Monthly Archives: September 2013

hatha yoga pradipika

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The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (Sanskrit: haṭhayōgapradīpikā, हठयोगप्रदीपिका) is a classic Sanskrit manual on hatha yoga, written by Svāmi Svātmārāma, a disciple of Swami Gorakhnath. Said to be the oldest surviving text on the hatha yoga, it is one of the three classic texts of hatha yoga, the other two being the Gheranda Samhita and the Shiva Samhita. A fourth major text, written at a later date by Srinivasabhatta Mahayogaindra, is the Hatharatnavali.

Its titles in the A.C. Woolner collection are described by the Library of the University of Vienna as Haṭhayogapradīpikā, Haṭhapradīpikā, Haṭhapradī, Hath-Pradipika. The text was written in 15th century CE. The work is derived from older Sanskrit texts and Swami Svatmarama’s own yogic experiences. Many modern English translations of the text are available.

The book consists four Upadeśas (chapters) which include information about asanas, pranayama, chakras, kundalini, bandhas, kriyas, shakti, nadis and mudras among other topics. It runs in the line of Hindu yoga (to distinguish from Buddhist and Jain yoga) and is dedicated to Śrī (Lord) ādi nāthā (Adinatha), a name for Lord Shiva (the Hindu god of destruction and renewal), who is believed to have imparted the secret of hatha yoga to his divine consort Parvati.

Excerpt from Wikipedia Article Hatha Yoga Pradipika


from the ground up

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In the yoga tradition, the lowly foot paradoxically has an almost transcendent status. Students touch or kiss the feet of beloved teachers as an act of reverence. Similarly, the first phrase of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga invocation, vande gurunam charanaravinde (“I honor the lotus-flower feet of all the gurus”), acknowledges that yoga teachings have stepped down through time on the feet of the learned ones.

This veneration of the foot reflects its importance as the foundation of the temple of the body. Just as the foundation of a temple must be level to support all the structures above, so the feet must be balanced and sturdy to support the legs, spine, arms, and head. If our base is tilted or collapsed, it will be reflected up through the body as distortion or misalignment. As Ida Rolf, the renowned bodyworker and founder of Structural Integration (aka Rolfing), pointed out, “A man’s tracks tell quite a true story. They inform quietly about ankles and knees, but they shout the news about hips and pelvis. If one foot is consistently everted [tilted onto its inner edge], the ankle, the knee, or, perhaps more likely, the entire pelvic basin is rotated.”

Look at the soles of your shoes. Does the inside or the outside of your heel wear down? If there is excessive wear on one side, the foot is shifted off its central axis, likely putting strain on the knee, hip, or lower back. When students consult with me about knee or sacroiliac pain, I often look to their feet for the origins of the distortion.

The balanced wheel as a metaphor for proper posture and pleasant experience dates back to ancient Sanskrit. In the Yoga Sutra, one of the two qualities Patanjali directs practitioners to develop in asana is sukha. Usually translated as “ease,” the word literally means “good space” and once referred to the hub of a chariot wheel that was perfectly tuned and rolled smoothly. Duhkha(“bad space” and, by extension, “suffering”) is when the wheel hub is lopsided and the wheel has a hitch each time it turns. In hatha yoga, when the body is light and spacious, there is sukha; when the body is distorted and hurting, there is duhkha. I often encourage students to “pump up” the arches of their feet, creating inner arches that have “good space” between the bones and the floor.

In hatha yoga, standing poses are the primary tools for building this “good space” and stability in the feet, thereby energizing the legs to support proper posture. So it’s no surprise that the best known approaches to hatha yoga—including Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and Bikram Yoga—use standing poses as their starting place. Standing with equilibrium is the first posture in all these systems. Whether it’s referred to as Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or Samastithi (Equal Standing), this pose is the foundation for all the postures because the neutral standing position teaches us to be fully upright, connected to the ground yet reaching out and up toward the sky.

The ease of our upright posture is determined mainly by alignment of the feet and, more specifically, by “equal standing” through the inner and outer side of each ankle joint. In people who have fallen arches or, as they are commonly called, flat feet, the lack of arch support causes the inner ankle bone (the base of the tibia) to collapse in and down. Once the inner ankle drops, the inner groin at the top of the inner leg often also collapses. In turn, the weakness of the inner thighs leaves the lower back vulnerable to compression.

