Riding behind the crest of the breath

A handful of years ago, when I spent a week in Tulum with Tim Miller for his Primary Series retreat, one of his suggestions for my practice was to hold the standing poses for twice the usual length — 10 breaths, in other words.

I’ve pretty well stuck with that over the years, except during Led classes or when visiting an unfamiliar shala. (Probably then I’ll still go for six or seven breaths.)

Practicing at home, it’s essentially a given: I hold all of the standing poses that long, at least, and throw in a few other variations (a Hanumanasana sequence after the Prasaritas, for instance) that just seem right, or needed.

During the past week, though, I’ve been a bit pressed for time a couple of mornings, and so the alteration I made was to cut back those standing poses to five breaths. (I think it trims eight or 10 minutes off the practice).

What I observed was a pronounced sense of the movement, the vinyasas, of the standing poses. It feels downright quick to go from right side to left, or left side to twist, or to move through the Prasaritas so quickly. But simultaneously, the power of the breath as the leader of the practice — moving with it, riding the breath (not quite like riding a wave, in my imagination; on a wave, you’re in front of the curl; with the breath, it feels like you’re behind the crest — to me, anyway) — is inescapable.

This isn’t quite the same as what I experienced a couple of years ago after a one breath per pose practice, but it is similar. Thinking back to that, it was all breath and movement. Having the five breaths in the state of the pose, in that stillness of the asana, makes for a sense of “now we’re going” when the movement comes.

Again, the breath seemed more like the leader; in the single-breath variation it was the unity of breath and movement. This time it was stillness, now breath is taking you on, stillness. And somehow too much stillness in between seems to diminish the breath’s proper place. For me, anyway. I suppose optimal time between Vinyasas may vary.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

2 thoughts on “Riding behind the crest of the breath”

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I just practiced primary series this morning for the first time in many years, I’m a vinyasa teacher and in my personal and home practice I rarely even hold asanas for 5 breaths…it was really liberating to stay for what felt like so long in each posture! What a difference a few breaths make.

  2. Steve, thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I was wondering if you could share your hanumanasana sequence for deeper work on opening the hips and stretching the psoas…

    namasté Lucia

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