An Ode to Body and Breath

Over the last five months I have been going through yoga teacher training at my beloved studio. It has been a deep, rich experience. My whole life I have prided myself on being an embodied person. My fascination with and appreciation of the body expanded as an athlete, a pre-med student, a mother, and now a yoga teacher in training. Of the several amazing books we read, I was not expecting our anatomy book to be so engaging. Yet like so many disciplines, the more I know the more I sit in awe of how much I do not know. It articulates so well why my growing edges are addressed through yoga practice, and how the more we as yoga teachers focus on the body, the more yoga practice transcends the mat to be about all of life.

Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews articulated the relationship between breath and movement, between muscles and bones, between effort and ease, between will and surrender in delightful and refreshing ways. I found myself underlining sentences as found poetry. As vibrant metaphor. As wisdom nuggets. Below are some of those sentences that I underlined, quoted and listed out of context, yet for me, articulating why I love yoga as an intimate and profound practice of breath and body that continues to teach me daily:

“Prana (breath) has come to mean the action that brings nourishment in.” 

“All successful living beings must balance containment and permeability, rigidity and plasticity, persistence and adaptability, and space and boundaries. This is how life avoids destruction through starvation or toxicity and through implosion or explosion.”

“You create the space, the universe fills it.” 

“The breath is our best, most intimately available teacher of the deepest principles of yoga. The practice of unrestraining the breath can be seen as synonymous with the identification and release of the bodily tensions that obstruct the expression of our system’s intrinsic equilibrium.” 

“Our bones are incredible structures. They are strong enough to resist collapsing under the force we send through them, light enough that we can move them through space, and resilient enough to adapt to stresses that come from all directions in three-dimensional space.”

“The most profound changes occur when the forces obstructing that change are reduced.”

“Balance of both will and surrender is needed in order to honor the true nature of the breath and the spine in yoga practice.” 

“The muscles and bones work intimately together to negotiate our relationship to gravity and space.” 

“A joint is more of an event than a place in the sense that it depends on movement and change for its existence.” 

“Success in an asana (or any movement) should be measured by the quality of balance or intrinsic equilibrium through the whole body, rather than in range of motion in a single joint.” 

“An asana, or yoga pose, is a container for an experience. It is a form we inhabit for a moment. As long as we are in the matrix of space and time, we are never actually still. Asana is more of a process than a final product.” 

“The more strength and adaptability you have in the feet and ankles, the more options you have for finding balance in the standing leg.” 

“The lower body needs to be both articulate and strong to provide enough support for the breath to move freely in the upper body.” 

“Bare feet develop a new relationship with the ground.” 

“All of asana can be viewed as a methodical way of freeing up the spine, limbs, and breathing so that the yogi can spend extended periods of time in a seated position… many of the distractions of dealing with gravity and balance can disappear, freeing the body’s energies for the deeper contemplative work of meditative practices.” 

“The goal of these seated poses is steadiness and ease.”  

“There is nowhere to fall, so the postural muscles can relax from their constant dance with gravity.” 

“Savasana is said to be the easiest asana to perform but the hardest to master….the challenge of maintaining awareness and effort or exertion is perhaps the most revealing exploration of body-mind integration we can engage in.”

“The most difficult breathing exercise of all is the act of being fully aware of- but not controlling-the breath’s movements.” 

“True surrender is an act of will.”