Healing Pain Begins With the Breath | Omega

When you learn to ride the waves of your breath through whatever is happening in your life, you get access to a powerful ally in healing pain and breaking old, harmful patterns. Yoga teacher Ana Forrest explains how it works.

We are intensely habitual creatures, and many of our habits don't serve us. Most of us have pain because we've fallen into bad patterns: physical, emotional, and spiritual ones. To heal pain, we need to break those patterns, which can be surprisingly challenging. Don't believe me? Try this: clasp your hands. Look at which thumb and forefinger are on top. Now, interlace your fingers again with the other thumb and forefinger on top. That weird, awkward, uncomfortable feeling? It's called change. And it's hard.

Our minds run the same mazes as our bodies do. We think that when we decide to change, we should be able to do it instantly. Not so! We need to spend time breaking old patterns, then building and walking neurological connections and pathways in order to make lasting changes.

The most important pattern to break and reset is how you breathe. When I ask my students: "What can't you live without?" they pepper me with the usual responses: "Oh, I can't live without love/spirit/kindness/chocolate/coffee/cocaine/my partner." Wanna bet? Sure, you can. It may not be fun, it might not be pleasant, but you'd soldier on. Here's what you can't live without: your breath.

We breathe all the time, and yet when we put our attention on something that automatic, we can begin to explore that vast internal wondrousness inside us. How great to find that grand expanse, that Great Mystery of the cosmos, inside our own skin!

No matter what the origin of your pain, learning to ride your own breath—your wind horse—will help take you through it. We're so habituated to struggle that it seems we just have to live with it, but breathing into our pain instead of thrashing around it opens the door to healing. 

Arthur was a typical struggler. You could hear it in his breath, see it in his big muscles. He was a big believer in "no pain, no gain" and that whatever he was doing didn't count unless it came at a great cost—physical or emotional. Whatever pose he was in, he’d be doing his Mr. Macho grunting. One day while fighting and grunting in bridge pose, he finally decided to release the struggle and just ride his breath into the pose. That breath’s freedom cascaded into a realization that brought him to tears: his whole life was about struggle. The moment he just stopped struggling and moved into breath, that whole paradigm fell apart. That single, visceral epiphany changed a toxic habit that had brought enormous pain into his life.

Start feeling your breath. When you're stressed or angry or in pain, do you hold it? Do you pant and grunt and groan through struggle? Take five long, deep breaths. Feel how they energize you. Can you begin to change the habitual way you breathe, to reconnect with feeling your breath, and then to deepen it, no matter what?

Excerpted from Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit by Ana Forrest. Published by Harper One, a division of HarperCollins. Copyright © 2011 by Ana Forrest. 

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