“Be sure to let the breath lead the movement, and not the movement lead the breath.” this is a common statement to hear me say in the middle of my Vinyasa or Ashtanga classes. This usually happens when I notice students putting to much movement into an inhale or an exhale – for example both bringing the arm up and twisting at the same time. After several months of me repeating this statement, and noticing many of my students continuing to do this practice, I began to ask myself why this fundamental concept was so important. Other than some anatomy reasons, what was another reason I could give my students to help them settle into the breath and movement.
Often times I find that many students struggle with this fundamental concept of yoga, where the movement is second to the breath. Particularly teaching in today’s western culture of yoga, where movement and body asanas is considered the pinnacle of yoga, many times gearing their focus away from this concept can be challenging for teachers. It is important for us to remember why these fundamental concepts are so important to begin with.
For both Vinyasa and Ashtanga the breath leading the movement is almost like a dance, although with Vinyasa’s more dynamic and quick movements it can be seen as a bit more imperative. The breath acts as the lead in a delicate waltz, and the body, though having its own function and movements, follows the breath’s lead. For some poses in yoga, this is imperative given the benefits of the physical form when these two work together. For example, when we twist we always want to twist on an exhale, this is because the exhale empties out the lungs and mid section of the body. When the breath is completely released during a twist, the twist is more comfortable and can be reached at deeper levels then during an exhale. Also we are working with the body’s natural rhythm, kind of a big concept in yoga in and of itself.
So then what about everything else, what about the breathing during Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation? In Surya Namaskara there is an even more delicate balance of the breath and movement as each runs into the other. Further, each movement is a preparation or an expression of another pose, all important in this dance. Neither the breath or any of the movements should be ignored when practicing.
Eventually, after practice, the breath begins to elongate and prepares the body for the deeper practice of Prayanma, or breath control. This can be shown during Surya Namaskara, when we transition from the forward fold to Chanturanga Dandasana, or yoga push up. We preform one exhale from the fold through Chanturanga Dandasan only inhaling when coming into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. This is just one of many examples when during our asana practice we prepare ourselves for a more intensive Prayanama practice.
“When that [asana] is accomplished, pranayamah, breath control [follows]. This consists of the regulation of the incoming and outgoing breaths” Yoga Sutra II.49. (Translated by Edwin F Bryant).
When you have practiced yoga long enough, you are bound to wind up at least encountering the Yoga Sutra’s at one point in time or another. Patanjali’s goal with the Yoga Sutras was to give people a way to achieve the goals of yoga, and a concrete method. In his method of yoga, there are the 8 limbs which lead into another and are interdependent. Asana, or physical practice, leads into Pranyama; where as Asana is the third limb and Pranyama is the fourth. (Pranyama is another discussion all together, which will be discussed later. It does all have great physical and mental practices)
When we practice yoga, usually we have a particular goal in mind. Rather it be physical, mental, or spiritual, it is important to note that each step in the practice, in itself offers a deepening of the practice for us. By understanding and accepting this it is much easier for us to grow and prepare the next steps of our integration. In allowing the breath and body to take their roles in the dance of yoga, we open ourselves up to greater and deeper sense of the practice.
Practice in Love and Peace ❤