Chase Bossart: Coming Alive With Every Breath We Take
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May 21, 2016
Kozo: Coming alive with every breath we take. Which reminds me of an Hawaiian prayer I do every morning that means "I am the breath that nurtures life." Could also be interpreted as "all of life." Pavi is a filmmaker, a writer, a poet, a speaker. Like her granduncle, Pavi is a healer on a very deep level.
Pavi: This call comes at a timely moment. I've been reflecting on how much for granted I've taken the breath for most of my life. One of the things that’s long been a point of exploration for me is this connection between the inner transformation and the external world. Service has been a wonderful exploration of that. Understanding that, as you change yourself, you change the world. Breath, in a way, also affords that connection. We are embodying it with every breath. The outer goes in and the internal goes out. We are continually being shaped and we are shaping our reality. It happens at these subtle levels. The current pace of our lives and the ways in which our cultures are oriented, means that we don't often tune into that. But it's so present. And I remember this feeling of waking up in the morning and realizing how I was holding my body and my breath in that moment, and then imagining how I held it as a child. In that moment I could see that I have certain tensions held in the body, and I can't even pinpoint where they come from. But when I say to myself, "Relax," I can feel these different things relaxing. It's mind blowing to think about these patterns of tension that we've unconsciously built up, and that we also have agency to relax them. What is that relationship between the mind and the body and the way we move through the world, and our sense of balance and our sense of health and well-being? These are questions I've been asking a lot since we've been on a journey with my husband's illness and we've had these profound windows and peeks into certain insights. I feel that it is a lifetime's journey, maybe many lifetimes journey, before you really understand what lies at the core of all of this. So I'm so excited to have Chase with us today. And with that I'd like to launch into an introduction of him, since I know he has a lot to share.
To set the context, we all know we live in a time when yoga, especially here in the West, it's a multi-billion dollar industry. You've got the apparel, you've got the trinkets, a new offshoot almost every season, Vinyasa yoga, Anusara hot yoga, kundalini power. This morning I heard about Boga for the first time. It's a combination of boxing and yoga. On one level it's great that yoga maybe a hot new trend but it's been around for 5,000 years! In the midst of pop culture and the rampant commercialism, to stumble across the work of people like Chase can be a breath of fresh air. He's been a student and teacher of yoga and yoga therapy for well over two decades. His practice and approach aspire to stay close to the often obscured roots of this path and the true essence of yoga. He's a student of T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of T. Krishnamacharya, the descendant of one of the most ancient and influential lineages of yoga teachers in India. He travels frequently to present workshops and trainings on a wide range of yoga and yoga therapy topics. And regularly develops yoga interventions for scientific research. He formerly served as the Director of Therapy and Education at the Healing Yoga Foundation in San Francisco and he's the founder of the Yoga Wellness Institute based in California. He has an MA in religious studies from Santa Barbara where he focused on Indian philosophy. He wrote his thesis on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. A little known fact about him is he's also fluent in Mandarin. I found a short yelp review on-line that I think is a beautiful introduction to the kind of person and teacher that Chase is. It starts out, "Chase is a patient and grounded instructor in the tradition of T. Krishnamacharya. If you like hard core bending and sweating, this is not the yoga class for you. Here it's all about the breath. It takes a while to get used to, going at your own pace, following your breath rather than an instructor telling you when to breathe and bend. But Chase's class was a refreshing change for me, getting back to what yoga meant when I started. Following my breath and treating yoga as a part of my life rather than a break from it. Welcome to you Chase. It's a privilege to have you with us this morning. Thank you so much for making the time.
Chase: Well thank you for having me. I'm really pleased to be here. Thank you. Before we get started I would like to do a little invocation that acknowledges that even the possibility of this call today is only possible because of the work of those who came before us and that something is being passed down over many, many generations. We're just one link in the chain. So I'd like to begin our talk with a little invocation.
Pavi: Thank you for that. As a start looking back at your journey could you give us a glimpse into the road that led you to the chapter in your life, or the book of yoga, in your life and the influences and states of mind that you were in that maybe led you there?
