before i start with this and the next two posts trying to report from david swenson’s workshops, i would like to stress that i am writing it all down with utmost respect and i hope i did not misunderstand him at any point and, even worse, i hope that i will not misquote him.
also, i am writing this down as a reminder for myself so i can always use it as a reference – so please excuse any writing in the form of instructions 😉 i do hope they might help someone.
again, triyoga’s summary: “In Sanskrit, Man means Mind and Tra means to Free or Deliver. Therefore the word Mantra means to Free the Mind. There are many mantras in yoga such as Om, Hare Krishna, Om Namo Shivaya and a plethora of others. In Ashtanga Yoga the mantra is the sound of our breath: Ujjayi. There is no other sound more universal than breath. It is not tied to language or culture and is “chanted” from the first moment of birth. This class will focus on the mantra of ujjayi within asana practice as well as during pranayama. In addition to breath work the class will also explore the invisible world of Bandhas. We well attempt to gain greater understanding of these subtle yet powerful tools through interactive discussion as well as a series of practical exercises.”
i woke up this morning at 6am – hurtful that is for a sunday morning. i am not a morning person and the attempt to have my practice in the morning few months ago failed badly after a week or so ;-(
7am in london at this time of year is still quite dark. this morning it was very foggy too. mystical… i got to the underground to discover it was not open as yet. ah,annoying! once the first train did arrive it was packed as if it was workday rush-hour. crazy!
first class today was about breath and bandhas. below are the notes from david’s teaching.
pranayama in ashtanga is usually not taught at the beginning of the practice but it is introduced after second series. the reason behind this is that yogis believe it can be overwhelming for nervous system. however, we are introduced with a type of pranayama at the very beginning of ashtanga in the form of a ujjayi breathing.
breath is the most essential thing in our life. we ride into our lives with an inhale and we leave with an exhale – a thought very profound. we are always just an exhale away from death though we rarely think about it. yogis have a saying that the mind is more difficult to control the wind. this is why they did a lot of research trying to find out if they can control the mind by controlling the breath. this is where the pranayama comes in.
a very important part to consider when talking about pranayama are bandhas: mula, uddiyana and jalandhara. they are usually referred to as locks but we should maybe think of them as energy valves – letting energy flow only one way.
mula bandha or root bandha gets its name from its position – it is at the bottom of our nervous system tree – our spine. its exact location has been much talked and discussed about and any self-respecting ashtangii has been totally confused with this at the beginning of their practice (and maybe they still are 😉 ) – in front of anus and behind the perineum.
uddiyana means flying up and it is more easily located – 3 fingers width under one’s navel.
third bandha, jalandhara, is not held during the asana but it is very important in pranayama part of practice.
to describe further the mula bandha action, try and picture the space between following points 2 sit bones, tail bone and the pubic bone drawn together. between these points is an energy space – tornado, whirpool. we draw this whirpool of energy up through the rest of the body during our practice.
david told a story of when he first met guruji back in 1975 on his first visit to USA. his brother invited him for the pranayama circle with guruji. they were doing bhastrika – a pranayama excersize that involves a practitioner to do a series of the fast breaths and then hold it for a period of time. david apparently went into a head shaking state while holding its breath (obviously not being ready for the above excersize). guruji looked at him, murmured dissaprovingly and stuck two thumbs into his belly. this made the shaking stop instantly.
guruji apparently never said ‘hold the belly’ he would always use ‘lift your core’ as as it is not an action of external muscles but lifting up from inside, from the central core.
- working in pairs: a breather and ‘thumber’. a breather doing full circle deep breathing while the thumber has his/ hers thumbs pressed into the belly of the breather (uddiyana spot). after a few cycles, the thumber very slowly removes his/ hers thumbs and moves to sit on the side of the breather. he/ she then places one hand on the belly and one on the lower back and presses in.
- working in pairs: breather has his/ hers collar bones pressed and pushed up with one hand of the partner and with the other hand pressing and pushing up on the upper back.
both above excersizes are meant to describe breathing as a three dimensional action and your upper chest expands not only forward and down but up and through your back.
breathing should be thought of as a circular rather than a linear movement. transition between inhale and exhale is blurry. two lower bandhas are being activated while breathing, where the top bandha is being activated only when holding breath.
excercize – all the above :
- 5 x circles of deep breathing
- 3 x hold the breath after inhale
- 3 x hold the breath after exhale
- 3 x hold the breath after both inhale and exhale
- 3 x cooling breath (with curled tongue)
- 5 x circles of deep breathing
breath is very powerful. it connects us with every single person on the planet and also people who are not here any more, people who were here before us; it connects us to the past and future. every exhale is a possibility of release and inhale is a possibility of new beginning. through breath we are connected to the cycle of life. that is a thought you could meditate on at any point.