What started as a coffee morning - the usual gaggle of moms catching up over hot drinks and chit chat - turned into a surprise encounter with something I thought I knew quite a bit about - "The Force."
One mom had brought along an exotic stranger - a MAN, from California no less, who was a Transformational Breath practitioner. After not much pleading, he agreed to give us an impromptu class. "Excellent," I thought, "A new weird experience to add to my collection."
The basic instruction was to breathe in from the lower belly for three counts and then let it out fast in one count - no pausing in between breaths. After about 15 minutes of breathing this way, he explained, the conscious mind would essentially shut off, leaving the door open for the powerful unconscious to come in and take over, allowing the body to release whatever old traumas or dramas it had been holding onto for safe keeping. If we were really lucky we might even slip into the flow of the source-of-all itself and experience the type of bliss that yogis sit on mountaintops for years trying to attain. So far, so simple. Ready, steady, go.
Cushions, blankets and pillow were gathered, and within minutes we were warming up to the beat of some energetic quasi-eastern trance/dance music, bouncing up and down and punching the air to "grab" handfuls of breath. (I love these women - not afraid to dance like wild banshees first thing in the morning.) As soon as the song ended we dove for our cushions to get into the breathing technique as quickly as possible.
My hands, arms and legs went numb and tingly within the first 10 minutes, and the breathing felt forced and unnatural. (He did say we might experience all of this, along with a few other common side effects such as muscle cramping, chills, etc.) But, sure enough, after about 15 minutes things got interesting. I was breathing almost automatically now, and was noticing with detachment as first my right hand, then my left, began to curl into what I can only describe as a claw wrapped around a steel ball. (I'm not making this up!) Next my calves seized up, followed by my lips. At about this time we were encouraged to release sound on the out breath - any kind of vocal release that felt appropriate - a tone, a note, a sigh, a cry. This felt great, and the music was loud enough to mask my tendency towards self-consciousness.
But soon my detachment turned toward distress as I realized I was completely frozen solid and it was getting painful. Thankfully the teacher arrived when the student was ready, and he very gently helped to open my fingers and assured me it was safe to release whatever it was I was holding onto so fiercely, both literally and figuratively. With that a most unexpected wail welled up from deep in my belly and came out of my being as an uncontrollable howl. I sobbed loudly and wholeheartedly.
As the pain and the sobs began to wane, my body deeply relaxed. My awareness, however, was alert and observing. I felt a wave-like sensation as my breathing took on a much slower, gentler rhythm, and it seemed as if I was lying in the bottom of a warm river, the water flowing over me in undulating ribbons of gentle energy. I noticed that I was hardly breathing now, and I had a strong desire to stay in the pause between breaths forever. It was pure peace, pure calm, pure love. I imagine this is what the poet Rabindranath Tagore was describing when he wrote, The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day, runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
As the session came to an end I reluctantly began to wiggle my fingers and toes and bring myself back to the room. Everyone had had a profound experience in varying degrees, and all looked radiant.
Later that night I went to the theater and felt oddly removed yet alert. At one point I noticed that I was completely still - no fidgeting, which is my usual modus operandi. Three days on and I still feel slightly dazed and strangely calm, the chronic tension in my jaw and shoulders more or less gone.
The yogis have known of the transformational power of breath for thousands of years, and in my experience this particular breathing technique is aptly named. "The Stream of Life," "The Force," "God" - call it what you will. Once you have experienced it so viscerally you truly will be transformed., and "the Force will be with you, always."