drishti

The word दृष्टि,driśti’ comes from the Samskritham root ‘to see’. In yoga, it means to hold a steady gaze. This steady gaze can be directed in two directions:

  1. Outward gaze using physical points called Bahir Driśti, बहिर्दृष्टि 
  2. Inward gaze as in चक्र, chakra or मुद्रा, mudra called Antar Driśti – अन्तर्दृष्टि

दृष्टि, driśti is used in आसन – āsana, प्राणायाम – prānayāma and धारणा – dhārana. It is a soft, intentional gaze, not a penetrating stare with relaxed and half-closed eyes. Its a simple process where you first, become aware of where/what you are looking at. Next, direct the eyes with an intent to focus your attention using one of the driśti points (see below).

Texts

The text योगसूत्रYogasutra mentions to focus attention on various points such as चक्र, chakras, wheels of energy or on शाम्भवी मुद्रा, Shambavi Mudra, space between the eybrows to enhance concentration. However, no specific driśti point references are mentioned for āsana practice.

Other हठ योग, Hata Yoga texts while describing certain āsanas, state that the gaze should be fixed at the tip of the nose i.e. Nasāgrey Driśti. For example, the chapter on āsanas in Gherandsamhita while describing Padmāsana (2:8) and Simhāsana (2:15), Gorakshāsana (2:25) states the point of focus placed on Nasāgrey Driśti. And in the fifth chapter of Gherandsamhita (5:43) the same driśti is used for Nādi Shodhana Pranayama (also reffered to as  Nādishuddhi Pranayāma).

Hata Yoga Pradīpika does not list the nine types but makes references within certain āsana descriptions.

Nine Types 

There are nine driśti points (counting Pārśva Driśti, left/right side). Few āsanas are mentioned within each group. However, please note an āsana may have multiple driśti points. And, many prefer to close their eyes as it brings a sense of calmness and joy into the practice.

Samskritham script with audio has been provided for pronunciation practice.

अङ्गूष्ठमध्ये Angusthamadhyay 

Aṅguṣṭhamadhyay अङ्गूष्ठमध्ये; means “at the middle of the thumb or big toe” or simply the practitioner looks at the thumb or big toe.

Āsanas

  • वीरभद्रासन,Virabhadrasana (Warrior 1)
  • त्रीकेणासन, Trikonasana (Triangle)
  • कोणासन, Konasana, sidebend (Standing or seated)
  • पादहस्तासन, Padahastasana, (Hand to foot pose)

भ्रूमध्ये Bhrumadhyay

The Bhrūmadhyay Driśti भ्रूमध्ये, means “at the middle of the eyebrows/brow, at the “third eye”. Here, eyes are halfway or fully closed and focussed toward the space between the eyebrows. Yogic texts refer to this point as शाम्भवी मुद्र, Śāmbhavi Mudra, आज्ञा चक्र, Ājna Chakra and कूटस्थ चैतन्य, Kutastha Chaitanya.  Hold the gaze for a few minutes and gradually increase the time.

Āsanas

  • मत्स्यासन, Matsyāsana (Fish)
  • विपरीत वीरभद्रासन, Viparīta Vīrabhadrāsana (Reverse Warrior)
  • सिद्धासन, Siddhāsana
  • सुखासन, Sukhāsana (Easy Pose)
  • अर्ध पद्मासन, Ardha Padmāsana (Half Lotus)
  •  वज्रासन, Vajrāsana (Thunderbolt)
  • अर्ध मत्स्येन्द्रासन, Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half Spinal twist)

नासाग्रे Nasāgrey

Nāsāgrey Driśti  नासाग्रे, means “to the tip of the nose”  has the eyes fixed on the tip of the nose. You may begin by fixing your gaze in front of you either on the floor or front edge of the mat as in tree pose.

Āsanas

  • व्रृक्षासन,Vrkshasana (Tree)
  • उत्तानासन, Uttānāsana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • शिरीशासन, Śiriśāsana (Handstand)
  • ऊर्ध्व धनुरासन, Ūrdhva Dhanurāsana (Wheel)
  • उष्ट्रासन, Uśtrasana (Camel).
  • समास्थिति:, Samāstithihi in सूर्य नमस्कार, Sūrya Namaskār

हस्ताग्रे Hastāgray

The Hastāgray Driśti हस्ताग्रे means “front of the hand” which involves looking at the fingertips or palm of the hand when extended.

When प्रणव, Pranava or आदि, Ādimudra is practiced during āsana, the gaze can rest on the mudra. However, during शवासन, Śvāsana, Prānayāma and meditation, other inner, Antar driśti points may be used or eyes may be closed.

Āsanas

  • उथित त्रिकोणासन, Uthita Trikonasana (Triangle)
  • परिवृत्त त्रिकोणासन, Parivritta Trikonāsana (Triangle Twist)
  • उथित पार्श्व केणासन, Utthita Parśvakonāsana (Extended Side Angle)

पार्श्व Pārshva

Pārśva Driśti – पार्श्व means “the side” – looking sideways to the left or right side.

Pārśva driśti is somewhat ambiguous as “sideways” can be up for interpretation. Mostly, a sideways gaze follows the direction as the head – upward or downward. However, Swami Satyananda Saraswati recommends using Bhrumadhyay (भ्रूमध्ये,Driśti, once you complete the sideways movement or the twist.

Āsanas

  • अर्ध मत्स्येन्द्रासन, Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half Lord of the Fishes)
  • मरीचियासन, Marichyāsana (Marichi’s Pose)
  • भारद्वजासन, Bhāradvājāsana (Twist)
  • वीरभद्रासन, Virabhadrāsana 2 (Warrior 2)

ऊर्घ्व Ūrdhva

Ūrdhva Driśti – ऊर्घ्व means “above” – has the eyes pointing upwards, to the sky, to infiniteness. Also referred to as Ākāśa Driśti and Anantha Driśti.

Āsanas

  • उत्कटासन, Utkatāsana (Fierce pose)
  • वीरभद्रासन, Vīrabhadrāsana I (Warrior I)
  • आंजनेयासन, Ānjanèyāsana (Wisdom pose)
  • उपविष्ट कोणासन, Upaviśta Konāsana (Seated side angle)
  • ऊर्ध्व पादअंगूष्टासन, Urdhva Pādaangushtāsana (Seated leg lift)

 नाभिचक्रे Nābhicakre

Nābhicakre Driśti नाभिचक्रे means “on the navel” where “Nābhi” means naval center and “chakra” means wheel, circle.

Āsanas

  • अधोमुख श्वानासन, Adho Mukha Śvānasana (Downward Facing dog)
  • पर्वतासन, Parvatāsana (Mountain pose)
  • नौकासन, Naukāsana (Leaning boat pose)
  • सर्वांगासन, Sarvāngāsana (Shoulder stand)

पादयोरग्रे Pādayoragrey

Pādayoragrey Driśti पादयोरग्रे means “to the tips of the feet” – is gazing at the toes.

Āsanas

  • पश्चिमोत्तनासन, Paścimottanāsana (Seated forward bend)
  • जानु शिरिशासन, Jānu Śirśasana (Head to knee pose)
  • नवासन, Navāsana (Boat pose)

Benefits

  • improves alignment and intensifying your experience in a pose
  • helps to filter out visual stimuli and distractions
  • helps find balance and depth in the pose
  • strengthens eye muscles
  • increases focus and attention during practice – being present
  • controls wandering eyes – stops you from judging peers
  • conserves energy for other yoga practices
  • decreases mental chatter (where our eyes go, attention follows)
  • adds meditative quality to your practice
  • Induces calmness

For example, in Ānjaneyāsana, low lunge, an upward gaze (ऊर्घ्व ) opens the chest, lengthens the spine, sinks the hips over the feet for a stable and strong pose. In Adhomukha Śvānāsana, Downward Facing Dog, driśti at the navel, नाभिचक्रे, nābhichakrey encourages lifting up at the hips and back of the tailbone preventing the rounding of the spine.

Personal Practice

Since the movement during vinyāsa is fluid, it is important to know exactly where the driśti points are for each āsana so it becomes easier to focus through transitions. As your practice matures you will also notice that the driśti point can vary.

It took me years to memorize the driśti for each āsana. Sometimes, when I forced myself to use the recommended driśti point, it either exaggarated or depressed a specific emotion, ending in a dissatified practice. But when I let myself be guided from within, my driśti settled on other points – possibly on what I needed at that moment. It helped me become aware of the unwanted emotion and tranform it for a fulfilling practice.

For example, when I brought restless emotions to the mat, nābhichakre driśti as in Naukāsana, leaning boat pose, aggravated the ego energy, unnecessarily increasing the agitation. Shifting my gaze to my big toe helped redirect the restless energy but settling the driśti on the heart or the eyebrow center dissipated the ego and replaced it with compassion or forgiveness.

Another day, when I was worried/anxious, in Pādahastāsana, hand to foot pose, with my head below the heart, my driśti on the (blocked) heart chakra, caused a sense of hopelessness. Redirecting the driśti to the eybrow center activated constructive inner reflection and flooded my being with gratitude.

While you enjoy the above nine दृष्टि, driśtis in your practice, remember to notice your own preferences and benefits on and off the mat.

Final Thoughts

Ever wonder why you felt drained after window shopping in the mall or staring at the computer screen? Could it be that your prāna was drained through your eyes? The world of social media and multitasking trains your attention to become discursive and unruly.  दृष्टि,driśti’ helps to manage your mind instead of allowing it to rule you.

