International Yoga Day Everyday

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Happy International Yoga Day! In some parts of the world it is June 21 already. We are very fortunate to live in a time when the world can recognize India’s gift to humanity: the art, science, and philosophy of Yoga. Here is the UN’s official statement on this day:

Addressing the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2014, the Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi had said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

To commemorate this day, Geeta Iyengar constructed a sequence. Some of the poses here can be found in my blog’s “Asana-s” page.

  • Tadasana – Mountain Pose
  • Namaskarasana – Palms together (prayer pose)
  • Urdhva Hastasana – Extend arms upward
  • Uttanasana – Standing forward bend
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward facing dog pose
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – Upward facing dog pose
  • Uttanasana – Standing forward bend
  • Tadasana – Mountain pose
  • Utthita Trikonasana – Triangle pose
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana – Side angle pose
  • Virabhadrasana I – Warrior Pose I
  • Parivrtta Trikonasana – Revolved triangle
  • Parsvottanasana – Intense side stretch forward bend
  • Prasarita Padottanasana – Wide stance forward bend
  • Dandasana – Staff pose
  • Janu Sirsasana – Head to knee seated forward bend
  • Adho Mukha Upavishtakonasana – Upright wide angle seated pose
  • Virasana with Parvatasana – Hero pose, clasped hands up
  • Swastikasana with Parvatasana – Cross-legged pose, clasped hands up
  • Parsva Dandasana – Staff pose twist
  • Bharadvajasana I – Twist named after the sage Bharadvaja
  • Marichyasana III – Twist named after the sage Marichi
  • Urdhva Mukha Svanasana – Upward facing dog
  • Dhanurasana – bow pose
  • Ustrasana – camel pose
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward facing dog
  • Sirsasana – head balance
  • Sarvangasana – shoulder balance
  • Halasana – plow pose
  • Chatushpadasana – bridge pose variation
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – bridge pose
  • Savasana – corpse pose
  • Sit in dhyana (meditation)

May you have a peaceful and happy International Yoga Day!

Required reading for the student who is new to Yoga

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I was watching a video of B.K.S. Iyengar during the 2013 Guru Poornima, which is an annual observance and celebration of all of our teachers. In the address, he showed two books that were recently pressed from the Institute. He commented that when he started Yoga, there was no written material on the subject of Asana. Now it has gone the other way. There is now so much information about Asana on the internet and in books, that a new comer to yoga may be easily overwhelmed.

I often reflect on the reading materials that I first encountered when I came to Yoga and what continues to guide me on my path. The clear text would be introduction in LIght On Yoga. It is not just written well, it draws from a series of classical Yoga texts and digests it into an easy to understand essay coupled with Iyengar’s experience.

One does not need to be an practitioner of the Iyengar style to appreciate this text. Renowned Ashtanga Yoga practitioner Chuck Miller writes:

One day in 1974, I was in a bookstore and picked up a copy of Light on Yoga. A girl whom I’ve never seen before just looked over and said, “That’s the book.” I took it as a sign from above and bought the book. I went home that night and read the introduction, fifty-five pages, and it blew my mind. It changed my life. I felt I had my hand on the operating manual for the human being.  – From Iyengar, The Yoga Master 2007 Kofi Busia Shalamba Publications, Inc.

One of the gists of the text that I remember every day is that he views the ability to work as a gift. He draws this concept from the Bhagavad Gita, and links it wonderfully to how we integrate our daily practice as our dharma.

He also gives a brief overview of the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (the classical eight limbs from Patanjali Yoga Sutras). In subsequent texts, The Iyengar family asserts that Ashtanga Yoga is the ABCs of Yoga, and that the other forms like Hatha, Laya, Jnana etc. need a firm rooting in Asthanga Yoga before other forms can successfully be commenced.

In Light on Yoga, Iyengar also gives a brief overview of the obstacles on the path and how to overcome them based on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Iyengar had many obstacles that he overcame in his lifetime including childhood diseases, poverty, the early death of his wife, and two auto accidents just to name a few. He practiced Yoga up until he passed away last year at 95 years old.

