No Dinking Around!

Bobbie may be feeling a little dizzy. ("Albion," by William Blake)

Readers, I have things to share. I’ve been in an outstanding Primary Series Adjustment Clinic with Nancy Gilgoff, and my notebook runneth over. I could just blow your mind by spilling it all right now, but instead I’ll just say if you ever get a chance to study with Nancy, “You do!” For now, I’ll just try to lace together a few thoughts.

In the mornings, we practice Mysore-style with Nancy (except for the moon day morning, of course). After lunch, we break down the series pose-by-pose, with stories woven among the demonstrations, along with the occasional correction. One of the things that Nancy was all over the group for yesterday was, for lack of a better word, speed.

Now, I feel like I’ve had pretty good training in this area. Early in my Ashtanga career, my teacher Shayna Liebbe often got her class all the way through the whole Primary in the hour and a half allotted to her by YogaWorks. There was no time to screw around; and even if she couldn’t make it, she’d be trying. Diana Christinsen used to walk over to me as I fussed over my foot in janu C and say bluntly, in the way Ashtanga teachers do, “No dinking around!” That sort of teaching sticks with you. You get one breath–half a breath, really–to get into the pose before your breath runs out, and you move on.

I’ve always connected this idea with a mala in my mind–of “Yoga Mala” fame: Each pose is a bead, each breath the string. Stop the movement–to wipe your face, fix your hair, unfurl your yoga towel before dandasana, whatever–and you stop the practice. Just like that, you’re not doing Ashtanga anymore.

Nancy is actually connecting dinking with injury, and with incorrect breath: The luxurious–or worse, shallow–breath. “Move fast,” she says, “And move when the mind is free. It’s the resistance of the mind that causes injury.” If you were at The Confluence, you perhaps heard Nancy tell the story of Guruji pushing her totally flat in baddha konasna in a single breath. Maybe you’ll hear her tell the story yourself one day, but in the end, the breath and the practitioner need to be one and the same. You stop to think about slowly easing yourself to the floor in that pose, taking extra breaths, and the floor will slowly fall farther from you.

So to that end I’ll perform my next community service from my workshop, and say that the other thing Nancy was on the group for was the breath. Lengthening it? Not the point. Control it and deepen it. The entire Primary can be performed in an hour with deep, audible, fast breath. “You could hear us breathing outside on the street,” she said. (Note: Not “ujayi” breath–that issue covered here: “deep breathing with sound.”) (And another note: My very first teacher, Pamela Ward, told me that the every practice had an exact number of actual breaths, and that, in theory, it should be the same number every time. Any Ashtanga geeks out there that want to tell me what the number is?)

This current desire to LENGTHEN everything is something of a thread in the workshop: Stop it, says Nancy. Just do the pose. Do it on the breath. Do it now. Whatever it is, it is.

There’s an awful lot of freedom in that, something that William Blake once called, “the dizziness of freedom,” I think–liberating, but scary.

Posted by Bobbie

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “No Dinking Around!”

  1. Check with Lino Miele for the exact number of breaths. He knows then “exactly” from samasthitih to samasthitih… and beyond. Do you have his book written under the direction of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, “ASTANGA YOGA?” If not you may want to check it out and certainly go to a workshop with him sometime. (He is very funny and will make you smile!)

    Elizabeth (Bella) McCloud

  2. another aspect of breath forgotten in yoga studios is terrible air quality.

    With doors and windows shut, and a full room, the oxygen content declines, and humidity increases. as humidity increases, the body has a harder time cooling itself, partly because it uses expiration of breath and supposedly cool fresh air to cool the blood. As heat increases, dissolved oxygen also decreases.

    So its a triple whammy: practioners breathe out carbon dioxide which decreases oxygen; heat decreases oxygen saturation; and humidity makes it harder to cool the body.

    The result: labored breath due to lack of oxygen and overheating. Those rosy cheeks sported by many practioners are the first stage of hypothermia (heat exhaustion).

    Nothing to do with supposed mind control or mystical benefits.

    We forget all too often that yoga is a physical practice, like life itself.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s