Begin your practice with clarity
and relaxed focus
At the beginning of practice it’s healthy to create focus by syncing up your movement and your breath. Not only is it relaxing, it helps prevent injury.
These three opening breaths are mudras – physical invocation of wisdom expressed as a movement of the body.
Mudras can be seen as both philosophical and/ or devotional. You might open your practice with these three breaths as a way of praying with your body. You can also do these three breaths to create space for yourself in your day-to-day world, space in which you can pay attention to being, life, and existence.
The first breath: awareness of being
The first breath is a mudra for the experience and awareness of being embodied. It’s our agreement with ourselves to engage and explore our practice of yoga with our whole being.
In practice we explore the ever shifting balance of attention: feeling our movements without fantasizing or over thinking; feeling our movements and without letting our thoughts wander.
The movement of the first breath represents our reach from what’s within us to what’s beyond us and back again. It initiates a journey.
The second breath: inviting blessing
The second breath is a mudra to invite blessing, however you think of that: an invocation of wisdom, clarity, or whatever you’re asking. With this breath you lift your request or your need up from your deepest self into awareness, and then bring that awareness down through the crown of your head into your heart.
As you may know, your skull at the crown of your head is open when you are born – the space in the bones is called the fontanelle. Spiritual traditions invoke this physiology of birth and infancy whenever we do inversions, for example headstand or down dog, and whenever we bring our hands together and “pull through the center line,” a way of using our movements to invite energy or blessing through the central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord – and through the central energy channel, the sushumna.
The third breath: equanimity
The third breath is the expression of equanimity, taking your practice into the world and living it, living your practice and living the world in a way where being a body reveals them as the same thing. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, this is given as the purpose and result of yoga: Coalescence arises revealing that the body and the infinite universe are indivisible. (Chapter 2, sutra 47.)
Equanimity means greeting all things equally. It implies calmness, composure, and friendliness brought about by clarity, not by suppressing how you feel. Through living our practice we begin to see things as they are rather than as we would like them to be or as we are afraid they are.
Out of this experience real living compassion arises for ourselves and for other people.
Practice tip Remember to circle your arms with the palms turned up. If you have any pain circling your arms, feel free to modify by bending your arms at the elbow, or by bringing your arms up in front of you. Don’t do anything which causes pain. You can ask me in class for modifications to help you.
Text of video Exhale and take your hands to your sides, fingertips toward the floor. Inhale as you swing your arms overhead. Hold your breath and stretch up, then slowly let your arms circle back down as you exhale completely. Pull your abdominal muscles in and press all of the air out of your lungs. Hold your breath out for a beat.
For the second breath, look up as you slowly circle your arms up and inhale. Hold your breath as you bring your palms together, then as you exhale, keep your hands together and pull down through the center of your body to your heart.
On the third breath, reach out from your heart as you inhale and open your arms wide to embrace life. When you exhale circle your arms back in to each other gathering in your experience, and bring your hands to your own heart in a gesture of acceptance.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.