National Association of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NACAMS)
Yoga-Expanding and Contracting
By: Erica Bouchér
In yoga, we learn to tune into our breathing and let our bodies expand and contract around the breath. And the only way to stay healthy is to allow our breathing to be steady, consistent and natural. If we hold the breath in, or out, we cut ourselves off from life source energy. So the out-breath must be respected as fully as the in-breath, and well as the other way around.
We all recognize the value of breathing in- to provide ourselves with oxygen and energy. But how often do we honor the value of the exhale, allowing us to release toxins and purify the blood. This can be likened to a spiritual awakening. We love the awakening, the ride up the roller coaster, but often resist the rest of the ride; the unexpected turns and loops that disorient us for a time.
When we go through a spiritual awakening, it’s like taking a big breath in. We feel open, clear and expansive, and often believe that feeling will never end. Gone are the days of fear, doubt and disillusionment.
And then the need to breathe out arises, and actually cannot be avoided if the organism is going to live. It’s being at peace during the exhale, when the body is contracting around the breath, that is the true measure of our growth. How much can we trust in the next breath in?
In life, we grow so much while we are expanding, but often grow even more when in a contracted state – if we allow it. It’s resisting it that makes us suffer. It’s believing that we are no longer subject to that very natural rhythm that leaves us feeling as if we’ve lost something, and if disillusionment sets in, we can get stuck there much longer than we need to.
Everything in life has a rhythm, from the seasons, to the tides, to the phases of the moon. Everything that expands also contracts, except maybe the Universe itself, as the planets continue to create more and more space between themselves. But the Universe is pure consciousness; it does not have an ego.
We do. And if we truly transcended it and were no longer subject to the expanding and contracting that goes with it, we would no longer have a need to be on this Earth. I once heard someone say, “as soon as you reach pure consciousness and truly transcend the ego, you have only seconds left to live,” because your body can no longer contain you.
But how beautiful is that, to recognize that if you are still here, it is because there is more still for you to learn. And it’s only the resistance of it that causes our suffering. So what would happen if we truly embraced it all: the good, the bad, the ugly….and shined the light of compassion on it?
If we can accept and allow the joy, bliss and peace that come from knowing we are spiritual beings having a human experience, as well as the fear, doubt, anger and disillusionment that is a part of the human experience we are here to have, then we can experience true peace. And perhaps that is the lesson.
When we learn to recognize what we are feeling, accept it and breathe into it – whatever it is, and we combine this emotional awareness with a clear and focused mind, we have the formula for emotional intelligence. In her book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach suggests that when joy arises, when gratitude arises, when love arises – it’s easy to embrace it. The gift is when we can say “and this too” when the anger, sadness and fear emerge, and accept and embrace them too.
In his book, On Anger, Tich Nat Han says if you injure your hand you don’t push it away and deny its pain. You take it in close; you tend to it, care for it, and nurture it back to health. Your anger is like that wounded hand. Only embracing it and loving that part of you allows the inflammation to subside, the healing to occur.
Carl Jung asked, “Would you rather be whole, or good?” To be whole, we must accept it all – the full spectrum of emotion. Failure to do so results in a splintered self. To be fully whole, we cannot deny any aspect of ourselves.
In her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford says that although most people think the color white is the absence of all color, in truth it is the inclusion of all the colors of the rainbow together. We cannot be light beings if we deny any aspect of ourselves; it all must be acknowledged and loved.
The true lesson is in learning to recognize, accept and allow the energy of all emotions to move through you, without getting stuck there. Just as you cannot breathe in forever, you cannot breathe out forever either. You must expand again. I often encourage my students to tune into that place where the urge to breathe begins. Then notice how good it feels to allow it.
We are freed the moment we stop resisting what is, accept that it has become a part of our experience for a reason, and allow ourselves to be humble enough to learn the lesson we have been given with gratitude.