Our favorite habits as grown-up humans are twofold: one, ignoring the invisible and two, forgetting to marvel at what we see often. Watch a child and remember how we forget that a plane in flight is awe-inspiring, because it seems to defy gravity, the immense and invisible force field that we ignore instead of harness.
Airplanes are designed to defy gravity by harnessing the fluids nature of air: Bernouli’s principle is basic physics, and human will can direct air flow for flight. Breathing is not different. With intentional will, each of us is able to direct the volume and pressure of air flowing through us. Yogis like to harness air flow, this power of conscious breath, to fly.
On the yoga mat, many of the most inspiring asana are those that seem to defy gravity: arm balances, many of which are named after birds of flight, and inversions, that literally flip our conventional relationship with the vertical pull of gravity. Coming into these postures, sending time upside down, undoes the conventional drooping of the adult body and mindset, proving that our relationship with the world, both visible and invisible, is a creative process.
Through mastery of lifting the body up from the invisible constraints of gravity, we also undo the invisible constraints of the mind: fear of flying/falling, as well as preconceived notions of our physical capabilities. We have the invitation to discover the magic of our respiratory system, the breathwork that circulates air, the strength we can develop to direct our inner, invisible life to uplift our outer, visible body.
Ambition to “do” the “advanced” poses leads us to use brute muscular strength as beginners. When we become more adept, interested in the energy we experience in and from our practice, then we can begin using our will to harness the fluid nature of the air we breathe. And then, if we are sensitive, we notice the relationship between the breathing-energy that lifts us and the gravity-energy that grounds us, and become empowered to shape the relationship between our conscious life and the external world we live in.
This order of learning the physical before the energetic is natural: in ancient yoga philosophy, Patanjali outlines the eightfold path to have asana come directly before pranayama. The yogi has to develop skill in the material world of the substantive body as groundwork for skill in the subtle, fluid world of air and energy.
for more on the eightfold path: Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga