through disciplines like yoga, like prayer.

There is probably a scientific explanation for why my sneezing stops in the yoga room – the heat, the humidity, the release of daily worries and absorption in an activity that I enjoy. But, I like to believe it’s God’s gift. At the end of our Wednesday Lenten study, Daniel closed with a prayer that began: “Holy God breathe on us…Inspire us.” Right now, that inspiration comes to me in yoga.

Where do you feel that inspiration? Where do you connect with the breath of God?

 

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