Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Breathe Bertha. Breathe.


Sometimes when I am teaching, I'll look out and see a student's face bright red, grimacing, trying to get into or hold a posture. They look like one of those big Olympic weight lifters (minus the little suspenders and shorty shorts) trying to hoist a 400-pound barbell. When I see a student turning purple like this I tell the whole class, "An important aspect of yoga is that you are breathing. Normal breathing. If you are holding your breath to get into a posture, you've stopped practicing yoga." That weight lifter might get the barbell up, but he drops it just as quickly. In yoga, we are trying to hold the postures, hold our balance.

In Seattle right now, our city is undergoing a major construction project, much like the Big Dig that happened in Boston several years ago. Big Bertha is the world's largest tunneling machine and it is boring right through Seattle's underside (follow her progress here). Big Bertha has a big charge. She's slated to drill two miles through Seattle's downtown area, a project that will hopefully increase the beauty and efficiency of our fair city.

Back to breathing. Often when a student, especially a student new to yoga, is trying to do a very challenging balancing pose, he or she will hold their breath, perhaps thinking that this will make them more steady, give them more strength. When I see students grinding through a posture, even a whole practice holding their breath, it reminds me of Big Bertha getting stuck, pushing and pushing to no avail. I recently read that the obstruction for Big Bertha was an 8-inch diameter steel pipe. Imagine it. Bertha is 57.5 feet high, as tall as a five-story building and she is stuck on a little pipe.

Some yoga postures are easy for our particular body. We each have different strengths, flexibilities, and comfort levels in different poses. The thread through all of the postures, no matter what your personal strength or personal proclivity, is to breathe. When you hold your breath, you create a blockage so your body cannot open, cannot stretch, cannot balance. Try it in some of your more challenging postures. If you are one of those people who bears down, grinds your teethe, holds your breath and gives one good kick or pull to get yourself into a pose (I see this all the time in standing-head-to-knee pose), slow down, stop, take a breath, feel where the obstruction might be, and try again.

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