Over 11 days in Beijing, I came to know the local Ashtanga studio and practiced Mysore there a hand-full of times. I had reached a plateau in my practice but was nevertheless excited to check out a new venue and be with other practitioners. What would happen over that five practices still astounds me. When a person gets serious about Mysore, they monitor their flexibility and strive to stay tuned into the breath. I had tried and tried for ways to stay in touch with my breath. For even as my poses deepened, I knew I was missing out on the juiciest part of practice and also missing out on the chance to go deeper still.
When I attended the first class at Fine Yoga in Beijing (Dawanglu Subway stop--Blue Castle Building), the instructor, Duangta, approached me and told me "your shoulders ..."
"I know," I responded with a smile. "Been working on that for 12 years."
I had jetlag and wasn't quite in the mood to make a huge transformation so much as get through it with some modicum of integrity.
The next morning, Duangta approached me and pulled my shoulders back in Janu Sirsasana A while pushing my upper back down. She was really proactive and completely new energy to me so something let go inside and I felt a rush of epiphany. As I released my shoulders, my thoughts leveled down to the breath. It was like a switch. And I realized that my shoulders are intimately connected to the level of activity in my mind.
Sounds small but has become a huge new transformation in most of my poses.
Then came the epiphany about the breath. During the days I was touring Beijing, the symbol of the dragon appeared everywhere. I love dragons, always have. Now I see how their powerful metaphorical existence can serve me most.
On the next day at Mysore, Duangta saw me biff a jump through and stopped me. I looked at her and didn't feel like listening a lot so much as pushing away ideas and going on with it---but something inside me said 'listen to her, carefully,' so I did. She said "I need to tell you this because I struggled with the same thing. Your practice is perfect, it is complete. You are just thinking too much. You need to stop thinking and flow. Just let it flow and it will be perfect as it is. Focus on the breath, that's all. Then you will naturally improve and you will also enjoy."
Okay, not rocket science and I had heard it a hundred times in different ways. But for some reason, as it came out of her mouth, as she related it to her own former struggle and as she smiled sincerely into my face, I was disarmed and deeply affected.
The next day, my practice became, what I now call, a dragon ride.
I started out with a clear focus on the breath and maintained it. I drank the breath in. I sustained myself with it. And at one point I realized it was literally carrying me through the asanas and I enjoyed so much more, just as she said I would.
I found an idea forming in my mind as well: the breath is like a friendly dragon and it is always inside of each of us. The more attention you give to it, the more it is nurtured and the more excited and energetic it becomes. It is extremely powerful.
Breath nourishes each cell in the body. Before food, before social connection, before relationships, before anything else, you are fed by your breath.
When you attend to it, it will take you to great heights and anchor you at great depths.