Monthly Archives: December 2013

viparita karani

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Viparita Karani is often called Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose, but viparita actually means “inverted,” and karani means “in action.” We can interpret that to mean that the pose inverts the typical actions that happen in our bodies when we sit and stand…

But Viparita Karani offers a paradigm shift in how to approach the notion of “work,” in both yoga and life. The benefits of Viparita Karani derive not just from inverting an action but also from inverting the whole notion of action. When you relax with your legs up the wall, you are practicing the polar opposite of activity, which is receptivity.

Every yoga pose has an organizing principle and a container principle. When you apply the organizing principle, you arrange your alignment so that the energetic circuitry you set up is balanced and unobstructed. Organized alignment creates the conditions for the benefits of each particular asana to arise.

Have you noticed that asanas don’t really exist? When we come out of a pose, that pose is no more. Asanas are impermanent forms or containers that help us focus our awareness. In a faster-moving practice, that experience is fleeting. In restorative poses, such as Viparita Karani, we invert the habit of action, and abide in the container of the pose. The only “work” we are meant to do is to let go and be receptive.

You gotta love Viparita Karani: There is no warm-up for this pose. You really can do it anywhere, anytime. But just because you get into the physical position doesn’t mean that you will instantly drop into a relaxing experience. A calming breath exercise may help. Inhale deeply for four counts, then exhale for eight counts. Longer exhalations slow your heart rate and calm your nervous system. Repeat five times, and then breathe naturally.

Then do nothing. Really. Let your mind float like a kite riding on a soft breeze. Can you be open to what happens when you let yourself rest? Maybe this container will show you something interesting. And if the most interesting thing is that you feel the energy of a fresh start when you sit up, well, that’s worth a million bucks!

Stay in Viparita Karani for 5 to 20 minutes. If you are not used to restorative yoga, you may want to get up after 5 minutes, and that’s fine. Over time, you will be able to stay longer. Eventually you’ll trust the container of the pose to support your process of undoing, leading to more profound rejuvenation.

When you are ready to come out of the pose, bend your knees toward your chest. Roll onto your right side and rest there for several breaths. Then, press your hands into the floor and walk yourself up to sitting, letting your head come up last…Sit quietly for a few minutes and feel the effects of your practice.

Find Contentment

Asana practice can be challenging. But when we apply ourselves to learning the poses, finally managing to hold a balance and be precise in our alignment, we usually feel a healthy sense of accomplishment.

But that feeling meets with a Catch 22, as one of the guiding principles of yoga is santosha, or contentment. My students often get stuck trying to understand this, confusing contentment with complacency. They ask me, “If I become content with things as they are, what is my motivation to ever do anything? Isn’t trying to improve a good thing?”

Good questions! Practicing contentment doesn’t mean that you stop striving, but that you live with more acceptance of what is, celebrating the good in each moment. My suggestions for practicing contentment are to reduce, simplify, and appreciate—in that order.

Reduce: The first step toward contentment is to notice how little you really need to be happy. When you schedule fewer things, you create space in your day for noticing the natural contentment that’s always present.

Simplify: Can you simply do the one thing you’re doing right now and nothing else? I often see yoga students fidgeting away on their yoga mats, reorganizing their alignment. Instead, I invite you to be satisfied with your pose as it is. Try organizing the setup of a pose with no more than two or three adjustments, and then simply abide there. Can you allow the pose to unfold for you? You might be surprised at the mental spaciousness that arises from simplifying your actions.

Appreciate: Appreciation is the cherry on the top of contentment. The first two steps are semi-renunciations leading you to an open place where you can recognize the goodness that was there all the time.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose by Cyndi Lee


savasana

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If you stay in Savasana long enough, you will eventually experience three different stages of the pose. The first is what I call physiological relaxation; it takes most people about 15 minutes. At first, you might feel like the mind is still revved up and attached to thoughts, feelings, and muscular movement. But gradually, the brain waves and the breath slow down, and the blood pressure drops.

