Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: How inhaling and exhaling can wring us out

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It’s past 11:30 p.m. of the end of the first full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence as I start to write this, and Scott and I just got back from an unplanned trip to Los Angeles, where we had dinner with my parents. This sojourn north along Interstate 5 was unplanned because I had forgotten to tell my parents that I was going to be in San Diego for the Confluence. I am embarrassingly bad about telling family and friends I’m going to be in places relatively near them when I travel, mostly my life moves at such a ridiculous pace. I will decide to register for an event like this, book whatever I need to book, note the dates in the calendars I need to note them in, and then not think about logistics again until I am driving toward the airport and pulling out the printout of my flight confirmation to see what airline I’m taking. By the time I get the chance to think about all the people I should have told I’m coming, I’m usually on the plane, just a couple hours before landing in that destination.

So my parents, being the incredibly thoughtful people that they are, called me yesterday, after hearing that I was here, to see if I wanted to meet them in L.A. so that we could look for a traditional Thai outfit in Thai Town to wear to the Thai Buddhist template in Michigan we’re visiting as part of my wedding weekend in May.

My mom and dad drove seven hours from northern California to make this happen. It was really, really sweet to see them.

And it’s wonderful to be back in California. I spent 10 years of my life in this state, and on some level, it will always be home, even though I have now lived in Michigan for six years and am in the process of (hopefully) buying my first house. Every time I come to the Golden State — which is usually two or three times a year — I always feel a little homesick when I leave.

While I’m feeling very full (both physically from the dinner we had in Thai Town and emotionally from seeing my folks), I’m also pretty drained. But before I call it a day (which, much like last night, I am doing several hours later than I should be), I want to share one tidbit from my afternoon session today. I sat in Tim Miller’s pranayama workshop after taking Richard Freeman’s led intro class in the morning. (I did a short blog post, Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’ on that class.)

This “Working In” workshop — which I’ve taken a couple of times before at various studios who host Tim, and which I obviously wanted to take again — felt a bit like a continuation of the morning’s theme. All I want to share for this post is the sponge analogy and Tim’s thoughts about being underfed and overstuffed.

Think about that caked over, dried-up sponge you surely have under your kitchen sink. So an inhalation during pranayama — the fourth yogic limb — can be thought of as water hitting that sponge. It soaks up the water and expands. What happens after that? We exhale. We squeeze everything out.

As we have all noted while squeezing out an old sponge, the water is not exactly clear. There’s stuff in there that needs to be cleansed out. As we continue to soak up and squeeze, the water does get cleaner.

Ultimately, the simple act of conscious breathing is designed to help us refine our discernment — to help us learn to feed the sense organs more consciously. Tim noted that in the west, many of us feel underfed and overstuffed. We’re numbed out from the less-than-ideal choices we make. Pranayama can help break that cycle.

If you’ve never tried any pranayama exercises and can’t picture what a breath-based cleansing feels like in the physical body, much less the subtle body, I highly suggest you find a way to take a class with Tim Miller or Richard Freeman, stat.

Or perhaps start saving up for the second annual Confluence?

By the way, while I was taking Tim’s pranayama workshop, The Confluence Countdown was in David Swenson’s class on floating and handstanding. Head over to their blog to read more about that session, and about the panel discussion I missed because I was coursing along SoCal’s asphalt rivers on my way to Thai Town.

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