Monthly Archives: November 2013

balasana and ujjayi

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For many of us, this asana possesses a deep physical and psychological memory of our time as infants. The shape of the pose is useful for many reasons, but in particular, it forces you to confront your attitudes and patterns of breathing, the health of your organs, and your level of awareness in moving from the abdomen. It is a very simple pose to begin with physically, yet it requires patience and the ability to surrender to gravity and a state of nondoing.

In Balasana, the shape of the pose forces the front of the rib cage to compress and causes an internal resistance to full, frontal breathing, which is the adopted pattern for most of us. In this resistance you will confront—possibly for the first time—the notion of breathing somewhere other than the front of your lungs, or in such a way as to avoid distending your belly as you inhale. As the frontal ribs are compressed, the unyielding presence of the internal organs and the compression of the abdomen trapped against the thighs limit the diaphragm, sometimes resulting in feelings of claustrophobia, nausea, or even fear. This further precludes soft, even breathing.

In “Salutation to the Teacher and the Eternal One,” a paper written by T. Krishnamacharya and distributed to students at the Yoga Mandiram in Madras, he says: “One important thing to be constantly kept in mind when doing asanas is the regulation of the breath. It should be slow, thin, long, and steady: breathing through both nostrils with a rubbing sensation at the throat and through the esophagus, inhaling when coming to the straight posture, and exhaling when bending the body.”

The breath described here is commonly known as Ujjayi Pranayama (Conquerer Breath). The word “ujjayi” can be broken down into the prefix ud—which means upward or superior in rank and conveys a sense of preeminence or power—and jaya, which means conquest, victory, triumph, or success. Like many Sanskrit terms, the word “jaya” has a compound meaning—it also implies restraint or curbing. Slightly contracting the back of the throat (the glottis) in ujjayi breathing creates a delicate friction and produces a soft, audible sound. Try fogging up a window with your breath—the sound you hear will be similar to the sound of ujjayi.

Slowing the inhalation and exhalation forces the breath to lengthen, and by the very nature of elongation, the vital force of the breath “narrows.” As it narrows, it moves closer to the spine, toward the sushumna nadi. The word “nadi” comes from the Sanskrit root nad, meaning movement.

Simply defined, nadis operate as conduits for the movement of subtle energy, prana, through the body. Like water, prana manifests in a dynamic flow, and hatha yoga is the body’s elemental irrigator: A yoga posture both increases the amount of prana available and removes obstacles to smooth circulation.

Ujjayi breathing, done while in Child’s Pose or other poses, squeezes the body as if it were a sponge and increases its capacity to soak up energy.

Excerpt From Yoga Journal Article Balasana By Peter Sterios


distraction

During yoga practice a variety of distractions may come into your awareness. External distractions can be particularly, well, distracting. Most people try to find a quiet, calm space in which to practice, but there are few spaces completely devoid of distractions.

For example, if there is a mirror in the room, you may find that you check yourself out—or you check out others in the room—while you practice. If music is played during class, you might hear a song you don’t like that brings up distracting emotions. If you practice at a yoga studio located on a busy road, the sound of cars passing by may throw you off track. The tick-tock of a clock in the room during savasana may drive you crazy. The teacher’s voice may not be pleasing to you. The possibilities for finding distraction are endless.

Distractions such as the ones mentioned may cause you to not want to practice at that location. You may seek a different studio, or a different teacher, or a different time of day, etc. But these distractions can serve to be your greatest teachers. It has been said that one should be able to practice yoga in Times Square without distraction. Even as the world is moving around us, during practice we remain focused with our mind seated in the moment, distractions and all.

The next time you find an external distraction during your yoga practice, use it as a tool. When you find that its presence brings up feelings of aversion, simply notice that your mind has become distracted—even agitated, perhaps—and gently guide your attention to your breath. As you bring your awareness inward, you will find that the external distractions melt away. In this way, your relationship to distractions can completely change.


chakravakasana

Jim Bennitt demonstrates Chakravakasana, a short “cat-cow” vinyasa.

Chakravaka = Ruddy Shelduck


creativity

“Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.”

― Albert Einstein


prana

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Prana is the first energy: The word Prana comes from two roots. Pra means first, and na is the smallest unit of energy. Prana is therefore the first breath, the primal or atomic beginning of the flow of energy. Out of this first unit of energy manifests all aspects and levels of the human being. It is one and the same with kundalini shakti.