Commonly, the back body holds much of the charge of our personal history; literally, we store past stress and anxiety behind us. Falsely assuming that what is out of sight is out of mind, we end up with a back body full of tension: tight, unresponsive lower calves, hamstrings, lower back, shoulder blade area, and neck.

A forward bend like Prasarita Padottanasana (Widespread Standing Forward Bend) elongates and gradually breaks apart the accumulated tension in the back body, making available an abundance of previously “shorted-out” energy. If the sole of the foot is elastic and open in forward bends like this one, it can initiate a free flow of energy up the back of the legs, down the spine,

In fact, though we may seldom think of them in this way, the soles of the feet are the beginning of the back of the body.

For students familiar with Mula Bandha (Root Lock), I suggest they think of the lift of the arch as a “Pada Bandha” (pada means “foot” in Sanskrit). Although bandha is usually translated as “lock,” it also implies a “binding” or “harness” that can be used to draw energy upward.

In general, once you cultivate mobility and support in your foot—that is, once Pada Bandha is active—you engage the foot this way throughout almost all postures. In forward bends, twists, and backbends—even in inversions when the feet are both extending into space—you sustain the same lifting action to pull life force in through the feet. Without Pada Bandha, the thighs, hips, and low back lose the intelligence they need to stay active.

As Pada Bandha supports elevation in the ankles, knees, and inner groins, it also supports the lift of the pelvic floor known as Mula Bandha. Although the first chakra of the torso, located at the perineum in the pelvic floor, is traditionally called Muladhara (Root) Chakra, our feet provide even deeper stabilizing root support for the upward moving trunks of our legs. In a sense, we have two root supports, one located in the center of each foot, like a healthy tree in which the root system bifurcates as it descends.

I often teach that the soles of the feet and the pelvic floor mirror each other. Elasticity and postural tone in the feet help determine tone in the pelvic floor. Especially as we age and the weight of the internal organs draws them down inside the abdominal compartment, building good tone and lift in the feet helps tone the perineal muscles and prevent gravity from getting the best of us.

 

Spread the Joy

Finally, a word about your toes: It’s never too late to learn to spread them. You have muscles in your feet that are designed to spread your toes just as the muscles in your hands spread your fingers. If your toes stay glued together no matter how much you try to spread them, the muscles are probably atrophied from lack of use, and the toes themselves may have lost flexibility.

If you’ve managed to read this far with your shoes on, take them off. Sitting in any way you find comfortable, put the palm of your right hand onto the sole of your left foot. Insert your fingers between the toes. (The ends of the fingers are narrower and will give a gentler stretch than the bases of the fingers.) Bending your fingers onto the tops of your feet, gently squeeze your foot as if it were a sponge, then squeeze your fingers with your toes in the same way. Repeat for a minute or two, then remove your fingers and try spreading your toes again.

Have patience, even if you don’t notice a big difference immediately. Over time, this exercise will begin to wake up your toes.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Articles From the Ground Up by Tias Little and Feet First by Julie Gudmestad


setu bandha sarvangasana

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Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip distance apart. Rest your hands near your hips with the palms up which helps open the front of the shoulders and collarbones.

Settle into the earth. Then bring your attention to the feet. Readjust them so they are parallel to each other and equidistant from the hips. Sense the weight resting evenly on the four corners of each foot.

Now send a gentle rooting action down through your legs, as if you were trying to press the floor away from you.

Notice what happens as you intensify this rooting action. Do you sense its energy rebounding back up through you, lightening your hips and inviting them to rise upward? Surrender to this impulse, curling the tailbone up and allowing the pelvis to float just an inch or two off the ground. Breathe easily for a few moments, keeping your mind focused on those strong and steady feet, then, slowly allow your hips to melt back downward. Gently sweep your tailbone away from your waist as you return to the earth, inviting your spine to feel long and unwrinkled.

When you’re ready to repeat this action, perhaps moving a little deeper into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, consider an image offered by expert yoga teacher Barbara Benagh: your spine as a strand of pearls, with each vertebra a separate bead that is capable of its own articulation.

When you lie on your back, the entire strand of pearls will rest on the ground. When you rise up into Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, the strand will be picked up one bead at a time, starting at the tail end of the strand, near your sacrum. And when you reverse your movements to emerge from the pose, you will settle the pearls back onto the ground, one by one, beginning with the top of the strand, near your head. The first pearl to float upward into the pose will be the last to return back home.

