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Breathing the Practice
Posted on: by Alistair

Just over 18 months ago I was in the unenviable position of suffering my first yoga injury.

The problem had come on slowly, almost surreptitiously. I was in Sri Lanka at the time, teaching a two week retreat. The lead up to the trip had been a very busy time for me and I stubbornly practiced without considering the effect this hard-pressed time was having on me, both physically and mentally.

At the end of the first week I began to perceive a twinge in my shoulder, nothing too troubling – but it was there, I could feel it. Within two days the pain had become so great that practice became impossible and by the third night I couldn’t sleep due to the torturous discomfort.

Once I arrived back in London the discomfort in my shoulder had subsided greatly. Despite this I made arrangements to see my osteopath to discover the source of this pain. I was also convinced, rightly so, that despite the lack of pain, something was horribly wrong.

He confirmed my worst fears. Five separate and usually unrelated “tweaks” had engineered a debilitating tendonitis in the shoulder. What he didn’t tell me was that he expected 6 months of intensive rehabilitation before I would be doing anything close to a regular yoga practice.

In the days following I heeded his advice to the letter. He talked about how active meditation and mental imagery had helped him to speed up the healing process. I was very sceptical, but I also deeply missed practice so most anything was an option.

The results from the meditation were astonishing and I felt that it was having a real and moving impact. My shoulder was loosening up and I no longer felt the same level of discomfort that I had been feeling only a few days earlier.

But I still missed practice. I missed the movement, the physical effect of opening up the body, I missed the breath.

I was under strict instructions not to do any form of physical activity but I chose to roll out my mat nonetheless.

And I sat.

And I breathed.

Ekam, inhale. Dwe, exhale. Trini, inhale.

I sat, without moving, and breathed through the practice. I breathed the entire primary series. I breathed the sun salutes, standing, the seated poses, even finishing.

I understood where I was holding tension in my regular practice. I realised where my breath was shallow, where I took two breaths instead of a single long breath, where I held the breath to bind deeper.

I finished, took savasana and felt fantastic.

I did the same the next day and continued for a month. This “practice” became my practice. And although I wasn’t moving, I could feel the bandhas engaging through the practice, holding the energy, allowing the energy to build with the breath. It was truly a powerful experience.

I remember the first time I tied (re-tied?) the breath with the movement. The first time I lifted my arms with the inhale… the practice felt entirely new, as though the movement was secondary and almost lacking in importance. Everything was led with the breath, the movement followed, never instigated.

I feel as though I’ve been given a new perspective, a fresh view on a solid love in my life. I had this feeling before I left for Sri Lanka that I hadn’t been working at my practice, it was just something I “got through” every day and the purpose seemed more vague than usual.

Part of the problem was that I had been focussing on the wrong practice. The injury had forced me to fully appreciate where the practice begins and where it ends. No movement until the breath begins, no movement after the breath is complete.

David Williams says that:

If you’re not getting healthier with the practice, you’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes doing it wrong is more than the physical movement. Sometimes we need to correct the breathing in order to be doing the correct practice.

5 Responses to Breathing the Practice
  1. love this! thanks, alistair. i have had a similar ‘practice’ and know people with back injuries who have used this method as a means of recovery and returning to physical asana practice. amazing and wonderful, and i’m so grateful for the reminder today. with love – jennifer

    jennifer morrison /
  2. [...] just read this post on the blog Jangalikayamane, and I think what Alistair (?) has been doing is immensely [...]

    What would you do? | Me And My Yoga /
  3. Smart.

    (0v0) /
  4. [...] And still on a somewhat similar theme, I personally loved this blog post by Alistair Francis (a practitioner of ashtanga yoga and ayurveda) on ‘breathing the practice’. [...]

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