Category Archives: Eight-Limbed Path

breathing in yoga

inhale_exhale

The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

Many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you’re likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names like Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn’t bother with it until you’re well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what’s a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.

read more…

Excerpts of Yoga Journal article, Six Views on Breathing in Yoga, by Claudia Cummins


helping someone who doesn’t want help

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

~Pema Chodron

Very rarely do people open up to genuine help when they feel like someone is looking down on them or projecting onto them. None of us want to feel judged, misunderstood, or coerced into believing something when we’re not ready.

So what do we want? What is it that helps people create change when they’re struggling and resistant to help?

Some of the answers that resonated with me include:

1. First, check yourself. Do they really need help, or are you pushing some agenda subconsciously or otherwise? Second, let them know you’re there. Third, give them an example to follow. ~Carl B Salazar

2. People have to come to where they need to be to get their lessons. You can’t help someone who is not willing. But you can love them through it. Send light and love and hold them in your heart space. I had to hit my own bottom and dead end to turn around and climb back up…when I was ready and willing. ~Karen Blake

3. We can stop judging people, assuming that they are not helping themselves. Perhaps the helplessness is the sign of their being out of their comfort zone. If we want to help, we can do some positive things like: Give some encouragement or discuss the situation with them and let their own intuition discover the best way to help themselves. ~ Santosh Nag

4. Examine your attachment to their choices. Their challenges and choices are their life lessons, not yours. Is your wanting to help them saying something about you that you need to learn? ~Susan McCourt

5. You can help them by just being there and being supportive. You can still plant seeds. Most minds are so conditioned it is almost impossible to shed any light on their world. So just smile, nod, suggest, and if it does not help then move on with no regret because you tried. ~Skip Blankley

6. Don’t enable them. Put the tools in their hands to help themselves, show them how to use them, step back, and be there when they trip. Love them when they fall. Repeat repeatedly. ~Crystal Boudreau

7. You can’t make people be what you want them to be and you can’t decide what is best for them. You can only choose for yourself. There is a huge difference between can’t and won’t. Can’tmight be open to help. Won’t can’t be your problem. The best thing is won’t might not always be won’t.Hope for that. ~ Melodee Luka Kardash

8. Love them until they learn to love themselves. ~ Amber Weinacht

9. Stop trying to make them live as you think they should…How others live is not for us to control, but to learn from. ~ Crystal Sverdsten

10. Let go. They have to help themselves and accept responsibility. ~Viengxay Jimenez

11. Their path is not yours to blaze, and who’s to say they’re not exactly where they need to be at this very moment? ~Fiona Berger Maione

12. Focus on your own well being (boundaries) so that you can provide stable support when they ask for help. Allow them their process no matter how difficult it is to watch. It is neither our right or responsibility to manipulate their journey. ~Robyn Williams

13. People who won’t help themselves usually don’t trust others or themselves. Until they do, help them along by being a friend, but don’t engage in crazy behavior with them. ~Jerelyn Allen

14. How do we know, when we’re in our own little egos, that that person isn’t already doing their work? Sometimes, “helping” someone, means leaving them alone…sometimes, you help just by being yourself and healing your stuff so that others can see the change and know that it’s possible. The best way I’ve found to help others is to try and be as authentic as I possibly can. The rest, well, is just none of my business. ~Amy Scott

15. Don’t turn your back on them. Just accepted them for who they are, flaws and all, then decide for yourself if it is worth it to you. If it is, patience is a virtue. If not, then keep a hand out but watch out for yourself as well. No need for two people who won’t help themselves. ~April Spears

16. Support is important. Talk to your friends don’t leave them when they go through hard times, you’ll need them when you’re going through a hard time. ~Rosemin Bhanji

17. Help them see how their actions impact others (children, spouse or parents). ~Eloise Cabral

18. Open the door. They’ll walk through it when they’re ready. ~Devon Palmer

19. Be a role model. Show them what life is like when you cultivate and cherish the self. ~Steven Lu

20. Stay strong! Use your strength to combat their weakness. It takes time. ~ Laurie Stahl Sturgeon

Excerpts from How to Help Someone Who Won’t Help Themselves By Lori Deschene


7 tips for new yoga teachers

Greatness in any skill comes after a lot of practice, and that practice has to start somewhere. A few weeks ago, I had a text exchange with a yoga teacher who was at that starting point.

She was about to teach her first fully-booked class and, although she was a stellar student in her teacher training, she felt terrified enough to half-jokingly ask me, 10 minutes before class time, if I could teach in her place. I did not. Instead, I stopped thinking about anything else for a moment so I could quickly tell her what I thought would help her the most in that moment. A simple “Oh, you’ll do fine” wouldn’t have worked.

It turns out that the class went well and was followed with very positive feedback from the students. Here is a more detailed version of what I told her.

