Published on October 23rd, 2016 | by Catherine Tingey0
Your Breath Is A Tool
Your Breath is a Tool
This is such a deep and interesting subject that I just love talking about.
Yoga poses and the breath are like a pearl necklace – the pearls are the poses, the string is the breath. The breath is what holds everything together.
Breathwork in Sanskrit is called, Pranayama
Prana means lifeforce/chi/vitality (literally ‘that which is infinitely everywhere’)
Ayama means to stretch or extend
One of the first concepts I teach my clients is that the breath is a tool for measuring the balance of effort and ease.
In other words, when our breath veers away from a slow, deep, whispering sound, we are likely working too hard in a posture.
Students of all levels will need gentle reminders to keep breathing, and especially so in challenging postures.
Another way I use the breath is to progressively arrive into a posture.
For example, if I’m teaching Janusirsana or Paschimottananasa, we might take 3 full cycles of breath to get to the ‘full pose.’ And as the client is doing these breath cycles, they are moving in and out of lesser variations of the posture. Once in the pose, we’ll do another 2-3 cycles of breath.
This is how it might look in Seated Forward Bend, a very difficult pose for most beginners and intermediate students.
+ Exhale reach forward
+ Inhale back up – but not to position (1)
+ Exhale reach forward – slightly further than position (2)
+ Inhale back up and exhale into position (3)
I’ve found that this progressive approach accomplishes several very important things:
- teaches students of all levels to slow down and pay attention to the process of getting into a pose (therefore skirting injury)
- gives beginners something to focus on besides sensation
- gives advanced students something new to work with, even though they’re familiar with the pose
Once we have arrived at the full expression of the pose, the breath can then be used to create dynamism in otherwise static postures.
In figure (3), we would:
+ Inhale hollow the belly and lift the heart
+ Exhale reach through the feet and press the backs of the knees on the mat
It’s important to emphasize that dynamic breathing in a posture will not likely alter the shape of the pose. Its purpose is NOT to get the body deeper into the pose. In fact, the body may barely move.
The purpose of dynamic breathing is keep prana moving within a pose, and avoid stagnation, or sitting into a pose and thereby losing engagement/activation/effort.
Breathwork in yoga is a deep dive and I’m a continuous student of the breath. In future posts, I’ll be talking about bandhas, breath ratios and types of breathing techniques, so if you have any topics you’d like covered about yoga breathing, please comment below!