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"Breathe" group discussion > "Breathe" second third of novel

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message 1: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Hi all:

As always, answer any questions that speak to you--or just chime in with whatever. (But nothing beyond the second part of the book.)

1) During her private yoga sessions with Giovanni, Alex finds herself unable to lie in savasana. When Giovanni leaves the room, she launches into more active poses instead. Why do you think she has trouble here? Do you also find this a difficult pose?

2) Andy's career and life certainly is mysterious; why do you think the author dribbles out what he does for a living, how he knows Galen and the like?

3) Alex won't admit how much she likes Andy. Why not? Have you ever been in a position where you denied the obvious to yourself? Why did that serve you?

4) Alex keeps reminding herself of yoga aphorisms like Be here now, Trust the universe, I am not my thoughts... How is she doing putting them into practice? Do you tell yourself similar things throughout the day? How do you do with living them?

5) Some talked earlier about how Alex seems to not know herself; I'm starting to think it's more that she denies who she really is: a small-town, simple, animal-loving, spirit rather than a trendy Marin county girl. Why do you think she does that--first in Manhattan and now in San Francisco? Can you relate from your own life?

6) If you haven't yet finished the book, can you predict the ending? Anything you hope does NOT happen?

Namaste!
Meryl


message 2: by Robert Steven (new)

Robert Steven Goldstein | 19 comments I’m truly enjoying the novel “Breathe”. It is wonderfully written and the characters are vividly etched.

With respect to Alex’s inability to perform Savasana, I believe two quite different perspectives can be brought to bear upon this phenomenon. One concerns what it says about Alex as a character, the other has more to do with how this pose is commonly taught.

One of the reasons that this book is so pleasant and easy to read, I think, is that the authors skillfully use action, rather than description, to reveal the emotional and maturational states of their characters. The Savasana incident is a perfect example. Alex’s inability to remain still and focused during Savasana showcases her innate restlessness and impatience. Because her self-identity is not clearly established, she cannot be comfortable just quietly with herself. And because her misplaced motivations have her pursuing Yoga to become dazzlingly agile so as to impress Galen, she is oblivious to the deeper significance that stillness engenders within the practice of Yoga.

I am not a Yoga teacher, but I am an avid researcher of how the practice and teaching of Yoga has changed since I first discovered it in the late 1950’s. It seems to me that Savasana, a core technique and one that can be difficult for novices, is taught very differently today than it was when I first began collecting Yoga books in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Teachers and students reading this: please correct me if you feel my interpretation is incorrect, but it seems to me that Savasana is taught today with a very heavy emphasis on physiological alignment. Much focus is placed on precisely how the student lies on the mat, the position of the legs and arms, how the shoulders and chest are opened, how the head and chin are positioned. The remainder of emphasis is on breath and visualization. But the actual relaxation of the body, which is the true essence of the posture, is then left to the student to accomplish as a single action. This is the situation in which Alex finds herself when Giovanni leaves the room.

After many years of Yoga practice, I now pretty much approach Savasana as described above (although my personal alignment is probably more a cross between the prescribed ideal and what I’ve found works for me personally over decades of practice). But that’s not how I learned Savasana back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and I believe that had I tried to learn it the way it is now taught, I might well have tossed my Yoga books aside and, like Alex, returned to postures that were more active and less frustrating.

Early Yoga books from that era, advised the novice to make the relaxation more active and methodical. The books started by simply suggested lying comfortably on the back with the legs slightly spread and palms up. Rather than trying to relax the whole body, the books then taught you to start with the group of muscles at the very bottom of your feet, and work upward, one tiny muscle group at a time, until you had covered every inch of the body. Most books suggested that with each muscle-group-iteration, the practitioner was to issue a firm but gentle silent command to that specific area of the body to relax. Only when that tiny portion of anatomy had responded, did you move on the adjacent muscle group, order it to relax, and so on sequentially up the body.

But even that was difficult for me at first, because the firm yet gentle command was not always effective, and I’d lose patience. However one book had an even more active approach to the methodical relaxation: Instead of simply issuing a mental command to each tiny group of muscles to relax, this book advocated physically tightening that group of muscles as rigidly as you could, and then letting go and relaxing the area. It was amazing how much easier it was for me to access a group of muscles by first tightening it, and only then allowing it almost effortlessly to relax. The methodical act of working through the entire body this way also gave my brain something upon which to focus as I got into the relaxed state. The end result was the same; by the time I had systematically worked through each muscle group, my entire body was completely relaxed, and even as a young male adolescent brimming with energy, I was then able to lie in Savasana for an extended time, something I doubt would have been possible without the muscle-group-by-muscle-group initial approach.


message 3: by Jill (new)

Jill (jills7987) | 16 comments Question 2 about the author dribbling out information about Andy and why? My opinion is that the author did this expertly. In real life we often only find out about people/acquaintances in spurts every time we chance to meet them or they come up in conversations with mutual friends.


message 4: by Meryl (new)

Meryl Landau (meryldavidslandau) | 804 comments Mod
Good insight, Jill. I also like how Alex's snap judgments about Andy are proving so wrong.

Robert, wonderful discourse on savasana. As a yoga teacher, I learned to teach both ways; the body part method when there was time, the all-in-one method when there was not. I think students (and teachers) are so enamored with the moving asanas that often the deep relaxation and meditation get short shrift in class. I do think stilling the mind and body in savasana are challenging for many of us, which is why I loved seeing Alex struggle.


message 5: by Jenn (new)

Jenn I think Alex denied how much she liked Andy because she felt like it was too soon after her marriage. She even said at one point that he "wasn't a rebound guy". But I think part of it is her working out who she is as well. Andy is clearly someone who would fit in with the "real" Alex (farm girl, dog lover, etc.), and at first she is still struggling with who to be.

I think that also relates to why she struggles in savasana. Because she's struggling against herself. She can't just sit back and accept herself, she has to feel like she's DOING something, improving, changing. And savasana doesn't feel like doing anything to most people new to yoga.


message 6: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 40 comments 1) During her private yoga sessions with Giovanni, Alex finds herself unable to lie in savasana. When Giovanni leaves the room, she launches into more active poses instead. Why do you think she has trouble here? Do you also find this a difficult pose?

I have mastered savasana and look forward to the peace and serenity it adds to my practice. Alex is having difficulty being at peace and has lofty goals with her practice. I think her fear and pain are roadblocks preventing her ability to relax!


3) Alex won't admit how much she likes Andy. Why not? Have you ever been in a position where you denied the obvious to yourself? Why did that serve you?

I think Alex is confused and afraid. Deep down she knows her heart and is afraid to allow those feelings to surface after what happened. It's just too soon for her.

4) Alex keeps reminding herself of yoga aphorisms like Be here now, Trust the universe, I am not my thoughts... How is she doing putting them into practice? Do you tell yourself similar things throughout the day? How do you do with living them?

I love affirmations and use them in my daily life, my yoga, and meditation. Keeps me going when I get "stuck" in life.


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