When I started learning yoga, I was off balance in every possible way. I saw the teacher as a role model for the peaceful, well-balanced human being I wanted to be, so I followed their movements quite closely. I didn't want to stand out too much. Dancing to the beat of my own drum perhaps had gotten me into the unbalanced position I was trying to free myself from. But then she started to talk about how I was breathing.
The breath, I was told, was the key to my inner world, and would give me information about my emotional and mental state if I could get still and listen to it. The postures, aside from keeping my body healthy and strong, were really just a preparation for sitting or laying still, and that was where I could listen to my breathing.
Eventually I was introduced to a style of yoga called hatha vinyasa krama, or breath-centered yoga, that integrated the breath cycle with slow and smooth movement, and within that action the breath could make itself apparent to me. It seemed to me the perfect marriage of the three pillars of Yoga: body awareness (posture), breathing, and meditation. This pathway to Yoga is closely related to the smaller, repetitive movements of viniyoga which were derived from the tradition of Krishnamacharya and his son TKV Desikachar.
It was during a year of advanced training in this method that I found out I had two herniated discs in my lower spine (caused most likely through childbirth, not by Yoga). I had considered that I might need to stop teaching because I couldn't extend my spine anymore without a great deal of pain in my butt and all the way down my left leg.
There was no alignment-based solution for me. The only solution was breath-centered.
I decided to enter a healing phase by stopping my former practice and adopting breath-centered Yoga, mantra, and Yoga therapy in addition to spinal decompression and specialized neuromuscular bodywork.
The breath-centered Yoga method made it possible for me to continue doing Yoga and to continue teaching it. Those first couple of weeks of shifting exclusively to this method were an experiment to see if I could teach effectively while not modeling the movements. The true test, however, was whether my students would trust me to teach them in a different way.
The trend of Yoga-exercise is now on the decline. More people are becoming aware that deep stretches and pretzel-like movements have great risk of injury. Years of strong vinyasa practice and deep stretching of highly flexible joints have caused some of the most experienced yoga teachers to get their hips replaced. By listening to the signals my body was telling me, I recognized early enough that forcing certain types of movement was going to hurt me. Alignment-based Yoga still isn't right for me, and I don't care about that anymore.
My back is healed and I can move freely without pain, and I have continued to teach the breath-centered method. My core group of students stayed with me, and I'm happy to report their lung capacity has developed like deep water undersea divers! Their meditation has improved, and my students say it has helped them get in touch with the true meaning of Yoga.
If you feel called to learn a breath-centered method of practicing or teaching Yoga, feel free to ask me about my upcoming weekend workshops at my office in Yorba Linda or invite me to your local studio. I look forward to shining the Light for your Path in Yoga.