Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodha
In order to achieve a state of yoga, one must develop both practice and detachment.
—Yoga Sutra I.12

If yoga is to mean union, to come together, to unite, then last week, at an event called 2020 Vision, yoga was definitely in full swing and its benefits were being spread into the hearts and minds of all who filled the lecture hall in one of Edinburgh’s top venues.  But this wasn’t an event about the ancient Indian tradition, there was no mention of asana, pranayama or a single adho mukha svanasana.

2020

Coming home to nature, bringing our land back into balance, living in harmony with our surrounds and restoring our wild places and natural ecosystems was the compelling message whose argument was told through the lens of the UK’s top 20 wildlife photographers.  Through stunning visual imagery, we learnt why it’s time to stop taking from our world, why we need to rebuild and reconnect our fragmented habitats and why we need the animals, plants and wild spaces for our survival as much for theirs.

It scares me to think that the very trees, plants and animals that feed my soul and those of so many others may not be here for generations to come but thanks to the vision, the energy and the progressive thinking of this collective of forward thinkers, we can plant the seeds to ensure our land and its beautiful wild places with all its creatures great and small will be here long after we are.  Sure, we might not see it in our life time, but then isn’t yoga all about practicing without attachment to the outcome!  Click here to find out more about this inspiring project.

http://shop.theaa.com/store/anywhere-and-everywhere-1/2020vision

Greet yourself each day with an open heart #happyholyheart

Greet yourself each day with a #happyholyheart …

Maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadana – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33.

“Cultivate love for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, joy for those who are virtuous, and equanimity for those who make mistakes.”   Translation from Kelly McGonigal, Yoga Journal.

I was catching up with a good friend last night over a spot of dinner when she declared that she was taking tomorrow off work as she’d booked in for a spa day at one of the city’s top spas.  Here was a woman that recognised that she worked hard, felt incredibly grateful to have a good job and to be in a fortunate position to receive a decent wage for her efforts, so decided that where others might put their money towards something material; an expensive dress or designer handbag perhaps, she would invest in her own well-being.  How refreshing I thought.  Free from feelings of guilt and selfishness, the distorted emotions we often attach to our own nourishment, she had recognised that in order to give herself to friends, family, work colleagues and the wider community, she needed first to give to herself.

Now I know we can’t all afford spa days or luxury massages every day or even every month but that’s not my point, this is about recognising when to give back to yourself and this can be done in the smallest of ways but with maximum effect.  What’s more, it can be completely free, the only investment is your time and when it comes to your well-being – surely that’s time well spent.

So see if you can make a commitment to yourself over the coming days to set some time aside to give back to you, to nourish, to nurture, to slow down.  Perhaps you like to sing, to paint, to dance, to cook, whatever your passion, aim to connect with your creative side and allow more time for pleasure in your life.  Whether you can afford to take five minutes or five hours, work out how much time you can regularly commit to set aside for ‘me’ time and then stick to it as a promise to yourself.  Notice when you start to be more compassionate towards yourself, how much easier it is for you to live out Patanjali’s sutra 1.33 and offer out a greater level of kindness, compassion, joy and tolerance towards others.

Unfortunately, I will not be here  to teach tomorrow evening but this could be a great opportunity for a great home practice and here are some ideas to get you started.

The biggest hurdle is rolling out your yoga mat but believe me, your body and mind will thank you for it

 

 

home practice

1) Sit in a comfortable cross legged position – close your eyes and start to notice, without judgement, how you are feeling this evening.  Allow yourself several breaths just to ground and let go of the day.

2) Think about what is really going to serve you this evening.  Are you needing energy, are you needing to stretch out your body or is your mind full of the day that’s been and you just need to quieten down all of that mental chatter that’s floating around your head right now?

3) Based on the above – set an intention for your practice – what do you really want to get out of your practice?  Adopt a breath that reflects that intention eg: nourishing, energising, calming.

4) Offer up this intention by chanting in with 3 x OM

5) Start with some simple warm ups such as cat, cow, linking the movement with the breath.

6) Go with the flow – tuning into ujjayi breathing flow through several rounds each of Surya Namaskar A and B

http://www.yogajournal.com/sunsalute and http://www.yogajournal.com/video/269

7) Go where the mood takes you, perhaps the above is enough or maybe you want to add in standing balances, twists or forward folds

8) Ground down – take it down to the mat for your final poses – try poses such as seated forward fold – paschimottanasana  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/477 and a reclining supine twist http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/1382

9) Let go – savasana – allow the body and mind to come into complete relaxation for at least 5 minutes – don’t be tempted to skip this bit as this is where the magic happens!

10) Come back to sit – come back to your intention and bow down to yourself as you chant out with 3 OM to seal your practice.

Have fun with it, be creative, put on your favourite tunes as you flow, create a space for your practice, perhaps light some candles or burn some essential oils, let go of attaching to the idea of perfecting each pose, move mindfully and enjoy the process of the journey!

For some music – you can follow me on Spotify or else look out for the likes of  the Angel’s Prayer track on the album, Invocation.

Namaste my fellow yogis….  See you next week.

sunday sequence

I’ve called this a Sunday sequence but this is a sequence for those times when you need to honour your body and your brain’s need to slow down and let go.  Great for that time of the month, if you’re feeling sluggish or if you just need some ‘me’ time.  Grab your mat and create some space, because you are so worth it.

Couple this sequence with some deep belly breathing, lie on your back, knees bent, soles of the feet to the floor, hip distance apart.  Right hand to belly, left hand to heart.  Inhale all the way down to your right hand into your belly for 4 counts, retain the breath and exhale out for 8 counts.  Repeat for several rounds before starting your asana practice.

Enjoy!

My thoughts on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika… my go to guide particularly for pranayama and kriya practices.hatha-yoga-pradipika

Many people might consider whether a text written in the 15th century by a yogic sage living in the Eastern world is relevant to those practicing yoga in a modern day Westernised culture.  My aim is to highlight the importance of Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) if we are to understand the roots of yoga as a practice that goes beyond developing and maintaining physical health to a practice that aims to awaken the vital energies that exist within each and every one of us.

HYP’s introduction from Swamiji on Hatha Yoga clarifies the differences between hatha yoga and the eight limbed approach of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  Where Patanjali was influenced by Buddhism and developed an eight step path to liberation focussing first on yama (self restraints) and niyama (observations) present in the mind, Swatmarama is in contrast influenced by Yogi Goraknath of the Nath sect and seeks to purify the body through self control and self discipline before purifying the mind.  For me, this clarifies a sometimes cloudy area within other texts on the subject.  Swatmarama states that he “offers light on hatha yoga” in order to make it easier for the “average person” to reach “raja yoga”, explaining that hatha yoga is always practiced as a precursor to other forms of yoga such as raja or kriya yoga (V3, p.29).

Once we are introduced to the aims of hatha yoga, the book is split into four chapters that outline the practices of purification that need to take place to awaken the vital energies made up of prana, chakras and kundalini shakti.   The four chapters cover the following: asana; shatkarma and pranayama; mudra and bandha; samadhi – the end product of hatha and raja yoga.  The first three, asana, shatkarma and pranayama are all performed to awaken sushumna nadi, (the central and only nadi of out of three by which kundalini can ascend – ida and pingala being the other two nadis).   They clear any blockages that might occur in the chakras and ensure a clear pathway for kundalini to ascend.  The mudras and bandhas are practiced to awaken kundalini once sushumna is clear, allowing kundalini clear passage to samadhi, the step beyond hatha yoga.

In V.17 p.67 Swatmarama reinforces that the starting point of hatha yoga is with asana.  Asanas enable the yogi to open up the energy channels within the body so that it is open for purification to take place.  The idea is that once the body can be controlled, so too can the mind.  Of 84 different asanas, Swatmarama has chosen four ‘essential’ asanas for achieving “a correct meditative posture”, (V.34, p.10), required if prana is to flow freely throughout the body and if ascent of kundalini is to be achieved.  Siddhasana is singled out as the most effective asana in purifying the nadis and balancing the flow of ida and pingala.

Recommendations that the “hatha yogi should live alone in a hermitage”, (p.40), remind us of when this text was written but the help of the English analogies we understand that by cultivating the right conditions in which we practice, we can improve the effectiveness of hatha yoga.

Chapter Two gives a fascinating insight into shatkarma that yogis can perform to purify their bodies in order for prana to flow freely. It is an example of the self discipline required if we are to succeed in achieving yoga.  Despite some shatkarma being extreme by today’s measures, it is important to appreciate the dedication of those who laid the foundations of the yoga that we know today.  This chapter also highlights the effects of the different practices of pranayama.  Whether we want to achieve a balancing, vitalising or calming effect, we can influence the levels of prana or Shakti within our bodies by controlling and retaining the breath which in turn stills the mind.  Prana is closely linked with mental activity, as discussed in V.2,p150, “When prana moves, chitta moves.  When prana is without movement, chitta is without movement.”

Chapter Three focuses on awakening kundalini, the cosmic energy within each of us, “Indeed, by the guru’s grace this sleeping kundalini is awakened, then all the lotuses (chakras) and knots (granthis) are opened.” (V.2 p.280).  The text then guides us through ten mudra or gestures that should be used to channel this cosmic energy within us, which according to the HYP can, “destroy old age and death”, (V7 p.287).  Mudras such as “khechari mudra” are not for the faint hearted, however, it is important to know their affects on opening the chakras and their ability to arouse a higher sense of consciousness. We are told kechari mudra is the ultimate mudra in connecting and controlling bindu, the seed of creation that leads to the realisation of Shiva and samadhi, (V54 p.330).

Uddiyana, Mula and Jalandhara bandha are highlighted as the three most important bandhas of Hatha yoga owed to their ability to control prana and apana in the body and to minimise nectar falling from the bindu.  It is now Swatmarama confirms the power of the physical combination of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha, saying it can induce a state of “spontaneous dhyana”, (V.76 p.360).

Swatmarama concludes HYP by explaining the stages of samadhi, described as a “timeless state beyond birth, death, beginning, end”, (p.467).  In V.80 p.577 we learn that shambavi mudra awakens the inner awareness and allows us to absorb the mind in one point of concentration.  At this point, we are working on a mental level and can tune into nada through mantra in order to hear the inner vibrations created by the union of Shiva and Shakti and thus reach laya yoga or samadhi.  As Swatmarama concludes in V.114, in order to experience samadhi, we must be practice under and be guided by the experiences of a guru in the belief that we too will one day experience what they have already experienced.

For me, HYP was a thought provoking and challenging read.  As hatha yoga provides a foundation to raja yoga, HYP seeks to add to the foundation of knowledge for yoga practitioners.  The book demonstrates the power of physical practice over the mind and is a reminder that, “the sleeping kundalini must be patiently aroused by devotion to daily yogic sadhana” (p.438).  Thus regardless of where we come to yoga, true union cannot be achieved without a loving commitment to daily practice.