The Student as Teacher: Penetrating the Wisdom of a Moment, a Breath

Recently, Louise (not her real name) joined our therapeutic class to get relief from hip pain that stemmed from postural imbalance due to scoliosis. As we worked together, I placed my hand to the back of Louise’s waistline on the shorter side, and instructed her to breathe into my hand.

“I haven’t breathed there in so long.”

The tears came. As she continued to breathe into that newly-rediscovered area, the intensity of the emotions she was processing were palpable. It took deep courage for her to breathe into that place.

“I didn’t realize that therapeutic yoga was going to be that therapeutic.”, she joked when the session was over.

A fundamental principle of the breath is “Where there is breath there is awareness.”  The breath functions like a light that illumines closed-off places in our body.

In some ways, much of the healing work of yoga is about opening to places in ourselves that have been dark and hidden from our awareness.  The body holds the memory of the totality of our life experience. As we learn to breathe into unfamiliar places it is natural that forgotten memories and the feelings that accompany them come to the surface. They arise so that they can be released, allowing us to let go of what we no longer need to hold onto as part of who we are.

Ultimately, this is the liberating, transformative power of the practice. It allows us to shift into a more expanded way of being. It is the process of reclaiming our true freedom. Along the way, it is also likely to be an uncomfortable, scary and painful journey at times.

Part of my faith and trust in the process of yoga comes from my experience that these openings happen when we are strong and able enough to face them. They come up when they are ready to be released. I believe this is work of Grace, the revelatory power of Spirit, showing us the next step on our path toward becoming who we truly are. 

This is work that calls forth the bravery of the fearless spirit often described in the yogic texts.

As teachers, we are there to be a steady, compassionate presence that holds the space for this most important work to happen. We are there to support by simply breathing with our student in silence or by offering words of encouragement as we witness the hidden crevasses of painful memories surface.

It is our opportunity to stand on the other side of that pain and discomfort, grounded in the trust of possibility and transformation built on our own understanding and practice.

We may not need to know the story, but can we relate to the process?