This is enough for one day. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. In hale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Take this simple journey and see where it leads you.
-Rolf Gates, Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga
Day 257 – What are the benefits of pranayama? Why is it worth practicing to breathe? Rolf insists the “physical benefits…are not esoteric.” Indeed, they are not. We can practice being more efficient, more encompassing, more aware of most physiological processes, even the ones we take for granted and which seem, well, esoteric.
A funny thing happens now both when I practice pranayama through meditation and encounter thoughts arising (or that I am caught in a train of thought), as well as when I encounter harried thought patterns and creeping anxiety in my day-to-day. For example, Day 4 of pre-planning school week can really be stressful. There is a great deal of gotta’-get-it-done-now and oh-my-god-the-parents-and-kids-will-be-here-soon along with a healthy dose of finishing touches, meetings, grappling with details which are really that important to individual teachers and their individual students, who are all new to one another. What I am so much more aware of is that I return to my breath. I see the thoughts arising; I feel the edges of anxiety breaching. Yet, I return to the breath.
Today’s meditation was just a brief 7 minutes done at the dining room table following my dishes routine. I listened to part of a podcast on how to eat and what to eat when you know you have planned stress. I thought that the idea of “planned stress” is rather interesting because I never thought of life in terms of “planned stress.” Nonetheless, as a mother, there are certainly times when you know your schedule is going to be stressful. It is no less real as a classroom teacher (and this one is soon to be a student again, as well). If one can try to eat well during these periods, cannot one breathe well during these, as well? Why not choose health?
In stressful and planned stress times, breath returns us to calmness, to awareness of thought patterns that have the potential to ignite anxiety and, therefore, more stress, or cultivate presence. I spend some of my days this pre-planning period expecting myself to drop into despair, as I have in previous years, but this year, I think remarkably differently and I really think that attests to the physical benefits of pranayama, which enhance all the other physiological, mental, emotional, and esoteric aspects of our beings.