On this bank holiday week, I wanted to share a brief thought around the practice. Hopefully, this will challenge you and encourage you to dig a bit deeper into the heart of the method of Ashtanga yoga.
Today I want to discuss the breath, how it works and supports our growth on the yoga mat.
Consciously breathing and moving is Art. Understanding the Vinyasa is the work of a lifetime. Moreover, it requires awareness, compassion and increasing refinement. This practice is not just about busting shapes on the mat. It runs way deeper. There is a Rhythm to it. It just cannot be ignored.
Breathing technique is central to the Ashtanga yoga system. Free breathing with sound is a general instruction given in the Ashtanga world. Even if somewhat descriptive and a good starting point, this direction on its own falls a bit short. It does not make justice to the nuances of the breath.
The breath creates and dissolves the movement. We move thanks to the breath, not in spite of it. The inhale creates a feeling of expansion, whereas the exhale has a firm grounding effect. The inhale and the exhale intertwined bring asanas together and create the specifics of each series of postures, as well as certain effects on the internal organs and nervous system.
For instance, on Primary Series there is a predominance of forward folds. As such, we enter postures on the exhale. The grounding is found on the exhale, on the narrowing down of the attention, that ties back to our core. Hence, Primary Series has a powerful grounding effect and prepare the foundation for what comes next: Intermediate.
The back bending section on Intermediate Series places emphasis on the inhale. To counteract the flow of excitement of back bending, we hold Chatuaris (the exhale) for more extended periods, like the ones preceding Shalabasana, Bekasana, Dhanarusana and Parsva Dhanurasana. Also, we exit Ustrasana, Lagu Vajrasana and Kapotasana on the exhale.
The former is significant, it deserves our attention. The inhalation and the exhalation affect the movement of the body, the quality of the mind and the responsiveness of the nervous system. By breathing consciously, we are bringing awareness to and breaking through deep-seated patterns. Slowly but thoroughly, we become a bit freer.
To me, it does make sense to pay attention to the Vinyasa, when I inhale, and when I exhale, and why do I do it, and for how long I am supposed to do it. These nuances will turn your practice around. No skipping Chatuaris, rushing through Urdhva Mukhas or overlooking transitions. That’s so much more important than how many asanas you do.
The Vinyasa is the heart of the Ashtanga yoga practice. It is an Art, and it requires a willingness to explore, an eye for detail, a taste to appreciate the subtle and a great deal of resolve, humor, and humbleness.
Just like there is a meaning in a poem, there is a too meaning in the asana. Tune in and listen.