Me: The breath helps us to understand yoga. You: Oh, yeah? Tell me how.

Highlights from day 1 of my 5 day training with Leslie Kaminoff.


There was SO MUCH good stuff in tonight’s lecture. If you ever get the chance, you should take this man’s workshop and learn from him.  I’m going to share with you a few highlights of Mr. Kaminoff’s ideas in my own words as remembered from tonight’s lecture and practice.  Get ready.  It’s really good.

Yoga deals with prana.  Prana is this force that is within us and that keeps us breathing, moving and alive.  When we breathe, there is part of that process that is voluntary and part that is involuntary.  We can take a big ole breath, but if we try to hold the breath, eventually the autonomic system kicks in and makes us breathe. You should try it!  What is it that makes us breathe? There are lots of explanations for it, but yoga calls it prana. Breathing is a very direct experience of what prana is and what it can do.   There’s no way to hold the breath until we die and prana leaves.  Prana won’t allow it.  It keeps us kicking.  Prana is this serious force that keeps us going and living and moving.  The breath can be the very direct primary teacher of this principle.

As demonstrated by what happens when we try to hold the breath forever, and then we can’t… We are not completely in control of all that happens in our system or our lives.  We do have a choice over how we participate, react and bring consciousness to our behavior.  How we relate to the force… the force that makes us breathe,  the force we don’t have complete control over and how we relate to the very long list of all the other stuff we don’t have control over is a choice we are able to make.  Tapas is a way of bringing consciousness to how we relate to elements in our lives that we may or may not have control over.  (Did I mention that we have control over very little of what goes on in our lives?) Tapah means “to cook” and so inherent in this idea of tapas is friction.  It isn’t necessarily smooth sailing when we bring our awareness and effort to the practice of beginning to change how we habitually relate to things in our lives.  We’ve got to have the heat to burn some of that shiz-nit off, don’t we?

But what is it that needs to change and what do we actually have control over so that we can change?  In order to answer this question, we look to the practice of svadyaya.  “Sva” means “self” and “adyaya” means to get close to.  So we get close to ourselves, (I like to think of me sliding over on the bench until I’m real close to that self of mind), and then we study and reflect and look honestly and closely at why we do what we do so that we can begin to distinguish between these forces.  The forces of prana—over which we have very little control but can influence, and the forces of habit, which may not be easy, but we can effect.

Because we are not completely in control of what our breath does, or of this force called “prana,” there is an element of surrender that we experience.  “You must “surrender to that force that is greater than you.” This is the concept of Isvarapranidhana.  This is one that makes me all squirmy with excitement over getting to come so close to something so profound and life changing.  It’s like my body doesn’t know what to do when it hears something that feels this True and necessary and significant, so it shudders and I smile a lot and i wiggle my toes.  Surrender—and not just go all wet-noodly and fall into a pile on the floor, but surrender to a higher power. It actually takes a lot of strength to surrender (this is me talking, not Sir Kaminoff, by the way).   We surrender AND have the faith that there is some force, perhaps some being, that is out there helping to direct the way.  Wow.  This really does make me excited.

Mr Kaminoff said, “When we align our lives with these principles, and come to know them by getting close to the breath and how it works, [we can come to understand yoga].”   The breath.  This is the way we can experience these yogic principles in the body and in the mind and with the spirit.  The breath. So simple and so profound.

Check out his book, Yoga Anatomy, on my book list and his website at

8 thoughts on “Me: The breath helps us to understand yoga. You: Oh, yeah? Tell me how.

  1. I am smiling and nodding when I read about what you call Isvaraprahnidhana (how great does that sound when you say it?), because I am exploring and playing with this concept (which I call surrendering to the Divine, but whatever). It is wonderful, such a relief. I read this book called Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver, and …well, it’s great :). I had this tendency all my life to be very strong willed and determined to push things through, come hell or high water – and I found that the more I pushed against the flow, the harder it got, and the less I achieved. And really, what the hell do I know about the big picture any way? So I got in the flow, handed over my problems and worries to the Divine, and trusted that all would happen in the right time and the right way. It’s much better, I can tell you :).

    1. Sarafoley, I could have written that comment about myself! All except for the Outrageous Opennes which I haven’t read but am going to get from the library. Thanks for reading and sharing, lady. I always enjoy your reflections.

  2. Holy canoli, Madame Green, you teach me so much. First this: “Tapas is a way of bringing consciousness to how we relate to elements in our lives that we may or may not have control over.” And here I thought that tapas were a way of bringing 15 friends together over a bit table filled with all sorts of fancy snack foods and lots of booze and calling it dinner! But then this: “Tapah means ‘to cook’…” Coincidence? I don’t think so…

  3. Ha! Ann, you crack me up. And yeah, Sanskrit has been around long enough, I’m sure tapas could have made it’s way to sunny Spain where the ritual cleansing of changing one’s way of relating to the world went from generating internal heat to generating change by community, sharing food and the internal processing of digesting delicious nibbles. *RESEARCH PROJECT* !!!!! (It’s going to start with *eating more* tapas.)

  4. Thats a great post Amanda. I would love to see Leslie Kaminoff, or better still on one of his retreats!

    Anyway, its a bit of a big ask from Sydney, with young kids & hubby. They are not quite as passionate about Yoga as I!!! Ha.

    Just wanted to say how much I loved your comments on Svadhayaya, sliding close to yourself on a bench. Its just so good I can completely imagine it. Yummy!


    1. Leslie Kaminoff is a great teacher. Maybe he’ll make it to your neck of the woods one day!

      Here’s to plenty of kind and light-hearted svadhyaya practice for us mamas. (If we miss a day, luckily our kids remind us to keep at it.) 🙂

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