Table of Contents
- Yoga and its roots
- On the way
- Your practice
- From the beginning: basic principles
- Deep relaxtion: Letting go
- Pranayama: Attention to your breath
- Learning to stand
- Simple stretches
- Sun salutation: The wave
- Standing poses
- Inverted poses and arm balances
- Sitting poses and forward bends
- Sitting twists
- Suggested practice sequences
Following your Breath
The simplest breathing practice, which we also use in the poses, is attention to your breath. Learn to simply watch your breath, without trying to adjust or control it.
Watch your breathing, noting the rhythm, the “texture” and the sound of your breath.
- Be aware of the places that you can feel easy, free, relaxed movement.
- Notice the areas that feel tense or blocked. Imagine what it would be like if they were also relaxed and free.
- Notice what happens as you pay attention. Be aware of the power of your attention and the changes that result simply from watching.
- As you exhale, allow the back of your pelvis to be pulled into the floor and your knees to drop.
- Pay attention to the release of your spine as your legs and pelvis drop.
- Let your shoulders relax and your arms remain passive, especially as you inhale.
- Be aware of the base of your spine rooted in your pelvis and let your upper body be light and free.
- Let the inhalation come to you.
- Remain dropped and rooted to the floor as you inhale.
As you pay attention to your breathing, let your eyes remain passive and rest back, as you did when you were lying down. This shift of awareness will also help to bring the back of your head in line with the back of your pelvis. Relax your eyebrows and let your forehead broaden. When you are sitting, be aware of the tendency to tighten your eyebrows and forehead as you watch your breath.
When you begin to follow your breathing, you will probably be busy and distracted. Your breathing rhythm will reflect this, and be erratic and jagged. Take time to come to your breath, and to let your attention and your breath settle.
Be aware of the polarities of the breathing cycle: the end of your exhalation and the end of your inhalation. Feel that gravity is pulling your exhalation down. Eventually, you will be able to feel your breath moving all the way down to your sitting bones. Your hips will be free and relaxed and you will be able to sit with your pelvis upright. In this position, the back of your waist will be supported by the action of your breathing. The security of this foundation allows your upper body to relax. Your head will balance easily over your pelvis; your upper back, arms and shoulders will be relaxed and free. In the classical framework of energy and chakras, following the breath will gradually connect you to the bottom of your tailbone, the root or first chakra, representing stability and securities.
As you become quieter, your breathing naturally becomes slower and steadier. You may find a natural pause at the end of your exhalation. In this very quiet moment, let yourself drop further within.
As your exhalation deepens, your inhalation becomes fuller as result. The inhalation follows naturally at the end of the exhalation. There is no need to “take” a deep breath. Wait. Allow the inhalation to come to you. Trust that it will. Open yourself to receive it. This is an example of non-greed and non-grasping in practice. There is no limit to the potential depth and fullness of your breath. Your exhalation may be deeper than you thought possible; your inhalation can expand beyond your expectations.
As always, this physical experience of greater depth has corresponding emotional and spiritual aspects. The feeling of being pulled down with gravity will also draw you inward to the roots of your thoughts and feelings. It is important not to close off your thoughts or deny your feelings. Many of the tensions in our bodies have been caused by this denial. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
The quieter you become the more clearly you will see your innermost thoughts. One of the goals of meditation is to see things as they are, free of expectations, preconceptions and projections. When you can keep your attention steady on your breathing, then you will have glimpses of this clarity.
Time in the wilderness, surrounded by quiet and the sounds of nature has helped me to be patient with myself as I breathe. In the country, I am often surrounded by silence while I am still noisy and distracted inside. This silence provides an inspiration for my breathing practice in the city. With time, I can find a quiet space around my thoughts, while my thoughts continue. Touching moments of true quietness are a rare and precious gift.