The main difference between physical yoga and gymnastics is the focus on the breath and the complete irrelevance of accomplishment of the pose. While in gymnastics the portrayal of the posture itself is important, in yoga we only use the posture to look inside and see if it stirs anything up that takes us away from our naturally peaceful state, or possibly shows us a way or glimpse how to get closer to it.
"Yoga practice, like life itself, begins with the breath. Breath, or Prana, provides an endless, all-pervading background,
a continuous ebb and flow of sound and perception that unifies, sustains, and informs us on the physical, mental, and emotional levels.“
Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor (The Art of Vinyasa)
In their unique and beautiful way, Richard and Mary find words for the inexpressible. The way we use the breath is what makes the Ashtanga practice so deep-reaching and effective on all levels - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is the breath that lays the foundation for all the magic that might happen to us on our mats.
Practically, of course, one could go ahead and breathe shallowly and irregularly and one could still „perform" all movements of our Ashtanga practice. The outer form of the practice without the prescribed way of breathing might still look somewhat similar to the practice done with „proper“ breathing.
But this is where the Ashtanga vinyasa practice gets often misunderstood! It’s not about the outer form. The life-long journey of this daily ritual is about your experience and your capacity to evolve through consistent self-reflection. And the breath along with the fixed count is what brings our awareness back to the present moment - again and again. Until you stay there for more than a few seconds, and off your mat.
You keep going through the same breath-aligned movements, you breathe awareness into every step you do, and - if you are not too stubborn - you evolve your understanding by doing small, subtle adjustments to your very own and unique approach.
A teacher might give guidance, and support and provide cues to focus on along the way, but in the end it is YOU that has to find your way to fine-tune your practice day by day. Intelligence might arise when you have done something so many times that you realize the inherent principle and its simplicity behind it.
I am quite stubborn so it took me a long time to realize that there is a certain magic in deep, connected and strong yet smooth breathing. It makes the body align on an internal level in a way that is not possible without it. Essentially the breath is what makes the practice light, what gives us the feeling of flying over our mats and makes us leave the mat with more energy than when we stepped onto it, in spite of the physicality of the practice.
Use the sound of your breath as your very own yoga background music - it gives you rhythm, focuses you and always brings you back to the present moment.
Combine your breath with bandhas (locks) and you build internal pressure that lifts you up in strength-requiring postures and protects your spine in deep backbends.
Occupy your mind with the precise vinyasa count that conducts your deep regular breathing pattern and you open the door for meditation to arise spontaneously
Keeping the breath calm and full directly affects the nervous system and keeps your acidity levels low - especially important if you work on postures that trigger the nervous system
Developing your capacity to breathe fully releases micro-tensions along your whole body along with their underlying emotional charge and is literally making you more spacious over time - you will one day wake up and suddenly be able to enter postures that seemed unattainable before
In the upcoming module of our Advanced Course In-depth study of Ashtanga System we will present the underlying principles of how we use the breath in the practice. With a unique blend of discussing the principles, practical application with various exercises and working with each other in small groups to support each other, you will walk out from this workshop with a thorough understanding of how to use the potential of your breath to deepen your (and your student's) yoga practice, and eventually truly transform your practice.