As the mind and body unwind, the real Savasana can begin. During this second stage, awareness of the outside world begins to dim. You might hear sounds, but they won’t disturb you. Instead, everything will start to drift farther and farther away.

In my opinion, the second stage is the most healing for the body and comforting to the mind. A high school student once described Savasana to me as, “Your body sleeps and your mind watches.” I like this description, because the mind never completely quiets down, but as you loosen your identification with the physical body, you can disconnect from the constant whirl of thoughts. Then you can simply witness them, just as you would notice the rising and falling of your chest with the breath. As this happens, you’ll feel more at ease and willing to be where you are.

The final state of Savasana occurs when the mind completely lets go. It is thought that the brain waves slow down to their lowest frequency. You will feel disconnected from the outside world until the timer rings or your teacher’s voice brings you back to the present.

Give yourself time to drop into at least the second stage every day. Some days you will receive the third state as a gift, but don’t worry if you don’t. Just keep practicing and it will evolve.

I sometimes ask my yoga students if they think the world might be a better place if everyone practiced Savasana every day. The unanimous answer is always yes. So let Savasana begin with you, today. Instead of thinking of it as an unimportant finishing pose that isn’t really necessary, think of your active yoga practice as a preparation for the real, deep yoga of Savasana.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Find Serenity in Savasana by Judith Hanson Lasater


the meaning of asana

What drew me to the practice of asana was an intuitive feeling that these movements were not just “stretching”; they seemed to have some greater connection with my soul. It was only later after years of training that I began to learn the deep symbolism each asana represents. I now believe that each asana represents an aspect of myself and as such offers me a powerful doorway inward. Thus for many people the practice of asana can become more than a physical act; it can be a form of moving meditation.

     The word “asana” is Sanskrit and is actually the plural form; the correct word for one pose is “asan”. However in English we tend to use “asana” as singular and “asanas” as plural even though this word does not exist in Sanskrit. Whichever word we use, asana are virtually as ancient as civilization itself. In fact, there are carvings dated from 3000 BCE which show figures sitting in the lotus pose. It is sometimes reported that each asana was created or “emerged” when a “rishi” or “wise forest dweller” spontaneously moved into an asana during deep meditation. Asana both reflect and are named for animals and objects as well as being named after sages from the Hindu tradition. Instructions for the practice of specific asana can be found in such ancient Indian source books such as the Siva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita as well as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

      Paradoxically, in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, generally considered the most well-known source book on the wider practice of yoga, no specifics of practice are given and asana is only mentioned in three verses, chapter II v. 29, v. 46 and v 47.  Patanjali presents asana as the third step or rung in his ladder of practice after the ethical precepts (yama) and prescribed practices (niyama), and apparently expects the disciple to explore more about asana on his/her own. More interesting to me than specific practice techniques however, are two other ideas about asana. First, that asana is both a spiritual practice all its own and secondly, that the practice of asana can beneficially effect our relationship to living a spiritual life.  

Traditionally many teachers have taught that the main value of asana is to prepare the body for meditation by creating a strong back and supple legs so that the disciple can sit still for long periods of time. From this teaching comes the belief that asanas are “lower” or not as “spiritual” as meditation. But I feel the practice of asana has an even greater potential in the West. We may be captured at first by the lure of flexibility and strength, but we stay for another reason. Scientists are continuing to “discover” the pathways of connection between mind and body; in fact, some even say there is virtually no separation. Yogis were aware, I believe, of this connection thousands of years ago and the asanas honor this connection.in the modern world, far from the protected ashrams and retreats of ancient India.

The expression of this sacredness has to do with the nature of asana practice itself. No matter how many times one has practiced a certain asana, when it is practiced now it is absolutely new. When one practices an asana that particular asana has never been practiced before; each asana is absolutely of this moment. Thus the practice of asana is a living artistic creation that has never existed before and will never exist again, just as this moment is fresh. When we practice asana we have a chance to become present in this very moment.  When we practice asana we have the chance to bring our attention to here and now, to the sensations and awareness we are feeling. We can observe our reaction, both positive and negative, to the pose; we can observe the sensations of ease and difficulty that arise as we stretch and bend. This is what meditation is, the consistent willingness to be in the here and now without being lost in our thoughts about the here and now.

The practice of asana, and especially savasana or corpse pose, is meditative. It can be the doorway to deeper states of meditation and gives the student the most important gift that can be given. This gift is called dis- identification. In Chapter I of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses the false identification of thoughts and Self. He teaches that this false identification is at the root of all misery. He further teaches that the practices of yoga are about dissolving this false identification. The great gift of savasana, for example, is that the student can begin to separate from his/her thoughts. As one moves more deeply through relaxation one begins to enter another state in which thought is experienced a surface phenomenon. Then one can begin to experience a little space between the thought and what is perceived as Self.

Excerpt from Article Embodying the Spirit: Understanding the Meaning of Asana by Judith Hanson Lasater


12 illuminating sanskrit words for christmas yoga meditations

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As we move now toward the shortest day and longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere), let’s take a deeper look at yoga teachings on light and darkness and explore what they have to say about light within and without, body and mind, the transient and the eternal. Though for us moving toward the Winter Solstice light is now diminishing, yoga philosophy suggests there is a light within that never wanes.

First, let’s introduce two ancient Sanskrit words: The ancient yogis saw our being as spiritual creatures made up of (word #1) prakṛti [prak-rit-ee] and (word #2) puruṣa [poo-roo-sha].

Prakṛti is our body (it is also a word used to mean “nature”). It is all that is changing in us, or, in other terms, and this is not always obvious: the body-brain system. It is not always obvious because we identify with something that is changing, thinking that it is something permanent.

Puruṣa is all that is not changing within us, sometimes defined as the soul, or pure awareness, or in some other contexts, “consciousness.”

Puruṣa is the light that never wanes.

Now a third and fourth Sanskrit word: Patañjali (#3), who compiled the Yoga Sutra-s sometime around 350 CE, uses the word īśvara (#4) to mean a Higher Power. Iśvara is the source of light, or pure awareness or consciousness; through puruṣa (our individual light as experienced by us), we are connected to this one light, the source of all light, awareness, consciousness.

So, the interesting question arises, if reality and our relation to reality is constructed like this, how is darkness possible? How can depression, wrong action, confusion, illness, a sense of disconnect from light and wholeness, arise? This is an ancient question, and a living one.

Here are some things to ponder from the yoga teachings and their related philosophies. These are suggestions we can more than ponder, but test in our own life and in our yoga practice to discover for ourselves what they might mean.

Sanskrit word #5 is prāṇa, or life force. The ancient yogis saw health as a smooth flow ofprāṇa within the body-brain system. Since our body is made of matter, it has limitations or a conditioned nature. We experience that conditioning, yoga suggests, through the guṇas(#6), or tendencies. The guṇas influence matter very strongly. Just as electricity can’t pass through wood but it can pass through copper, the body’s receptivity to prāṇa will change. According to yoga, the guṇas govern this receptivity.

The guṇas are sattva (#7: balance, order, purity), rajas (#8: change, movement, dynamism) and tamas (#9: lethargy, dullness, slowness).

To bring this full circle and to see the interconnected, holistic view of reality to which yoga is inviting us, the guṇas also qualify the seasons. Sattva is the springtime, with it’s creative potential, and all that blossoms with it. Rajas is the summer, it is hot, people move around and travel. Tamas is associated with fall and winter as it gets darker and colder. The seasons are a reflection of the guṇas of the world. When people talk about nature or the environment, we usually understand it to be the external world. However, according to yoga philosophy, the internal environment is just as or even more important than the external.

In the moments when we are feeling less receptive to the light within, it doesn’t mean the light is not there. Our receptivity is different in accordance with our state of mind. Yoga suggest that deep inside us there is always light. That is why Patañjali advises us in Yoga Sutra I.36 to meditate on the light within.

YS I.36 viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī“We can be free of suffering by paying attention to the light within.”
Viśokā (#10) literally means “no despondency.” When grief is sustained it becomes despondency. Everyone has bad experiences in their lives, but when we identify with those past experiences we negate our reception of light. According to yoga philosophy there is always an inward resource.
Jyoti (#11) is our inner light, and jyotiṣmatī (#12!) means “to focus on the light within.” Despondency may transform when we pay attention to the light inside.
In times where we feel darkness or depressed, we don’t need to search outside, the yoga teachings suggest, we can be inspired by the source of light inside. The next time you are in a state that feels disconnected, try your yoga practice. Did that feeling turn out to be reality, or does it change when your body-breath-mind state changes?

The teachings of yoga seem to be suggesting something further as well, beyond helping us return to equilibrium. Here seems to be a key point: both suffering and joy are only possible in something that changes. When you begin to become sensitive to the transient, changeable nature of prakṛti, you might ask, what is it that lies beyond all the changes, what is the source of both light and dark? What is there that never changes?

That may be the most eternal quest.

From Huffington Post Article 12 Illuminating Sanskrit Words for Christmas Yoga Meditations by Rowan Lommel

 


how yoga became a $27 billion industry — and reinvented american spirituality

In 1971, Sat Jivan Singh Khalsa moved to New York to open a yoga studio. A lawyer moonlighting as a Kundalini yoga teacher, he set up shop in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, opening a school to share the teachings of the spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan. At that time, there were only two other yoga studios in the city.

In the more than 40 years since Khalsa opened his school, he has watched as yoga in America has evolved from a niche activity of devout New Agers to part of the cultural mainstream. Dozens of yoga variations can be found within a 1-mile radius of his studio in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, from Equinox power yoga to yogalates to “zen bootcamp.” Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners — 83 percent of them women. As Khalsa says, “The love of yoga is out there and the time is right for yoga.”

Perhaps inevitably, yoga’s journey from ancient spiritual practice to big business and premium lifestyle — complete with designer yogawear, mats, towels, luxury retreats and $100-a-day juice cleanses — has some devotees worrying that something has been lost along the way. The growing perception of yoga as a leisure activity catering to a high-end clientele doesn’t help. “The number of practitioners and the amount they spend has increased dramatically in the last four years,” Bill Harper, vice president of Active Interest Media’s Healthy Living Group, told Yoga Journal.
Of course, much of yoga’s appeal is the fact that it can be traced back roughly 5,000 years — in a world of exercise trends and diet fads, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time.

Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit for “divine union”) has one single aim: stilling the thoughts of the mind in order to experience one’s true self, and ultimately, to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), or enlightenment.

Others are more optimistic about the evolution of yoga in America, welcoming the conversations and occasional yoga-world infighting that have accompanied its rise.

“If you value yoga and the traditions it comes from, it’s a good problem to have,” Philip Goldberg, a spiritual teacher and author of American Veda, tells The Huffington Post. “Ever since the ideas of yoga came here in book form and then the gurus started to arrive, it’s all been a question of how do you adapt these ancient teachings and practices, modernize them and bring them to a new culture, without distorting or corrupting them, or diluting their effect? That’s really the key issue here.”

Of course, much of yoga’s appeal is the fact that it can be traced back roughly 5,000 years — in a world of exercise trends and diet fads, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time. Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit for “divine union”) has one single aim: stilling the thoughts of the mind in order to experience one’s true self, and ultimately, to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), or enlightenment.The Westernized, modernized form of the ancient practice expresses just one component of what was originally considered yoga. The physical practice of postures, or asana, is one of eight traditional limbs of yoga, as outlined in the foundational text of yoga philosophy, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, thought to be over 2,000 years old. These limbs present a sort of eightfold path to enlightenment, which includes turning inward, meditation, concentration and mindful breathing. The Sutras make no mention of any specific postures, but the original 15 yoga poses were later outlined in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, dated to the 15th century CE, making it one of the oldest surviving texts of hatha yoga, the yoga of physical exercises.

