Tag Archives: deeping practice

Maintaining the momentum

Have faith ...keep following the path.

Have faith …keep following the path.

One of the difficulties you can encounter when you commit to any significant change in your life is maintaining the momentum.  People often come to yoga because there has been an impetus for change in their life.  They have decided that they need to “become more flexible”, “learn to relax” or “combat stress”.  Whatever the reason for commencing yoga there is guaranteed to be some benefits that you never expected and some times when you feel that because of changes in your circumstances or health,  it is difficult to maintain.

How do you maintain that momentum?  Well the first thing to realise is that yoga is all about listening to your body.  In some instances your body may just need some rest.  There may be times when the most important part of your practice is simply doing a yoga nidra and some breathing practices.  At other times sitting quiet and still for meditation may seem impossible and what is really needed is some solid asana practice to ground yourself.

Listening to where you are at is the first part, having compassion for yourself is essential.

That is a little harder for most of us. Living in a world where we are supposed to “toughen up”, “be strong” and “keep on going” is not such a compassionate place to be. Compassion requires really opening the heart and listening ….listening to the birds, listening to the breeze, listening to the breath, listening to the feelings and often makes one feel vulnerable but vulnerability in itself is a beautiful and honest expression of self. It does not mean that you put up with everything that is thrown at you and devalue your worth but it means being true to who you really are…that wonderous inner spirit of self.

So if you are having trouble hanging in there ….STOP…listen and love. Be gentle with the practices, do only what feels right not what you think you ought to be doing or what you used to be able to do and you will soon find that yoga WILL bring you back to your equilibrium, BUT please be patient !!!

 

Compression Versus Tension

Earlier this year whilst doing some teaching at the Rocklyn Ashram I had the opportunity once again to watch Paul Grilley’s Anatomy and Physiology DVD and I feel the need to remind all of my yoga students and interested readers of Paul’s message that no two people will look  or experience the same yoga pose in the same way.

Yes that is right!  We could all be doing a mountain pose (in some traditions called the downward dog) but none of us would look exactly the same or be experiencing it exactly the same for that matter.  Why is this the case?

Well according to Mr Grilley the difference lies between experiencing compression or tension in the body.  In this instance compression is literally the meeting of bone on bone in a joint that restricts further movement whilst tension is tightness in muscles and ligaments that restricts movement of the joints.

Although each of us has the same sort of bones in our skeleton they are very unique to each person.  For example some people will have a large femoral head on their femur whilst others will be smaller.  Some will have more rotational capacity in their radius than others, some will have bigger hook on their ulna connecting ulna and humerus etc etc…Therefore a persons inability to move into a posture in the same way may well be due to structural differences.

Tension on the other hand is where muscles and ligaments are tight through previous injury, scar tissue or lack of appropriate stretching.  A person may not be able to hold a pose in the same way as another simply because they lack the muscle flexibility and strength and this over time can be improved.

What does this mean for all of us out there practising yoga?  It simply reinforces the idea that every one’s yoga experience is a very personal one and that what suits some people will not suit others.  Your yoga experience is unique and you can measure your transformation not on whether you look the same as someone else but how you feel in the pose…what is happening for you personally and how these experiences change over time for  you.

For more information about this check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve_GUyEHdfI

Parvartasana or mountain pose

See the world from a different perspective

Do you remember when you were a child and you hung upside down on the monkey bars with your arms dangling in the air?  Or perhaps it was when you were on the trapeze swing, gliding through the air, your hair hanging down and the breeze in your face?  How much fun it was to see everything upside down..it made you feel like Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatters tea party.  Notbirds of a feather 2010hing seemed  the same.

There is something quite invigorating in changing your perspective and seeing things differently and the yogic practices of inverted asanas provide you with just that opportunity.   We can all get “stuck” in our way of seeing things or doing things – being led by the ego and striving to fulfill our desires or feeling that we are “right”.  Often it is necessary to break that pattern by getting out of our comfort zone and “tipping everything upside down!”  I regularly open my eyes and look behind me whilst practising Parvatasana (mountain pose or downward dog as it is known in some traditions).  It always surprises me, makes me smile, reminds me that there is more than one way of viewing things  and I feel so  refreshed  when I come back to upright.

