A Breathing Practice

Great practice today.  It was a fun, focused, prana-filled Primary with Garbha Pindasana giggles and all, capped off by a twenty-minute sit.  I've been working hard to rebuild my practice these past few weeks and my body will not let me forget it.  Finally made it to Pincha on Thursday for the first time in who knows how long... a couple of months, probably.

Everything Intermediate is in reach despite the break in Intermediate practice, but man-oh-man does it make me sore.  To ease the transition back to full practice, I am eating exceptionally well (... light and mostly raw, but well...), sleeping lots, and giving my sore body tons of self-massage, organic oil love.

Mid-practice this afternoon, it occurred to me that I had hoped to finish second series by the end of 2012.  So much for that...  But it also occurred to me that, had I been working with a teacher, I almost definitely would have. 

It is no secret that my own standards for my practice seem to exceed those of any observer.  When I study with a teacher -- any teacher -- they tend to pile on the postures.  Working at home, alone, as I do, there is nothing and no one to push me past the breath.  First, if the breath becomes labored, I stop.  It's as simple as that.  I do not allow myself to go forward if I'm struggling to maintain a full and easy breath.  Second, I've always felt that the transitions are as much a part of the practice as the postures -- this a continuous practice, a yoga mala -- and if I don't have the proper transition, I don't move on.  This stipulation kept me at Pincha for months.

So, maybe I don't move as quickly through the series as many students do, or as I might if I worked with a teacher, but my study is deep and precise.  My asanas are comfortable.  My pranayam is long and strong.  And, in this spacious inner environment, my mind and heart are free to explore the other limbs of yoga.  (Yes!  There are 6 more!)

As I prepare to teach more Ashtanga in the coming months (lots more!), I am beginning to think about if and how I should apply these standards to my students.  As a teacher, I am not impressed with the asana, entirely regardless of strength and form, if the breath just isn't there.  It is a breathing practice, after all.  The breath is the beginning and the end.

But the breath is also personal.  One needs to find it and refine it on one's own.  I will be curious to observe the variety of ways in which my students may or may not relate to their own breath, and the ways in which I may be able to help them to strengthen that relationship without imposing my own template on their practice.

I see challenges ahead.  Looking forward to exploring this more and more.


  1. Love this about the breath! That really is what it is all about. I try to remind myself of that when I notice myself struggling to breathe because I am trying so hard to achieve a particular pose, or someone else's pace. I noticed you are teaching the mysore class at Bfree on Tues. and Thurs. I am really wanting to find space in my schedule to fit this in. I have never been to any kind of ashtanga class and am so curious. Hopefully I will see you soon!

    1. Yes, Dottie! I would so love to have you in class!

  2. Great article - I agree that breath is very important when doing asana's. I've just started doing yoga but if I feel that my breathing is uncomfortable, I usually go to the child's pose to catch my breath, and continue with my series once I feel up to it. But as you say, breath is personal - a real challenge to teach, a great challenge to discover.

    1. Hi Yogi from Mars - In the context of Ashtanga, and in the context of this post, going on with the practice means adding the next posture in the series. But in a led yoga class, resting in child's pose until the breath is steady is a great idea.