|I remember telling my friend Peter, who is not a yoga student, that when Rosina taught classes she always said some strange magic words that did something to me. They focused my breath and my mind, allowing me to get deeper into the postures. A little later, I found out that what Rosina was doing was counting and that those magic words were humble numbers in Sanskrit. Anyone practicing ashtanga yoga will know the power of a teacher saying ‘ekam innnnnnhale …’ There, it all begins. The whole class is together, synchronised, breathing as one and supporting each other through the count.
But counting is not the only the domain of Ashtanga led classes. I first learned the power of the count while dancing. There, the convention is a little different. It goes: ‘and 5, 6 … 5, 6, 7, 8, GO.’ The feeling is so different. The wave of the anticipation, having to hit the move just after the 8. Took me years to perfect my entrances. I count in pranayama too, ratios between inhalation and exhalation in my head and with the fingers of my left hand, the rounds. I count time, I count breath, I count beat.
Counting in your head and keeping to the teacher’s count are not easy. They require attentive listening and strength of spirit. But the count helps us notice things in our mind, body and breath, and invites us to let go of the postures when it is time. This might seem inconsequential but I really, really did not want to let go the first time I bound in Marichyasana C, just in case it never happened again. The count also invites us to practice equanimity. Tim Feldmann made us repeat the 25 counts of utplutih until we practiced it equally to the posture before, when seated in meditation. We had to let go of our likes and dislikes. The count is emphasised when you get a new posture. When Radha came to me after my last asana and told old me to come to standing, I knew she was going to count me into something new.
The count, Kia says, is our breath, like the thread holding us together in our community mala. This is a very powerful thing to experience in her online shala. Apart from feeling connected, the count relaxes if you surrender to the rhythm, like when you go to sleep. And it is only when relaxed, when you are in parasympathetic mode, that you can grow. So if you don’t already have a practice of counting (breaths, beats, steps, mantras), take this opportunity, when things are still a little slow in the world, to practice it by going to a counted class, or learning the numbers, or simply trying to count Surya Namaskar a. It will be worth it.