pebbles and sea

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

Joni Mitchell

Back from a few days by the sea this week and just read a blog post by braith an’ lithe, which made me think about appreciating what we have in life. In her post, she writes about losing her sense of smell, and the feeling of loss and sadness accompanying that. Being by the sea, one of the first things I noticed was the wonderful smell of the seaweed, of the salt in the air and the particular smell of warm pebbles on a beach. I try not to take it for granted, but reading that blog today made me appreciate it even more.

We sometimes don’t appreciate what we’ve got until we lose it, whatever that might be, and we all experience loss in some form or another. If we really appreciate something or someone, will it be harder if we lose it? It might be, but if we don’t appreciate all those people or things that make life special, then we’re not fully living life. Yoga has helped me to become much more aware of the beauty in the simple things of life – to really see them, smell them and taste them.

Living about as far as you can be from the sea in England, I love to visit it, but when my agoraphobia was at it’s worst, I could hardly get to the shop down the road, so going to the coast seemed impossible. I lost my freedom to travel, and with that, lost my visits to the sea for a while. Yoga helped in my recovery, particularly the calm breathing techniques, and gradually I was able to get a little bit further and further from home. Appreciating and loving the sea gave me the incentive to keep pushing my boundaries – and it still does.


A calming breath

gentle waves

Like a wave, the breath is always moving and flowing. Sometimes smoothly and calmly like gentle waves on the beach, other times faster and more uneven like a stormy sea. Mostly we’re not even aware of the movement of the breath, and one of the great benefits of yoga is that it brings you to an awareness of the breath and with awareness comes an ability to  bring the breath under your control, rather than the breath controlling you. And a huge advantage of bringing the breath under your control is that it can help to change your emotional state. Usually we use the breath to slow us down and help us relax, but changing the breath can also lift your spirits and energise you.

There are many breathing techniques (pranayama) in yoga, but one of my favourites is simply to lengthen the out-breath. Breathe in to a count of 1 or 2 and breath out to a count of 3 or 4. It slows the breath, calms the mind and relieves stress. A good one to try if you can’t get to sleep.

As with all breathing practices, start slowly and gently and revert to your normal breathing pattern if it becomes uncomfortable or you feel light-headed.

“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know
as the in-breath grows deep,
the out-breath grows slow.
Breathing in makes me calm.
Breathing out brings me ease.
With the in-breath, I smile.
With the out-breath, I release.
Breathing in, there is only the present moment.
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.”

From: Present Moment Wonderful Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh

A cleansing breath

Waves on beach

As I write this, the wind is howling outside. I can imagine how it might feel by the sea as it reminds me of some really windy weather that whipped up the waves on a Devon beach a couple of years ago. Walking by the sea then felt like being cleansed inside and out, with the wind not only taking my breath away, but forcing the breath in through the nostrils. Lungs filling with ozone, and all the stale air being expelled.

The cleansing breath that we’re going to practice this week expels the stale air, leaving the lungs feeling clean and refreshed. It helps to clear the sinuses and brings clarity to the mind. I love Sandra Sabatini’s reflections on this breath, called kapalabhati: shakes….

“It’s about rhythm
it’s about releasing
letting go
it’s about exhalation
it’s very powerful
it goes very deep inside
it really shakes the spine
and it shakes your whole being
with quick, short motions.

It sets the spine free
it cleans the inside of the sinuses
it takes the dust away – the clouds

the body becomes rooted down below
and ready to absorb up above.”

From her book, Breath – the essence of yoga