At the beginning in my very first yoga practice, I was touched after my third or fourth class, when the breath was introduced in an asana practice, which had not been done in the classes before. Even if it was not well executed, that day I was touched, but I had never made the connection that it was actually the breath that had played its role. And I knew then that I wanted to pass on something deeper than what I was doing as a swim coach, but I hadn't yet put my finger on the power of the breath, the deeper focus on the breath. My first 2 years of practice were misdirected, everything was on the technique of alignments, with a very superficial breathing, that is to say making an audible sound at the glottis. And yet at that time I had met several very well known teachers at the international level, but they never put their finger on the breathing or only very superficially. Then I met Mark, Joanne and Shankara Darby who focused on what would become my salvation, the awareness of the breath. I had to start from the beginning, and it took me about 2 more years to get this right with daily practice. After this, my focus on the breath and its use became very stable and deep with a full body awareness. The keys to setting up were simple, but it wasn't easy, and it wasn't just what we are taught in most classes. After his two years there was a real internal transformation, that is to say that my vision changed. When teachers bring that to you, it's because they understand what the practice is and where it needs to go. During these 2 years I came back to the base, and I stopped wanting to evolve in the aesthetic aspect of the alignment and performance of the postures and to want to advance in the advanced series, I put all my attention on only the breathing and the right engagement. I felt that something different was happening than what had been proposed before. I kept going, trusting that I would find what was a mystery to me, I couldn't believe that yoga was just a series of postures and a temporary well being, life is much more complex and rich. This commitment was going to bring me much more, an even greater nothing. The posture, beyond the physical benefits, if it is correctly executed, is only a tool, a form. The practitioners who have this opening develop intelligence, and are no longer in the form, but in the acts. Going back to the basics does not mean that you have to master certain postures before being able to approach the following ones, it is on the psychological aspects that there has to be a change, it is a maturation that takes time. And there is certainly more strength and subtlety to develop in the base. The current teaching of yoga is certainly not enough put on the aspects of the psychological maturation of the practitioner, but too much on the technical and visual aspects of the postures, thinking that everything will be done like that. It depends on what we practice, on the actions we put in place, we can easily go to the opposite. There is a narrow margin of maneuver, but a possible elevating reaction of the individual. These aspects are not emphasized enough, because this is what yoga should allow.
As long as there is the desire to do postures for the sake of postures, it is not yet mature. This is not to say that one should no longer practice the postures and enjoy the practice, but there is an understanding that it will never be an end in itself. At this point, there is no time to waste, you have to go to the essential. There is no more desire for the form, you go where it is necessary, without expectation.
This process goes infinitely further than yoga which is practiced for the comfort of everyday life. It is not an improved stretching. Yoga in the depths of these techniques and a set of psycho physiological tools that should allow you to work on yourself from the inside. The principle is the non-compensation, to stop everything that is not necessary, to stop making the least useless movement, both physical and mental. Stop wasting, but preserve, recycle and transform, develop energy, subtlety, welcome and stop fighting, create space. Just the essential.
If this path is not underway, it is certainly not yet the time to give up our heart and our head. If the practice is directed for a long time only from postures and for postures, the late awakening can be painful, because the return to the base will be imposed, and it is even possible to never notice it.
Breathing has always been accessible, it is not a new thing, but beyond its necessity to life on earth, it is a tool for a better life. Even today, it is not emphasized enough, certainly because of lack of practice and understanding.
Many practitioners who come to our classes have not accepted to question their intention on the quality of their breathing, some have left, too difficult to see things as they are, and are afraid to change, or to leave the conformity. It is the psychological maturation that must be put forward. It is not abnormal to be caught in the form, it is necessary to experiment before understanding, but the teacher must arouse and highlight the possibility of a real change.
Our approach and our teaching has often been misunderstood, but it has also touched some people.
When you walk into a practice room you can hear this particular breathing sound. Some people would call it a sign of quality, but if you look closely, most or all of the breathing is of poor quality, it is an illusion. It is not the strength of the sound, but the quality of conscious placement of the breath in all the cells that makes the difference, because it requires you to pay special attention to the softness. You have to cultivate and nurture that which brings understanding and change.
If the process is well set up, it is a winning game, because it is a constructive process which allows a deep transformation towards the opening of the consciousness. And not towards an illusory expectation, but towards reality, towards freedom. By focusing on postures, we will never be satisfied, it is an endless cycle of the egotic mind, and it is the direction of the ego that takes a wrong direction. By focusing on the awareness of the breath, the commitment of the posture, the sensitivity develops and the mind calms down, the pranic process reaches the depths of the being, we touch the subtlety and it is the eternity of the moment. It is the serenity of the moment that we must cultivate, and not the negative energies, which prevent us from moving forward and harm not only our body, but even more so, our mind.
When I started the yoga practices and coming from cardiovascular sports, including swimming, I thought I was good at breathing. I was not. Often the sportsmen of cardio-vascular sport and even high level sportsmen do not work the breathing, they use it in the effort of their discipline by the force of things and without conscience of this one.
A little further down you will find a study on breathing done with competitive athletes.
I started my yoga practice in Taiwan in 2006. At first, I tried different styles of yoga, but later focused on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, going to class every morning for a regular, Mysore style independent practice.
