What’s It All About?

Please note the ideas in the following article may not reflect the opinion of YTOC. These are my personal insights, shared by my dear friend Pat Hansen and other yoga teachers.

Yoga Teacher
Registered Teacher
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Yoga Stretching

What is in the Name, the Words, the Essence of Yoga? ? ?

So much is currently happening in the yoga world. Studios are popping up all over the Denver Metro area. More and more people are becoming teachers. With all of the rapid growth, what is happening to Yoga?

Last year someone told me their girlfriend went to work at Recreational Center in Denver. Her first assignment was to teach a yoga class. When she responded that she had not studied yoga, the Director of the Center responded, “Go in and do some stretching, no one will know the difference.” I personally gasped at hearing this story.

A couple days ago, I received information on a program program offered in Denver that allows people to do a sixteen hour training, teach eight hours and receive a Yoga Teacher’s Certificate. I am very concerned.

The Yoga Alliance worked diligently for several years deciding on how to define “minimum standards” to be considered a Registered Yoga Teacher. Representatives from thirteen different schools and yoga organizations (including YTOC) gave input. The standards include study in the following areas: 30 hours in Yoga Philosophy and Lifestyle, 20 hours in Anatomy and Physiology , 20 hours of Teaching Methodology, 10 hours of Practice Teach, 30 Elective hours and most important 100 hours of Techniques which include asana, pranayama and meditation.

Can someone without this much training teach yoga? Yes. Should they be able to call themselves a “registered” teacher? No. Should they be able to call themselves “certified?” I don’t know. Certified has two meanings. The first is to “prove by certificate.” This the person has done — they have completed what the organizer presented. The second meaning of certified is “guaranteed, reliably endorsed.” Would I consider someone with a minimal amount of training “reliably endorsed?” No, I cannot say I would “reliably endorse” a teacher with only a sixteen hour training.

Why all the training hours? I feel there is a dramatic difference between yoga and just moving into the position of a pose (which I am going to language as stretching for this article). I feel in a short training, stretching is emphasized more than yoga. It is the position they are teaching. The difference in a yoga pose and merely stretching is more than the Spiritual component. It includes — well, let me be specific:

oYogasana focuses on a single, comparatively slow contraction of isolated muscles followed by relaxation. Stretching is often a repeated, sometimes vigorous succession of contractions and expansions.

oToning and strengthening in yogasana comes from the consciousness of working specific intrinsic muscle groups in a sustained manner. The purpose of stretching is more frequently used to balance an aerobic or weight workout or lengthen muscles after they have been challenged.

oYoga isolates muscle groups and draws the practitioners attention to relax muscles which do not pertain to the asana. Stretching is often more focused on the goal, rather than the details. How often in life do we flex into something we don’t need to be concerned about? Asana becomes a practice of identifying the priority muscles (life experience) and letting the other muscles(and life experience) go.

oStretching is not normally organized in a sequential format to balance the external and internal bodies. Yoga is taught in a format to work the body thoroughly, both externally and internally.

oThe slow gradual movements of yoga places no strain on the heart. Strenuous stretching can strain the heart.

oStretching focuses on attaining an external goal. Yoga is an experience of the journey. Often, when we attain the “goal,” we discover an internal fine tuning which invites us to explore the asana with a different perspective and alignment.

oYoga is as much about mobility as flexibility. Tuning into the interconnectedness of all parts of the body enhances both mobility and flexibility. Stretching, with the goal of only flexibility in a specific position, can compromise mobility in other movements. An example of this is working a forward bend to touch the toes, often straining the hamstrings and psoas, limiting motion in other movements. Yoga would explore the forward bend from the lengthening of the low back and gluteal muscles supporting the elongation of the psoas, creating a stable core and more mobility.

oYou can’t stretch and already tight muscle. In stretching, reaching for a goal creates a tightness of the muscle. Yoga uses the integration of breath to massage the muscles, softening the tissues of the body and inviting the continued elongation through gentleness. Our bodies like gentleness.

oStretching works the skeletal muscles. Yoga works the intrinsic muscles, organs and glands.

oStretching and exercise is often presented in a competitive format. Yoga emphasizes tranquility, harmony and no competition.

oStretching is designed to balance the physical. Yoga is designed to effect the mental and Spiritual.

oThe whole theory of yogic anatomy, balancing the nadis, chakras and the inner body is a concept foreign to the fitness world. The integration of inner flow of yoga empowers the asana practice.

oAsana is defined as “sthira sukham asanam,” a steady comfortable position. The definition includes a steadiness of body, breath and mind. Stretching does not include this perspective.

oBreathing practices, or for more advanced practitioners, pranayama, are integral to yogasana practice. I personally teach “breath proceeds movement.” The breath opens, massages and aligns the body, preparing it to move into expressing the asana. Stretching does not emphasize an integrated breath.

oYogasana is about accumulating energy rather than spending energy. A practice properly done allows a practitioner to walk away feeling like they have added energy. Stretching can leave a person feeling they have expended energy.

oRelaxed efficiency is another way to define the body process of a yogasana practice. Yoga is not about cooling down after a workout. It is more than an alternative to a workout. It is a practice for living life, relaxed and efficient.

oYoga is an analogy for living. If we are competitive on the mat, we are probably competitive in other areas of our life. If we are judging ourself, we probably do this in life. If we nitpicking our poses, we probably nitpick our life. Stretching misses the vital opportunity to enhance self awareness.

oRama Jyoti Vernon said, “When you put away your practice mat, your true yoga begins.” Yoga goes beyond the mat. It is more than stretching, it is an opportunity to gain tools to live your life fully. The other day a student came up to me to share how yoga made a difference. She realized she had a rock in her shoe. She was excited because she actually felt her feet. More important, rather than ignoring the rock (which she would have done at one time) she stopped and took the rock out! Silly? No. She was willing to honor her body! Do you? Do you even feel it? The awareness of yoga invites you to listen and take care of yourself so other things you do become an overflow.

