Breath and bandhas

This being an Ashtanga blog, we’ve written fairly often about the bandhas.

This morning, Bobbie and I have been talking about the bandhas — plus picking up, transitions, and moving with the breath.

Always a challenge.

Here’s a video featuring Leslie Kaminoff, talking about the bandhas and breath, and showing a way to discover them:

Perhaps we’ll give that a try before practice this morning. And by “we” I really mean: Me.

Posted by Steve

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

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

There are some benefits to the occasional short practice

As I noted last night, I snuck in a short practice after work.

I wasn’t sure what, or if, I wanted to practice. And then I happened upon Richard Freeman’s suggestions for just my quandary. So I got to the mat, did a few Suryanamaskaras, a handful of standing and seated poses, and then the closing sequence.

Guess what? It proved extremely enlightening, especially when it came to my breath.

I don’t think I’ve made it any secret that the practice is tough for me, mainly due to flexibility issues. I think I have the strength and stamina, but not the hamstrings!

I also know that I’m a long way from the long, slow, steady breaths that should be animating my practice. But when working through all of First, well, it’s hard to stay focused on the breath, and the bandhas and the dristis and — here’s the kicker — be pulling yourself deeper and deeper into poses. At least, it’s hard for me.

Last night, though, I knew I had fewer poses to conquer (if you will), and that enabled me to get that much more out of each one. (This may be an argument for my stopping after navasana — the only trouble is, that doesn’t on an every day basis challenge my strength and stamina enough. At least, given my less-than-perfect practice. But I digress.)

For whatever reason, I seemed to focus more on the breath than bandhas or dristi, and it showed me where I could — and should — be.

So that’s something for me to think about. Should a short practice, when I can heighten my focus, be something I add in? How can I bring those longer breaths to the longer practice? I know, from experience, I’m capable.

Quite a few lessons, in other words.

Of course, those lessons went straight in the toilet during this morning’s Led class, especially when my teacher was sitting on me in Kurmasana and — and! — Supta Kurmasana.

Posted by Steve