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  • Writer's pictureRachael Yahne

The Yoga Retreat Part I: Breathwork, Surrendering & Being Surrendered

black and white photography
Photo by Ashley Jo Photography

In a warm, white-lit room waited 3 mats, each topped with a bolster, and a blanket; the base of the mats pointed toward the instructor, with their tops angling out like beams of sunlight. Together, they offered a grounding point, a connectedness at our feet that fanned into an airy expansiveness where our heads would soon lay, with plenty of breathing room, spaciousness, and possibility. Soon, we would need every inch of that breathing space, and then some.

My first breaths in the instructed pattern; two short and sharp inhales followed by the punch of a hard exhale; felt tenuous but enthusiastic. Inhale-inhale-exhale. Inhale-inhale-exhale. My only job was to lay on the mat, staying present with my breathing. Breath after breath, second after second, the music gathered momentum and the room began to spin. What began as air pouring past my mouth and down my throat began to feel tenous. Hard to reach. Thin. My lungs gripped and grasped at oxygen hungrily, pulling fistfulls in as powerfully as they could, while my ribs and core muscles pushed and shoved the air back out seconds later. My head lightened. My feet became tingly, then slightly numb, as did my hands, and then legs, and elbows, thighs and shoulders sparkling with gentle pin-like tingles before becoming airy, floating, disconnecting from my awareness, limb by limb. Inhale-inhale-exhale. Until my chest, my mouth, the top of head went out of sensation, and all that remained was - inhale-inhale-exhale - the rapid lift and depression of my heart toward the sky, then back down toward the earth.

As my limbs faded out of sight, inhale-inhale-exhale, so did everything else. The white room. The music playing. The cement block-heavy thoughts I lugged in here. Yesterday. Today.

Unafraid, I drifted into the airlessness of the breathwork. I lost track of consciousness, coming in and out of it willingly, not holding at all to reality. I drifted off - into sleep? into unconsciousnes? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to be sure. I didn’t care. I had to go there.

In moments when my mind was deep in black space surrounded by stars, I was brought back to the room by a gentle touch of the instructor holding my feet, then on my thighs rocking me gently to release whatever was coming up through my soul and into my body. The gentle vibrations and shaking, rocking, loosened more than what I had known was weighing me down. This was more than stress, worries, insecurities, and the incessant thoughts of someone I missed. Unhinged, unjarred from the confinement of my muscles-memories, they released through my body. I felt them leave. I felt the stuck energy let go. I felt their want to hold onto my tendons, and I felt my heart’s call for it to free me…

Which is where, in a space between awake and not, in a moment of once again having gently floated from here to somewhere else, came to my mouth a shape. My lips rounded, protruded, my tongue depressed at the bottom of my mouth, and the softest whisper passing over my teeth saying sweetly, but firmly: “Go.”

Go, She said. My heart, my body, my soul. Go. Leave. You aren’t welcome here.

I knew what was being told leave. It was someone else’s thoughts and presence, latched onto me and I had been too scared to acknowledge it. As if admitting it would make it real. And I knew who it was; I knew why they had been energetically grabbing at me even from miles away and for weeks now, without speaking. I knew why my body wanted them to release me, and I knew that this very breathwork, this energetic cutting of ties was the only way to be liberated. Because we all know when someone is holding onto us, thus holding us back. Our muscles can feel their chains. Our hearts can sense their claws dug into us. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a word from them to know: they have energetically tied themselves to you. And they do not want to let go. So we must tell them. Sometimes in words. And sometimes, just breath by breath.

With a harder exhale, with a little more voice, I said the command again: “Go.”

My head floated off into unconscious space further, spinning with the lack of oxygen and the rapidity of the exhaustive breathwork pattern. As it did, I felt the muscles loosen, and that other's soul, my former beloved, their hold on me begin to slack. Inhale-inhale-exhale.

Class came to an end just as quickly as it had begun; what had felt like only minutes of space had actually filled the hour as the instructor gently led us back into our bodies. We closed the ceremony and lumbered our spines up to a sitting position, while gravity pulled the tears that had been pooling in my eyes down my cheek and for minutes with my hands in prayer position I could only cry, almost weep for the new space, the way that breath and only air had cleared my body, and the freedom from the grip that had for too long been wrapped around me.

After class the instructor intuitively hugged me, us both knowing that our hearts pressed together was the only logical and right conclusion, and I lumbered back to my rented private apartment attached to the yoga studio to soak off the remnants in an epsom salt bath and sleep. Sleep. Returning my head to the dark black filled with stars for the night. Even more unafraid. Floating like a balloon with the fresh air I’d filled my lungs with for days and days to come.


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