Leslie Kaminoff, day deux.
Today was another great workshop day. We talked more about the breath and the body and yoga. I also freaked out a little bit. That part wasn’t so great, but maybe it actually is—in that way that it is going to be great in the future when I look back at it as something I’m not having to freak out about anymore. Let me tell you about it.
This afternoon, a woman (who I happened to have lunch with and think is awesome) was talking to Leslie about her inhales. She said they don’t feel long. Her exhales are quite long, but not the inhales. She explained that she runs out of breath before she is done with her movement and she agreed to work with Mr. Kaminoff on this and allow us to observe. Brave and beautiful.
At the front of the room, he worked with her. She’d raise her arms as she inhaled and then lower them with her exhale, combining breath and movement. As she said, her exhale was much longer than her inhale. Mr. Kaminoff had her experiment with interrupting the inhale with a pause as she moved her arms. The pauses extended her in-breath a little, but it still didn’t feel good and deep.
So he brought her to a mat at the center of the room. She was on her back and he asked her to exhale…exhale…exhale… He had his hand on her abdomen and as she exhaled, he put pressure on her abdomen. The hand went down… down…down as she breathed out. He was both feeling around to see where there was tension and where there was release and also assisting those belly-exhale muscles in doing their job. He had the sense that the accessory muscles of respiration—the ones that help to depress the ribcage and assist the diaphragm in changing the shape of the ribcage were not releasing enough to allow her to take a full inhale. They were hanging onto the action of depressing the ribcage so that when she went for the inhale, the ribcage stayed pinned down and it was difficult to expand the shape of the thoracic cavity so all that breath could come in.
At this point, I was sitting on a blanket right up next to all the action. I could watch Mr. Kaminoff’s hand pressing on my new friend’s belly. I was taking in all the talk and the theory and observing this very personal exchange between teacher and student. It felt important and significant. There was a little charge to it for me, but so far so good.
Then it got a little more intense. Mr. Kaminoff asked my classmate to exhale all the way, make sound, and breathe differently while he pressed deeply and firmly into her abdomen. I start to grip in my belly. I notice my exhale getting really compressive. With all the air out, he asked her to press her belly up into his hand strongly, which he said could “trick” those overly enthusiastic exhaling muscles into working harder— so that then with the inhale, they might be more able to release. I watched. My breath mirrored her breath. He explained that all that tension was like loading a spring and and all that mechanical tension can allow for a full and big release. We all watched closely, my heart was racing and I was freaking out level 2, and stress level 2, and then it worked. Her inhales deepened. Her upper chest began to move with the breath and wow. It was pretty incredible.
At this point, I’m about to cry. I’m imagining how this must be for her to be breathing in a different, deeper way. Our own breath is a long-time companion. Its constancy and dependability, even when it doesn’t happen with lovely ease and freedom, is still very personal. It is so intimate. It’s hard to let go of something that shapes how we move and how we are in the world even when it is a little dysfunctional because, after all, it’s our own unique dysfunction. In some ways, it tells a story about who we are and where we came from. I’d like to say that watching this beautiful woman’s breath change, watching it open and become more free and seeing a teacher, a role that I assume, facilitate this in such a meaningful way for both this woman and for the rest of us to observe was what stirred big emotions inside of me. Maybe that was a part of it. But what I was most acutely aware of was a knot in my throat and pressure, gripping, and uncomfortable tingling in my belly. And then, they went through it again. His hand was on her belly, now right below the xyphoid process. It went down, down, down with her exhale. His hand was in there with all those organs and muscles, clearly affecting her breath and I started to feel my body ache right there, big time. My abdomen was freaking out and my exhale was affected. My breath mirrored hers and I could feel myself getting flooded with all this really icky emotional stuff.
“Our body is knit together by mechanical tension. We can load the system with a big contraction so that we can release more fully.” Mr. Kaminoff said something like this and my head was thinking, “Phew, let’s get into the talk about bodies so my body can chill out.” I started thinking ribcage and sternum and spine and lung tissue in an attempt to quiet the gut-sensation I was having. Then he said, “in yoga, this restriction in the gut is a Brahma Granthi—the creator of all other granthis.” Ghranthis are knots or obstructions that we have in our subtle body system. They prevent the easy flow of prana.
Here it comes again. Big, big emotion just welled up and that feeling of hand in my gut came back again and my throat got tight and I couldn’t stay with it. I got really still and went kind of jelly and even though there was still charge and energy and nervous uncomfortableness in my body, the most acute sensation passed. Some very active protector part of me dodged that shit and pulled away. I couldn’t hack it.
On break, I talked to the senor. I asked him how he was able to prevent the emotion of working so intimately with students and their breath from affecting him, only I said something like, “uuuuh, so how do you keep that feeling from getting in you?” I really was hoping he’d lean-in and whisper some secret initiation-mantra that would allow me to call up an impenetrable cosmic yogic forcefield whenever I needed to not feel uncomfortable, but he didn’t. He suggested, in the kindest and most sensitive way possible, that this “not letting in” is a matter of establishing healthy boundaries and maybe I need to do a little more svadyaya to figure out why I respond this way, what went down in my past and what to do about it. He pulled that very simple and reasonable suggestion out and just set it right on my lap. I should have known.
I’ll tell you, dear readers, I’ve had a couple of things happen in the last week that went down just like this did. Big feelings! Feel it in body! Can’t handle it! Go jelly, close my eyes half way and get the heck out of Dodge. This pattern of mine probably isn’t new, but I don’t seek out (“avoid” is the more appropriate term) high-intensity and highly emotional situations so infrequency means that the pattern has been a easy enough to ignore. But this week, no kidding, I had 3 big days of this stuff. Is it coincidence? Or maybe, like a toddler who has watched one too many episodes of Dora the Explorer, this pattern just didn’t want to be ignored anymore and demanded my attention until I finally had to turn toward it and look it in the eyes.