Names and numbers are important. The Sanskrit word ‘Ashtanga’ refers to the eight limbs or components of yoga described in The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. John Scott tells of Pattabhi Jois calling Ashtanga Yoga a ‘counted method’, and even the name ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ has a number in it!
The fourth limb is given as prāṇāyāma, which can be translated as the practice of breathing exercises. The building blocks of pranayama are puraka (inhalation), rechaka (exhalation) and kumbhaka (breath retention). John Scott teaches a pranayama technique of twelve exhalation-inhalation breaths and uses a counting technique based on the fingers of one hand, which is also described by T.K.V. Desikachar in his book The Heart of Yoga. The four fingers of a hand contain twelve bones, and the thumb can trace a spiral round from the base of the index finger to count each breath.
Counting, breathing, moving. The union of body, and breath, and mind into a single focus. Continuing this focus of the senses for a single full breath of unbroken concentration lasting twelve seconds. Repeating for twelve breaths, taking us to the edge of meditation. Then perhaps repeating this twelve times over, leading into total, perfect absorption. Stillness. Equanimity. All this bringing together the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga into a practice we can do anywhere.
In our November ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class at Whitespace Yoga & Wellbeing Studio, we practiced counting twelve breaths and looked at how this mindfulness can be carried into our practice.
The next ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class is on Saturday 12 December and there is regular Ashtanga self-practice and led-practice every Sunday.