Breathless Ashtanga or, you’re probably doing it wrong

This is one of those posts done from atop my high horse.

Of course, my high horse in this area is pretty darn short — but in this rare instance, that’s precisely what (I think) gives me the authority to wax all high and mighty.

I see a lot of Ashtangis (and there’s another problem, I realize, I shouldn’t see anybody during practice) who motor their way through many of the standing poses in First. There’s a casualness to these poses or, even, a seeming rush to get on to … something. Later poses, I guess. Yes, I’m probably looking at you, Second Series practitioners.

What I figure they’re missing is all the benefits from First.

Kapotasana, via yogajournal.com

Now, I’ll take a quick step back and openly admit that my practice is far from perfect — it may be farther from perfect than any of the people I’m critiquing. But the result of that is this: I get something out of every pose in the First Series and the Finishing Poses. It might be the stretch (and strain) to reach my toes; it might be that extra bit of twist; it might be a little more openness in my shoulders from Urdva Dhanurasana. It’s certainly — these days — the strength of trying to pull back without brushing the floor.

I can imagine if you’re really flexible, Utthita Trikonasana maybe just seems like a bother. After all, down the road a piece is Kapotasana and more.  I understand the desire to get there.

The reason I react is pretty simple: I doubt I’m ever going to get there. And I see people who can really reach the full expression of some of these “simpler” poses — but they don’t. They move into it, take a few breaths and move on.

I’d kill to be able to do that. (Kill in the sense of Arjuna’s doing his duty, you understand.)

But, believe it or not, this isn’t meant to be just about me and my Ashtanga frustrations. (That could be a whole other blog.) It’s a reminder that all of the poses have value. And that value isn’t just the burning of bad fat that seems to be the benefit from most of First Series.

There’s that breath thing. If you’re zipping through poses or not being — I hate to use the word — mindful, you’re missing what’s the real point of the practice. Don’t take my word for it.

Take David Swenson’s:

Somehow we each have a deep inherent knowledge that if we control our breath we may control our mind. There is a yogic saying that states: “The mind is more difficult to control than the wind but if we are able to control our breath we may control our mind.” Yoga is built upon this simple concept. When controlling the breath the yoga practitioner feels a deep state of calm and an evenness of the mind. This is due to the regulated focus upon the breath during practice. This information that I have provided may not be scientific but I believe it to be true and I also believe that if you were to approach other practitioners of yoga they would also agree.

Or Richard Freeman’s:

Linking movements done on the breath set up a distinct sensation pattern in the nervous system which allows the following movement and breath to go to their full extension.

We’ve all heard an admonition to “breathe deep” in the Mysore room, right? We all know that the fundamental purpose of Ashtanga is that pesky Ujjayi breath (with even peskier mula bandha a close second).

It’s an easy thing to forget, though. So think of this as just a long-winded way to say, “Ujjayi!”

(I am curious if my sense that people are trying to get to the poses that “matter” is right. Is it?)

Posted by Steve

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theconfluencecountdown

Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “Breathless Ashtanga or, you’re probably doing it wrong”

  1. Hi,
    after just recently reading an article by Sharath and talking to Nancy at this week’s yoga workshop in Berlin I have found out that we are not doing Ujayi breath in Asthanga… It is regular breathing with the sound of Ujjayi… Ujjayi, according to Nancy and Sharath, has double the exhale of the inhale…

    Very interesting thing I found out after a decade of yoga… 😉
    Magdalena

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