Breathing and Yoga


Ujjayi…ummm. A slight incline of the head, chin to hyoid bone, vibrate the vocal cords just enough to make a wheeze. Breathe long and deep. Relaaax.

Originally posted on The Magic of Love and Peace:

My friend Issy Clarke wrote a really great piece on a workshop she recently attended. It resonated for me with some of the reasons why I do yoga, so I asked her if she would be happy to be guest blogger so I could share it here. She kindly agreed.

“Last week I went to a workshop at Indaba with Jambo Truong, a Forrest Yoga teacher. It was more than just a great Forrest workshop, though – Jambo explained how yoga and deep breathing can turn a stressful life into a good life.

Research done at Newcastle University, in which he’s been involved, has shown that 20 minutes of ujjayi breathing a day for six weeks has the same beneficial effect in dealing with stress as developing a wide social support network.

Through deep breathing, the body-mind learns how to provide its own support.

Ujjayi, of course, is integral to…

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Don’t worry, be happy.

Yoga teaches me that, sometimes, it really is that simple.

I don’t always believe yoga when it tells me this, but experience tells me it is usually right.

Don’t worry, be happy.

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Yoga teaches to listen to my body

Yoga teaches me that the body has needs, wants and desires.  These are communicated to the mind through pain, pleasure and longing.

Yoga teaches me that male and female – and everything in between – practitioners can come to respect the needs and signals of their bodies, overcoming the dominance of the mind.

Yoga teaches me that until we come to yog, we are necessarily involved in a submissive or dominant mind-body relationship.  When the mind commands the body to move-make-do-act constantly, incessantly, the body is obliged to do so, until it collapses in a foetal heap in need of sleep.  Sometimes, the abuse is so severe that the body rebels completely and starts to run the show.  But, the body does so through a passive-aggressive kind of submission.  “Oh, how I ache, it cries, I cannot wake I cannot sleep.  Help me!”

Does the mind listen?  Maybe, maybe not.  I suspect that quantities of pain killers are usually consumed before any listening begins.

Yoga teaches me that the dominant mind will first chastise the body, bending it to its will.  The body will oblige, but again, only for so long.

Yoga teaches me that true yoga begins to happen when the mind and body listen to one another, establish a mutually co-operative, symbiotic relationship.  Like a settled old couple, the mind asks for booze, the liver says perhaps not, the mind concurs, then perhaps has a small nip before bed, and the body happily settles into a comfortable sleep.  Or the body asks for magnesium, the mind is listening attentively and selects appropriate foods, the body is satisfied and the cravings cease.

Yoga teaches me that this is possible.  Yoga relies on an ancient body of knowledge in which a reproducible formula for self-realisation is laid out.  I have trod this path for 16 years.  I have lived these changes. I would not bother to blog about things I did not experience myself.

Yoga teaches me that we can heal the mind-body relationship.  Abhyasa-vairagya, discipline and detachment.  Yoga teaches me to keep at it.

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Bonds, not things.

Yoga teaches me that the process of purification – tapas – is necessary and useful.  Yoga teaches me that the time for tapas arrives just when it should. Yoga teaches me to recognise the disordered perceptions handed down by our families and to modify them as needed.  My parents were both hoarders.  Not hard to justify if you grew up in Depression-era Toronto or WW2-time Leeds, as they did.  In the age of plenty, collections of yogurt pots and old socks are unnecessary. Yoga teaches me to discern between detachment and spurning.  I have spent the past year emptying my closets of clothes, books, cables, tat and trash.  The end result is a spectacular spaciousness where once there was clutter.  The elation at seeing emptiness outstrips the flea market triumph of the find that brought most of this stuff into my life.   Yoga teaches me that I could have ejected these things from my life much earlier, but the process would have been aggressive and unconscious.  I could have become angry at the clutter – this has happened – and rid myself of things that are useful or treasured.  Instead, I found myself one day in a place where I truly appreciated the things, gave them thanks, even embraced them, then happily let them leave my life.  It is a nice, comfortable process. Yoga teaches me that the space we empty of things can fill with other things, but they are not likely to be material.  We moved to a larger house in order to have more space for, well, everything.  Hobbies, art material, instruments, cooking implements.  But the only space that love needs is a corner in the heart.  The heart is infinitely big, its capacity untested in most cases. I don’t need a bigger house to house more things.  I need a bigger heart to hold more people, to make the bonds that tie stronger and stretchier.  But, caution, with detachment.  I hold you in my heart, but I never aim to own you. Yoga teaches me to lighten my home and open my heart.  Yoga teaches me, patiently and carefully, that our wholeness is something felt from deep within.

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We need love, not splits

Yoga teaches me that what this world needs is more love, not more flexible bodies.

Yoga teaches me that postures linked to breath are part of a path, but the path leads to compassion and comprehension, not contortion or competition.