1. Remember why you teach.

How do you finish the sentence, “I teach yoga because…”?

Each teacher’s motivation to teach is unique, but they likely all have one element in common: a desire to share the benefits of the practice with others. After graduating a teacher training, beginning teachers tend to have so much information swimming around in their heads that they lose sight of the original reason they started to teach. Taking a moment to remember that you love yoga and that you chose to endeavor to share it works wonders for calming nerves and focusing instruction.

2. Remember what yoga is.

What is it that makes what you are teaching a yoga practice? It’s important for teachers of all experience levels to know the answer to this, though not enough of them seem to even ask themselves the question. Right now, at the starting point of your teaching career, develop the habit of reminding yourself of your answer to this whenever you need to clarify what you are teaching others to do on their yoga mats.

3. Teach what you know.

In every training, I am asked whether it’s okay to teach things you can’t do yourself. The answer is yes and no. If it’s something you can’t do because you have a broken leg, then, yes, it’s okay, assuming you were able to do it before whatever broke your leg happened. Otherwise, no.

When I’m asked this, I reply with a question, “Why would you want to teach something you don’t know?” There is such pressure on all of us, yoga teachers or not, to get to the next thing. That mentality is helpful in an area where innovation is desired. But, in yoga practice, the work is meant to point our minds to the perfect present, not to the nonexistent future. Use your practice and teaching as time to let go of needing to move on.

Teaching yoga asana to people with different body structures and skill levels requires not only knowing how the pose works in your own body, but also knowing how it works in all the other kinds of bodies in the class. If you teach a pose that you aspire to, or that you’ve just done a few times, it won’t happen.

And, while there are many things you aren’t ready to teach, the flip side is that there are many things that you know very well, and that your students don’t yet know. Teach them those things.

4. Be prepared.

Great teachers constantly adapt their teaching strategy to the students who are present. Managing such adaptation becomes second nature after years of experience, but that doesn’t help the new teacher a lot. So, I teach them to prepare each of their classes in an intelligent way, with a specific process of sequencing, then to be ready to throw out the prep as they see what actually presents itself in class.

Why draft something that you’re not going to use? Because the more you work out plans in the low-stress times when you’re not teaching, the better you are at calmly making the right choices when you’re guiding the practices of others.

5. Remember that you are teaching people.

While some teachers take on a theatrical tone when teaching, as if playing the role of a yoga teacher, the great ones communicate in a way that seems effortless and unadorned.

Every budding teacher I’ve trained thus far has been able to talk to me, one on one, clearly and effectively. Applying that same skill to a group is not so hard when you remind yourself that you are talking to people. Alternatively, teachers see their students as poses, or as tests of their knowledge or teaching ability. While it’s true that we do teach poses and that we sometimes do that better than at other times, we are always teaching those things to human beings.

Consider something that you know very well, like how to brush your teeth. It would probably be very easy for you to teach that to somebody, and you would probably speak to them in the same way as if you weren’t teaching them. There is no reason to speak any differently.

Look your students in their eyes and talk them through their yoga practice. Assuming you know what you are teaching, this strategy opens up communication in familiar territory, which helps you teach effectively in your own voice.

6. Watch your students.

Every asana has at least a few dozen points about position and effort. Common weaknesses with beginning teachers are that they say too many of these points, not enough of them, or that they say the ones that aren’t needed.

One way to give the perfect amount of instruction is to watch your students. See what they need to hear, and wait to be sure they got the last instruction before you go on to the next one. This prevents wasted time and energy, and it makes each instruction more potent. It is also a manifestation of a fundamental instruction for yoga practice, the first of Patanjali’s yoga sutras: “Yoga is now.”

7. It’s not about you.

Before I was a yoga teacher, I did a little performance work that grew popular enough for me to be scared stiff before some shows. Once, as I was gripped with fear, a friend reminded me that the audience had come to have a good time and that they were there because they thought I’d help make that happen. And then I wasn’t scared.

Remind yourself of the same thing as a yoga teacher. People are coming to yoga class to get to a better place somehow, and they’ve chosen your class because they think you might help do that. They want you to succeed. They aren’t coming to class to critique you. In fact, they’re probably seeking your approval much more than they’re deciding whether you get theirs. Make your instruction more about them than it is about you. You chose to teach so that they could practice. Speak the words that allow that to happen without fear of criticism.

Huffington Post Article 7 Tips for Nervous New Yoga Teachers by James Brown


breath of the gods


pema chodron on “troublemakers”

“The job of the spiritual friend is to insult you… because in order to become a completely loving person, a flexible person, you have to see where you are “hookable”.  You have to see where your shenpa arises so you can work with it.”

Pema Chodron


yoga lesson 1: just show up

balasana just show up

When renowned Ashtanga practitioner/instructor, David Swenson was in Seoul for an Ashtanga workshop, he said something like this:

“The hardest part of yoga is to just show up.  Once you are there, the rest happens.”

