|Simon Borg Olivier performing Nauli|
Students always have great questions and I love to hang around after class and talk. Sometimes the questions come in the few minutes before class and I always try and discuss them as best I can. Time and my own deficiencies in clearly articulating some concepts can get in the way.
Lucky I have a blog. And lucky my extraordinary teachers do as well so I can link you to them!
This morning a student who came to a class the previous day said she loved the class but was confused about the breathing because I wasn't telling her how to breathe and all of the other teachers were.
This made me smile. I joked with her whether she needed me to tell her how to breathe when she went for a walk and she smiled back and said no, she was ok doing that on her own.
The thing is, at the beginning of the class I do tell people how to breathe. I tell them to breathe naturally and that natural breathing is breathing into their belly. This is what I learned from senior teachers like Paddy McGrath and Simon Borg Olivier. There are other ways of breathing but I can only teach how I learned.
What I wasn't doing was telling her when to breathe and she noted other classes she was always being told when to breathe.
So I did a little experiment with her that my teachers have shown me. By this time other students had arrived and we all joined in. I said, 'take your arms overhead'. No-one moved and I guess they thought I was being rhetorical or something so I said, 'no, really, take them up.'
They took them up.
Then I said take them down. They took them down.
I said, 'take them up'. They did.
I said, 'did you just breathe in?'
They thought about it and said, 'yes.'
'Did I have to tell you to breathe in?' I asked.
They smiled no.
'Now take them down,' I directed.
'Did you just breathe out?' I asked.
They smiled yes.
Simon Borg Olivier does this sort of thing in his workshops and it was a big realisation for me that I had been over-instructing breathing to students and, in so doing, getting them to breathe more than they needed in their practice.
Yoga is not too difficult. You shouldn't need to breathe like you are jogging or take in a lot of air while you practice. Taking your arms overhead is not too taxing for most people yet we often get told to breathe in deeply and take the arms up or are encouraged throughout class to breathe deeply. Often, when you are told to breathe you will start to breathe more than you were before being told to breathe. Essentially, being told to breathe can often cause us to over-breathe.
Now it is true that some people hold their breath and grip when they are practicing, causing some tension. To them I just remind them to breathe naturally and relax the jaw, lips, and tongue.
If people are in challenging poses I often as them to talk to me as a sign that they can breathe naturally and manage.
Now, I am not a breathing expert and you need to go to other sources for more expertise. Simon has a great blog post on the benefits and effects of both over and under breathing (hyper and hypo ventilation). You can read it here.
I don't want to convey that breathing is not important. We need to breathe. Bianca Machliss from Yoga Synergy instructs breath in posture very well by reminding people to take a small sip in so that when she instructs the breath in posture she tries to ensure you do not breathe in more than you need. It is important to note it is not a full breath in or out that is being instructed. This is probably too much for what you are doing at the time.
Finally, I also note that the senior asthangis I have practiced with have an amazing breath practice but that it also involves strong bandha and that the breath and bandha are intimately involved and it is beyond me to talk about that. I just wanted to provide some food for thought noting that in the style of yoga I am teaching we just breathe naturally when we start out until we become very proficient in our postures and then we can learn some more tricks about breathing.
Much metta and joyful practicing!