Way too often I’m so caught up in a yoga class trying to do a challenging pose right, find balance and look good at the same time (especially for that guy in the back row who clearly has never done yoga, but he looks cute and kudos for him for being brave enough to step into the world of leggings and mantras). It’s at that moment that I fail at doing the most important thing in yoga: breathing.

“You need to work on your breathing”

Recently, I’ve been becoming more aware of my breathing habits, more specifically during my mysore ashtanga morning practice. This is where you practice the ashtanga yoga sequence on your own, meaning the teacher is not guiding a class. But he’s keeping an eye on everyone and adjusting you if necessary. Everyone is practicing together in a room at their own pace, following their own breath. And sweating. A lot.

In this style, the teacher determines when you’re ready to go to the next pose. After the teacher had observed me for a couple of classes, he explained that I should practice until Marichyasana D and do the finishing sequence after that pose. To my surprise, it’s not because I’m unable to go into the full expression of Marichyasana D on my own, but he said: ‘you need to work on your breathing.’

I understand where he’s coming from. In the first round of surya namaskar A I’m breathing like a tibetan monk who has been meditating for 30 years in the Himalayas. Slow, controlled and deep. By the time we’re wrapping up surya namaskar B, I’m breathing like a mouse that’s being chased by a cat.  

A moving meditation

Since then I’ve been really focussing on my breathing in my practice. Lengthening the inhalations and exhalations, circulating the breath so it continues smoothly and making sure everyone in the room can hear the ocean sound of the ujjayi breath.   

The best insight I got so far is that the asanas come secondary and breathing is the foundation of your practice. Of course I’ve heard this before and I understood it at an intellectual level, but it’s only the last week that I’ve really consciously experienced it. When you’re able to control the breath throughout the practice and flow into the poses from that stable and deep breathing, it’s a totally different experience. This is where your practice turns into a moving meditation.

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