What an apt post for me when it has been ages since I have I have been active on my yoga blog. What is it that makes it so hard to restart something when you have been away from it for whatever reason? Many of you will have experienced a break in your yoga practice for a period of time and it can be very hard to kick-start the healthy habit of spending time on your mat.
Spring is such a great time for new beginnings though and it is worth reflecting on just what has happened over the winter season. That period of dormancy or quiet time has provided the opportunity for a much needed rest for nature and perhaps yourself. With the rising soil temperatures and warmth of the sun there is increasing vitality and energy resulting in all sorts of growth and the need to be pare back the dead wood which in itself is a good thing. If you spend some time outdoors you can feel the promise of spring ..an opportunity for movement forward.
In the same way look at your own life ..what needs to be pared back? Ask yourself “am I aware of increasing vitality of spring? Is there anything I can do to embrace this period of growth to enhance my life?” If your yoga practice has slipped do not be afraid to roll out the mat again…be kind and gentle with yourself. Start slowly and build up using practices like gentle back bends – those wonderful extroverting poses, include a few rounds of salute to the sun, take your shoes off and free up your feet, start your day with mantra chanting or join a new class.
Whilst the previous two Koshas, the annamaya and pranamaya koshas are those that create the physical structure the manomaya and vijnanamaya koshas are the mental functions which allow us to deal with the knowledge aspect of being.
Manomaya Kosha is the third layer identified by the ancient yogis as part of the individual’s physiology. It refers to the mental body, that is the dimension of experience that occurs for individuals on a mental level.
Psychologists identify three aspects of mind – the conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious states. From a yogic perspective the mind is divided into 4 parts:
Manas is that part of the mind that responds to sensory input and related to survival therefore this aspect of mind is associated with measuring, judgement, thought and counter thought.
Chitta is that part of mind associated with registering and storing impressions and memory…it is also the basis of the unconscious mind.
Ahamkara is the aspect of mind concerned with identity, the separation of “me and you”
Buddhi which means to know is discrimination, awareness and understanding and assists Manas with the process of rational thinking.
To a large extent the these last three parts are forced to act through the limitations of Manas with our awareness focused on our needs and desires for survival, security and social engagement .. “trying to work out what’s in it for me ” so to speak.
Through yoga practices such as Pratyhara ( the withdrawal of the senses in the beginning of yoga nidra, where we disassociate from the outside world ) you are able to become aware of the subtleties of the mind. NB: You will remember this as that part of the yoga nidra practice where you are encouraged to search out sounds without naming them, gradually drawing the awareness inwards to the internal sounds.
By practising Antar Mouna meditation ( the witnessing of thought and counter thought) you can also become aware of the workings of the mind and in doing so you can begin to identify more with the higher aspects of mind. Once you begin to see how the mind operates it is possible to transform and control thought processes through self-awareness and mindfulness.
Of course working through the other layers or koshas through asana, breathing practices, mantras and cleansing practices will also help to harmonise the mind, so once again yoga gives us many tools to explore the koshas and find balance and equanimity.
What is the yogic approach to physiology? The ancient yogis believed that the individual was made up of 5 layers or sheaths of experience and these were called the koshas. These koshas explain our relationship and experience with the environment, the breath, the mind and higher levels of consciousness. They provide a way for us to find our way into the subtler layers of our being.
The first layer or kosha which we are most likely to be aware of is one called annamaya kosha or the body sheath. It occupies about 75% of our awareness. This is our relationship with the body, the bones, muscles, ligaments, organs and how we interact in our environment through the senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and feel. It concerns the foods we eat, the things we do, our sleeping habits, the media we expose ourselves to, the people in our lives and places we visit. You may notice that some people or places make you feel content, happy and positive whereas others make you feel anxious, exhausted, fearful. Similarly you may find that when you get regular sleep and take regular meal breaks with healthy food choices you generally feel better. The same goes for exercise be it yoga or some other form of physical activity.
