Keeping the breath longer than the movement within an Āsana

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I recently wrote a post on:

The Breath having its own developmental process within an Āsana.

Within this post I mapped out some of the preliminary steps in the Vinyāsa Krama of the breath that accompanies the performance of the form. Within this map for those beginning their journey into the mysteries of the breath within the mastery of the form, I offered four steps.

Here I want to review these four steps and especially focus on the last of the four, this time in relation to Nirālamba Bhujaṅgāsana or unsupported Cobra posture:

  1. Establishing a theoretical link with the inhale to the opening and exhale to the closing movements of the spine within supine prone postures.
  2. Working on establishing a basic experiential link of the breath to the Vinyāsa Krama of Bhujaṅgāsana, in that as we sweep the arms forward and raise the trunk we inhale and as we sweep the arms back and lower the trunk back down to the floor we exhale.
  3. Refining this basic link by learning to exactly match the steps in the opening and raising and closing and lowering movements of the form to the movements of the inhale and exhale. So there is a seamless co-ordination of breath and movement.
  4. The next step in the progression is to develop the ability to be able to commence the breath a second or two before we start to move and extend the breath a second or two beyond the end of that particular phase of the Vinyāsa Krama of, in this case, Bhujaṅgāsana. In other words each step in the flow of the form is encapsulated within the breath.

In this post I want to focus on step four of this process when working within a physically demanding dynamic form of an Āsana such as Bhujaṅgāsana and yet managing to keep the breath longer than the movement.

What are the some of the pitfalls to watch out for in this process generally and especially those which will be highlighted in this particular Āsana example?

Here its about sustaining the ability to actually keep the breath longer then the movement, especially at the end of the inhale, where their will be a tendency to:

  • Snatch at the last part of the inhale
  • Use an involuntary hold as a substitute for the inability to sustain the inhale to the end of, let alone beyond the movement.
  • End up just matching the inhale to the movement, rather than actually making it longer than the movement
  • Having an uneven speed in the movements especially with regard to actually increasing the speed of the sweeping of the arms towards the end of the inhale where the demand is greatest
  • Having an uneven speed in the movements especially with regard to actually increasing the speed of the sweeping of the arms also at the beginning of the exhale where the demand is just as intense
  • Find the quality of the Ujjāyī breath varies especially, in this example, at the end of the inhale and the beginning of the exhale in terms of the volume, in both sound and eveness of flow

Thus what we are working at as an outcome of transcending these tendencies is a situation where we have a smooth and consistent link between breath and movement in that the breath:

  • Extends a second or two beyond both the upward and downward movements of the form
  • Has a smooth flow in terms of sound and volume, especially at the changeover points between the inhale and exhale, often a key observation point for the force over effort transition
  • Facilitates an experience of stillness of around 2-4 seconds at the end of each phase of the movement into and out of the form, as we extend the inhale beyond the movement and begin the exhale before the return movement and vice versa

All these suggestions offer a direction for working with the Āsana in a way which offers much more than merely the grunt or hold of the breath, or the snatch and lift of the body processes that are often associated with these type of physically demanding poses.

Instead we can explore the possibilities of how the mystery of the breath is accessed even within the demands of mastery of such demanding forms as the dynamic approach to Nirālamba Bhujaṅgāsana or unsupported Cobra posture.

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