The Breath

Yoga and pranayama for new studentsThe breath distinguishes exercise and yoga. Exercise primarily strengthens the large superficial muscles of the skeleton. Breath is used only when exercise is intense in that air is blown through pursed lips to release tension. Generally, there is little emphasis on stretching and the practitioners tend to become muscle-bound and unable to use the full range of movement in their
joints. Success with exercise depends solely upon effort and willpower.

In Ashtanga yoga a breathing technique called ujjayi trains students to work from the inside out. Students learn to strengthen deep postural core muscles and to massage internal organs with a strong diaphragm muscle. Weak, tight superficial muscles are stretched and strengthened without producing scar tissue. This increases full range of movement in joints and increases abdominal
and back strength, thus relieving low back pain. All body movements into postures are motivated by the breath. Breathing is always through the nose, allowing air to be filtered and moisturized. The glottis is partially closed to regulate, deepen and lengthen the breath. The back and side ribs expand, allowing the abdominal muscles to remain tight. Effort in posture is determined by quality of breathing and developing deep internal muscular locks called bandhas to increase internal strength.

The act of allowing the breath to initiate a posture has many physiological and psychological benefits. Physiologically, yogic breathing calms the autonomic nervous system, thus reducing blood pressure. The limbic brain, which controls deep rooted instinctual responses, is brought under control. Internal organs like the heart, lungs, abdomen and intestines are massaged with
a strong controlled diaphragm. Psychologically, yogic breathing techniques relax the mind, allowing the mind to focus on being present. Over time, the yogi develops a razor-sharp ability to concentrate. Tension and anxiety, that tend to be carried in the chest and neck muscles, inhibit breathing and limit physical ease. By learning how to breathe properly we learn how to release
stress and move with easy relaxed movements, working smarter, not harder.

During the next eight weeks you will slowly learn to coordinate the breath with your postures, called asanas. You will learn where to look with the eyes, namely, to focus on nine different places, called drishti, to increase concentration. Over a period of time you will also incorporate the internal muscular locks, called bandhas These three: breath, drishti and bandhas are the
foundation of Ashtanga.