For the final installment in our Year of Living Yogically Challenge, let’s look to the next step on the path. Continuing your development and expanding, still further, the horizon of your awareness requires study. Svadhyaya is the sanskrit term for self-study. And, as we have learned, increased awareness brings you true happiness.
Your final Living Yogically Challenge is to set up a weekly session for paying attention to yourself. One day per week, journal your observations. Record your habits, your behaviors and your perceptions to tune into your self-awareness.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.” -Lao Tzu
As the Yoga Posts’ facilitator, I am also looking to the future and what this blog will become. If you have any suggestions for yoga topics or information that you would like to see posted on a regular basis, please leave me your comment. If you are new to the blog or want to see where the Year of Living Yogically begins, click here to start.
As the summer solstice approaches, now is the perfect time for seeking solitude for yourself. Periodically remaining quiet increases your awareness and lets your mind rest.
Your challenge this week will be to receive solitude by spending time alone each day. Walking in nature or watching the sunset or sunrise are good ways to soak up some solo time. Also, consider your speech and how much you talk. Curtail your urge to speak a bit this week to bring more reflection and centeredness into your life.
Or, you can choose to be in solitude with others by practicing the concept of mouna or silence. A good time for this is just prior to or following a meal. Another effective time is the first thing in the morning or the last thing before sleeping. If you live with others, make this “silent time” a period for eliminating the television, computer, or any other device that produces sound. For 10-15 minutes (and ear buds plugged in do not count), try to keep the silence with reading, drawing or writing. Eventually, slowly phase out these activities and find a comfortable place to just be still together. During this time, consider your thoughts and observe what surfaces. This is a great prelude to meditation.
Performed on a regular basis, mouna becomes an important tool for generating increased awareness. The yama of asteya or non-stealing in the form of words, can also be a consideration for keeping the virtue of silence. When you practice silence, your thoughts become quieter, and, ultimately, you will find that you are able to pacify your emotions and soften your personality.
For the month of June, which is traditionally the month of love, we will get to the “heart” of what matters, our Self.
But first we need to open the door to receptivity.
To be receptive is to accept a signal, an idea or even another person into your life. For receptivity to occur, it is imperative that your heart and mind be open. This ability to see things differently requires flexibility. Not everyone is amenable or disposed to receiving what others have to share. Therefore, in order to fully receive, you may have to give up something that you already possess.
This is especially fitting for yogis who want to prepare and purify themselves to receive the teachings of yoga. Releasing your subjectivity, blockages and negativity will give you space for a lifestyle that is happier, healthier and compassionate or love-filled.
At this point in our Year of Living Yogically, we know that there is more to the system of yoga than the postures themselves. Time and again, the posts refer back to the Eight Limb System of yoga which includes:
Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
Maybe you have already incorporated some of these techniques into your own practice.
This week your challenge will be to review the eight steps and find the area(s) that you feel need enriching. Simply use the Topic bar on the right to click on the category you would like to read more about. Understanding each step in the eight-fold system will help you become more conscious of your true nature.
We have two weeks left in this journey. The next challenges will be the icing on the cake that will, hopefully, feed you for many years to come.
If you would like to start at the beginning of this year-long challenge please click here.
For many years, the system of yoga was my “go to” method for health maintenance. After all, it is a terrific course for correcting imbalances in body, mind and spirit. Small episodes of pain and stress would come and go – there was always my practice to guide me through any discomfort.
Until this year. I experienced a rare facial nerve disorder (that I have still yet to diagnose). Although restorative yoga postures, breath work and meditation did help me to relax, the pain and other repercussions of this ailment forced me to search out a viable treatment.
So, I googled my options for healing. You could say that I went on a quest for healing.
And, along the way, I discovered acupuncture, aromatherapy and Jin Shin Jyutsu. Together with the modalities of massage and yoga, these therapies have paved the way toward my well-being.
Because my background is geared to yoga, I applied simple breathing and relaxation techniques to the acupuncture and Jin Shin Jyutsu sessions I received. At first, it merely helped me to stay calm with the uneasiness I felt in these new situations. However, as my comfort level increased, I realized that when I executed these yoga techniques within my treatments, I could awaken my body’s intelligence and amplify my level of awareness.
After a relatively short span of time, not only did my symptoms resolve for longer and longer periods but, in the end, they nearly vanished.
Nowadays, I continue to receive massage and Jin Shin Jyutsu, utilize aromatherapy and am slowly incorporating a stronger yoga practice back into my daily routine. I feel like my body is finally in sync again, a sensation that I had been missing for nearly a year.
Each form of bodywork I experienced has taught me how important the awareness of the present moment is to overall health. I am so thankful that I was able to apply the yogic principles of relaxation and breath work to amplify each modality’s effectiveness.
In turn, I have reapplied this new heightened level of awareness back into my yoga practice. In general, I am staying even more open minded. My body feels a new alertness and there is a deeper level of harmony moving within.
I had discovered that the underlying meaning of each of these modalities is the present moment awareness. And, that, even in the midst of pain, you can lean in, stay attentive and surrender.
Your challenge this week is to locate your own method for generating increased awareness. You may wish to look into one of the modalities that I have mentioned or maybe you already have something simmering on the back burner.
Please keep in mind that whatever you choose should grant you a deeper connection to Self. It should awaken you to your true nature. Only then will you be able to see things as they truly are and live in the present moment.
How do we keep ourselves physically challenged yet safe?
For yogis, this involves two key words – “sthira” and “sukha”. In sanskrit, sthira means strong, stable, steady in focus for mind and body. The ideal counterweight is sukha or that feeling of ease, relaxation and serenity – no matter how strenuous the pose may be. Once you are able to keep the concepts of sthira and sukha in balance, your practice will be at its utmost and your risk for injury greatly reduced.
For this challenge, apply sthira to the gentle flow below:
Balasana with arms extended
Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Supine Revolved Belly Twist
On the following day, incorporate sukha into the more rigorous practice below:
Adho Mukha Svanasana 1 or 2 minute hold
Utkatasana to Utkatasana Twist
Virabhadrasana I to III flow
Repeat the practices as needed on subsequent days.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there…”. -Rumi
As summer approaches and things begin to heat up, it’s a good time to return to the concept of Ayurveda and discover what the Pitta (fire) dosha has in store for us.
If you are new to the sister science of yoga called Ayurveda, please look back to my Warm Up to Ayurveda post for an introduction to its principles and the doshas called vata, pitta & kapha.
Warmer temperatures tend to aggravate or even initiate a pitta constitution. In general, pitta types are fiery in nature and tend to exhibit the main characteristics of a strong metabolism, good appetite, oily skin and hair, irritability, intensity, and inflammation. Emotionally, when there is too much heat or passion in the system, pittas demonstrate anger and aggression. However, when balanced, the pitta constitution is capable of forming dynamic, focused and determined individuals.
Because pitta is the fiery or transformative force responsible for digestion, warmth and inflammation, the small intestine is its main site in the disease process. Therefore, pittas should watch their habits and attempt to balance their food choices (especially in the summer months).
Pittas tend to eat lots of food and get irritable if a meal is missed. They are drawn to hot, oily, and spicy foods which aggravate their already heated dispositions.
To balance the extreme inclinations in diet, pittas should take in more raw foods and salads (particularly in late spring and summer). In general, cooling, nutritive, lacto-vegetarian diets should be consumed. Sweeter oils such as sunflower, coconut and ghee oils are recommended. Spices that are balancing to pittas include: coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric. Herbs such as aloe gel/juice, shatavari and licorice are also good items to incorporate into the pitta diet.
Yoga is effective for pacifying the heat of a pitta. Specific practices should include postures to cool the head, calm the heart and relieve tension. Pittas should not push too hard in practice because it only increases their irritability. Heat and tension can be alleviated if the body and mind are kept cool and relaxed with asanas that generate openness and surrender.
To reduce excess pitta, yogis should practice in an effortless, non-goal oriented way, working at about 75% of capacity. Rest assured that when a pitta person practices effortlessly they will still be working harder than everyone else!
Begin a pitta-balancing yoga practice with a slow and easy form of Sun Salutation. Use the breath to monitor the level of work involved. Continue to employ breath awareness in seated forward bends, gentle back bends (focusing on extending the spine) and twists (which are very effective in reducing excess pitta). Limit time in positions that invert the head. Supported shoulderstand is most effective. A longer savasana may irritate this dosha so end practice with a short 5 minute Savasana (you can gradually lengthen it over time).
Pittas need to realize that they can use their powerful will to maintain a soft and gentle approach. When a pitta constitution is balanced properly, one should feel a sense of coolness, calmness, openness, patience and tolerance.
Balance is a deep subject. There are so many levels to consider. We may look to balance ourselves through yoga but in reality what we are actually striving to balance is our energies. The basic nature of ourselves. We want to be calm yet alert, active but stable, open and centered, lifted and grounded, receptive yet detached… the list can go on and on.
There is a sanskrit term that labels the idea of balance. It’s called Samana. Samana is defined as “equal”, “like”, “staying in the middle” or “straight”.
Samana also describes one of the five vayus or winds. A vayu is an energetic component with a distinct flow or function. The samana type of energy moves from the periphery to the core and unifies (or balances) the upward energy called prana and the downward energy named apana. Since samana vayu is the meeting point between the upward and downward energies, it is called the “balancing air.”
The samana vayu also governs the digestive fire which burns brightly when prana and apana unite. Twists are the yoga postures that most relate to this blend of upward and downward energies. When we rotate the spine, we essentially energize our digestive systems.
Another connection to samana is the practice of samavritti or “same wave” breathing. It is a simple method of matching the length of the inhalations to the length of the exhalations. A nice time to practice samavritti is upon waking as it provides an energetic effect. It’s the perfect preparation for an early morning meditation!
This week, strive to cultivate your samana vayu by bringing your sense of alertness into balance with your ability to remain calm. As you lengthen, ground and as you stabilize, find ease. Take in what you need and release what no longer serves you. Incorporate twists and samavritti into your daily routine.
You can also apply this practice to the various segments of your “life wheel.” Look closely at the amount of energy you spend on your job, your health, your hobbies, your family or any other areas in your life. Reflect on how these energies can be more balanced.
In ancient times, this day celebrated the season of fruitfulness and the coming of summer for many northern hemisphere cultures. The festivities may have included a maypole – thought to be the symbol for a tree that represents new vegetation. More recently in the U.S., this type of celebration is usually only seen in schools as it is taught as a tradition stemming from the European cultures. Nowadays, and by coincidence, May Day is associated with protests and marches promoting change for the rights of workers and immigrants.
Symbolically, the month of May is connected with movement, balance and change or transition.
A big part of life is experienced through transition. Our bodies and minds go through many phases as a result of maturation, education, connections and societies’ conventions. And, as we “go across” these passages, we attempt to keep a steady footing on the other side. Some of the transitions we encounter can be smooth when we learn to adapt and accommodate. But many times, the shifts we undergo create havoc and can be harmful.
The same is true for our yoga practice. While we may master specific poses, or at least feel confident and comfortable practicing them, the transitions into and out of these poses may not be as composed. Knees, hips and feet can easily move out of alignment and, with repetition, be injurious to a yoga practice. This is especially true when we do vinyasa yoga, a form defined by linking postures in a flowing routine.
So, our challenge this week is to be more aware of our transitions; since this is the season for transformation. Let’s break down the elements of our practice and tune into the spaces between the poses.
Find a resting place to digest your experience as you practice. As you progress through your daily practice, return to Tadasana (mountain pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) or Balasana (child’s pose) to realign with your breath and get back in touch with your intention.
Work on your balance. Repeatedly insert Vrksasana (tree pose) between other standing postures to hone your alignment and your perception.
Try linking one posture with another. Start with a downward dog/plank combination or try to move from warrior I to warrior II. Study the principles of alignment for these various poses, as instructed in Iyengar yoga for example, to make certain the transitions are healthy ones for your joints.
Practice Nadi Shodhana This breathing technique will balance and clarify your mind so that you can transition well off your mat. Use caution as any form of pranayama can be a powerful force.
Transition to the ground. When you complete your standing poses, find a posture for converting to the floor such as Uttanasana (forward bend) or Prasarita Padottanasana (wide angle forward bend).
Allow yourself time for transitioning at the start and end of your practice. Initiate your practice with seated breath awareness and/or an invocation. Before jumping up to start your day, give yourself permission to close the practice with a quiet acknowledgement in a simple seated posture.
Hopefully, these tools will not only enhance your practice but make you more aware of the metamorphosis that is yoga.
The final week of April is upon us. And all around are signs of new beginnings, new openings and new creations; from the buds in the trees to the baby calves in the fields.
This week, I encourage you to take these signals of Spring and apply them to your yoga practice.
Each day as you roll out your mat, mark the action as a starting place for unfurling your body. Dedicate yourself to expansion, to clearing out those winter cobwebs and stimulating new growth.
Back bends are capable of generating many openings. The front body, heart center and lungs, as well as the abdominal area all benefit from the practice of back bending. As a result our posture improves and we are able to pump blood and nutrients more effectively throughout the body, expanding our lung capacity and unblocking our digestive system.
Clear Out the Cobwebs
The cooler temperatures keep us bound both literally and figuratively. In shedding our winter coats, we remove old deposits and unbind ourselves emotionally. The simplest forms of back bending are known to trigger release and improve clarity.
Stimulate New Growth
When we make space for ourselves physically and mentally through back bends, we give the body room to flourish. We discover that we have the capacity for more energy to flow within. With this newfound energy, we experience greater joy in our lives.
Sounds amazing doesn’t it?
Although back bends are the perfect opportunity for unfurling yourself, this task is not taken lightly. In general our bodies are resistant to opening. We are fearful of bending back into the unknown and exposing the front of our bodies. This is instinctual. Think of the way many animals behave in nature. The “underbelly” holds critical systems without which we could not survive. So we protect and naturally draw inward. Therefore, we should begin a back bend practice slowly so that the action is easily accepted by the body. Like the fern in the forest, you will be unfurling yourself open, bit by tender bit…
So let’s get started! The following poses are fine to do alone or along with your usual practice.
Day 1: Restorative Back Bend Create a small roll with a blanket to place underneath the body just at or below the shoulder blades. Lie supine on the roll (your arms should stretch out just above roll). While it may be slightly uncomfortable at first, your body should accept the opening. If it is too intense, try bending your knees or decreasing the height of the roll. Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Day 2:Ardha Salabasana or Half Locust Lie on your stomach. Keep your pelvis and legs on the floor and as you inhale begin to lift your torso up off the mat. Be sure to draw your shoulders away from the floor and keep your head in line with your body to avoid overstretching the neck. Keep your arms extending along your sides and press your fists into the floor, thumbs toward the body. You can either keep the movement as a flow; inhaling as you lift and exhaling as you descend or maintain the lifted position, breathing as you hold.
Day 3: I call this one Purvottanasana Prep or Reverse Plank Prep From a seated position, place your hands behind you so that your fingers are facing forward just outside and behind your hips. Bending the elbows, exhale and allow your front body to collapse and sink back. As you inhale, straighten your elbows and press your sternum forward to expand the front body. Repeat for several rounds. You can make slight adjustments or increase the action by bringing your hands further back.
Day 4: Setu Bandha or Bridge Vinyasa This posture flow begins with a gentle pelvic tilt. Lie on your back and bend your knees. As you inhale, arch the lower back, keeping the sacrum/tailbone area connecting with the ground. Exhaling, press that same lower back area into the ground. Bit by bit, increase the lift of the pelvis and begin to roll the shoulders under to lift the belly and chest further off the floor. Once you have flowed sufficiently, begin to decrease the height of the lift graduallly until your sacrum returns to the ground. Spend some time in constructive rest pose with your feet spread widely apart and your knees resting together.
Day 5: Urdhva Hastasana or Upward Hands Pose Begin standing in Tadasana or Mountain Pose. As you inhale, lift your arms up from the sides and bring them up above the head. Lifting from the sides of the body, gently draw the upper back forward, looking upward if it is appropriate. Exhale the arms back down to your sides. Repeat for 5 breaths.
These are wonderful postures to begin opening up the front body. Proceed with awareness and utilize the breath to deepen the effects. Enjoy!
As we progress through life, we periodically encounter times of stress and bouts of physical, mental and spiritual imbalance. Although this blog primarily focuses on the system of yoga, there are various modalities available for releasing tension – methods that can direct us back to balance so that we may reconnect with our true nature. Most of these techniques complement the practice of yoga, making its effect even more beneficial.
Jin Shin Jyutsu is one such method of healing. Known as the Japanese art of harmonizing life energy, it is a noninvasive approach to restoring the body that utilizes energy channels or meridians to unlock stress and pain.
The sessions involve light touches on certain areas of the body that correspond to specific energy pathways. Although many times a practitioner facilitates the flow of energy for re-opening, it is the participants themselves who are the true intuitive healers through this sensation of touch.
Jin Shin Jyutsu has the potential to correct many imbalances that we experience. There are several flows or holding sequences that are centered around the organs of the body and the major meridian channels. These are best introduced with the help of a practitioner. Currently, I am undergoing sessions for assistance with trigeminal neuralgia at A Spa For You here in Sedona.
There are also basic finger flows that can be self administered. Your challenge this week is to use the chart below to locate any area(s) that may be valuable and healing for you.