Understanding how the body is impacted anatomically and in the subtle body are essential. Yogasana are powerful. I have made myself sick from improper choices of asana and pranayama. A teacher needs to be able to evaluate the students and adapt the class to create safety for the students. Stretching classes do not emphasize the power to honor the moment.

In the Puranas, it is said, “Shiva manipulated his body into 840,000 ways, each represented a different bird or beast. These asanas, energized the body, revealing the pulsating animal instincts within, the ones that have to be brought under control.” Merely moving into a position does not necessarily open the door for someone to bring their instincts under control.

The many points listed above are elements you can’t pick up in a short training. They come from learning to be present for yourself, practicing and fine tuning each asana until they become second nature. The many “hours” of training, whether done through a professional program, or through your own life experience are a key to Yoga.

Have you been inclusive of the “whole” of Yoga in your training and teaching experience? Are your students learning to stretch or are they learning the depth and breadth of yoga? How do you define yourself — a Teacher, Registered or Certified? How do you feel having people listed as Certified teachers with only a sixteen hour training plus eight hours of teaching?

How can we keep the integrity in Yoga?

 

This article was first published in 2010.

Asanas, Koshas & Elements: An Essential Relationship: by Mark Giubarelli

“The five elements and Koshas are essential to your proper understanding of this art. You cannot understand balance of harmony if you do not perceive all these layers and elements.” That is what my teachers told me in my earlier years. Many thousands of classes down the road and the clarification has come. Not only has the clarity come, but with it is the ability to give a clear presentation of these theories and concepts to people, even those with no understanding of yoga.
It is complicated to write about these matters and how they are viewed in the yoga postures. So I will just touch upon them. The elements start with the heaviest: earth–skin, bone, and flesh;water—fluids in the body; fire–mental charge that is applied to the body; Air–the air in the body; Space–viewed by my teachers as mental presence. The Five Bodies (Koshas) starting with the heaviest: Anatomical Body; Physiological Body; Psychological Body; Intellectual Body; Blissful Body.

It is necessary to consider each body; otherwise it is almost impossible to reach a blissful state in not only the Yoga posture being performed but also on the sequence and transitioning from posture to posture. We can think of the five bodies like this while in a posture. How is the bone structure? Can I push any further? What effect does this have on my nervous system and mind? How does this posture affect my breathing? Is there that state of lightness in the pose where I am engulfed in light and that light is engulfed in me…where I am no longer inside or out…where I am one with the light that is all around me?
I hope you can attend this presentation talking first about the theories above and then applying those theories to a Yoga Sequence. (Note: Sanskrit left out.)

Mark has taught thousands of classes in the Denver Area, specializing in Vinyasa style, the art of sequencing. He is originally from Scotland, where he began the study of Yoga that eventually carried him to further studies in California and a teaching life in Colorado.

The Yoga of Freedom by Roseanna Frechette

From the time we enter our first hatha yoga class, we are told that yoga means union. But it is the way in which we experience yogic practices that gives personal truth to this meaning. If, through pranic breath and asana practice, the mind becomes clear as the physical body relaxes and opens, we may connect with our inner truth and the presence of spirit. As we find ourselves progressively on the yoga path, embracing an array of time-tested practices, we may begin to identify the underlying value of these practices, the reason for having yoga in our lives. We may begin to understand what Patanjali, yogic sage and author of the Yoga Sutras, identifies as the goal of our practice. We may experience freedom. Or not.
Somewhere in my experience as a teacher of yoga, I have understood that the yoga of freedom lies in my willingness to continually open the door for my students’ independent experience of the practice we share. Thus I become a steward of freedom. But what exactly is freedom? Webster says it is “the quality or state of being free,” with free meaning “to relieve or rid of what restrains, confines, restricts, or embarrasses” also “not subject to the control or domination of another.” In his book Freedom and Destiny, author Rollo May points out that: “Freedom is the possibility of development, of enhancement of one’s life; or the possibility of withdrawing, shutting oneself up, denying and stultifying one’s growth.” May implies that freedom includes choice.
As teachers of yoga, we are in a position to exert power and control over others in such a way as to impart our subjective experience of yoga on those others. We are also in a position to lead others through a series of shared moments in such a way as to encourage those others to find their own personal meaning for the freedom that lies at the heart of this practice. We are in a position to ride that fine line between tyranny and freedom, the line between having students submit to our will or discover the truth of their own. The subtle differences that comprise this line are, in my opinion, very important.
For instance, I can always tell when I’m teaching too much. I begin noticing a change in my attitude and language. When this happens, I begin to sense that I am telling my students what to do more and leading them into making independent choices less. If not careful, my teaching agenda can become a prescribed practice that forgets the individual. To be fair, we must have structure, some sort of boundary we can recognize and bump up against in order to measure our freedom. Our job as teachers of hatha yoga is one of creating a sturdy framework for our students’ practice. How we do that is worth noticing.
I consider myself blessed to have learned early on that asana practice is meant to be a form of meditation in which we can find personal equilibrium, personal equanimity. It is meant to be, as Mukunda Stiles states in his interpretation of Patanjali’s Sutras, “…steady and comfortable…” I believe that by offering our students choices, we can more surely facilitate their experience of steady comfort. I also take Webster’s words re: restriction, confinement and embarrassment to heart when striving to honor the goal of freedom. Some teaching techniques I favor include:

  • giving students step-by-step instructions that invite them to find their uniqueness and the right place for them to be in a pose, often encouraging them to move towards a place rather than all the way to a place (a favorite cue being “as best you can”);
  • taking long reflective moments of still time in between times of action;
  • giving students full permission to do something different than what I am doing if what I am doing is not okay for them;
  • being playful and offering creative movement as a way of self-exploration and release;
  • allowing for moments of spontaneity within the class structure;
  • using occasional cues that specifically honor free will such as: “you may choose to…” “if you will….” or, another favorite, “if this challenges you, you may stay here;”
  • reminding students now and then that this is their practice, not mine, and inviting them to take care of themselves throughout; AND
  • to “stay tuned in” for their own needs and awareness within the practice.

By inviting our students’ willingness to explore who they truly are rather than who they are expected to be in this practice we also invite their experience of freedom. In his freedom discourse, Rollo May asks: “Have we not too easily and readily seized upon freedom as our birthright and forgotten that each of us must rediscover it for ourselves?” As translated in Barbara Stoler Miller’s Yoga: Discipline of Freedom, Patanjali tells us “Freedom is…the power of consciousness in a state of true identity.” Let us remember the power we have, as teachers of hatha yoga, to offer our students such freedom. Or not.

Roseanna Frechette is Founder & Director of Inner City Yoga in Denver where she teaches all populations and trains instructors. Creator of the audiocassette “Refreshing Hatha Yoga” and www.yogabtyes.com, her writings have appeared in various publications including Yoga Journal. Roseanna is V.P., Programs, for Yoga Teachers of Colorado as of January 2001. This article was written out of a presentation Roseanna has previously made to YTOC.

Pregnancy Yoga by Janice Clarfield

What is YOGA? The word yoga is translated from Sanskrit to mean union, that is union of the body, mind and spirit. From a yogic point of view, life is to be enjoyed and experienced fully. With pregnancy, there is more joy.

What is PREGNANCY YOGA? Pregnancy yoga is the nurturing activity undertaken when time is spent (a little or a lot) to gently relax, release and attune to your body and your rapidly growing baby within. The natural, vital and restorative energies of the body and mind are enhanced through gentle yoga
postures.

When pregnant, one feels the strains of the ever-changing body, particularly the new demands upon the back. Yoga work counterbalances the growing abdomen and maintains good posture. Stretching while strengthening helps to release the pelvic opening in preparation for birth. Toning the pelvic floor allows for a more controlled birthing, lessens complications and enhances postnatal healing.

Breath work is practiced in preparation for responding to labor by coordinating with the rhythms of contractions. Breathing awareness is essential for relaxation, comfort and confidence. Just being in your body that is home for two is a yoga. Your pregnant body is naturally and miraculously in a state of enhanced energy and creativity. Taking time to pause from the stream of day-to-day activity to connect with your body enables you to experience and enjoy these augmented senses.

With hormonal changes, emotions are also heightened. Whether they be in the realm of joy or sorrow, love or anger, feelings may be experienced with surprising depth and in rapidly changing rhythms. Noticing and allowing yourself to feel your emotions fully has a positive effect on your health and therefore on your baby’s health too.

All women experience some fear of labor. A simple foundation in yoga prepares you to face childbirth with courage. To be relaxed and confident during labor reduces fear, tension and fatigue. Flexibility and calm ease the birthing process, thus reducing pain and increasing the joy of giving birth.

While practicing yoga, your relationship with your baby deepens–physically, mentally and spiritually. It is a time to be mindful that you are engaged in the creation of new life, and to be attentive to the impact of this major life passage. Taking time in this way allows the quickly passing nine months to be cherished.

Even if you have never practiced yoga before, being pregnant can provide the motivation for beginning this healthful practice which will hasten your recovery, and that you can carry on long after your baby is born. You will find that your practice will become a source of strength and love, during and after pregnancy.

Practicing More Than Asana

Today there are many teachers who excel at teaching wonderful asana classes.

There is more to Yoga than asana. If one explores the Ashtanga Path as defined by Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras or the Hatha Yoga path as outlined by Svatmarama in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, asana is only one aspect of Yoga. The classical texts include even more techniques.

A basic listing of techniques includes: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi, shat karma, mudra, bandha, drsti, mantra, multiple forms of meditation and ayurvedic attunement to practice.

You may be familiar with many of the practices. How many techniques do you practice? Practice is the door to real understanding.

How many techniques do you integrate into your classes? Granted, it is difficult to “lead” dharana, dhyana and samadhi in a yoga class, as these are the inner experience of Yoga. Class does create the safety and the space for students to experience these levels of union. The other methodologies listed facilitate the opportunity for students to find and explore the meditative practices fully.

It is important to start with an understanding of yoga and need for practices. Yoga is union. It is the quieting the mind. It is action in inaction. To do this effectively, we must maintain our prana instead of continually allowing ojas (a particular yogic form of reserves) to escape by releasing energy through the nine gates (eyes, ears, mouth, nose, anus and uretha) or by spreading ourselves so thin in a multitude of activities we have no way to sustain inner stamina or ojas.

Many of the techniques are about containing and channeling prana and sustaining ojas. The practices are about opening the channels in our body so the prana can flow in our body fluidly. As you practice your own sadhana, notice if you are doing practices to contain and sustain prana or if your practices allow prana to escape.

In this months’ YTOC newsletter, I will define the practices. If there is interest, I will be glad to continue to contribute articles exploring the techniques in an experiential format. The methods are listed the following in alphabetical order as I feel each is equally important.

Asana practices can be done as a stretch or with an internal awareness. Asana can be done with gross muscles or an inner attention to the intrinsic muscles. Asana can be done with containing energy or throwing energy away. Which factors do you consider when practicing asana?

Ayurveda is not really a practice. It is the sister science of Yoga which addresses our health, balance of life and lifestyle. We can do asana, pranayama and other techniques, which do not support our inner balance. For example, too many fire breaths or warming asanas are not good if you are already a fiery person. Understanding and integrating ayurveda knowledge will allow you to develop a balanced flow to enhance your life.

Bandha means “lock”. The major purpose of bandha is to lock energy into a specific region of the body, stimulating the vayu or prana. There are three major locks that are emphasized in the Hatha Yoga writings. They are the mula bandha ” root lock”, jalandhara bandha “throat lock”, and uddiyana bandha “stomach lock”. The locks are used to contain the prana in the subtle bodies. They can be used in pranayama practice or in asana to hold in or lock energy into a specific area for focus, for healing, creating agni and channeling kundalini to the sushumna if the vayus are balanced and the nadis are open.

Drsti is gazing at various points of the body, which changes the energy flow. The most common gazing areas are the chakras or the lingham. Lower gazes root into the earth. Mid body drsti is normally on the heart and creates a calming cooling effect. Third eye gazes can be warming and invigorating as well as deep penetrating energy. Explore a pose such as Paschimottanasana with your gaze at the root chakra and then the ajna chakra. How does it feel?

Mantra is the use of vibrational sound. In the context of the Vedic tradition, essence comes first and sound represents an essence. We therefore, chant sounds that stimulate or awaken aspects of physical, emotional or spiritual body when we use mantra. Mantras are energy based and often have no “translation.” Mantras are chakra based, representing the petals of the chakras. Mantra energizes prana and can be likened to purifying fire. Mantras quiet the mind Mantra can be chanted externally or internally. Do you do dhun, bhajan or vedic chanting with you practice?

Meditation is more than setting and stopping the mind. It is an unfolding process to quiet the mind, a practice that for some is simple, others very difficult. Therefore, in the yoga world there are many styles of meditation to accommodate different types of persons, whether you are more audio, visual or kinesthetic. (These parallel vata, pitta and kapha.) Examples of meditation include: chanting, mantra, japa, nada, ratak, Sambhavi, jyotir, pranayama, inner visualization, subtle body focus, Vipassana, metta. Are you doing a meditative practice, which supports your dosha and feels effortless?

Mudra have two forms both which are used to channel energy in the body. The classical mudras are asana practice with the energy contained by bandhas and channeled with drsti. In more recent years we have developed hand mudras. Each finger has a different energy, planet, organ, part of the body etc. which it effects when touched. Various angles of the hand impact a nadi. By aligning the hands in different positions with the fingers touching, energy is channeled. For example, we can change the breath from the right lung to the left lung, upper lobe to lower lobe just be the position of the hands and fingers!

Pranayama practices can heat the body, cool the body, stimulate or balance different doshas, calm us down or excite the body. We can do breathing practices or pranayama. Breathing practices allow us to strengthen our breath. Pranayama increases life force and sustains prana in the body. Pranayama should not deplete our energy. Do you use pranayama in a way to augment your practice and lifestyle?

Pratyahara is commonly defined as the withdrawal of senses. Have you ever been so engrossed in a book you became oblivious to movement around you — pratyahara. As a yogic technique, we do it as an inward focus rather than through external concentration. Bringing our senses inward, or pratyahara, is the first step of meditation; we can practice pratyahara doing asana by attending to the inner sensations rather then the external alignment and detail.

Shat Karmas or Kriyas are the practices of cleansing the body. Energy cannot flow through the body channels if they are clogged physically. The basic shat karma practices are an internal cleansing of the dhatu’s (tissues) and srotas (body channels). The practices include: neti (nasal cleansing), dhauti (cleansing of the body through washing and vomiting), vasti (enema), trataka (candle gazing), nauli (intestinal wash) and kapalabhati (a breath for “skull shining”).

