The philosophy of yoga states quite clearly that the body and mind are not separate. Whatever happens in the body will be reflected in the mind, whatever happens in the mind will be reflected in the body.
A person who is suffering from an emotionally traumatic experience will quite noticeably and unintentionally alter their physical posture in response to the mental trauma, the upper back will round, the shoulders rotate internally, they become stooped and very protective of the heart area. The physical reaction to emotional trauma blocks the flow of energy around the body, the blockage causes a stagnation in the body and further disease will follow or intensify.
The body and mind permeate with energy which in yogic terms is referred to as prana which translates as life force or life energy. The concept of prana appears in all the body-mind modalities, “ki” as in Reiki and “chi” as in Tai Chi.
Chakras (spinning wheels of energy) or energy centres comprise the model of the energetic and subtle body, this is where the vital life force (prana) gathers. They’re located along the spine from the pelvic floor to the crown of the head, each has a specific colour and spiritual quality and are associated with a corresponding psychological, physical and emotional states necessary for the development of the “whole” person.
The subtle energies of the body flow through the body via channels referred to as nadi’s which connect the chakras and move the energy.
It’s very important to note that the concept of prana, chakras and nadis is subtle, you can’t go to the Doctor and ask to have your chakras X-rayed or scanned, they don’t exist in a physical realm.
Hatha Yoga was developed to circulate, cultivate, control prana and channel energy around the body. It’s much more than a form of exercise, much more than being physically strong or flexible. In the western world the ideals of yoga have been distorted and focus on contortions of very flexible bodies. Asana or yogic movement aims at creating, developing and distributing subtle energy around the body. The physical attributes are a very beneficial adjunct.
The reason a yoga class is sequenced in a particular way, the time a pose is held and counter poses practised is about energy control and movement, there’s a lot more happening rather than stretching muscles, think about the subtle effects – the inner-cise. Challenge your teachers and ask questions about the class structure and how it relates to prana.
Hatha Yoga is a very complex science that draws on thousands of years of practice and philosophy which has enormous health benefits both physically and mentally.
Do you notice when you walk into your yoga space to practice that not every person looks exactly the same as you? Some people may be taller, shorter, thinner, heavier, younger, older!! Some physical attributes may be an advantage in some poses and a detriment in others. It’s quite reasonable to conclude that if you look different physically that you’re not going to look exactly the same in asana. Don’t try to emulate anyone else in the class, be content and celebrate your own uniqueness. Remember the famous line from The Life of Brian “Your all individuals”. Even if you can mirror someone else in class I can guarantee you will be having a completely different experience.
Santosa (contentment) defined in the 8 limbs of yoga of Patanjali. This niyama seems to have a great deal of significance of late. Let’s face it yoga is all about getting over yourself. Be realistic there are certain poses you may never master, there are certain higher states of mind you will never achieve. Physical, mental and emotional restraints can and will hold you back. Don’t give up but be realistic, remember it’s about the journey not the destination. The selfie era has placed a hole lot of pressure on yogis to “perform” don’t get caught up the “kardashianisation” of yoga. It’s a philosophy of non ego and non competition. I teach yoga to people who can perform asana to perfection but they tell me they would do anything to have quiet mind. I teach classes to people with limited mobility but have great focus, all they want to do is to move with freedom. Please challenge yourself, strive to improve but be content.
Over the past two weeks we’ve been practicing a pranayama method, Nadi Shodhana. Prana means life force or vital energy and Ayama means control. Pranayama means “control of the breath” Nadhi Shodhana means “Alternate nostril breathing”.
The method is quite simple to practice. I won’t go into the “how” we’ve already had a practical application in class but I will explain a bit more about the benefits.
Alternate nostril breathing is balancing, it synchronises the hemispheres of the brain and clears blocked energy. De-stressing, calming and releases accumulated mind tension and fatigue. This method lowers the heart rate and it’s calming affect makes it a great pre-sleep technique and stress management tool.
Best to be practiced at the start of class or pre-savasana.
Important to end on the left nostril.
I teach Yoga, I practice Yoga, I study Yoga but it seems the meaning of the word “yoga” has many connotations. Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian Philosophy known as darsana. Yoga has its origins in the Vedas, it was systemised in the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali around 400 BCE. The word translates from Sanskrit to mean “to join, or union”. The purpose of Yoga is defined in sutra 1.2 as “citta vritti nirodah” which translates as “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions”. This translation of the sutra by Desikachar lets us know one thing that yoga is NOT and that’s a form of exercise.