Next time you are practicing yogāsana, prānayāma and dhārana notice the challenges your eyes present. Watch where your attention goes. Remember no matter the direction in which you are physically looking, using driśti increases your awareness and teaches you to hone the practice of inner reflection.

Practice driśti just as you rehearse awareness to your breath. Gently remind yourself to come back to your driśti just as you do with your breath. Soon, each part of your yoga practice will begin to work together seamlessly and you will notice a sense of deeper focus and calmness on and off of the mat.

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Swami Satyananda Sarawati, 1966, 1999. Āsana, Prānayāma, Mudra Bandha. Bihar School og Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.

Swami Muktibodhananda. 1993. Hatayoga Pradipika. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.

warm ups

The dictionary definition of warm up is the act of preparation for a game, performance, or workout, involving gentle, loosening exercises. To perform the best on the field, stage, tennis court or a yoga mat, warm ups are absolutely essential.

Many in the yoga world agree warm ups are important. But with the push of power yoga and vinyasa flow it is not truly given an honest attempt in the classroom. In the past year the few classes I attended spent less than 5 minutes on warm-ups even on cold days. A couple of times I came home with pain in my lower back, needing to relieve it with additional asanas. Recently, I had to leave a class within the first ten minutes due to severe cramping in my left calf and hamstrings since the vinyasa began immediately after a brief centering with no warm up at all.

The Huffington Post had an article on how injuries related to yoga are on the rise. Is it because classes are lacking adequate warm up? It is the responsibility of yoga teachers to make sure all students leave the class injury free.

Thirties

When I began asana practice in my early thirties, I was suffering from sports related injuries. I found relief almost instantly in my lower back – a pain that had been nagging me for years. Then, during teacher training I discovered these back relieving asanas were preceded by a set of warm ups – detailed beautifully in one of the textbooks. Without a proper warm up sequence, these asanas would not have been as effective.

Still, in the infancy of my yoga teaching career, I seemed to have completely forgotten this crucial aspect and developed a misconstrued image of a ‘perfect’ yoga teacher. Ignoring the tenet of non-harming (ahimsa) and feeling the need to prove that I can teach a power vinyasa class in order to get a job at a studio or a gym led to costly compromises. Obviously, I had completely overlooked Patanjali’s advice in the Yoga Sutra – 1.12, (अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः॥१.१२॥) – which I interpret here as – the practice is successful only with detachment from the ego – i.e. letting go of illusionary perfection.

With continued study of the Yoga Sutras, I was able to erase the image of a ‘perfect’ yoga teacher and settled into giving my best one class at a time. I have been using the warm up asanas series for the past fifteen years to help me stay pain free (most of the time) and help others manage theirs as well. Many of my students have been coming to class for over six years and have active lifestyles – playing tennis, running or biking – with asanas to support their sports. I am happy to hear them vouch that the warmup part of the class prepares them to safely enjoy a more involved vinyasa.

Forties

Don’t believe it when people say that forties is the new thirties. My body signaled that a good warm up routine couldn’t be overlooked no matter what. Especially for those who came to the class looking to me to lead them safely in asana.

Very few people can jump out of bed and land in Trikonasana perfectly. It takes patience to identify the tight areas, recognize the muscles needed to create movement so that the “stretch” can occur effectively in Triangle pose. Sadly, I have had people leave the class because the vinyasa flow did not start right away. And – I believe one must be adequately warmed up to perform Sun Salutation correctly, despite the popular opinion that it should be used as a warm up.

Certainly, senior and gentle yoga have found their respectful place in the hierarchy of asana classes. Still, the schedule seems to be filled with power vinyasa classes. The vinyasa classes are designated as beginners, intermediate, or advanced, yet there ends up being a mix of all levels – ability and age. A few come to check if they can graduate from a beginners class to an intermediate one. Some refuse to use props to transition from one pose to another safely. Then, it becomes a serious responsibility as a teacher to not only initiate an effective warm up sequence but also to provide additional variations to make sure the students leave the classroom injury free.

As a student of the eight fold path and a teacher of asana, the vow of Raja Yoga binds me to ethical principles like ahimsa, non harming (Yama/Niyama). This dictates the necessity of being the enforcer of safe, injury free classroom experience. My sincere commitment to these ethics gives me the freedom not to second guess myself when instructing each asana. These ethical principles become my intention and a foundation for an energizing and a mindful class.

In essence, it is a must that yoga teachers be taught the philosophy of Yamas and Niyamas with its application to daily life.  Again, the wisdom of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras 1:14, (स तु दीर्घकालनैरन्तर्यसत्कारासेवितो दृढभूमिः॥१.१४॥) irrefutably posits a measure for any practice – asana or teaching. That every teacher must practice these ethics for a long time to set a firm foundation before embarking into the world of teaching asana. The practicality of these principles will be reflected in your work as a yoga teacher and will be perceived by the students in the way you instruct them. It becomes a pleasure then to help the students understand that the warm up movements are designed to open and release the various tight spaces of the body gradually in preparation for more complex postures.

Fifties

It is an erroneous assumption that if one has been practicing asana, all your aches and pains, and diseases are cured. How can years of compromised dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle, genetic predispositon – disappear with just a weekly yoga class?

Now, in my fifties, inspite of regular asana practice, I wake up each morning quite stiff. Genetic predisposition of arthritis or process of aging – or both? Don’t expect me to touch my toes without warming up the hips, hamstrings, knees and lower back. Still, it is because of the ‘right’ warm-up asanas with props each morning that I am able to bend safely – to get down to my toes.

Recently, I began warming up at home before I teach a class, and then some more with my students – especially if I have to teach an early morning class. While some are blessed with flexibility and strength, others clearly aren’t. For those who aren’t, warm up asanas provide a sure way to initiate movements with care and confidence.

I realized that cutting down on warm ups to accommodate ‘difficult’ poses – whether to remove the boredom factor or to prove to my ego that I can still teach like other teachers is completely futile. Asana done correctly is not a competition, even with myself. Each of us needs to honor our bodies by acknowledging the aging process. Adjusting our asana practices with proper warm up, keeping in mind aging and other health related changes is simply a logical choice. A big part of mastery in practicing asana lies in sensing just how far to move into a stretch. Priority is to learn how to stay injury free so I can keep myself and my students practicing asanas safely well into our seventies.

It is a fact that the muscles are continually loosing their elasticity, joints will begin to creak – the body is aging even though the mind stubbornly ignores it. Have you noticed your body getting stiff due to lack of movement – especially after a long flight or six to seven hours of sleep, no matter your age? Gentle, loosening exercises called warm up is where you should begin.

Warming up for yoga-asana is called काय, Kāya or शरीर सञ्चलन, Śarīra Sunchalun. 

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Preparation for Pranayama

Although first day of spring left us buried in snow this year, the only thing we can be sure of is that Mother Nature will prevail. She will arrive in all her colorful grandeur bringing with her a basket full of allergies for those privileged few. If you are one of those (un)fortunate people, this blog is for you.

Pranayama, yogic breathing practice is essential for everyone, especially for those with seasonal allergies. Here are a few basic suggestions to prepare yourself for pranayama. 

Guidelines For Pranayama

Time

Pranayama is generally practiced early in the morning as the body is rested and mind is calm. However, to wake up early, there must be a discipline of going to bed at a decent hour without the distraction of television and other digital diversions to promote restful sleep. If mornings are not feasible, cooling practices such as dirgha, ujjayi, and nadi shodhana can be done in the evening or before bedtime.

Consistency is more important than duration, so choose the most realistic time for your home practice. Even if the practice is for 10-15 minutes per sitting, a daily routine is a must. It is best to do pranayama at the same time, same place everyday as regularity strengthens will power and cultivates discipline.

Duration and counts are explained in separate links pertaining to each of the pranayama techniques.

Place

Practice Pranayama in a ventilated room. Avoid practicing under a fan or near an air conditioner vent as blowing air can be a distraction and may also cause chills. Keep this space uncluttered. Bottomline, make your practice space clean, safe and sacred.

Alternatively, practice outdoors in your garden or in a park, provided the weather is neither too cold nor too hot or windy, and you don’t suffer from allergies.

Diet

General rule is not eat anything for 3-4 hours before pranayama, hence practicing first thing in the morning is advised. It is difficult to perform breathing practices on a full stomach. Mostly, what you eat, quantity of food consumed and the lateness of the previous night’s meal will impact your pranayama the next morning. Follow the essential principles of a yogic diet while allowing considerations for your health issues.

Distractions

Please turn off (not on vibrate, please) and put away your phones (cell and wrist), tablets and computers to avoid interruptions. If your neighbor or friends usually call or drop in at regular times, let them know ahead of time that you are busy with your practices and will call them later.

Women 

If you are menstruating, gentle breathing practices such as dirgha, ujjayi, and nadi shodhana will help alleviate painful symptoms and lessen fatigue so you can function during the day. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor about joining a prenatal yoga classes to start pranayama.

Driśti

The mind is easily distracted even if you are focusing on the counts assigned in each technique. Yoga recommends the use of Driśti, eye gaze, to control the roving mind. Most popular focus points are – tip of the nose, Nasagray or the space in front of the closed eyes, Chidaakasha. Pick one that you can sustain throughout your seated practice.

Nasal Wash

Before you begin, remember to perfect the art of nasal cleanse by using this technique of Jala Neti. This practice may feel unnatural at first, but I cannot stress enough how important this is to make your pranayama successful.

Finding the right seat

Some people do not practice asanas but have a regular pranayama practice. The eight fold path of Raja Yoga, recommends the practice of asanas to condition the body before pranayama. It also helps to transition from busyness of daily activities into quiet mindful awareness on your yoga mat.