Of course that is the point of inverted asana, they do turn everything upside down not only on a physical level but also on an emotional and psychic level, throwing new light on old patterns of behaviours and being.  Thus giving you the opportunity to reflect, to modify and change habitual practices.

From a purely physical point of view, the inverted asana, by reversing the action of gravity on the body, provides a rich blood supply to the brain, nourishing neurons and helping to flush out toxins.  The accumulated blood and lymph in the lower limbs is drained and purified with fresh oxygen.  The pituitary gland, a tiny organ near the top of the spine in the brain, is stimulated and this adjusts the whole endocrine system.

Whilst Parvatasana and Pranamasana (bowing pose) or simply placing the legs up the wall give some of the benefits of inverted asana the stronger inverted asanas like Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Halasana (plough pose) and Sirshasana (head stand) should only be attempted under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher as they put quite a bit of pressure on the neck.  These practices are actually contraindicated for people with high blood pressure, back and neck problems.  Women should not practice these asana whilst pregnant or during menstruation.  If you are new to yoga or  not sure if these asanas  would be suitable for you please consult your teacher.

For more information about inverted asana check out the following:

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1979/ajan79/theryog.shtml

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1980/ldec80/ed1280.shtml

http://www.ayl.com.au/pdf_docs/Headstand_ART_23.pdf

The Ujjayi Breath

Think about that time in the evening when you are lying in bed and just about to drift off to sleep…try to recall what the breath felt like? any sound of the breath?

You may have experienced the unconscious action of Ujjayi breathing.  The Ujjayi breath is a slow rhythmical breath that almost feels like you are breathing directly through the throat.  There is a slight hissing like sound that is only audible to you as the breath is drawn steadily but slowly inward and outward.

One of the benefits of this type of breathing include creating a state of deep relaxation. According to Swami Satyananda (APMB 2002) this tranquillising breath is “used in yoga therapy to  soothe the nervous system and calm the mind”.  In this way it quite helpful in dealing with insomnia.

Ujjayi pranayama also offers benefits in stimulating the metabolic rate and increasing the blood circulation through the body. In some traditions  you may be directed by your teacher to practice Ujjayi breathing during the pose.

When you consciously practice Ujjayi breathing you begin by observing the natural breath at the nostrils then take your awareness to the breath at the throat.  Begin to slow the breath down so it is long and controlled…slightly flexing the glottis at the back of the throat which narrows the air passage just a little and it will make a sound.  Then focus on the sound of the breath in the throat.  There is no strain.

The sound may remind you of sound of a baby snoring softly. Ujjayi breathing can be practised in a sitting position in preparation for meditation or lying in Shavasana..to aid in relaxation.

Only practice for short periods of time to begin with and check with your teacher to make sure this practice is suitable for you.

Using twists to get the kinks out of your life!

There are a number of reasons why you should include a twisting posture in your home practice sessions.  Even the simplest of twists such as Kati Chakrasana or the waist rotating pose can provide excellent benefits such as the toning of abdominal muscles, massage of abdominal organs and stimulation of the digestive system.

According to Bhaktipoornananda, ” When we twist the body it is the thoracic spine that  twists most, not the lumbar spine. When we have one leg shorter than the  other we get a lot of wear and tear on the junction between the 12th thoracic and the 1st lumbar vertebrae because the twist on the pelvis is imbalanced  as we walk. The lumbar spine does not turn much so this lob-sidedness  increases wear and tear on the first vertebra designed to twist (i.e.  12th thoracic).

Meru wakrasana (spinal twist) and ardha matsyendrasana (half spinal twist) are important twisting practices  which keep the whole spine supple without straining ligaments. They should  be practised initially with one hand resting close to the sacrum and the  arm straight so that it lifts the back upright and supports it.”                        (Swami Bhaktipoornananda Saraswati  2000)

Many of the twists are actually practiced from a sitting position you need to prepare sufficiently by strengthening the trunk and developing flexibility in the legs and back…so having a good sitting posture is important.  Often beginners will need to raise the buttocks slightly by sitting on a folded blanket or firm cushion.

