The Beauty of Five Breaths
Today during practice, I thought about what a gift it is that we are only given five breaths to hold most of the postures in Ashtanga yoga. It reminds me that everything is transient; nothing is permanent. If I had more than five breaths, I would probably spend forever playing with little nuances in each posture. Sometimes in Mysore practice it's nice to do that. But in general, five breaths keeps me from obsessing and trying to get things just right. Five breaths is just enough time to settle in, maybe experiment with one or two things, and then find stillness. Beyond that, you have to let it go. You have to accept that it's time to move on, and have faith that in time everything will come. This is a wonderful lesson that has definitely translated into my day-to-day life. Practice is about having faith in good things to come when we have the courage to show up and give honest effort.
It's the same in life; rarely are we given a chance to sit and work with our difficulties for as long as we please--metaphorically speaking, longer than five breaths. Usually, we are in the moment and can only give our best. Life has a way of throwing the same challenges at us over and over until we "get it." We mimic this phenomenon in the yoga room by following the same sequence of asanas day by day, five breaths at a time. There is great wisdom to be had in that repetition.
Even if you had more than five breaths, would it really serve you? You can't hang out forever in a pose, or a life lesson, and expect to "conquer it" then and there. It's best to try a little each day, and give yourself time to let things marinate. Eventually, five breaths pile upon five breaths over and over again, until you've created a tower of proficiency. At that point, perhaps you’re ready for a new challenge--the next posture or a new life lesson. You must start again to build your understanding from the ground up, five breaths at a time.
Sometimes, five breaths can feel like eternity. In Ashtanga yoga, the fifth set of Navasana comes to mind! For any posture you find challenging, five breaths is a great accomplishment, because it means you didn't cop out. It reminds us we can make it through hard things and they don't last forever (and thank Isvara for that ;).
Similarly, there are times in life when you should be congratulated simply for having the courage to "sit with" your problems, even if it's just for five breaths. If you're willing to take an honest look at your difficulties and acknowledge the struggle, well then, you're very brave. In life, we are always given two options: face our demons head-on, or turn away. Of course, the only way to receive life’s lessons and the resultant personal growth is to choose NOT to turn away when the going gets tough. This is a concept we get to practice over and over again in the yoga room, five breaths at a time.
Love n' Namaste