Finding the right seat, posture for the body to be comfortable in a seated position is first and foremost before attempting pranayama practice. How can your mind concentrate on breathing when every two seconds it is worried about the annoying pain in your knee, shoulders or back? Daily yoga-asana practice starts to loosen up your body, relieves minor aches and pains and strengths the posture muscles.

If you are coming out of injuries or have long term knee issues, please consider the use of props to help you get started. Sitting on a cushion, a block and/or folded blanket to stabilize the pelvis, support knees and hips, lengthen the spine, and relax the belly is a wonderful and sometimes a necessary option.

Most popular asanas for pranayama are:

  1. Vajrasana – thunderbolt pose
  2. Sukhasana – easy pose
  3. Ardha Padmasana – half lotus
  4. Padamasana – full lotus
  5. Siddhasana – adept pose
  • Google these asanas and you will find instructions on how to perform them correctly.
  • If you cannot sit comfortably in any of these asanas or with props, please use a chair. Sitting comfortably with straight back in a chair with your feet grounded or on blocks allows the knees to be at right angle over ankles. This can provide comfort for painful spots and supports longer easeful practice sessions.

    Work on consciously relaxing the major tension holders in the body – the forehead, eyes, jaw, shoulders, belly, hips, hands, ankles and feet. This allows you to sit still for extended periods of time. Only then seated pranayama practice can be effective. Remember to wear loose fitting, soft breathable clothes for utmost comfort.

    Intention

    Reading an inspiring quote or chanting a prayer at the outset sets the right intention. A heartfelt prayer is a great start. It helps to decrease mental distractions and anchor the mind on the purpose of purification and concentration.

    And Finally

    It is easy to put things off or not be consistent with any kind of exercise or practice. These basic guidelines show how you can begin, and where you might encounter breakdowns. Please use these guidelines to be prepared and avoid a few pitfalls before they happen.

    As you finish reading this blog – if you are thinking about how you can make changes on your calendar to carve out time for pranayama, or wondering about ‘your right seat’ or how to frame your intention, then you are inspired to begin. Finding the right sequence for your breathing practice becomes your next logical step for starting your daily prānayama.

    Welcome to the practice of pranayama.

    Next Post: Daily Pranayama

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    Rama, Swami; Ballentine, Rudolf, M.D.; Hymes, Alan, M.D.1998. Science of Breath – A Practical Guide. Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, Honesdale, PA.

    Sivananda, Swami; Science of Pranayama.1935. Divine Life Society Publication, Uttar Pradesh, India. Download a copy at http://www.dlshq.org/download/pranayama.pdf

    asana – seat or pose

    “Why can’t you sit still?” I remember admonishing my daughter when she was little. Picture a 6 year old with two pigtails sitting on the stool ready to practice piano. Her legs hanging half way up and swinging. One hand disappearing from the keys every few minutes to brush her hair away from the face or to scratch an itch before one line of the song was completely played.

    Then an epiphany. One morning, I noticed the number of times I moved during my breathing practice. I moved because of low back pain and tight hips. I moved because of tight shoulders and my foot falling asleep. How long was I sitting? Possibly 15 minutes. My attention was on my sleeping foot and lower back, not on breathing. My mind was agitated about the pain and discomfort and was not calm. My practice, putting it mildly – was pitiful. I needed to find a comfortable seat first before I could make a dent in the breathing practices.

    Asana as seat

    Asana is the crucial third limb of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.

    आसन asana is popularly translated as pose; it also refers to the place where one sits. Patanjali, the scribe of the text, Yoga Sutras writes – asana is “to be seated in a position that is steady and comfortable”. He implied the ability to sit for extended periods in this position is essential for success in meditation.

    It is safe to say that Patanjali was not referring the poses posted on social media or to the variety of the poses we practice in class. He intended asana, posture as a seat for Pranayama and Dharana (breathing and concentration) practices. Asanas designated for meditation will be discussed in another post.

    These days, the word asana conjures up images of perfectly aligned, fashionably attired magazine cover models in warrior poses, handstands, and impressive backbends. This tells us that the physical practice of yoga poses equals ‘asana’.

    Asana as pose

    I have not read them all, but here are a few yogic texts that mention asana, as pose.

    The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (3000BCE – 1800 BCE) focuses on transcending the body and mastering meditation. It does not mention a single asana by name, merely specifies the characteristics of a good asana, i.e., steadiness and comfort required to stay seated for long periods for meditation. You can choose a seat from a few asanas that are recommended for meditation. Once chosen this asana must be practiced to mastery. Mastery then indicates that the student can stay motionless in comfort for upto three hours.

    The Goraksha Samhita (10-12 century CE) an early Hata Yoga text, describes the origin of 84 classic asanas. Observing that there are as many postures as there are beings, the text implies that Lord Shiva assigned one asana to a group of 100,000 beings out of the 8,400,000 species to be in existence; thus giving 84 asanas in total. However, only two are described in detail: padmasana, lotus pose and siddhasana, accomplished pose; interestingly both are meditation poses.

    The Hata Yoga Pradipika (15th century CE) considers these asanassiddhasana, padmasana, bhadrasana and simhasana important among 84 asanas. This text also has details of breathing practices, yogic diet, and other crucial tips for Hata Yoga practice.

    The Hata Ratnavali (17th century CE) attempts to list the 84 asanas, although it appears a few may not have appropriate Samskritham translations or proper description. It appears only 52 asanas in the Hatha Ratnavali are described.

    The Gheranda Samhita (late 17th century CE) tells us that Lord Shiva taught 8,400,000 asanas, out of which 84 are prominent, and 32 are most useful for everyday practice.

    In Shiva Samhita (17–18th century CE) the poses ugrasana and svastikasana replace the latter two of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

    Modern Asana

    Ancient yogis lived during the times where processed foods, variety desserts and carbonated drinks were not available. They did not sit behind desks for long periods of time. It is possible they did not view their asana practice as a ‘work out’. They wanted to transcend the mind. They practiced mastery of asana for meditation purposes only.

    The physical and emotional challenges of modern life make it difficult to maintain a healthy body and mind. What we buy, what we eat, and what chemicals we use in our houses, yards, in our cars, negatively affect our bodies and the world around us. Furthermore, the physical wear and tear due to lack of mobility prevents us from sitting still at the desk, let alone maintaining a steady and comfortable asana.

    Here, asanas as poses, aide in ridding our bodies of impurities and blockages. In asana class, we twist, bend forward and backward, move sideways, and end up upside down to cleanse our bodies, promote healing and sustain health. Asana as a physical exercise – mindfully and respectfully performed, places the body in specific positions to promote strength and flexibility, and uses the movement of breath to cultivate awareness, concentration and relaxation.

    I have benefited immensely from this practice of asana – strengthened my lower back, released the tension in my neck and shoulders. Now, with the help of a few props, I am able to sit motionless and concentrate on my breathing exercises for short periods of time. I am grateful.

    Asana Wisdom

    First, remember, poses can be challenging depending on your fitness and health. If you are struggling in certain poses, use props for proper alignment. Then settle into the posture for as long as your breath is comfortable. This supportive practice creates a space in your mind to find peace in a place you may find unpleasant. These poses, despite challenging, can open blocks and strengthen the body, and by extension, train us to find solace in difficult situations. Although, adopting the attitude of ahimsa, non-harming may hurt your pride, it is imperative to avoid the risk of injury. I can vouch for that from my own practice.

    Second, be careful not to designate favorite poses and get attached to them. In poses that seem pleasant and wonderful, realize that change is inevitable and practice santosha, contentment as you transition out of these favorites. While my favorite asanas led me to ‘like’ one instructor and enjoy the class, my non-favorite poses made me dislike another, leaving me dissatisfied after the class. It took me years to understand that the instructor had nothing to do with the way my ego was operating -using likes and dislikes of asana to manipulate my emotions in a classroom setting.

    Next, be open to new poses and variations to the poses. Do not become dull or stagnant by always doing the same asanas or using the same focus in poses. Watch out for habit-forming patterns – mental and physical, and prepare yourself to welcome change  – both in asanas and instructors. It becomes difficult to accept change when you operate from old habits. Conversely, don’t view your yoga class as a source of entertainment by looking for new poses all the time. That will leave you critical of your instructor and discontented with your class.

    Finally, take a moment to reflect on how you can give valuable feedback instead of judging your yoga instructors. Every instructor is a student first. She or he began their practice on your side of the room and worked their way to the other side with the intention to share this wonderful practice. While there is always room for improvement, each instructor has patiently developed a style that they work from, while adding and modifying periodically. Place your mat in front of the classroom and ask yourself – how would you teach the class if you were the instructor.

    Patanjali’s Sutra 2:46 states, स्थिरसुखमासनम्॥२.४६॥ – Sthira Sukham Asanam; “a posture that is steady and comfortable is called Asana.” Make your seat an asana-seat. Only then real “yoga” practice – the practice to transcend the mind in order to uncover inner joy – begins.

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    surya namaskar abhyasa

    Sunrise is one of the most beautiful sights of Mother Nature. Writers and poets near and far have sung its praises. Seeing the rising sun illuminate mountains and roof tops, places of work and worship is breathtaking. My best memory is a glorious ball of fire rising on a faraway shore as if emerging from the ocean itself on one of our family vacations. To this sacred light, the Divine fire that is the source of creation, I offer my salutations. 

    sun-rise-hd-free-wallpapers-for-desktop

    Guidelines for Surya Namaskar

    Disciplined practice of sun salutations is called Surya Namaskar Abhyasa. Please refer to previous  posts for its history, names of poses and corresponding mantras.

    Traditional Surya Namaskar is a practice open to people of all ages and levels.

    Pace

    There is no set pace for Surya Namaskar. The pace – set by your breath is the safest. If done at a faster pace you may jeopardize alignment and risk injury. At a medium pace follow the rhythm of Ujjaiyi breath and enjoy it’s energizing or aerobic benefits. At a slower pace with breath awareness, the practice relieves mental stress, and can become meditative.

    Alignment

    When you are focussing on the breath, you might wonder – ‘Am I doing each asana correctly? Will I injure myself?’ Good questions. This is precisely the reason why Surya Namaskar asanas have to be taught separately so the alignment can be mastered.

    Each asana counteracts the one before, stretching the body forward/backward and alternately expanding/contracting the chest to regulate the breathing. Form and alignment of each of the twelve asanas must be learnt separately. This is followed by learning how to transition between each of the asanas safely within shorter sequences before introducing complete rounds.

    The first few repetitions can be tiring when you are learning the asanas for the very first time. You will notice an increase in your heart rate and may perspire as well. As the practice gets regular, you will build up your endurance and then become ready to add Ujjaiyi breath into your rounds.

    If you are wondering how many rounds to practice each day, there are no set rules. However, be aware of your physical and medical limitations. As a beginner, you may start with 2-4 rounds and work up to 8-10 very gradually (weeks or months) depending on your health and frequency of practice.

    Props

    Simple props like blocks, blankets or straps can help you learn each asana correctly and transition between asanas safely. At once, the ego may resist as it wants to portray a false sense of perfection even before you have dedicated yourself to this practice. The magazine cover that depicts a picture perfect asana is not you or me.

    Using a prop can assist not hinder your practice. It will help you ‘feel’ the asana in the ‘right’ areas in your body and teach you not to hurt yourself. Over time you can try other props or discontinue their use completely based on your progress. Only with disciplined practice your body will begin to look steady and aligned.

    Cautions

    • Do not eat (2 hours) a heavy meal before practicing Surya Namaskar.
    • Be aware of medical conditions like high blood pressure, spine injuries, diabetes, etc. that warrants a consult with your doctor before starting this practice.
    • If you are recuperating from sickness or surgeries, or a senior, please modify the poses accordingly or use a chair as a prop for support.
    • Knees can stay slightly bent to protect your lower back during transitions.
    • Avoid straining, excessive or painful stretching in asanas. Honor where your body is on that given day of practice.
    • Observe if your practice is weighed down by likes and dislikes. For example, you have to practice with a certain type of music, a certain sequence taught by your favorite teacher, occupy the same spot at the yoga studio, and external distractions, etc. These become limitations to your practice.
    • Be aware that teachers structure their classes differently based on their teaching styles, schooling and personal practice. Try not to be attached to one teacher.

    Abhyasa – Practice

    One full round of traditional Surya Namaskar is two sets of the twelve poses set in a vinyasa, sequence.

    Here is a video of the traditional Surya Namaskar.

    You may follow along and try it in your living room. However, it is best to learn the names and alignment of each asana, how to transition between asanas safely, and how to coordinate movement with the breath from an experienced teacher.

    Start from Left or Right side?

    You may begin the first set leading with the left foot and the second set leading with the right foot for a total of twenty-four asanas. 

    Why left side first? Beginning on the left side of the body may be attributed to Devi Prakriti, Mother Nature, generally associated with feminine qualities of nurture, compassion, love, humility and for a more meditational and mindful practice. Beginning on right side of the body may be attributed to Purusha, the masculine aspects of assertiveness, courage, willpower, and the practice of mental concentration. One side is not better than the other. It depends on what quality you need on that given day.

    This philosophy may have been used by yogis and gurus as a type of Chikitsa, therapy to help people through different mind states. For example: Each day check your emotions and state of mind before you begin your practice. If you feel lethargic, depressed, anxious, Sunday blues, bored – you may begin your practice from the right. Add Ujjaiyi breath (after learning it correctly) for an energizing practice.

    On the other hand, if you are hyper, stressed, irritable, egotistical, restless – you should begin from the left. Move slowly through the asanas concentrating on the breath for a calming practice. This is an ingenious way devised by wise teachers for setting an intention at the start of the practice to keep the wandering mind in check and bring mindfulness to a physically-oriented practice.

    Breath

    Notice the alternating inhalation and exhalation in the asana sequence outlined in the Surya Namaskar table. In the sixth asanaAshtanga Namaskar (eight-point pose), the breath is held in external suspension, Bahir Kumbaka. Learning how to suspend the breath without a struggle takes diligent practice. Alternatively, you can practice with regular breath between the 5th and 7th asanas.

    Manthra

    You can make Surya Namaskar a spiritual practice by incorporating manthras. Japa manthras are more frequently practiced than the bija manthras. Here is a video of Surya Namaskar with Japa Manthras.

    Gurus recommend the use manthras to coax a practitioner to bring reverence to a physically-oriented practice. By understanding the meaning of each manthra, you can slowly transform the egotistical attitude and cultivate devotion and gratitude.

    Learn the mantras separately by listening and repeating them multiple times before adding them to the movement. You can find the manthras listed in the Surya Namaskar Asanas blog.

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    Sunlight has found its way through the trees and into my living room. My mat is beckoning. I can’t wait to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. Let’s practice together. Roll out your yoga mat and step onto your sacred space. You may chant the Divine Light Prayer by Swami Sivananda Radha. Let it set your intention. Let us express reverence to Surya, the Cosmic Light by practicing Surya Namaskar with devotion and gratitude.

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    Sarasvati, Satyananda Svami.1930. Asana, Pranayama, Mudra Bandha. Bihar School of Yoga. Munger, India.

    surya namaskar asanas

    Surya Namaskar is a graceful sequence of twelve asanas, poses performed as one continuous exercise.

    Components of Surya Namaskar

    Surya Namaskar is composed of three main elements – asana form (alignment), energy and rhythm (breath) and manthras (japa/bija). Chakras, energy centers and bandhas, locks, are not addressed in this post.

    Twelve Asanas

    This version begins and ends with Samastithihi – translated as Even Standing. Stand lifted from the base of your spine with your feet hip-width apart. Arms are resting on either side with palms facing forward – open and ready to receive from the practice. This position is in addition to the twelve asanas of the original sequence.

    One full round of Surya Namaskar consists of two sets of the twelve asanas is listed below. You may practice the Samskritham pronunciation of each asana by listening to the audio clips.

    Samastithihi

    Pose #

    Asana

    English Name

    Breath

    1. Pranamasana

    Prayer Pose Exhale
    2. Hasta Uttanasana

    Raised Hand Inhale
    3. Pada Uttanasana

    Forward Bend Exhale
    4. Ashva Sanchalasana

    Equestrian Pose Inhale
    5. Parvatasana

    Mountain Pose Exhale
    6. Ashtanga Namaskar

    Eight-Point Pose Suspend
    7. Bhujungasana

    Cobra Inhale
    8. Parvatasana

    Mountain Pose Exhale
    9. Ashva Sanchalasana

    Equestrian Pose Inhale
    10. Pada Uttanasana

    Forward Bend Exhale
    11. Hasta Uttanasana

    Raised Hand Inhale
    12. Pranamasana

    Prayer Pose Exhale

    Differences in Traditional Version

    • Asana #3 Variation – this asana is sometimes reffered to as Pada Hastasna (Foot to Hand) or Hasta Padasana (Hand to Foot) pose. In Pada Hastana, your hands are placed under your feet and hence considered different from this version.
    • Asana #4 Variations:
      • Hands placed in prayer position
      • Hands placed beside the feet
      • Asana replaced by Anjaneyasana – where the arms are raised upward, palms interlaced with index fingers pointed. (Bihar School of Yoga Version)
    • Asana #5 is sometimes substituted with Adho Mukha Shvanasana, Downward Facing Dog. In Parvatasana, the body weight is centered and may be used as a resting pose. Adho Mukha Shvanasana the body weight is over the legs and is a very active and dynamic pose.

    Breath

    “Think of your body as a wind instrument. Your breath is the wind through the instrument. For asana practice, your body is the instrument through which the breath, the carrier of prana – life force flows” says Eric Schiffman. The right flow of the breath produces the right music. Similarly your breath, ignites the prana and initiates movment through exhales and inhales. This provides a steady rhythm for stretch and release.

    In the begining, coordinating the movement with the breath can be a challenge. Many times I have been asked ‘how fast should sun salutations be performed?’ It is the breath that dictates the pace and rhythm of every Surya Namaskar. If you are concentrating on how quickly you are coming in and out of each pose, then you are not working with the breath.

    Check colunm #4 in the above table. Do you notice a pattern for inhales and exhales? Each time the body opens up and out, the chest cavity expands and you will inhale. Each time the body folds and closes in, the chest cavity narrows and you exhale.

    Start with regular breath. Once you become familar with the asanas and comfortable with the sequence, Ujjaiyi breathing may be introduced. This breath is both energizing and calming. It must be practiced separately in a seated pranayama, breathing practice before adapting it into movement. It takes a qualified teacher, mastery in transitions and disciplined practice to introduce Ujjaiyi breath in Surya Namaskar. In time you will become skillful at making breath and movement inseparably entwined. With repeated practice – Abhyasa, your concentration is refined in preparation for meditation. 