Prana flows in nadis: That kundalini, manifesting as Prana flows in certain patterns, or lines, or channels that are called nadis. There are said to be some 72,000 such nadis coursing through the subtle body that supports the physical body and its various systems. When the Prana flows across the latent impressions, they spring to life in the form of awareness in the conscious mind, in the physical body and brain.

Intersections of the nadis are chakras: When kundalini manifests outward, those thousands of nadis intersect here and there, forming the matrix of the subtle body. The major intersections are called chakras, and the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space manifest around these so as to form the gross body. Often, we speak of chakras as if they are in the body. Actually, this is somewhat backwards. It is more like the body has been suspended on the subtle chakras, with these chakras being formed or constructed by the major highway intersections of the nadis, which are none other than kundalini shakti.

Prana divides itself into five Vayus: When kundalini comes outward as Prana, the Prana operates in the body, it divides into five major flows called Vayus. These can be thought of as somewhat like major currents in one of the large oceans of the world, while there may be thousands of smaller currents. These five Vayus are the major currents that contain thousands of smaller currents.

• Prana Vayu operates from the heart area, and is an upward flowing energy, having to do with vitalizing life forces.
• Apana Vayu operates from the base of the torso, in the rectum area, is a downward flowing energy, and has to do with eliminating or throwing off what is no longer needed.
• Samana Vayu operates from the navel area, deals with digestion, and allows the mental discrimination between useful and not useful thoughts.
• Udana Vayu operates from the throat and drives exhalation, operating in conjunction with Prana Vayu, which deals with inhalation.
• Vyana Vayu operates throughout the whole body, having no particular center, and is a coordinating energy throughout the various systems.

Prana drives the ten indriyas: Prana is the source of energy that operates the ten indriyas. Five are the karmendriyas or instruments of actions, which are elimination, procreation, motion, grasping and speaking. Five are the jnanendriyas or cognitive senses, which are smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, and hearing. These ten operate through the chakras, and receive their power from the Prana.

Excerpt From swamij.com Article Kundalini Awakening


koshas

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We humans are like a lamp that has five lampshades over our light. Each of the lampshades is a different color and density. As the light shines through the lampshades, it is progressively changed in color and nature. It is a bitter-sweet coloring. On the one hand, the shades provide the individualized beauty of each lamp. Yet, the lampshades also obscure the pure light.

The Yoga path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of those lampshades, so as to experience the purity at the eternal center of consciousness, while at the same time allowing that purity to animate through our individuality. These five levels are called koshas, which literally means sheaths.

In truth, all of the levels, layers, koshas, or sheaths of our reality is only appearance, or maya…While some view maya as meaning that nothing is real, and turn this into a cold-hearted intellectual practice, others view the illusion of maya as being shakti, the creative force of the universe. In this way, the maya of the koshas is experienced both as unreal and, at the same time, as the beautiful manifestations of the universal oneness.

Anna means food. All of the physical aspects of life come and go, and are consumed by another aspect of external reality. Thus, the outermost of the koshas is called the sheath of food, or Annamaya kosha.

The next of the koshas is Pranamaya kosha. Prana means energy. It is the vital force that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath, and which are the driving force behind the physical aspect of the senses and the operation of the physical body.

The next of the koshas is Manamaya kosha. Mana means mind. It is the level of processing thoughts and emotions. It is in direct control of the operation, through the prana, of the physical body and senses.

The next of the koshas is Vijnanamaya kosha. Vijnana means knowing. It is the sheath of wisdom that is underneath the processing, thinking aspect of mind.

Anandamaya kosha is the most interior of the koshas, the first of the koshas surrounding the Atman, the eternal center of consciousness. Ananda means bliss.

Atman is the Self, the eternal center of consciousness, which was never born and never dies. In the metaphor of the lamp and the lampshades, Atman is the light itself, though to even describe it as that is incomplete and incorrect. The deepest light shines through the koshas, and takes on their colorings.

Excerpt From swamij.com Article Koshas


astavakrasana

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Fathers have never much liked being outsmarted by their offspring. In most cultures, any evidence of a son’s arrogance can get the son into deep trouble with his father. Astavakra’s tale contains classic elements of the intergenerational tensions that show up even—or perhaps especially—in the realm of religion and spiritual practice.

