Last night, Max Strom taught me how to breathe. In retrospect, it seems surprising that across 20 years of school and a few decades of life, no one shared this lesson before.
I met Max courtesy of Kaia Yoga, a Westport, CT gem that defies easy categorization. His two-hour Learn to Breathe workshop is one of many special events they host that feature world-class experts.
Kaia straddles the borders between New Age and Information Age, between suburban life and physical renewal, and between peaceful and invigorating. This is no smelly gym or overcrowded yoga joint. It’s more like a giant but cozy Starbucks, minus the coffee and plus huge doses of stretching.
Apathetic towards yoga until Kaia arrived in town, I was attracted last year by the physical space and a nearly free trial offer. The center has light pouring in from oversized windows, high ceilings and gleaming white walls, all balanced by enough cushions (okay, “bolsters”), artwork and smiles to make even a novice feel welcome.
Kaia has learned much from Starbucks. The central area includes a waterfall, sofa and lots of huge cushions you can toss on the floor and sit on. There’s a cafe in the back, with food so healthy you lose weight just by walking nearby. Best of all, no one brings a laptop and they just banned cell phones (I leave mine in the car, anyway.)
Americans need gathering spots in which we feel connected. I say “Americans” because much of the rest of the world figured this out many years ago, while we were building sprawling suburbs and walling ourselves inside larger and larger homes.
Still, it took me a year to stretch beyond my weekly classes and attend one of Kaia’s special events. I went because my trusted and very down-to-earth instructor, Megan Moss Freeman, said Max was one of her absolute favorites. That was too strong an endorsement to pass up.
As for Max, he is the author of a Life Worth Breathing. Max is a large guy with a gentle but self-assured manner, and last night he literally taught us how to breathe fully and deeply, while explaining the benefits of doing so.
Early on, he asked why it is that the healthcare industry encourages pregnant women to take Lamaze – which is basically a breathing class – but they don’t teach breathing to other patients who experience intense pain or anxiety? Hmm. Three times, I helped my wife breathe her way through childbirth, and it seemed to help a great deal.
Although Max took pains to avoid New Age dogma or anything that might be construed as religious or spiritual, what I liked best was the very end of the evening when we were resting on our backs in the darkened room.
For a few minutes, I didn’t feel like a father, husband, or business strategist. I felt like everyone in the room was connected. Much as I like Starbucks, I’ve never experienced that feeling while drinking coffee.