Twisting practices help to improve the flexibility of spinal joints and muscles and stimulate the spinal nerves. They encourage digestion  and energy flow in the abdomen.  Twists also promote strength and flexibility in the trunk muscles.

On a psychic or mental level practising twists and learning to relax into these positions will help  you to realise that you can breathe through the more “knotty”or difficult parts of life. That these “kinks” in life merely serve to strengthen our core if we remain centred and move with the flow of breath.

Often people find a great sense of relief after practising twists ….as if the twist itself has allowed something on a deeper level to be released.

As with all asana practice awareness of where your body is at and it’s limitations is important.  Beginners need to be careful not to twist the trunk more than flexibility will allow and those people with serious back complaints would need to consult with their health professional prior to practising.

Mantras matter

The use of Mantras adds a whole new dimension to your yoga practice whether it be simply chanting the Surya or Beeja mantras as you practice the series Surya Namasakara or if you spend some time chanting the Mahamrityunjaya mantra or the Gayatri mantra as part of your home practice.

Both of these mantras like all mantras  have a powerful effect on the body and mind by connecting you to higher vibration, with the mind and body  becoming  filled  with something that is positive and uplifting.

The continued  repetition of the mantras (or just listening to these vibrations) can cause changes within the chanter or even to the environment. Some of the immediate changes include relaxation as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are brought into balance. Other potential benefits include improvements in the voice and lifetime changes like attaining self-realization.

According to Swami Niranjananda “mantra  is the force that liberates the mind from bondage”

Many people get caught up in trying to understand the literal meaning of mantras and whilst it is pleasant to know the translation of the mantra it is not essential for the mantra to have its effect.  For it is the vibration that counts.  These ancient Vedic sounds resound within the body and the external environment, uplifting both energy levels and thought patterns.

To hear the Gayatri  Mantra go to http://www.satyananda.net/prasad  and go to audio then  Gayatri Mantra

(try listening to this without knowing what the words mean first!!!!….then if you must know check out the next post!)

for more on Mantra……

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1980/fjune80/manmind.shtml

Musing about Mudras

Perhaps you have been to a yoga class where your teacher has explained something about mudras to you or perhaps this is the first time you have even heard of them…either way an understanding of mudra and how it affects yoga practice can greatly enhance your spiritual experience of yoga.

The word “mudra” is a Sanskrit word that literally means gesture or attitude.  A mudra can be psychic, emotional, devotional or aesthetic in nature. The mudra will have an effect on the mind creating a sense of peace, well-being or even a connection to something “bigger” than yourself.  From a Tantric perspective a mudra will provide a way of capturing dissipated prana (vital energy) and therefore will calm and introvert the mind helping to create a state that is more conducive to deeper meditative experience.

There are different types of mudras but the most common are those of the hands particularly ….Chin and  Gyana (sometimes spelt “jnana”) mudra where the index finger is connected to the base of the thumb or thumb tip  and the hands are placed in a relaxed fashion on the knees facing up or down respectively.

In these mudras the index finger represents individual consciousness and the thumb represents higher consciousness.  The curling or bowing of the finger to the thumb is symbolic of the desire for unity of the individual with the higher consciousness….the very essence of yoga and life…that of union.

Some of the specific benefits of mudras include:

  •  bringing awareness to large areas of  the cortex – physiologically the hand and the head areas take up 50% of the cortex
  •  establishing pranic balance (keeping the energy within the body),
  •  helping  to express some of the more elevated states of mind like peace, joy, compassion, devotion, surrender and inner beauty
  • linking the yoga practitioner with higher cosmic forces
  • deepening awareness and concentration

Swami Niranjananda (Prana, Pranayama, Prana Vidya 1994) describes the activity of mudra in this way ….There can be no expansion of awareness without firstly starting to become  aware. During mudra practice, we start to become aware of the thoughts which emerge before, during and after the practice. We are creating fixed, repetitive postures and gestures which can snap the practitioner out of  instinctive habit patterns and establish a more refined awareness.

To read more about Mudras try the following links:

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/2002/bmar02/mudras.shtmlo

http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1979/cmar79/mudras.shtml

http://yogatherapy.org.au/doc/mudras_abstract_poster.pdf   —-  an interesting study on how hand mudras help to deal with particular health problems