Chase: So I was born at an early age-- I was born on the west coast, I grew up in Seattle. I definitely am a west coast boy. When I went to college my parents really encouraged me to go out east. So I went to a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. It was a very interesting experience but at the same time a very difficult experience. I just never felt like I hit my stride, in fact, university really cracked me open. Who am I? What am I doing on the planet? What is the meaning of life? How is that I came to be here? Is there all there is? All these things really came to a forefront for me and I wouldn't say that I was very well equipped to answer these questions. So I became a philosophy major -- I got really into it. But somehow most of the-- I would say the non-Western philosophy, it's all very descriptive. Here's what the world is. Here's how it's structured. And essentially this is why you're screwed. End of the book. I thought, "Wait, wait what do I do with this?! This is not helping!" [Laughter]
At the university there were a couple of eastern philosophy courses. I took a course on Buddhist philosophy and I thought that was very interesting, very interesting. Then I decided to study abroad and there was a study abroad program in India. So just by dumb luck I went on this study abroad program and I was promised before going that I would be able to study some eastern philosophy, specifically Indian philosophy and Hindu religion. When I got there one of the courses was yoga theory and it was taught by Mr. Desikachar. Twice a week a very communicative, very slight, small Indian man would come in and blow my mind by his descriptions of "Okay here's how the world operates. Here's how you're related to it. Here is the structure of your human system." They were these beautiful descriptions that really very, very-- like coming home, very consistent, very common sense. It wasn't asking to make big leaps of faith. It's all stuff that you can test out and experiment with in your life on a daily basis. And really the kicker for me that there was not only a descriptive side like here's who you are and what the world is, but there was this beautiful prescriptive element: breathe like this, link with these things, don't link with those things, pay attention to what your actions are, ask yourself the question "Why am I doing this?" It had not only the descriptive element but it had this broad prescriptive element. Everything from breathing to movement to attention to diet to lifestyle to relationships to spirituality. I was hooked! Alright here we go!
Pavi:You said in a beautiful way that it felt like coming home. Was it easy to drop the western framework, did it feel natural? Or was there a process of navigating that?
Chase: I would say that's still an ongoing process. I went to India and became so enthusiastic and I came back to college, I had one semester left. I finished that and went straight back to India and spent six months there studying with Mr. Desikachar and at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram which is essentially a clinic where they use yoga to help people heal physical and emotional issues. I came back and I looked my Dad in the eye and I just couldn’t quite tell him I'm going to be a yoga teacher. I just couldn't quite say "Thank you for the college education and all of our family values of business and this and that, I'm going to be a yoga teacher." So I looked him in the eye and I said, "I'm going to get a PhD in Indian philosophy." Which is pretty much in his eyes, I'm going to be a yoga teacher. [Laughter] But at least it was hidden and it was garbed in the advanced degree lingo. It's taken me a really long time. It took me a full ten years, no fourteen years, to become a yoga teacher from when I first got introduced to Mr. Desikachar to a time when that's all I did was teach yoga. And I think that the process of teaching has really accelerated the change in perspective. Because when you wrestle with how do you communicate what is being presented, then you start to see all kinds of examples in your own life -- just had an exchange with my wife, or standing in line at a grocery store, something like that, becomes an example and then it really is a process that accelerates.
Pavi: I know in this tradition that the teacher student relationship is really important and you've had an extraordinary teacher. I was wondering, since some of our callers might not be particularly familiar with Desikachar or his lineage, could you speak a little about that?
Chase: Mr. TKV Desikachar was the second son of Sri T. Krishnamacharya. And Krishnamacharya was born into a family of religious scholars. One of his ancestors was a very influential reformer of religion in the 19th century named Sri Nathamuni. And the religious institution that he helped form, called Sri Vaishnava tradition, Krishnamacharya's great grandfather and his great great grandfather were both essentially the pope of that institution. So Krishnamacharya was born into a family with a deep tradition of learning and religious practice. And Krishnamacharya spent a great deal of his life studying including traveling to Nepal and Tibet where he spent 7 years with his yoga teacher. Essentially, living in a cave with him and his family, as a part of the family. When Krishnamacharya left his teacher in India, the tradition of payment for studies happens at the end of the studies and it's called Guru Duction. At the end of the studies the teacher names what the prices of the studies will be. And when Krishnamacharya was leaving his teacher, Brahma Mohan Bramacharya, he said "Please be a yoga teacher and please get married and have a family." So Krishnamacharya, who was part of this religious institution where his great grandfather and his great great grandfather had been renunciates and led this religious group, he became a family man. He had six kids and he taught yoga his whole life. And a lot of the yoga that has come down to us in the West has been inspired by Krishnamacharya