We've been learning Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) in our Absolute Beginners Yoga Workshop.
Historically, the sequence may have evolved from honouring the sun (surya) as the source of light and energy for the world.
We can use our practice as a way of turning our focus to getting ourselves 'grounded' and 'present' when we are on our mats. Of course, this applies off our mats as well.
I posted this video about The Science of Grounding on the Our Yoga Kapiti Facebook page recently.
If you are a member of Facebook, you might like to follow our page. I try not to bombard you with multiple posts, preferring to simply share the occasional photo or link to interesting (in my humble view) articles.
Anyway, back to the subject of grounding.
We are all busy people. Some of us are raising a family or caring for an elderly parent (or both). Work pressure. Lack of work. Friendships to maintain and, if we're lucky, a social life, a love life. We have mortgages or rent to pay. We have Responsibilities (notice the capital R!). There's a lot of stuff going on in our lives.
We are lucky in this beautiful country of ours that most of us only have (what I like to remind myself of regularly) 'first world problems'. It is, however, very easy to let all of this stuff get on top of us. And it can be quite overwhelming at times.
Finding a way to get grounded, feel calm in the face of adversity ... cope ... can be a challenge. I invite you to use your yoga practice as a means to achieve this balance in life.
How many times have you noticed your mind wandering, perhaps whilst sitting in a work meeting , driving, or watching your child play sport, thinking about what you haven't done yet, what you should have done, what you're yet to do?
If you're lucky, you'll recognise that happening and bring your mind back to the present - the here and now - knowing that you can deal with these other things later. Most of us don't have that awareness yet. Instead, our worries manifest in a negative physical way - churning stomach, frown, hunched shoulder, headache. We basically feel like crap. And we might not even know why.
I'm suggesting to you that with a degree of 'mindfulness' - an awareness of where your head is at - can allow you to notice that your mind has wandered and give you the choice to bring it back ... to now ... to what is happening in this moment. But you need to be able to notice first.
When we are on our mats, we have the opportunity to begin to train our minds to focus on the present. Using our breath, we can start to narrow our thought patterns to concentrate on what is happening in our bodies, on our mats, right now. We can take a break from the rest of our lives … for a while.
We all need a break sometimes. A rest. A pause.
Find a way, make a choice, to turn your attention to what is happening right in front of you. Notice it. Celebrate it. Allow yourself to smile when you see something that warms your heart. Laugh out loud - even when you're alone. When you're favourite song comes on the radio ... dance!
Let's celebrate our lives each moment we live them.
"Look past your thoughts so you may drink the pure nectar of this moment." Rumi
Power Vinyasa Flow (Level 2)
We are having some fun in this class, offered twice each week (Tue 6.00pm and Thu 9.30am).
Our power vinyasa flow practice, based on the Ashtanga style, is a somewhat repetitive sequence. This can be comforting while we develop our strength and flexibility. But it doesn’t hurt to ‘mix it up’ a little occasionally. Often we get ‘stuck’ and it takes a new or modified pose to enable us to open up a little.
It has been a great week of seeing students choosing to take options, and choosing not to as well.
It is OUR YOGA … let’s make it appropriate for our own bodies and minds.
Our Yoga Kāpiti Community
Some of our students have experienced loss of family, injury, and ill health recently.
Remember that Yoga means union.
I hope that you can find some level of solace and comfort by being part of the Our Yoga Kāpiti community where we unite to practice together.
A little bit of musical joy for you (click picture below to go to YouTube).
In every class, whether Power Vinyasa Flow or Yin Yoga, bookings are made, and then cancellations come in at the last minute. That’s absolutely fine. And thank you to each of you who lets me know.
The Yin Yoga class is very popular. If we hadn’t had three cancellations earlier yesterday, I would have had to turn away the people who made last minute bookings.
I have resource consent to teach 15 students, but I feel that Yin Yoga requires more space than Power Vinyasa Flow, so I’ve limited class size to 10 students. I believe that smaller class policy is really conducive to a more relaxing experience for you all.
If that situation continues (i.e. full yin yoga classes) I will have to bring in the policy that if you cancel class within 12 hours of it starting (eg. after 6.30am on Thursday mornings) you will still be expected to pay because others may have tried to register for class but were unable to due to your booking . That is, of course, unless you broke your leg! I'm open to any ideas how we might manage this.
Sascha loves you folks.
Our Yin Yoga class this week was punctuated with the sound of Sascha’s claws on the deck as he nosed each and every one of your shoes outside the Yoga Room while we were trying to practice Nadi Shodhana.
My husband Greg is going to try to keep him indoors while we practice with all the doors open in this humid weather. But an easier way of stopping him sniffing (and possibly licking) your shoes is to take them off at the door, then bring them inside and pop them in the cubby shelving. Thank you.
As much as I was gutted to see all the relaxed bodies jump in unison as Sascha barked at a neighbouring dog, I must admit it was kind of funny. Thank you all for your good sense of humour and acceptance of our beautiful, nosy boy.
An Interesting Take on Spirituality
In terms of spirituality, I refer to myself as an Agnostic, Sceptic, Recovering Catholic.
Before any Catholics get offended (please, that is not my intent at all), let me qualify that statement by explaining that I lived unhappily and unsafely at two Catholic orphanages in the 1970s, and I witnessed the hypocrisy of the church (at that time) when my father left before that.
I have baggage. Enough said.
I do, however, have absolute respect in our right to believe in whatever we wish.
I'm simply stating my personal attitude toward, and experience of, religion. But I also need to state that during times of hardship in my life, I've felt a certain envy of those who have 'faith'. The Agnostic me - the one who neither confirms nor denies what I cannot prove - remains curious.
Which is why I watched this documentary about Buddhism, recommended to me by my gorgeous husband, the Athiest. Whilst looking for the link on YouTube, I found a whole heap more, including some about the actor Richard Gere’s experience with Buddhism.
If you decide to watch these videos, I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. It’s an interesting conversation. My interest is piqued. Always the student.
It turns out that I really like the concept that Buddhism - this 'religion' – can also be viewed as being more of a ‘philosophy’ which has more emphasis on choosing to live a good life, as opposed to following a set of rules and idolising a supreme being seen in most religions. I like the idea that we have the power of choice. Personal conscience.
In many yoga studios (including ours) you'll see images of the Buddha. I wonder how many yoga teachers 'decorate' their studios with images of the Buddha without really understanding his history? Like me.
Yoga, which is a way of life, not a religion, does have its history melded in a religion ... Hinduism. Or is it Buddhism? I’ve studied and searched and it still remains unclear to me. It’s a controversial subject and personally I don’t think it matters.
What matters to me is how I choose to behave, how I choose to see the world, how I choose not to judge myself, nor others.
I certainly respect history and tradition, but how I live NOW is what I believe matters.
What matters to you?
On 11th December, 2014, the United Nations proclaimed the 21st of June each year as International Yoga Day, with its Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon observing that “the General Assembly has recognized the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.”
Clearly, then, today there is Hindu Yoga, Buddhist Yoga, and Secular Yoga, and there is no reason why all these forms, along with others of their kind, if there are any, should not thrive together side by side in a troubled world where any unity for a good cause is welcome.
What do you think?
Have a good week everyone. I’ll look forward to seeing you on your mats.
p.s. The following may or may not be of interest to you. Like everything, take what serves you, discard the rest.
Ancient Yogic Texts
If you are interested in learning a little about the ancient texts of yoga, the following is a synopsis of two traditional yogic texts that I wrote during my teacher training.
The Bhagavad Gita
Referred to by Mahatma Gandhi as his “spiritual dictionary”, The Bhagavad Gita is a small part of the Hindu epic narrative “The Mahabharata”, meaning Great India.
The earliest translations of this work from Sanskrit into English were made around 1795BC by Sir Charles Wilkins.
The name Bhagavad Gita means “The Song of the Lord”. “The Gita”, as it is commonly known, is a poetic text written by the sage Vyasa approximately 500BC to address questions of action and conflict.
This non-dualistic text describes the discourse between the righteous master archer and great warrior Prince Arjuna & Lord Krishna, together on a chariot on the battlefield of Kurukshetra on the first morning of an 18 day battle.
Following on from the background story in The Mahabharata, the Gita begins with Arjuna feeling despondent because of his reluctance to enter into battle against his family, friends, and mentors, including his beloved archery teacher Drona. In this battle, Arjuna’s opponents represent ‘evil’. Arjuna, who represents ‘good’, seeks wise counsel from Krishna as he struggles with to come to terms with his duty (dharma mama).
Krishna is depicted as the charioteer. The five horses represent the senses – taste, sight, hearing, smell and touch – all of which can become out of control. The reins of the chariot represent the mind.
So, the senses are ultimately controlled by the mind, with the guidance of Krishna’s wise counsel.
