Marvelous, Awesome, and Saintly Breath


This last weekend with Prashant Iyengar covered the importance of “breath participation” in asana, in therapy, and well, in pretty much everything. When we look at the breath we have to see it as all- pervasive, allowing for “all possibilities and probabilities”.

When we look at the realm of the breath, there is no “assessment process” that can take place outside of ourself. It is a mature exploration of both active and passive states that leads us to a new way of learning and discovering more subtle aspects of our Nature. And, when we think of breath in yoga we have to widen our ideas beyond a specific “Pranayama Practice” that is something separate and negotiated outside every other practice that we do. The breath is ALWAYS present and aways plays a role.

Take for instance a therapeutic asana that we might do for our back or shoulder pain, digestive or abdominal issues. The position of the body is only ONE aspect of the therapy of yoga. To NOT have knowledge of or use of the breath correctly in that physical state, we may find that the pose itself is not effective enough or maybe we find it making things worse. To acknowledge that the breath serves a role within asana and to become aware and sensitive to its movement is imperative to our knowledge process and self awareness.

Today Prashant took some time for Q&A and there were two questions in particular that spoke to this theme of the weekend on “Pranayama”. One being that there is no general rule of starting a “Pranayama practice” except to have maturity in practice enough to be sensitive and alert and receptive to the effects and power of that distinct practice. To take a separate practice of Pranayama apart from asana takes more discipline and understanding of the practice of yoga and to rush into it can actually be more harmful than helpful. However, to practice yogasana to its fullest means to add the layer of the breath which could be seen as a “Pranayamic element” to the physical practice of asana. And even there, we must know when and how to apply the breath to aid the asana, whether there is a need for a “feather touch or a stronger action”. To use forceful breath in poses that you want to find meditation in, it just won’t happen. And to take soft rarified breaths in poses that need some umpf won’t do either.

This kind of study also requires us not to be “lung and chest obsessed” about breathing and Pranayama. The act, function, purpose, and role of the breath can be applied and acted upon in numerous ways throughout the body – it can be “neurologist, pulmonologist, urologist, etc…”. Just as within an asana where we might have a focus on one thing or another, the breath can be applied to or effected by all the different positionings of the body structure. Essentially, through this kind of associated effort of body, mind, and breath you will discover that the “same breath” in different positions creates an entirely new experience – “different access, different participations, and different involvements”. For example a deep, full inhalation in a seated forward bend is going to be a much different experience from a deep, full inhalation in a supported chest back bending position.

To add to the layer of the breath, Prashant went a step further with his teaching of “sound forms”. Both yesterday and today we experimented with the “graphic changes” that happen in the body and breath experience when there is a silent addition of a sound like “aaa, eeee, uuuu, or eieiei” (he says there are ten sounds in total). With each silent sound form, there is a change in vibration, a “change of body matter, mind matter, and chemical processes”. To describe this experience out loud or in imagery, I fall toward the findings of Masaru Emoto, and the photography of ice crystals exposed to different words or sounds. Working in these sound forms does create a different experience of space, shape, access, and feel within my body and breath even if I can’t quite explain HOW.

With the myriad of these combinations and layers at work, Prashant mentioned that with each and every position there are 355 possibilities and potentials and combinations of exploration – adding to that “prism effect” he explained last weekend. It is awe inspiring and “a marvel”, as Prashant commonly says. But in the end, all of the work in yoga is organic and natural, as simple and as complex as the universe that surrounds us, all made from the same elements and energies just all in differentiated forms.

I continue to be inspired and challenged by Prashant’s teachings. Mostly he aims to challenge our restricted and small-minded view of what yoga is and can be in our life and practice, opening our eyes and minds to the vastness of experience and knowledge that awaits!!!

Jennie Williford CIYT

Jennie Williford (CIYT Level 3) is a transplant to LaCrosse via Montana, Illinois, and originally Texas. Throughout her life moves and 5 trips to India, Jennie has acquired a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to Iyengar Yoga since her start in 1998. Jennie loves the experimental and explorative nature of yoga in accessing deeper knowledge of the Self on every level. The practice of yoga can be intense and introspective, however as practitioners we can be light-hearted and open-minded in our discipline. Jennie is intrigued by the philosophy of yoga and hopes to share this depth of subject while teaching the physical and mental benefits that come from the practice of posture.