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ashtanga yoga

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How Your Practice Grows

June 25, 2018

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Yoga philosophy.  The stories of the asanas.  The significance.

During practice I find myself going inwards to observe myself more closely.  My practice these days is focused on the basics.  So even if I practice Adhomukha Vrikshasana (handstand), I’ll start from Uttanasana.

Last weekend I attended a workshop at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  It was a two day workshop where we learned about Krishnamacharya, and his contribution to modern yoga and the style of yoga taught at KYM.

On the first day of the workshop the teacher spoke about the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga.  In his lecture he asserted that the 8 limbs grow like a baby.  Equally and in all directions.  So as you work on Yama and Niyama, you also work on Dhyana, Dharana etc.  This is a new idea for me, but the more I think about it, the more I see the similarity between this statement and asana practice.

A good friend of mine (also a yogi) told me once that when you’re struggling with a particular asana, it sometimes helps to go beyond that asana to one which is a little more advanced, and then come back to the asana that isn’t working for you.  Just because you aren’t consciously working on a particular asana doesn’t mean that it’s lying dormant.  Every time you practice, there are imperceptible changes in your body.  Whether the practice is good or bad, a change occurs.  Over time these changes accumulate and previously inaccessible asanas start to emerge, with relative ease.  In this way, your practice grows equally in all directions.

If you practice with focus and devotion, you are working on all aspects of the practice and not merely the physical one.  As your asana practice improves, your ability to speak the truth increases, you feel more compassionate towards Life and everyone in your life, you become more content and you stop vacillating between extremes.  The practice grows almost on its own accord, pulling the practitioner along with it.

 

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How to Manage Your Fears and Face Them Head On

November 2, 2017

When I needed a wall behind me for the Sirsasana.

Halloween got me thinking about fear.  As a society we value fearlessness.  As people we take pride in saying, “I’m fearless.”

But I’ve never met anyone who is fearless.  Some fear pain, some fear solitude, some fear poverty, some fear for the safety of their near and dear ones, aging.  Over the years I’ve heard of the fear of pigeons, fear of sprouts, fear of going bald.

A strategy that used to work for me was to avoid the cause of my fear.  But, it turns out, there are some fears you can’t avoid.

When I was ill I wasn’t able to practice for what felt like a very long time.  My teacher once told us that if you don’t practice for a day, it’s equivalent to putting your practice back by seven whole days.  As each day passed, I thought of all I learned in Pune.  With so much time on my hands I became increasingly anxious, nervous and fearful.

In the path of Yoga there are inevitable roadblocks and problems.  But Yoga is a holistic practice so the solution also lies in the practice.  The first limb of the Ashtanga (8 Limb) yoga practice is Yama.  The Yamas are  set of 5 ethical principles that practitioners must adhere to.  One of the Yamas is aparigraha or ‘non-attachment’.  As yogis we become too attached to the practice.  Some of us feel guilty if we are unable to practice.  Others push themselves too hard.  Some pride themselves on the asanas that they can do.  We stop enjoying the journey, we focus only on the destination.  And in the process become attached to the destination.

I am very attached to my asana practice. I spend a lot of time trying variations, reading, watching and experimenting.  When I can finally do an asana I feel a sense of accomplishment.  There is nothing wrong with feeling good about finally attaining something that you’ve worked hard for.  But if you beat yourself for not attaining the final asana despite a rigorous practice; or start to lose faith in the path because your goal seems far, far away; then you need to take a fresh look at your attitude and approach.

I was fearful of discovering the state of my yoga practice post illness. If you’ve read this blog, then you know that I was significantly weakened by the illness.  Waking up every day to practice felt like an exercise in futility.  It was scary to try asanas and not know if I would be able to do them.  Asanas which I ‘owned’ before.  But I guess by force of habit I kept on returning every morning…to fail.  Until one day I started improving.

And that’s when I realized that fear can’t be ignored.  You can’t not think about the object of your fears.  It doesn’t help to face fear head on.  Fear can only be managed, one day at a time.  You don’t have to look at the entire marathon, you need to look at the Majaa run first.  You don’t have to dwell on whether you’re going to get the job, you only need to work on giving the best interview ever.  You don’t have to worry about the Sirsasana (Headstand), you just have to work on doing a very good Adhomukha Svanasana (Downward Dog).

BKS Iyengar once told Patricia Walden (who was struggling with a heavy case of depression) to ‘Take one step no matter how small.’  I realize this is what I have been doing ever since I’ve gotten back on the mat.

Do you have a strategy to deal with fear?