Balancing the old and the new is the “number-one challenge” for the Yoga Alliance(YA), the largest nonprofit association representing yoga teachers, schools and studios, according to CEO Richard Karpel.

“[When] the Yoga Alliance created standards for teacher training programs back in 1999, one of the primary focuses was on respecting diversity … nobody wanted an organization to tell people how to practice or teach yoga,” Karpel told The Huffington Post. “By [2011], the balance had shifted … where the concern was more about rigor.”

The rise of “spiritual but not religious” has supported this return to yoga’s traditional teachings. More than 1 in 3 Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, according to a 2012 Pew Forum survey.

Goldberg explains that this inward-facing spirituality — in which individuals, whether or not they ever set foot on a yoga mat, turn inward to develop a connection with something larger than themselves — is fundamentally a yogic one, and that in fact, we are becoming a “nation of yogis.”

“People are taking charge of their spiritual lives in a very yogic way,” he says. “That’s changing the face of spirituality in the West.”

Excerpts from Huffington Post Article How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality by Carolyn Gregoire


surya bhedana, chandra bhedana

Surya Bhedana Pranayama

(soor-yah beh-DAH-na) 
surya = sun
bhedana = piercing

(chahn-drah)
chandra = moon

Step by Step

Our right nostril is energetically associated with our body’s heating energy, symbolized by the “Sun” and the syllable HA, our left nostril with our body’s cooling energy, symbolized by the “Moon” and the syllable THA.

In the average person these energies are typically in conflict, which leads to disquiet and disease. The goal of traditional Hatha Yoga is to integrate and harmonize HA and THA for happiness and health. The purpose of these two breaths then is to create balance by “warming” a “cool” body-mind and vice versa.

Sit in a comfortable asana and make Mrigi Mudra. For Surya Bhedana block your left nostril and inhale through your right. Then close the right and exhale through the left. Continue in this manner, inhale right, exhale left, for 1 to 3 minutes.

For Chandra Bhedana, simply reverse the instructions in (2), inhaling always through your left nostril, exhaling through your right. Again continue for 1 to 3 minutes.

From Yoga Journal Article Single Nostril Breath


home practice

Establishing an independent home practice is a rite of passage for yoga practitioners. It’s the point at which you really learn to move at your own pace, listen and respond to your body, and develop greater consistency and frequency in your yoga practice. Like getting a driver’s license, practicing on your own empowers you and gives you new freedom to explore. But just like when you first get behind the wheel, that freedom can be overwhelming until you’re comfortable with the tools at hand and know how to get from one place to another.

While practicing yoga at home sounds easy enough in theory, even experienced practitioners can be uncertain about which poses to choose and how to put them together. Sequencing—which poses you practice and in what order—is one of the most nuanced and powerful tools that experienced teachers have at their disposal for teaching unique, transformative classes, and there are many ways of approaching sequencing in contemporary hatha yoga. Mastering the refined and subtle art of sequencing takes years of study, but you can learn some basic building blocks that will allow you to start putting together sequences of your own and to approach your home practice with confidence.

One way to begin creating your own at-home sequences is to familiarize yourself with a basic template that can be modified in many ways. On the following pages, you’ll find the building blocks for a well-rounded sequence made up of eight pose groups: opening poses, Sun Salutations, standing poses, inversions, backbends, twists, forward bends, and closing postures, ending with Savasana (Corpse Pose). In this basic sequence, these categories progress according to their intensity and the amount of preparation they require. Each pose—and each category of poses—prepares your body and mind for the next so that your practice feels like it has a beginning, middle, and end that flow seamlessly together. By following this methodology, you’ll create a sequence that warms you up slowly and safely, builds in intensity before peaking with challenging postures, and then slowly brings you back down to a quiet, relaxed finish.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article If You Build It by Jason Crandell