    Surya Namaskar Manthras

    There are two sets of manthras for the traditonal Surya Namaskar – bija or seed manthra. and Japa Manthra, which is essentially a longer version of the bija mantra. You may practice the Samskritham pronunciation of each Japa manthra by listening to the audio clips.

    Japa Manthra

    # Asana Japa manthra (Sanskrit) Japa Manthra (English)

    Salutations to the One Who

    1. Pranamasana ॐ मित्राय नमः

    AUM Mitraya Namaha  Befriends  all
    2. Hasta Uttanasana ॐ रवये नमः

    AUM Ravaye Namaha Causes change
    3. Pada Uttanasana ॐ सूयार्य नमः

    AUM Suryaya Namaha Source of Creation
    4. Ashva Sanchalasana ॐ भानवे नमः

    AUM Bhanavay Namaha Illuminates
    5. Parvatasana ॐ खगाय नमः

    AUM Khagaya Namaha Moves in the sky
    6. Ashtanga Namaskar ॐ पूष्णे नमः

    AUM Pushnay Namaha Giver of strength and nourishment
    7. Bhujangasana ॐ हिरण्यगर्भाय नमः

    AUM Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha Golden Cosmic womb
    8. Parvatasna ॐ मरीचये नमः

    AUM Marichaye Namaha Powerful rays of the Sun
    9. Ashva Sanchalasna ॐ आदित्याय नमः

    AUM Adityaya Namaha Son of Cosmic Mother,  Adithi
    10. Pada Uttanasana ॐ सवित्रे नमः

    AUM Savitray Namaha Beneficial to all
    11. Hasta Uttanasana ॐ अर्काय नमः

    AUM Arkaaya Namaha Source of Life Energy
    12. Pranamasana ॐ भास्कराय नमः

    AUM Bhaskaraya Namaha Guides to Enlightenment

    Bija Manthra

    # Asana Poses Breath Bija Manthra  Sanskrit

    Bija Manthra  English

    1. Pranamasana Prayer Pose Exhale ह्राम् AUM Hram
    2. Hasta Uttanasana Raised Hand Inhale ह्रीम् AUM Hrim
    3. Pada Uttanasana Forward Bend Exhale ह्रुम् AUM Hrum
    4. Ashva Sanchalasana Equestrian Pose Inhale हैृम् AUM Hraim
    5. Parvatasana Mountain Pose Exhale ह्रौम् AUM Hraum
    6. Ashtanga Namaskar Eight-point Pose Suspend हृह AUM Hraha
    7. Bhujangasana Cobra Inhale ह्राम् AUM Hram
    8. Parvatasna Mountain Pose Exhale ह्रीम् AUM Hrim
    9. Ashva Sanchalasna Equestrian Pose Inhale ह्रुम् AUM Hrum
    10. Pada Uttanasana Forward Bend Exhale हैृम् AUM Hraim
    11. Hasta Uttanasana Raised Hand Inhale ह्रौम् AUM Hraum
    12. Pranamasana Prayer Pose Exhale हृह AUM Hraha

    Other Versions

    You will find several versions of Surya Namaskar such as Surya Namaskar A and B  by Beryl Bender Birch, especially in Ashtanga yoga. Here the number of asanas in the each sequences varies – 10 (A) or 18 (B). These are used as warm-ups in many yoga studios. Adding other asanas into the traditional sequence called Vinyasa flow is popular as well. Once you have mastered the original sequence, you will be able to expand the vinyasa safely.

    However, if you are choosing to make Surya Namaskar a spiritual practice, then begin with the traditional sequence with the bija/japa manthras. Add the Ujjaiyi breath and learn how to focus on chakras and bandhas (advanced practices) to enhance concentration, Dharana and prepare for Dhyana, meditation.

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    Next Post: Surya Namaskar Abhyasa

     

    surya namaskar salutations to the sun

    The Sun. Topic of many a conversation.

    We complain when the Sun unleashes its glory – a scorching summer day. But we endure knowing it is shortlived at the approach of cold weather. We also complain that the Sun is not warm enough – a dark, freezing winter day. When a ray of sunlight cuts through the curtain of darkness it is a mood altering moment. It has a potential to transform a frown to a smile, letheragy to action and sadness to joy. It’s no wonder yogis all over the world raise their hands up in gratitude when the clouds part for the sun.

    rising_sun

    As we step on the yoga mat to begin our salutations to this wonderous cosmic light, a feeling of reverence is essential to invoke its grace. To avoid making sun salutations just another form of exercise, here are a few thoughts on the origin and history of this ancient tradition to help evoke reverence in your personal practice.

    Origins

    The Samskritham (Sanskrit) name for Sun Salutations is Surya Namaskar, सूर्यनमस्कार.

    Surya, the Sun is revered as a form of God, in Hindu philosophyThe word Surya is derived from the root ‘sur’ to shine or ‘svir’ to promote wellness.

    The ancient texts – the Vedas and Upanishads consider the elements of the universe –the sun, moon, earth, air, water – sacred. Surya has been represented by various names (nama) and forms (roopa). Among other names, Surya is called Savitar, Vivasvat, Aryaman and is adored for health, strength, courage and most importantly for igniting the light of spiritual consciousness.

    Rig Veda, oldest of the four Vedas, salutes Surya as Shipivishta, the one who enters everywhere with the nutrient power, an energy source; yogis refer to the same as Prana.

    In Vedic rituals, Surya was denoted as a wheel (on coins), gold plate and a lotus flower. In 200-100BC, Surya was represented as a globe with radiating rays on coins. Surya in human form, represented on coins goes back to Greek and Persian origins.

    Svastika, स्वस्तिक, symbolizing the Sun, has been found in the prehistoric remains of Spain, Portugal, and Greece and in Native American tribes.

    The science behind the lines of the Svastika:

    The four arms of the Svastika indicate the position of the Sun at midnight, sunrise, noon and sunset. The four short lines of directions and the four points of cosmic cross indicate the apparent movement of the Sun from East to West. This figure symbolizes the reproductive aspect of the Sun, was taken as the symbol of fertility, luck and auspiciousness.

    Reverence

    There are many mantras, hymns in the name of Surya. A few are mentioned below.

    The most famous among them is the Gayathri Mantra, revealed to Sage Vishvamitra. Daily prayers included chanting of the Gayathri Mantra, Arghya (offering of water) at dawn, noon and dusk.

    Surya Gita, Song of the Sun, is a portion of the text called Tattvasarayana, composed by Sage Vashishtha. The first translation was printed in 1904. It is a dialogue between Surya and his charioteer Aruna on the cause and effect of one’s actions in the process of the evolution of the soul.

    Surya Dvadasha Naman, is another text that includes verses for the Sun in twelve different forms relating to the monthly Zodiac signs.

    Adithya Hrudhayam, the One shining in the heart, is a prayer given to Lord Rama by Sage Agastya during his battle against the demon king Ravana to save his consort, SitaThe names praising the Sun are in verses 10 – 13. The last sentence in the verse 15 states “Salutations to Thee who is the One being manifest in the twelve forms”.

    This is a popular hymn and is used as a therapeutic and spiritual antidote. Astrologers and priests advise those with various problems to chant this hymn with the right intention each day for 12, 24, 48 or 108 days.

    The festival called Makara Sankrathi or Pongal in the name of Surya, is observed all over India since seventh century A.D. On this day, the first harvest is offered to Surya in gratitude for showering His energy and light for health, fertility and sustenance of all beings.

    Although any day of the week can be used for worship of Surya, Sunday is considered auspicious. Sages and yogis rose before sunrise to complete their ablutions and to catch a glimpse of dawn’s first rays by prostrating to the cosmic light.

    Twelve Prostrations

    The traditional Surya Namaskar consists of twelve asanas, poses arranged in a specific vinyasa, sequence. Although other vinyasas have been created, the bija (seed) mantras are twelve in number and not generally used in longer sequences.

    Why twelve? Here is probably a clue to the origin of twelve asanas and mantras in the current practice of traditonal Surya Namaskar.

    The pre-Vedic period refers to six major solar deities called Surya, Savitar, Vishnu, Pushan, Mitra and Ushas. However, throughout the Rig Veda twelve solar deities collectively referred to as Aditya, sons of Aditi, the Vedic Goddess of space/ether were popularly used in worship.

    In addition, the Yajur Veda, contains a complex set of verses called Surya Namaskar Prashnam.  The number of individual mantras is 130. The person who recited these verses had to prostrate before the Sun after each individual mantra, thus prostrating 130 times.

    This practice of prostrations was later adapted as twelve prostrations in the Hata Yoga version of Surya Namaskar. The twelve solar deities, Adityas were then used to create the coresponding bija (seed) mantras to accompany the prostrations.

    Sun Meditation

    This is an energizing and reverential way to begin your day.

    Sit outside in your yard or on a bench in a nearby park. Face the sun and close your eyes.  Wrap your whole body with sunlight. Allow the golden rays of the sun circle around you, starting near you and then spreading in concentric circles to encircle your loved ones far and near, and finally the whole world. 

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    If you are not able to go outside because of  winter, seat yourself near a window facing the east sun. Align yourself with its energy and meditate on its golden rays. Visualize the sun’s light entering your physical body for healing and renewal. 

    Feel the light and warmth on your skin. Let your heart be open with gratitude. Let your negative thoughts be transformed into loving, generous thoughts. Stay with the rhythm of your breath and sit for as long as your heart wants. You can chant the Divine Light Prayer printed below if you like.