 

 

 

Lifestyle Yoga

How Yoga Can Help Create a Better India…and a Better World

January 25, 2016

I’ve been watching a lot of videos of master teachers Saraswati and Sharath Jois lately to glean wisdom from their philosophy.  Yoga is a living breathing philosophy.  The way it was taught and practiced a hundred years ago was different from how it is being taught and practiced now.  The world is changing.  And with that, yoga’s role in this changing world.

Just 50 years ago perhaps the greatest challenge in the yoga world was the lack of awareness of the practice.  Now the challenges are greater.  Advances in science, increases in population, changes in lifestyle etc., have brought along an increase in stress and psychosomatic diseases.  Which has resulted in an increase in crime.

Sharath Jois, in one of his many interviews says that besides asanas we have to practice Ahimsa and Satya.  And if hundreds of people practiced Satya and Ahimsa, then it will be good for society.  There will be no violence and no bad things happening.  That’s the message that yoga is trying to give us.  Sharath goes on to say that our responsibility is not only to think about ourselves but also to think about the plants and the animals and other living beings.   I guess here he’s trying to tell us that to live in harmony is perhaps the best way to co-exist with each other and with the life around us.  And if every one of us practices Satya and Ahimsa, we can change the world.

In recent years a lot of young people have started coming forward to drive change.  Whether it’s in politics, entrepreneurship, social work, education etc., the youth has made an impact.  However, at a deeper level, to make a change in the fabric of the social psyche itself, maybe we need to practice Ahimsa and Satya with ourselves.  Know when to push forward and to hold ourselves back.  To know which battles are worth fighting and which are just fueling our ego.   To sometimes accept that though we tried our best, but our best wasn’t good enough.  (Which is OK because there are too many more mountains to climb so wallowing in self pity isn’t a good idea.)

Sharath also says, “Life is very precious, life is very important.  So how you lead your life is very important.”

A little more Satya and Ahimsa with the usual Asana will help us create a better world.

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Travel Yoga

Mysore Diaries – Day #3

December 2, 2015

I woke up today with the familiarity of routine.  The absence of the possibility of an unknown factor enables you to be a tad bit quicker and streamlines your movement.  As a result I was ready in a minutes and driving down the main road to my class.  Even before this trip started I had several misgivings.  Was I going to be able to get to Mysore OK?  What if something happened on the way to prevent me from getting there?  What if by some weird twist of fate I’m unable to register for the classes?  What if I get there and my What if I get there and my accommodation isn’t available?  In short, I would hyperventilate thinking that everything that could possibly go wrong will go wrong.  And my fears were well founded.  The room I had booked for the first night seemed a pretty amateurish

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The first pose Saraswati asked me to practice.

setup.  They never sent me a confirmation mail though I asked them repeatedly.  When I reached the main institute for registration I realized that I was supposed to bring a copy of the confirmation mail, a copy of my passport and a passport sized photograph.  I had a copy of my passport, but had missed the part about the photograph and copy of the confirmation mail.  I kept on affirming to myself that everything would work out.  And whad’ya know?  So far things have worked out.  The accomodation was clean and the staff was friendly.  I managed to find it with a little help from my GPS and phone calls.  I showed the insitute my confirmation mail on the phone and managed by a sheer stroke of luck to find many passport sized photographs in my wallet.  I was one of the first few in line for registration so didn’t have to wait for hours.  I managed to get acquainted with a few people while in line, so whatever little wait I had wasn’t boring.  I shared the one and only pen I have on this trip, and it miraculously did make its way back to me and didn’t get lost in the hordes that had to fill out their registration forms.  I actually managed to find Saraswati’s class on my first day and made it through.  I ate well and slept well.  It’s my third day in Mysore and there are a few people who I recognize and say hi to.  I feel my teacher also recognizes me and so I feel ‘connected’ to the class.  After a few hiccups, I’ve moved into the guesthouse that will be my home until the 14th of this month (see, everything is slowly working out!).  The room is clean, the staff is awesome.  I get to decide my meal times and what I want to eat.  Someone comes in regularly to clean the place.  It is safe and comfortable, and the best part is that it’s only 3 minutes from my class!  And I affirm: Things Work Out.

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Being nostalgic about classes.

