Rule n°1: breathe
But why is it so important in our yoga practice? We all do it from our first in breath on the day we are born to the last out breath when we leave our physical body so we all know how to do it, and we are all doing it! How does the breath works really and why is it so important to our yoga practice?
Asana serves the purpose of breath, in other words the practice of posture helps to become more aware of the breath, improves our breathing ability and prepare the body to be receptive of the breath. If the body is more receptive to the breath then the cells will fix greater supply of oxygen which in return keeps the body healthy. Learn more about it here. The part of the nervous system responsible for relaxation is activated, as a result the mind is calm.
Yoga is an introspection in order for us to become aware of our true self hidden deep inside. The awareness of the breath that flows in and out of our body continuously allows us to refine our sensitivity to the subtle body and therefore connect with it. The subtle body cannot be seen but is there, it lies in the unconscious. Impressions, feelings and emotions can not be seen and put under a microscope but they are there. Working on the sensation of the breath let us get in touch deep within and awaken what is hidden inside. We have all experienced that when we are stressed or scared, the heart starts pumping and our breath become fast. By controlling our breath we have the power to change our internal emotional landscape, thus changing the way we react to sensations which consequently shape our lives.
The subtle body is directly linked to the physical body. By initiating the movement from the breath the anatomical alignment occurs naturally, postures become easy as we focus on the present, the experience of body and breath rather than the final goal of the posture. Also by centering on the breath you work from the inside out which is safer and therefore more efficient. It anchors you down and stabilise the body. By using the breath efficiently, the body will naturally come to appropriate alignment.
However there are different type of breathing that will be used in different ways for different people to achieve different effects. Breath can heating or cooling, energising or calming. Breathing through the chest helps for backbending. Bringing attention to the lower belly helps with forward bending. When you start asana practice, use a nice steady breath throughout postures, coordinating the movement of the body with the movement of the breath. As you breath in lengthen, open and prepare the body to the next asana, as you breath out move into the posture.
Breathing also creates good space in the body, lengthening and opening in some parts. As Desikachar says 'yoga is 90% waste removal'. As you remove waste on the out breath, you empty the body with unnecessary elements and create space. At the same time it gives you the opportunity to be compact in some areas for strength and stability. Find the right balance between strength and flexibility, effort and ease, stability and softness up and down, front and back, left and right. Keep in mind that strength is flexibility and flexibility is strength. One does not go without the other. At the end it's about bringing opposites in balance.
To understand a posture, experience it, take the time to feel every parts of the body but also the space between the joints, the emptiness within and get closer connection with yourself.
Thanks for reading, enjoy your practice!