If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I refer to the Breath quite often. I consider it the foundation of any yoga practice. If you choose to meditate, go to a Bikram class, study Kundalini, or try other forms of yoga, you're going to focus on the breath.
That is certainly true in the Ashtanga Primary Series. As mentioned in the previous blog, there are four main elements in the historic Ashtanga practice: Ujjayi Breath, the Bandhas, Vinyasa, and Drishti. Here We will focus on the breath. Ujjayi is a special form of breathing that brings energy, power, and movement while practicing yoga. The idea is to create a flow and a rhythm in the body that is almost meditative that keeps you focused and in the present moment while you move through the Ashtanga Vinyasa postures. Here is another description of how you can engage the Ujjayi Breath.
Sit comfortably on your yoga mat. (Actually, you can practice this way of breathing ANYWHERE! Try practicing while sitting upright at the dinner table, at your office desk, or even at a stop light in your car.) If you're new to the breath, try this. Open your mouth slightly and take a deep breath in through the mouth. You may experience a coolness hit the back of your throat. Now exhale through your mouth as if you're fogging a mirror. Notice that you are using the muscles of your throat to give energy to the breath. Now, continue breathing this way, but close your mouth. Air will continue to move in and out of your nose, but the action and energy of the breath will come form the muscles in the back of your mouth. The sound of the breath has been described in many ways: wind in the trees, the waves of an ocean, and even resembling the breathing of Darth Vader!
One wants to create this Ujjayi Sound. The sound is like a mantra that the mind can settle into without being distracted by other thoughts. If you lose the connection with the breath, you may lose the connection to Self. Learn to listen to the breath. It keeps you in the moment. The breath is an important element in the Ashtanga Yoga practice because the practice itself is so physical in nature. One can easily think that practicing yoga is JUST a physical exercise. Yoga is more than that. The Ashtanga method teaches us to be mindful of ourselves and to stay focused so that it becomes more than just a physical practice. Yoga's intention is to be a holistic experience. Yoga means union; a union of the body, mind, and spirit.
So if you practice Ashtanga Yoga or Kundalini Yoga, you're going to rely on the breath as a foundational resource. Realize, too, that the breathing is something you do ALL the time (obviously.) We tend to forget, though, that we're breathing. We become distracted by the outside world. Taking a moment in stillness, or even in movement, you can focus on your breathing as a way to come back to Self. Try it right now. It only takes a few seconds. See? Now you've done yoga.