Once we become conscious of these things we are able to use yoga to create a steady experience of annamaya kosha. Some things to consider may be setting a regular time for going to bed, making changes to our eating habits in terms of what you eat and when( you could even use Ayurvedic principles here). Making conscious choices about the people we spend time with, not just putting up with it. Establishing a regular yoga practice and taking time for stillness in meditation. Creating balance in annamaya Kosha creates a ripple effect to the higher koshas or layers affecting energy levels and or mental balance.
Yoga practices for harmonising the physical body include:
- asana by toning and strengthening the body,
- pranayama (breathing practices) by increasing breath capacity, physical energy and balancing the cerebral hemispheres
- meditation and yoga nidra to provide stress relief and balance the fight/flight response
- cleansing practices like neti, kunjal to keep mucus membranes and tracts lubricated and healthy
Some of the principles in the management of Annamaya kosha include:
- regularity of sleep, meals, yoga practice
- simplicity of food, daily routine
- moderation – not overdoing any addictive behaviours
- discipline – not rigid or suppressed but in developing the ability to control the mind
- awareness i.e.. consciously listening to the body’s needs
- tapas or sacrifice ..opportunity for fasting
Well hello again to all my yoga friends. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on the notion of core strength as it is certainly something that has been a focus in most of my classes. It became very popular to talk about “activating the core” with the increasing interest in Pilates many years ago and although perhaps not always discussed in terms of “core strength” it is still very much a part of a good yoga asana practice. It is more often referred to as developing abdominal strength and there are specific asanas that work this area of the body. However we are not merely talking about the rectus abdominus or “six pack” as is commonly identified with your abs but the deeper muscles of the abdomen including the transverse abdominus, the obliques, multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor.
Developing strength in this area is important because it is these muscles that support the lower back in particular and play a significant role in posture. As we age our abdominal strength can be diminished through lack of exercise, childbirth and poor postural habits. By including regular practices that maintain and strengthen the core you will definitely help to support your back and experience less back pain. Many of the practices found in the PMA 2 series of the asana handbook by Sw Satyananda focus on this muscle group. These include the boat pose (Naukasana), leg raises (Paddotthanasana) cycling (Pada Sanchalanasana) and many more. Stronger practices can be found in the plank pose (Santalonasana), the spinal column pose (Merudandasana) and of course any balance pose will rely on core strength to maintain stability.
Is core strength just about strong abdominal muscles then???
I personally think there is much more to it as this area of the body coincides with the energy centre or chakra known as Manipura chakra. Manipura chakra is symbolised by a bright yellow lotus with ten petals, a fiery red triangle, the yantra of agni tattwa, or fire element and is the seat of the digestive fire or agni. The animal which serves as a vehicle for Manipura is a the ram, the symbol of assertiveness and energy. So this is the chakra which is involved in self-esteem, warrior energy, and the power of transformation.
A balanced, energised third chakra helps us to overcome lethargy (Tamas). It can kick-start our way of being and attitude so that we can take risks, assert our will, and assume responsibility for our life. This chakra is also the place of our deep belly laughter, warmth, ease, and the vitality we receive from performing selfless service or karma yoga.
Manipura chakra is closely connected to the psyche and it is often the case that psychic problems give rise to digestive problems. For example, many people react to fear or stressful situations with abdominal pain or diarrhoea. Building strength in Manipura is way to help manage stress and anxiety.
Self-awareness and self-confidence are other pearls of the Manipura chakra.
So when you are practicing your asana to build your core strength try to keep your awareness at Manipura…..to feel the strength building not just in muscles but in your whole being. You may even want to mentally repeat the bija mantra Ram!
Posted in Asana, Uncategorized
Tagged asana, Chakras, core strength, deeping practice, Focus, health, home practice, Relaxation, self esteem, transformation, Wellbeing, will power, yoga, Yoga postures, yoga practice