“Only through Yoga Yoga is known,
Only through Yoga Yoga changes.
One who is patient at Yoga,
Over a long time enjoys the fruits.”
– Vyāsa commentary to Yoga Sūtra Chapter Three verse 6
So, prepping myself to lead a whole yoga class on pranayama (breathing exercises) in the middle of the most intense part of the garden season has been an interesting process. I’m tired, I’m busy, and my mind and body combined are all total a little over the top.
But it’s worth it, because this is the stuff I really love.
And even though I do my best to keep these exercises active in my life, it is great to go over my old training notes, remembering that time and applying it to this time. This time, with the long to-do list, and the germinating seedlings, and hungry chickens, and children, and the long rows to hoe. It’s just a great thing to do.
My workshop is about breath thresholds. When working on pranayama thresholds, we work with four parts of the breath: inhale, hold after inhale, exhale, and hold after exhale. We slowly lengthen each of these four parts of the breath to obtain the longest, smoothest breath we can, in a sustainable way. Smooth and sustainable are the key words here.
After we’ve done some work with each of the four parts of the breath, we can use the breath in different ratios – longer or shorter time in each of the four sections – to create different effects on our bodies and minds, work toward our goals, and hopefully become more balanced and healthy persons.
My teacher said over and over again: “Don’t force the breath.” And it seems obvious, but it isn’t. Many of us get ambitious or impatient, and we try to force the breath, to stretch it longer than it should go. It’s a mistake.
If we hold our breath out for too long after exhalation, the following inhale will grow shorter, instead of longer. Due to our over-reaching action, we are propelled in the opposite of our intended direction.
If we back off a little bit, inhalation comes easier, smoother, and longer once again. The lesson is that we don’t accomplish much by force or excess. In fact, we may accomplish exactly what we do not desire.
I see this playing out in the western world of yoga practice. Yoga, in itself, is not about the body. It’s more about getting over the body and making the most of our vast internal resources. But when I look around at yoga in the mainstream, I see a lot of sexy backbends and idealization of the body. I see self reflection and inner peace advertised by the thin and beautiful, and that’s not a true reflection. Our emphasis on asana, the physical exercises involved in yoga, have (in my opinion) reversed the course of the yogic path.
This may not be accidental on the part of the people who sell yoga pants, but it is contradictory to the heart and soul of Yoga.
This is one of those experiences that seems to echo all over daily life. Can you see it?
I see it, right in front of my face. There is the glowing screen, the omni-present hand held super-computers. Weren’t these “smart” machines supposed to save us time and money? How much time and money do we spend on and with them now? Yes, some work has been saved, there may be a reduction in paper waste (dunno, I haven’t seen the numbers) and there are many wonders to be experienced in the realm of modern technology, but there is a cost, too. I’m thinking we may have accomplished an accidental reverse here, as well as many other places in this modern world.