Why You Should Question How You Breathe

BY: MITCHEL BLEIER

     “Yoga begins with a question,” as one of my teachers said to me to begin a ten-year long mentorship. Tracy reminded me the other day that my style of teaching has always been to teach by asking students questions instead of just telling them what to do or think. She pointed this out to me after I was sharing with her things I've been learning while in my sabbatical. I've been in the mode of questioning myself versus doing what I've always done, whether that's related to the body, breathing, meditating, or eating, parenting, and sleeping. When I teach, I ask the students to be accountable for their experience by making them participate in the experience through the question. I can’t tell them what to feel, but I can ask them what it's like to feel. I can't tell them what to believe, but I can ask them what they believe. It’s an invitation to have a healthy relationship with questioning or doubt, which is necessary to progress, yet is tricky because doubt can be a major hindrance, just like being negative, cynical or disagreeable. But being in the state of questioning is an art form and science. It's about interpreting your experience, but also asking does it work? You can interpret anything to be what you want it to be, but is it true?  I spent many years trying to come up with the best question to ask. I’m not sure if I ever asked him that one question or not. It doesn’t matter because the point was I learned to ask myself and to ask life. Over the next ten years plus I've been asking the question, “Is there more to this…” It's the way I stay accountable to myself. 
      At the core of my last five years with my sabbatical and all my changes, and after twenty plus years of practicing and studying and being swept up in the wave of yoga’s modernity and popularity, I needed to step back and look at myself and ask who and what had I become? I see much of American yoga has become a trend, the next “new” thing, but maybe it always was (Does anyone remember the cover of Yoga Journal in 1995 with Duncan Wong in urdhva kukkutasana, "Power Yoga, The New Ashtanga Wave)? I didn't know it then in my infancy as a yogi, but I was at the forefront of that "new wave of Power Yoga." I just rode that wave without any doubts or questions, like someone falling in love. In my article Yoga Poses: Old, New, or Both, I bring up this question of the modern history of yoga and how old, or valid yoga's claims are? And if it’s not a trend, then was what I learned and taught still true for me? This wondering has been going on at a visceral and soul level like I had no choice but to stop everything and answer this. I had no choice but to surrender to it, and thankfully my constant wondering and asking left me totally fascinated with everything I have discovered. The Shiva Sutras say, “The world’s of yoga are astonishing,” and I can’t think of a more true statement to define what it is to be a yogi.
     Lately, I’ve been more curious about the breath and specifically the biochemistry of breathing. Did you know that the air we breathe has 200 times less carbon dioxide than we need, but ten times more oxygen? Have you ever considered how necessary carbon dioxide is for the delivery of oxygen to your muscles, tissues, and organs, but how do you breathe properly to maximize it? Are you familiar with nitric oxide? It was named molecule of the year in 1992, which makes me wonder if every year there is a molecule of the year? In 1998, three doctors won the Noble Prize for their discovery of its role in the cardiovascular system, and its importance to nearly every function of your body means that you can't live more than a few seconds without it. Did you know that nitric oxide is produced in the nasal cavity and nose breathing releasing it into the nasal airways and then transfers to the lower airways and lungs? Talk about being fascinating! 
     In 1904 Science of Breath was published and the author says,"that one generation of correct breathers would regenerate the race, and disease would be so rare as to be looked upon as a curiosity." Prior to that in 1882 a book was published called Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life, based on the need to nose breath. It makes me wonder about things like noble silence on a meditation retreat, and if it is also about helping us keep our mouths shut. I actually have started to tape my mouth when I sleep and during the day when I'm working. I notice I choose not to make as many phone calls and in stead focus on keeping my mouth closed. I wonder how many things other than my health I'm improving by just shutting my mouth? I'm fascinated to think that breathing correctly can erase disease, and the more I learn the more I feel like we have a lot of relearning to do. Are we asking ourselves, the way we do with food and water, about the amount of breath we should take in and let out? I was amazed when I started looking at the volume and rate of my breath and was humbled by how inefficient it was. It woke me up and reminded me that yogis measure their life by the breath. There's a lot to be said about the state of aging and health today, and I want to be the exception to all the excuses. I believe our health starts with the very first act we take in this body - our breath. 

I can’t wait to share more with you in person. Join us for Module 1: ROOTED or any other modules.