People new to Viniyoga often tell me they are surprised at the effects of class. Although class feels gentle while they practice, they often feel “good” muscle soreness the next day. They are also surprised that although the first class or two may seem easy, the more they practice the more challenging it becomes. I believe this is completely due to the distinctive way Viniyoga uses the breath.
Viniyoga uses breath in a subtle, yet powerful way. In asana (movement) practice, we breathe as we do each movement in a way that maximizes the effect of the breath on the spine and the muscles that support it. Therefore opening, lifting and extending movements are typically done on inhale, whereas bending, compressing and twisting movements are typically done on exhale.
But it’s not as simple as moving with the breath. Rather, the breath informs, guides and fully surrounds the movement, like a blanket wraps your body on a chilly winter evening. The breath begins before the movement starts and ends after the movement completes. This is often called “envelope breathing.”
This integration of breath and movement requires mindful attention and is the key reason viniyoga is so powerful at connecting body, breath and mind. Only by completely focusing the mind can the movement and breath link together in this elegant dance. Furthermore, this connection doesn’t stop when the movement ends. Even when “staying” in a pose, subtle breath focused movement continues. The student consciously lengthens her spine on inhale and engages and strengthens the muscles of her core on exhale, creating a delicious dance of “micro-movement” that deepens the posture with every successive breath.
So the next time you take a yoga class, pay attention to each breath you take and mindfully allow the breath to guide your movement. You might be surprised at the profound impact this relatively simple change will have on your practice.
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