Have you ever seen those yogis who move with effortless grace? I’m amazed when I see a practice exuding softness, yielding and buoyancy. Even simple postures or sun salutations have a whole new depth to them when the postures breathe. Here are some subtle keys to bring your postures to life.
A living breathing asana allows the breath to move you into and out of alignment; guiding the body as a continuation of the natural patterns of breathing. You must remain soft enough to be affected, yet avoiding becoming stiff like a statue.
While these qualities develop with experience, it is accelerated if your practice has an equal focus on release to engaging. And fully allowing the breath to impact your movement, as opposed to employing it in a forced mechanical manner and moving underneath it.
Back to basics
Observing your natural breathing allows you to familiarise yourself with how it moves your body. I go into more details in Natural breathing. An under-explored goldmine.. The main takeaways are
- Observing natural breath. It is a process of letting go of effort and uncovering pre-existing patterns of tension.
- The most important thing is to allow the outer body to reflect the way the breath rises and falls.
- From a place of release we can employ breathing techniques. Rather than using technique to mask underlying inefficiencies.
During practice Ujjayi pranayama is the technique used. A smooth long audible breath. Some effort is needed to lengthen the breath but notice at the point you begin forcing and introduce unnecessary tension.
Don’t forget the retractive breath
“The most important thing is to allow the breath to be reflected in your body.”
Being in a posture can look like a one way street, as if the only way is forward and deepening. But what that ends up looking like is – Inhale: still. Exhale: Deepen. The secret is to allow the retractive phase of the breath to move you, align you and open those tight spots.
For instance if you were in a standing posture like Warrior 1, many students hold still on the inhale and retain tension as if it will compromise advancing the posture. Surrendering to the inhale on the other hand, brings alignment and gently eases you up out of the posture slightly diminishing the intensity. The following exhale then gradually takes you deeper. For a living breathing asana both the inhale and exhale are reflected in movement.
Letting your natural intelligence unfold
“Inquire and follow where your breath leads you. What is the breath asking my body to do now? What is my body asking my breath to do?” – Donna Farhi
Discover what happens most naturally in your body when you inhale or exhale. Generally opening, expanding and vertical movements are combined with an inhalation. While closing, folding and horizontal movements elicit the exhalation.
In vinyasa sequencing there are designated breathing and movement patterns that take this into account. However it’s easy to slip into autopilot and go through the external motions rather than source internally. Listen inwardly to the subtle impulses of breath that guide you into action, react to the subtle adjustments or shifts in intensity necessary. Most of all connect to the sensitivity of your feeling body and go beyond the rules and explore for yourself.
The main idea is to create a rhythm in the breath and ride it gracefully throughout the practice. The sound becomes a mantra to set the mind in focus. The breath will be a guide to tell us the quality of our practice. David Swenson – Ashtanga Yoga. The practice manual.