    Divine Light Prayer  by Swami Sivananda Radha

    Fill your entire being with the Light. Breathe deeply and affirm:

    I am created by Divine Light

    I am sustained by Divine Light

    I am protected by Divine Light

    I am surrounded by Divine Light

    I am ever growing into Divine Light

    Slowly exhale and relax. Feel the warm glow of Divine Light suffuse your entire body, outside as well as inside. Acknowledge silently to yourself:

    “Every cell of this my physical body is filled with Divine Light;

    Every level of my consciousness is illumined with Divine Light.

    The Divine Light penetrates every single cell of my being,

    Every level of consciousness.

    I have become a channel of pure Light.

    I am One with the Light.”

    When you are done, take a deep breath and slowly open your eyes. Starting with a downward gaze allow the eyes to slowly roam. See the world around you that has been lit up by the sun – as if you are discovering it for the very first time. Try to hold on to the effects of the meditation as you go about your day.

    Wisdom

    The idea of introducing the history of ancient practices is to add reverence to a very physically-oriented practice of Surya Namaskar. Setting aside the idea of a perfect body image and replacing it with gratitude can deepen the practice of yogasana.

    In yoga philosophy the Sun represents health and vitality – mental and physical. By practicing Surya Namaskar with all its components, we bring health to our body, peace to the mind and joy to the heart. When practiced with a meditative mind and a devotional heart, sun salutes aide in developing santosha, contentment, vairagya, detachment and prepares the mind for Dharana, yogic concertration.

    Ancient yogis taught that each of us are replicates of the universe at large, with rivers, seas, mountains, stars, planets, sun and the moon – within us. (Shiva Samhita 11.1-3) The ‘outer sun’ they asserted is in reality an extention of our own ‘inner sun’ – the subtle spiritual heart. On this ‘the inner teacher’ our wisdom guide – we place our deep faith and begin our daily practice.

    Next Post: Surya Namaskar Asanas 

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    Saraswati, Satyananda Swami.1930. Asana, Pranayama, Mudra Bandha. Bihar School of Yoga. Munger, India.

     

    styles of yoga

    It is interesting to see many different ways that yoga is being practiced. With instructors trained from various lineages, and multitude of classes to choose from, it can be confusing.

    When you see the class listings you ask a friend who has been taking the class: if the instructor is holding poses longer or is creating a pose sequence that moves in a vinyasa flow. You may be wondering if the poses are going to challenge you and make you sweat or if the poses are going to be gentle based on who the instructor is – even though the class is listed as intermediate.

    Essentially you are directly enquring about the way in which asanas, postures are taught. You are not enquring if the instructor is teaching yoga philosophy in the classroom so that you, the student can take the practice off the mat and into your daily life. Is it then safe to assume that the majority of yoga practitioners are equating style solely to the way asanas are taught?

    Most popular styles of yoga are listed below.

    Classical Ashtanga Or Classical Yoga 

    • Original form of Yoga that focuses on both inner (Antaranga) and outer (Bahiranga) practices for the body, mind and spirit.
    • Follows the 8 Fold Path – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhaarna, Dhyana, Samadhi as described in the Yoga Sutras by Pathanjali;  
    • Also referred to as Raja Yoga (used interchangeably as type and style), Classical Yoga or Original Ashtanga (8-Fold) Yoga 

    Who

    • Popularized by Swami Vivekananda as Raja yoga, and by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati of Bihar school of Yoga, Munger, India
    • However, Shri Yogendraji (1897-1989) was responsible for simplifying Classical Ashtanga Yoga and bringing yoga to the common householder and pioneering yoga therapy (Chikitsa).
    • He founded The Yoga Institute in 1918 at the residence of Dadabhai Naorji at Versova beach, Mumbai; current location-Santa Cruz, Mumbai since 1948.
    • A sister facility, Yogalife Institute is located in Devon PA, run by Dr. Robert Butera.

    Ashtanga

    • Popular method of Hata yoga involving synchronization of the breath (pranayama) with a progressive series of asanas and bandas, yogic locks—a process producing intense internal heat and sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs.
    • Also referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and frequently Power or Vigorous yoga.
    • Taught as: Primary Series, Intermediate Series and Advanced Series – in a vinyasa flow style.

    Who

    • Taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), in Mysore, India.
    • Pattabhi Jois began yoga at the age of 12, was a student of T.Krishnamacharya, a renowned yoga master.
    • Established an Ashtanga Yoga Institute, Mysore in 1948.

    Iyengar

    • Form of Hata Yoga – emphasis on detail, precision and alignment of asana
    • Makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas. The props enable students to perform the poses correctly, minimizing the risk of injury, making the postures accessible to both young and old.
    • Based on the traditional Eight Limbs of Yoga by Pathanjali in the Yoga Sutras

    Who

    • Founder: B.K.S Iyengar (1918-2014)
    • Established Iyengar Yoga in Pune, India
    • Was invited to the US in 1956, gained popularity after the publication of the book, Light on Yoga

    Kripalu

    • Form of Hata Yoga that focuses on standard yoga poses, breath-work, meditation, “development of a quiet mind”, and relaxation
    • Also follow the YogaSutra text for their philosophical study

    Who

    • Amrit Desai, a native of Halol, India, met his guru Swami Kripalvananda (1913-1981), after whom the Kripalu style is named.
    • In 1965, Amrit Desai, founded the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania, later in 1972 made it official by naming it Kripalu, after his guru.
    • The current Kripalu ashram is in Stockbridge MA – acquired in 1983.

    Viniyoga

    • Viniyoga (not Vinyasa = sequencing) is about adaptation.
    • Viniyoga teachers are highly trained and tend to be experts in anatomy and yoga therapy (chikitsa)

    Who

    • Viniyoga is the legacy of the great guru T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), Mysore, India), whose prominent students include Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar
    • Krishnamacharya’s son T.K.V. Desikachar carries on the guru’s legacy as the world’s foremost Viniyoga authority.
    • Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, is the most prominent American proponent of Desikachar’s method.

    Integral

    • Integral Yoga vision is  “…a flexible combination of specific methods to develop every aspect of the individual: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. It is a scientific system which integrates the various branches of Yoga in order to bring about a complete and harmonious development of the individual.”

    Who

    • Founder – Swami Satchitananda (1914-2002), disciple of Swami Shivananda (1887-1963) of Rishikesh, India
    • Swami Satchidananda gained attention as the opening speaker at the Woodstock music and arts festival in 1969
    • He was the founder of the Integral Yoga Institute and Ashram in Yogaville in VA.
    • In 1986 opened the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) at Yogaville Ashram in Buckingham, VA.

    Sivananda

    • Sivananda Yoga, follows the teachings of Swami Sivananda, is a form of Hata yoga in which the training focuses on preserving the health and wellness.
    • Training revolves around frequent relaxation and emphasizes yogic breathing.
    • The system philosophies are summarized in 5 principles.

    Five points of Yoga

    • Proper exercise: Asanas
    • Proper breathing: Pranayama
    • Proper relaxation: Shavasana
    • Proper diet: Vegetarian. A yogic diet is encouraged, promoting sattvic, pure diet, limiting rajasic, activating and tamasic, dull foods
    • Positive Philosophy and Meditation: Darshana and Dhyana

    Who

    • Swami Vishnudevananda Saraswati (December 31, 1927 — November 9, 1993) was the founder of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers
    • A disciple of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, India
    • He established the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Course, one of the first yoga teacher training programs in the West.

    Bikram

    • Hata Yoga class – 90 minutes
    • Consist of the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises
    • Practiced in a room heated to 105°F (≈ 40.6°C) with a humidity of 40%
    • Certain health safety concerns have been documented.

    Who

    • Bikram Choudhury synthesized the practices from traditional Hata yoga techniques and popularized it in the early 1970s.

    Sahaja

    • Sahaja Yoga is a style of meditation. It is the state of self-realization produced by Kundalini awakening and is accompanied by the experience of thoughtless awareness or mental silence.
    • The belief is that the kundalini is born within us and can be awakened spontaneously.
    • The word ‘Sahaja‘ in Sanskrit: saha meaning ‘with’ and ja meaning ‘born’.
    • In 2000 the term ‘Sahaja Yoga‘ was trademarked in the United States by Vishwa Nirmala Dharma.

    Who

    • Nirmala Srivastava (March 21, 1923 – February 23, 2011), also known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, was the founder of Sahaja Yoga.
    • She claimed to have been born in a fully realized state and spent her life working for peace by developing and promoting a simple meditation technique which for self-realization.
    • Shri Mataji never charged for her instruction in Sahaja Yoga.
    • Still taught for free in over 140 countries.

    Anusara

    • Form of Hata Yoga, sub-form of Iyengar Yoga
    • Anusara Yoga emphasizes a set of Universal Principles of Alignment which underlie all of the asanas and also connects to philosophical aspects of the practice.

    Who

    • Started by American yoga teacher, John Friend in 1997.
    • Friend derived his style from the Iyengar style of yoga and reintroduced elements of Hindu spirituality creating a wholesome approach to yoga.

    Wisdom

    No one style is wrong or superior to another. While choices are a wonderful, there is wisdom in sticking with one style of yoga that resonates with you in order to go deeper into the practice.

    Teacher training programs allude to yoga philosophy and the 8-fold path – some more  – while others may skim the surface. It is left to us to delve deeper and apply the philosophy: first in our own practice and then in our teaching.

    When we actually ‘find’ our teacher our evolution is both physical and spiritual. With spiritual evolution, it’s no longer about finding the style that is ‘right’ or ‘better’. It is simply that in finding our guide we’ve also discovered the style that resonates with our ‘true’selves.

