Many people begin practicing yoga with the belief that one elusive day when they have touched their toes or achieved a particularly difficult posture, they will be doing “good” or “real” yoga. In truth it matters little how far you can bend forward or how far you can twist, for wherever the point of resistance lies is the place where you ave your greatest opportunity to learn and to change. This opportunity exists whether you have the flexibility of an ironing board or the mobility of a gymnast. If you can meet yourself just where you are rather than always looking beyond yourself, where you’d like to be, this attitude of steadfastness and compassion will bring the fruits of yoga to you.

 – Donna Farhi – Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit

Even though I have been practicing yoga for years my deep seated, old habit pattern of pushing or achieving, of looking ahead to what I want to do next, constantly replays itself. Initially I chose a style of yoga for myself that was physically challenging and a fast pace. It had many benefits but in some ways also inflated the pattern of looking ahead and grasping. This in turn caused me to overdo and injure myself in various ways.

Through working with Donna Farhi and applying a more self-reflective practice I have come to slow down and really listen to myself. Working from a place of ahimsa (non-violence), for me, requires a slower pace. Moving from the inside out ensures I go only as far as my body is capable of today. Progress comes but without any grasping. Once I have established inner connection and a pathway for integrated movement it is possible to move at a faster pace. But I have to keep checking in with myself – am I still with the breath, is prana able to move easily through my system?

Practicing forward bending postures have helped me to meet this ‘samskara’ (habit pattern) as well as the possibility to transform it. When I stay with the breath and really listen to my body, maintaing the integrity of my spine, my focus shifts from where I’m going in the posture to where I am. When I allow myself as many breaths as it takes to investigate a forward bending posture such as Parsvottonasana, Prasarita Padottonasana or Upavista Konasana I can really begin to get in touch with all the sensations and movements that will get me there with ease.

Circular Breath Visualisation

I have recently begun playing with this circular breath visualisation as a way of coming into forward bends. I’ll describe it here in relation to Prasarita Padottonasana – the wide angled forward bend but you could choose any forward bend.

  • Step your feet wide apart so that you can still comfortably press down through the outer edges of the feet. Yield to the earth by gently bending the knees.
  • Place the hands on your hips, placing the index finger into the crease at the top of our thighs.
  • Now, with a soft gaze, become aware of your breath.
  • Begin to offer some guidance to the breath by directing the inhale from your heart space down the front of your body towards the pubis bone.
  • Continue this guidance around the base of the torso and on an exhale offer the breath along the back of the body from the tail to the head. Wrap your awareness around the head and repeat.
  • As you become familiar with this circulating breath you can begin the forward movement of the torso. Be curious as to which breath brings length and which breath allows the surrender of the forward movement.
  • Allow this visualisation to help you connect both with the front and the back of your spine as you find your way to the edge of your forward bend. 
  • Stay for as many breaths as you find useful
  • Stay strongly connected to the earth and find your most easeful way back to standing

Keen to hear what you think of this breath focus in forward bends! x