As you explore Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, keep in mind a few important details. First, avoid the tendency to let the knees splay wider than the feet as you rise upward. At the same time, take care to keep the feet parallel to each other, with all four corners of each foot fully planted into the earth.

And finally, as your Bridge arches higher off the ground, readjust your upper back so you rest more on the shoulders than on the shoulder blades. As you rise up higher onto the shoulders, be mindful not to flatten the back of the neck into the ground. Instead, feel the muscles in the face, jaw, and neck soften and release. These few adjustments will help your body maintain integrity as you move farther and farther into the heart of the pose.

When you feel your body giving way to fatigue, settle down toward the ground, taking care to lengthen the tailbone toward your feet as you do so to elongate the spine. Breathe comfortably and steadily, close your eyes, and drift back toward the center of the earth, softening every fiber of your body.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal article Setu Bandha Sarvangasana by Claudia Cummins


mandukya upanishad

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The theme of the Mandukya Upanishad is an exposition of the Mystic Syllable, Om, with a view to training the mind in meditation, for the purpose of achieving freedom, gradually, so that the individual soul is attuned to the Ultimate Reality.

The basis of this meditation is explained in the Vidya (meditation), known as the Vaisvanara Vidya. This is the secret of the knowledge of the Universal Being, designated as Vaisvanara. Its simple form of understanding is a transference of human attributes to the Divine Existence, and vice versa. In this meditation, one contemplates the Cosmos as one’s Body. Instead of one contemplating oneself as the individual body, one contemplates oneself as the Universal Body. Instead of the right eye, there is the sun. Instead of the left eye, there is the moon. Instead of the feet, there is the earth. Instead of the head, there is the heaven, and so on. The limbs of the Cosmic Person are identified with cosmic elements, and vice versa, so that there is nothing in the cosmos which does not form an organic part of the Body of the Virat, or Vaisvanara. When you see the vast world before you, you behold a part of your own Body. When you look at the sun, you behold your own eye. When you look above into the heavens, you are seeing your own head. When you see all people moving about, you behold the various parts of your own personality. The vast wind is your breath. All your actions are cosmic movements. Anything that moves, does so on account of your movement. Your breath is the Cosmic Vital Force. Your intelligence is the Cosmic Intelligence. Your existence is Cosmic Existence. Your happiness is Cosmic Bliss.

Though the Mandukya Upanishad gives certain symbolic instances of identification of limbs with the Cosmic Body, the meditator, in fact, can choose any symbol or symbols for such form of identification.

The Vidya has its origin, actually, in the Rig-Veda, in a famous Sukta, or hymn, called the Purusha-Sukta. The Purusha-Sukta of the Rig-Veda commences by saying that all the heads, all the eyes, and all the feet that we see in this world are the heads, eyes, and feet of the Virat-Purusha, or the Cosmic Being. With one head, the Virat nods in silence; with another face He smiles; with a third one, He frowns; in one form, He sits; in another form, He moves; in one form, He is near; in another form, He is distant. So, all the forms, whatever they be, and all the movements and actions, processes and relations, become parts of the Cosmic Body, with which the Consciousness should be identified simultaneously. When you think, you think all things at the same time in all the ten directions; nay, in every way.

Excerpt from the Introduction to the Mandukya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananda


yoga nidra

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Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep. It is a state of conscious Deep Sleep. In Meditation, you remain in the Waking state of consciousness, and gently focus the mind, while allowing thought patterns, emotions, sensations, and images to arise and go on. However, in Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go past the Dreaming state, and go to Deep Sleep, yet remain awake. While Yoga Nidra is a state that is very relaxing, it is also used by Yogis to purify the Samskaras, the deep impressions that are the driving force behind Karma (See Karma article).

 Yoga Nidra has been known for thousands of years by the sages and yogis. Of the three states of consciousness of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep, as expounded in the Upanishads, particularly the Mandukya Upanishad, Yoga Nidra refers to the conscious awareness of the Deep Sleep state, referred to as prajna in Mandukya Upanishad. This is the third of the four levels of consciousness of AUM mantra, relating to the state represented by the M of AUM. The four states are Waking, Dreaming, sleep, and turiya, the fourth state. The state of Yoga Nidra, conscious Deep Sleep, is beyond or subtler than the imagery and mental process of the Waking and Dreaming states.

In Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state,
go through the Dreaming state,
and into the Deep Sleep state,
yet remain fully awake.

