June 22, 2010
Integration of breath, body and mind.
The ujjayi breath, which allows us to hear and well as feel the breath as it becomes deeper and longer, has two main advantages. First, we are closer to the flow of our breath and in this way can remain more alert during asana (posture) practice. Second, the sound tells us when we have to stop or change an asana. If we do not succeed in maintaining a gentle, even, quiet sound, then we have gone beyond our limits in the practice. The quality of breath is therefore the clearest indication of the quality of our asana practice.
However beautifully we carry out an asana, however flexible our body may be, if we do not achieve the integration of body, breath, and mind we can hardly claim that what we are doing is yoga. What is yoga after all? It is something that we experience inside, deep within our being. Yoga is not an external experience.
In yoga we try in every action to be as attentive as possible to everything we do. Yoga is different from dance, theatre, and is in no way an outward performance or reflection. In yoga we are not creating something for others to look at. It is free of the ego and judgment. As we perform the various asanas in proper context, we observe what we are doing and how we are doing it. We do it only for ourselves. We are both observer and what is observed at the same time. If we do not pay attention to ourselves in our practice, then we cannot call it yoga.
“Our attention is on these movements. Consciously following the breath is a form of meditation in which we try to become completely one with the movement. The practice of yoga is essentially a practice of self-examination. Asanas and pranayama can help us discover certain things about ourselves, but unfortunately we cannot always trust our own perceptions. Our habitual way of seeing things makes it difficult for us to look at them differently from experience to experience; our habitual way of seeing limits our self-understanding. Because a teacher’s perception is not limited by our unique conditioning, he or she can often see what capabilities lie hidden within us.”
-Adapted from T. K. V. Desikachar (son and student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya)