"Reflections on 30 Years of Yoga Practice: Lessons, Growth, and Inner Transformation"
Embarking on a journey through three decades of yoga practice has been a profound and transformative experience. What started as a simple curiosity evolved into a lifelong exploration of self-discovery, mindfulness, and holistic well-being. As I reflect on these 30 years, I'm humbled by the invaluable lessons that yoga has imparted, shaping my physical, mental, social, and spiritual landscape.
30 years ago, my mother and I went into a used books store, where we found an old copy of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. We made monthly trips to the next town, armed with empty sacks of rice, we spent hours scourging mountains of books. Oh how I loved the smell of old books, I can still remember the owner of the shop, an old man with his glasses perched at the edge of his nose, we would offer me different titles for kids and teens. I was 14 and was reading Nabokov, Rushdie, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and the like. He didn’t approve and decided it was his job to protect me from inappropriate content. My mother on the other hand wanted me to read as much as possible, and always gave me the resources and support that have sustained my love for reading until now (my accountant was not amused when I sent her bills for 142 books that last year!)
Back to yoga, when we got home I opened the Mahabharata and immediately I was hooked. It took me 4 years to eventually finish the book. The next day I began my asana practice.
What have I learned in these 30 years? A difficult question to answer, because just like the many phases in my life, my yoga practice also has changed, evolved, and adapted to the situation in my life. My practice extends far beyond the confines of a physical mat. While postures and sequences are essential and have been indispensable tools, the true essence of my yoga lies in integrating its principles into my daily life. From mindful breathing during traffic jams to practicing compassion in interactions with the infamous unfriendliness of the Viennese, to deciding what I listen to, what I read, and what I consume, the yoga philosophy encourages me to live purposefully and harmoniously with my surroundings and all beings in it.
Yoga taught me that progress is a gradual journey. Just as some postures require time and patience to master, personal growth and self-awareness also unfold over time. Celebrating small victories and embracing setbacks as opportunities for growth became part of my yoga mindset.
My decades of practice emphasized the importance of conscious breathing, not only during asanas but also during moments of stress, anxiety, and contemplation. Mindful breathing anchors us to the present, offering solace and clarity amidst life's storms. It has heightened my body awareness, enabling me to recognize how emotions, stress, and experiences manifest physically. Tensions in my body often mirrored unresolved emotions. Viewing my body as a messenger helped me delve deeper into self-exploration, fostering healing and emotional release
Practicing and teaching alongside people from various backgrounds taught me that our common human experiences far outweigh our differences. Yoga transcends cultural and geographic boundaries, left and right, black and white, this and that, uniting diverse individuals on a shared journey. Embracing my imperfections and limitations taught me humility and self-compassion. Asanas taught me to find grace in my uniqueness and appreciate the journey without fixating on a picture-perfect destination. Flowing through postures with intention and presence deepened my mindfulness practice. It taught me that every moment, whether on the mat or in life, is an opportunity to be fully awake and alive.
In the quiet spaces between poses, I discovered the profound wisdom of stillness. Meditation and Savasana became moments of introspection, connection with the self, and an invitation to listen to the whispers of my heart. Amid life's demands, yoga emerged as a sanctuary of self-care. It provided a space to recharge, rejuvenate, and connect with my innermost needs. Prioritizing self-care through yoga became a vital aspect of maintaining balance and well-being.
These three decades of practice have instilled in me, that I will remain a lifelong student of yoga. Every practice, every encounter, and every insight is a chance to learn anew. This humbling reminder keeps my curiosity alive and my heart open to the ever-evolving path of yoga.
Now 30 years after I first opened the Mahabharata, I am opening my yoga studio, wherein together with my wonderful team, we hope to share whatever knowledge we have learned, however tiny. I hope that Manas Yoga will become a sanctuary of unity and acceptance of one’s self and others.
Ekagrata, Bliss, & Lasting Peace.
Since coming back from my holidays (more than a week ago) I was asked by not less the 10 people, „Erika where do you get your energy from?“ How are you seemingly able to do, everything at the same time?“
The simple and short answer is „Ekagrata“ or one-pointed attention. Here’s the catch, the attention is focused on the NOW, on the PRESENT moment.
Energy is in us all the time, it doesn’t come from food or something from the outside, external things can amplify, diminish, redirect, or alter our energies. But the simple truth is that energy is within each of us. We can say this because there are times when we are just so tired and dull and seemingly exhausted we get a call from a friend and an invite to go to walk in the forest or go dancing whatever suddenly we are energized and ready to go. I know this when I’m just tired and the house is a mess and when my mother-in-law tells me that she’s coming, in not even a second I get up and clean the house in half an hour, TOPS, something that I’ve been trying to accomplish for days already🤭
To be able to focus on the now and not waste energy by dwelling on the past, regretting, reminiscing, or not getting caught up in the future - fantasizing, and worrying is my way of directing my attention to all the things that I have to do now to that I get to where I want to be.
By planting a seed, watering it, tending it, removing weeds around it, and loving it, I allow the seedling to grow and root down deep into the heart of the earth. And as a result, it is solid and strong. this tree will weather violent storms because the roots are deep and firm. And when the time is ripe, I will be able to eat fruit the fruits of the tree.
This is Ekagrata.
In the same way, by focusing on Now I am able to experience life and live fully. This way I am able to get to know my Self more. I am attuned to the shifts in my inner body, my moods, my emotions, perceptions. I can see when my state is getting out of balance when I'm moving away from bliss – our natural state. And when I can see that I'm beginning to tilt to one side, I can maneuver and return to equanimity.
Why do I say that bliss is our natural state (and the original goal of yoga for that matter)? Because whenever we move away from happiness we do everything to go to it, to have this feeling again. This is our default, bliss, happiness, and peace if not, why do we risk everything in order to have these?
Here is where the problem comes in, we need to get back to the state of bliss again that we think we can find outside us, we buy the most expensive cars, eat the most opulent food, buy the most expensive gadget, self ourselves for likes and when the initial high of attaining these fades, we need to buy another car, go to another expensive restaurant buy the next iPhone. we identify we this thing and get addicted to the chase which makes us even more miserable.
How do we attain bliss? There are many ways, some dance, some walk in the forest, some listen to music, so swim.
I attain bliss by practicing yoga and not just on the mat, the asana practicing that I do is just a fraction of my whole yoga practice.
I come into a state of peace by studying Vedanta, doing this I recognize that
underlying the multiplicity and diversity of experience there is a single, infinite, and indivisible reality, whose nature is pure consciousness, from which all objects and selves derive. With this in mind, how can I be lonely? I can never feel sad when I know and one and the same with all beings. This is my foundation of lasting peace.
Join me and have lasting peace and bliss by getting to know yourself. Future classes at Manas Yoga and current classes at Retreat Vienna.
I'll see you on the mat!
The Caste System of India = The Racism of Today
India's caste system is among the world's oldest forms of surviving social stratification.
Manusmriti, widely regarded to be the most important and authoritative book on Hindu law and dating back to at least 1,000 years before Christ was born, "acknowledges and justifies the caste system as the basis of order and regularity of society".
The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories - Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.
At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and are believed to have come from Brahma's head. Then came the Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, supposedly from his arms. The third slot went to the Vaishyas, or the traders, who were created from his thighs. At the bottom of the heap were the Shudras, who came from Brahma's feet and did all the menial jobs.
The main castes were further divided into about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, each based on their specific occupation.
Outside of this Hindu caste system were the achhoots - the Dalits or the untouchables
For centuries, caste has dictated almost every aspect of Hindu religious and social life, with each group occupying a specific place in this complex hierarchy.
Rural communities have long been arranged on the basis of castes - the upper and lower castes almost always lived in segregated colonies, the water wells were not shared, Brahmins would not accept food or drink from the Shudras, and one could marry only within one's caste. The system bestowed many privileges on the upper castes while sanctioning repression of the lower castes by privileged groups.
Racism, just like a long-running play in our day-to-day lives, rises the curtain of an epic proportion, that has been playing for centuries. The actors wear the costume of their predecessors and inhibit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the character they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very beings, to merge the assignments with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world. These roles were handed out at birth and can never be changed. They cue everyone in the cast to the roles each character plays and to each character's place on the stage. Over the run of the show, the cast grows accustomed to who plays which part. Everyone knows who the lead role is, he's the center stage or the hero, who the supporting characters are, the sidekicks, and who is in the shadow, the undifferentiated chorus with no lines to speak, no voice to sing, but necessary for the production to work. The characters have stayed in their roles so long that they begin to believe that the roles they play are preordained, that each cast is best suited for their assigned roles, and that they belong there and were meant to be cast as they are currently seen. If they stick to their script and to the part they play, they get rewarded. If they veer from the script, they will face consequences. If they veer from the script, the other cast will remind them where they went off the script. Do it too often or at a critical moment and they may be fired, demoted, cast out, or the character may be conveniently killed off the plot.
But in reality, we are not the roles we play. When we are cast to the roles we are not ourselves. We're not supposed to be ourselves, we perform based on the production.
When teaching yoga, this is a very important aspect to see. Do you see the role you were given? Do you stick to the role? Are you
aware of and sensitive to ethical and cultural considerations that may affect the practice and experience of students? Do you recognize and respect the diversity of cultures and backgrounds of students who may come from different cultural or ethnic backgrounds? Are you mindful of the cultural significance of the practices you are teaching and avoid misrepresenting or appropriating these practices? What strategies do you implement
in order to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of their background or abilities?
I have been thinking of writing this for months, I just didn't want to sound like I'm preaching. I just want to hold the mirror to all of us yoga teachers so we can reflect on the roles we play and maybe by looking at ourselves, we get back to the very important principle of Bhava Karuna.
If you feel you need to talk about this, give me a quick line, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Manusmriti the Laws of Manu - Introduction: https://hinduwebsite.com/sacredscripts/hinduism/dharma/manusmriti.asp
Caste. The Origin of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
Attitudes About Caste: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/06/29/attitudes-about-caste/
Wheel of Vritti & Samskara
The wheel of Vritti and Samskara is the foundation of all yogic practices. Conceptually, this is a very simple concept to follow since it is correlated with our life experiences and reality.
The word Vritti comes from Sanskrit and means activity in our awareness. By extension, it includes all conscious experience naturally that comes from us anywhere for our body, breath, and mind. This means all thoughts, feelings, emotions, senses perceptions, memory, imagination - anything that we can experience consciously is, according to the Yoga Sutra of the sage Patanjali, called Vritti.
Its counterpart Samskara, is anything that we don't experience. Anything that is subconscious or unconscious is roughly termed Samskara. Sasmskara just like the word Sanskrit comes from the same root word "Samskrta" which means having gone samskara or is refined by samskara. So by definition, Samskrama means to process or refine by repetition.
Every conscious experience we have leaves behind, modifies, and changes the subconscious.
Every time we see something, there is an impression of seeing what is left behind. For example, ss I look at my monitor, I see it and it leaves a visual impression in my mind that I may or may not remember sometime in the future. This sight also has an emotional impressing to it, depending on the context, a positive one (I get to speak with my family abroad online) or a negative one (I need to finish my thesis). It is important to note thought that we are not starting from a blank slate. All of us already have patterns that we are constantly refining. This is the notion of Samskara –every conscious experience (Vritti) we have, write, rewrites, refine, and changes our subconscious (Samkara). Technically the subconscious is a collection of patterns, which determines our life experience.
For me, this is the most important framework of Yoga – we have the agency to change these patterns. All our conscious experiences which include concrete sensory experiences are not just abstract thoughts in words, not just cognition but are latent impressions just like a scar, they all have patterns.
Come to think of it, if we look clearly, we can see that there are some triggers (Alambana) that evoke experiences (Vritti) that bring about action (Karma). These actions (Karma) can either be pleasant (Sukkha) or unpleasant (Dukkha) which all leave an impression (Samskara) which again affects our experience, creating a cycle (Chakra). This operates from birth till death.
This cycle is something that we can change. Once we become conscious of it we have the ability to change that cycle. Of course, there are limits to what we can change, nonetheless, this is what the Yoga Sutra and Vyasa mean by waking up from the dream state.
And how do we interrupt this change? Patanjali suggests the practice of Kriya which consist of Tapas, Svadyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana.
More on Kriya in the next post, until then, wake up!
WHAT IS YOUR PATTERN?
The western view of anatomy sees the body as parts that are pieces together like Frankenstein. It’s inclined to cut things apart in section and label them. The Eastern view of the body is completely different, here the body is seen as a whole and as part of the whole universe. It is an integrated system centers on the principle on the formless principle of life. In yoga this channel is called the Nadi, in Thai massage the Sen lines and in TCM, the Meridians.
The meridian system is a continuous pathway that integrates the whole body, connecting every single cell of every organ to one intelligent Being.
The meridians are not separate from each other though they have individual identities. The life force and intelligence flows from one meridian into the next continuously. The meridians form a circuit or cycle through which the life-force (Qi or prana) flows and tranforms. If there is a blockage in one path-way, it will eventually affect all of the pathways and organs. On the quest for healing, it is helpful to find the original blockage, the most important meridian.
You can start wherever you are drawn, but it will be most effective and efficient if you start at the source. Make an effort to find the meridian where the original blockage occurred. Usually, you can identify this meridian because it will have the most symptoms along its pathway
A person will often have many issues related to one organ and along the same meridian.
Here are some symptoms for each organ-meridian pair:
Lung (LU) : Upper back pain, Sadness, fatigue, shortness of breath, rounded shoulders, thumb or radial wrist pain, skin problems, throat tension and sore-ness.
Large Intestine (LI): Acne, teeth and gum issues, depression, throat tension, clogged sinuses, constipation, anterior shoulder pain, neck and throat tension and soreness, index finger issues.
Stomach (ST): Hip flexor tension, constipation, ulcers, excess hunger, throat,tension, infections in throat/gums/sinuses, maxillary sinus tension or head-aches, abdominal tension, anterior knee pain, patellar pain, rapid thinking and worry, ADD/ADHD, TMJD, second toe issues, hammer toes, shin/Tibialis anterior tension.
Spleen (SP): Fatigue, heaviness, overall weakness, mental fog, hernia, hip flexor tenderness, bruising easily, low appetite, diarrhea or constipation, all over body tenderness, abdominal tenderness, puffiness and edema, medial knee pain, flat feet, bunions.
Heart (HT): Left shoulder/rotator cuff pain, left upper back pain, little finger pain or stiffness, anxiety, loneliness, heartbreak, feeling of being lost or purposeless, insomnia, dreaming, autoimmune issues.
Small Intestine (SI): Shoulder and neck pain and stiffness, rotator cuff injuries, ulnar wrist pain, little finger stiffness, anxiety, urinary problems, lower abdominal tension.
Bladder (BL): Spinal pain and stiffness in whole spine or parts of spine, plantar fasciitis, calf cramping and pain, hamstring tension, sacral pain, occipital headaches, exhaustion from over work, back of knee pain or weakness, spinal degeneration and disc problems, nerve problems, PTSD, fear, bone problems, paranoia.
Kidney (KI): Exhaustion, depression, infertility, low libido, hormonal problems, pelvic floor issues, fear, PTSD, hearing loss, old age, tension in navel, psoas tension, aching lower back and knees, puffiness and edema in lower body.
Pericardium (PC): Depression, hatred/grudges, social anxiety, panic attacks, wrist pain and tension, carpal tunnel syndrome, chest and shoulder tightness, right side upper to middle back pain, inability to connect with others, fullness in chest, inability to exhale fully.
Triple Heater (TH): Upper shoulder and side neck tension, jaw tension, defensiveness, Ear ringing, immune problems.
Gall Bladder (GB): Impatience, anger, risk-taking behavior, overall muscle tension, temporal headaches, jaw tension, hip tension, lower back tension, side neck and upper shoulder tension, tension and fullness in solar plexus, clicking and popping of joints due to tension, lateral ankle issues, 4th toe issues, right side, hypochondriac pain or tension on the right side.
Liver (LV): Mid back and lower back tension, pain on Iliac crest, Inner thigh and hip tension, rage, sexual frustration, excess libido, irritability, PMS, menstrual issues, endometriosis, sighing, yawning, burping, constipation, abdominal bloating, right side abdominal tension and pain, blurry vision, red eyes.
Source: Vaughan, E.R. ( 2020): The Pain Book.(ebook)
Emotional and Energetic Aspects of the Pelvic Floor
Beyond the purely physical realms of anatomy and movement, the pelvic floor plays an important role in our emotional and energetic health.
Muscles in all areas of our bodies, including the pelvic floor, have the potential to be affected by emotional forces. Pleasurable experiences and emotions tend to relax, energize, or expand us while non-pleasurable ones tend to make us tense up, contract, and perhaps depress us. Most of the time these reactions are transient, just as our experiences tend to be, and our muscles will return to a baseline range of function. If, however, the emotional impulse is strong enough or if it is present for a significant length of time, the potential arises for our muscular response to evolve into a chronic pattern which could eventually result in pain and dysfunction. Another factor to consider are the feelings we associate with the pelvic floor, as you will see below.
Our vitality depends on the generation and free flow of energy throughout our bodies. Though relatively new to Western science, this concept has been central to many Eastern practices and philosophies for thousands of years– think of the Meridian in the Daoist tradition and the concept of Bandha in yoga. The pelvic floor plays a fundamental role as both a key energy center and a nexus for many of these lines of energy. Excess tension and contraction in these muscles can result in the flow of energy being blocked or stuck, while significant weakness can result in an impaired ability to conserve energy. Either situation can lead to a decrease in our capacity to generate and maintain vitality.
There are many ways to become aware of, examine, and transform the emotional and energetic aspects of our pelvic floor, among them counseling, psychotherapy, breath work, meditation, martial arts, yoga, and self-directed personal exploration. Pelvic floor massage and bodywork can integrate well with any of these or stand on its own as a useful approach.
Aspects of our life's history, including emotions, can affect our pelvic floor even long after the events themselves. Stress can carry elements of fear or anger, for example, and when these translate into muscular tension, the areas affected are more closed off, are less able to feel, and are less able to generate pleasure. Psychotherapist Jack Morin puts it well when he says All of us have preferred places in our bodies where the fears, hurts, and worries of life are most readily expressed in muscular tension. In these hypersensitive zones old fears and hurts linger and fester..." . The tendency to tighten the pelvic floor is no accident. It is one of the central ways most individuals with pelvic pain, usually unconsciously, deal with the stresses of life. And yet especially when it arises, pelvic pain is perpetuated in an internal atmosphere of fear, anxiety, dread, resentment, and anger. These feelings are usually subterranean... and are usually invisible to others or even to one's self."
For some people, freedom in the hips evokes a hint of fear or shame. We are so accustomed to protecting and hiding the pelvic floor that releasing it can feel like exposure. For some, letting go and feeling open in the pelvic floor can be especially challenging because being "in control" often means holding on, repressing feelings, being uptight, and distancing themselves from their softer, more receptive sides. We have a term in the States – "tight-ass" – meaning a person that rigidifies his [pelvic floor] in this fashion frequently also suppresses his emotions, with overemphasized intellectual control.
From the physiological perspective through, the connection between the pelvic floor and our emotions can also be seen: the muscles that attach to the tailbone (coccyx) in humans are the three main pelvic floor muscles (Pubococcygeus, Iliococcygeus, and Ischiococcygeus) plus some fibers of the Gluteus Maximus. Humans are mammals, as are dogs for example, and these same muscles in dogs control their tail, enabling such actions as wagging, pointing, or pulling the tail between their legs. It is usually easy to tell a dog's emotional state by what its tail is doing. Though humans only have a vestigial tail, there is some evolutionary echo between the actions or state of these muscles and our emotions.
To be sure, the pelvic floor is capable of, and even designed for, experiencing a wide range of positive feelings and sensations. It has the capacity to be strong and robust, yet supple, open, and responsive, fulfilling its important role in the symphony of physical and emotional activities that characterize the interplay between mind and body.
You can learn more about the energetic and emotional aspects of the body's core, including the pelvic floor in most of my classes, especially my Meridian Yin Yoga class every Sundays.
ON TEACHING YOGA
It took me years of self-practice before I dared to do a Yoga Teacher Training and again years before I started teaching not because I didn’t like teaching or I was scared but because I have great respect for the craft. Teaching yoga is an enormous responsibility. For me, it means service - to other and to myself.
A teacher of Yoga should live a life of Yoga-to practice what is taught. There can be considerable confusion about this. To begin with, to live a life of Yoga is about continuous practice and self-study. This is not a question of style. Like all individuals, teachers of Yoga will exhibit every conceivable kind of personality, temperament, and human problems. They experience failed marriages, personal suffering, and stress. They do not all go around in Indian dress. Nor- despite what a lot of people seem to expect--are they always calm and serene. I've often been asked,
"Aren't Yoga teachers supposed to be free of emotions?" My response is simply,
"Take a look at my family!" I assure you that our house is as filled with all the emotional joys and storms of any other "normal" household.
A good teacher of Yoga also is not necessarily someone who can perform all manner of complicated asanas. In fact, some of the best teachers I know, because of physical problems, cannot even sit cross-legged comfortably. To live the life of Yoga, is about a faith that continuously guides the teacher toward practices leading to the harmony of body, mind, and spirit. From this it follows that the teacher must be motivated in part by self-interest- not selfishness but enlightened, generous, self-interest.
"Why do I teach?" My answer: "To find out what I know and what I don’t know.”
The bond between teacher and student is like a rope between two mountain climbers. The less experienced climber behind can ascend no further than the lead climber makes possible. I like this simile, because it also suggests the absolute bond of trust that must exist between the two. The more a teacher advances, the more he or she can give to the student. Even as a teacher is urged on by self-interest, his or her entire responsibility is to the student. The most fundamental commandment in my teaching is that only the student matters, and the teacher is there to help that individual evolve according to his or her own unique situation and potential. There is no standard, no conformity in this approach.
There is no will to bend a student toward the teacher's ideas or purpose.
The teacher is like a mirror, but unlike any that simply gives off a two-dimensional reflection. It is a mirror that reflects from all directions, through time, extending into relations with others and that reveals the action of the senses and emotions upon the mind.
The teacher must always speak the truth. This too must be understood fully. The truth spoken must never harm the student. It must be expressed according to the student's needs and ability to grasp the meaning. For example example I would not teach the Maha bandha to yoga beginner, it may not make sense to that person. The teacher must be acutely aware of what needs to be said and what it is possible for the student to hear.
Finally, and I think this is by far the most important, the teacher must care more about his student than himself. This is a matter of the heart, not of intellect. I know individuals with brilliant minds and enormous knowledge of Yoga but who cannot teach. Because the teaching is not in their hearts. This is not a harsh judgement because they are all well-meaning and they also have much to contribute. We are each unique which means that the caring so necessary to the teacher will not be the same in everyone.
For teachers, only the student matters. And the student is never wrong. The student is learning.
And so the qualities we seek in teachers are life devoted to practice, evidence that he or she, too is ever a student of Yoga, a nature that is always truthful, a commitment to the student's own awareness and possibilities, each in his own term.
And above all caring.
WHAT IS UJJAYI BREATHING?
Yoga practice, like life itself, begins with the breath.
Breath provides an endless, all-pervading background, a continuous ebb and flow of sound and perception that unifies, sustains, and informs us on the physical, mental, and emotional levels. Prana is the life giving energy that is carried by the breath. We experience it as a vibratory quality of pure sensation and perception within every nook and cranny of the body.
It is often referred to as "life breath," or the immediately distinguished characteristic of sensations, in particular the awareness of touch- what you feel within your body as the tissues expand and contract.
In the Astanga Vinyasa system of yoga, breath is the foundation for the internal forms of the practice. We begin with ujjayi (Sanskrit for victorious) breathing, which serves as the basis for practice whether you're a beginner or an advanced practitioner. In fact, Astanga Vinyasa yoga is just this: ujjayi breathing with movement tossed in. More advanced practitioners can also learn Ujjayi Pranayâma, which is a very concentrated form of ujjayi breathing and in which there is breath retention and complete internal focus.
To learn what ujjayi breathing is, sit really straight so the belly is happy and not compressed. Bring your awareness internally. Imagine the central line of the body as vividly as possible like an imaginary plumb line running from the crown of the head down through the middle of the chest and abdomen, through the center of the pelvic floor, all the way down to the earth's core. The plumb line serves as a reference point for balance and stability within the body and may also be imagined as any stabilizing factor within the body's core, say as breath, a shaft of light, or a pattern of energy. To establish the ujjayi breath, imagine that the heart floats on this central axis like a lotus flower floats in a pool of still water. The base of the plumb line is stabilized as the sitting bones, coccyx, and pubic bone drop, causing the pelvic floor muscles to tone. If you are grounded through the root of the body this way and the heart area feels free and open, then breathing is easy. If you are disconnected at any point along that central line-if the heart is constricted, tense, or closed, or if the pelvic floor is asleep-then ujjayi breathing is not happening.
Keeping the lips lightly closed, simply begin to breathe in and out. By closing your lips, the breath moves through the nose, and the mind can focus more clearly. At this point, the eyes become steady in dhrsti (gazing).
This automatically releases the palate and softens the tongue, so it is easy to focus on sensations in the mouth and the stream of breath going in and out through the nostrils. The waves of the breath start the process of alignment, which is merely the intelligence waking up in the center of the body. Just keep listening, allowing the breath to unfold.
Ujjayi breath is characterized by a sound that results from closing the vocal cords a tiny bit while continuing to keep the tongue quiet and the lips softly closed. The breath makes a soft aspirate sound as you both INHALE and EXHALE. It sounds almost as if you were whispering the word ah with lips closed. Whispers are intimate, when you whisper to someone, you usually do not shout, ujjayi has the same intimate quality, you are whispering to yourself, your beloved.
We do this kind of breathing in order for us to observe the breathing easier.Listen to the sound and strength of the breath- it should be smooth, easy and even. During the asana practice, having established the form, flow and sound of ujjaiyi, we learn to move in conjunction with the breath. We inhale during expansive movements – they are expanding uplifting moving up. Exhales are grounding – contracting and allows us to root down towards the earth.
With practice, the pattern of breath and movement becomes intuitive and the effects are astonishing. As we move in and out poses in union with the breath, we may experience a sense of seamlessly joining our inner world of experiences with the external world of perception and our interaction with others. The practice becomes meditative, bringing us closer to samadhi.
The Four Paths of Yoga
Yoga is one of the six Darsana – the six philosophies in India – based on the Vedas. Yoga philosophy is a sister philosophy to Samkhya. It aims to purify the heart, mind and body of a human being, allowing for freedom from suffering and the union of the individual Self (the Atman) with the universal Self (the Brahman). Within this system of yoga are four major schools or paths, here we see that yoga acknowledges that different people have different personalities and ways of thinking; what works for one human being may not work for another. For this reason, there exists these four paths or school of yoga. These are Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga.
The first three schools of yoga were explained by Lord Krishna to Arjuna just before the start of the epic battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the Bhagavad Gita.
The last by the Maharsi Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra.
The first school of yoga, Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge, this is a kind of yoga that is appropriate for people who are naturally philosophical, naturally seeking to understand very deeply how things work. How the world around them works and how they themselves function in relation to the world around them, what they're made up of and trying to go deep down to the very nature of life. Going to the smallest possible parts of understanding everything down to the smallest details. This kind of yogis also like to study classical texts – the Upanishads, the Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Yoga Sutra, etc. If you are the kind of person who finds realization, understating, and peace through study – studying with a teacher, reading, philosophizing, asking questions, interpreting text or learning new things every day, then you may be a Jnana yogi. The two main qualities or qualifications for Jnana Yoga are known as viveka and vairagya. Viveka is translated as discernment, discernment relating to the knowledge of the Self, discerning between the real and the unreal, between the Self and the non-Self. The second quality Vairagya can be loosely translated as non-attachment or non-identification. Having the ability to subdue excitement, passion, attachment to the Self and the component of the Self – the mind, the senses, the feeling, emotions, our narrative, our stories, the identity that we have formed for ourselves over the years.
Bhakti Yoga is devotional yoga. It is the path of love. It is a yoga of divine worship, divine love. Seeing God in everything, seeing unconditional love in everyone and seeing everyone as divine. Ram Dass can be seen as a Bhakti yogi, he used to say that we are all gods, gods in drag. You may be a bhakti yogi if you are person who finds realization, peace and truth through worship or prayer. Maybe the most power practice you have ever experienced is group chanting, kirtan, or you cherish creating an altar or having a guru or a person or a divine that you worship to, that you can draw inspiration from. Bhakti yoga is an ancient school of yoga, it was even mentioned in the Upanishad in the context of participation, devotion and love in any activity. In the Upanishads, anything that is done with devotion and conscious worship and seeing everything as the divine is Bhakti yoga.
The third school, Karma Yoga, the yoga of Action. According to Lord Krishna, karma yoga is the spiritual practice of selfless action performed for the benefit of others. Karma yoga teaches that a practitioner or a spiritual seeker should act according to dharma without being attached whatsoever to the fruits of their actions or essentially to the personal consequences of their actions. It is said that karma yoga is best suited for people who are naturally extroverted, people who have enhanced interpersonal skills, people who are naturally active, dynamic and outgoing, they have a way with dealing with others. These types of people may find freedom from ignorance through work with other, though their selfless social service. You may be a karma yogi when you find that what you enjoy most in the world is connecting with others, being able to uplift, help or change a perspective for other, hold events for people and you know you are a karma yogi when you do these without any thought to what you may gain or how this will benefit you, you may be a karma yogi if this is true for you.
The last of path to yoga is Raja Yoga. Raja is Sanskrit for royal, high or majestic. This kind of yoga has been defined differently throughout history, now it is most closely associated with Ashtanga Yoga not the asana practice from Mysore but the eight-limbed path as described by the Maharasi Patanjali. This school of yoga is well-suited for people who are naturally meditative, more contemplative and are able to reach the states of pratyahara, dharana, dhayana and eventually Samadhi. Raja yoga, the eight-limbed path gives us clear steps to access union between the object of meditation and the subject, the observer and the observed, so eventually they come together and become united. It is said that this kind of yoga is best suited for people with a desire to achieve this systemic meditative and contemplative states.
You may feel that you like the combination of some or even all of these schools of yoga, either way it’s nice to know a bit of background. Since there are many ways of practicing yoga, gradually the interest in one path will lead to another. It could be that you begin by studying the Yoga Sutra or by meditating, or you may begin with practicing asanas and so start to understand yoga through the experience of the physical body, or maybe you begin with pranayama, feeling the breath as the movement of your inner being. There are no prescriptions regarding where and how we can begin our practice. We begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens. Whether we begin studying yoga by means of asana, pranayama, meditation or by reading ancient texts, the way we learn is the same. We progress, the more we become aware of the holistic nature of our beings, that we are made of body, breath, mind and more.
To me, the different paths of yoga are like a forest with different trees, filled with variety and color, the trees may look different from each other and they grow at different speed, but all them have one goal; to reach towards the light. One tree's method is not better than the other.
Each species has individual characteristics which enable it to grow to its greatest potential. The various yogic systems are unique, yet all have the same purpose: to grow toward enlightenment. When practiced with regulation and awareness, the tree sprouts. Practice is the only way of feeding it. Pattabhi Jois is fond of saying, "99% Practice and 1% Theory. As I get older I begin to appreciate this quote more.
You may notice that Hatha yoga is not included in paths of yoga, since it is not an official path or school of yoga within in the yoga philosophy. Nowadays, hatha yoga is associated with the postural practices, I’ll do another blog about hatha since there seems to be a lot of confusion there.
Have a beautiful day!
WHAT IS YOGA THERAPY?
Yoga Therapy simply explained is a form of comprehensive and integrative working model to address all aspects of health and well-being – both for maintaining health and resolving conditions of ill health. Traditionally, it combines Yoga and Ayurveda – my style of Yoga Therapy includes the former two, Meridian Acupressure Therapy, Myofascial Release, CBT, and Mindfulness. The basis of this model explains how six factors – diet, environment, lifestyle, Asana, Pranayama and CBT – can be used to restore balance to both body and mind.
The focus is salutogenesis, the process of becoming healthy and whole on the multiple layers of the human system.
Yoga deals primarily with the mind. It explains in great details how we can increase our metal balance and clarity. Much confusion in the field of Yoga arises from considering the form of an Asana as the goal – to be an end in itself. This belief is usually based on the assumption that a particular body position confers some mystical or occult belief. This assumption in turn stems from a literal interpretation of ancient yoga texts, many of which describe the final form of various Asanas and the benefits they confer. The cause-effect relationship between the Asana and their benefits, and the nature of the benefits itself, are not defined in terms of modern medical science in the ancient yogic texts. In truth, the cornerstone of the approach of yoga is the model of the three Gunas (see blog below: What are the Maha Gunas?).
Ayurveda on the other hand, is concerned mainly with how to maintain and restore balance in the quantities and functions of the body. For this, it uses the model of the five elements and the model of the three Doshas (see blog below: What is Tridosha?). It explains how food and environment affect the qualities and functions in the body on the basis of these two models.
Although Yoga does not explain the effects of food and environment on the body and mind in detail, it does suggest broad guidelines for a healthy diet and lifestyle, based on the same model that Ayurveda uses.
Similarly, Ayurveda focuses on healing the body, but it also deals with the treatment of psychological disorders using the same model of the three Gunas that yoga does.
The approach that I do in my Yoga Therapy Treatment draws on the knowledge contained within several ancient text – the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the Caraka-Samhita, Yoga Yajnavalkya, Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Rahasya– my education and training in Psycholgy and Psychotherapy, the Myofascial Meridian, Nuad, Mindfulness and Functional Anatomy.
Health is a balance between the various structures and systems in the body and its qualities and functions. Yoga and Ayurveda suggest that Sattva is the human's natural state. It is the goal of Yoga therapy to keep this natural sattvic state by balancing the Rajas and the Tamas in our lives.
Learn more about Yoga Therapy and how to develop and keep a balanced and healthy body and mind. Book a free Yoga Therapy consultation below.
WHAT IS ASANA?
When people say they practice yoga, most of them refer to fact that they practice some form of Asana. So, what is asana?
Asana can have different definitions depending on whom, when or where we ask the question. It can have a vast array of meanings depending on the context.
However, from the yogic context, Asana means a posture that can be a held comfortably for a sustained amount of time which can be used for meditation, and comes from the Sanskrit word “asan” meaning “seat.” This definition comes for the Yoga Sutra of the Sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutra is a compilation of 196 Aphorisms about 2500 years ago by the Sage Patanjali.
This was after Yoga has been practiced in India for thousands of years.
In Sutra 2.46, Patanjali writes, “Sthira sukhamasanam.” (Sthira meaning steady or stable; sukham meaning comfortable, joyous or pleasant; and asanam posture or sitting without interruption.) From this, we can see the qualities of an Asana.
An Asana is a posture that is joyous, comfortable and steady. When we say steady, we usually mean something that is unmoving, that doesn’t fluctuate or predictable. Something that is comfortable has a quality of peace, without concerns.
So according to Patanjali, a yogic posture is steady and comfortable, that is peaceful and that brings joy us to the yoga practitioner .
In order to have a more rounded definition of Asana, it’s also important to know the goal of a yoga practice. When we look at the 8 limbs of Yoga, also from the Sage Patanjali, the physical practice or Asana was primarily designed to facilitate the understanding and complete mastery of the mind.
In fact, the original goal is liberation, enlightenment and self-realization.
So having a posture that is steady and comfortable and developing the ability to be still and equanimous so that we can be liberated is the goal of Yoga. Therefore, for a practice that is in accordance with the teaching of yoga, it must have the intention of leading towards self-realization and liberation.
What this means is that every time we step on the mat, the goal and purpose is to free ourselves fully with the help of Asana.
When we practice and we get stronger and get healthier and the pains are alleviated, this is wonderful thing but in order to have a deeper yogic practice, to keep the original goal of knowing the Self and thereby attaining liberation we have to keep the original goal of the practice in mind.
Goals of being able to touch the toes, of putting the foot behind the head or doing a headstand, are wonderful but we have to remember that they are only secondary goals.
I think it a good habit to remind ourselves of this original goal.
The Sage Patanjali himself did not mention any Asana, but according to the Shiva legend, there are 8.4 million different Asanas, one for each person that was alive at that time. From these, Lord Shiva chose 84 Asanas to teach mortals (pretty cool, if you ask me :)). Most of the Asanas that we practice today are variations of these classic 84 Asanas.
Asanas allow us to connect deeply to our inner bodies, whenever we step on the mat we to honor and cherish our own connecting with it, we cherish and honour the aliveness of our bodies. And because we recognize this profound aliveness in ourselves, we are then able to – even when we step off the mat, off the "Asana" – to continue to recognize this profound connection to the Earth and to all Being everywhere. We realize that we are, in fact, inseparable. There is nothing is external to anything. We are all interconnected.
Asana performed with the original intention of self-realization can truly teach us of the deep connection to our bodies, to our Selves and to the world around us, and eventually the individual Self sorts of dissolves and we begin to feel one with all Beings.
Every time we step on the mat which the goal of self-realization, we plant seeds that will grow eventual to liberation. This is without a doubt.
So every time you step on the mat, remember that the posture is steady, joyous, comfortable and equanimous.
Practice with me, together let us walk the path to liberation and self-realization. Check out the schedule to join in of my classes.
12 Tips for a Healthy Sleep
1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. As creatures of habit, people have a hard time adjusting to changes in sleep patterns. Sleeping later on weekends won't fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week and will make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning. Set an alarm for bedtime. Often we set an alarm for when it's time to wake up but fail to do so for when it's time to go to sleep. If there is only one piece of advice you remember and take from these twelve tips, this should be it.
2. Exercise is great, but not too late in the day. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas, and chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and its effects can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully. Therefore, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing smokers to sleep only very lightly. In addition, smokers often wake up too early in the morning because of nicotine withdrawal.
4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Having a nightcap or alcoholic beverage before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep. Heavy alcohol ingestion also may contribute to impairment in breathing at night.
You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay, but a large meal can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep. Drinking too much fluid at night can cause frequent awakenings to urinate.
6. If possible, avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns. If you have trouble sleeping talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to see whether any drugs you're taking might be contributing to your insomnia and ask whether they can be taken at other times during the day or early in the evening.
7. Don't take naps after 3 p.m. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
8. Relax before bed. Don't over-schedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, meditation or a restorative yoga should be part of your bedtime ritual.
9. Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after getting out of the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help you relax and slow down so you're more ready to sleep.
10. Dark bedroom, cool bedroom, gadget-free bedroom. Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. You sleep better if the temperature in the room is kept on the cool side. A TV, cell phone, or computer in the bedroom can be a distraction and deprive you of needed sleep. Having a comfortable mattress and pillow can help promote a good night's sleep. Individuals who have insomnia often watch the clock. Turn the clock's face out of view so you don't worry about the time while trying to fall asleep.
11. Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least thirty minutes each day, If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend that, if you have problems falling asleep, you should get an hour of exposure to morning sunlight and turn down the lights before bedtime.
12. Don't lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than twenty minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
The most effective behavioral method for improving sleep , if you are suffering from insomnia is called the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia or CBT-I. If you need support in this field, I can provide you a bespoke set of techniques intended to break bad sleep habit and address anxiety patterns that may have been inhibiting your sleep. My Yoga therapy builds on CBT-I and the basic sleep hygiene and is supplemented by methods that are individualized for your needs and lifestyle.
Restorative Yoga: The Next best thing to a Healthy Sleep
Emerging from research of more than two decades, an unequivocal message: Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brains and body health. Together with balance diet and exercise, sleep form the holy trinity of health. Through explosive discoveries, we have come to realize that evolution did not make a spectacular blunder in conceiving sleep as sleep dispenses a multitude of health-ensuing benefits.
Within the brain, sleep enriches a diversity of function, including our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices. It recalibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate next day social and psychological challenges with a cool-headed composure. Even dreaming provides a unique set of benefits to all species fortunate enough to experience it, among these are consoling neurochemical bath that mollifies painful memories and a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge which inspires creativity.
Downstairs in out bodies, sleep restocks the armory of our immune system, preventing infection and warding off all manners of sickness. Sleep reforms the body's metabolic state by fine-tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose. Sleep further regulates our appetite, helping control body weight through healthy food selection rather than rash impulsivity. Adequate sleep maintain a flourishing microbiome within your gut from which we know so much of our nutritional health begins. Sleep is also intimately tied to the fitness of our cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure while helping keep our hearts infien condition.
Sadly human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves without legitimate gain, so much so that the Center for Disease Control declared insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic. It is not a coincidence that countries where sleep time has declined most dramatically over the past century such as US, Japan, South Korea and the UK, and several in western Europe are also suffering the greatest physical and mental disorder related to insufficient sleep.
Fortunately if you are one of these people who are deprived of adequate sleep for whatever reason, you can join a restorative yoga class which is the closes thing you can get to a good night's sleep. The biggest benefit of practicing restorative yoga is the opportunity for your nervous system to switch over from the ‘fight or flight’ stress response to the ‘rest and digest’ relaxation response. When restorative yoga is done right, it can facilitate a deeper rest than sleep. What happens is almost the equivalent to REM sleep, but when we sleep, we dream and can experience anxiety. It’s not necessarily always a quality time of rest.
In order to fully relax, we need to feel supported, both physically and mentally. We prop up in restorative yoga, particularly at the joints, to give the body this experience of full support. Another important factor is the presence of the teacher, which offers another level of support.
Walker, M. (2017): Why we sleep. Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Scribner: New York
Lasater, J.H. (1995): Relax and renew. Restful yoga for stressful times. Rodmell Press book: Boulder.
Loneliness is borne out of the feeling of separation; there is me and the others. Especially in this time of social media, we are constantly seeing other peoples' lives or what they choose to share of their lives and this adds to the overall feeling of being separate, disconnected, alienated. Even though we are seemingly connected through social media, technology and our devices, a feeling of loneliness can persist.
While common definitions of loneliness describe it as a state of solitude or being alone, loneliness is actually a state of mind. Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people. One can be surrounded by people and still be extremely lonely.
Solitude on the other hand is voluntary and welcomed something like a yoga retreat. People who enjoy spending time by themselves continue to maintain positive social relationships that they can return to when they crave connection. They still spend time with others, but these interactions are balanced with periods of time alone. This requires a certain level of the ultimate of relationship which is the connection with the Self. This can be quite challenging. Since loneliness is a symptom of the illusion of being separate or the lack of awareness to connection, we really ought to look at what connection is and how we can be connected.
Connection is something that is natural and inevitable. We do not have to try connect with anything or anyone, the one thing that hinders this is the idea, this notion in the mind that say “I am a separate, lone being, that I am not connected.” This is of course not true because innately connected to everything. Even in our very bodies are connected to the plants, the Earth, the sun, our Ancestors. If we contemplate the physical bodies alone – the Annamayakosha – we are made of the food that we eat. The food that we eat is made up of plants, of earth, of water, of air, so if we really think about it we are made of all these elements, we are not different and separate from these, we are one and the same. It is hard to feel lonely when we sit with that knowledge. So, loneliness is really a lack of knowing about our connection to everything and everyone.
Because we are alive, we are interconnected with life, the whole universe. From this basic understanding we can then go the need for human connection. Everyone has a need to be connected to other. Need implies that there is something missing. It could be mental, emotional, it could be physical. Most of the time it is an energetic need, we need a certain type of energy that makes us feel more complete, more balance or alive, which is something that is completely natural. The first to do when this need arises to become aware of this need, to watch it, and observe it, to let it live in the spaciousness of our awareness. If we are able to practice this awareness of the innate interconnection with all life, we are then able to feel that we are in fact already part of this life, this universe. Then we are also able to give space to watching our more human needs and accept them, not identifying with the need itself but rather being the observer of the needs and desires as they arise. With observation comes acceptance, when we are to accept that we have certain human needs, maybe it be a mental connection – e-g- having a stimulation conversation – emotional a loving friendship – physical connection – wanting a partner – or a combination of three, Whatever it is, when we are able to just watch those needs and to know that they are there and that they are normal and that this is part of being a human being which out being consumed by them, an energetic transformation happens in the body.
Firstly, we feel this connection to our Self more intensely and the loneliness subsides, since the perspective has transformed. From this we can take actions that are not driven by fear or compulsion or comparison. Actions that are based on our connection to ourselves, to the universe and with all beings. Healthy desire of connection to other persons, this way we are more understanding and we listen more to others. Connections that are not needing – something that people can sense and nobody like this kind of unpleasant connection.
When we have this connection to ourselves, connection to other beings is automatic, it is natural, we do not have to try. In fact, people will enjoy connecting with us, people other will sense that you are someone that really listens and understand. That we are not having too many expectations. We do not project neediness or fearfulness.
The key to connection with others is to connect internally first, once we see this connection with the Self, this ability is extended outwards to others.
A consistent yoga practice is a great way to connect with the Self – the body, thoughts, emotions , feelings– and by connection, I mean you are able to be aware and accept the Self and this natural connection to everything and everyone. Accepting what is with complete compassion and loving kindness.
Join me in getting to know the Self and find deep and lasting connection to others.
Join my coming Yoga and Meditation Retreat here.
The Foundation that Yoga builds
I always thought of myself as a fairly athletic person, I was part of the school athletics team, I was running 50 and 100 meters dash, also 400 and 800 meters race. I also did long jumps and high jumps inter states tournaments. So I was fairy fit, I was fourteen. I thought. But my first yoga class? That was impossible. I struggled, dripped sweat all over my mat, and cursed inside my head. It was physically demanding, and I was too worried about my quivering thighs and that acrobatic person on my left to feel any sense of calm.
But during the last five minutes of class, when I was lying on my back in the final resting pose, I finally understood. Suddenly, my body relaxed. All the thoughts that were running through my head evaporated. Everything I had been fretting about disappeared. And I wondered: If I'm feeling this good after my very first try, what will happen if I keep coming back?
I went back to yoga the very next day, and the next day after that, I was hooked. I continued to experiment with different yoga styles and developed my own yoga practice. Over time that feeling I had at the end of my first class became more and more present in my daily life. And while that might sound all hippy-dippy, I promise you it’s not. Yoga is about feeling good and making all places in your life that seem dark, bright and light. This is what yoga has provided to me over the years, and it’s the reason I decided to become a yoga teacher.
I’ve been practicing yoga ever since. My students have met with me at small studios, in hospitals and exclusive gyms. I’ve instructed corporate clients and hundreds of others on parks or at the beach. People of all shapes, sizes, and experience levels show up for my classes, and I lead them through a sequence of healthy, safe, mindful poses.
Some of my students show up to become enlightened, or at least less stressed. Others practice yoga to fit into their skinny jeans. Regardless of why someone practices yoga, I make it my mission to impart everything I know in a fun and approachable way. Sometimes we rock out to Metallica. Other times we practice yoga in complete silence.
Whether you want to learn the physical poses or you simply want to understand the philosophy behind the practice, you will find it all in my Basic Yoga Class. In the Basic Yoga class you'll begin to build the foundation of own practice and I’m super excited to be your guide. As I say at the beginning of my classes, “This practice is all about you, so let’s explore how yoga can fit into your life.”
WHAT IS TRIDOSHA?
As prana manifests in the physical body, it moves in different ways in different people depending on all of life's circumstances. In ayurveda the manifestation of prana in the body is described by the energetic interplay of the universal elements: air, fire, water, earth, and ether. The elements give us several qualities, from hot to cold, dry to wet, light to heavy, hard to soft, as well as functional tendencies such as grounded or floating, spacious or constrained. How these elements interact creates patterns in three expressions of prana in the physical body called doshas which is Sanskrit for deviations. The three main doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which together comprise the Tridoshas. All processes in the physical body are governed by the balance of doshas. One dosha tends to be dominant in an individual, giving him or her a specific doshic constitution. Sometimes two are equally present, or when all three are in balance one's constitution is described as "tridoshic." Ayurveda provides a science of the body that is largely predicated on looking at individuals through the prism of their doshic constitution. It is in the combination of the basic elements that the doshas are determined:
• Vata, similar to vayu, arises from the combination of air and ether, creating the subtle energy of movement in the mind and body. It governs breathing, the flow of blood, muscle and tissue movement, even the movement of thoughts in the mind. In activating the nervous system, when Vata is in good balance it is a source of creativity, enthusiasm, and flexibility. With excessive Vata one becomes fearful, worrisome, and prone to insomnia.
• Pitta arises from fire (and some air, as fire requires air), creating the heat that governs digestion, absorption, metabolism, and transformation in the body and mind. Put differently, heat in the body is the product of metabolic activity, thus placing this process under Pitta. In balance, pitta is a source of intelligence and understanding, helping us discriminate between right and wrong. Excessive Pitta lends to anger and hatred.
• Formed from earth and water, Kapha creates the body's physical structure-bones, muscles, tendons and cements the body together. Kapha supplies the body with water, lubricating the joints, moisturizing the skin, reinforcing the body's resistances, helping to heal wounds and give biological strength. Associated with emotions, Kapha is expressed as love, compassion, and calmness. Out of balance, it creates lethargy, attachment, and envy.
The relative constitution of the balance of doshas is affected by diet and lifestyle. Ayurvedic doctors give advice and treatments to help cultivate doshic balance. Yoga is one important part of balancing the doshas. There is an expanding literature on how to adapt one's yoga practice for doshas, which can be tricky given the diversity of doshic types in most classes.
Vata types-filled with air, tending toward being dry and cold, flexible when young but typically stiff and prone to arthritis later in life- they benefit from exploring poses more gradually and steadily, moving very slowly through their Sun Salutations, focusing more on grounding in standing and balancing poses, and lingering longer than most in deep asanas as we do in yin yoga classes. Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) emphasizing the right nostril in the morning for energy and warmth and the left at night to promote calm and sleep should be done in a gentle and grounding way.
Pittas tend to push hard and gravitate toward hot, vigorous practices. In cultivating balance, Pittas benefit from letting go of their competitive tendencies, tapping into asana as a cooling, nurturing, and relaxing practice like a restorative yoga class. Rather than moving quickly into the next pose, the Pitta student benefits from a longer pause, especially after strong sequences, being mindful of relaxing and letting go of tension.
Rather than going for the hot and sweaty practice, pittas are better advised to go slow and learn to relax deeply by moving more slowly and consciously in their practice. Cooling pranayamas such as Sitali can help with further balancing, allowing them to come away from the practice with a calmer, clearer mind and a lighter, more relaxed body.
Kaphas, inclined as they are to lethargy and heaviness of movement, benefit most from a warming and flowing practice to stimulate their metabolism and circulation. Starting practice with a warming pranayama such as Kapalabhati helps Kaphas get their energy up for the asanas. Starting with simple flowing sequences to further warm the body and keep energy flowing, Kaphas benefit from moving into sustained asana sequences requiring (and thereby cultivating) strength and stamina. Standing pose sequences that involve heart-opening variations benefit Kaphas by further stimulating circulation and the movement of mucus. Sustained backbending sequences further stimulate circulation and the movement of energy in the chest and head, lending to more balanced energy and a clearer, more active mind. A good way to start a practice like this is to join a basic yoga class.
Like the Maha Gunas and the Pancha Kosha, by adapting the principles of the Tridosha in our practice we become aware of the subtle energies in your body. This lead us to be conscious of the shifts and movement of our inner bodies.
Stephens, M. (1958): Teaching Yoga: Essentials foundation and techniques. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Chow, K.T. / Moody, E. (2006): Yoga Therapy for your body type. An Ayurvedic tradition. Rochester: Healing Arts Press.
WHAT IS THE PANCHA KOSHA?
An overearching concept in subtle anatomy is that the energy of each embodied being is contained in a set of five interrelated sheaths, or koshas, that define the three "bodies." The word “pancha” is Sanskrit for five and “kosha” can be translated as sheathes or layers. First mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the kosha model helps to map the inner journey of yoga. These five sheaths are called; Annamayakosha, Pranamayakosha, Manomayakosha Vijnanamayakosha and Anandamayakosha.
Starting on the periphery of the physical body and moving toward the core of your being as an embodied soul, the koshas are not a literal anatomical model of the body but rather is a metaphor that helps describe what it feels like to do yoga from the inside – the process of aligning what in contemporary language we often call the body-breath-mind connection. Using this typology to conceptualize the nature of being, yoga helps bring the body breath, mind, wisdom, and spirit (bliss) into harmony. Existing as an energetic whole, all aspects of all Five sheaths are simultaneously present, interwoven tike a tapestry. Yogasana is a means for becoming consciously aware of this interwoven fabric of existence, connecting the physical and subtle bodies, bringing awareness more and more to a place of blissful being.
Annamayakosha is the first sheath, it is made up of the physical form, it is the one that we can see, named for the fact that it is nourished by food (anna is Sanskrit for food). In Hatha yoga this is where our practice could begin (e.g., yogasana or ayurveda) by exploring our physical bodies. But this is just the beginning, since this is the dimension of existence in which we experience the combination of energy and consciousness, even if we are not yet conscious of this interconnection.
The Pranamayakosha or energy sheath (prana is Sanskrit for energy), that connects the physical body with more subtle koshas. Composed of prana – the vital life force that pervades the being, it is physically manifested by the constant flow and movement of breath. This includes also the pathways of the body (nadis) which transport prana and certain junctions (chakras) in the body wherein the nadis spirals and rises along the spine.
Beyond the energy sheath is the Manomayakosha which comes from the Sanskrit “mano” loosely translated as mind. As we move inwards, these dimensions become more subtle. This is the dimension of thoughts, our identity, our personality, our sense of self and all the identifications that we form.
More subtle than the mind sheath is the Vijnanamaya is the sheath wisdom, or I like to think of it as the sheath discernment – the ability to question or wonder about the nature of who we are. As the sheath goes deeper and deeper in its layer, we come closer and closer to the truth of our being. Here we begin to begin the disidentification to our body and mind. By practicing yoga, we stimulate this part of our selves which is under the veil of the vijnanamayakosha.
The final and even deeper than the vijnanamyakosha is the Anandamayakosha. Ananda meaning bliss is the very end of the sheath and is a direct continuation of the “Atman” which is our true self, the formless, the deathless, the one that is beyond form or age or thought. It is the consciousness tha is always there, that always has been and always will be – even when the mind, sense and the body are sleeping. In the Upanishads this is known as the “karana sharira.”
When we have an awareness of the kosha, we begin to notice where we hold identification with these sheaths. With this awareness we can begin to question ourselves “Am I identifying with a certain body part? Am I holding onto a specific kind of energy or am I expecting a certain kind of energy? Where is my identification with my mind? Since we all hold a certain identification with our thinking, our upbringing, our families, traditions, our culture etc. It’s good to have our personality, our background, and our family culture, however it is very limiting. To be able to step past the mind sheath and go into the discernment sheath is where most of our work is. By investigating, we begin to get closer and closer to our true nature, to our Atman.
Join me in this life journey to transformation, liberation and light. Practice yoga with me in groups or one-on-one.
What are the Maha Gunas?
In Samkhaya, one of the six classical school of Indian philosophy – Vaishesika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa and Vedanta or Uttara Mimansa – the universe is divided into purusha or consciousness and prakriti or nature/matter. All Prakriti consist of the three energetic qualities known as the Maha Gunas. In living things these describes the natural tendencies of the mind and emotions that are the expression of the manomayakosha and vijnamayakosha. The unique expression of the gunas in each being gives him his identity. The three Gunas are ever in dynamic interaction with each other, one gaining dominance and then receding, collapsing into each other, always trying maintaining the overall balance. If we observe the Universe carefully, we will see the gunas in action all around us, the creation, sustaining, and the dissolution of all things living and nonliving, relationships, dreams, activities, everything rises, plays its life out, and then dissolves. This principle is a useful tool in analyzing and understanding the patterns of our thoughts and emotions, with direct application in our daily lives.
The three gunas are Raja, Sattva and Tamas:
Driven by desire, Raja revolvs around the feeling of needing or losing something, even to the point of becoming obsessed by it. If successful in attaining whatever it is that drives that desire, the mind will return to balance or a sense of calm, if not, it can potentially flip into restlessness or a fear of loss. Rajas involves excitement, passion, intense dynamism, stimulation and sometimes pushes the mind into a state of constant activity and agitation.
Sattva is the quality of insight, that is clean and transparent. In this state neither of the two other Gunas predominate. Filled with levity, clarity and tranquility, yogic philosophy describes this as our natural state. Because the mind is at ease, metal balance is not dependent on external factors, which in turn allows harmony.
Tamas reflects a confused mind that leads to indecision, lethargy and inaction. This is the feeling of not knowing what one is feeling or what one wants or needs. Because of this tendency, the behavior can become self-destructive or harmful to others. Tamas on the when not in excess, allows for calmness, relaxation and can restore energy through rest and sleep.
The interplay of these three elements can produce either balance or disharmony. Rajas and Tamas exist in this dual universe as both a positive and a negative state. The Rajas of action and the Tamas of rest are essential for the world to function. Sattva exists only as itself, it is neither positive nor negative, like the Divine qualities of Truth and Love. A healthy balance in life involves all three. With each predominating at the appropriate time. Without tamas, we would never sleep. Without rajas we would never move. Without sattva we would never calmly shine forth in the world.
We can become more conscious of the balance of our gunas by paying attention to the tendencies that arise while practicing yogasana. By being attuned to the sensation in the physical body, and consciously moving prana with the breath, we can unite body-breath-mind in a way that directly affects the manifestations of the gunas.
In this way we have to be more self-reflective in our practice. We need all of our maha gunas, and understanding our primary guna and how it relates to our predisposing dosha is a powerful way to achieve health, balance, and well-being in every aspect of our life. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my next blog.
Until then, to your enduring health and happiness.
What is Yoga?
This is not simple question and has not a simple answer, but it is an important and an interesting topic to investigate, especially to those who practice or feel that yoga is a large part of their lives or how they live their lives, maybe yoga has even changed their entire lives. How ever you feel connected to the word, it is certainly helpful to revisit it and re-investigate it so that we can continuously be reborn with it. Our understanding can always grow and expand from how it currently is. Yoga comes from Sanskrit, an ancient, classical language of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language. It is the sacred language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhist texts. It is the language that helped transmit the culture of Hinduism and Buddhism from South Asia to the East, Central and South East Asia. The word Yoga can be found in the ancient Vedic text dating back to about 3500 years ago and also in the epic text of the Bhagavad Gita – the Lord’s Song. The word yoga as it was used back then is very different to how we perceive yoga now, which is, again, why it is so important and enriching to look back at the earliest source of the word that we know of and this is something that like our asana practice is lifetime research, a lifetime project which evolves and changes as we ourselves evolve and change.
The word yoga is related to the word ‘yuj” which is commonly translated as “to yoke” or “to unite” or “to put together.” Yoga is indeed most often translated as union. This “union” is of course up to the practitioner to decided, “What it is that we are trying to unite, what is that we have been separated from? Is this separation real? And how does yoga create union?
Yoga is essential a system of understanding ourselves to a degree where there is a complete knowledge of the Self through a system. There is a complete understanding and knowing of the Self until the knowing comes to a height wherein there is also complete compassion of the Self. The inner knowing becomes so complete that everything outside is mirrored in the inside, is matched so the one who knows the Self, knows all.
Yoga is a practice which begin and ends with the Self. We begin the practice by looking at what we know to be truly us, our bodies and the things that we can see (Annamayakosha) and as we practice more and more into the subtle layers of the self, parts of the Self that are maybe unknown to us and as we practice we becomes more and more known and more and more returning and become united to with awareness.
So, when we see it like this, we can say that yoga offers union with the Self which then is continued and extended inevitably to union with everyone else. This union shatters all ignorance, illusion that we are indeed separated to other lives. In this way yoga returns us to reality. Yoga is a return to what is true, what is real. Yoga gives us light; it gives as tools to know the Self beyond the doubts, beyond hesitations and this knowledge allows us to have complete compassion, understanding and love for all beings.
In the Yoga Sutras of the Sage Patanjali written about 2000 years ago, he writes, “yoga chitta vritti nirodha” which can be translated to as “yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” When we practice yoga there is a stillness in the mind – no matter what form or shape the body take the mind stays still. This stillness is yoga. Stillness denotes the ability to listen, to observe, to reflect, to meditate, to contemplate. We need to be still in order to achieve such reflection, contemplation or true observation. When we are able be still, we notice the stillness that is naturally all around us all the time. Underneath the noise, the happenings that are coming and going, all the distractions, all the things that are going on, the joys, the pains, the triumphs and defeat – below all of those, above all of those, surrounding those, outside of those, inside of those, everywhere is stillness. There is a point that is silent and all we have to do is unveil this stillness, pay attention to it. That ability to connect or unite to inner and outer stillness is yoga. In this context, yoga is a return to stillness, a return to the self, a return to love, a return to acceptance, a return to being. Yoga is a state of being that is natural, that exist in all us already, all we have to do is to lean unveil it to the stilling of the mind.
So whatever yoga means to you, I think it is important to be always be curious about. I think it is important for us – as yoga students – to us always remember where yoga came from and respectful and honor the traditions of each it came from. It is important to recognize the Hindu roots of yoga, it’s important to remember that it comes from India. These are thing that will help draw us closer to the mystery of yoga, to the amazing power and light that it holds.
Join me in my upcoming retreat and dive deeper into the Self, return to stillness and return to the Now.
Fibromyalgia: Myths and Facts
Fibromyalgia is a sensory disorder caused by miscommunication between the nerves and the brain. It is one of the most misunderstood disorder in medicine today. Some people believe it isn't real, or that the symptoms are signs of depression, stress or any other number of conditions.
The symptoms are diverse – joint pain, stiff neck, exhaustion, lightheadedness, insomnia, etc. – which makes the diagnose hard. With fibromyalgia the patient may feel all of these and more but have no idea why. To make things worse, the patient may have had every medical test imaginable, but the doctors can't say what's causing the symptoms.
To get to know about it may let's talk about what fibromyalgia is not.
Fibromyialgia is not deadly – unlike illness that can be terminal, fibromyalgia doesn't shut down your major organs or cause tumors to grow and spread throughout the body. It doesn't harm your joins, muscles or internal organs. It also doesn't make it likely that you'll die an earlier death.
It is also not a progressive disease –it doesn't damage the body over time. However, the symptoms may worsen at times. Fibromyalgia is not a chronic infection and it doesn't make you a hypochondriac.
Myths vs. Facts
Myth 1. Fibromyalgia isn't real
This the top misconception about fibromyalgia. People sometimes think that fibromyalgia isn't a real medical problem or that it's all in your head. Since the symptoms can be so vague they could apply to any number of conditions. plus, who hasn't felt sore, tired or moody – or all of those things at one.
Truth: Many, if not most medical illness aren't seen as real until more is know about them. At one point, even asthma was thought to be a made-up condition. Rheumatoid was thought to be an infection. In both cases knowing more about how they developed led to better understanding, as well as better ways to diagnose and treat them. Fibromyalgia has been and still is in the same situation.
Bottom line: Fibromyalgia is caused by a real problem happening within the body. It is thought to be cause by a glitch in how the brain and nerves through the spinal cord process pain signals. As a result, people with fibromyalgia react more strongly to pain and many other sensations.
Myth 2. Fibromyalgia is a mental health disorder
Fibromyalgia can be hard to diagnose. When one test after another comes back with no solid answer, some doctors may wonder if the patient's symptoms are actually related to a mental health condition, instead of something that's happening to the body.
Truth: While symptoms of fibromyalgia may be related to things going on in the mind such as stress, depression, fibromyalgia is not "in the patient's head." It is a medical disorder that is not caused by a mental health disorder – although stress can play a role in its symptoms. It's also important to note that having any kind of medical condition can make a person feel depressed or anxious.
Bottom line: Fibromyalgia is a real physical condition.
Myth 3. Fibromyalgia is an autoimmune disorder
The autoimmune system's job is to fight off viruses and bacteria before the make us sick. When we have an autoimmune disorder, our immune system mistakenly healthy cells instead. There are more than 80 conditions labelled as autoimmune disorder. SOme common ones are rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's disease celiac disease or lupus.
Truth: Fibromyalgia and autoimmune disorder and many other conditions often share many symptoms. Blood test that are used to diagnose auto immune disorder are not used in fibromyalgia. A physical exam is often enough for a doctor to be able to tell the difference between the two. Medications used to treat an auto immune disorder can't address symptoms of fibromyalgia. Also an auto immune disorder often cause permanent damage to the body including the skin and joints which isn't the case with fibromyalgia.
Bottom line: Although fibromyalgia can occur with an auto immune disorder, it is in itself not an auto immune disorder. Researchers are currently studying the link between the two.
Myth 4. Fibromyalgia is a connective tissue disorder
Cartilage, bones and fats are types of connective tissue. They create a sturdy web of protein that supports the body and gives it structure. Without them the body would be floppy and formless. Connective tissue disorder can change how the body looks and grow. They affect the skin, bones, organs, blood vessels, eyes, ears, etc. They can also change how the tissue works which is not the case with fibromyalgia.
Truth: To date no one has been able to proof of swelling and irritation in the tissues of people who suffer from fibromyalgia. The two can be confusing since their symptoms are overlapping. If a person has connective tissue disorder, a blood test will likely reveal proteins or markers showing inflammation in the body. The same blood tests com back normal for a person with fibromyalgia.
Bottom line: While even today, some people think fibromyalgia is a connective tissue disorder, the fact is that it's not. Put simply, fibromyalgia is a pain disorder.
Myth 5. People with fibromyalgia are just looking for attention
Many people do not understand fibromyalgia. Unless you have it or have a loved one who has it, it can be hard to understand what it means to live with fibromyalgia day in and day out. For a number of reasons, people may reac to fibromyalgia as though it's plea for attention.
Truth: Research shows that only 1 in 4 graduating primary care doctors feel capable of helping patients manage chronic pain. In light of this, patients, may not learn about treatment from their doctors that can help them feel better.
Bottom line: If you suffer from fibromyalgia, be patient with yourself. it can be tough to feel as if you're surrounded by skeptical people. Next, be patient with others. This may seem like a tall order when you're feeling hurt and misunderstood. Know that doctors and love ones want to help, they may just not always know how to.
Myth 6: People with Fibromyalgia are hypocondriacs
Over the years, it's been thought that fibromyalgia was made up by stressed-out, overtaxed mind and the result of being a hypochondriac. This is in pat because patients often go to doctors only to be told that there's nothing wrong with them.
Truth: Despite their seeming similarities, fibromyalgia and hypochondria are two separate conditions. Hypochondria starts in the mind and its symptoms are most often mentally induced. Fibromyalgia on the other hand stems from a problem with the way the brain processes pain signals and other physical sensations.
Bottom line: With these both conditions, test after test comes back normal, the reason why people often the two.
Myth 7. People with Fibromyalgia are just lazy
People with fibromyalgia look the same as they always have. They look fine from the outside and so people think they just lazy when they cancel plans or don't go to work.
Truth: When it comes to fibromyalgia, what people don't see is what matters. The didn't see the struggle to get out bed and stretch the stiff limbs or the pain you have trying to sit down. Without treatment fibromyalgia can make it hard to work and participate in everyday activities.
Bottom line: Many people with fibromyalgia search tirelessly for answer to find out what's wrong with them and how to feel better. They're quite motivated and more than willing to put in the work that's need to win their daily battle with their bodies.
Myth 8. People with fibromyalgia are just stressed
Its common to get stressed out now and again. Stress is a normal reaction to what happens in life, whether good or bad. Depending on who you are and what's going on in your life, when you are faced with stress, you may sail through choppy waters, you may spin in circles without a paddle, or you may do both. Whether it's mild or severe, stress can affect your health even without you realizing it. It can affect your body, your thoughts and behavior.
Truth: Although both stress and fibromyalgia have many symptoms in common, the can differ in how they last and how severe they are. For example stress can cause tense muscles. But muscle pain due to fibromyalgia often id described as a constant, dull ache that has lasted for at least three months. It si also wide-spread and affects both side of the body, above and below the waist.
Bottom line: Researchers are studying what links the two, since stress plays a major role in the story of fibromyalgia. it is a good idea though to tackle stress because of the fact that stress sets fibromyalgia in motion.
Fibromyalgia does not have to define who you are. With tools and techniques, you can return to the life that you enjoy. Together we can create an interdisciplinary pain management program. I can teach you everyday skills that you can use to manage your symptoms, allowing you to live full, enjoyable life with fibromyalgia.
Abril, A. / Bruce, B.K. (2019): Mayo Clinic: Guide to Fibromyalgia. Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic Press.
Fibromyalgia (2021): National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease. Bethesda, Maryland. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/fibromyalgia (Stand: 12.12.2022)
FIbromyalgia (2021): American College of Rheumatology. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Fibromyalgia (Stand: 14.12.2022)
What is Karma?
Karma is a Sanskrit word originating in India, In the early texts it meant a “deed” or a ritual, now most people translate Karma as action. Most generally Karma is thought of as a sense of justice or a force that balances out the universe. I will briefly try to explain Karma and clarify how I see myself as an adult who has the responsibility of bringing up children. The word karma translates to actions but pointing out to internal and external actions. These actions are unconscious, they are not present so karma can be thought of as a kind of wheel or snowball which we are born into or develop. For example, the environment that we are born into has its own karma, the household that we are born into has its own karma, our parents have their own cultural karma, they have their own individual karmas, the cities where we live, the country where we live has its own collective karma. Karma is a kind of pattern, a kind of default setting that we are born into and that we continue to follow unless we happen to be awake enough to notice. I see Karma as the habitual, compulsive identification with a certain pattern whether it be an internal thought form or an external form. It is that automatic unconscious association with that pattern that links us also further to that snowball of Karma. The more we are unconsciously a part of this karma, the harder it is to be free from it and so we are trapped in this kind of wheel of actions and reactions that is without consciousness, that is without response.
Some people might say, “Well I do good deeds so that I am putting out good karma or if so and so did something bad, karma will catch up on them”, as if karma is a kind of justice system. The goal is not simply to create good karma, the goal is to recognize my own karma, to recognize the action that I identify with, that I have been acting and re-acting unconsciously, to witness it, to step outside of it so that I am to respond deliberately rather that just react unconsciously. My goal with karma is to recognize it and step outside of it with a response. A response is no longer karma, a response frees me from karma.
For example, a child which is unfortunately born in a destructive karma – maybe the parents are violent with each other either verbally, physically or emotionally – this child is in this pattern of violent and this is being imprinted on the child and so this action, this karma is going to re-enact itself. The child might learn to speak to himself or to others with violent words, it might learn to relate to others only aggressively or in a beautiful or rare case this child could step out and really make a different choice, a choice to be actively peaceful to choose love, kindness and compassion.
Action and reaction belong to a slumbering consciousness whereas response and responsibility belongs to an awakened consciousness, to witnessing, to presence. Karma is really always a part of unconscious identification with form of thoughts; this is why it is also understood as faith. But in reality, I think we can create our own truth, we don’t have to be victims of karma, of faith. We can respond to life, rather than role with karma. Karma has a lot of momentum and it’s very hard to stand up and realize what’s going on in our internal patterns because we have repetitive thoughts and we have habits that we inhabited from our ancestors. It lives in our physical karma, in the pattern of our physical bodies, their habits live within us, they are us, they are within our very bodies, in the chemistry our brains, its not easy to break free from physical karma, from emotional karma, from energetic karma. The work can be very subtle, but it is possible. By taking moment by moment a chance to become aware to be less identified with every passing thought.
The concept of rebirth is very much intertwined with karma. When we are constantly reborn, we are constantly reborn into karma. It is moment by moment as we identify with another idea of who we are, of who we thought we are, we are reborn into that birth, into that karma. And so, when we are conscious of these patterns and habits and we are able to watch ourselves without identifying to them, we are less likely to be rolled into the momentum, the push of karma. The goal is to step out of karma and by doing so to help other step of karma that maybe they were born into, and inherited and are holding back in some ways. So, when you are able to step outside of your own karma, you inevitably help others to step out of their own karma. You don’t have to do anything other than just live your life outside of the set karma that you were born into. When you step into consciousness, love and compassion. You help shift the collective karma for everyone in your reach.
Nothing we do is without consequences and all actions leave traces, so if you know that the karma you have is a heavy one – you had, for example, a violent childhood – and you use this an excuse to be violent to be others, then you have made a conscious decision to continue this karma.
What are the Bandhas?
Bandhas were first described in tantric literature, bandhas meaning “to bind” are muscular contractions in the physical body that retains the circulation of prana in the subtle body. They are a series of internal energy gates which assist in the regulation of the pranic flow. You may think of them as valves that work similarly to valves within the circulatory system. When the heart beats, blood surges through the arteries and veins. Valves keep blood from sloshing through the heart. The bandhas regulate the flow of prana (life force) similarly within the subtle energy channel known as the Nadis. When engaging locks, energy is forced to spread throughout these pathways. We are then able to assimilate this energy on a cellular level as the prana bathes and feeds our subtle body and balances the gross nervous system.
The three primary bandhas– Mula bandha, Uddiyana bandha, and the Jalandhara bandha– are described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita. All three are described as being done while sitting, primarily in conjunction with pranayama practices but never in conjunction with asana.
The first bandha a yogi should master is the Jalandhara bandha, jala meaning a net, mesh, or web. This is mastered while practicing Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and its cycle. In Jalandhara bandha the neck and throat are contracted and the chin is made to rest on the chest. The Jalandhara bandha regulates the follow of blood and prana to the heart, the glands in the neck, and the head together with the brain.
Mula bandha is the root lock. It is called so because of its location at the base of the spine. It refers to the principal location between the anus and the genitals. There is a difference in location for this bandha in males and females. In males, the Mula bandha is located at the perineal muscle; for females it is located at the top of the cervix. Contract the muscles in this area, and lift them vertically towards the navel. Simultaneously, the lower anterior abdomen below the navel is pressed backward and upwards toward the spine. This should be learned while doing tadasana, Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, Urdhva Dharunasana, Ustrasana and Paschimottanasana.
The Uddiyana Bandha meaning flying upward is performed by exhaling fully and then drawing the lower belly inward and upward while simultaneously lifting the diaphragm. This bandha is utilized during exhale retention phase of pranayama (breathing exercises). The contraction is then released for the inhale to repeat fully. Uddiyana bandha is not recommended to be done with the asana practice.
When practiced together, these three major bandhas create Maja bandha (the great bandha). By practicing the Maja bandha, the Ida, the Pingala, and the Susumna become active, allowing the prana and breath to become still.
Learn more about the bandhas, join my different yoga classes at Retreat-Vienna. You can check my classes to book and find out the class that fits best for you.
See you on the mat!
Restorative vs. Yin Yoga
Restorative and Yin yoga classes are similar in a way that both are slower and more prop heavy than many other yoga practices. Both are “Yin in the sense that they are slower, more lunar, and more introspective as opposed to the “Yang” which represents heat, light, and creation.
The big difference is in Yin Yoga we’re slowly working on the subtle (connective) tissues, while Restorative Yoga is designed for complete relaxation and recovery.
Yin yoga targets parts of our bodies that we don’t think about as often, like our ligaments, tendons joints, the fasciae, and the organs. By applying stress (tension, compression, shear, torsion) our bodies rejuvenate in the same way an old sponge can be resurrected— by soaking in warm water, twisting, squeezing, stretching— the old, grungy particles trapped in the tissues of the sponge are released and carried away by the warm water. Similarly, our tissues are massaged by Asana practice releasing toxins and wastewater. Even old scar tissues may be broken down and removed.
In Restorative Yoga, we make heavy use of props in order to cradle our bodies in a way that allows complete rest and promotes healing. By completely supporting the body with props, we alternatively stimulate and relax the body to move towards balance. Some poses have an overall benefit. Other target individual parts like the lungs or heart. All create a specific physiological response that is beneficial to health and can reduce the effects of stress-related diseases.
Practicing Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga at Retreat-Vienna which offers yoga classes in English and in German.
See you soon!
Yin Yoga and the Meridians
Yin Yoga is a style of Yoga that is the counterpart to the more dynamic Yang Yoga– these are the active practices like Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga, and the likes, designed to work on the muscular half of our bodies, the “Yang” tissues.
Yin yoga allows us to work on the other half, the deeper “Yin” tissues– these are our ligaments, joints, the deep fascial tissues, the organs, and even the bones. It is the slower, more gentle kind of yoga that represent the soft, cool, and feminine aspect of the Self. In Daoism, an ancient Chinese philosophy wherein the Yin Yoga is based, the life force is known as chi (Qi). The Daoists believed that everything has a yin and yang and the balance between the two forces is where the Dao resides. Although yin and yang are opposites, they are not absolutes — neither exists without the other, and they work together to create harmony the primary goal of Daoism is to conserve, control, and manifest chi (Qi) to promote health and well-being by finding tranquility in the balance and the path leading to the center. When we leave the center, we take on the aspects of the yin or yang. Daoism parallels Vedanta, a philosophy of yoga practiced in India and Tibet that’s based on Vedic philosophy.
One of the unique aspects of Yin yoga is its incorporation of the energetic lines of the body, known as meridians. Meridian is the English translation of the Chinese word for channels that conduct energy throughout the body. These conduits form a network, which when blocked or disrupted the body will not function properly. These are similar to the concept of the nadis from traditional yoga philosophy.
What is fascinating is that Japanese scientist Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama discovered that the physical structure of the way of hyaluronic acid ran through the body directly correlates with the pathways of the meridians laid out by Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Dr. Motoyama discovered that when postures were held for longer periods, they stimulated the production of hyaluronic acid. It is believed that Yin yoga increases hyaluronic acid in the body and joints, therefore increasing the abundance of pranic energy for healing and health. It is believed that when there is a blockage in a meridian or energy channel, disease sets in. One of the main functions of the meridians is to promote the flow of chi throughout the body.
In China, there is a great concern over physical well-being and longevity and they named 71 meridians wherein 14 were the most important. Each of the 10 major organs has its associated meridian and the meridian may be yin or yang depending on the nature of the organ.
There are six lower body meridians, which are often considered more yin in nature, that start or end at the feet, and six yang meridians, which start or end at the hands.
If you’ve ever wondered why a yin yoga class targets the hips so much, it’s for this reason in particular: the six lower meridians are yin in nature, therefore, accessed through hip-opening postures.
Learn more about the meridians, join my Meridian Yin yoga class every Sunday 18:00 - 19:30 at RE:TREAT VIENNA