“Breathing in I calm my body. Breathing out I smile”
Peace in every Step by Thich Nat Han
One cold bright Saturday in January, I walk up and down the field, from hedge to heap, emptying the wheel barrow of hedge cuttings, trimming back the flower beds, observing the new green shoots of garlic and listening to the book, Peace in every step. After 20 years of yoga I still find the breath surprises me and I love the mantra, breathing I calm the body, breathing out I smile. I turn off the audio after a while to just focus on that mantra, making my gardening a mindfulness practice, breathing in calm, breathing out smiling. I want to remember this, I might use it in my classes. And it’s easy, lovely to smile. The garden makes me happy and calm. I come here for this.
Later that same week I come to my mat to do yoga. Life as a yoga teacher is great but the class numbers are down, one of my training days has been cancelled and a mix of premenstral / peri menopausal hormones and a back log of admin has me feeling down. I’m full of the belief that I have wasted my time and energy on the wrong things and I have so much work ahead but none of the enthusiasm I started with. In other words I’m in a bad mood.
I have been putting on my ‘teacher’s hat’ and breezing along. Everything is fine. I have nothing to complain about. I want to unwind, relax, stop holding.
I breathe in the mantra once again, “breathing in I calm my body, breathing in I calm my mind.” I exhale, I think “I smile” deepening into paschimottanasana, standing forward fold. But I don’t smile, the simple practice doesn’t feel easy anymore. I struggle, I think why should I smile? I’m sad and cross with myself for being sad. I am surprised when I hear myself sob.
The part of me that felt uncertain, disappointed and ultimately afraid was making her voice heard. I soften, “I’m sorry” I tell myself, recognising it’s human to suffer.
I exhale and smile, suddenly filled with the deep realisation and sense of joy that we only suffer because we are alive. “I am alive.”
That moment I feel so present, the sadness is transient, the joy and suffering exist together making everything more beautiful.
On Saturday, 22nd January 2022, Thich Nat Han, the great teacher and gentle monk passed on at the age of 95.
I did not know that would happen the previous Thursday, when I themed my yoga classes around his teachings but I am so glad I did.
The breath can anchor us no matter the storm and help us feel centred and calm. “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile” feels like the perfect mantra for a world coming out of lock down, for a world where we can get stuck breezing through, saying, “I’m fine” but not feeling it.
No matter what the grief you feel or the day you are having, can you soften and tune in and think, “Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile” ? Making space to feel joy and suffering. Making space to be present to the beauty.
Thank you Thay for your wonderful gifts. Thank you for your presence.