He went on to say that if you just get up, put on your yoga clothes and stand on the mat, you’ve accomplished something. What naturally tends to happen is that once on that mat, you figure you may as well do the sun salutations which lead to the standing series and then a few sitting poses—and it just keeps going. Sharing this piece of advice through his gentle, humble and kind demeanor, David’s message stuck for me.

Yeah, there are days when I feel heavy or lethargic or just “don’t wanna.” By just showing up, I find that I move beyond my projections and end up feeling great after the practice. Guess that’s what Swenson meant when he said, “I’ve never regretted practicing.”

Just show up. Seems simple. In what other areas of life can this be applied?

  • Communication with your spouse is currently challenging. Just show up; keep trying to find ways to understand one another.

 

  • You’ve just finished eating a donut at a meeting while you’ve pledged to a new diet. Just show up; from this moment on become more mindful of your snack choices.

 

  • That project, book or blog post didn’t get the feedback you anticipated. Just show up; keep working at it. If there’s passion behind what you do, it will get noticed.

I don’t expect those days when I just “don’t wanna” will vanish. It’s very human to have lapses in motivation. But having the intention of moving forward—of rolling out the yoga mat, so to speak—is the first step that may lead to more.

Excerpt from Elephant Journal Article My First Yoga Lesson: Just Show Up by Christine Martin


drishti

While a drishti can be described as a fixed focus, the eyes should be soft as if looking through the object of the gaze. It is a transcendent and unforced awareness that looks beyond the surface.

When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things, our prana (vitality) flows out of us as we scan the stimulating sights. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from yoga. To counteract these habits, control and focus of the attention are fundamental principles in yoga practice. When we control and direct the focus, first of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.

The increasing popularity and influence of the Ashtanga Vinyasa method of yoga, taught for more than 60 years by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, have introduced drishti to thousands of practitioners. On a simple level, drishti technique uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention. In every asana in Ashtanga, students are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine specific points.

In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), for instance, we gaze at the nose tip: Nasagrai Drishti. In meditation and in Matsyasana (Fish Pose), we gaze toward the Ajna Chakra, the third eye: Naitrayohmadya (also called Broomadhya) Drishti. In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), we use Nabi Chakra Drishti, gazing at the navel. We use Hastagrai Drishti, gazing at the hand, inTrikonasana (Triangle Pose). In most seated forward bends, we gaze at the big toes: Pahayoragrai Drishti. When we twist to the left or right in seated spinal twists, we gaze as far as we can in the direction of the twist, using Parsva Drishti. In Urdhva Hastasana, the first movement of the Sun Salutation, we gaze up at the thumbs, using Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti. In Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), we use Urdhva Drishti, gazing up to infinity. In every asana, the prescribed drishti assists concentration, aids movement, and helps orient the pranic (energetic) body.

The full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its value in asana. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. The use of drishti in asana serves both as a training technique and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness. Drishti organizes our perceptual apparatus to recognize and overcome the limits of “normal” vision.

Our eyes can only see objects in front of us that reflect the visible spectrum of light, but yogis seek to view an inner reality not normally visible. We become aware of how our brains only let us see what we want to see—a projection of our own limited ideas. Often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity. Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.

Drishti—The True View

Throughout the history of yoga, clear, true perception has been both the practice and goal of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells his disciple, Arjuna, “You are not able to behold me with your own eyes; I give thee the divine eye, behold my Lordly yoga” (11.8). In the classic exposition of yoga, the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali points out that in viewing the world, we tend not to see reality clearly, but instead get deluded by the error of false perception. In Chapter II, verse 6, he says that we confuse the act of seeing with the true perceiver: purusha, the Self. He continues, in verse 17, to say that this confusion about the true relationship between the act of seeing, the object seen, and the identity of the Seer is the root cause of suffering. His cure for this suffering is to look correctly into the world around us.

How are we to do this? By maintaining a prolonged, continuous, single-pointed focus on the goal of yoga: samadhi, or complete absorption into purusha. The practice of drishti gives us a technique with which to develop single-pointed concentration of attention. The hatha yogi uses a kind of “x-ray vision” comprised of viveka (discrimination between “real view” and “unreal, apparent view”) and vairagya (detachment from a mistaken identification with either the instrument of seeing or that which is seen). This basic misidentification is called avidya (ignorance), and its counterpart, vidya, is our true identity.

Like all yogic practices, drishti uses the blessed gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting to our full potential—the wellspring that is the source of both body and mind. When we clear our vision of the covering of habits, opinions, ideas, and their projections about what is real and what is false, we gaze beyond outer differences toward the absolute Truth.

 

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article See More Clearly By Practicing Drishti by David Life, the cofounder of Jivamukti Yoga