Technique in poses is more important than the breath involved.
Alright yoga world. Come at me. This blog is about why I place more emphasis on on technique than on breath, something that 99.9% of yoga instructors would never even consider, let alone practice regularly. This isn’t to say that the breath isn’t important. It’s really important. It’s just not as important to me as bodily technique. And it goes back to my personal experiences with yoga.
It took me a very long time to understand the correct technique for yoga poses. It wasn’t until 3 months into yoga classes that an instructor came over and told me that I was supposed to put my front knee over my ankle in Warrior 2, rather than have it jutting in towards the middle. That meant that for 3 months I had been at risk for harming my knee and not maximizing on the hip flexor stretch benefit of the pose. Wouldn’t it have been nice if somebody told me? At that point, I definitely knew about the proper breathing techniques. Instructors were pretty clear that we had to inhale through our nose, and exhale annoyingly loud through our nose as well. (Make an ocean sound.) God forbid anybody breathe through their mouths. (Seriously though, that shit can get annoying.)
But there generally weren’t enough cues to tell me how to properly do the poses. I didn’t know where to place my knee in relation to my ankle. I didn’t know if I should turn my hips in or out more. I didn’t know if my shoulders were even. I didn’t know if my core was really engaged. A lot of it was guesswork. It was really frustrating, as a beginner. You had to know what was going on to be able to join this party we call yoga, otherwise you were just doing your best to mimic others. A lot of the time I was just being told that I needed to forgive people in my life, feel gratitude for my yoga practice, or be thankful that I was alive and able to practice. (I would have been a lot more likely to do the 2nd and 3rd of those things I just mentioned if I had had an instructor telling me how to properly do the poses involved…)
Eventually, I figured the poses out. It took a long freaking time. Way longer than it should have. After I understood the technique, I began to understand how the breath fit into the picture. I realized that moving into proper technique while moving with the breath helped augment the benefits of the poses. So eventually I did realize the importance of the breath – BUT IT WASN’T UNTIL AFTER I REALIZED PROPER TECHNIQUE. The result of the way that my yoga practice developed is that I now place much more emphasis on technique than on the breath when I teach as well. I’ve always been a physical fitness nerd and an athlete. I knew that I needed to breathe because as an experienced weight lifter I knew that breathing in as you pushed up would probably make you drop the weight. Breathing with yoga was far more intuitive for me, so I didn’t need that much cuing for it.
So when I started teaching yoga, I started teaching it the way that I would have wanted it to be taught. And I wanted to learn the technique involved. So I teach the technique first, and once I’ve covered everything that I want to say about technique, then I move on to the breath. Then I say, “And remember to breathe, slow and controlled, in and out of the nose. Control your breath, control your body.”
At this point I’m sure that many of you are simply writhing in your seats, planning your responses. “Dean – the breath is much more important than technique. People in my classes forget to breathe!” I’m going to go out a limb and say that we probably attract different audiences. I’m an athlete and a physical fitness enthusiast, so those are the kinds of people that I attract to my classes. These people do cardio, lift weights, and play sports. They know how to breathe, because if they didn’t they would have a history of passing out every other day.
If you’re skeptical about my approach, I encourage you to look at the success of the people who do yoga with me. Because of my emphasis on technique, I get people experiencing the benefits of the poses more quickly than other instructors that I’ve seen. I’ll give an example. Earlier this week I was working with one of my remote training students. It was our third session (ever). That session, after noticing his lack of core engagement in multiple poses, I covered forward folds and half lifts with him in detail. This guy has been doing yoga for years. He even had a private yoga instructor for 12 months. At the end of the session, he said that he had learned more from me in 3 days than he had with his private yoga instructor for 12 months. I was just really excited that he was going to start really addressing his lower back issues. Seriously – he’s going to be feeling 100x better in less than a month.
The breath will follow when you know the technique. Unfortunately, the opposite is not true. Learning the breath does not always lead to proper technique. Learning how to properly breathe doesn’t tell me where my knee should be in Warrior 2. Solely relying on the breath teaches me to get comfortable within my own range of motion without pushing the boundaries. Teaching technique teaches people what they should be striving for, and then they can intuitively learn how to use the breath to take them further.
The breath is an important thing. Chances are good that if you don’t breathe, you’ll die. Technique is just more important, the way that I practice and teach yoga.