or can really trace its roots to Krishmamacharya. Like Vinyasa flow, ashtanga yoga. Sri Pattabhi Jois was a long time student of Sri Krishnamacharya's. Mr. Iyengar was Krishnamacharya's brother-in-law. Then you get people like A.G. Mohan and Mr. TKV Desikachar, Indra Devi, all studied with him and really brought yoga into the West. Although many things have changed and morphed over the years, a lot of what's here in terms of yoga in the West can be traced back to Shri Krishnamacharya. Then Mr. Desikachar who is really not interested in yoga at all in his youth; in fact he studies to be an engineer and was valedictorian in his class. After he graduated from university and he was on his way to a job in Gudrat. He came home to what was then Madras and now is Chennai and was staying with his family for a couple weeks before he started the job. And there's this story where Mr. Desikachar was sitting on the porch and up pulled a car, and out of it came a foreign lady and she was saying, "Professor, professor!" To which Krishnamacharya came out and she ran out and gave him a big hug. Mr. Desikachar who had never seen his parents hug was shocked. Afterwards he said to his father, "What was that?" Sri Krishnamacharya said, "This woman has slept for the first time in twenty years without pills and she's very excited and she's come to thank me for that." Mr. Desikachar got interested, declined the job in Gudrat and took a job in Chennai and started studying with his father. He ended up living and studying with his father the last thirty years of Sri Krishnamacharya's life. Mr. Desikachar really became a vessel for a huge amount of Krishnamacharya's various teachings. It's a broad, broad range of things; everything from asana, which is body position. When people think yoga now, they very often think body positions or exercise or sweat and what not. But this is a fairly limited tool of the full yoga range of tools. He taught from asana to pranayama to meditation to chanting to philosophy to daily living to spirituality to diet and lifestyle. A full range of tools. The thing I find amazing and continue to marvel at is that it all fits together as a coherent structure. It's not yogic breathing, buddhist meditation and this or that therapy. It's really the breath and the body and the mind and the emotions and life and spirituality -- they all fit together as a single whole. It's like a ball of string, when you pull one string all the others come. It's a beautiful structure and very powerful in terms of transforming our perspective.
Pavi: That's quite a rich introduction and I'd like to go back to that relationship with Desikachar but I think at this point, I would love for our listeners and myself to understand when you use the word “yoga” in this tradition, what does that contain for you? What does that mean?
Chase: Okay, the rest of the call will now be on yoga. [Laughter] This is a super interesting question. The root of the word yoga is "yug" in Sanskrit. And “yug” means "to yoke." A yoke is something that you use to help you direct the movement of something that you would otherwise not be able to. In other words, a yoke is an implement of influence. You can use the word "control" but it's a little strong. A yoke is something we put on a horse or an oxen that allows us to direct the movement of the object. But if you look at yoga you get all of these different ideas. Yoga is equanimity. Yoga is skill and action. Yoga is that which separates us from our union with suffering. Yoga is directing the mind in a chosen direction -- that's yoga sutra. Yoga is a protection. Yoga is a tool. It helps you to do what you could not do otherwise. Yoga is meditation. Yoga is conscious linking. Yoga is skill in action. I think when you ask this question how do you define yoga? Imagine that you are trying to communicate to someone who's never been in love. Never had the experience of parental love. Never been a parent themselves. How do you talk about that to someone who's never had the experience? You can start to explain some of the aspects of it. Love is feeling nourished or feeling attended to. Love is when you would willingly give your own life for the life of your child. Or love is a sensation that arises in this or that part of the body. But none of those-- those are all pointers, they're pointing to something that's not in the language. It's an experience that can't really be captured by the word "love." I think we have the same dynamic going on with yoga. Yoga is something that is an experience. And something that you have to experience to know what it is so over time there's been so many definitions of the word yoga. But really they are talking about a process by which our system, our body, our mind, our emotions, etc. comes back towards a state of balance. And as it comes back to a state of balance various symptoms are there. The mind becomes directable, the breath becomes long and smooth, there are feelings of peace and joy. Because the mind is directable, because there is not anxiety or anger or these kinds of things, then my capacity to respond to situations in front of me improves. The skill at which I can run my life or interact with other people or things increases a lot. So yoga is really a set of techniques that influence the way our system functions. We have to have an understanding about how is it that the system can function and what is our goal? And then based on that we can apply techniques to change the way it's functioning or influence it. And as we become more and more skilled at bringing the whole system back toward balance, then all kinds of different areas of our system, our human system, change and that effects every part of our life. So when you ask what is the meaning of yoga, this is a really interesting question. And you can access it at so many different points because when you practice yoga it changes everything in your life. Do you want to access it at the body? Or at the mind? Or in relationships? Or spirit? These are all legitimate starting points.