Yoga teaches me that when we undo the knots and become soft, we can learn to love without asking to be loved in kind. Yoga teaches me that we don’t lose anything by doing this – it is a safe practice, once we truly arrive at the place where this is possible, rather than forcing the practice by spiritual bypass.

Yoga teaches me to know myself deeply, profoundly, intimately.  Yoga teaches me to let go of the shame I feel about showing who I really am.  Yoga teaches me that when I do so, the anger also evaporates because it no longer serves.  It was just the tool I used to protect myself from the shame of showing my true self.  On guard!

Yoga teaches me that there are many people who are on the path who may be bendy but are still angry and/or ashamed.  Yoga teaches me that this is okay, that I may be one of these people and not know it, but if I am lucky enough not to be, then I can shine that good fortune out and be patient and encouraging, not critical.

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Yoga teaches me that arm balances improve shoulder alignment

Thoracic outlet syndrome.  TMJ.  Frozen shoulder.  Tingling fingers.  All these conditions, and many more, have to do with the shoulder joint.  Yoga teaches me that using arm balances helps bring the shoulder joint into alignment. There is a group of muscles known as the rotator cuff.  Put simply, these muscles stabilise the shoulder.  They are usually pretty weak.  Modern life doesn’t encourage us to develop them.  Most people can’t even detect the rotator cuff muscles, when prompted. Arm balances can be symmetric or asymmetric postures.  Symmetric postures, like plank or downward dog, or handstand are more easily maintained because it’s easier to balance.  Beware bad habits, like rotating the shoulders upwards and inwards, hyperextending the shoulder and/or elbow joints.  The feeling I seek is like rolling the arms down and inwards from beneath the armpits.  If you aren’t feeling that, you are not engaging the rotator cuff.  Yoga teaches me to ignore the rotator cuff at my peril.  I will only get neck ache and head ache. Asymmetric arm balances are harder, but as with all asymmetric postures, they teach me about imbalances between the two hemispheres of my body.  Yoga teaches me to ask why I balance better on my right arm than my left?  Why do I rotate more on the left than the right?  Why does one shoulder click and the other lock or hurt.  I watch my imbalances, keep practising, and over time they correct.  Or they are less pronounced. Yoga teaches me to love my body anyway, just cuz. My osteopath adjusts my diaphragm, pericardium and hyoid and reminds me that seeking help is good.  When the yoga gets deep, things shift around.  Professionals are there to help keep us aligned and to reflect back at us what we are projecting.  I tend to overwork spinal extensions.  My osteopath reminds me that this tends to put my T10-T12 out of alignment.  So, I hold back.  Yoga teaches me to listen to the opinions of others, to let go of my egotistical all-knowing and to surrender. Yoga suggests to me that when I finally align my shoulders, my heart will feel freer.  All I want to do in this world is learn to love.  My armour comes off piece by piece.  Yoga teaches me not to fear my nakedness.

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Yoga teaches me.

I don’t teach yoga.  Yoga teaches me.

For the past few months, I have maintained mostly silence.  All the amazing and transformative experiences brought to me by constant practice, I have kept to myself.   I lost the impulse to share, to blog or post about my feelings or openings or closings or understandings.  It…just went.

I stopped caring about capturing yoga students.  I stopped caring about adding a fresh voice to the yoga blogosphere.  I stopped trying to be clever, new or insightful.  I guess that I went inside.  It felt good.  It feels good.  My inner voice is loudly private.  What bearing has my experience of yoga on yours?  Very little.

For this reason, out of the silence came this phrase:  I don’t teach yoga.  Yoga teaches me.

Say it to yourself.  Repeat it a few times.  Change the intonation.  You will see what I mean.

Yoga teaches me to be patient.

Yoga teaches me to listen.

Yoga teaches me the value of constancy and dedication.

Yoga teaches me that pain is a signal to stop.

Yoga teaches me to listen to my intuition, to stop when it says stop and to pay little heed to what others are doing.

Yoga teaches me that when people are ready, they will arrive.

Yoga teaches me that some people are never going to be ready for yoga, in this lifetime, or perhaps in the bit of a lifetime that you may know them.

Yoga teaches me to love those who don’t practice with equal intensity and without judgement.

Yoga teaches me that people’s bad behaviour is a sign of their inner suffering and they need compassion, not criticism.  But you don’t need to be their best friend, either.

Yoga teaches me that being alone and maintaining silence is often the only remedy.

Yoga teaches me to delay gratification.

Yoga teaches me to communicate clearly and non-violently, verbally and non-verbally.

Yoga teaches me to look within, assess clinically what I find, undo the knots and find out that I too have a lovely, gentle, kind, open, accepting soul.

Yoga teaches me that what I thought to be “me”, what I mistook for “who I am”, those things people call character, is all an illusion, an armour that I made while trying to protect myself.

Yoga teaches me to remember this armour for when I need it, but to shed it most of the time.

Yoga teaches me to relax.

Yoga teaches me to be, and in being, to do good, while remaining detached from the fruits of the actions.

I don’t teach yoga.  Yoga teaches me.

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