The Heart Opening Breath
I recently went to class with a new (to me) teacher. About halfway through class, she announced that we’d be doing pranayama (or breath work) for the last 30 minutes of class.
“Great,” I thought to myself. “I love pranayama.”
Getting Set Up
After she guided us through a couple restorative poses to get grounded, we set up for pranayama. We got our pranayama pillows and snuggled in.
But first, she wanted us to watch her demonstrate what we’d be doing. “Makes sense to me,” I thought. “I like to demo, too—especially when there are new people in class.”
And so, I watched her lie back on her pillow. She placed her arms by her sides, palms up. At first, she talked us through the various breaths we’d be using. And then she closed her eyes, let her face go slack and started to slowly breathe.
And that’s when I had to suppress a sob. Literally—not tears, a full-on sob. I choked it back, and then the next one and the next. I averted my eyes and tried to think about something else—anything else.
I didn’t get sobby because what she was doing was beautiful (although it was in many ways). Instead, I got sobby because I got triggered—in a flashback kind of way.
Because when I saw her lying there, in that position, with that slow breath, her face slack, all I could see was my dad—in that same position, doing that same thing. Except that he wasn’t doing pranayama.
He was dying.
Truth be told, I haven’t let myself think of those last couple hours of his life much since they happened. Sure, I’ve recounted the story of the lovely end of it—when he was peaceful and I was holding his hand. And I’ve even mentioned how hard it was, especially in the beginning. But I haven’t let myself relive it in a direct way—much less feel it.
That is, until I had no choice.
After the demo, we all had to lie back and do it ourselves. I was in such a daze, and was so relieved to stop looking at the teacher, that I did it. I got situated on my pillow, laid back, closed my eyes, placed my arms by my sides and—well, that’s when the tears started.
And they didn’t stop for the rest of the pranayama practice. The class was practicing viloma, but not me. In that open-hearted position on that long pillow, after having already become upset, all I had left to do was cry. Because in a lot of ways, I felt like I was embodying my dad’s experience.
So I quietly leaned into it and let the tears flow. I didn’t put a stop to them and try to get back into the pranayama practice. Not that I particularly had a choice about the matter, but I think in the past I might have forced myself to.
Yoga Does What I Can’t
After we were done, I wiped my tears away and came up to seated. I don’t know if the teacher saw me or not, but either way it doesn’t really matter.
What mattered is that something cracked open that day—something that was just under the surface but that I hadn’t been able to access until my practice facilitated the way. Because after doing a variety of heart opening poses during class, I was open and primed. So when the opportunity presented itself, my feelings were free to flow out—in a way I never would have been able to facilitate without yoga because my conscious mind didn’t realize they were there—or, probably more accurately, didn’t want to.
When I stay with my practice, it brings me plenty of benefits that I’m aware of and expecting. But what’s even better is when it brings me what I’m not expecting—but most need.
And this is really the beauty of this practice of yoga. It not only helped me when my dad was dying, but it continues to support me now—even (and perhaps especially) when I’m least expecting it.