I love simplicity! I am easily overwhelmed by details. I love to get to the root of a problem. My take on yoga reflects this.
I started practicing yoga in 1970. The yoga world seemed a lot simpler then. Mainly people were teaching Hatha yoga wherever they could find space. Yoga studios were rare.
Life was a lot simpler then. We had not yet become an Internet and cell phone addicted society. People still made eye contact when they spoke to you—the cashier always smiled.
Yoga is insanely more popular now than it was in 1970 and with that popularity came commercialization, and teachers started finding the need to differentiate themselves from the herd. So now we have well over 108 different brands of yoga.
The interesting thing is that most of these brands, all claim to be based on Hatha yoga. And I’m generally not one to gripe, bitch, complain and moan. It’s not very yogic. I practice contentment as much as possible. To me, the real yoga still happens off the mat. They call it practice for a reason! You are practicing for life off the mat!
In an effort to stand out from the herd, many people have complicated yoga to the point where it is somehow unrecognizable. I will not go into details here. You can decide for yourself.
But there is one little detail that may have gotten lost in all of this. Yoga is essentially a relationship that you have with your breath. And like John Lennon, I’ll say it again.
Yoga is essentially a relationship that you have with your breath.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Well at least that’s how I see it. If the breath connection is missing, for me, it’s not yoga.
I see a lot of teachers who do not emphasize this nearly enough. I see a lot of teachers who are mouth breathers and I find this really frightening!
In my eyes, simply learning how to breathe is the foundation of yoga. This must come first before everything else. And I am not talking about any fancy schmancy pranayama here. As I said, I like to keep things simple. By the way, nothing against pranayama, but I am talking mainly about how a person integrates healthy breathing into daily life.
I’ll admit, I had a head start with all of this. At 17, I was introduced to yoga in Mrs. Berger’s living room. She was a suburban housewife and the mother of my friend Karen. She taught me many things that sparked my curiosity about yoga. So, I found a paperback book written by Richard Hittleman and paid about 35 cents for that book! Mr. Hittleman taught me how to breathe and I am forever grateful.
At 17, I found immediate transformation in the breath, sitting on the floor in my bedroom with that paperback book.
Shortly thereafter I stumbled upon Kundalini yoga in college. This was some very strange karma. I attended a liberal college in a hippie dippie community. One day when I was walking across the quad, I noticed a small cardboard sign taped to the outside of one of the buildings. It said, “Free Sundown Yoga Class Daily 6PM.”
That class changed my life! Talk about breathing!
Apparently there was a Kundalini Ashram not far from the college. The renunciates made a daily trek to the college to teach us for free. This was my real introduction to yoga and this was the real deal. These yogis, dressed in the traditional garb of white with turbans, lived, breathed and spoke yoga. I was in yoga heaven every night at 6 p.m.
I learned to breathe for sure!
And when I say that yoga is essentially a relationship that you have with your breath, I am not saying that I don’t practice asanas. I am not saying that I don’t do some fancy schmancy pranyamas from time to time. But my main focus is always the quality of my breath.
And when I live this way off the mat, magic happens.
Editor: Brianna Bemel