One of Sleuth's first teachers used to say that yoga without the breath is just exercise. "Just" exercise brings a lot of us to yoga—including yours truly—so for years this instruction went in one ear and out the other. Now, after several years of Vinyasa and Ashtanga style yoga, Sleuth can fill in her own breath calls when her teacher doesn't and knows her Ujjayi from her Kapalabati.
So when J. Brown told her that his 6PM Sunday open class at Abhyasa would focus on the breath, she rushed to unroll her mat in the (beautiful, brand-spanking-new) studio.We began practice by chanting before we moved into Vinyasa-style breath work.While lying on our backs we brought our arms overhead to rest on the floor with our inhales and released them down to our sides with our exhales.We repeated the motion with each leg. This movement, some simple seated and prone twists, and other easy physical movements like them filled the first half hour of class. As we went through these simple Asanas, J. repeatedly told us to "Let the breath be the work." He coached us on strengthening our Ujjayi, often putting his hands on our bodies as a physical cue where the breath should go.
Typically, if I'm not working at my edge and sweating profusely, I'm bored—and I think J. sensed this. He singled me out for special attention (although personal attention is a calling card of this class). J. placed his hands behind my right shoulder blade and instructed me to breathe into the tension there.The chronic pain I've carried in that spot for years retreated and released a bit.J. moved on to the next student as I thought, "How did he know?"
Release, rather than work, is the theme of this class. We did move into sun salutations, a series of standing poses (warrior I, triangle, warrior II, extended side angle, etc.) and seated bends, but we continued to focus on breath—not alignment, not power, and not speed. Breath. It has been a long time since I had a teacher so closely examine my practice (the small class size, about seven students, helped). J. pointed out the hyperextension in my arms and showed me how to address it right away.At his prompting, I committed to practicing downward dog with bent knees for the entire class, and finally felt the deep bend in the hip creases that the pose is supposed to foster.
This style of practice isn't for everyone (diehard cardio-vores, for example), but then, as J. pointed out, maybe full Hanumanasana shouldn't be for everyone, either."You have the forms. Maybe your practice needs something else," he told me at the end of class, before a restful Savasana.It does, and I'll be coming back to Abhyasa to get it.