    The novelty of each class then is in the unfolding of the inner self – which is not solely dependent on the asana flow led by the outer teacher. Slowly, we become willing to observe our practice morph over time while we still occasionally take different classes. Our practice will become our own as we become diciplined in our personal yoga.

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    what is yoga?

     “Yoga is a journey of the self (ego), through the self (selfish to selfless) to the Self (True Nature)”. Essence of the Bhagavad Gita

    The yoga that we all talk about during social hour is actually asana, pose practice. When you tell everyone that you do yoga, is it safe to assume that you are referring to an exercise class at the gym or a studio? But yoga is so much more than that.

    Yoga as exercise

    The answer to the question when do you do yoga may look like this: at 9:30 am Friday morning or 6:30 p.m. Wednesday evening. The answer to the question where do you do yoga is – at the gym, at the studio, at my house (in front of the T.V. DVD or you tube). The answer to the question how do you do yoga could quite possibly be – using a mat, blocks, blankets and straps. And, finally the answer to the question why do you do yoga may not be limited to these – following my grandfather footsteps, knee pain, to lose weight, to decrease stress and anxiety, or it is your doctor’s prescription, or your are trying it out with your neighbor. All these answers are perfectly fine, if – the meaning of yoga is – exercise.

    Yoga as physical exercise — the asanas or postures has gained widespread popularity in recent decades. Although Asanas play a vital role on the path of yoga, they can become a superficial aspect of this great science of unfolding the limitless potential of the human mind and soul.

    yoga-poses-at-sunset-background-vector-952732

    “Yoga is not a PE class. You’re teaching students how to start feeling free and intuitive. It is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are.” Erich Schiffmann. 

    The Word – Yoga

    In the ancient language of Samskritham (Sanskrit), ‘yoga’ comes from the root- युज्yuj, meaning “to add”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach”

    ‘Yoga’ can also mean “method”, “application”, and “performance”.

    yoga

    For the purposes of this blog, we will use the meaning “to unite”:  i.e. the union of the individual consciousness or soul called जीवात्मन्, Jivatman, with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit, परमात्मन्Paramatman is what yoga practice is all about.  In the Yoga Sutras, the yogic text, Patanjali describes this as the union of Prakriti, प्रकृति nature, with पुरुषPurusha or ईश्वरIshvara, – other names for Universal Consciousness or Spiritual Union.

    Now that we know that yoga means spiritual union, when you say that you are practicing ‘yoga‘, are you declaring that you are in that higher state of being – i.e., united with the Universal Consciousness? On the other hand, if you mean to say that you are practicing postures on the mat, then you (we all) have to get into the habit of saying – that you are practicing asanas or yoga-asanas at the gym at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

    “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

    Yoga as Spiritual Union

    Following this introduction to the meaning of yoga, i.e., union, let’s figure out when we are and when are we not “in spiritual union.”

    We can agree that when our body is in pain, when the mind is in turmoil and our negative emotions get the better of us, we are not in spiritual union. When we have forgotten that it is the hand of the Spirit that leads us, the love of the Spirit that nourishes us and breath of the Spirit that enlivens us – we are not in union.

    On the other hand, when we help a stranger, rescue an animal, volunteer to pick up trash in our neighborhood park or stop using styrofoam to save the environment, we experience fleeting moments of union with a ‘Higher Purpose’. Are these ‘small gestures’ of Higher Purpose – tangible, transitory aspects of the Universal Consciousness? How do we make this permanent? How do we begin to cultivate the practice – to be in this state of union – day to day, moment to moment?

    We could begin on the yoga mat. When you go to the gym for a yoga-asana class, you are choosing to step on the mat. This is the beginning of cultivating the union – for you must show up – everyday – to practice. Yoga mat becomes a place where you work hard to release the blocks in your body and begin to train the mind to be less of a critic. After mat practice you experience a sense of accomplishment that somehow you were able to leave your world of chores and project deadlines to make it to class. You take deep breath and smile – for having found that fleeting moment of joy in your heart and peace in your mind. Have you united your body and mind to be in this moment?

    yoga_silhouette_vector_179799

    Each week you return to the yoga-asana class and you step on the mat – this repetitive act induces a sense of practice, cultivates the attitude of being present and sparks reverence to the path of yoga. You begin to practice with gratitude for many blessings – for showing up to class, for moments of peace you experience on the mat which may prompt you to take deep breaths throughout the day – to stop and smell the roses. The yoga mat transforms into a sacred space where you work towards creating health in the body, clarity in the mind and joy in the heart. When the body and mind unite, uncontrolable feelings of joyful gratitude overflows from the depth of your being towards the Spirit. Is this when you begin to truly unite in yoga?

    When this ‘yogic ‘union happens repeatedly, lasting longer and longer each time, yogis affirm, that there will come a time when you can constantly dwell in this peaceful, joyful state, a state of constant gratefulness, a state of limitless love – then and only then you can confidently say that you are in a state of yoga, a state of complete union.

    My ‘Yoga’

    I have been so focussed on trying to learn about ‘yoga‘, through ‘yoga-asana‘ and other allied practices, that fleeting moments of spiritual union quite possibly may have come and gone without me being aware of “It’s” presence.

    Awareness happens in small steps. First, I became aware that to achieve yoga, theory and practice were important. Although the books provide a way to acquire some insight into the field of study, it is the actual practice that provides insight into the inner workings of the body and mind.

    Then, I became aware that knowing the true meaning of yoga altered the answers to the questions we started with. When do I do yoga – now translated to when am I in the state of union. The answer should probably be – all the time, not just between 9-10 a.m. Tuesday morning, right? But that’s not the case at all.

    Next, where do I practice yoga translates to – in all daily activities and interactions, not just on the mat. Not successful here, either. Here is where I keep forgiveness at the forefront in order for me to return to the mat, to Raja Yoga practices to prepare for the next attempt.

    And, how can I cultivate the state of yoga – doing selfless service, practicing forgiveness, performing random acts of kindness to name a few practices – are recommended. Again, it is an ongoing process.

    I am aware that although there are various paths to yoga, spiritual union, the earlier post on Raja Yoga, eight fold path, is inclusive and complete – a path I must continue to travel on – in order to wipe the slate clean and ‘unite’ with the Universal Consciousness.

    Each day I walk a path strewn with challenges – or opportunities – to cultivate forgiveness, to serve in order to lessen the grip of “I-ness” and to practice constant remembrance of the Spiritual Hand that feeds me, and makes me whole. And when (not if) that moment of Spiritual Union is bestowed upon me, my fervent prayer is that I should be completely aware of “Its” presence.

    “Yoga (as a system – Raja Yoga – 8 Fold Path) is the perfect and appropriate method of fusing body and mind together. It is the full realization of the soul’s oneness with Spirit.”
    ― Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

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    Yogananda, Paramahamsa. 1955. Autobiography of a Yogi. Rider Publishers. CA

    Schiffman, Erich. 1996. Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness. Simon and Schuster Publ. NY

    first 5 limbs of raja yoga

    Raja Yoga, the “Royal Yoga,” is a combination of all other yoga disciplines and the science of God-realization with a step-by-step means of reuniting the soul with the Spirit.

    Paramahamsa Yogananda

    As I introduce you to the eight fold path of Rāja Yoga, it is a pleasure for me to study it with you – again.Though I promised to elaborate on the first 5 limbs, this is still only a broad synopsis. It is best to study each limb separately to understand how to use them in everyday interactions. The first five limbs are referred to as the external limbs, Bahiranga Sadhana and are to be practiced simultaneously. They are considered external because these limbs affect our relationship with the outside world. The first five limbs, Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara are the foundation of Rāja Yoga.

    Yama and Niyama, are the principles of right conduct and lifestyle, the dos and don’ts – referred to as the moral disciplines or ethics of yoga. They are a very important part in the practice of Rāja Yoga – a part that I have come to rely on. The 10 ethics are:

    दश नीति

    Ten Ethics

    यम Restraints नियम Observances
    अहिंसा Non-Harming शौच Purity
    सत्य Truth सन्तोष Contentment
    अस्तेय Non-Stealing तपस् Effort
    ब्रह्मचर्य Moderation स्वाध्याय Self-Study
    अपरिग्रह Non-Hoarding ईश्वरप्रणिधान Surrender

    Yama

    The first limb, Yama, यम, frequently referred to as restraints or disciplines. Yama, restraint, deals with those behaviors that show respect for self and others. Using the word restraint may imply taking away certain privileges to be in a yogic frame of mind. On the contrary – it is much more that. I discovered that cultivating restraints is really cultivating the ability to manage my feelings – the ability to stop myself from doing or saying things that are not sensible or correct.

    I have included multiple meanings for each of the Yama and Niyama, as Samskritham (Sanskrit) terms tend to have multiple meanings. It is also difficult to find an exact translation for each term, while preserving its authenticity.

    यम

    Restraints

    अहिंसा       (Ahimsa) Non-Harming, Non-Violence, Kindness, Dynamic Peacefulness
    सत्य          (Sathya) Truth, Authenticity, Sincerity, Benevolence
    अस्तेय       (Astheya) Non-Stealing, Honesty, Abundance
    ब्रह्मचर्य      (Brahmacharya) Moderation, Continence, Dedicated to the Divine
    अपरिग्रह     (Aparigraha) Non-Hoarding, Self reliance, Renouncing, Simplicity, Generosity

    The first Yama is Ahimsa, non-harming.  Alice Christensen stated that Ahimsa is listed as the first discipline because the practice of the other nine ethics depended on it.  According to her, when trying to practice the second ethic, Satya, truthfulness, lying to myself is a form of harming; or in the practice of the third ethic, Asteya, non-stealing, wasting my time is stealing from myself which is harming. Slowly, with tedious practice, I finally began to notice that practicing Ahimsa has helped me to stay ahead in the practice of other ethics. This doesn’t mean I remembered to do it all the time.