Pavi: That's a pretty electryifying elevator pitch for yoga and more. And it's a great segue to have you talk about the Panchamayasystem, a very foundational piece in the work you do. Perhaps you could break that down for us?
Chase: You asked this question a few minutes ago about how long did it take for me to accept yoga perspective. I answered that it's an ongoing project. The main topic in yoga is perception, experience. How is it that I am experiencing my life? It then looks and says all of life is being mediated through the lens of my body and my mind. So whatever is happening in my body and my mind is going to be influencing my experience and my life. If I'm really nervous about something that's coming up next week, it's going to be effecting a conversation I'm having with my wife. Or the work that I'm doing. Or how I'm driving my car. You know if you've ever had a loved one who's had a health situation, that health situation affects us, the rest of our life, is a little bit, impacted. Yoga looks at that and says okay so what is this lens through which all my experience is mediated. We can say from a yoga perspective the model is taken from the Titra Upanishand, it's called the Punjamaya. The lens has five different dimensions. Punja means "five" and "maya" which means that which is all pervading. So five different dimensions: they are body, breath, mind, personality and emotions. And moreover all five of these things are interconnected so that when one changes, all the other change as well. In fact my wife this morning is having some back pain. The back pain happened yesterday afternoon. We were with a friend and the friend was talking about the death of her mother. And my wife's mother is having some health difficulties and in the course of the conversation my wife shifted her back in the chair, and bam! the back tightened up and she had back pain. So you can see where is this back pain coming from. Really there's some emotional response and that emotional reponse is showing up in her back. I could say something like that-- we could play a word association game. If you close your eyes, I say a word, and then you would observe your breath. Politicians. Taxes. Did anybody see their breath catch for a moment? Or if you aspire to be a politician maybe your breath got long. From the model of yoga what we're really seeing is that these things interact. And when I change one level all the other levels change. And this takes us to the topic of the conversation today. Because our breath is so powerful; it's both a barometer of what's happening in our system as well as a tool to change what's happening in our system. If we get out of balance, if we get nervous or anxious or sad or angry, it will show up in our breath. So by working with the breath it also has the influence on other things that are happening in our system.
Pavi: Might this be a good place for one of the interactive exercises?
Chase: One of the things I would like to have for this call is to have a couple of practical takeaways. One of the really practical things is if you observe your breath throughout the day, it gives so much information about how you're doing. Are you relaxed? Are you nervous? Pavi, you started off saying you could see in yourself different aspects were nervous and when you let that relax, something changed. Breath is such a powerful tool to get information and feedback from your system. Same thing, once you see that you can change it around. Why don't we have a little bit of experiment about that. So please sit up with your spine straight. Take a moment and watch some of your breathing. How is it? Where is it? Then repeat after me. I'm going to do a little whispering and I'm going to have you repeat after me. "I am whispering." Just whisper, "I am whispering." "I am whispering." Repeat after me, "When I whisper I can feel my throat." Whisper that a couple of times. On your next breath, I'd like you to whisper, "Ahhh." Your mouth will be open. How long can you whisper "Ahhh?" So take a big inhale and then whisper "Ahhh." Repeat like that, I'm going to give some more instructions. Big inhale, slow whisper Ahhh. As you do that, see if you can make the whispered Ahhh quiet and subtle. So subtle that maybe you are the only one that can hear it. You are the only one that can hear it. Nice, slow, subtle whispered Ahhh. We'll do one more thing here. Close the mouth but keep the sound. Start with the mouth open and whisper, "Ahhh." Then close the mouth in the middle. Ask yourself where does the sound move? It might not be a sound anymore, it might be a sensation. Where does it move? One more time like that. This is just a short technique, a quick technique. No conscious control of your breath to see how you feel. How are you breathing now? See if there is some change from when we started a few minutes ago when we started the breathing. This is really what yoga is about. Yoga is about learning how to manage our system, our human system, our body, our mind, our breath, our emotions. Learning what kind of experiences bring me back to balance. What kind of experiences help me return to equilibrium? And then the quality of my attention, the quality of my presence, my capacity to actually listen will be different. They'll be improved. Then the way that I respond to my kids when they're yelling in the car; or the way I talk to a colleague when they've made a big mistake; or the way that I communicate something very difficult to my loved ones, they'll be different. And this principle applies on the full range of our capacities. So if I'm very ill or I have some strong pain then we're doing essentially the same thing but we're just using techniques that are modified to meet the capacity of that situation. Being in strong pain or being very ill. But as slowly the techniques have an influence on my system, and slowly something happens and there's a return to balance etc., then we change techniques because my capacity is changing. If I have to define what is yoga I prefer conscious linking because yoga is about choosing to link to the things that will nourish me or will bring me back towards balance. And learning to relinquish the things that have the opposite effect; that take me out of balance; take me in a wrong direction. And as this happened then I am really uncovered. That's a complicated question, "Who am I etc." But really as it happens we come back to who we really are. Then the way we are in the world is so different. I hope that the breathing exercise we just did gives a small taste of what's possible in that direction.