The purpose of Yoga is to control the fluctuating state of the mind, a definition which is very direct but at the same time very broad and open to a wide range of interpretations. In the materialistic modern world we live in the word “Yoga” has been dissolved and watered down to such a degree that in some cases bears little resemblance to the original ancient teachings. All you have to do is mention “yoga” in a general conversation and listen to the wide range of responses, people might ask about contortion of the body, levitation, vegetarianism, hippies and orange robes anything but clearing the mind. There’s a lot confusion between the monastic class and the householder yogi.
I’m a realist. I understand that in modern life householder yogis can’t simply renounce the world and dedicate their entire being to a spiritual path, not everyone wants to become a monk or a nun, it’s a calling and I’m very respectful of those who choose a monastic life. The householder yogi is a person just like you and I, someone who works, pursues an education, raises children, accumulates and lives in the real world but is dedicated to a yogic lifestyle.
Yoga is becoming another commercial commodity in the west, another money making opportunity which is being exploited by some intelligent marketing minds. I do acknowledge that Yoga Studio’s need to be profitable and Yoga Teacher’s need to make a living, those points are absolutely essential. What I disagree with is the movement away from the source, a movement away from the purity of a 5000 thousand year old philosophy. I can’t understand the need for yoga to change other than for market share and the all mighty dollar. Yoga has well and truly stood the test of time.
The role of the Yoga Teacher is to support the student. The ability to create a hatha (moving) sequence with the appropriate modifications to cater for the individual separates good teachers from the not so good. There’s a huge difference between “teaching yoga” and instructing or demonstrating postures. The essential premise of yoga asana are the principles of sthira & sukha (steadiness and comfort) without ego or self violence. That’s what good teachers do, they facilitate a safe environment, offer appropriate modifications and contain the ego of the student.
Due to poor training or lack of knowledge I see classes where the leader stands out front and demonstrates a routine and encourages the participants to keep up as best they can, the sequence is set is stone and is never modified. No consideration for individual attributes or limitations, the students are encouraged to go beyond their physical and mental limits. The result is physical injuries and boosted egos. It’s not meant to be an exercise class or physical workout, far from it.
What has Yoga become? The possibilities seem endless.
Yoga in a sauna! Very popular in the west. There’s lots of research done concerning the benefits and contraindications, you can do your homework if you so desire. Something for you to contemplate though, would this method aid you in controlling the fluctuating state of your mind? Do you think you would find steadiness and comfort practicing postures for 90 minutes in a sauna? Consider the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) toward yourself. Is it yoga or self-punishing exercise?
Nude Yoga! I see no benefit at all. Practitioners say it frees them from negative feelings about their body and creates self-confidence! It may just do that, each to their own. Mind control? Would you be able to hold a pose with steadiness and comfort? Think about Happy Baby Pose! Ego, would it be either boosted or shattered!
Tantrum Yoga! This method may be a legitimate way to de-stress, it may work for some. I see people challenged when asked to chant AUM! Having students have a melt down on que is probably a bit beyond my skill set.
Laughter Yoga! The benefits of laughter are well known. Apply the test for yourself, Steadiness, comfort and lack of ego? Laughter therapy has incredible wellness benefits but why is there a need to attach the word yoga to it. Judging from the response I get from my very funny jokes I think I’d fail miserably as a laughter teacher!
Paddle Board Yoga! I have seen this method and it is a truly amazing display of precision movement, strength, mobility and balance. As a student of human movement I’m in awe of what is achieved on an unstable surface. Is it Yoga or is it simply exercise on a paddle board?
Horseback Yoga or Dog Yoga (Doga)! I suppose the real test of steadiness and comfort would be if your dog was a German Shephard or a Fox Terrier. If you have an affinity with animals maybe this is for you. Is it yoga or is it horse riding or dog training?
The list goes on, an endless array of activities that have attached the word “yoga” to them. Are they legitimate forms of yoga or marketing gimmicks? “Yoga” is not copyrighted or licenced so the word legally can be attached to anything without fear of corporate law breaches.
I’ve come up with a few possibilities for the future, Cage fighting Yoga! Kick boxing yoga, Football (all codes) yoga and Paint Ball Yoga, all done with awareness of course. I could go on and on. The definitions can be interpreted without challenge so basically you attached the word “yoga’ to anything. Why not just call everything you do yoga! Researching and discovering a method or practice that works for you is the secret.
I’ll continue the way I’ve been going. It may not be trendy, or fashionable or cool but it’s authentic and I present it being very respectful of the ancient lineage of yoga. All the various fads and marketing ploys will slowly disappear and be directed toward other money making ideas. I’ll stick with hatha yoga, it’s lasted over a thousand years and will continue to flourish in the future.