I’ve been reading a lot about the “life force” as part of my yoga teacher training and how many people think the breath is the actual force of life (ie. you are no longer living when you stop breathing) – and how controlling the breath (pranayama) means you are connecting with this force. But according to the Yoga Sutras, the “life force” is an entity of its own – and it is one of divinity. Controlling the breath helps clear the mind and calm the nervous system so one can tune in to the divine vibration within them – the true “life force” – but the connection is not made solely through the use of pranayama. Pranayama is just a tool.
While digesting this information, I began to think about watching my beloved cat Norman die. He ultimately died of renal failure but the root cause will never be known despite many tests and procedures. His vet felt that he could pass at home with me – if I was up to the challenge – and he would not be in pain. I could tell that he was fighting to go home again after so many days in the hospital, so I did take him home and began a death vigil. It was a 2-day process. I had never watched any living creature die before, so I started googling what to expect. Will it be gross? Will I think he’s dead when he actually isn’t yet?
When the final process started, he laid on his side on the floor breathing quickly. Then, he lifted his head and neck to cry out and his eyes went dark and his head fell back to the floor. Some stuff came out of his mouth but nothing too gross. There was still air in him and his chest was still moving, but I knew he was gone. Looking at his body, you would think that he was still alive, but the life force had left him. What happened over the next twenty minutes or so was similar to putting a small pinhole in a balloon and watching it deflate. His soul escaped out that pinhole when the puncture occurred and the remaining air slowly seeped out. It was not the air in his lungs that gave him life; it was whatever had just escaped him. I covered his body (but not his head) with a blanket; in case anything else gross happened, I wanted him to have his dignity. My father, who also had a strong bond with Norman, was with me and was the one to remove the blanket. Before I looked, I asked him if he saw anything I should be prepared for. “He looks beautiful,” my Father said.
What does animate us? What gives us life? I was raised Catholic and grew up believing in God. I disengaged from organized religion as I got older and simply started ignoring my own beliefs; I just didn’t bother to think much about religion or my own spirituality anymore. But this teacher training is the study of yoga in its entirety – not just the postures (asanas). What I’ve learned is that yoga is truly spiritual. A person who practices yoga postures to build strength or to get a good stretch is not necessarily practicing “yoga” – just one element of it. But if you are truly doing YOGA, you are connecting with the divine thing – whatever it is – that is the root cause of the life force.
Air did not give Norman life. He was no longer living when the life force left him. I saw it with my own eyes: there is something greater than us.