I had a conversation recently with a fellow yoga teacher recently about the breath. I was explaining to her how insightful it is to work with someone one on one, and specifically, how interesting it is to see breath awareness evolve. (It's sometimes so much easier to understand this unfolding from the outside in, and to this end I am incredibly grateful to have the chance to work one on one with someone in this way.)
To give you more of an idea of what I'm talking about, a client of mine is learning a very common breathing technique that helps to relax the nervous system and slow down the heart rate as a way to ease the body into a more relaxed state. It's a breath I learned a few years ago and have been practicing regularly ever since, it's a breath I don't think about anymore during my posture practice, it just happens as I need it to. Sometimes when I am working with her, she is reporting to me that she feels very relaxed, very calm and happy during practice; and her breathing patterns and the way her face is held and the way her belly moves while she is in the postures, tells me something very different. I can literally see where she is holding her stress in the body, and I can also see that the breath-work is not yet integrated.
...as a student learning these techniques, I don't think that I was aware of how my body was held as I was learning them. I know that I wasn't aware of my holding spots or what my diaphragm was doing. The learning curve is such a cool unfolding!
Anyway, it came up during our conversation something that I had read in a yoga sutra translatiion - that is, that you cannot teach another person how to breathe. I told her that when I read that, I thought to myself, "that isn't true! you can teach people how to breathe. that's what pranayama is...breathing exercises...' Then she said to me, "You can't teach people how to breathe. All we can do is teach breath awareness."
And now I get it. Now that I have seen the beginning of this learning in another person's body, now I get it. I cannot teach another person how to breathe, but I can teach another person how to become more aware of their breath. The tools and techniques that yoga offers is and always has been a personal practice, one that must be integrated into each individual's livelihood as much as it is their body. Meaning that, even if the intellectual mind understands what the tool is and how it is used, the body-mind must take-up the technique in it's own way.