Playing The Long Game

Breathe in. Breathe out

Nothing in our scope of practice is more profound. The presence of breath defines life. Its absence, death. In between, a lot of racing to catch a breath, a lot of running out of breath. Denial. Deprivation. In those times in life when time seems the shortest, it’s the breath we need to hold the most precious. We need to chill. We need to breathe.

It’s tough, though, right? 

How can we promote length and expansion when there are so many forces shrinking us down and shriveling us up from all sides—political unrest, social upheaval, economic uncertainty, a global pandemic? It can all be too much to bear. Even within the dynamics of our most loving relationships.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I think about the times with my husband over these close to twenty years—the times we were the closest, the moments too when we were light-years apart. The key to our longevity, I think, is so deeply rooted in our wedding vows and in the words that inspired them from Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet, that we’ve tried so desperately (at times) to embody—the awareness that we were “born together” and “together […] shall be forevermore.” 

With this faith, there’s nothing to fear. 

Gibran encourages a love that leaves “spaces in your togetherness” and to “stand together yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Our sacred vow was rooted in the notion that our longevity would come if we would simply give each other some space. To be a bit more blunt, we are the healthiest when we are the most selfish in our self-care; when we take care of ourselves. When we tend to our own stream before we go off and muddy someone else’s. This has been true in our marriage, in our business, and in our yoga practice. We can’t breathe for one another. When we breathe for ourselves, though, we are breathing life into the whole of creation. We are connecting to the universal design from which we all spring forth. 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

In order to find longevity in our life span, we must find longevity in our breath. The following exercises consist of lengthening the side-body and stretching and strengthening the intercostal muscles, which help us to find more controlled and extended breath. 

Extended side-body stretch from hero pose starts in a low-kneeling position with feet positioned to the outsides of hips, toes point to the back of the mat. You should not feel any strain in your hips, knees, or ankles. Bolsters may be positioned under your hips to allow for comfort in your knees.

Come down onto your elbow, finding a rounding along the side-body. Top arm lengthens to the sky or overhead. Breathe slowly into this pose and notice the expansion in your ribcage and trunk, as well as the breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Seated wide-legged, side-body stretch begins with your legs spread to a wide position without strain. Extend your knees and pull your toes towards your hips to support lengthened legs. One hand comes to the same side-leg, ankle, or foot as the top arm reaches up overhead. Find space and length through  your trunk while your legs stay evenly rooted to the mat.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Gate Pose begins in a high kneeling position. One hand comes down to ground and the opposite leg extends and lengthens to the side while the opposite arm reaches up overhead. Keep your shoulders stacked, arms reaching to help keep your trunk lifted.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

And finally, to manage chronic stress and anxiety, try this simple breath exercise, which extends the exhale in order to calm the nervous system and ease tension in the mind. Through this experience of breath regulation, staying present and focused with the count, we engage the parasympathetic nervous system, our tensions unravel, and anxieties and worries drift away as the mind focuses on counting each cycle of the breath.

4-7-8 Breath

Find a comfortable seated position with a tall, neutral spine. Inhale through nose, deep into belly for a count of four. Hold breath gently (without strain) for a count of seven, (or shorter if needed). Exhale fully through pursed lips for a count of eight.


Inhale four, hold seven, exhale eight. Repeat 4-8 repetitions. Notice the effects.

When I asked my husband, Ryan, if he knew a quote from a master I could use on longevity, he smiled at me that way he does and replied, “The master is within. Breathe. You’ll meet her there.” I must’ve looked confused because he then said, “Breathe long, live slow: it’s okay if you don’t break through all at once.” Aries Spears said that, “to sustain longevity, you have to evolve.” We’re all changing. Learning. Growing. Each moment, an opportunity to expand the quality of our lives through the quality of our breath.

I study my next lesson within: lengthen the body, expand the mind, deepen the breath. The long game is the only one we can truly win. The joy is in the playing.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
By Dr. Meghan Nelson

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