For years I had a lot of trouble with yogic breathing. The length of my breath was always really short and whenever I tried any of the more in-depth yogic breathing practices (pranayama), it felt like my chest was constrained and I was suffocating. With years of yoga experience and yoga philosophy under my belt, I knew not to worry too much about it. Instead, I focused on other aspects of yoga, specifically asana, philosophy, and meditation, and I figured I’d get around to figuring out the breathing at some point.
And that point did eventually arrive. It was my meditation practice that helped me finally figure out how to release the grip in my chest and allow deeper breaths into my lungs. It took years of consistent practice, but it was so fulfilling to figure out. I learned so much about myself and my body in the process.
But then I went to India, and I realized that these great strides that I thought I’d made in my practice were actually itty bitty baby steps.
When I went to Krishnamacharya (KYM) earlier this summer, I was assigned breathing and chanting as part of my personal practice to help me manage my stress. KYM specializes in individual private yoga therapy sessions, and each student is assigned a yoga practice for whatever issues they need to or want to address, kind of like a yoga prescription.
I have so much trust in and respect for the wisdom of the team at KYM, and I was really interested in beginning my breathing and chanting practice, but whoa, it was so hard at first.
It took about 3 days to get over that initial hump of adjusting to the new practice. But when I did, what I realized is that even though I had *thought* I was doing a good job of breathing in my practice back at home, I had unintentionally resorted to mindless, mechanical ujjayi breathing. I was inhaling and exhaling on auto-pilot. Yikes.
All that time that I’d thought I’d been really mindful, I really wasn’t. It was a bit of a blow to the ego, but at the same time a welcome lesson. Yoga is a path, and we have to learn step by step. I needed to learn the first step of mindfulness before I could advance to the second step of mindfulness.
At KYM I learned from one of my teachers that during the asana practice “The breath should not enter or exit your body without your knowledge.” Whoa, right?! If we’re being really honest, when is the last time we were aware of every. single. breath. during asana practice?
As I began to practice with this new awareness of the breath, I gained a whole new perspective of yoga.
Where in my previous practice, I had experienced improved mental focus, this new practice unveiled a whole new magnitude of mental focus. Every cell in my body and mind became a rapt audience for the exhibition of the breath.
Where in my previous practice, I had enjoyed a sense of ease in the mind, this new awareness created an immediate and profound sense of ease and contentment that I had not experienced in years, at lease since the responsibilities of adulthood and parenthood settled upon me.
I realize this all sounds a bit romanticized and incredible, but it is my true experience. I’m motivated to get on my mat by the profound sense of wellness I feel the minute I become truly aware of my breath.
As you can see, my experience at KYM had a deep effect on my practice and I’m so excited to share this new knowledge with you. I’m already integrating new instruction on breathing into my classes, and when September rolls around you can find this type of instruction in our Mindfulness classes. Please remember that all of the classes are asana-based, so in the case of the Mindfulness class, the breathing is taught within the framework of asana practice.
Please let me know if you have any questions, and if you know someone who can benefit from improved mental focus and increased ease and contentment, please forward this newsletter to them and invite them to a Mindfulness class in September.