Friday, August 15, 2008

Yoga is for misers—and that's a good thing

Yoga was made for skinflints. No equipment necessary. And that nothing-in-excess economy is part of its beauty. In the same way that a poem contains a novel's worth of content and every word modulates the meaning of every other, so in yoga every pose is a choreography of squeeze, stretch and twist, each enhancing the other and creating a cascade of effects that realigns the entire body.

The use of the breath exemplifies the magical efficiency of yoga. Breath is the soul of yoga—and it costs nothing, weighs nothing and can't be left at home by accident. The breath is simultaneously automatic and controllable, and yoga puts those voluntary and involuntary aspects to multiple purpose.

*Like a mantra, the breath is used as a focusing agent to concentrate the mind and still distractions, transforming the physical asana practice into a moving meditation.

*Like a metronome, the breath provides the rhythm for asanas (poses), which are typically held for one, three, five or eight breaths, and vinyasas (sequences of quickly executed, linked asanas), in which each movement is coordinated with an inhalation or an exhalation.

*Like your pulse, but easier to monitor, your breath—or breathlessness—lets you know when you're overdoing it. When you start to pant, you know it's time to scale back.

*Like a combination bellows-and-fan, the breath can be regulated, as in pranayama (breathing exercises), to heat you up or cool you down.

*Like fingers in a massage, the breath can be directed to selected muscles to deepen their stretch.

So go ahead, buy those fancy pants with the lotus blossom embroidered on the bottom (I did!) or that luxe two-tone eco-mat (I bought that too!) or those bamboo blocks (I'm mulling those over), but know that you really don't need them. As one of my yoga teachers always says, "Anything you could ever want, have or need is right there inside of you." All that's required for yoga practice is a good set of lungs—and those are right there inside of you.

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