In the summer of 2008, I enrolled in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga teacher training program at Samahita (in Koh Samui, Thailand) the following summer. After enrolling, I was contacted by Samahita to do "prep assignments", which included assigning English-language yoga readings, including the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, dietary nutrition, anatomy books on yoga, Yoga Mala.... Each day, I have to record the progress of my Asana practice and the feeling of all my awareness and Pranayama sessions. Monthly book reading notes. I spent the whole year before the teacher training program started, self-studying and developing an attitude of reading the English books and taking the yoga life in earnest.
In the summer of 2009, I flew to Samahita for two months, in addition to the first month of the teacher's training course, and the second month of the workshop on the method of pranayama. The first teacher training program was very fruitful.
In the spring of 2010, I flew with my father to visit my sister in Montreal, Canada, for seven days. Before we left, I checked the internet and found out that the only studio in Montreal that taught Mysore was Mark Darby and Joanne Darby's yoga studio. The morning after I arrived in Montreal, I took the subway to the yoga studio. In just five days, Darby and his wife's adjustments and tips in the Mysore room had completely revolutionized my three years of experience. I decided to apply Darby's organic approach to my practice. I then renewed my existing ideas and practice patterns.
Shankara Darby, Darby's eldest son, taught us the details of breathing in asana, and once again, I completely changed the way I had been breathing in asana and pranayama for the past four years. You can read this article here (https://en.ashtanga-yoga-lausanne.com/post/part-ii-what-is-quality-yogic-breathing). Breathing into the whole back with constant focus, without giving up for a second on doing good quality breathing, that is what Mark Darby, Joanne, and Shankara emphasize in particular.
It is true that by maintaining a good quality of breathing, I naturally forget about the time passing and the difficulty of the asana, and simply move in synchronization with the fullness of the inhalation and exhalation. Therefore, I did not have to use willpower to restrict myself.
For the next nine years, from 2011 to 2019, I flew out from Taiwan once or twice a year to study with Darby's family in various countries, and I have attended countless teacher training classes and workshops, including organizing my own workshops in Taiwan, Japan, and Lausanne, Switzerland. The content of each workshop or class taught by Mark Darby, Joanne, and Shankara varied depending on the participants at the time. What I learned most during this period was the concept of " The Toolbox of Teaching". How do I illustrate good quality yoga breathing for people from different health states, backgrounds, careers, ages...etc.? How do I use different aids so that practitioners can experience it for themselves? I have collected a toolbox of teaching tools that are still being very useful today.
In 2019 I moved to Switzerland to live and start my next yoga journey, the Vinyasa Krama Yoga system taught by Srivatsa Ramaswami. Vinyasa Krama Yoga system is a direct transmission from T. Krishnamachaya to Srivatsa Ramaswami. The essence of Vinyasa Krama Yoga is moving with each second of inhalation or exhalation. Even though the asana sequence is enriched with variations, with the synchronization of good quality breathing and movement, the practitioner's mind can be truly at peace, which in turn leads to the internal transformation of personality and character, which is reflected in the attitude of everyday life.
The effectiveness of good quality breathing is indeed harder to describe in words. It is only for you to put it into practice. The breath is one of the best means for observing ourselves in yoga practice. How does the body respond to the breath , and how does the breath respond to the movement of the body? The breath should be our teacher.
Here is an article about a study on breathing with competitive athletes:
Point Prevalence of the Biomechanical Dimension of Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns Among Competitive Athletes:
Shimozawa, Y, Kurihara, T, Kusagawa, Y, Hori, M, Numasawa, S, Sugiyama, T, Tanaka, T, Suga, T, Terada, RS, Isaka, T, and Terada, M. Point prevalence of the biomechanical dimension of dysfunctional breathing patterns among competitive athletes. J Strength Cond Res XX(X): 000-000, 2022-There is growing evidence of associations between altered biomechanical breathing patterns and numerous musculoskeletal and psychological conditions. The prevalence of dysfunctional and diaphragmatic breathing patterns is unknown among athletic populations. The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence of dysfunctional and diaphragmatic breathing patterns among athletic populations with a clinical measure to assess the biomechanical dimension of breathing patterns. Using a cross-sectional design, 1,933 athletes across multiple sports and ages were screened from 2017 to 2020. Breathing patterns were assessed using the Hi-Lo test in the standing position. Scores of the Hi-Lo test were determined based on the presence or absence of abdominal excursion, anterior-posterior chest expansion, superior rib cage migration, and shoulder elevation. The Hi-Lo test scores were used to categorize observational breathing mechanics as dysfunctional and diaphragmatic breathing patterns. The prevalence of athletes with dysfunctional breathing patterns was 90.6% (1,751 of 1,933). Athletes with diaphragmatic breathing patterns accounted for 9.4% of all athletes in our sample (182 of 1,933). There were no differences in the proportion of breathing patterns between male and female athletes (p = 0.424). Breathing patterns observations were associated with sport-setting categories (p = 0.002). The highest percentages of dysfunctional breathers were in middle school student athletes (93.7%), followed by elementary school student athletes (91.2%), high school student athletes (90.6%), professional/semiprofessional athletes (87.5%), and collegiate athletes (84.8%). The current study observed that dysfunctional breathing patterns (90.6%) in the biomechanical dimension were more prevalent than diaphragmatic breathing pattern (9.4%) among competitive athletes. These results suggest that clinicians may need to consider screening breathing patterns and implementing intervention programs aimed to improve the efficiency of biomechanical dimensions of breathing patterns in athletic populations. This study may help raise awareness of impacts of dysfunctional breathing patterns on athletes' health and performance.