April 17, 2015

The Pace of the Practice

I recently read an opinion piece on slower paced yoga, you can read it here.  I teach both the vinyasa krama of Krishnamacharya (a slower paced yoga) and Ashtanga (a moderate paced yoga). A standard whole breath in Ashtanga is eight seconds long, go ahead and count out eight seconds in your head.  An initial goal for the length of breath in Krishnamacharya’s vinyasa krama is four breaths a minute.  I generally teach people to work towards a sixteen second breath first.  Yes, count out sixteen seconds in your head (eight second inhale, eight second exhale).  Perhaps in a good moment you may be able to lengthen your breath even more to thirty seconds – a fifteen second inhale, a fifteen second exhale.  For the most part, the longer the breath the better in Krishnamacharya’s yoga.

You may have noticed when writing about pacing, I’m referring to the breath, not body movement.  In both of these forms of yoga, your movement must be synchronized with your inhales and exhales, so if the yoga is to be slower paced, the breath must be longer. The persistent pace and rhythm of Ashtanga is one of its channels into meditation, while the lengthening of the breath (and even restraining the breath between inhales and exhales, if amenable to you) is one of Krishnamacharya’s vinyasa krama’s channels into meditation.

Concerning what may be popular at any given time, it’s important to not let the pendulum swing to either extreme. The article talks about a power yoga fad that started in the nineties, and suggests the pendulum is now swinging the other way.  I teach and practice the two styles I do for a number of reasons.  Krishnamacharya is the teacher of Pattabhi Jois (the guru of Ashtanga).  Ashtanga has resonated with me so much, that I wanted to know the larger system behind it, and so I started to study the yoga of Krishnamacharya.  The styles are quite closely related, have a lot of overlap, and have the same aim of mental peace, just approached from different ways.

The fact they are closely related makes them go together well.  While my main practice certainly is Ashtanga,  I find sometimes Krishnamacharya’s sequences are the better tools to get me to where I need to be, or are appropriate if I feel the need for a second practice in any given day. Learning the larger system behind Ashtanga has helped me understand it more, just as it has given me options for how I manage my mind and body.  I’d also like to note, slower often doesn’t equate to being easier.  Krishnamacharya’s yoga is no easier than Pattabhi Jois’s, yet its slower pace can be more favorable to some people and in some moments of life.  If you have a great love of something, it’s a good idea to get to know its roots.

Thank you for reading,