I used to be a smoker but quit at 41. When I did, I realized that I needed to get my breath back So, of course, my girlfriend convinced me to take up Ashtanga yoga which is how I came to yoga.
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If you know Ashtanga yoga, then I’m sure you’re shaking your head and if you don’t know it, then let me explain. Ashtanga is a very active form of yoga that combines ujjayi breathing (ocean sounding breath) with movement. It was made popular by Pattabhi Jois. The primary series begins by doing Sun Salutation A (Suryanamaskara A) five times, followed by Sun B five times before moving into standing poses, seated poses and then savasana. The link to the primary series that I included shows an illustration of all the poses.
Ashtanga is one of the yoga forms known as Vinyasa because each movement flows with a breath. Usually lifting or opening poses are done on an inhale and folding or closing poses are done on an exhale. So one movement coordinates with one breath — inhale your arms up, exhale as you fold forward. During the salutation, when a student moves into Downward Dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana, then five breaths are taken before moving on. You’ll see in the primary series link above that in Sun B, there are three different downward dogs, but it’s only in the third one that you pause for 5 breaths. I realize there is so much more I could write about Ashtanga and about yoga, but this post isn’t about yoga, it’s about how I came to yoga. If you wish to learn more, then I highly recommend Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual by David Swenson. He is considered one of the leading experts on Ashtanga Yoga in the U.S. having studied it since 1969.
At 41, having quit smoking after 25 years, I was a hot, fat, sweaty mess in class. While there is a lot I’ve forgotten about Ashtanga yoga (that phase only lasted a couple of years,) one thing I do remember is that I found myself and reclaimed my breath in Downward Dog. I struggled through each sun salutation, trying (and failing) to keep up with everyone else, but each time I got to down dog, I rejoiced for 5 glorious, heaving, breaths—or was it was more like 10 or 20?
While there, I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was. I learned that I really did want to be able to breathe better, to lose weight and to regain my health. And I learned that I no longer wanted to be in situations or relationships that stressed me out or made me second guess me–who I really am. I learned that friends can help make you stronger when you don’t think you can do it on your own. And I learned that if I was willing to fight for my breath, then I was willing to fight for myself.
Since that first Ashtanga class, I’ve gotten divorced and remarried. I became a certified yoga teacher at 43 and have taught both in studios and in retirement homes. I still take classes from others occasionally, but try to focus on a home practice now. Still, no matter where I am, when the teacher instructs the class to move into a resting pose and others sink into child’s pose, I come home to Downward Dog.
So how’s that for trying something new? Taking up yoga after quitting smoking. Sometimes you have to push yourself harder than you thought you could. So my challenge to you — what new thing have you tried that was harder than you thought it would be? What did you learn about yourself?
As a bonus, I wanted to share a video of my yoga idol. I used to joke that I became a yoga teacher so that when I was in my 80’s I could impress students in their 50’s. Well, Tao is 96 years old and I aspire to be even half the glorious woman and yoga teacher that she is!