 Excerpt from swamij.com Article Yoga Nidra


mudra

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Yantra-Mudra-Meditation by Elena Ray, Antaratma Art and Photography

Yoga classes often begin and end with the hands in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal, sometimes called Prayer Position), as a reminder that your practice is a form of prayer or offering to your true Self. By joining your hands together like this, you make a physical gesture of union—a symbolic reference of the union of your individual sense of self and the universal Self, in which you are aware of the interconnectedness of all living beings. As you hold the gesture and infuse it with the intention of union, you might notice a shift take place in your mind and your heart; you might clearly see how to act from that sense of connection.

Mudra (hand gesture) is a method of citta-bhavana, or cultivating a specific state of mind. There are dozens of mudras, and each represents a certain quality, such as compassion, courage, or wisdom. It is believed that, by practicing mudra, you awaken the seeds of these states within you.

Mudras can be found in the art and rituals of many sacred traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and hatha yoga. Many of the best-known mudras represent the qualities of a bodhisattva, a yogic warrior who fights fearlessly to end the suffering of all beings. The origins of specific mudras are unknown, but it is believed that each gesture is the natural outer expression of an enlightened inner state. You can think of mudras as the sign language that springs from an open mind and an awakened heart.

Practicing mudra during asana, meditation, pPranayama, or kirtan (chanting) will help you quiet the background chatter of your mind. But the power of these seemingly simple hand gestures goes far beyond adding focus to your practice. Mudras can remind you of two important pieces of yogic wisdom. First, you are already whatever you seek to be. It’s easy to see courage and wisdom in the stories and images of Hindu deities or the Buddha. It’s much more difficult to see that those qualities reside in you. Mudras can remind you that these are not traits that you either have or don’t have. They are states that you consciously choose to feel and express. Second, mudra practice can help you find a way to translate good intentions into skillful actions. Mudras are the bridge between your inner spiritual experience and your outer interactions with the world. Actions speak louder than words, and mudras are like prayers translated into physical form.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article From Hand to Heart By Kelly McGonigal


urdhva dhanurasana

urdhva dhanurasana anatomy

In the second verse of his Yoga Sutra, Patanjali describes thoughts as vrtti (fluctuations) of citta (mind-stuff): waves in the mind. Just as a wave-tossed sea obscures your view of what’s on the bottom, your turbulent mind clouds your ability to see what’s at the bottom of yourself. Yoga, Patanjali says, is the dissolving of the waves so you can see to the bottom. And what underlies this sea of thoughts is your true Self—who you really are.

Since Patanjali defines yoga as the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind, a primary focus of practice is the reduction of activity in the frontal lobe of the brain—the part that is most involved in conscious thought. In fact, most of us live much of the time not just in the front of our brains but in the front part of our bodies as well. You perceive with your sense organs (jnana-indriya), which—with the exception of your skin and, to a lesser extent, your ears—are positioned toward the front of the body and are oriented toward what takes place before you. Your karma-indriya—your organs of action, which include your hands, feet, mouth, genitals, and anus—have developed to function primarily in front of you, too. What is in front of you is familiar. Behind you is the mystery of the unknown. In a very real sense, yoga is a process of moving from the known to the unknown, from the front of the brain into the back of the brain, from the front of your body into the back of your body.

Although Urdhva Dhanurasana and the other backbending asanas strengthen and stretch your muscles and create mobility in the spine and the hip and shoulder joints, the real power of the poses is more subtle. They work on your nervous system, which is one of the reasons they are helpful in cases of depression.

The physical presence of your bones and muscles is evident. Your nervous system, however, is essentially unseen—like the back of your body. Since both your back and your nervous system cannot be seen, they must be perceived from within, sensed rather than thought about. And since most of the actions of the backbends occur in the unseeable back of your body, developing the power to perceive what is happening and what to do draws you from the front of your brain and your externally oriented organs of perception into the deep recesses of the back brain and the unknown corners of the intuitive mind. The flow of awareness in the practice of yoga is from the external toward the internal, from the periphery to the core, from the objective to the subjective. You must depart eventually from the familiarity and solidity of the known and embark on the great, perennial adventure into the unknown. As with the practice of Urdhva Dhanurasana, effort is required on this journey; mistakes are inevitable; obstacles will arise. As with the practice of Urdhva Dhanurasana, you must persist. If the words of the sages are true, when your spiritual travels bring you to that mysterious place where you embrace and transcend the duality of the known and unknown, you will find your Self waiting there.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Asana Column: Urdhva Dhanurasana (Backbend) By John Schumacher