Keep in mind that Iyengar Yoga style was not my first choice when I started Yoga. I went though many of the different systems until I have decided to pursue Iyengar as my path. Perhaps you may have another system of preference. But there is one common agreement among many practitioners is that the introduction of Light On Yoga is one of the classic passages.

Can we now retire the phrase #namasteeverydamnday?

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Would it be too much to ask to retire phrases #namasteeverydamnday and #yogaeverdamnday? I have many reasons for this request, but what made this phraseology hit close to home is in my work as a mental health counselor.

One day I was counseling a client who had a recent suicide attempt. I asked her how often she struggles with depression and anxiety. Her reply: “I struggle with depression and anxiety every damn day.”

At that point I knew that she was speaking of a place of deep pain and suffering. At that moment she felt her existence was cursed with little hope. With therapy she eventually got better and now lives a more normalized life which she feels she does not view every single day as a curse.

When I see this hashtagged phrase on my newsfeed, it reminds me of that woman’s suffering. Those who post this hashtag don’t seem to be suffering. New trendy yoga blogs like DoYouYoga.com use this phrase liberally. People posting this are usually bikini clad and have an attitude like they don’t have a care in the world.

In my own practice, I am extremely grateful when I can carve out an hour or two of uninterrupted practice. I feel like every day is a blessing with yoga, not cursed. I know it sounds like I am overreacting. Some people I see blogging about yoga use foul language without missing a beat. Much like a truck driver.

Recently, I have been practicing with mantras by repeating the names of Narayana, and sacred hymns from the Vedas. I believe these are creating much positive change in my life. Coupled with my yoga practice, the effects have been quantamized. Again, it has given me the insight to know that every word said and written has latent power which like tiny drops of water an eventually take down a massive structure.

So my request is to be careful what you write and say. Soundforms become words, words become thoughts, thoughts become actions, repeated actions become Karma, wrong actions become Samskara.

Therefore: #namasteeveryblessedday

Laurie Blakeney workshop: doing fewer Asanas with more in them

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I am still reviewing my notes from the last workshop I attended with senior teacher Laurie Blakeney which ended two weeks ago. One thing I appreciate about Iyengar yoga is that it does not try to re-invent the wheel with new poses, but takes what is available and makes it better.

There were many new ideas I was exposed to during the workshop, but the one thing that left the biggest impression is the fact that she could have a two hour class and only do a handful of poses.  Like 6 to 10. She would start class with a concept. The large concept was drawing the inner legs into the abdomen. She kept that theme during the whole five days of the workshop, but it never got redundant. Only deeper.

What really took the cake for me was one intermediate level class where we spent 45 minutes working on Jatara Parivartanasa (stomach churning pose). First with abdomen awareness, then with bent knees, then with straight knees, then with a “J” shape, then with the perineum aligned with the crown of the head and a dozen more points. By then end we really had a deeper understanding of this pose and did not feel short changed that we didn’t learn a dozen new Asanas.

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One of my basic level students asked me if intermediate level classes were harder in her workshop. I answered that they were not as hard as her basic level classes, but they had more refinement and awareness that a basic level student may not appreciate as much as a seasoned student. Of course one also had to be able to do a 10 minute Salamaba Sirsasana with variations in the middle of the room as well!

I have noticed in my own practice and teaching since the workshop, I am more apt to repeat a pose a half dozen times instead of two or three like I normally do. Again I notice that each time something deeper and more magical happens.

Thank you Laurie for the wonderful workshop!

May you have a blessed week

Gayatri

As a mental health worker, I can attest that the transition between the weekend and the work week can be one of the most stressful points of the week for people. Mantras can a powerful tool to direct internal energies toward the devine and away from anxious feelings. Below is a link to the Gayatri Mantra. The Gayatri Mantra is considered to be one of the great boons given to humanity. It is a Vedic hymn from the Rg Veda. It is curious in that it is considered both about the object of devotion, and as an act of devotion itself. If that does not fit into your belief system you can at least enjoy the beautiful singing. This particular version offers deep explanation to each word while the mantra plays.

Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃbhárgo devásya dhīmahidhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

The gist of the mantra is that it is a request of the devine to provide us with guidance. Also it asks to enlighten our intellect to make proper decisions and provide spiritual wisdom. Enjoy and have a great week!

The Yamas and Niyamas of Śāṇḍilya Upanishad

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If you give any depth of study to Patanjali, you will find he is often quoted as a “codifier” of Yoga. He was a journalist of the highest order writing down all the practices at his time and also referencing practices of the past. He was quite diplomatic in the Yoga Sutra-s giving a nod to all the different practices. And he put all the practices in terse format, so it would be easier to memorize for generations through the millennia.

One of the references that Patanjali may have drawn from come from the Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, an Atharvavedaic text dating back between 1000-1500 BCE (Patanjali existed around the second century BCE). This is a short treatise that mentions eight limbs of Yoga. It begins with a teaching between Arthavan and Śāṇḍilya:

Śāṇḍilya: “Please tell me about the eight angas of Yoga which is the means of attaining Atman.”

Artharvan: “The eight Agnas are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Of these, Yama is of ten kinds and so is Niyama. There are eight Asanas. Pranayama is of three kinds. Pratyahara is of five kinds; so also is Dharana. Dhyana is of two kind and Samadhi is of one kind only.”

The ten Yamas of this Upanishad are:

Ahimsa (not causing pain of anyone both physically and mentally)

Satya (Truthfulness)

Asteya (Not coveting)

Bhramacharya (Celebacy)

Daya (Kindliness)

Arjava (equanimity of mind in actions)

Kshama (Patience)

Dhriti (Preserving firmness of mind in periods of gain or loss)

Mitahara (Taking of only oily or sweet food leaving one fourth of the stomach empty)

Saucha (Both internal and external cleanliness)

There are also ten Niyamas:

Tapas (Empanciation from the body through penance)

Santosha (Contentment)

Astika (Belief in merits or demerits of actions set forth in the Vedas)

Dana (Charity)

Isvarapujana (Worship of God with a pure heart)

Siddhanta-Srivara (Inquiry of the significance of Vedanta)

Hrih (Shame when straying from actions set forth in the Vedas)

Mati (Faith in the paths laid out in the Vedas)

Japa (practicing the Mantras)

Vrata (Regular observance of Vedic actions, and non observance of actions that are not in the Vedas).

The text then expounds on Asanas and Pranayamas. Perhaps that will be another blog post. The scholar/historian in me is fascinated by this text. I find it comforting and reaffirming that these practices have been around for thousand and thousands of years. The fact that we can still access this text in 2015 shows that it is true enough to stand the test of time.

 

Listening to your practice: Asanas will tattle on you

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I was fortunate enough to start my work week with a home practice. That has been rare for me lately as I started a new job which demands that I be in the office more often. My practice felt strong this morning, but when I got to Halasana (plow pose) my legs felt stiff and my hamstrings felt “short.” Then I heard a whisper: “your legs are stiff because you are sitting too much and not doing enough Supta Padangusthasa.”

Before you think I have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, I don’t hear this “whisper” all the time. But when I am doing Asana with a sattvic mind, like it is after a good night’s rest, I tend to be bit more aware of what my body is telling me.

The body has a perfect memory unlike our mind. It “remembers” all the bad stuff you did to it all week: sitting too long in a bad posture, eating greasy food, and staying up too late. The body in its wisdom does not tell you right away when you are not ready to “hear” it. It waits until Asana practice to tell you exactly what you are doing wrong and tells you exactly how to fix it.

On a deeper level, the body then tells the mind what it’s doing wrong and how to fix it. By using the breath and Asanas, the body puts the mind in its place. It douses the constant shouting of the sensory organs with prana flowing through purified and aligned nadic channels.

So our job as Yoga practitioners is to listen. Listen deeply. Our body tells us all kinds of things. We just have to get the mind out of the way. Once we advance enough in our practice, then our purusha then starts to tell us things. To listen to the purusha is the highest form of Yoga.

After my practice I felt refreshed and ready to start the week. I am very grateful I got a chance to do Asanas today.