Yama and niyama are, in my humble opinion, the two most important steps in a yoga practice, and the ones most often forgotten. If we are not living right livelihood, containing our energy appropriately, being distracted by our actions in the world, etc., we will be restless. Our mental time will be spent evaluating and examining ours and others actions. Yoga practice really begins with conscious thought to Yama and Niyama. (Note: there was an article on the Yama and Niyama two issues past.) I find students enjoy the inclusion of different aspects and techniques of yoga. More important is for me to enjoy, benefit and understand the practice. Once I “get” the practice, the inclusion in class comes from my personal experience, not a surface or book knowledge of the technique. Try them . . . you may enjoy the results.

This article was first published in 2010 by Hansa Knox and is still relevant today.

Yoga Beyond the Mat: Yamas and Niyamas

Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras start with saying, “Now, the study of yoga. ” Does that just translate as today, in the moment the yoga teachings are relevant? I feel he wrote “Now” for a more auspicious reason.

In the older traditions, a student went to a teacher to study yoga. The teacher had the student do seva (serving in the household), studying and learning the basic practices of right life. As an example, a friend of mine, Indukanta was studying flute in India. Her teacher often has students play one note for a year before he teaches them the next note! Some students of yoga practiced for years, purifying, cleansing and preparing themselves before they were allowed the privilege of, “Now, the study of yoga.,, Today, some begin asana without even a consciousness of the “living everyday life” practices. Yoga has become a tool for the manipulation of the body. Historically, it was a tool to support our gross life into living earthly life as a Spiritual Being. It is never too late to begin integrating the yogic practices into life transforming moments. The practices are summarized by Pantajali in the second Sutra, as Yama and Niyama.

The yama consist of Ahimsa – non-violence, Satya – truthfulness, Asteya – non-stealing, Aparigraha – non-desire and Brahmacharya – moderation. Niyama include the qualities of- Saucha – purification, Santosha – contentment, Tapas – discipline, Svadyaya – self study and Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God.

Sounds pretty basic. Let’s look again. Take an inventory of the following questions.

Ahimsa – non -violence. Did you hurt anyone today? Did you possibly say something that hurt someone’s feelings? Did you sit silent instead of responding to a question? Is the subtle violence any less violating than overt violence?

Satya – truthfulness. Did you tell a white lie to protect someone’s feelings? Did you put on a pretense, afraid to let someone know who you really are? Do you know the edge of when speaking is better than silence?

Asteya – non-stealing. Do you feel jealous of the belongings of others? Do you show up for appointments on time? Do you honor time boundaries in your life? Do you want more than you have? Do you desire … ?

Aparigraha – non-possessiveness. Aparigraha is not about owning possessions it is about the attitude towards belongings. Is there an area in your life you experience greed? Are you willing to let go possessions — physical, emotional, spiritual? Can you expand to the point of witnessing ownership?

Brahmacharya – moderation. Do you moderate all sense pleasures — eating, drinking, sleeping, dress, connection with others? Have you dropped your compulsion to seek pleasures? Can you find pleasure in the simplicity of Spirit?

Saucha – purification. Are you physically clean, neat and eat a pure diet? Are you in the process of purifying your emotions? Do you associate with company that supports a healthy mental diet? Do you include practices allowing you to be established in your “bliss” body?

Santosha – contentment. Santosha is not about being apathetic, it is living life with a passion, content and full each moment. Do you have gratitude for all you have? Do you learn and appreciate even the unpleasant experiences? Can you let go of preferences and receive life as it presents itself?

Tapas – discipline, being in the transformational fire. Do you keep your commitments, to yourself and to others? Can you disciple yourself to honor a healthy lifestyle, physically, mentally, emotionally and Spiritually? Does your breathing slow down, allowing you to breathe life, moment by moment? Have you found your self- creative consciousness?

Svadyaya – self study . Do you study the scriptures and apply them as analogy for living? Do you use your asana practice as insights for how you live your daily life? Can you be in objective self observation? Do you live in a balance with life energy?

Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God. Do you love God/Self? Are you willing to allow daily activities to be love manifest? Are you willing to dwell on the Beloved? Do ever feel absorbed in the Beloved?

These precepts are not unknown in other traditions. The Ten Commandments and the Ten Virtues from the Buddhist tradition represent the same concepts. We all must learn that more important than flexibility of the body, flexibility of Spirit reigns. Do you live a life of loving kindness? Do you practice living Yama and Niyama?

Consider exploring the yama and niyama. Choose one a week for the next ten weeks. Daily focus, practice and reflect on the yama or niyama. See how the practice and awareness will make a difference — first within yourself and then watch it overflow into your relationship with others.

Namasté

This article was first published in 2009 by Hansa Knox and is still relevant today.

The Season for Ahimsa

Two lives injected into the global consciousness the life-proof that it is possible to transform the human community without violence. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King drew on a concept that spans millennia and cultures: the concept of nonviolence, or as we know in the yogic tradition, Ahimsa. Arun Gandhi, the grandson of M.K. Gandhi and his wife, Sunanda, created A Season for Nonviolence in 1998 to commemorate the lives of these two great men. The fourth anniversary of the Season extends from January 30 – April 4, 2001. These dates are represent the 54th and 34th anniversaries of the assignations of Gandhi and King.

