Yoga Knowledge – May 2017

Stages of yoga

“The primary aim of yoga is to restore the mind to simplicity, peace, and poise, to free it from confusion and distress. This simplicity, this sense of order and calm, comes from the practice of asanas and pranayama. Yoga asanas integrate the body, the mind, the intelligence, and, finally, the self, in four stages. The first stage, arambhavastha, is one in which we practice at the level of the physical body.

The second stage is ghatavastha, when the mind learns to move in unison with the body. The third level of parichayavastha occurs when the intelligence and the body become one. The final stage is nishpattyavastha, the state of perfection. Spiritual awareness flows into the student of yoga through these stages. Duhkha, which is misery or pain, vanishes, and the art of living in simplicity and peace is realized.” Iyengar 2014

Yoga Knowledge – April 2017

What is Ujjayi Breath?

“Ujjayi, also known as “Ocean Breath”, is a three-part breath that takes air first into the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), then the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally into the upper chest and throat; the process is reversed on exhalation. An ocean sound is created through the nostrils and resonates in the throat, as the glottis (the space between the vocal folds) is controlled by the larynx muscles to increase or decrease the area according to need. Sounds emanate from this space, as in voice pronunciation. When tension in the folds is changed, the ocean sound can be produced (Staugaard-Jones 2015).

Ujjayi is a warming and very grounding breath used in pranayamas and asanas. It is especially important during transition into and out of asanas, as it helps practitioners to stay present, self-aware and grounded in the practice, which lends it a meditative quality. Ujjayi enables the practitioner to maintain a rhythm to his or her practice, take in enough oxygen, and helps build energy to maintain practice, while clearing toxins out the bodily system. It is also a helpful way for the practitioner to keep the vital life force, prana, circulating throughout the body rather than escaping from it.

Yoga Knowledge – March 2017

Spinal Functions
“The spine is the center of the body’s universe, from a mechanical point of view as well as an energetic one, since the main chakras exist here. The spine is active in all asanas, even in a restful state like Savasana, where it acts as a conduit for subtle energies and messaging. The spine supports and balances the trunk and head in standing, sitting, kneeling, back-bending, and arm-balance postures. It connects the upper and lower extremities and protects the spinal cord, which merges with the brain. Along with the articulating ribs, the thoracic spine houses the heart and lungs, and the lumbar/sacral areas protect sexual and other organs.” (Staugaard- Jones 2015)

The muscles that work the spine stabilize and move its four different areas: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral (minimal movement here). The fifth section, the coccyx, is immovable because its vertebrae are fused, but it does provide support and protection as weight is transferred while sitting.

Continue reading

Yoga Knowledge – February 2017

Yoga for health

According to Yoga Alliance (a standards-setting organization that supports the yoga world), managing stress ranks #1, with pain relief, better breathing techniques, flexibility, strength, weight loss, increased circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, alignment, and focus completing the top ten (Sparrowe, Yoga International 4/16). Other lists include emotional challenges such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia.

An increasing number of studies show that yoga asanas and meditation, when taught properly and done correctly, provide measurable physical, mental, and emotional benefits. For example, one study shows enhanced cognitive function and memory after just 20 minutes of hatha yoga; another suggests that meditation lessens pain better then morphine; and still another that a few months of practice can bring blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control, improve your mood, your sex life, and your balance.

The effectiveness of yoga in helping us take care of our physical and emotional health is contingent on the integrity of its teaching and on its correct practice. “Yoga practiced as traditionally intended means paying attention not only to the alignment of your muscles and bones but also to the rhythm of your breathing and the quality of your mind – and the interplay of all three. The power of yoga to lower blood pressure and stress levels, as well as enhance your memory, arises when yoga brings together the mind, body, and the heart – through the agency of the breath.” Sparrowe, Yoga International 4/16

Yoga Knowledge – January 2017

Yoga practice and self-transformation

Each practice is a movement into deeper self-transformation. This movement occurs within each breath, each asana, and each practice. “Cultivating a gradual, simple, stable, expanding awakening in this process of self-transformation revolves around continuously coming back to a sense of samasthihi – equanimity in body, breath, mind, and spirit. This gives the asana practice a quality of yoga chikitsa – literally “yoga therapy” – in which the body is restructured and a person’s entire energetic being is refined.” (Stephens 2010)

Here are some practical ways to maximize the benefits of each practice and your movement into deeper self-transformation:

• Rest as you feel the need: calm your breath and energy before resuming your practice; feel a sense of steadiness and ease throughout the class while practicing near the edge of your ability.

• Assess how you are feeling: stay with your intention and sense of samasthihi as you resume the asanas.

• Deepen your meditative experience: practice moving into a sense of stillness at the beginning of class, during asanas, or at the conclusion of the asana practice.

• Moving off the mat: reflect on how you are moving, breathing, thinking, and feeling – be conscious and present in the next transition – back out into the world.

