“There are ‘hidden’ meanings – not to be confused with non-understandable things – that must be thought through constantly until you reach an understanding.”
Miyamoto Musashi translated by Stephen F. Kaufman

The Martial Artist’s Book of Five Rings

Breath and Allergy – Spring 2016


A few days ago allergy symptoms started to appear and have been gradually increasing. A itchiness in my throat, eyes … and sometimes sneezing sequences. This morning, for the first time this season, I had to get out of bed at 5:45 to move myself into a vertical position (lying down aggravates the symptoms) and start my day-long, relieving tea-drinking. This is already different from last year where the allergy symptoms erupted all of a sudden.

Another difference is that the symptoms (so far) are not continuous. They come and go in waves. Tea, relaxation, attention … all seem to help to some degree in reducing the symptoms. I am staying outside more (now that the deck is available), but I am also avoiding some things which may cause aggregation. Fortunately most of the hay has been cut and stored so I am not going to be exposed to much of that in the coming weeks. Also, thanks to Iulia’s presence, I will be staying away from things like harvesting elder-flowers.

Another difference is, maybe due to a gradual appearance of symptoms, that I am able to get on the mat and practice. It may take two cups of tea instead of one. It may take a few hours of relaxation when I wake up with increased symptoms like this morning. But, so far, I have been able to make my way onto the mat and THAT has been an informative exploration. I have felt that  asana practice has absorbed allergic disturbances and that, as a result, pranayama practice (that has recently changed) has been steady and undisturbed.

Being on the mat right now is an interesting convergence. I am arriving at the allergy well established in practice. I am enjoying an overall softening and expansion of the body and breath due to the warmer and brighter days … and at the same time incorporating the effects of the allergic response.

There has been a a prominent expression in breath during practice, specifically on exhale. I have felt exhales get a bit shorter but I also felt a more subtle change. It is as if there is a certain tension in the exhale. I experience more difficulty in surrendering to it, more tension. This morning, during practice the word “distress” came to me … and I felt it touches on the core of allergic response.

Reflecting on this made me appreciate the revealing qualities of breath. As my breath has lengthened it has had a kind of slow-motion effect on observation. Simply put, there is more time for me to observe, taken in, experience. As a result, I have experienced this subtle distress in my breath as a physical presence … almost as clear as I would feel a strained muscle.

Lengthening of breath also brings with it a qualitative change that I have experienced in two ways. A longer breath acts as an attention funnel, it keeps me more focused and more steady in my focus. An exhale of 12, 15 or 20 seconds holds my attention more firmly … or I could just as well say that if my attention is not stable my exhale cannot extend this way.

Another qualitative change is softness. This has become especially tangible for me due to the recent change in my pranayama practice. Moving to a 10 second inhale and the relative increase in exhale has coaxed out of me more softness. When I initially approached the new practice I could not arrive comfortably af 15 seconds (even though I knew that I had the capacity). It took me a few days (this is all very recent) of staying with a ratio (instead of and settling in it before I was suddenly and smoothly able to soften my breath and arrive at 15 seconds. It is hard to put in words this quality of softness.

This softness is also projecting into my attention … off-the-mat. In the last few years I have already shifted my relationship and approach to my allergy with soft acceptance and curiosity. I feel very little residue of control or change … I do not feel inclined to neither diagnose nor cure my allergy. This subtle softness feels like an affirmation of that relationship … a soft support 🙂


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