This weekend I went to a yoga retreat in the south of France. It was a Toumo retreat where we went in a very cold river and stayed for 20 minutes. It was all about going beyond our limits, and tapping into our internal sun. But the biggest lesson I learned from this weekend has nothing to do with the icy dip in the river (another blog about that later). It actually came from a few of the other attendees.
There we a few young men who were newer to yoga. When these new yogis did postures they breathed very forcefully and loudly. The teacher mentioned to them that the breath should be inaudible, the more subtil the breath, the better.
This got me to thinking about the difference between going to the gym and doing yoga, between pushing the body because the ego wants to accomplish something and accepting the body as it is.
In yoga the breath is everything, while doing asanas we should never sacrifice the breath for a posture. If the breath becomes forced, loud, strong, difficult we should either come out the pose or find a variation that works and where the breath can be steady and calm. If we feel ANY type of pain, again we should modify the pose or come out of it all together, the goal of asanas is not to do a pose perfectly (which doesn't exist anyways), nor to hold a pose a long time, it is to open and explore the body in movement with the breath - a calm, slow breath and to do it with ease, no effort or strain at all. The breath should be the same as when we are in meditation, if the breath is not like in meditation then we are forcing the body, which is only ego wanting to achieve something.
Staying in a meditative state and breathing slow and calm through the nose while doing an asana (or while washing the dishes, or doing anything else in life) is the key to yoga. It all starts with the breath. If we listen to the breath, focus on the breath, our entire life changes.
It doesn't matter if we can hold a posture for 5-10 minutes or more, it is only the ego that looks at the watch. We hold a posture only if it feels right in the body, if it feels juicy and open, otherwise we are actually doing damage to the body. When ego gets involved that is when people get hurt doing yoga, because they pushed the body instead of listening to it and being compassionate with it. The body is always talking to us, we must learn to listen and communicate with it.
So the next time you are doing asanas, ask yourself, how is my body doing today? Do I feel relaxed in this posture, do I feel joy, do I feel open, is my breath calm like when I meditate. Doing asanas should be like dancing with the breath, we are joyful when we dance!
The day that you accept and love your body exactly as it is, that is the day your asana practice will have the potential to transform your life.