Breathe Right, Live Well

Setu bandhāsana symbolises the bridge that Piotr Kurpiasz crossed to find his breath, strength and energy.

The first time I came across yoga was in a book that I read 20 years ago, long before I started my practice. At the time, I read the book and thought, “What are these crazy people doing with their bodies? And why? I would die performing this!” This was before the internet and social media became such a big part of our lives. Back then, I wasn’t surrounded by yogis as my home town in Poland had no yoga schools so I had no way to verify my assumptions about yoga.

I started practising yoga around ten years ago and after all these years, I’m happy to say that I didn’t “die” while performing any asanas. On the contrary, asana practice has given me a whole new perspective on life, and my physical and mental condition as well. When I first started practising ashtanga, my body was weak.  I had a chronic respiratory system disease since I was a child and this affected my willingness to play any kind of sport. My breath problems made me feel low on energy and weak. I had no idea how to fix it and thought that I had to learn to live with these patterns. When I started working, I struggled because of my low energy and I knew I had to find a solution to up my energy level and find a way to fix my breathing issues.

My first yoga class was on a hot, summer day in a crowded city park. My friends and I had just decided to take this class in the park after a day of partying before. We joined the class on a whim but that class changed everything for me. I found my BREATH. I wasn’t able to perform the easy asanas that were being taught in that class, but I finally understood why I had breathing problems my entire life. I wasn’t doing it right! And no doctor ever told me this. I wasn’t breathing correctly and this caused all my health issues until this one-hour yoga class changed everything.

I pursued yoga and started practising ashtanga regularly. In 2018 and again in January 2020, I practised ashtanga in Mysore under the guidance of Paramguru Sharath Jois. I felt very lucky being led there by my teachers from Poland. Each time I practice in Mysore, it gives me enormous space to explore my own practice. It helps me to bridge my western thoughts with an eastern perspective. Our western minds have the tendency to make things more complicated than they are.

Ashtanga yoga has given me physical strength and flexibility that I never thought I would have. More importantly, it was a bridge for my resilience — and gave me strength on a mental and emotional level. I’ve been practising ashtanga almost everyday and the self-discipline that this practice builds has given me the ability to observe thoughts and emotions as they are instead of fighting or escaping them. I cannot imagine a better life-long mindfulness training than ashtanga.

I consider setu bandhāsana as one of the symbols of my practice. As the name suggests (setu means bridge), it is the bridge to strength, flexibility and balance, and at the same time, it requires awareness to make sure you don’t exceed your limits. I have deconstructed the pose below to give you an introduction to setu bandhāsana, but please make sure you always practise ashtanga under the guidance of an experienced and qualified teacher.

Bridge To Good Health

Setu Bandhāsana

Lie down on your mat. Bring your heels together but keep the feet open and raise your legs with slightly bent knees.

Press your elbows into the mat and arch your spine taking your head back. Cross your hands across your chest. Stop here if you feel tension in your back.

Breathe Right, Live Well

If you can, inhale and raise your hips off the mat while pressing the side of your feet into the mat and straighten your legs. Stay in the pose and take five deep breaths. On an exhalation, slowly release the pose by bending your knees and laying back on your mat.

Piotr Kurpiasz is a Poland-based yoga and mindfulness practitioner and teacher. Find his teaching schedules here.

February 18, 2020
Photos Simon Meier

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