Did you know that postures were not originally included in the practice of Yoga?
Raja Yoga is the oldest form of Yoga and included mindfulness practices. Later, kriya (purification) techniques were added. Later, still, asana was added.
According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika Yoga is the union of prana and mind with the Self. Getting there isn't so easy. For you cannot control the mind with the mind. Thus, Hatha Yoga and the practice of asana is done to initiate the process of physical awareness so we can become better aware of the more subtle aspects of ourselves.
Hatha Yoga is the process of establishing prefect physical, mental, emotional and psychic equilibrium by manipulating the energies of the body.
We don't do Yoga poses to look good. We do them to feel well. The better we become at doing poses with awareness, intention, steadiness, and balance, the better we feel. If we become skilled at moving through poses with grace and they become a part of our daily lives we have developed equilibrium.
Strength can be weakness. I was recently reminded of this as my left trapezius muscle tightened up into a large marble. I had been repeatedly turning my head to the left without rotating the rest of my body. I know better, but wasn't consciously moving. The result was neck pain and an inability to turn left (I was stuck like Zoolander :D). Awareness, rest and heat were the only cures for the damage I had caused. The strength of my muscle had become a weakness.
Every pose has aspects of strength and mobility. We may be steadying ourselves with our legs while attempting to open our arms and chests. In every sequence of postures we should be moving our bodies in all directions so as to awaken areas that have become rigid and engage the parts that are overly mobile. Practice observing your bodies strengths. Where can you become more mobile? Where can you actively engage?
The main objective of Hatha Yoga is to create an absolute balance of the interacting activities and processes of the physical body, mind, and energy. This is perfection.
Nothing is flawless or perfectly symmetrical. All things are always transforming, transmuting, and metamorphizing. We practice Yoga asana to change our bodies, pranayama to shift our breathing, pratyahara to become more aware of our energy and emotions, and mindful focus to develop self control. Continuous practice results in continual change. All of the systems of body, mind, and energy interact and effect each other. They are in a constant state of transformation. Rather than remaining stagnant, still, and stuck, practice Yoga and become perfect at change.
When you have a small light in a room at night, the whole room is illuminated. Sadhana is your practice; your light. Like a seed, you must protect it, feed it, and nurture it.
If you talk about, demonstrate, and boast your attainments it develops your sense of ego or "I-ness." You have probably heard me say, "It's not a Yoga show." When guiding a practice my demonstration of the postures is not to a performance, it is a visual aid intended to help you see the intended result. My personal asana practice is done privately. My sadhana is my lifestyle. The pictures I post of myself in postures are intended to enthuse you to try, to join in, to continue to practice, and to engage in your own sadhana.
Keep practicing; keep shining your light. Allow the seed of Yoga to be protected and nourished so that it, and you, may access equilibrium.
To join a scheduled class or book a private session visit our website. Learn more about the practices of Hatha and Raja Yoga through the other articles on our blog. We look forward to sharing the practice with you.
Ancestry Means Something
It's nice to know where you came from. Your individual ancestry can help you to identify who you are. In the same way, the line of teachers that provided knowledge and guidance to the one you practice with can provide you with a better understanding of why they teach the way they do. Lineage in Yoga is a valuable bit of information.
Did you know that Raja is the root of all Yoga? Hatha is the seed of modern Yoga. All Yoga began at the time of the Vedas during which traditions and practices were shared orally. It wasn't until people began to write (The Vedas and Upanishads) that the practices were codified.
Knowing who your teachers are can make a difference in your understanding of the practice. If your teacher can trace their training back to a teacher who is trained in the traditional and authentic practice (Raja and Hatha) they probably have a stronger grasp on what Yoga is.
If your teacher cannot identify the lineage in which they were trained they may not be a teacher at all. Instructors can tell you to move, to breath and to focus. Teachers give you the tools to access Yoga. Those who continue to study, observe and deepen their own practice become guides who can show you the way to practice Yoga authentically.
Religion, Culture, Wisdom
LIfestyle practices including Hinduism and Buddhism influenced the way in which Yoga was described. As the stories of the Vedas were written, they were transformed by the way in which people were living at the time. Each new translation of the stories; from Sanskrit to Persion, then to Latin and eventually English, that which was written was changed. Beliefs, religion, culture and more effected the way in which the ancient texts were translated.
Even today there are new books, insights, perspectives and thoughts on how to practice Yoga. Every instructor has their own ideas they want to share. It can be challenging to find a guide with whom you connect. Keep practicing and searching for the right one.
Yoga In Everything, Everywhere
Every time we read the writings as they are translated by a new story teller, we are given a new perspective. The explanations change as a result of current culture, influence, experiences and individual meta-cognition.
Although the practices remain consistent; Asta-anga (eight limbs) must be practiced in order for Yoga to occur, the approach changes. Dependent upon where you were raised, your beliefs, teachers, guides and circumstances effect your practice.
