It’s curious to finally realize that our longest companion, who has been with us since birth and leaves at death, is often the most neglected part of ourselves. The breath (the vital source) is always present even if we are not. The most common way to practice is to think of the body first and then breathe. But in yoga, it is the other way around.
The breath is first. It’s also last.
Improper exercise and quite possibly the aerobics scene made breathing obsolete. Learning how to breathe is the first lesson of yoga and especially if you learn it in India.
Here’s an exercise that I learned while in Mysore, India.
Take any posture of yoga and practice to observe your breath by asking the following:
Is it short? Is it long? Can you suspend your drive to force the body into a position and listen to the breath only? Can you stop moving? Are the breaths the same duration? Which one do you favor (the inhalation, the exhalation)?
Generally speaking, if you are not breathing you are probably trying to force your body into a position with your mind. Depending on much strain you can take this approach may work, but only to a certain degree. And because every yoga posture is a point of concentration when you stop the breath you also tend to lose your focus. Becoming aware of these habits is not so easy.
Here is a list of ways to help practice using the breath.
1. Practice to observe without judging or commenting
(re: “I should be doing more” or “I am not very good at this pose.”)
2. Develop the opposite reaction (re: if you are not breathing in the wheel pose,
tell yourself to first relax and breathe).
3. Discover whether you gravitate to either the ‘in’ or ‘out’ breath.
4. Free yourself of thoughts of ‘trying to do it’ or ‘forcing it’. Don’t ‘try’ at all.
5. Repeat number one.
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