During this time, I will be reading quotes and focusing yoga classes with a theme of how we create inner violence through agendas, self- judgment, and competition. Each week I will be using the precepts outlined in Yama and Niyama to create awareness for yoga students. Focusing through how I language asana to give students an opportunity to practice ahimsa through svadyaya. Examples of guiding students may include the language reflecting these thoughts:

Week 1 – Ahimsa – Nonviolence: Are you being kind to yourself as you explore the poses? Are you pushing too hard? Can you find the edge between not challenging yourself and pushing to hard?

Week 2 – Satya – Truthfulness: Am I being truthful about my expression of the poses? Is today a day I need to be more gentle and kind or is it a day my body allows a different expression of the pose? Am I lying to myself as I try to be the “frozen pose in the book”?

Week 3 Asteya – Nonstealing: Do I own the asana for myself or do I steal my “agenda for the pose from someone else,” violating my own expression?

Week 4 – Brahmacarya – Moderation: How do I practice fully and yet moderate my asana and pranayama to honor my energy? Have I eaten moderately? Do I sleep moderately? Where is the edge where I push myself or find myself slothful — both on and off the mat?

Week 5 – Aparigraha – Simplicity and sharing: How do I “own” what is mine, share what is more than enough? Do I keep my asana flow simple or complicate it with adding more, pushing my limits and not being totally present for Self?

Week 6 – Sauca – Purity: Do I find the gem in each asana? Am I pushing to do it right, violating the purity within the unfoldment of asana flows?

Week 7 – Santosha – Contentment: Where is the edge between contentment, sinking in and being with the depth of asana and reaching to attain external image?

Week 8 – Tapa – Discipline: Do I practice the old concept of no pain no gain, or do I discipline myself to return again and again to Self as asana unfolds in its expression and I unfold into the Being rather than Doing?

Week 9 – Svadyaya – Introspection: Am I doing the asana or am I exploring? Do I practice “stihira sukaham asana” steady and comfortable asana in body, breath and Spirit?

Week 10 – Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender to God: Do I control my practice or is there a place of flow? How does it allow myself to fully be in the hands of God?

With each of these practices, we have an opportunity to look inside and see the many facets of inner violence. I personally feel, how we treat ourselves, overflows into our treatment of others. Asana and “on the mat” yoga is simply an opportunity for us to listen and practice, reframing our behavioral patterns from deep introspection and a cellular release. Asana practice is a gateway for all students to do the same — especially if we as teachers model the path.

I would like to encourage every yoga teacher to take the opportunity during this time to invite your students to support the Season for Nonviolence. Whether you integrate the above ideas, read quotes or ask them to do an exercise such as creating a diary of how they manage anger and create loving kindness in life.

Gandhian Principles with regard to Personal Policy:

1. Respect – To respect others and accept the interdependence and interconnectedness of all life.

2. Understanding – We must begin to understand the whys of being here for ourselves and others.

3. Acceptance – Out of respect and understanding, we can begin to accept on another’s differences.

4. Appreciating Differences – Move beyond acceptance into appreciation and celebration of differences.

“My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non violence. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might overwhelm the world.” Gandhi

Kingian Principles of Nonviolence:

1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustices, not people.

4. Nonviolence holds that suffering for a cause can educate and transform.

5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

6. Nonviolence holds that the universe is on the side of justice and right will prevail.

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had. Finally, it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscious that reconciliation can become a reality.” King

There is a local task force developing programs for the Season For Nonviolence. If you choose to be more involved, you can contact the local representative, Robin Chapuis at 303-984-0930. Or feel to join me on an independent level of speaking the message of nonviolence as we connect to our students on a daily basis.

Namasté

This article was first published in 2009.

Spiritual Guidance on Meditation

A while back I was in a yoga class and the teacher said, “I will be guiding a vipassana meditation from the Buddhist tradition as there are no forms of meditation in the yogic tradition.” I was aghast. Meditation IS the basis of the yogic tradition!

I do realize, in America, many people view yoga as only asana. Traditionally, this was not so. Yogasana was not recorded in texts until the third century C.E.. Meditation is illuminated in the Vedas, Upanishads, Epics and it is the major focus of Pantajali Yoga Sutras. Here are a few examples of scripture references:

~~Yoga, as expressed in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras 1.2: “Yoga citta vritti nirhodaha,” is about calming the fluctuations of the mind (meditation). Through calming the fluctuation, the true Self is realized. 1.3.

~~The Hatha Pradipika opens with the following statement: “I bow to Lord Shiva who taught the lore of Hatha Yoga, which is held in high esteem as if it were a flight of steps for the aspirant who looks forward to climbing the highest peak of Rajayoga.” 1.1. The Gheranda Samhita starts with a similar verse. Swami Kripalu explains this by saying, ”In Hatha the organs of action are mastered: in Rajayoga the organs of the sense are mastered.”

~~Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu asks his father, Varuna, “Sir, teach me Brahman (God).” Varuna responds, “Seek to know Brahman by meditation. Meditation is Brahman.”

~~Bhakti Sutras, verse 6 says, “The devotee first becomes intoxicated with bliss (meditation). Then, having realized That, he becomes inert and silent and takes his delight in the Atman.”

~~Bhagavad Gita, includes directions on how to meditate.

8.8: “When you make your mind one pointed through regular practice of medi-tation, you will find the supreme glory of God.”

12.6 – 7: But, they for whom I am the supreme goal . . . . and meditate on me with single hearted devotion . . . . I will swiftly rescue . . . . for their consciousness has entered into me.

