The Length of a Breath

photoDay who knows, of a winter of home practices, and I have at least discovered this: Even though my very valuable marker for the length of each of my 5 breaths in each asana is David Robson’s 4 in/4 out, My fours are a lot faster than my fellow practitioners both live and online. I think I have mentioned before about getting flustered when someone else starts at exactly the same time I do during Mysore practice, and I inevitably end being one or two poses ahead. My inner critic yells slow down right away, but eventually I am ahead again. That is actually one of my biggest distractions, wondering if my breath is cheating. I have heard teachers (Nancy Gilgoff among others) say that Ashtanga should have a dynamic and energetic tempo, but I still measure my breath not by how my body wants to do it but by the tempo of my teacher’s led count. Don’t get me wrong, if it were not for her count I would be moving through my practice like a sped up cartoon video clip. What I just realized is that my natural breath is somewhere between her count and a labored pant. This means that my primary lasts one hour ten, nice and drenched. It is what it is. Will I slow it down during led? Duh, absolutely. But I will no longer feel like I am cutting corners with the length of my breath

9 thoughts on “The Length of a Breath

  1. The discussion of breathe and time is one I find quite interesting – Allow me to try and explain. Can we agree that we are all unique and different? That my 5 second breathe is going to be different from someone else’s breath … Part two of my little rant thing is that once we start actively thinking about breathing? We take our mind off of something else, being present, honoring our bodies, and spirit. Hence, I’m not very keen on breathing count cues. We’ll figure it out. 🙂

    • Excellent point. In the spirit of figuring it out, I have been so carefully conditioned to escape the present moment the minute a tiny bit of exertion shows up that I do have to question my ability or willingness to tolerate a bit of discomfort that might be shall we say distorted into unbearable by my lets keep everything static greek chorus. I do not know for sure if it is cultural conditioning or not, but some of us grew up thinking of sweating as an emergency to be shut down immediately. I guess I am finally finding what free breathing is during movement.

  2. Agreed, Cultfit!

    In Mysore style class, follow your breath. Take as long – or as short – as feels natural, I say. And that can be different on different days.

    In led, though, there’s a very good reason to follow the teacher’s count – besides the whole “respect the teacher” thing, which I can take or leave, I think of it more as “respect your fellow practitioners.” It’s so helpful and lovely for everyone practicing if everyone’s in sync with the breath together. Makes it flow, quiets the mind; the student let’s go of control (ego); it becomes pranayama for restless people. 🙂

    (I had a student once who admitted to taking 2+ hours for her Primary series when she practiced Mysore style – and apparently she felt that was a fine way to breath during a led Primary, too. I shrugged it off at the time (someone like Nancy will break her of the habit someday), but I will say it was jarring for everyone else in the room to have her doing her vinyasa and asana a full two or three breaths behind the rest of the class.)

  3. I have a faster breath than most…I too can finish a primary in a bit over on hour:-) sweaty and all! My take, is it’s all fine.
    I admit in Mysore style I used to be in awe and even envious at those super long darth vader breathers, but then Sharath spoke about breath at the end of led when he was visiting at Jois. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that your breath should be free and controlled just so your inhale and exhale are pretty equal, obviously just threw the nose. He said everyone is different, but the point was to find stability. I find my breath has become more relaxed as I stopped paying attention to anyone else’s rhythm…my favorite way to think of it now, is sounding like waves on the ocean, ideally on a calm day!
    As for led? The purpose is to get a paced count that you can utilize for Mysore style, not just for breath, but also for the fidgeting of getting into asana. Best effort of each day, combined with the surrender of letting it be without the struggle. In led, you are showing respect for your teacher, and they are paying homage to parampara. Most Leds only run 5 minutes more than your speedy…I’d rather be able to slow it down spreading out 5 extra minutes, than the 2hour practitioner who has to crank it out 45 minutes faster! More time can be helpful in learning, but eventually, ideally, it should fall near led speed.

  4. I used to whip through it but somewhere along the way I changed. I love taking my time and breathing deep and slow. However, I also keep up during led, very important. I find it very disrespectful of not just the teacher but the group to do your own thing. A lot of what is lumped under ‘respect for the teacher’ really is asking for a sensitivity to others.

    Since my practice is shorter now (doing less) I take extra time with backbends and resting. Ah, resting. I think the quality of our rest is a better gauge of our progress than any of the flamboyant poses 🙂

    Hmm. think I’ll go tweet that!

    • Oh man, it all felt flamboyant today! Sore shoulders and a bum wrist from yesterday’s assistance to Ray’s shoveling. I cherish the days when the breath is deep and unhurried. You just made me realize that the speed of the inhale exhale is inconsequential as long as there is no sense of hurry or rush type anxiety. Hurry means Worry!!! I’ll go tweet that! xoxo

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