8 Elul 5774
By Cantor Shannon McGrady Bane
A Meditation on Breath
“Let all that breathes praise God. Hallelujah!” (Psalm 150:6)
“But truly it is the spirit in men,
the breath of Shaddai, that gives them understanding.” (Job 32:8)
“Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.” (Tara Stiles, Yoga Cures)
Sometimes the simplest actions can be the most difficult. Breathing, for example. Like you, I’ve been breathing all my life. Even so, I’m still learning…..especially how to breathe and when.
As a cantor and a yoga student, I am often reminded of the importance of breath, of being present in the moment.
Singers are trained to take quick, deep breaths and to support from the diaphragm. Neck and shoulders relaxed and still, we depend on our breath to give life and length to the tone. Quick inhale. Slow controlled exhale.
In yoga, we are taught to follow the breath, to breathe deeply into the poses. Slow and steady – inhale…2…3…4… pause, exhale…2…3…4… pause.
Last year at Rosh Hashanah, I resolved to start a regular yoga practice at home. Intuitively, I knew that’s what I needed to reduce the constant tension in my neck and shoulders while also strengthening my core. Although I had taken yoga classes for years, I never thought I could fly solo. Thankfully, I found an excellent guidebook, Tara Stiles’ Yoga Cures, and am happy to say that a twice-weekly yoga practice has been one of the best things I could have done for my health.
The deepest insight, however, has been the breath — and the idea that we can breathe through the challenges in life, just as we breathe through challenging yoga poses or asanas. Breathing brings us to the now. Lessons from the past and hopes for the future become intertwined with the simple acknowledgement of the life-giving breath expanding our lungs.
In Jewish prayer, our focused intention is known as kavana. To pray with kavana is to be completely present in the moment. In the yoga asanas, observing the breath is my kavana.
Being mindful is not easy in this techno-distracted, hyper-paced world of ours. When life becomes chaotic and stressful, we all know how important it is to center ourselves with a deep, calming breath. Even so, when we feel overwhelmed, it can be hard to remember to breathe.
My hope for the coming year is to do just that – to remember to breathe — to take the lessons learned on the yoga mat into the rest of my life.
Wishing you a blessed, sweet, and healthy New Year.