During my first several years of Yoga practice, I would think to myself and sometimes say out loud "blood, sweat and tears on the mat." Sometimes, you fall on your face and get a little scrape, other times I would break a toe nail from rolling over the toes so many times into upward dog back to downward dog, inciting a crack in the big toe nail and a small bleed. Obviously Astanga yoga is going to make you sweat-- building up all that internal heat and purging toxins through the sweat glands. Oh and then there are the tears, and they arise from a number of reasons: maybe something came up, and old emotion being released, or maybe you actually did fall on your face and you got frustrated or hurt (was that an actual injury or a bruised ego?).
The reason why I bring this up is because I taught a class this morning and there were tears, good tears, but tears none the less! Here's the story. Only two people in class this morning made me more aware of the details of the students' breath. I could hear choppy, rushed breathing, maybe half ujayyi breath and the rest I am not sure what! I changed the direction of the class in order to focus on the most important part of the practice: the Breath.
I sat between my students, the three of us facing the same direction, towards the windows and into the garden, the orange tiger lilies giving their best at the end of the summer season.
We started with how to breathe ujayyi style. Constrict the back of the throat. It's like you are fogging a mirror but do it with your mouth closed. In an out through the nose. There you go. Good job. Okay, now we are going to lengthen the Breath, in for five and out for five. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Good. Again. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... and out 4, 3, 2, 1.... We did that for about ten rounds and then we added something. Well, we added two things: uddiyana bandha (pelvic floor energy lift/lock) and jalandhara banda (chin lock). Okay, now the breath with the bandhas. We did this several times. And I could see something shifting... And then I thought to myself-- I think she is crying, the student to my left. And sure enough, after about twenty steady, long inhales and exhales with two bandhas engaged, the her flood gates opened. It was the kind of floodgates that open and are simply not closing. That opening was a long time coming. Sri K Pattabhi Jois famously said "Practice and all is coming." And just like that, with some breath and some engagement through the body, the cleanse arrived and washed over her face.
I gave her some time, she went to the bathroom and came back but was still crying. I put her in a restorative pose, lying on her side, making sure to bolster her with whatever cosy props I had and she rested.
The other student continued to sit in meditation and something deep occurred to me. It is a well-known concept in Buddhism that we are all Buddha's, that is we are Enlightened underneath it all-- it is just that we have this veil over our eyes and we can not see it. We are asleep, and we practice to Wake Up! "Buddha" means One Who Is Awake! After the breath and the bandhas, this student, who normally has a bit of a furrowed brow, and a very piercing gaze during her practice, was sitting in meditation and it was as if a Light has washed over her and through her. Her face softened and a glow permeated her being. Her own light washed through her entire reality and mine. I could see the Buddha in this woman. I could see the Beautiful and Serene Face replace and shine through the face of striving, grasping and resistance.
Such a profound class. I have been struggling with my own practice for some time now. But now, somehow, through these students, I have the Peace to get back on the mat. Hallelujah.