Yoga Shrink Blog

Freight Train or Bullet Train?

The Breath of Yoga by Ellis Elliott, RYT-500

Sometimes my breathing in yoga class is like an aging freight train, with snorts, gurgles, a low whistle, and an occasional disturbing gutteral noise. Other times, though, it is the conductor of a sleek bullet-train.  It is the graceful driver in the Engine car, leading all the cars behind it forward, in line, and together.

In Baptiste Yoga, breath is not only one of the five pillars of the method (others being heat, flow, gaze, and abdominal lock), it is also singled out as the most important element of our practice. We are taught to use Ujjayi breath, which is breathing in and out the nose, using the whisper muscles in the back of your throat to create a “Darth Vader”-like audible sound.

This is no easy task, to command the oxygen of your entire body through the rather small holes called nostrils. As an aside, it is a good idea to blow your nose before class. This is not written in a rule book, but once you get this strong breath flowing, it is best to have the passageway free and clear. I know where the tissues are in case you need any.

This breath, when done correctly and with nose properly blown, is indeed powerful. Besides the functionality of moving the oxygen, filtered, more efficiently into the lungs, it also requires you to pay attention to your breath, so you can coordinate the breath with the movement, and also not pass out.

So, in all this nose-blowing and effort, where is the graceful conductor? When does the freight train become the bullet train? The train cars are our arms and legs, our twist, our bend, our balance. Include with that the cues of our teacher to our brain, “inhale, exhale”, “anchor into the mat”, “lift your sternum”. When the body connects to the mind and responds using the breath, this is the “full steam ahead” feeling.   When I “exhale on the twist” and keep the rhythm of my breath with my movements, I am truly powerful. I am present. My breath is conducting my practice.  This is transformation and the train moves as one.

Once my breath establishes itself in the front as conductor, all I do is follow. Suddenly, the repeated phrase of “strength and ease” in our class makes sense. My breath is what allows both into the practice. It allows me to push to my edge and go deeper into a pose. If I follow my breath I become more of a witness to the efforts of my body. I can truly “keep calm and carry on”.

The breath is a practice, just like everything else. And repetition, while being open to change, is what makes me stronger and better. I will continue to work on my breath, and not fail to be surprised by what comes. And I’ll have my tissue ready.


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