Yoga Teacher Training Diary: Teach me to Breathe

This weekend’s teacher training course could not have been better timed. After the previous few weeks of never-ending inversions and intense hot practices, the 18 of us on my course have been mentally and physically broken on all levels. We’ve cried and crunched our backs and popped our knees and cried some more.

Therefore, it was with an almost delirious relief that we walked into our introduction to yogic breathing and restorative yoga lecture on Sunday. Lead by the lovely, calming and very knowledgeable Carol Trevor, the classes start with a yogic breathing practice. All experienced yogis, athletes or trainers,we’ve been working with our breath for years. Over the last few weeks we’ve been working with our breath intensely. But some of us, myself included, still weren’t completely aware of the way we breathe.

It turns out I can slip quite easily and naturally away from the restrictive chest breathing most desk-dwellers and media-berated women resort to in order to keep the belly sucked in, into the relaxed, and easy belly breathing that is more anatomically correct. And it feels so much better.

We work our way through from a simple three-part breath to the intense and fiery kapalabhati. I’m drawn, as I always am when talking about pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques, to nadi shodana, or alternate nostril breathing. Balancing the right and left sides of the body, balancing our rest and digest system with our temperamental fight or flight/feed or fuck system, nadi shodana is as scientific or as spiritual as you need it to be.

Our yogic breathing is followed by Carol’s unique and gentle approach to restorative yoga. Not quite yin yoga, a restorative practice has a lot of the same shapes as classical vinyasa or hatha yoga. The only difference is that in a restorative practice the aim is to engage no muscular activity, to recruit no strength to hold you in a pose. Propped up on bolsters, blocks and rolled blankets, with our hands weighted down, I start to realise just how much strength even the simplest every day activities require. How much muscle is involved in just sitting cross-legged, or lying down on your back. Sitting on the sofa, muscles and fascia grip and tense without any cognitive instruction to do so, simply because they’re not supported. Without knowing it, we’re never relaxed, even when we’re relaxing.

It’s alleged that an uninterrupted restorative yoga can give better, deeper and more peaceful rest than a solid night’s sleep. Lying over the supportive bolster with an eye pillow relaxing my face, I can completely see why. Total relaxation in a controlled, quiet and safe environment beats sleep, where the weird spiraling dreams of your unconscious mind, external noises or the person you share a bed with might interrupt your precious rest at any moment.

As a whole, our yoga course is very intense and very yang – hot yoga often is, and it also seems to draw a very dynamic, active type of person. That said, I’ve always been more balanced, and aware of a more restorative, yin element to my personality. This weekend of workshops nourished and encouraged this part of me, and left me feeling a whole lot less tired and a whole lot less desperate. Wouldn’t it be amazing to teach that?

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