Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ashtanga Foundations: Ujjayi Breathing Part Two Hamsa Mantra

Greetings! Yesterday I attended a very inspiring conference for independent film makers and other artists called diy (do it yourself) days. I came away feeling that in Yoga our vision and goals are exactly the same as other independent artists. (In fact an Indian friend once introduced me to his friends in India as 'David, a Yoga Artist'). Story telling was the subject of the conference and how there's been a major shift in creative endeavors where now nearly everyone has the opportunity and feels compelled to create, to bring forth something important from within, to tell their story in some way that will bring healing and new consciousness to them selves and to an out of control world.

Yoga is about creativity and transformation, about finding your way through your unique, complex set of obstacles to realize your beauty, your power, your gifts, your Spirit. Practicing Yoga helps you to become strong and clear enough to get in touch with your story, with who you are and with what really matters to you. In order to take up and stay with a Yoga practice, I think it is essential to see the connection between your Yoga practice and your creativity, your self as an active participant in the evolution and healing of our world. As Yoga artists, we need to use our budding powers of inner attunement to join in and be part of this slow, steady, creative spiritual revolution.

This week I'm going to continue my discussion on breathing in Yoga practice. When you apply Ujjayi, you tune into, hamsa , the sound of breathing. The sound Hamsa (so'ham) is a mantra. Mantra (man=mind, tra=instrument) means sound formula or instrument of the mind. The hamsa mantra translates as "I am That". "That" means Spirit. Thus when you repeat so'ham, you orient yourself in your sacred center, you train yourself to tune into to the highest conception of what/who you are. An undisciplined or unobserved mind is perhaps the greatest obstacle to accessing creativity, life force and wisdom. You have to be able to combat your mind's negativity in order fulfill your dharma, your spiritual life. Gently tuning into the sound of the breath, you learn to recognize fear, you learn to cut through excessive mental activity, especially the erronous, cynical, critical, and irrelevant thoughts that spin through your head. Using a mantra gives you tools to discipline your mind, you win the courage to create and to share what you create.

When you work with a mantra steadily over long period of time, its significance reveals itself to you and becomes a guiding star. a central reference point for your inner life of thoughts, emotions, reactions, and sensations. You notice how near or far away you feel from the notion of 'So'ham' and rely on it to re- center your self. With enough observation you can begin to re-direct thought and emotion, you can channel your self towards the essence of consciousness which is So'ham I am That, the source of healing and creativity that leads to transformation.

Hamsa is a swan and thus the breath is represented as a bird. The image of a bird in flight is a fitting description of what Guruji meant by "free breathing". Birds take flight, they ride the wind soaring and gliding, enjoying the space and freedom of the heavens. These are the exact qualities you want to cultivate when you breath and flow in practice. You ride the breath. You enjoy space and freedom within the torso. You soar and glide and feel the free flow of Prana as you open your lungs, chest, and heart. Your body, your mind, and your movements synchronize, You become the hamsa mantra, you become inhaling and exhaling, and then every movement becomes a gesture of the whole body expressing so'ham. When you can thoroughly integrate breath with movement, then you stop fighting your self, you become unified, independent, and appreciative.

Hamsa is also another word for the Soul. According to Yoga, we all come into the world weighted down with ignorance even though, within us, the Soul ever remains free like a bird flying high up in the sky, away from the confines and hang ups of the earth. Birds migrate annually at just the right time. From an inner prompting, they journey long and far to reach a destination they know well. Metaphorically the soul travels from here to its true home . From an inner prompting, we migrate from this world to the realms of Divinity where Consciousness resides, to the land Poet/Saint Kabir wrote about in this poem:

I know a land where spiritual flatness does not rule.
Where those alive are not afraid to die
Where the bee of the heart stays inside the flower
and cares for no other thing.

I've included an audio track of the Hamsa Gayatri, a prayer that translates as: Om. Let us meditate on the breath as Hamsa, the pure, white swan of discrimination. May that great hamsa inspire and illumine our mind and bring wisdom. Enjoy!


  1. Good timing for this... thank you!

  2. Inspiring writings and I greatly admired what you have to say , I hope you continue to provide new ideas for us all and greetings success always for you..Keep update more information..
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