Pavi: I think it does. I think it's undeniable-- you can feel it in your body, you can feel that change, that window kind of opening. But I'm curious about why does this happen? Are there explanations for why breath is such a key piece of this? What is actually happening?
Chase: That's so interesting. I just like to point out and this is one of my favorite things to do when I'm teaching that-- before I go on, if you're sitting at your desk, pick up something that is light, like an envelope or a pencil. Pick it up above your desk and drop it. Then release it. It falls to the desk. We may ask why does that happen? Everyone will say gravity, but gravity is not an explanation, gravity is a description. We can describe the speed at which two particles of mass are attracted to each other. And we use it at great effect in our modern life. This description is so useful. But finally we don't know why two particles of mass attract each other. We're not able to explain the why. So a lot of what we're doing in science is description. And I would say that yoga is a gorgeous description of how our human system functions. I have a body and it's functioning. But the functioning is related to my breathing. And when I change my breathing it changes the way my body functions. Oh, I'm thinking and when I have a thought I really like, oh my breath gets a little longer and softer. And when I have a thought I don't like my breathing gets shallow and sharper, etc. Yoga gives some explanations for why when you change your breath it has such an impact on the system, but I'm not sure they're really explanations as they are descriptions. So one of the things they said was that there is a vitality, a kind of energy, at the foundation of the way our system is functioning. And this vitality or this energy is called "prana." It's very similar to in the Chinese tradition as "chi." And in the Japanese tradition as "kit." Something like acupuncture that works with this vital energy and how it moves in our body. Acupuncture is influencing how the energy is moving through the use of pressure or pins. Yoga is claiming to be working with the same energy and its tools are breath and attention. In fact, the same word that's used for vital energy is the same word that's used for breathing. At the beginning of the call there was a beautiful explanation of the Hawaiian prayer and how life and how breath is for all of life. And the same connection is being drawn here in yoga. Breathing has something to do with vitality and when you add in presence, when you add in attention and directing of that attention to different parts of the body or the mind, etc. then you can consciously support the functioning of the vitality. You can consciously support the way that prana is moving in your body. To me this is still a description. I think it's one of those mysteries of life that doesn't need to be solved. Oh I am here, I'm in a body, how did I get here? I don't know, but I am here. And while I'm here if I breathe like this or I move like that or if I have attention in different ways, it can really influence the way my system is functioning. That has a huge impact on my experience of the world and that has a huge impact on my capacity to participate in influence and help and be of service.
Pavi: One of my other questions was around prana and its relationship to the breath. And that came out very naturally. The descriptions are gorgeous and the explanations aren't necessary to receive the benefit. I think the descriptions in some sense, I don't know if this is your experience with it, but with my limited exposure to the sutras, they are kind of these, they're not like manuals like a manual you would use to fix your car, but they're like lighthouses or beacons. What you were saying in the beginning about your experience is your deepest teacher.
Chase: Breath is really important in this direction because if you look at the practice of yoga, its main goal is that the essential you is expressed. The spirit in you has its purpose for being on the planet, now in your body, gets expressed. How do we get there? Because most of the time we're so focused on external, what we would call gross as opposed to subtle things. So this manual of sutras is giving us a way that we move from the gross to the subtle, and from the subtle to the more subtle, and from the more subtle to the more subtle. This process is greatly facilitated by breathing and by breath. Let's take for instance a forward bend. If I just raise my arms and bend forward and come back up and lower my arms versus if I began with the breath and set the intention that the breath is raising my arms as it goes up and I finish my inhale at the time the arms are up and then I set the intention that my body will float down on the breath as I bend forward. So I begin my exhale then I begin to bend forward. I finish the forward bend, I finish the exhale, I pause, I set the intention that breath will raise me up. So I begin to breathe, then I begin to rise up on the breath, come all the way up, then I finish the movement, I finish the breath. Now I set the intention my arms will float down on the breath. I begin exhaling, the arms come down. I finish the arm movement, then, I finish my breath. Slowly that allows us to see how the gross, the body, is actually being moved, is being breathed by breath. That is like going from gross to subtle. Not only that, it will take us toward equilibrium, towards balance. As we come toward balance, the number of thoughts that I have, the content of thoughts I have, will diminish. So that when I have that internal voice that says, "Oh I think you need to call Susan or whoever it is. I think you need to go do this." We become capable of feeling and seeing what our calls are. I really feel called to helping the homeless. Or I really feel called to help our veterans that are returning. By moving from the gross to the subtle it allows us to be in touch with our internal voice and how is that-- and when we get in touch with our internal voice it really opens up the possibility that why we're here gets fulfilled. I think breathing is key to that, because it's constantly bringing us back to what's a little more subtle, a little more subtle, a little more subtle.
