I've had some unique teaching opportunities lately, including corporate retreats, teaching the staff of a homeless shelter, and working with clients referred to me by a cardiologist (we're using yoga to reduce stress and improve their heart health!). Despite how different these demographics seem, my focus has been the same - The Breath. Why? Because the breath is the key to transformation in the body and the mind. The yogis of old dedicated a whole science and system to breathing techniques - Pranayama. To better understand the role of the breath on the body and the mind, check out these articles on the 5 Koshas. Then use the Home Practice Resources to develop your own Pranayama Power.
25-minute breathe better MP3. Recorded during the week-long wildfires in California October 2017.
Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
I feel like I was a walking head before yoga.
Even though I played competitive sports and was active, I wasn't really communicating with my body. Oh, there were plenty of commands - run faster, you can do it, no pain, no gain - but very little conversation.
When I first started yoga, it was like I had to translate everything - put your left foot forward... okay....left.... foot... where is my left foot?... now, forward... more forward... come on left foot! ..... why doesn't it get to the top of the mat? ... - Anyone else have that in their head? Progress was slow, but progress came, and it came more quickly once I understood the role of the breath and the bandhas.
It's like you come to yoga with a "flat tire" for a body - even if you're active, there is rarely awareness. The yoga postures and alignment start the conversation. You begin to feel - which can be as simple as equal weight on your feet, as subtle as the stacking of your bones, or as complex as the emotions that arise when a pose is challenging, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.
And as you begin to feel, your inner awareness unfolds, reaching ever deeper, to subtle concepts like the bandhas. As seals, the bandhas patch up "leaks" - weaknesses, sleepy deep core muscles, underutilized stabilizers - and strengthen you from the inside out. The bandhas also create more of a container inside of your body. Which is why they are a prerequisite for pranayama - breath expansion practices.
Pranayama comes from two words. Prana which is life force, vitality, eternal energy. It's like Qi in other Eastern Traditions or Mana in the Hawaiian Tradition. Ayama means to liberate or remove restraints. When you dissect the word, you see that pranayama is designed to invigorate, expand, and liberate the life force and energy inside of you.
Once the breath has a strong container, a solid vessel, it gains momentum. Then you pump prana into the body. Prana creates space and potential for something new to arise, for transformation to occur. It inflates and enlivens your body with awareness.
Instead of clunking along with a flat tire, you cruise, glide, and really ride the vibrancy of being in-body.
This is how yoga makes you more youthful and vital. This is what sustains your practice for a lifetime. This is the alignment of feeling uplifted inside and out.