Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Authentic Breathing

Yoga is often described as mending the mind/body split. While it's indeed a powerful technique to that end, we should be watchful of how our stressed, dualistic mind continues to reinforce its own existence. Even under the auspices of yoga practice, you will commonly observe practitioners cultivating their stressed-out minds through the performance of yogic techniques. Nowhere is this more evident than in breathing!

Our practice should serve as a reminder that this body is infused with an innate intelligence, or put another way, the body already knows how to be healthy & vital. Through appropriate effort and intelligent surrender, we can raise this latent vitality out of dormancy and into experience. Authentic Breathing is a powerful technique to this end.

Authentic Breathing starts with a full, complete exhale. This is what we call the Full Commitment Exhale in Alignment Yoga, and what sets it apart is the focus on releasing the held-tensions of the ribs and diaphragm. Rather than forcibly pushing the air out of your body, practice letting the ribs and diaphragm fully release until you encounter that still, silent pause at the end of the exhale. As that pause matures, you'll find the body spontaneously inhales. Watch the quality and nature of this inhale; practice observing, rather than manipulating. Where does the inhale penetrate? What parts of the body does it infuse? How deep is it? How long is it? Let the inhale happen - don't control it. At the top of the inhale you'll find another pause before the cycle repeats itself through the Full Commitment Exhale.

Develop Authentic Breathing while lying quietly on your back, then try applying this technique as you practice the postures. Let the Full Commitment Exhale be the primary focus of your breath awareness while you practice your asana.

Is this the only way to practice? Most assuredly not. There's utility to practicing with deeper breathing (Empowered Breath) now and then. If that's our only tool, however, it's easy to develop the habit of mind-controlling-breathing, which is just another expression of the tension we carry in our jaws, neck and shoulder. Yoga is not the path of conquering the body with the mind, but the path of finding the latent synthesis of body & mind. If we control all aspects of our body and breath, we've just found a yogic technique that reinforces our notion that the body is dumb, and would sooner be sick than well. As we walk the fine line between effort and surrender in our yoga practice, we now & then relinquish control and give the body/breath a chance to flourish. Much like raising children, the over-protective parent disables their child as surely as the too-lenient parent. It's all about balance.

Try practicing with Authentic Breathing, and you'll find your body's vitality doesn't require the micro-management of alignment and breathing to flourish - sometimes what's needed is to consciously get out of the way.


Sylvia B said...

How does authenting breathing relate to the Eight Limbs of Yoga? Is it the same thing as Pranayama or different?

Scott Anderson said...

Pranayama is a conscious alteration of the breathing, with a deep awareness of the effects. It is a symbiotic relationship of doing & undoing.

Authentic Breathing focuses more on the undoing aspect of breathing, which is a particularly potent technique for westerners, as we're already masterful at doing.

If we're to relate Authentic Breathing to one of Ashtanga's limbs, I'd be inclined to focus on Pratyahara. Authentic Breathing asks us to discriminate between the sensations that are latent, and the sensations that we consciously create. While we tend to translate Pratyahara to mean withdrawal of the senses, that sells Patanjali's work short - Pratyahara refers more to discriminative awareness with regards to the senses, which is inherent within Authentic Breathing.

sylvia b said...

I've been studying yoga on and off for quite a while, but I have never heard of the concept of "doing and undoing." Although some of your meaning is clear here, I feel there may be more to it. Would you consider going further into this topic, either in answer to this question or perhaps in a future article?

Scott Anderson said...

Hi Sylvia,

What a great question. Check out the next article for more of my thoughts on doing vs undoing.

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