Ashtanga Yoga is a breath practice. Seriously, it REALLY is!!!!

by: Jessica Lynne Trese
Walk in to any Mysore class around the world and the first two things you will probably notice are the breath and the postures. All the students in the room are moving at their own pace, with focused minds, graceful movements and the same deep, steady and even breath. There is a rhythm to this breath. It has an almost hypnotic quality, continually drawing students inward to the present moment. Allowing them to experience their yoga practice for all it is in each moment. And then, allowing them to move on to the next moment without attachment to what has come before or what may be coming next.

“Ashtanga Yoga is a breath practice, the rest is just bending.” One of Guruji’s famous quotes. A student who first hears this from their teacher might be confused, frustrated or just roll their eyes. It is hard to imagine a practice that is so physically demanding can be simplified into ‘a breath practice’. It is a practice in controlling the breath. A practice in presence. A practice in being able to keep your breath steady, even and regulated no matter what position your body may be in.

That is why we do all the crazy asanas!! That is why we try to bind our hands in Marichyasana D, pull our feet behind our heads in Supta Kurmasana, and grab our heals in Kapotasana.

We put ourselves in challenging, uncomfortable and awkward situations on our yoga mats so we can practice breathing. Practice detachment. Practice presence in each moment. And, so we can develop the discernment to maneuver through these challenging, uncomfortable and awkward situations on our yoga mats with poise, grace, ease and hopefully without causing ourselves pain.

We practice this daily.

We practice this, so when we are in challenging, uncomfortable and awkward situations in life we are able to access some of this same poise, grace, and ease we have cultivated on our yoga mats. So we are able to breathe and hopefully maintain a clear mind and compassionate heart.

Sometimes life is going to be uncomfortable, and even painful, just as our physical asana practice can be sometimes. That is unavoidable. The Ashtanga Yoga method provides an opportunity for us to practice the way we manage these situations, by practicing breathing in all of those crazy postures. The physical asanas are the tools we use to practice breathing.

Practice BREATHING each day!

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23 Replies to “Ashtanga Yoga is a breath practice. Seriously, it REALLY is!!!!”

  1. My teacher always said that the yoga practice is a breathing practice and that the postures are just bending. Keeping your attention on the breath is one of the main points of yoga and without this careful attention to the breath yoga would just be another form of exercise. Yoga brings you into a deeper relationship with yourself by twisting the body into uncomfortable positions and asking you to breathe while you gaze at a single point of attention. The level of complexity necessary at any given moment is enough to stop the mind and create a long pause between the otherwise steady stream of thoughts. The depth of the breath ensures that all the multiple layers of your being are fully present and integrated. Yoga teaches that the equalization of the length of the inhalation and the length of the exhalation is of high importance while practicing. In doing so both sides of the consciousness are balanced. The inhalation can be correlated with receiving, taking in and activity, while the exhalation can be correlated with releasing, giving and restfulness. For postures that are challenging or painful and require greater flexibility it might be useful to focus temporarily on the exhalation. For postures that are challenging but require great strength it might be useful to coordinate the lifting motion with an inhalation in order to maximize the power of the breath.

  2. You have to do one thing and one thing only when you enter a yoga class: Breathe. Preferably slowly, deeply, and evenly, through your nose. We use ujjayi breathing in yoga, but everyone breathes differently. Some are loud, some are quieter. Don’t focus on volume. Focus on breathing in and out, through the nose. The rest will come with time. Spill: Do you have an embarrassing yoga story? Do you have any other questions about yoga, embarrassing or not?

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