The shala was as usual full today when I walked in.  What’s more, the place I had yesterday was also taken.  I decided to at least change and see what Saraswati deemed I should do today.  As if on cue, I walked out of the changing room just as Saraswati was telling the girls in front of the door to scoot a bit to the sides to make space for one more mat.  And that is where I practiced toay, cramped between two other students who also had to duck whenever someone opened the door.  Just as I was about to start my practice, Saraswati came up to me and said ‘What I told yesterday? 20 Surya Namaskars no? Start.’  And I did virtual cartwheels in my head.  Saraswati remembered me, amongst the hordes of students that she meets daily!!!  Not only that, she remembered what she had said to me yesterday!!!!  I was in yoga student heaven.  Outwardly calm I started the Surya Namaskars.
The pose I learned today is the Padangushtasana.  I notice Saraswati tells me to do one pose a day, as though building up my pose arsenal.  And once she guides me through the pose twice she asks me to continue practicing the same pose for the remaining class.  And both days she’s only taught me one asana.  She focuses on the breath, asking me to breath with her counts.  She has me repeat the asana until she’s happy with the way I’m doing it, and then tells me to practice that for the rest of the class.  So far she’s been telling me when I’m done for the day and what to  do tomorrow.  Today she dismissed me with ‘Today this is enough.  Tomorrow you come and show everything correctly.’  I nodded, did the Savasana for some time and left.  Before gettting back to the guesthouse I had the obligatory nariyal paani.
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I was unaware that this was being taken.  One of my colleagues found it on Facebook!

In the afternoon I attended my first chanting class.  During my teachers’ training we used to have this every day and it was called bhajan class.  To this day it remains my least favorite, and one that I bunk if I can help it.  We were handed printouts of a bunch of Sanskirt shlokas and asked to chant after a panditji.  It was hot, stuffy, and chanting isn’t my thing.  I lived through it.  I had considered registering for a Sanskrit and Hatha Yoga Pradipika class.  However, after the chanting class I decided that maybe I’m not ready for more Sanskrit just yet.

As usual, I came back to my room and spent the rest of my day reading and sleeping.  I could really get used to this life!

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Why Yama and Niyama?

August 22, 2013

The philosophy of yoga has 8 limbs (ashta anga = eight limbs).  The first two of these are:

1.  Yama – These are the set of ‘don’ts’.  They can also be considered to be universal moral commandments.  Patanjali laid down these principles as general ethical principles that must be followed on a daily basis.  These are:

  • Ahimsa (non violence) – refraining from any kind of violence, thought, deed action.  This includes not harming yourself.
  • Truth (satya)
  • Non  stealing (asteya)- this deals with controlling and reducing desires and wants.  The observance of asteya gives the practitioner freedom from avarice.
  • Continence (brahmacharya) – refraining from sex in mind and body.  This principle has many interpretations.  Purists believe this means no sex, period.  However, yoga is not a practice exclusively for celibates.  Taking this into consideration, this principle implies abstaining from ‘immoral’ acts of sex.  Morals are a function of the society we live in and therefore might differ from one person to the next.  However, (generally speaking) sex which is outside marriage, or without the consent of the other person, sex as a means of wielding power, sex to harm the other person….is ‘immoral’.  Brahmacharya deals with a disciplined sexual life rather than a non-existent one.
  • Non covetousness (aparigraha) – not desiring things which are not necessary for life.  This includes emotional and intellectual possessiveness.

2. Niyama – These are the set of ‘dos’.  Practicing these leads to self restraint and thereby self purification.  These are:

  • Saucha – purity/cleanliness.  There are two kinds of purity which must be strived for.  These are:
  1. External:  External purity implies purity of behavior and habits.  Cleaniliness of your physical body and your surroundings.  So things such as showering daily and wearing clean clothes and changing your socks :).
  2. Internal:  Internal purity deal with getting rid of any negative or harmful emotion that might be bottled up or that might be manifesting itself on a daily basis.  These negative emotions are:
      *Kama – passion
      *Krodha – anger
      *Lobha – greed
      *Moha – infatuation
      *Mada – pride
                *Matsarya – malice and envy
  • Santosa – contentment
  • Tapas – austerity
  • Svadhyaya – study of scriptures/one self
  • Isvara pranidhana – surrender to the lord of all our actions

 

Because yoga is the path to enlightenment, it is important, necessary and imperative that yama and niyama be followed.  Without these yoga becomes just a physical practice of asanas.  That’s like having a Blackberry and only using it to make and receive calls.  However, a Blackberry can be used to schedule meetings, check your mail, chat, listen to music and so on and so forth.  If yoga is practiced with a view to only reap the physical benefits, then you are merely scratching the surface of an ancient philosophy which can add so much value to your life.

So to sum up – practice your yama and niyama!!! 🙂