The three wheels of the chariot represent the Triguna, which are the three basic components of human disposition or qualities of nature. They are:
1. Sattva = happy, contented, patient, forgiving, persevering, etc.
2. Tamas = dull, lazy, greedy, attached to worldly things, etc.
3. Rajas = stimulated, ambitious, passionate, bringing about action.
These states manifest one way or another depending on how well the ‘horses’ are controlled by the ‘charioteer’ using the ‘reins’. When balanced, we maintain a healthy mind. When unbalanced, we may ‘lose our minds’.
The friendship between Krishna (analogous to God) and Arjuna (analogous to God’s disciple) has been said to represent the relationship between Brahman (absolute truth, ultimate reality, consciousness, bliss) and Atman (comparable to the western view of the soul).
The story symbolises the struggle we experience in our lives – physically, emotionally, mentally – as well has having a strong element of social justice woven throughout. It has been described as a guide to relationships in this world – with friends, family, and community – as well as our relationship with spirituality, faith and supreme devotion.
Krishna stressed that yoga is not only a philosophy, but is a way of actively participating in life, taking control of our lives, without attachment to results. He recommended that Arjuna practice the following types of yoga in order to find liberation in God and result in welfare and happiness for all.
Karma Yoga (freedom of action)
We must act. Our actions must be moral, selfless, and without attachment to results.
Bhakti Yoga (love & devotion)
Beautiful teachings in which God is in everything. The fastest path to enlightenment.
Jnana Yoga (knowledge & wisdom)
Discerning truth from untruth. Transcend our limited identity and seek union with the Divine.
The Gita’s teachings are directed more toward the grihasthas (householders), as opposed to the sanyasis (renunciants), so can be used to help every day people work toward their own Ultimate Reality, with the overarching goal of making the world a better place.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Compiled some time between 400 and 200BC, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has become one of the classical foundation texts of yoga philosophy of Hinduism.
It is not known whether Patanjali was one person or a collection of people. There are also differing views on when the sutras were written. Regardless, the text is referred to by modern yogis worldwide.
The Sutras are comprised of 196 succinct aphorisms – a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation. We understand that to mean “small words with huge meaning”.
These aphorisms are a practical and, apparently, scientific guide to increasing our self-awareness, finding wisdom, and exploring the potential of our minds. Unlike the Bhagavad Gita, the Sutras follow a non-dualistic philosophy. That is, there is a separation between us and ‘God’.
The text is divided into four chapters or books:
1. Samadhi Pada (reflection, bliss, I-am-ness, non-attachment) 51 sutras
2. Sadhana Pada (practice or discipline, action, Ashtanga Yoga) 55 sutras
3. Vibhuti Pada (psychic power or manifestation, meditation) 56 sutras
4. Kaivalya Pada (moksha or liberation, free the mind) 34 sutras
The word “asana” is only used twice throughout the text, and it has nothing to do with the physical ‘hatha’ asana or pose that we refer to in our modern practice of yoga. Instead, it refers to two concepts which we can apply to the way we live, as well as our physical practice on the mat. These words are:
1. Sthira (steady, strong, still)
2. Sukham (comfortable, light, relaxed)
Combining these words we arrive at the concept of Sthira Sukham Asanam, which essentially translates to a steady, comfortable position, held for a long time – a meditation posture, if you like. In other words, according to Patanjali, the practice of yoga prepares the body and mind for meditation, with the purpose of arriving in a state of subtle bliss and liberation.
In fact, “The Hard and the Soft Institute”, founded by Beryl Bender Birch in the 1980s, refers to these two principles. Beryl is attributed as the founder of Power Yoga, which she developed for the New York Road Runners Club, and is the basis of the style of yoga that we practice at Our Yoga Kāpiti.
Author Georg Feuerestein considers The Sutras to be a condensation of different traditions, namely Ashtanga (8 limb) Yoga, Kriya and Karma Yoga, which are addressed in Book II of the Sutras.
Karma Yoga refers to spiritual activism. The point is we must act. The action should be moral, selfless/egoless, and not attached to results.
Ashtanga Yoga is simply described as eight limbs, practiced sequentially.
The first five outer limbs are practical:
1. Yamas (moral restraint)
a. Ahimsa (non-harming)
b. Satya (truthfulness)
c. Asteya (non-stealing)
d. Brahmacarya (abstinence)
e. Aparigraha (non-greed)
2. Niyamas (moral practice)
a. Saucha (purity)
b. Santosha (contentment)
c. Tapas (ascetiscism, heat & glow)
d. Svadhyaya (self-study)
3. Asana (practice)
4. Pranayama (breath)
5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
By following these steps sequentially we are guided toward the last three limbs –
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (subtle ecstasy)