I’ll admit that, in spite of nearly 20 years of daily Ashtanga Yoga practice, I still struggle to meditate regularly. Some of this comes with the Ashtanga territory: the physical practice is often the most important (and only) method taught to the student. Students are taught to breathe deeply and freely, to focus their gaze on certain points when practicing the postures, and to be regular and disciplined about doing the Series. The student memorizes the sequences, attends morning practice at least three times a week, and shows the requisite dedication to the practice and the teacher. It is fairly well-known that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the late guru of Ashtanga Yoga, stopped teaching pranayama and meditation when classes started to fill with eager Western students in the mid 1980s. So, it is not unusual then for casual observers to think that Ashtangis only ever do postures and deep breathing. No pranayama, no meditation.
So, for many Ashtanga practitioners, learning breathing exercises and meditation becomes an extracurricular activity to their primary posture practice. They will seek out Iyengar teachers for pranayama instruction, and Vipassana teachers for instruction in meditation. To each their own, and I think it may be too much to ask of the current Ashtanga Yoga Method to be able to offer a comprehensive program for total human development. As my teacher, Matthew Sweeney always says, “No system is complete without the individual.”
All of that being said, I’ve struggled to meditate regularly. I’ve also resisted trying apps for meditation as I want to actually reduce the amount of time I spend on my phone, especially when my pursuit of web development requires that I stare at code on screens all day long.
However, I decided to try out Headspace for their free one-week trial period, and I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to integrate into my daily life. I have principally been working through the Basics Lessons (10 lessons, either 5 or 10 minutes long each). It’s been amazing what even ten minutes of sitting still can do for lowering anxiety, frustration, and scattered thoughts. I highly recommend it.(And if you happen to be unemployed during this whole crisis, like yours truly, you can sign up for a free year of its services).
I also read Breath: The Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. I’ll be publishing a review in the next week or two, but, briefly, it is about one man’s personal journey into understanding how we breathe, why we have so many breathing issues nowadays, and how we can return to a more natural, vital relationship to breathing. He lists an app called (wait for it) Breathing App, created by such Eddie Stern, Moby, Deepak Chopra, and Sergey Varichev. Resonance breathing describes what happens when our breathing, heart rate, brain waves, and variability of our heart rate line up and resonate with one another. The key? Breathing between 5 and 7 times a minute, in an easy rhythm. The results? Relaxation, focus, and calm.
So, in short, if you are looking to jump-start your meditation and breathing practices, or you need a little boost during these Groundhog’s Days, check out:
*Full disclosure: All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. These trademark holders do not sponsor or endorse me or my website.