    In the beginning, I entrusted the job of reminding me to the most reliable person I knew at that time – my 5 year old. In her own direct way and without hesitation she would remind me that I was not practicing Ahimsa – yes, you guessed it – I was arguing with my better half. My first reaction was to get upset with her reminders, which again is not Ahimsa. She would say “But you told me to remind you,” and start to cry. Of course, I would melt, give her a hug, to which she would sweetly add – “I’m sorry too, mommy,”- another reminder – to forgive myself for the slip-up. What a sweet and effective taskmaster! This went on for a while before she lost interest.

    Eknath Easwaran said taking “my life is a school” approach, would provide numerous opportunities to experiment with the eight fold path. Whether it be marriage or rearing a child, each phase of life – midlife or teenage – provides its own challenges to practice Ahimsa. This was the best practical advice to bring the 8 limbs to life. With this attitude, obstacles became opportunities. When I did catch myself practicing Ahimsa, my nightly reflection was filled with gratitude. In this way, each conclusion – success or failure, charted my progress, deepened my faith in the tools and boosted my confidence to continue on the path.

    In Rāja Yoga, the traditional practice of Yamas is equated to taking a vow, an earnest promise dedicated to the practice – called Mahavratham, Great Vow, by Patanjali in the yogic text, Yoga Sutra (2:31). This implies the seriousness of accepting the responsibility of the practice of Yamas, without the limitations of time, space, season, family, country, etc.; meaning although forgiveness is paramount, excuses are not entertained when Mahavratham, the Great Vow is activated.

    Niyama

    The second limb, Niyama, नियम, referred to as Observances, are those behaviors that convey positive self action. Niyama, Observance, is the act of perceiving and respecting the requirements of the laws of nature while recognizing our human imperfections and self centeredness. It helps to cultivate gratitude and sacredness towards daily activities and makes us rely on the tools to bring us closer to spiritual bliss, 8th limb, Samadhi.

    नियम

    Observances

    शौच                 (Shaucha) Purity, Cleanliness, Clarity
    सन्तोष               (Santosha) Contentment, Peacefulness
    तपस्                  (Tapas) Effort, Heat, Discipline, Sacrifice
    स्वाध्याय             (Svadhyaya) Self-Study, Reflection, Introspection
    ईश्वरप्रणिधान      (Ishvara Pranidhana) Surrender, Faith, Gratitude, Devotion, Higher Purpose

    The first Niyama is Shaucha, Purity or Cleanliness, which is both external and internal. The external concept of Shaucha suggests a clean body through daily ablutions, clean surroundings (owned and public), along with fresh and clean food to purify the body. Anger, hate, prejudice, greed, pride, fear, negative thoughts are toxins to body and mind. Hence, internal Shaucha includes purity of speech, emotions and the mind. Only with mastery of Shaucha, progress within the internal limbs can be witnessed.

    Asana

    The third limb is Asana, pose. It took me a long time to realize that Asana in Rāja Yoga, is not the same asana that we do in yoga classes each week. In class, I was taught how to align my body and move in a sequence of poses as in Surya Namaskar, Sun Salutations. I also learnt that the poses worked on both lengthening and strengthening of my muscles and joints. I noticed that there were variations within each asana. These variations could be created and supported by yoga props. Some asanas were simple and others were advanced. They were grouped into standing, seated, balance and lying down asanas. They are also grouped as forward bends, side bends, twists, backbends, inversions. This was only the beginning.

    yoga_silhouette_vector_179799

    I realized that the world of asanas was so vast and overwhelming that I could easily forget about all the other limbs and just be consumed by this 3rd limb. Amidst all this, I discovered that in the text Yoga SutrasPatanjali simply instructs us to find one comfortable and stable seated position; he calls this position Asana. Nowhere does he mention groups of asanas or their variations. Out of 196 sutras, only one (Y.S. 2:46) is dedicated to asana.

    Pranayama

    The fourth limb is Pranayama, प्राणायाम. It is a disciplined practice of controlling and mastering the breath. In yoga, the breath is considered as the source of the body’s vital life force, prana. Although, Patanjali states pranayama as means of attaining higher states of awareness, it is not very popular in asana classes.

    Since the process of Pranayama is concerned with the breathing, it is the indicator of good health. If it is done incorrectly, it will cause harm to the person.  For example, there are heating and cooling pranayama practices. Since our breath is tied to our emotions, these practices may abnormally enhance or deplete these emotional energies in the body. This fear dissuades many from starting the practice. Another reason for its unpopularity is possibly the absence of teachers who can teach it correctly. A knowledgeable teacher is observant of the students’ personality, and behaviors before teaching them the correct sequence of the breathing practices. This does not mean that it is a difficult process, or it cannot be learnt. But, when it is done correctly, you can experience wonderful benefits.

    Breathe

    As with asana, a similar confusion exists with Patanjali’s instruction in Pranayama. Patanjali only instructs the student to observe and slow the breath down to the point where one cannot distinguish between the inhalation and the exhalation (Y.S. 2:49). To clearly understand this instruction and apply it to practice is where you need an experienced teacher. The numerous asanas as postures and Pranayama as breathing exercises were developed much later as part of the Hata Yoga system of mastering the body to still the mind. Ashtanga Yoga teacher Pattabhi Jois used to explain this sutra 2:49 as “When asana is mastered, pranayma begins.” Unfortunately, this is not the preferred practice.

    Pratyahara

    The fifth limb, Pratyahara, is the practice of drawing the mind’s focus away from the external senses to the inner workings of the body and mind. The word ahara means “nourishment”; Pratyahara translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” Although nourishment implies to provide adequate sustenance to foster health, in this case, feeding the senses will only steer us away from the inner poise and daily yogic practicesTherefore, withdrawing from sense temptations to support the practice is the nourishment referred to in Pratyahara. Eknath Easwaran teaches this concept as training the senses to come under our control instead of being slaves to them.

    Yogis declare that the information gathered through the senses – eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin are not reliable. Ordinarily, the senses are the masters rather than being our servants. They entice us to develop cravings. Each of the senses invokes deep desire which provokes us to act according to our likes and dislikes leading to short-lived happiness or distress. To avoid pitfalls, we have to cultivate the habit of witnessing and deciphering the right message the senses are trying to convey to us. This is the first step in Pratyahara.

    Have you ever felt tired after returning from the mall? Bob, my teacher at Yogalife Institute, says the tiredness comes from the draining of prana, life force energy, through our eyes just by window shopping. Getting to know how my eyes behaved at the mall, or at a dinner party, and the role the mind plays in executing the action after the eyes have made their capture, has been enlightening. In the beginning, besides window shopping, looking longingly at a brownie and having to stop myself from eating it, was equally draining. It is not so bad now, and I am still learning to detach from that tempting object, a.k.a. chocolate brownie to stop prana leakage but enjoy an occasionally treat without a conflict. Just when I thought I had conquered one temptation, the eyes have made another capture – this time under the alias of jalapeño chips, lurking on the next table, waiting to reel me in. Depending on our list, Pratyahara can become a lifelong practice.

    The next step, Gurudev counsels, is the effort of withdrawing attachment to external objects.  This practice of Pratyahara provides me with an opportunity to step back and take a closer look at my habits. It forces me to objectively observe my likes and dislikes, and my cravings: essentially, habits that are detrimental to my health and which interfere with Abhyasa. I am working hard to draw my attention away from the world of temptations, one stimulus at a time. Of course, this is easier said than done.

    Like everyone else my practice began with asana, poses, falsely believing it is the easiest and most tangible place to start. But I quickly realized that asanas are not that easy – especially when I saw others doing them better and when I couldn’t do many of the advanced asanas. That’s when the code of ethics became more important than the asana practice. I was told to practice Yamas and Niyamas concurrently, so I could lose the attitude of competitiveness, pride and self-criticism in asana and pranayama practice. It is through the movement of the body, asana, and the movement of the breath, pranayama and restraining our senses through pratyahara that we begin to enter the gates of silence and access the mind. Hence, these 5 limbs must be practiced simultaneously, to prepare the mind for internal practices, Antaranga Sadhana, the next 3 limbs.

    Focussing on the first five limbs of Rāja Yoga, helped me to begin trusting the process. I resolved to set the Yamas or Niyamas as my intention, sankalpa. This way I could constantly and mindfully rehearse one or two of them everyday on a short-term rotation schedule. This has made the practice efficient and manageable. Of course, it is still a long and bumpy road to destination Bliss filled with failures and short lived successes. But the path itself is clear, as long as I bring the right attitude and diligence to the practice. And, in my opinion, assigning adorable taskmasters to assist is mandatory for success.

    The idea is to make the practice of the five limbs a habit, so they become the most important part of my life. Only then I can confidently declare that I am living a yogic lifestyle.

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    Bell, Charlotte.2007. Mindful Yoga Mindful Life. Rodmell Press

    Christensen, Alice. 1998. Yoga of the Heart: Ten Ethical Principles for Gaining Limitless Growth, Confidence and Achievement. American Yoga Association

    Kriyananda, Swami. 2011. The Art and Science of Raja Yoga. Crystal Clarity Publishers (2 volumes)