Yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry. There are as many different styles of yoga as there are teachers it seems. This flourishing of yoga practice has led to better lives, healthier bodies and minds for millions of practitioners.
At RTE, yoga is one of the Primary tools I use to Return to Earth.
My yoga practice has helped me return not only to Earth but to my own body as well. I inhabit my body when I practice yoga. I sense it and feel it and how it is affected in its relationship to the Larger Body of Earth. Yoga teaches me to return to embodied awareness. And at its core it is about breathing: Ujayi breathing which is done slowly with a slight constriction of airflow at the back of the throat.
I started practicing seriously in 2004 when I began a two year residency at Esalen institute on California's craggy central coast. While there I had the opportunity to take some classes from a very special man, Mark Whitwell.
In the 1960's and 70's Mark studied for several years in the Indian Himalaya with Krishnamacharya and his son TKV Desikachar. Krishnamacharya is considered the teacher of the teachers. His teachings go far, far back into the 8,000 year tradition that is yoga and represent the Heart of Yoga - the foundation and true teachings.
This is also the yoga of Mark Whitwell - The Heart of Yoga.
When I first began studying with Mark I was surprised by how relaxing and mellow his practice was. At that time I thought yoga was about bending myself into shapes and forcing myself into difficult poses for hours on end.
Mark's Heart of Yoga is surprisingly slow, gentle and powerful. It is breath focused. He teaches that, "the breath initiates the movement". The breath comes first and the body follows. The focus is on the breath. Not the body.
One day last Winter, I was thinking about this idea and practicing my Ujayi Pranayama breathing while standing chest deep in a pool of water. When I inhaled deeply and slowly my arms would gently float out from my body. My arms moved up as my lungs filled with air and back down as I exhaled. My arms were following my breath. The resistance from the water made my breath and movements easier for me to observe.
Inhale arms up. Exhale arms down.
This feels right. When I inhale I naturally expand: my chest inflates, my ribcage enlarges and my arms naturally begin to move up and out. I continue the movement, bringing my hands up and over my head. When I exhale I naturally shrink down as the air is expelled from my lungs and I get smaller and deflate. A forward bend seems a natural place to be at the end of a deep exhale.
Inhale expand. Exhale fold forward.
A few weeks ago I went on a hike with my Mom to a beautiful meadow in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. We practiced some yoga and I made a short video to show what this kind of yoga looks like. I hope it is instructive for you and that you are inspired to go to a natural setting and try it.