“When the mind is steady, we can see a little truth. When the mind is disturbed, we can’t see anything. Growth allows a portion of the mind to remain an objective witness even in the face of disturbance. This witness is always there, if one can keep a wakeful attitude.” —Swami Kripalu
One of the hallmarks of Kripalu Yoga is its emphasis on witness consciousness, the ability to observe what’s occurring without reaction or judgment. This theme ran through the early-morning Moderate Yoga class I took with Kripalu Yoga teacher and faculty member Janna Delgado during my recent R&R Retreat weekend at Kripalu.
Janna says that her aim when teaching is “to help folks tune into their inherent wisdom—to trust that wisdom and let their practice be informed by it.”
As class begins, Janna asks that we set an intention for our practice. “Having an intention helps to direct the mind,” she says, “keeping it focused and preventing it from straying. Having clarity of mind with a focused practice gracefully carries us toward fulfilling our personal goals, whatever they may be.”
Janna first leads us in dirgha pranayama, or three-part breath. “Dirgha pranayama slows down the breath,” she explains, “making it a more conscious process. It improves the functioning of our autonomic nervous system, which allows us to feel more vital, present, balanced, and at ease.”
At first, we concentrate on filling up the belly with breath before exhaling. Eventually, we allow the breath to fill not only the belly, but also the rib cage, and finally we bring the breath into the upper chest and up to the clavicle, and then let out a deep exhale. Janna reminds us to watch our breath throughout the practice, as a witness would.
Then she gently leads us into postures, including Cobra, Downward-Facing Dog, Warrior, and Triangle, and invites us to become aware of our thoughts, sensations, and emotions. She suggests that we practice not judging or reacting to whatever we observed. She also encourages us to make any physical adjustments or changes that will bring us into a more balanced, integrated state.
“Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor,” she says. “No two beings are alike. We each have our own physical, energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual blueprint. Each asana should be adapted to fit the needs of the individual, rather than adapting the individual to fit into a generally prescribed alignment of a pose.”
For me, this approach is one of the best parts. I don’t have to get my body to do just what Janna’s body is doing. There’s comfort in knowing that it’s not only acceptable, but also important to move in the way that feels right for my body.
From one asana to the next, Janna encourages us to continue observing without judgment, to watch ourselves minus the internal commentary as much as possible. As class begins to wind down, she guides us to move or stretch in whatever way feels most helpful. There’s power in trusting that your body knows what’s best.
Class closes with Savasana, or Corpse pose. Though this totally passive asana may seem inconsequential, Janna says that Savasana is essential for integration, because it allows vital energy, known as prana, to circulate throughout body, breath, mind, heart, and spirit. This allows for relaxation, rejuvenation, and healing on all levels, and quiets the mind. “And in the quiet,” Janna says, “the witness emerges.”