Yoga Knowledge – December 2016

What is AUM (OM)?screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-27-31-am

Om is part of the iconography found in ancient and medieval era manuscripts, temples, monasteries and spiritual retreats in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In Hinduism, Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols and sacred syllables. It is mentioned in the ancient scriptures of India, such as the Vedas, dated to be from the 2nd millennium BCE, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita, and is variously described as “the essential sound of the universe” or “the originating sound of creation.” “In some forms of Hinduism, the letter a represents creation (issuing from Brahma’s essence), u the preservation of balance in the world (as the god Vishnu balances Brahma overhead on a lotus flower), and m the completion of the cycle of existence (when Vishnu falls asleep and all existing things dissolve into their essence).” (Stephens 2010, 100-101)

As the vibratory cosmic energy, Aum flows into the human body through the gate of the medulla oblongata. This sixth bodily center is located at the back of the neck at the top of the five spinal chakras (Sanskrit for “wheels” or centers of radiating force). Cosmic energy is then stored up in the brain as a reservoir of infinite potentialities, as the “thousand-petaled lotus of light.” (Paramhansa Yogananda 1946)

Used in the yoga tradition as a mantra or primordial sound, Aum can be used as a meditation tool to help you bring awareness more inside, ultimately taking you from individuality to universality – the ultimate goal of mediation. In more simple form, you may make the sound as “om”, the sound of the mantra in your mind gradually becoming like a neutral vibration that brings you to a sense of deepening self-awareness.

Yoga Knowledge – November 2016

The Principles of Asana Practicescreen-shot-2016-11-07-at-5-03-16-pm

“In our practice we concentrate on the body, the breath, and the mind. Our senses are included as part of the mind. Although it theoretically appears possible for body, breath, and mind to work independent of one another, the purpose of yoga is to unify their actions. It is primarily the physical aspect of our practice that people see as yoga. They will rarely notice how we breathe, how we feel the breath, and how we coordinate our breathing with our physical movement; they tend to only see our flexibility and suppleness. Some may want to know how many asanas we have mastered or how many minutes we can stay in a headstand. Much more important than these outer manifestations is the way we feel the postures and the breath.

What is asana? Asana translates as “posture.” The word is derived from the Sanskrit root as which means “to stay,” “to be,” “to sit,” or “to be established in a particular position.” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes an asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha. Sthira is steadiness and alertness. Sukha refers to the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Both qualities should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture. Neither sukha nor sthira are present when we sit with crossed legs for a photograph if we have to stretch them out again immediately afterward because they are hurting. Even if we achieve the steadiness and alertness of sthira there must also be the comfort and lightness of sukha, and both must be present for a certain length of time. Without both these qualities there is no asana. This principle of yoga is fulfilled only when we have practiced a particular asana for a certain period of time and feel alert and unstressed as we practice it.” (Desikachar 1995, 17-18)

Yoga Knowledge – October 2016

Patanjali’s Path of Meditationscreen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-25-44-am

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers a path to discovering the full joy of meditation through pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana – i.e., the fifth, sixth and seventh of the eight limbs of yoga. The practice of pratyahara, Patanjali describes as “detaching at will from the senses.” In other words, by removing attention from the senses and the external world as a whole, we can become more introspective and better focused on internal development.

The practice of dharana teaches techniques for steadying the mind and slowing the mental process, such as thinking of a single thing, whether it’s repetition of a word or sound, following the breath or some other recurrent energy. By strengthening our concentration skills and by removing attention from the senses, we become better prepared to begin meditating (Stephens 2010).

Unwavering concentration brings us farther along the path to the pure meditative state of dhyana. In dhyana the quieted mind is nearly free of thought. “Acknowledging the daunting, seemingly unreachable nature of such a feat, the seventh limb also provides the reminder that yoga is an ongoing process, no matter the amount it is practiced.” (Yoga Life, Newsweek 10/2016)

Yoga Knowledge – September 2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 4.35.02 PMKleshas

The ancient yogis identified kleshas as mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe five main kleshas:
• Ignorance (avidya): lack of discernment; not understanding the way of things
• Attachment (raga): attachment or desire for what we like
• Aversion (dvesha): aversion for what we don’t like, or for what prevents us from getting what we like
• Pride (mana): having an inflated opinion of oneself and a disrespectful attitude toward others
• Envy (irshya): being unable to bear the accomplishment or good fortune of others
Traditional yoga philosophy, much like Buddhism, teaches how to overcome the mental afflictions resulting from kleshas through its practices of meditation, asana, pranayama and insight. By fully understanding the true nature of the kleshas, the Self, and the Mind, the disturbing emotions lose their power to distract the mind.

Yoga Knowledge – August 2016

The eight limbs of yogaScreen Shot 2016-08-05 at 9.58.34 AM

Around 400 CE the sage Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras, taking materials about yoga from older traditions and adding his own explanatory passages. Patanjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters or books, containing in all 196 aphorisms. In his second sutra of Book 1, he defines the word “yoga”:

Continue reading