Recently I’ve been reviewing and reading about the use of breath in Yoga as this was the first topic lesson of my Hatha Yoga Foundations Course starting this week. In one of my readings a phrase popped out at me that said proper use of the breath results in the marriage of Ida and Pingala and a deep calm called sandhya. Ida and Pingala are two main energy channels running through the middle of our body. Ida holds the energy of the moon, femininity, and mental energy. Pingala embodies the energy of the sun, masculinity and physical energy. Between Ida and Pingala runs the central line of energy called Sushumna. Hatha Yoga is all about balancing these two energies. Ha means sun and Tha means moon.
One of the most important parts of a Hatha Yoga practice is attention to breath as a means to increase self-awareness. This awareness shows us how to react to the moment in a way that brings balance of Ida and Pingala energies. As I practiced this week I paid specially attention to how my breath worked to bring balance, and the word “marriage” from the earlier reading continued to pass through my mind. I began to see the various aspects of myself as a courting of two lovers, and the breath their ever-moving dance of push, pull, explore, retract, give and forgive. I felt an internal dance of discovery and love, even and maybe especially when painful, eventually leading to union of dualistic energies, to marriage.
Maybe because I am a dancer and a romantic I took hold of this metaphor, but the breath as a lover’s dance works well with other principles of yogic breathing. The dance is based on the desire for union, YUJ, or Yoga. In the case of Hatha we first work to unite mind and body. What ever happens in the mind influences the breath. Stress and tension will cause the breath to become short, shallow or even stop. The body then follows by holding tension or not functioning well. The dance becomes disjointed or erratic. Begin smooth and even breathing and the two dancers, Ida and Pingala, Sun and Moon, Mind and Body will dance a soft and fluid dance.
Another principle is that breath and postures should be synchronized and complimentary. The
two dancers must work together, listening, waiting then reacting. Breath should always initiate movement. Certain movements are done on the inhale and others on the exhale. In general forward folds and twisting are initiated by exhale. Exhaling deeply will also deepen the forward fold, and release mental or physical tension. Likewise, inhales initiate lengthening the spine and back bending, and deep inhales will aid in opening the front of the body. If the physical body pushes into an area before the mind is calm and ready for the opening, the rhythm of the breath and dance will be lost. The same is also true if the mind thinks the body should be somewhere it is not yet ready to go.
Breath is the indication of life, and listening to our breath is listening to the rhythm of our life-dance. The rhythm teaches us about the relationship of dualistic energies within us, energies that while different have the lovers desire for union.
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