Kozo: Beautiful. Chase I was wondering if I could break in here because we're entering the top of the hour and I'd like to open the question and answer, also comments, period.
Pavi: Continuing with that theme, I wanted to ask you since I'm sure many of the people listening have a yoga practice of their own or have done a yoga class and probably accessed it through the asana form, what kind of from your approach to yoga, how do you approach the asanas and what might be helpful things we can keep in mind?
Chase: Patanjali. This comes back to the question you asked about how do we change from one perspective to another. And really yoga is about changing our perspective, changing our experience of the world. In our western world the ideas of health are closely connected to cardiovascular strain. It's a way that we're told that if you exercise you will be healthy and exercise is defined as raising the heart rate. Patanjali, in his definition of how to do asana, says “sthira,” and “suka.” It must be stable, “sthira,” and it must be comfortable, ease, “suka.” In the yoga perspective, the most important pump of the body is not the heart, the most important pump of the body is the lungs, is the breathing. Krishnamacharya has been documented on several occasions to be able to stop his own heart through some breathing. In other words, he layed down on a table and said take my pulse in twenty minutes and he did a bunch of breathing and he'd take the pulse and there's no pulse for two minutes. Then he would change his breathing and the pulse would come back. There's a whole perspective shift here. We think I’m being healthy by straining my body. We think we’re being healthy by raising the heart rate and what not. Shri Krishnamacharya would say, "Horses run, people walk." When we do a yoga practice according to Shri Krishnamacharya, the heart rate should not be elevated. That doesn't mean it's not intense, it just means the intensity is coming through breathing and the lengthening of breath; it's not coming from the physical exertion or by making the body exert. When we think about how to do yoga I would encourage people that don't do it as a big workout, don't view it as exercise. Breathing is so closely related to prana and when you agitate your breath you agitate your prana. Have smooth and have even and have lengthy breath. Then coordinate a movement with that breath. So as your chest expands with the inhale, take the arms out to the side or up above the head. As your chest contracts with the exhale, bend forward, there's a contraction of the chest with the movement. So there's a connection here between movement and breathing. Then slowly the breath can be the touchstone by which my movements, etc., happen. But this question is interesting probably because it is a very different world view and it's not easy to just turn the corner and you have a different world view. It's something that takes a little time. Earlier in the call you had said about one on one teaching; it's so important to have an individual teacher who can help you to implement these things on an individual basis. When you go to a group class, group classes are wonderful, I support them, I like them. But if you're really going to do this in a meaningful way, I think it's really important to have individual instruction for somebody who can watch and see and point out what you're doing and make changes, etc.
Kozo: Thank for that. I'm using your techniques right now because my son has a baseball game that starts at 8:15 and I knew I was going to be on this call and I prepared all this stuff and I had my mom come over and pick him up, then my wife came out and said, "What are you doing?" So things got a little crazy. I told her, "I'm on a conference call and they can hear you." I saw my breath get really short and so I've been doing the "ahhh" and closing my mouth and it's made me feel and know "it's okay." It's working right now as we speak.
Chase: I want to say there is another step here. When you have established closing the mouth halfway through, you can find that place in your breath easily, it's not necessary to open the mouth again. You can keep it closed and have that sensation of where the breath is in your throat or back of the nasal passage as you go.
Kozo: I have a question that extends on what you said about when you connect with breath, you connect with prana. Breath will bring us back up and you were talking about doing a forward fold. But I was thinking more in terms of therapeutic yoga and I'm wondering if the subtleties of breath and prana can influence the gross in a way that can stop heartbeats if you really train it. Have you seen how breath or yoga or that awareness can alter the growth in the sense of disease, in the sense of disability, in the sense of all these different growths, maladies?
