Masked, I Advance

by Sep 4, 2020Newsletter

We’re coming up to month six of Americans’ lives being affected, in one degree or another, by pandemic-related disruptions. We’ve dealt with toilet paper shortages, the closing and opening (and closing again…) of businesses and schools, too many conspiracy theories to count, and far, far too many Covid_19 related deaths. And through it all, and still today, I’m entirely flabbergasted that there is still push back from people about wearing a mask to help stem the transmission of this disease.

I feel now is the time to share some words about wearing a mask that I received from a yoga acquaintance of mine who is an inmate at the Wyoming Women’s Center: a prison. To me, her words feel particularly profound and relevant from many viewpoints; particularly in terms of rights, awareness, and pranayama. The words below are her own. See what you think.
“On April 10, 2020 the residents of the Wyoming Women’s Center (prison) were informed that the CDC was suggesting that people wear face coverings while in public. For inmates, this means anytime you are outside of your cells (14-16 hours/day), under the threat of disciplinary action if you’re found not wearing the provided mask. Our canvas masks were then promptly distributed and we learned how to wear them. Many of us became sick for the first few weeks due to breathing our own carbon dioxide,** especially during physical exertion at work detail & other activities.

It was hard. Many of us come from histories including being strangled and/or suffocated by loved ones. We had old ghosts to fight, along with our pride and our body’s struggle for air. We did eventually acclimate and make jokes about the faces we’re making that no one can see, and the experience of muffled, faceless communication.

“Breakthrough Breathing” was born as a result of this experience. Mind you, there are stages:

Break Down – I’m not doing this! This is stupid! How are we supposed to breathe?!

Break Out – I have to try. I’m not giving up my yoga, work-out, job, etc… Oh my God! Get this thing off my face! I can’t do this!!


Breath Through – At some point we realized our breathing had become much more intimate, the mask a shield for our privacy. Eyes closed, face covered, I can experience myself more fully, not fearing exposure. I also connected the breathing to the ancient scriptures about suspending the breath in order to suspend the decay of the organs. (Ah, Creator, I see you!)

For us, the Covid_19 masks are not the first challenge to our breathing. Most of us began chest breathing as a reaction to negative interaction with a “superior”, ie; the young child crying uncontrollably and being ordered to, “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about!” For addicts, the benefits of a full exhalation ended that day; unless you count blowing out a hit of some potentially mind-altering or lung killing substance. That was the first of our stress breaths, because of the simple fact that we sucked those tears and sobs right up into our shoulders, and there they stayed.

In our yoga here, we spend ample time focusing on the exhale. Without an exhale there can be no inhale, and one is equal to the depth of the other. We instruct our students to “simulate blowing out a hit or a drag off a cigarette.” If that sounds harsh or dirty, please try it, and know that learning to breathe fully is the first step in learning how to live.

The main ingredient for our Breakthrough Breathing (other than the mask) is patience – with yourself. You must be willing to accept the emotions that surface. Because, on the other side is a liberation you may not know you were lacking.”
* So maybe Descartes’ thoughts about wearing masks differ from today – but I liked the quote, because forward we go!
**This has been proven untrue. Most folks become ill due to moisture being a breeding ground for bacterial build up when masks are continuously worn without regular cleaning or changing.

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