A letter from Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois to Yoga Journal, Nov. 1995
“It is unfortunate that students who have not yet matured in their own practice have changed the method and have cut out teh [sic] essence of an ancient lineage to accommodate their own limitations.”
“Spiritual Madness and Compassionate Presence” — healing of mental suffering through the philosophy and practice of Yoga
“One of my patients had severe post-traumatic stress disorder. His experience of isolation and helplessness sent shockwaves through his day-to-day life. He had flashbacks and significant difficulty relating to others.
We began his treatment with daily pranayama. We added meditation on both the destructive and creative aspects of the mother goddess Kali. Finally, he began to meditate on his own eternal nature: “I am that I am” (Hum So). Slowly but surely, this healed his illness…”
I worked with a private student today and after 10 years of teaching I am still amazed at how transformative the breath is. She is a relative newbie to yoga and in her classes at various venues from health clubs to studios, teachers have told her to “focus on the breath” but apparently no one has ever TAUGHT her how.
I could see how tight her belly and shoulders were. We did conscious breathwork just like Mark Whitwell or Ramaswami or my teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram teach. A light bulb went off over her head. Her entire body visibly relaxed and she left my house looking lighter and brighter. In a word, transformed.
She’s returning for more instruction on the breath and wants to work with me in the vinyasa krama method:
“By integrating the functions of mind, body, and breath…a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. . .Vinyasa krama yoga strictly follows the most complete definition of classical yoga.” – Srivatsa Ramaswami, The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga
Breath + yoga = healing.
8 thoughts on “yoga miscellaneous: healing”
Right now in my classes, I focus on belly breathing because one of my students was like… um, how do you do that?!
Something that I take for granted as being natural and easy, isn't easy for some people. And I see it when I encourage them to place their hands on their abdomen and expand their bellies “like a balloon”. Some people are still working on that basic concept.
Here's to another small victory – one more person gets it after her private class with you. Hooray!
over the years I've moved away from teaching belly breathing to newbies because I was finding that actually created more tension for students — they were so concerned with getting it “right.” and indeed that was the conundrum with this student.
she was SO concentrated on breathing into her belly that somehow she was constricting and drawing IN her belly on the inhale, having it come out on the exhale. she's been going to classes since late last year and she's been breathing that way in her classes since then. she told me she couldn't understand why yoga breathing was supposed to be so relaxing when all it did was make her more tense!
I showed her how to breathe using a technique I use in vipassana and after a while she naturally did belly breathing, it wasn't forced. she was absolutely amazed!
and she's coming back for more! 🙂
I rarely teach belly breathing anymore b/c it is anatomically incorrect language (after all no breath leaves the thoracic cavity or below the diaphragm) and I find students do exactly what you said Linda: create extra tension to make it work. It can be a real struggle to make your body do something it does not naturally ever do.
Instead I have them take breaths really noticing what is happening in their body (rib cage movement etc.) and that the abdominal cavity SPACE changes with the chest cavity SPACE (rather than breath changes). Everything is connected and finding the spaces you didn't know you had, or didn't know moved with the others can be immensely powerful. In addition it causes you to step out of the monkey mind and into a simple and easy awareness of your body.
Great post and so happy you have returned to the wild and wolly world of blogging! you were missed!
exactly, FY. basically, this student's breathing was really jacked up by the instructions she received on “belly breathing”! as my own teaching morphed over the years, that instruction just did not feel “right” to me anymore.
like you, I merely ask them to “notice” or “feel” and I find that instruction takes them out of their head and into the body. with this woman yesterday, suddenly her yoga breathing felt natural to her! because she was naturally breathing into her belly w/o forcing it. she was amazed and it literally looked like a huge weight dropped off her shoulders.
Interesting conversation, you guys!
I will ask my students about this. Most of them seem to get it after a little while, but I take your points.
I also ask people to notice/feel what's going on in their body at regular intervals throughout my classes. I tell them the point of noticing is not so much what they notice, as it is to develop the ability to notice and feel…
I have found there is a subtle difference with some people with the words “notice” and “feel.” this realization came after my TS yoga training.
with some, “notice” is head-based. “Feel” is body-based. then again, some can not feel anything because of their past experiences.
that's why the language in yoga, as yoga itself, is not one size fits all.
And that is why I say both words, and use examples – scan your body for sensation, you might notice feelings, thoughts, tension, relaxation or other things. Payign attention, noticing what's going on in your body and mind, what you feel… this is what is important.
And I agree, languaging is important. Still figuring it out for myself as I go. 🙂
Great thread! I, too, have gotten away from teaching belly breathing. When I began to talk about uddiyana bandha, students protested that this went against everything I had said about belly breathing. From reading these posts, I imagine that the students were forcing the belly breathing (as L-S and FY point out), and that’s why the concept of uddiyana bandha was lost.
I’m trying to find language that shows just how individual and subtle the breath is. This is hard to do without being incredibly vague. Thanks for the distinction between “notice” and “feel,” Linda. I think that will help!