Breathing with J. Brown at Abhyasa Yoga

J. Brown in his Vinyasa days

This morning I got up early (9:15) and went to J.Brown’s class at Abhyasa. It’s the new studio on Metropolitan and Leonard. I really liked the essays he posted on the studio’s site; like me, he’s looking for something more than just acrobatics and athletic achievement of poses. (I should say for me, in addition to the athletics — see previous entries on the value of sweat.)

That something is breathing. Even if you’ve mastered the practice of keeping ujayi breath through each and every pose and transition — not an easy task — I learned today that you can still adjust the breath itself. It’s like practicing internal alignment: feeling out the strength, location, duration, and aftereffects of the pressure from your diaphragm/lungs.

This clarifies the infuriating phrase “go deeper into the pose.” (What does that mean??? I always wondered. We’re not spelunking…)

For example: as we lay in a Simple Reclined Twist (on the back, knees together, twisting to the left with both shoulders on the floor), J. had me inhale and hold for a brief moment. I felt the breath gathered in front of my shoulder blades, creating a slight tension. As I exhaled, I felt the tension release along with the breath. This was new.

He explained that stretching does not always release tension; many people are very flexible but still very tense. (Ahem.) Breathing releases tension. Approaching the poses halfway, and allowing room to breathe, will lead to a more transformative pose than going 110% with every muscle and nerve.

Alignment instructions were very good, although different than most classical classes. (e.g: Shoulders slightly up and back, instead of back and down, to wring out the upper back. Elbows slightly bent out in Chaturanga, for the same reason.) You can tell he has studied Vinyasa and Iyengar. He talks a lot; if you like instructions you will surely get them.

I am curious if this approach can be applied to a faster class. I feel that there’s this neo-Hatha slowness going around, όber-Vinyasa sticking around, and a big chasm in between. Today’s class was Open level, but it was the same speed (and basically the same sequence) that he taught in the Beginners’ class in the park. (This might have been for my benefit, as he really rolled out the red-carpet-welcome-mat new student treatment for me.) My guess: eventually, by starting slowly and achieving breath awareness at each level, the pace can eventually pick up to cardio level. Crew and dance have taught me that it’s better to memorize something slowly and correctly, rather than quickly and wrong, so that’s kind of the approach I’m going for with deeper breathing.

3 thoughts on “Breathing with J. Brown at Abhyasa Yoga”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to stop in and blog.
    To answer your question: yes, it can be applied to a faster pace. Although if it becomes too fast the breath is often lost. I have found that the more facile one is with their breath, the slower the practice ends up being in reflection. If you’re looking to get your heart-rate up, you can always go for a run. “Ha-Tha” is not intended to be cardio.
    I was unaware of a “neo-Hatha slowness” trend in NYC. Seems like “uber-Vinyasa” abounds mostly. To each his/her own, of course.
    Sorry if I talked your ear off. I tend to do that when I’m trying to make an impression and you were difficult to get a read on.

  2. Hi J.! Thanks for the thoughts. Sorry if I seem a little serious, I really appreciated all your instructions and I will be back for more.

    By “neo-Hatha” I mean Forrest Yoga, primarily. It’s so slow, I would never have guessed it would get popular. But maybe we New Yorkers are ready for the transformative, instead of just the cardio?

    I think you’re right that good breathing inevitably slows down our practices. I am slowly learning that. But I’m still debating where my “edge” is, the point where I’m not stressed but not distracted, challenged but relaxed… it was easy to imagine it as the aerobic threshold (where we start breathing heavy but can still talk easily) until I just read a note on exercise vs asana, regarding heart rates:
    • isometric exercise leads to a 32% increase
    • isotonic exercise leads to a 13% increase
    • yogic asanas lead to only a 5% increase
    (courtesy of Kelly Nguyen, NOK Foundation Scholar)

    So that puts yoga as another class of exercise altogether, which I did not expect. (Not that I’m saying it’s exercise.)

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