Ujjayi Extended Practice
I’ve been digesting second-hand transmission from my friend who had the good fortune of spending several days at the private compound of the Dalai Lama last month. Apparently during one of his lectures, His Holiness said that the Tibetan translation for our word “ego” is “I win.” He was making the point that when we are operating from our small sense of self, we are constantly in need of victories in order to feel validated as human beings. And of course this need to win necessitates the presence of an external agent upon whom we can hoist the label “you lose.” This whole dynamic not only drains us of vital energy, it also prevents us from feeling real contentment that can only arise from within.
If we apply this mental melodrama to our asana practice, then we become bound to the roller coaster of elation and frustration. We feel good about ourselves when we can do a pose; we feel bad about ourselves when we can’t. Sometimes it seems as though we are trying to accumulate little victories in order to receive approval from the yoga deities or to be deemed worthy by our teachers. But all of these efforts keep making us feel more divided within ourselves instead of more complete. Interestingly enough, the primary breathing technique taught in modern yoga schools is called ujjayi, which literally means “to win.” In what way are we trying to be victorious? Are we using our willpower to conquer the breath? The more I’ve been asking myself these questions, the clearer it has become to me that the true objective of this practice is for the breath to become victorious over the mind. We are attempting to allow our body’s native intelligence to operate freely. And in this spirit, the real victory occurs when the small self capitulates to the larger Self, which is our true essence and the true foundation for all skillful action.
While some yogis prefer to incorporate ujjayi breathing throughout the entire practice, I like to reserve it for the end of a session when the breath can exclusively take center stage. And since this is such a vital part of what I work on every day, I almost feel disingenuous not leading my students to this practice on a regular basis. It seems like we never have time at the end of class to focus on this deep absorption of breath. Well, not this week. Come join me for a rich and rewarding extended practice this Sunday, November 10 from 1:00-3:00pm that I’m calling “Ujjayi: The Need to Win.” During the first 90 minutes we will go through a well-balanced sequence of poses that prepare us for this breathing experiment. The last half hour of class will be devoted to reclined pranayama (or conscious breathing) and seated meditation. You will leave feeling re-energized, refreshed, and de-stressed. As usual, the extended practice costs $25 and we have limited space. So be sure to reserve your spot by clicking on the big tab below. Hope to see you soon!