6.10 -16, 18: Day after day, let the Yogi practice the harmony of soul (meditation): in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing. Let him find a place that is pure and a seat that is restful, neither too high nor too low. . . On that seat let him rest and practice Yoga of the purification of the soul: with the life of his body and mind in peace; his soul in silence before the One. With upright body, head and neck, which rest still and move not, with inner gaze which is not restless, but rests still between the eyebrows; with soul in peace, and all fear gone, and strong in the vow of holiness, let him rest with mind in harmony, his soul on me, his God supreme. The Yogi who, lord of his mind, ever prays in this harmony of soul, attains the peace of Nirvana, the peace supreme that is in me. Yoga is a harmony. . . . When the mind of the Yogi is in harmony and finds rest in the Spirit within, all restless desires gone, then he is a Yukta, one in God. 6.35: “The mind is restless. It is indeed hard to train. But by constant practice and by freedom from passions the mind in truth can be trained.”

~~Pantajali describes meditation as a process. Sutra 2.54 and 55: Pratyahara is the process of the senses imitating the mind’s withdrawal by withdrawing contact with their respective objects. From that follows the highest mastery over the senses.

Sutra 3.1, 2, 3 and 7: Concentration (dharana) is fixing the mind to one object. Meditation (dhyana) is an uninterrupted flow of thought toward the object. That same (meditation) becomes trance (samadhi) when the object alone shines forth and there is no consciousness of the mind itself. The three (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are internal in relation to the preceding limbs.

Many yogasana classes include relaxation, not meditation, although they may call it meditation. Not everyone understands the difference so let us begin by clarifying terminology, based on the above readings. Relaxation guides you in connecting with the inner self within the world. Meditation guides you to merging with the Spirit through one pointed focus until you and the point become one.

Relaxation is a step in the path of meditation. It allows you and/or the students to be quiet, a time out to be with oneself and begin the inner journey. Therefore, it is easy to include in a class. For many, it is the closest they have come to a form of meditation and it is very different from their many concepts.

A relaxation can be silent, with music and/or a guided visualization. The language used in the flow will be broad and permissive. People with various inclinations will relax better with different clues during the process. Visual people like to have colors and images introduced. Audio people want to have sounds. Kinesthetic people want to feel the energy. “Take a walk on the sandy beach. Feel the sand under your feet. Notice the color of the sky, the sound of the waves and birds.” would be a very inclusive guided visualization.

Students walk away from the experience relaxed and less stressed. They know they have been inward and they feel they have had a meditative experience. This is not really meditation. Meditation is being one focus so we merge with our concept of a Universal Presence. I describe this process similar to the following with “T” representing thoughts and “O” representing focus on the object.

T T T T O T T T T O TO T T T TO T T T O T T T T O T T T O T T O T T T O T T O T T T O T T O T T O T O T T T O T T O T O T T O T O T T O T O O T T T O T T O O O T T O O O T O O O T O O O O O T O O O O O T O O O O O O O T O O O O O O O O O T O O O O O O O

As you can see, it is movement from the busy thoughts to a focus on the object. It becomes a training, not an instantaneous experience. Krishna emphasizes practice in the Gita and I feel this is the journey Pantajali refers to as he illuminates the steps for pratyahara, dharana to dhyana and samadhi.

The major issue, which comes up for many, is what object do I focus on. We hear about focusing on the void. What in the world is void! ? ! Our mind gets busy just trying to figure out the void. Let’s look at the scriptures, Pantajali, 1. 32 – 41: “For the removal of distractions and symptoms, practice on one principle is to be done. The mind becomes purified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the miserable, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the evil-natured.

The mind may be calmed by expulsion and retention of breath. Or else the mind can be made steady by merging it in subtle sense perceptions. Or by perception of the luminous light within, which is beyond sorrow. Or contemplation on one who is free from attachments. Or else by giving it the knowledge of dream and deep sleep for support. Or by meditation as desired. Mastery is gained when the mind can be fixed on the smallest atom as well as on the greatest infinity. Just as a transparent crystal takes the color of the object on which it rests, so a purified mind is absorbed in the object of contemplation, whether the object is gross or subtle, the senses or ego, or the pure I- sense.”

This is a powerful guidance. To review, focus on one object: kindness towards others, pranayama, sensations, inner light, a deity, a dream, or as desired regardless of size. It doesn’t matter, just focus! There is a Buddhist story about a man who came to Buddha and said that every time he tried to meditate on the Buddha, he thought about his wife. Buddha’s response was to meditate on his wife. The Sutras say pick an object which works, even if it is your wife. When we realize thoughts, acknowledge the thought, “Thank you for the awareness.” Then go back to the object.

If you are in a class and want to lead a meditation, guide the students to a seated position and inner focus and allow flexibility on the focus point. Visual people do better with tratak, Shambhavi and Jyoti mudra for meditation. Audio people will prefer mantra, japa and anahata nada. Kinesthetic people will do better with pranayama, observing subtle body energies such as vayus, nadis, chakras and the sushumna. Take some time and teach the various methods. Then, simply guide a group “in,” allowing their inner guidance to choose the form.

The yoga tradition is rich in the path of meditation. There are many sacred writings which share the above mentioned forms of meditation (and others) plus the joys and blessings of meditation. Take some time, read the yoga scriptures and practices of meditation. Enjoy the richness of meditation in your own practice and in your classes.

