#44: Baba Yaga Breathing

Hi hi, friends!

Last week’s letter was all about the Russian witch Baba Yaga and how she’s a figure who can be seen as a way to complicate and disrupt the stories we repetitively tell ourselves and that we’re ready to be rid of. At the end of the letter, I mentioned that I had a technique related to her that I’ve been using and find both amusing and helpful. I adapted it from the sort of gentle breathing exercises I’d done at this magical beginning yoga class—I call it Baba Yaga breathing.

I describe it below, but first:

Q. Less a question and more an observation: I’ve scrolled down and your illustrations look nothing like how Baba Yaga is supposed to look.
A. Yes!
Q. Instead it just looks like a generic witch figure… or maybe like Prof. McGonagall’s clothes laid out without Prof. McGonagall in them.
A. Yes!
Q. Did you do it this way because you’re terrible at drawing?
A. Yes!

OK, here’s how you do Baba Yaga breathing.

Get in a comfortable position either lying down or standing up. Now start a breath, a big breath, from the bottom of your right foot. This may or may not feel ridiculous depending on how much yoga you do.

Let the breath travel up the right side of your body, past the top of your skull, to the very tip-top of your Baba Yaga’s witch’s hat. Let this inhale last somewhere between three to six counts; whatever feels expansive but still natural. Then, as you exhale, send the breath shooting down the left side of your body and out the bottom of your left foot. Again, let the exhale last something like three to six counts.

Repeat this three to ten times. (I’d start around three as you see how much focus you have. Keep in mind you have two sides to do.)

Now do your left side. Draw up the breath through your left foot, up-up-up the left side of your body, to the very tip of your Baba Yaga hat. Then send it shooting back down the right side with your exhale. Repeat for the same number of times you did the other side.

A couple technical illustrations.

At the end, do a couple breaths that are nice normal, deep inhale-exhales from the center of yourself. Closure!

I’ve been doing this kind of breathing in the mornings before I get out of bed as well as sneaking it in at the beginning of shavasanas (corpse pose) at hot yoga class.

Post-hot yoga, super schvitz-y Baba Yaga breathing, done lying on the floor of the yoga studio and letting the breath shoot around in lots of different directions because not getting too hung up on always doing it the same also feels Baba Yaga-ish. Then I try to do the proper shavasana where you let yourself sink, sink sink into the ground. (Those are mushrooms!)

There’s no way to do this kind of breathing wrong! I find that having to concentrate on bringing the breath in through the bottoms of the feet helps to get your mind focused on the breath itself instead of the million other things jangling through your brain. The yoga studio I go to lately is on a hill in a strip mall and I enjoy thinking of all the things underneath my feet there if you went down far enough.

I also do this kind of breathing during the day whenever I start feeling a little stuck. You can Baba Yaga breathe lying down, standing up, or sitting in front of your laptop. On the subway, or in the grocery story. Whatever. No one will know you’re doing it. It’s like Kegeling that way!

I’ve found it to be a nice, easy way to remind yourself that as there are different routes your breath can take to get through your body, there are different stories to tell yourself than the ones you’re stuck on, and multiple routes you can take to move towards where you want to go.

Until next Thursday,
lying on the floor beside you,

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Carrie Frye
Black Cardigan Edit