Chase: Absolutely. From our model, the Titra Upanishad, we see the material aspect of the human system as having five dimensions: the body, the body is breathing and it's thinking, behaving and feeling. These are interconnected so when one changes, all the others change as well. I stub my toe, immediately my breath shortens, and then my mind goes, "Who the hell put this chair here?" And then my behavior changes and I start yelling. So there's this connection between the way my body is functioning and the way I'm breathing, thinking, feeling, etc. When we're talking about therapeutic application of yoga, we're really looking at it's not simply that the body is disturbed or there's some issue with the way the body is functioning. That is also going to show up how we're breathing. Typically it shows up how we think, the content of our mind, or how much attention we have, etc. It also shows up with moods, that kind of thing. So when somebody comes in with a physical issue-- and I deal with everything from terminal cancer to fibromyalgia to parkinson's to migraines to whiplash, you name it, yoga has application. Because when you change the way you're breathing it starts influencing how your body is functioning. It starts influencing how your mind is functioning, and the results of this is-- it seems so simple, it seems so subtle, it seems like almost impossible, it's almost daily that somebody that I've seen for a second or third time, they will say I can't believe it's the breathing but I'm feeling so much better. So what else have you changed in your life. Nothing. And how do you feel? Oh I feel so much better. We have really amazing impact not only on pain, but on digestion, elimination and the way that a woman's cycle functions, the applications and the impact are enormous.
Kozo: Can you give a specific story of a person who is dealing with a malady and you changed the way they breathed and what went on there?
Chase: Sure. I have a recent example of a young man, 33 or 34, and he had been dealing with chronic back pain for 3 years. He had been to every conceivable doctor including acupuncture. By the time they get to yoga they have seen a whole slew of different people. Nothing had worked. He had a procedure done and it hadn't worked. So we started doing very soft movements coordinated with breath. The movements were about a half inch in length. He said, "Really this is it? This is my practice? You don't want me to stretch it out. You don't want me to go forward?" I said, "No, actually I want just the opposite. I really don't want you to stretch this out. I do not want you to aggravate it. Just do this with this breathing, so soft." I saw him a week later and basically he was so excited. He said "I don't know, but I've had the best week I've had in three years. I'm not better. There's still some way to go here, but now there's some moments in my day when I'm not in terrific pain. There's some moments in my day when things are calmed down a bit." Basically over a course of three months, he came completely out of his back pain and regained his movement. He still has to be careful. And he's still going to have to do these practices every day to keep things open and loose. But basically there's a huge impact there. And this is a guy who's been around trying to get some solutions. We could go on and on like this. Here's another example. I have a young lady who's had migraines. The migraines started in high school, several per week, up through her thirties. A friend told her to come see me because she's tried everything and had given up when she came to see me. This process working with breath, when you change your breathing, you can change the way you feel. You can participate in your mood and your healing. You're no longer at the mercy of it. This one took about six months but over the course of six months what she learned to do was identify a pattern of pushing and a pattern of striving. By identifying this pattern of pushing and striving, then she slowly stopped when she started seeing it happening. And stopping when she's seeing-- here are my warning signs, I'm reaching the limit of my capacity. And if I keep going I can hunker down and push through, but if I hunker down and continue to push through then I know that I'm going to be paying the price later. When I say it took six months, she's still going to be having a few headaches because there's going to be times in her life when she's not going to be able to stop even though she knows what's happening. She's going to have to push through, but by and large she's been able to reorganize her work schedule, reorganize her living schedule, so that she can better support the equanimity or balance. And as she's done that, she's really been able to dramatically reduce the number of headaches she's been having.
Kozo: So we've chronic back pain, chronic migraines within six to three months they were injury free. We have a lot of people on the call today, Chase.
Pavi: I have a question that was typed in, a quick question from the bay area. What advice do you have as we get more technologically immersed, in particular, the effect of screen stimuli, electrical impulses, repetitive micromovements, etc. How can we better support ourselves proactively and preventively?
Chase: This is an important question. Mr. Desikachar is retired now because of medical issues and he's really very, very ill. He's no longer teaching or available to the general public. But when he was teaching he always used to say, "Well as yoga therapist you can thank the computer for all of the work it will be bringing you." [Laughter] It's so true. We have these screens and we sit in front of them and for those that are familiar with aruyveda, screens are so vatta, aggravating, and vatta is related to pain. Screens really cause a lot of havoc in our systems, but for many people they're unavoidable, their entire work day takes place on the screen. I would say that it's really worthwhile to take five minutes every other hour and do a little bit of breathing and a little of movement. And this breathing and movement is a way of participating in the way your system feels and functions. It's bringing it back towards balance regularly. As long as we're in balance, our system is going to function as best it can. If we have some long standing chronic something, that's going to impact the overall function. But when you're in balance, it will function as best as it can. Probably the answer to this question is a short physical practice with breathing. Can I lead a practice, now?