Hansa is a yoga teacher and body oriented holistic health therapist in Denver, Colorado. She teaches a 250 hour Contemplative Hatha Yoga Teacher Training Program and a 500 hour Professional Teacher Training Program. She is on the faculty of Rocky Mountain Institute for Yoga and Ayurveda. Hansa is a past president of Yoga Teachers of Colorado and serves on the Board of Trustees for Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The Evolution of Yoga Practice

Have you ever noticed students in class deeply in love with the physical experience of yoga. Then there are a few students who realize there is something more to yoga than just postures. My journey falls into the latter category, although I did not know it in the beginning.

I was formally introduced to yoga by Raj Mangarat Rai in Hull, Massachusetts in 1984. Prior to meeting Raj I had read a yoga book and tried to do the yoga sequences. Something did not seem quite right as I tried to do the suggested flows so I gave up. I tried aerobics which I enjoyed thoroughly. As a traveling sales person, I couldn’t do aerobics in my hotel room. I thought yoga might be a solution to the need to work out. Yoga was one of those “things” that still intrigued me. I did want to lose some weight, keep fit and not be tied to aerobic classes and Raj’s private sessions were affordable.

The private sessions were excellent. I did not realize until years later the blessings I received by beginning yoga one on one with a personal teacher. The following year I began doing weekend retreats and group classes at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I took on an internal competition by being in group classes which fed my ego, competitive spirit and desire to do better — another awareness that I did not “get” for several more years. Eventually, I became a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.

Yoga, in the beginning, was a way to manipulate my body, although I defined it as flexibility. My goal was to attain a slim waist, firm thighs, the picture perfect posture and all the “important things.”

Something started to happen in my yoga practice. Sadness came up in the middle of holding a posture. A memory of a joyful time sprang forth in another asana. An insight surfaced as a teacher guided another movement. I could breathe. I couldn’t breathe. Flowing to another position came spontaneously as did resistance to another posture. Thankfully, Kripalu teachers had the insights to guide me into an understanding that: The body is the silent communicator of the Spirit.

Understanding yoga became more than how the muscles feel with various body movements. I felt my body and asked questions: Was the restriction in a back bend physical or was I afraid of leaning into my past? Were my shoulders curved to protect my heart or taking in a breath of life? I contemplated. Interpretations and answers came. I began healing myself and connecting to Spirit through body awareness.

It was necessary for my mind to make sense of the body experiences. Scriptures became my friend. Yogasana was only one tool to be with the body, I discovered and am still discovering. I delved into the writings on meditation, pranayama, chakras, meridians, body reading, mudras, doshas, koshas in the yogic texts I discovered that there are ancient time-tested truths to my experiences and insights and techniques to assist in the integration of the insights.

I continually explore the available tools. The essence that allows the technique to assist in growth is awareness versus rote action. The sensations, blocks to postures and pranayamas are messages. There are ways to interpret the insights through consciousness and awareness — not just on the mat, in daily life also!

The ability to be aware of the power of yoga practices and manifest the depth in right livelihood deepens through meditation — the time out to listen so we can live through the call of Spirit, not mental contriving and controlling. Many times I sat and attempted to find quiet mind in meditation only to hear a busy mind. I joked about being a type-A meditator who meditated better ironing, washing dishes and hiking than sitting. Meditation is a state of mind rather than an action, I assured myself. I believed this is true and during the time of justifying my practice, I was not at peace with the practice.

I knew there was more to meditation. Eventually, I was able to realize the busy mind is another message of “things“ I want to do” which prevent me from listening to the Beloved. Through acceptance, rather than resistance to “the voices,” continual practice, integration of balancing pranayamas and use of a meditative techniques appropriate for my energy, I found peace in my meditative experience.

Consciousness is practiced on the mat in the format of asana, pranayama and meditation. Consciousness becomes a way of life as sadhana, diet and lifestyle adapts and allows witnessing and awareness to integrate into daily living. Off the mat, consciousness is the key for a fulfilling life and, I find, is more challenging than yoga on the mat.

Weaving together experiences including a personal yoga practice, teaching yoga and doing therapeutic body work has confirmed that bodies are very loud and can be read. For me, this has become the essence of my yoga practice: to be quiet enough to be heard. If only we all could be heard . . .

I attempt to share the art and science, depth and breadth of yoga in my yoga classes. Recently, I began offering a Yoga Teacher Training Program and it has only served to introduce me to another level of yoga and my journey continues . . .

Poems to Mukunda By Mukunda Tom Stiles from his book The Yoga Poet

Abhyasa and Vairagya (Constant Practice & Dispassion)

Mind is racing
Never calm
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Joy, ecstasy
Bliss eternal dances within me
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

No one loves me
I have no merit, no worth
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’m known the world over
Highly praised by others
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’m virile amazingly strong
I have the energy of ten
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

My joints are hurting
My back is sore, I’m old
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Yogasana – I’ve mastered all
Peacock, scorpion, lotus
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

Siddhas, sages proclaim my greatness
Siddhis seek me to dance around
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

I’ve known all scriptures and sacred texts
No truth is hidden from me
O mukunda practice
Yoga Sadhana anyway.

This poem was published in 2009.