The mysterious path of the yogi.

The funny thing about yoga is that almost everyone confuses it with exercise. And while it has been said many times before by scholars much abler than I, yoga does incorporate body postures and breathing, it is really not a form of exercise.

yoga tree
yoga, the tree of life


Most yoga teachers know this. If they don’t, with all due respect, perhaps they’re a bit green. Because if you practice with assiduity – and believe me, a yoga teacher who does not practice daily is not a yoga teacher – the other stuff will come. And when the other stuff comes, thus comes the realisation that the postures were only a means to an end. The âsana is the vehicle, the texts are the roadmap, the teacher is the guide, but the destination is wholly unknown.
Yep, no one know where this is taking you. That is the great mystery, and it’s why we practice. We don’t know the lay of the land, we don’t know where this is taking us, and so we get a few surprises (some nice, some not so nice) along the way and sometimes end up not at all where we expected.
Yoga is an intensely personal journey. No one’s experience of yoga will be just like that of another. True, there are road markers along the way and certain steps that are almost universal. but the exact physical, mental and spiritual changes that each yoga practitioner effects are intensly personal.
Why? Because each person arrives at yoga with their own samskara-s, the impressions that make up the character, the ego. So even if Judith and Sarah start the class on the same day, with the same teacher, and never miss a single practice, Judith starts at A but Sarah might well start at K. And perhaps Judith is A on the physical body, but F on the emotional body and a straight up Z on the spiritual front. Meanwhile, Sarah is G, J and L. I mean, who knows? There is no firm measuring stick for any of this, so we don’t even know where we are starting. Maybe we think we’ve gotten quite far with the mental stuff, only to find out that the black dog was lurking just behind us all along.
For this reason, one of my favourite yoga refrains is “Don’t judge a person for where he is on the road. Judge a person for how far he has traveled to get there.”
Get on your mat and practice! Do whatever you can, whenever you can, and open yourself to the mystery of your own life, that will unfold before you. Sweat your prayers, people, and all is coming.
The guru is within you.

On mouth breathing

prismatic flower mandalaWe are born and the first thing we do is inhale. The last thing we do when we leave this mortal coil is exhale. Everything that comes in between is called a life.
Yoga considers the breath to be both an energy in itself, and a carrier of energy, so many practices in yoga are about freeing the breath. All yoga has breath work (pranayâma), but the style of yoga that I teach, Viniyoga, has a very specific way of approaching pranayâma. I could spend a lot of time explaining how we do it, but it really is easiest if you come to class and embody the practice.

I marvel at the deep belly breaths my 10-year old daughter instinctively takes when she has to concentrate hard on some task like, say, drawing a circle or cutting out a pattern. Most adults doing the same thing would hold the breath. Observe your breath next time you want to take a photo…give me a comment below about what you observe, let’s make this fun, eh?

So, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the breath changes. I have observed many people on my massage table who only mouth-breathe, and many are doing so 20+/minute. Ideally, we should breathe 6-12x/minute. Anything more and you’re wasting energy. Anything less and you’re way ahead of me and I don’t have anything to teach you!

Anatomical manifestations of an incorrect breath are many. Alterations in the voice are common. Back pain in all zones of the spinal column is often related to incorrect breathing . Postural problems are common among mouth breathers, as are changes to the face and jawline. Mouth breathers often project their lower jaw forward, and turn down the corners of their mouths (not a good look, sorry).

There are physiological problems, too: the nose filters incoming air, and warms it before delivering it to the lungs. Mouth breathers take no advantage of the nasal turbinates and adenoid tonsil (for immune function), and thus deprive themselves of a very important cleaning process.

Yoga has tools to re-establish healthy breathing. We often think of yoga as postures, and indeed it is. But the trick of yoga is to do those postures while breathing correctly. By practising with a qualified teacher, using a method that pays attention to the breathing (there are yoga lineages that just put you in a pose and say “breathe deeply”), you can take control of this incredible physiological process that accompanies you from cradle to grave and discover for yourself just how wonderful it is to breathe deeply, slowly, and through the nose.
Happy practice. The Guru is within you.