“Inhalation and exhalation should be long, soft, smooth, and uninterrupted” ~ B.K.S Iyengar
It is commonplace in modern Western yoga classes for inhalations and exhalations to be encouraged interchangeably at extremely frequent intervals throughout a class, often in swift succession between the various postures of a vinyasa sequence.
As yoga students, we have often been “trained” to take an inhalation on the upward movements, and an exhalation on the downward movements.
Quite often this type of practice can lead to a hyperventilation state, particularly in the beginner yoga student who is not experienced in his/her physical yoga postures.
The below clip from 2006 will likely alter your perception of your inhales and your exhales altogether.
It not only reveals how one breath (i.e., one complete cycle of inhalation and exhalation) can extend over one minute and 25 seconds, it is demonstrated by one of the most respected yoga teachers in modern times.
Prior to his passing in 2014, B.K.S Iyengar readily and enthusiastically shared his yogic wisdom and knowledge gained over his 94 years of life (over 80 of which he dedicated to yoga).
So it would be sufficient to say that this man knew a thing or two about yoga.
This footage, taken eight years before his passing when he was in his late 80s, demonstrates his extensive knowledge about the human breath, including specific reference to the revered 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradiprika:
“The mind is the king of the senses, and the breath is the king of the mind.” ~ B.K.S Iyengar
As he stands there on the stage, wearing nothing but an ill-fitting boxer pant ensemble, this highly-respected yoga guru of our times explains to his audience that he will now “show you the inhalation and exhalation.”
He places the microphone to his nose.
His chest puffed out like a proud parent.
For around 50 seconds, give or take.
Pause and reflect on this for a moment. His inhale lasted for almost one minute.
“That is inhalation,” he explains.
“Experience that rhythm of that sound of breath,” he adds.
He had previously elaborated in his 1998 guidebook The Tree of Yoga, “When you inhale, the self comes into contact with the body. Hence, inhalation is the evolution of the soul toward the body and the spiritual cosmic breath coming into contact with the individual breath.”
He then continues to perform his exhalation.
It lasts for around 35 seconds.
“Did you observe the beauty of that sound?” he asks.
“Exhalation, from the point of view of physical health, is the removal of toxins from the system. From the psychological point of view, it quietens the mind. From the spiritual point of view, it is the individual breath in the person coming into contact with external cosmic breath so that they are one.” B.K.S Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga
The next time you contemplate your inhales and exhales during a yoga class, take a moment to reflect on this clip and the message this great yoga teacher was trying to communicate.
You might also want to contemplate this passage from his popular guidebook The Tree of Yoga, “Yogis never measure the intake of oxygen. That is not what they are interested in. The yogi’s interest is to keep the head and the heart clean through the harmony of breath.”
Namaste, Mr Iyengar!
Author: Tehla Bower
Image: YouTube still
Editor: Travis May