A stand of pine trees grows at the summit of a nearby hill. I walk my dogs purposefully toward it every day anticipating the scent of pine the way a runner anticipates the drink of water to cool her fire at the run’s end.
Approaching the pines, before I can smell them, I feel my lungs open like a gaping baby bird beak remembering worms. This is my pranayama; my body charged with the desire to inhale energy, to bring the sap and bark and needles and earth of those trees into me.
I’m often stingy with air, hoarding it by taking only little bits at a time, taking only what I need to survive. Where did that come from? Despite the bus and car fumes, New York had a wonderful breeze from the water. My home in Los Angeles was in the hills and the air was often perfumed with sage and pine and wild flowers. Was it the polluted air of Nashville which sits in a basin that the Indians called the valley of ill health? When did I start holding back energy? Was I recoiling from a bad smell or was it less conscious than that! Did it begin in the oppressive summers and become habit that kept me from breathing in the Fall and Winter?
Springtime in Nashville is a feast for the eyes. Flowers fill the sky in blocks of blooming trees. A bouquet of colors quickly covers the newly green grass in daffodils and hyacinth. The winter jasmine is still bright yellow with branches that are often mistaken for the forsythia that comes on its tail. Pink quince and white hawthorn, tulip magnolias, redbuds and the weeping cherry outside this window will explode like a shower of fireworks in pink, purple, red and white any minute now. The sweetly scented mock orange bush will bloom with the climbing wild roses and yellow jasmine next. Rainbows of tulips will join them. The light has changed and not just lingered but has begun to migrate from my front rooms that are like a solarium in Winter, to the back terrace that hosts so many gatherings every year. In its course, equal and soft light spreads everywhere. Am I breathing?
The spectacle of affirmation that this planet is a great place to visit has a secret weapon in the form of allergies. There is something here that makes asthma thrive and covers us with pollen that puts us to sleep like Dorothy in the poppy fields. I find myself in the confusing dilemma of wanting to draw the earth into me and off of me at the same time. The metaphor of this paradox is not subtle. Are we not faced with contrariness regularly whether it is ambivalence toward work or friends or life in general? Has the yoga in my thinking taught me to be generous with myself and recognize that which must be left behind without regret? Can one fully inhale life without letting antagonizers that also come on that breath harm you? Yes. My answer is yes. What must one do? Adapt and filter. What does it take? Faith and courage.
How strange that I began this as a ditty about stretching my lungs to receive a favorite smell and I’m talking about faith and courage. I could rework this but I think I’ll let it stand as is. I think it does take more than pleasure to take this walk. This writing is not unlike my yoga classes that begin with some inane moment in my life turned into what my student Laura refers to as a dharma rant. What metaphors I may have drawn without a life of yoga may have been the same but teaching yoga has made a context for sharing my perceptions. It is in this way that yoga has given shape to share my wonderings.
This holding back to take just enough to survive bleeds into the second basic need for survival which is drinking water. Most water just doesn’t taste good anymore. I hadn’t realized how stingy I’d gotten about drinking till my friend put a $2,000.00 filtration system in his house and I found myself drinking eight ounces at a time and wanting more without feeling full. I was starved for water. I’ve been starving myself of water. Back home taking a glass from my filtered refrigerator, I can barely stand to finish it even when I let it sit at room temperature. I’m done with a sip as I am from most bottled water. I hadn’t realized that not all water feeds you the same way. But one must drink.
I encourage my students to notice the satisfaction of drinking the breath in so it hits the back and travels to the tips of the lungs. A little imagination helps and so they imagine the smell of the sweetest thing that pleases them. I remind myself to do that with water so that I won’t deprive myself.
What stops us from breathing may be habit or the recoil of living with aggressive air. What stops us from drinking may be the same. We may not notice until we take that breath of pine or a drink of spring water. We don’t always have the opportunity for that breath or drink but we have the opportunity to adapt and filter where possible. We have the brains to be aware of the difference between what habit is and what a necessary filtration system is and most importantly, what joy is!
As I replace the red velvet couch cushions with silk plaid pillows in shades of rose and green, I embrace the season of contradictions with a light heart. I will adapt and filter. I recognize joy like the old friend who never lets me down.
(Published in Elephant Journal)