Fall travel and teaching is back…and so is my OM!

autumn leaves on the groundFall has always been my favorite time of year. Here in New York, in the northeastern United States, summer is notoriously hazy, sticky, humid and stinky. A crispness emerges in the air just past August, making it far more pleasurable to simply breathe, and it feels amazing to enjoy my lungs in this way.

Particularly following my first (and worst) experience with COVID-19 in February and March 2020, enjoying my lungs was definitely not the case. Long COVID symptoms continued for a year as my body dealt with challenges including breathing difficulties, extreme fatigue, brain fog, and eventually a six-and-a-half-hour ablation procedure for AFib and other arrhythmias exacerbated by the virus. The good news is that I’m almost fully recovered from all of that, and have regained the strength and endurance to begin traveling and teaching again, something I’ve sorely missed.

When I first experienced the coughing and bronchial inflammation common to COVID-19, I was tremendously grateful for a background in breath practice. I could see how anyone without similar experience might be sent into a panic as the length and depth of their breath became shorter and shallower. That panic alone might send someone to the hospital and onto a ventilator. Fortunately, after years of practicing yoga I knew at a somatic level that the length and breadth of my breath could be modified significantly, without dying. This is what yoga teaches in both asana and pranayama: it is a controlled stress experiment. From our first class we’re being asked to put our body in some weird, difficult position and then breathe. Yeah, right. For anyone without these experiences in their history, COVID must have been terrifying.

I am connecting especially deeply with breath work these days, having been through my own breathing challenges. I can say with a high degree of certainty that had it not been for my ability to recalibrate my moment-to-moment breathing due to my training and practice of breath-centered yoga, my COVID symptoms would have certainly landed me in the hospital in March of 2020, and I’d most likely not have survived intact, or at all. 

58.5 seconds of OM

During the last years I’ve been using the length of my OM as a metric of recovery. It was pretty dramatic how short my OM was during the summer of 2020 – I would start coughing and sputtering and shuddering. Trying to get a “deep” breath was impossible, until I remembered that deep doesn’t have to be big – it can also mean very small and close to the core of my body. This anatomical understanding brought comfort and a something to focus on until my bronchia quieted down. I’m happy to say that – on a good day – I’m back up to about a one minute OM (well, 58.5 seconds to be exact, as in this video I made in April!). I can’t get there every day, but it is a relief to know it’s possible.

OMs are how I open my workshops, encouraging each student to do their own length OM rather than chant in unison. When I don’t force my breath into anyone else’s pattern it permits me to relax into the process. It really isn’t a competition (well, that’s what Lydia says, but she’s the least competitive person I know!) and completing three comfortable, calm, personal-length OMs is a wonderful thing to experience.

I’ve got a number of upcoming workshops, both in-person (in London at triyoga Camden), and over Zoom (so you can attend from anywhere), where breath will be the primary focus. SPECIAL NOTE: If you or someone you know will be in London October 7-10, I’d love to connect at one of the public programs, or in a private session – especially if I can be of any help with recovering respiratory function.

And don’t forget, you can access a huge amount of my teaching material and one-on-one yoga content by subscribing to breathingproject.com.

I hope to see you soon, either in-person or virtually. Enjoy the Fall (or Spring, if you’re down under)!


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