Tuesday, July 5, 2011


"Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God." 

In Monday's class we explored the concept of four part breathing.  In yoga, breathing is the most central and vital practice.  The breath opens a doorway into the deeper aspects of the practice such as freedom, intuition, lovingkindness, mindfulness, meditation, movement of energy, and a deep sense of connection to all things (to name a few).

In order to cultivate an awareness and reverence for the breath, we need to start by taking a look at its structure.  The complete yogic breath has four parts: the inhalation (called puraka in sanskrit), the retention (kumbhaka), the exhalation (rechaka), and the absence of breath within the body (shunyata).  The idea is that by simply becoming aware of their existence and differences as we breathe, we strengthen and slow down our breath.  As a result we begin to find clarity, focus and freedom.

Once we become aware of our breathing and recognize that it is the way in which we can control the energy of our body and mind, we can begin to use it most effectively. Without established breathing, hatha yoga is simply a physical exercise. When we start to move with the breath (vinyasa), we experience a change in our state of mind. We become relaxed, focused, and peaceful. We also begin to enjoy and feel at home in our bodies.  With mindfulness and concentration, we can send the energy of the breath throughout the body, releasing tensions, build strength, and bringing stillness to areas where we are ill at ease. When practicing yoga, we often discover parts of our body that are tight, sore, congested, closed off, numb, or painful of which we were not even aware. This is the process of developing mindfulness.

"Yoga is all about freedom. Only a fraction of the world’s population is formally imprisoned, but the entire human race is imprisoned in the body and the earth itself. None are free from the inevitability of sickness, age, and death, however free of them they may be at the moment. The human condition is subject to innumerable limitations. Who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind? No one.
Our real self, the spirit, is always perfect and free. But we have forgotten that. So we identify with our present experience of bondage and consequently suffer in countless ways. Our situation is like someone who is asleep and dreaming that he is being tortured and beaten. In reality he is not being touched at all; yet he is experiencing very real pain and fear. He need not placate, overpower, or escape his torturers. He needs only to wake up. Yoga is the practice of self-awakening." (Swami Nirmalananda Giri )

Ultimately, yoga is the practice of freedom. It's about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents us from living in the most full and whole way. Yoga is connecting all of the powers of the body, mind and soul to something greater and more profound.  It is the path of balance and equanimity. 
The poses and the breath are just a way in.  Once we understand how to "be" in a pose or how to breathe, it's then up to us to be brave enough to take what we observe and use it to evolve, to grow, to remove the obstacles placed in our path, and to free ourselves from suffering.

It all starts with the breath.

Until next time...

Try this:
Four-Part Breath
The point of this pranayama exercise is simply to bring your mind more clearly to your breath, so your breath can inspire your movements, rather than the other way around. It is also a lovely way to bring yourself back to the stillness we seek in yoga. I recommend establishing the four-part breath at the beginning of your practice, as you sit still. Then incorporate it as you begin to move. See if you can hold onto it through your entire practice, until you consciously let it go in Savasana.
1) Take a few rounds of breath, just observing the natural rhythm and feel of your breath. Be sure to breathe through your nose and take particular note of the feel of the air entering and exiting your nostrils, establishing your connection to something bigger.
2) Begin to observe the space between your breaths — that brief moment of stillness between the exhale and the inhale, and between the inhale and the exhale. Don’t alter it, just observe how you are perfectly still before reversing directions, like when you're on a swing!

3) When you are ready, take a long, slow inhale, counting to four to fill your lungs.
4) Pause at the top of the inhale, and count to four. Don’t struggle to hold your breath. Just be with the stillness.
5) Exhale slowly and with control for four counts.
6) Count to four at the bottom of your breath. Again, take care not to struggle. Just observe the stillness.
7) After a couple of rounds, you may wish to lengthen to counts of five for a round or two and then maybe even six. Take your time, complete each round, and if you start to struggle, back off. You are looking for peace and ease in this pranayama exercise.
8) When you are ready, stop counting and instead just feel the evenness of your four-part breath, giving equal space to the stillness between the exhales and the inhales as you give to the exhales and inhales themselves.
9) Carry this sense of balance and equanimity and peace into the rest of your practice and the rest of your day.
(From: http://www.yogamamame.com/pranayama/)

by Rumi
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion 
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, 
not composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam or Eve or any 
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

Breath Is Enough 
by Robert Service

I draw sweet air
Deeply and long,
As pure as prayer,
As sweet as song.
Where lilies glow
And roses wreath,
Heart-joy I know
Is just to breathe.

Aye, so I think
By shore or sea,
As deep I drink
Of purity.
This brave machine,
Bare to the buff,
I keep ice-clean,
Breath is enough.

From mountain stream
To covert cool
The world, I deem,
Is wonderful;
The great, the small,
The smooth, the rough,
I love it all,--
Breath is enough.

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