What makes Astavakra remarkable is that he crossed the line with his father, and was punished, before he even left the womb. While still in his mother’s belly, he corrected his father’s recitation of verses from the Rig Veda, a collection of India’s oldest and most sacred hymns. Enraged, Astavakra’s father cursed him, and the boy was born deformed. Astavakra’s name refers to the eight (asta) crooked (vakra) angles of his limbs; the many angles of the pose Astavakrasana evoke the curse of crooked limbs that Astavakra triumphed over by dint of his persistence, piety, and intelligence.

Despite his father’s cruel curse, Astavakra remained a faithful son. When the boy was 12, his father lost a priestly debate and was banished to the watery realm of Varuna, lord of death. Although the journey required a monumental effort, Astavakra traveled to the king’s court to challenge the man who had bested his father. Because of Astavakra’s unsightly shape, the people at court laughed at him—but only until he opened his mouth and they discovered he was incredibly learned and deeply insightful, even though he was still just a boy. Astavakra triumphed in the debate, winning his father’s freedom, and people who once mocked him became his disciples, including the king.

Astavakra’s story illustrates the human tendency to judge things by their appearance rather than by their true substance. It is also a reminder of the power of steadfast faith to triumph over ridicule and misunderstanding. According to yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala, “Astavakrasana appears to be very difficult, but actually, it’s one of the easiest of arm balances if you just know the technique. What the pose is trying to tell us is that even when things seem extremely convoluted, if you just know how to arrange them, your situation is not as arduous as it looks.” While some poses are designed to make us work hard, others, like Astavakrasana, are actually designed to teach us to work less. “This asana requires more knowledge than effort,” Palkhivala says. “It is not a fighting pose; the primary feeling in it is a sense of freedom.”

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Heroes, Saints and Sages By Colleen Morton Busch


summary of witnessing your thoughts

(Based Upon Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra) By Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

Yoga meditation systematically leads us to the realization that: “I am not my thoughts! Who I am, is the Self who is Witness of the thoughts!”

In which state is my mind currently? 

  1. Kshipta, disturbed, troubled
  2. Mudha, dull, heavy
  3. Vikshipta, distracted, partly focused
  4. Ekagra, one-pointed, focused
  5. Nirrudah, highly mastered, regulated

Which of the qualities or gunas is dominant with this thought?

  1. Sattvas, illumined, light, spiritual
  2. Rajas, active, stirring, moving
  3. Tamas, static, stable, inertia

Which type of thought is this? 

  1. Pramana, clear, correct, valid
  2. Viparyaya, misconceived, unclear
  3. Vikalpa, conceptualization, fantasy
  4. Nidra, sleep, focus on non-being
  5. Smriti, memory, recalling

How do I know this is true? 

  1. Pratyaksha, perception or experience
  2. Anumana, inference or thinking
  3. Agamah, written or oral testimony

How do the four functions of mind interact with this thought? 

  1. Manas: driving actions and senses
  2. Chitta: storehouse
  3. Ahamkara: I-maker
  4. Buddhi: decides, judges, discriminates
Is this thought colored or not colored? 

  1. Klishta, colored, afflicted
  2. Aklishta, not colored, not afflicted

Is this thought useful or not useful?

  1. Useful to growth
  2. Not useful  to growth

If the thought is colored, which colorings are dominant?

  1. Avidya, spiritual forgetting, veiling
  2. Asmita, associated with I-ness
  3. Raga, attraction or drawing to
  4. Dvesha, aversion or pushing away
  5. Abhinivesha, resistance to loss, fear

What is the current stage of the coloring of this thought?

  1. Udaram, active, aroused
  2. Vicchinna, distanced, separated
  3. Tanu, attenuated, weakened
  4. Prasupta, dormant, latent, seed

How is this thought operating at the four levels of consciousness? 

  1. Vaishvanara, waking, conscious
  2. Taijasa, dreaming, unconscious
  3. Prajna, deep sleep, subconscious
  4. Turiya, fourth, witness, consciousness

Is this thought pattern who I am?

  1. Yes, it is who I am.
  2. No, it is not who I am.

pranayama with sharath


asana

There is no such thing as a “complete” or “ideal” posture. Each posture is an ever-evolving, constantly moving energy phenomenon that is different from day to day, moment to moment, and person to person. The process of sensitively flirting with your edges and achieving perfect energy flow is not merely the means to achieve a pose – it is the pose.

Excerpt from Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann