I've had some unique teaching opportunities lately, including corporate retreats, teaching the staff of a homeless shelter, and working with clients referred to me by a cardiologist (we're using yoga to reduce stress and improve their heart health!). Despite how different these demographics seem, my focus has been the same - The Breath. Why? Because the breath is the key to transformation in the body and the mind. The yogis of old dedicated a whole science and system to breathing techniques - Pranayama. To better understand the role of the breath on the body and the mind, check out these articles on the 5 Koshas. Then use the Home Practice Resources to develop your own Pranayama Power.
Below is a home practice MP3 with a sequence like a highlight reel from classes during Spring/Summer 2018.
There is a quiet emphasis on opening the psoas - the muscle that connects your spine and legs. In my experience, this muscle is a lynchpin for freedom and fluidity in your body.
This 25-minute home practice is complete on it's own, and you could always continue with meditation, pranayama or use this as a warm-up for a longer practice.
Click Here to Download the MP3 or listen with the player below.
"What matters is how well you have participated in your own life... "
- Deborah Adele, the Yamas & Niyamas
Hey Yogis! During the Spring Semester of Yoga Club we studied the Yamas. These are powerful principles for living your yoga. Below I've compiled some highlights and high-levels teachings to share with you.
Want to Listen instead of Read?
To Download an MP3 Summary - Click Here.
Or stream the summary at the bottom of the post.
What are the Yamas?
The Yamas are the ethical principles given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. At first glance, the Yamas seem straight forward. When you actually apply them, you understand why they are considered "Great Vows".
Yama can be translated to "restaint" which also communicates that these principles will not be easy. They require a reigning in of energy and impulses. And while these principles seem like common sense, they are far from common practice.
Yoga asks us to make these principles a DAILY PRACTICE - just like meditation or asana (postures) - and then each interaction, conversation, and moment exercises the muscles of the spirit and reduces suffering. If you can commit to these great vows, the Yamas bestow the treasures of peace, honesty, satisfaction, abundant energy, and self-sufficiency.
This moral code for yoga practitioners is not unique to Patanjali. Following principles like the Yamas & the Niyamas were a prerequisite to practice in traditional yoga schools because they imprint a way of being before a practitioner starts doing. In Modern Yoga (and a culture obsessed with doing rather than being), these teachings can fall by the wayside even though they are perhaps more important than ever. On and off the mat, the Yamas bring depth, direction, and wisdom.
The Yamas of Patanjali:
1. Ahimsa - non-violence, non-harming, non-injury
2. Satya - truthtelling, truthfulnees
3. Asteya - non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya - respect for life
5. Aparigraha - non-grasping
Notice the order of the Yamas because they always refer back to one another. For example, Ahimsa is the foundation and first ingredient for living in yoga. So when you practice Satya, truthtelling, Ahimsa must be taken into consideration. Even if it's a tough-love, potentially-painful-to-hear-type of truth, you practice ahimsa by delivering the message with compassion, calm, and courage.
Ahimsa is non-violence, non-harming, non-injury. This sounds simple at first - don’t hurt people - however yoga wants you to go deeper than that. For example, do you ever say things that unintentionally (or intentionally) hurt others? Do you have thoughts that are injurious or violent? The yoga tradition sees no difference between thoughts, words and actions. As Krisnamurti said, “the war outside is the war inside”. Ever have a war going on in your head?
Ahimsa is the antidote to this war and you can start practicing in your poses. I think of my mat as "the microscope" where I can focus, examine, and transform my inner landscape. For example, when you practice, what is your inner voice like? Is it compassionate and kind? Or aggressive and intense? Is it resigned or discouraging? Inner listening expands your awareness and turns your physical practice into a meditative endeavor that increases your capacity for Ahimsa off the mat.
In the outer world, practicing Ahimsa is how you treat others, including the long-range ripples of your actions into the greater ecosystem of life. The practice of Ahimsa can be a reason for becoming vegetarian or choosing ethically-raised and environmentally-sustainable sources of protein. Everyone has to decide for themselves what is appropriate and ethical to consume. In my opinion, just as important as food, is how and what you choose to consume as commercial goods and media. For example, are your clothes, shoes, and furniture produced under ethical circumstances? What about your cell phone? Are you consuming violent news or entertainment? Do you read or watch things that generate feelings of anger, chronic frustration or despair?
Ahimsa is the recognition of interconnectedness. It is a visceral understanding that your thoughts, words, and actions have an impact. Ahimsa not something you perfect, it's a practice, and Yoga says that when you truly practice Ahimsa, you become a vortex for peace. Great leaders like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King are examples of creating powerful and positive change with this principle.
More coming soon!
Below is a lecture on the 5 Yamas given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.
To Download the Summary - Click Here.
Or Listen Below.
Sun Salutations - you do them almost every class...but why? where did they come from? Are they more than just exercise?
They can be.... Below is a brief lecture from the Secrets of Sun Salutation Workshop and also a 12-minute Home Yoga Practice MP3 guiding you through classical Surya Namaskar.
Learn about your lineage. Discover myths and metaphors to make your practice more meaningful. Change your perspective to change your performance.
Patanjali's version of Yoga is quite different than "modern postural yoga". So is this text still meaningful and relevant? I think so. However, you have to do a little translating to make the text culturally and historically relevant.
For example: The most popular sutra on Asana (and one of only 3 sutras on asana!) says:
2.46 Sthira-Sukham Asanam
Loosely translated, this could mean "the seat should be steady and easeful" but let's unpack it a little bit more...
Asana – often translated to "seat". Asana can also mean abiding, dwelling, inhabiting. The emphasis here is being present, grounded and committed to whatever you are doing when you are doing it.
Sthira – steadiness, strength, to stand or to be firm. It has a relationship to the Sanskrit word Asthi which means bones. Your bones are the support for your body. In posture practice, when you align with the architecture of your bones, there is release in the muscles and space in the joints.
Sukha – Often translated to easeful or joyful, agreeable, and gentle. The word literally breaks down to "Good Space". When you first create steadiness through your bones, then every movement has grace and ease. The joints sing with space and the muscle sigh with support.
Want a little more insight? Here is a 15 minute lecture about Patanjali's instructions for "Asana" and how you can translate it for your practice. Below the lecture recording is a Home Practice MP3 based on a Stira-Sukham class from Yoga Club.
Click Here to Download the Sthira Sukham Practice MP3. (this file is too large for the website to host, so you will be taken to Google Drive to download)
Interested in studying Patanjali's Yoga Sutras? Overwhelmed by the choices? Which book is best?
Each book will have the author's flavor and perspective. Here are a few of my favorite resources for different levels of interest and experience.
Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
I feel like I was a walking head before yoga.
Even though I played competitive sports and was active, I wasn't really communicating with my body. Oh, there were plenty of commands - run faster, you can do it, no pain, no gain - but very little conversation.
When I first started yoga, it was like I had to translate everything - put your left foot forward... okay....left.... foot... where is my left foot?... now, forward... more forward... come on left foot! ..... why doesn't it get to the top of the mat? ... - Anyone else have that in their head? Progress was slow, but progress came, and it came more quickly once I understood the role of the breath and the bandhas.
It's like you come to yoga with a "flat tire" for a body - even if you're active, there is rarely awareness. The yoga postures and alignment start the conversation. You begin to feel - which can be as simple as equal weight on your feet, as subtle as the stacking of your bones, or as complex as the emotions that arise when a pose is challenging, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.
And as you begin to feel, your inner awareness unfolds, reaching ever deeper, to subtle concepts like the bandhas. As seals, the bandhas patch up "leaks" - weaknesses, sleepy deep core muscles, underutilized stabilizers - and strengthen you from the inside out. The bandhas also create more of a container inside of your body. Which is why they are a prerequisite for pranayama - breath expansion practices.
Pranayama comes from two words. Prana which is life force, vitality, eternal energy. It's like Qi in other Eastern Traditions or Mana in the Hawaiian Tradition. Ayama means to liberate or remove restraints. When you dissect the word, you see that pranayama is designed to invigorate, expand, and liberate the life force and energy inside of you.
Once the breath has a strong container, a solid vessel, it gains momentum. Then you pump prana into the body. Prana creates space and potential for something new to arise, for transformation to occur. It inflates and enlivens your body with awareness.
Instead of clunking along with a flat tire, you cruise, glide, and really ride the vibrancy of being in-body.
This is how yoga makes you more youthful and vital. This is what sustains your practice for a lifetime. This is the alignment of feeling uplifted inside and out.
"Without full awareness of breathing, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding."
~Thich Nhat Hanh
What are the bandhas? What is the deep core? Are they the same?
Yes and No.
Here we explore the diffference between the bandhas, the deep core, and learn how to activate Mulabandha, the root lock.
highlight reel of my favorite books over the years.