My allergies are killing me.
Last Tuesday I woke up at 3:30 am gasping for breath. It seems I accidentally closed my mouth while I was sleeping (which wouldn’t be a problem if I could breathe through my nose like an ordinary human, but apparently it’s a death sentence for someone suffering from spring seasonal allergies.) During my yoga class last night, I not-so-sneakily-snuck out of the studio while everyone else was in savasana for dose of decongestant spray and peppermint oil… oh the joys of loving to play in dirt and take long walks in the Great Outdoors.
I almost skipped my Mysore Ashtanga practice on Monday because my nose was completely stuffed. Ujjayi breath in and out of my nose seemed impossible. And it was, at first. My initial downward facing dog felt like I had wrapped my face in a cotton pillow and plunged it underwater. That great. But something miraculous happened: by my first Sun Salutation B, I could breathe. I mean, really breathe into the opening of my throat and listen to the familiar sound of ocean wave that the ujjayi creates. It was as if breathing deeply… helped me breathe deeply. (Novel, I know.)
Instead of feeling frustrated and fatigued, I felt relaxed and rejuvenated. I could literally feel myself becoming happier and less anxious every time I inhaled. I felt my spirit lift—I felt connected with my body, instead of feeling annoyed with it.
And it reminded me of this beautiful explanation of Breath from Max Strom’s book, A Life Worth Breathing:
“In our breath there is so much power to be harnessed, so much grace to be found. Many ancient languages associate breath and spirit, or breath and soul, as the same word. Spiritus comes from an old Latin word, meaning “to breathe” but also [meaning] “soul” or “spirit.” Another example is aloha which originally meant, “Breath of God” in ancient Hawaiian. So, when we say aloha to each other, it essentially means “I breathe God with you.” It seems … that human beings understand the act of breathing to be much more than mere physical survival, but as an intimate connection with the divine source, and that breath is actually associated with spiritual life.” – Max Strom
I often tell my students that if they ‘do nothing else but stand here and breathe, their practice is already a success.’ But I often wonder: do they really get it? Do I really get it? When I am powering myself into arm balances, am I looking for grace within my breath? Or am I just using it for the power it provides my muscles? Probably the latter.
When I take a deep breath after (waking up from) savasana (relaxation pose) do I remember that it is a Divine Gift? Usually my first thought is to check the clock and see how many minutes I have to change clothes and get to my next class. So… no, I’m probably ignoring that wake-up-inhale as “an intimate connection with the divine source.”
Fact: being unable to inhale through my super-stuffy nose reminds me that breathing is a gift. (Trying to look on the bright side here.) And with that gift, my Spirit is connected with every living creature in the past, present, and future.
If you too struggle with seasonal allergies, check out this article from Gaiam which gives advice on the best yoga poses to relieve allergies. And if you are a science nerd, like I am, this article details the physiological details of respiratory allergic reactions. And lastly… take a deep breath and cherish it like it is the only breath you will take today. Cherish your Spirit.
Get on your mat, even if your allergies are killing you.