Thursday, March 3, 2011

Notes from Yoga Teacher Training

I haven't written much about my experiences in the yoga teacher training. It's not always easy to put words to something you are in the middle of.

The past few days have been interesting. In a class on kriyas Tuesday evening, I had an incident when we were practicing bellows breathing. Basically, I couldn't do it. In fact, I was breathing really shallowly, and in a reversed fashion. The teacher was quite good that night. He saw what was happening, came over, and tried assisting me. I still couldn't shift the pattern.

Throughout the past month of training, I have noticed many evenings where I have shown up with shallow, challenged breathing. Some of it I link to the rush hour bus rides, which I wrote about recently. However, as feelings of embarrassment rose and fell during class Tuesday night, and then an awareness of some resistance to manipulating the breath (from all these years doing Zen meditation practices), I realized that this shallow, sometimes reversed breathing has been a common feature in my life for years.

Hardening the belly when stressed or upset is something many of us do, often unconsciously. And with this comes all sorts of warping to our natural breathing processes. I have seen all of this during meditation periods. And it especially started to become clearer when we studied the Ananpanasati Sutra last year. However, one of the reasons why I have always been a "dual practitioner" attracted to both yoga and Zen is that the obvious physicality of Yoga practices have helped inform my awareness in ways zazen rarely does.

So, I've been watching my breathing much closer the past few days, informed by that experience in the kriya class, and also the continued studies of anatomy. One of the things that Kevin, the teacher Tuesday night, told me (after class) was that in the Feldenkrais Method, one way they work with warped breathing patterns is to get people to do exactly what they are already doing. Repeating what you are doing with awareness, and perhaps exaggeration, allows you to see what's going on, and start to let go and shift it.

Funny thing is that later that night, as I was heading home on the bus, I noticed myself deliberately breathing deeply in a reversed fashion. In my mind, I thought I was "doing it right," but then, after a few minutes of this, I realized it was reversed. I have continued to experiment with all this ever since, noticing this morning, for example, how quickly my breathing became warped while biking. Makes me wonder if that is how I usually breathe while biking.

In Zen, we're always talking about paying attention to breathing while meditating. However, I think it's more challenging to really see what's going on with the breath during activity. You say you're paying attention to the breath while typing, or cleaning, or driving, but it's often a shallow attention, or only a close attention for a minute or two. And of course, there's also an underlying imperative in meditation traditions to witness what's happening, but not deliberately mess with it. Or the interventions are linguistic in form - such as riding a mantra or teaching phrase. I'm quite fond of such practices, but it's interesting to consider that interventions that go against the grain, like deliberately shifting or exaggerating the breath. Having been in Buddhist circles long enough, I know there are some of these practices around, but they are much more central a feature of yogic schools from what I've seen and experienced.

The breath is so rich. Who knew, right? Actually, I did already, but all of this just reaffirms that.

There's my dispatch from YTT land.


SAFA said...

Howdy! Great blog! Just curious what exactly you mean when you say your breathing is "reversed?"

Anonymous said...

Ive been trying to breath from deep in the belly instead of just up in the lungs/chest. Now that is hard too.

Nathan said...


Reverse breathing happens when the diaphragm is pulled into the chest upon inhalation. Usually, when you breath in, your chest expands, but if you're breathing reverse, it contracts when you breath in.

It's kind of odd. And for some reason, I never completely noticed that I was doing this sometimes.