Whenever we first begin something (a project, parenting, teaching, a career) there is always a period of learning and adjusting. The same is true of yoga. However, I find this learning curve can go on indefinitely. My friend Mickey sent me this article “When Darth Vader Breath Isn’t Necessary”:
After reading it, it got me thinking about how we go from “gross to subtle” in all aspects of yoga over the years. When we first teach ujjayi breathing, or ocean breathing, we often ask students to make more noise. This loud, audible breath helps keep you focused mentally and helps you understand the concept and effects of ujjayi breathing. At first, students will “0ver-breathe”, but over time, we move to more subtle aspects of the breath. Instead of creating tension in the throat, the sound begins to come from the sound of the air passing over the tongue. Instead of breathing with mouth open, we begin to close the mouth and the sensation and sounds becomes more internal (almost as if you have a wind tunnel at the back of the throat). As we continue the practice of yoga, the breath becomes more refined. When you need to amp up the breathing, it naturally becomes louder and maybe a bit faster. As you settle in to yin or restorative poses, the breath naturally quiets and settles in. In meditation, the controlled breath is released and our only job is to watch its rise and fall.
I find the same analogy of moving from “gross to subtle” works for the physicality of yoga poses as well. Several friends and loved ones have commented that my body is shifting. After 13 years of dedicated practice, my body is shifting. Who knew? When I stopped to think about it here is what I realized. For the first 10 years of practice, I was relying on my major muscle groups to move me through my yoga practice. I developed larger quads, glutes, biceps, and triceps. For the last three years, I have been learning more about the subtle aspects of the poses. The small shifts in movement have allowed deeper muscles to work and have helped me pay attention to lines of energy in each pose (we’ll cover this in another blog). In doing this, my muscles are no longer large and bulky, but have leaned out and I am standing taller. Who knew at age 38 that my body would shift so completely just by refining my practice to pay attention to the subtle aspects and internal workings of the poses. This could not happen if I was flinging myself through my practice. It took longer holds and a lot of attention to discover the deeper aspects of the physical practice.
The beauty of yoga is this: we are never there! There is always more to learn, more to discover, ways to move from external to internal, more ways to fine tune. Take the simple poses you know. Do them every day. Notice how they change and notice how you change day to day. To me yoga isn’t about learning as many poses as you can, but really discovering who you are in the process of getting to know a few poses intimately (body, mind and heart).