Dharma and Breath

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2013 | No Comments
Dharma and Breath
image from @agusmcfly

I’m not proud to admit it, but before practicing yoga, when I heard the word “dharma”, I would think of the late 90’s sitcom “Dharma and Greg”.  What can I say?  I watched way too much TV growing up.  In case you’re wondering, this Dharma followed Wheel of Fortune at 8:00pm on ABC, but I digress…

Recently in teacher training, I was given an assignment to discuss what “following your dharma” meant, and I was glad to abandon my old association with this momentous word and build a new one.

Like many important concepts or ideas, I found a lot of definitions for dharma, but the one that resonated with me the most was: “that which sustains or upholds the natural order of things.”

When I hear the word dharma, I usually think of how it pertains to religion, society or the universe at large. But what role does dharma play in our yoga practice?

For many of us, the asana practice is about getting into a pose.  We have a visual in our head of what the perfect tree, crow, or wheel should look like, and the goal of our practice is to get into that ideal shape. But isn’t there more to it than that?

This year in teacher training, I learned that classical yoga is divided into 8 limbs (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi), and that the purpose of asana is to prepare us for pranayama, the limb that follows it. Pranayama is all about the breath and creating space and length in our inhalations, exhalations and the pauses that fall in between.

So, if dharma is about sustaining or upholding the natural order of things, and the natural order of things in yoga is asana to pranayama, then maybe following our dharma in our practice should be about following our breath.

Many times in class, we’re struggling to get into a pose – usually at the expense of our breath.  We hold the breath, we bind the breath, we lose the breath. The next time you find yourself holding the breathe as you muscle yourself deeper into a posture, why not try something different? Instead of  trying to make your practice about getting into the “full” pose or your idea of what that should be, why not make the practice about the ease of your breath?

Follow your dharma.  Follow your breath.

Breathe. Repeat.

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