As the lights dim I rest my tired body on the floor, laying flat on my back with my arms and legs gently spread. “Turn your awareness to your breath – noticing the inhalation, the retention, the exhalation, and the retention again. Focus on the retention of the breath, dwelling in that gap between the inhalation and exhalation. This is the Kumbhaka.”

I have been practicing Iyengar yoga with Tony Eason for close to six months now, and dwelling in the gap, the Kumbhaka, has become something I look forward to. Not just at the end of class, nor just during class, but all the time – whenever I am conscious of my breath. It is in this place that I find serenity and peace of mind, body and spirit.

Now hold that thought, and travel back with me a few weeks to a lecture I heard called, “A TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Diagnosis of Earth: Correlations between the Microcosm of the Human Body and the Macrocosm of the Earth Body.” The lecturer (Max Salamander, student of TCM and Integral Ecology) mapped the TCM principles of dis-ease onto our planet and proposed a diagnosis. She also briefly mentioned the rise and fall of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels through out the year.

I was quite intrigued by the whole idea, but one concept that struck me most was considering the planet as a breathing being. I immediately thought of the Kumbhaka and wondered when the Earth’s “inhalation” peak and “exhalation” base were. I wondered if they corresponded to the Solstices, as these are peaks of the seasons and cycles of the sun.

I learned that there are two scientists (Tyler Volk, Ph.D. of NYU, and Stephan Harding of Schumacher College, UK) who have been studying this idea of the Earth as a breathing entity, and how it relates to life on Earth. According to Volk, they occur closer to  the Equinoxes, in May and September. This makes sense, as it relates to the growing and dying of oxygen producing plants during the year.

So even though this “Kumbhaka of the Earth” does not correlate to the Solstices, we humans still organize our seasons and harvest celebrations around the cycles of the sun. I like the idea of using the Solstices as a time to “dwell in the gap” between two cycles. The winter Solstice is an especially potent time to pause, as we sit in the empty darkness and contemplate our year. May we all find peace on this, the longest night of the year.

– Nick Venegoni, M.A.