Not sure why this happened, but this week turned into the week of studying my breath closely during practice.
I can’t say what triggered my focus on my breathing. Maybe Bobbie said something to me… probably along the lines of, “You’re not breathing deeply enough.”
I’ve been practicing Ashtanga long enough to know that any first feelings of “I figured this out” or “Oh, this makes sense” are invariably followed by utter confusion and total disarray. So I want to hold back on talking about what I may be learning, in anticipation of the inevitable two steps back that will follow my one step forward.
It has gotten me looking for some assistance, though. Here are a few (and we get away from some of our usual suspect teachers):
I promised to spread the David Garrigues news, and so here it is:
He’s releasing a DVD/book set about breathing and Ashtanga’s pranayama sequence. It sounds good. You can find info both at his blog and at a dedicated website (where you can order it):
Championing your breath is the key to truly enjoying the fruits of your yoga practice, because it is through caring about your breathing that your tapas, your stubborn dedication and your pointed, daily toil will yield its important inner rewards. Through working with your breath in using this dvd/book set I hope you will turn to and trust your breath during times of celebration and challenge, that you will cultivate healthy breathing habits, and view breath as the key to unlocking the secrets to all yoga techniques.
In presenting this material I aim to transform your ideas about the role that your breath can play in your daily practice, to see how the consciousness that you develop through breath awareness leads you into the greater spiritual context of your life. I aim to set your imagination ablaze on the vital subject of breathing as your principal source of Self knowledge.
There are two DVDs and a book. The first DVD explores breathing practices to help with asana practice; the second “introduces you to the Ashtanga Pranayama sequence by giving you step by step, detailed instruction in each of the five pranayama’s that make up the sequence.”
I want to make sure to quote from the dedication on the site:
This DVD/book set is dedicated to Sri K Pattabhi Jois, who was a Vayu Siddha, a master of breathing, and from whom I learned this sequence. Study the material offered on these discs and your breathing can become a well spring, a main source for tapping the tremendous life force within you. Like Hanuman, the loyal servant of Ram, your breath can become a formidable ally, a most devoted friend that guides you further into the beloved practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Through practice may you attain Vayu Siddhi, perfection of breathing and go inwards to Self.
Jaya Satguru Natha Maharaja Ki Jai! Bolo Sri K Pattabhi Jois Guruji Ki Jai!
For those who were at the Confluence and heard David Swenson tell the story, or just have heard the tale of Hanuman and the ants, let me say: I think my breathing is more of the ant variety. But it could be worse. It could be like a grasshopper.
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.