Chase: Be seated with your spine erect, your spine straight as possible. Put your palms on your knees. Take a big inhale, and as you exhale you're going to whisper ahhh. You can do it with your mouth open or your mouth closed, it's up to you. Whisper ahhh. Then another big inhale, you're going to go at your own pace. On your next exhale, bring the right palm to the left shoulder, pause, as you inhale bring the hand back to the right knee. Then exhale, the left palm will come to the right shoulder. After you finish your exhale you're going to pause there for a moment. As you inhale you'll come back, your left hand to your left knee. Go at your own pace, own speed which is going to be the speed of your breath. Alternate the hands each time. I'll give some more instruction as you do this. Try to make the movement of the hand the start and finish time the same as the breath. So try to coordinate the movement of the hand with the movement of the breath. As you're exhaling, slowly bring the palm to the opposite shoulder, as the hand gets to the opposite shoulder you're just finishing your exhale. Pause there for a moment. Then initiating the inhale, initiating the movement, hand comes back to the knee as you're finishing your inhale. Try to make the sound of the whispered ahhh subtle, slow the breath down, very subtle. One more time. This is something you could do at your desk. For instance, as you inhale you could take the arm from the knee up above the head, arch the back, exhale, bring the arm back down, alternate the arms like this. So there are other things at the computer. But if you just take 5 minutes it has a big impact.
Kozo: I had no idea we were going to have yoga class on the Awakin call today but I'm so thankful. It's beautiful, Chase, thank you. We have two callers.
Mary: I am actually a student of Chase's and I don't know if this was brought up earlier but although this tradition is best experienced on a one-on-one, there are a handful of us who teach in this tradition in the Bay area. So Chase I was hoping you would bring that up that there are classes in this Bay area where they could experience a taste of this tradition if they're so inclined. And I would also say that I have been a huge beneficiary of working with Chase one-on-one and have had my own long term injuries dissolve in my system through these practices.
Chase: If you're interested in finding a group class where you live, you can email me at TheWell@YogaWellInstitute.com and we'll be happy to connect you with a teacher in your area. Also our lineage is called Viniyoga, you can google that and find some teachers.
Anne: Such a joy to be on this call this morning. I wanted a profound thank you to Pavi and Chase for this beautiful conversation. I've been practicing yoga, different traditions, since my twenties, and when I was introducted to Chase, almost five or six months, it has been a profound experience. For me it's also that sense of coming home. I've been looking for this for many, many years. Just like meditation, the opportunity to surrender to the breath. What I'm finding and what I've never experienced before in my yoga practice is allowing my body to move. Not that I'm controlling it, but from that deep place of listening and allowing the breath to move whatever part of my body that's moving and that profound gratitude of being in this body; the subtleties that kind of arise, or information or brightening of inner knowing. It has been the most beautiful surprise, so thank you, Chase. This call has been super, super special.
Chase: Thank you Anne, I appreciate it. I just wanted to say thanks to everybody that has had the opportunity to be on this call and hear this work from Shri Krishnamacharya and Mr. Desikachar. I do have a small thank you to offer people. I have a series of three recorded classes on breathing techniques and if you email me at email@example.com and ask for the link to that, we'll be happy to get you set up so you can watch those classes. You got a little taste today, just as a thank you. I have to say that Mr. Desikachar was so humble. If you ever met him you would have no idea you were talking to one of the most influential and accomplished yogis of the modern era. If you sat next to him on the plane and you asked him what do you do he would say "I'm a consultant." [Laughter] You would have no idea, you would come away thinking what a nice man. It's such a honor to share that work that he has put out into the world and to be part of it. I really appreciate the opportunity to share and do that. Thank you so much for having me on the call, I'm really honored.
Kozo: What a beautiful gift and sign me up because what you've shared today has been so helpful. We have one more question. What can we as a service space community do for you to help you with your work and what you're trying to accomplish in this world?
Chase: The thing that really helps the most is the awareness that yoga comes from breathing and that it has this full presentation of the human system. Yoga is actually a meditation tradition with breathing, with body movement, with daily life. And to have that be out there as something people think about with yoga. You can find out more from my website. You can find out from Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram which is kym.org. You can find out more from Viniyoga. To know there's a whole presentation of yoga that is tailoring techniques to the person that can happen in such a deep and profound way would be a huge help for us.
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