One thing remains true for all of us: Yoga exists in everything, everywhere. We just need to reveal it. Stick with it. Practice Yoga Everywhere. Discover your Self.
If you would like to discuss or learn more about the history of Yoga and the practices of Raja and Hatha book a Realignment Coaching Session with Jenay or begin deepening your practice through the Lake Tahoe Yoga School 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program.
The Meaning of Yoga
The word Yoga comes from the sanskrit root word, "Yuj," which means to yoke or unite. No matter the style which you choose, while practicing and afterward, you should feel a sense of self-connection as well as a connection with those whom you practice. No union = no Yoga.
There are two approaches to the practice of Yoga: Hatha and Raja. At Lake Tahoe Yoga we practice both, simultaneously. The effort, or movement, is Hatha. The mindful aspect is Raja. An authentic Yoga practice with offer both physical and mindful practices. Each movement should require focus and attention while at the same time an experience of release of distractions. As the practice continues, you should feel a sense of freedom and one-pointed focus.
Alignment is everything. Any teacher that tells you to "listen to your body," or "move freely in any way that feels good," is doing you a disservice. We each have our own anatomical alignment, but that doesn't mean we are all aligned properly. We have spent years moving in unhealthy, habitual ways. Yoga Asana is designed to help us adjust our bodies into the best position and to move more healthily. While moving, your attention should move to misalignments and a good teacher will help you identify ways in which to correct them.
Breathing is one of the most important aspects of Hatha. In a traditional practice, you will learn the postures first, and then the breath that directs each posture. Each breath is important as it helps to move not only your body, but your energy as well. Poorly directed breath can result in physical issues, mental strain and energetic blockages. Your breath should be effortful, but not forceful. If you are ever breathing with more effort than you are applying physically, you are breathing too hard.
Finally, energetic awareness is the key to a good class and high quality instruction. Your instructor should be able to hold your focus no matter where you are practicing. Shaktipat is the exchange of energy between yourself and your guide during your practice. If your instructor is distracted, unfocused, continuously talking, giving inclear instructions, etc., there is no shaktipat. Throughout the entire practice you should feel as though you can completely let go and just follow the guidance of your teacher.
Yoga has recently become a hot word to add to anything you do. There is Yoga with Kittens, Yoga with Goats, Naked Yoga, Paddle Yoga, etc. With the word yoga being thrown into everything from athletic work outs to types of tea, it can be difficult to figure out what type of yoga is correct for you.
Four ways to shed toxins and feel healthier through Yoga
We've learned that Hatha Yoga or Union through Effort focuses on cleansing the physical body first. Unlike the practice of Raja Yoga which focuses upon the Yamas & Niyamas as the beginning of our practice, Hatha Yoga focuses on controlling the body.
If we can understand how our body works, then not only can we control it but we can respect it. Cleansing isn't necessarily about using a neti or swallowing a milk-soaked rag. It's about thinking about what you're putting into your body, how you use your body and what you do to your body. When we understand our bodies, we understand ourselves and we are better able to look upon ourselves with honesty.
Have you ever viewed yourself with honesty? Without denying the aspects that you dislike or fear to admit to? The saying "you can't make others happy unless you are happy yourself" is about how you view yourself not about how much money you make, the car you drive or the clothes you wear. Know yourself and you'll learn that these things are not you. Know your body and you will find out who you really are.
Maybe you overdid it this weekend. Perhaps you really like cheese. Somehow an entire cheesecake disappeared and you think it might be in your belly. Regardless of how the toxins got into you, your task is to now get rid of them. Yoga can help!
1) Kriya: Cleansing
One of the most important practices described in Hatha Yoga is purification. In fact, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains that you cannot move toward Raja (mindfulness) until you have purified yourself completely. Hatha Yoga describes the practices of Satkarma which include cleansing of the eyes, sinuses, digestive system and areas of elimination.
We must keep in mind that Yoga and the practices described in the ancient texts were identified and the practice began around 5000 years ago. I don’t recommend practicing some of the satkarma described, today, as they may not create the intended results.
Spend 5 minutes gazing upon a singular object or point of focus. Try to soften your gaze and avoid blinking. Allow your eyes to tear.
2) Parvartate: Revolve
After using a towel or sponge to soak something up, what do you do with it? I typically wring it out to squeeze out that which was soaked up. We can do the same with our bodies. Twisting, rotating or revolving in our bodies can help to move things within us. Gentle twists can massage your internal organs and change the relationship between our bones, joints and muscles.
“Reclining Waist Pose”
Lay on your right side and extend your legs and arms at a 90° angles from your torso (reach them forward). Keep your legs stacked. Lift your left arm toward the ceiling and then reach it away to the left. Turn your head to face your left hand. Breathe deeply for 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
3) Viparita Karani: Inverted Process
We spend most of our lives upright. Like the plants that reach for the sun, we stand upon our two feet with our heads above our hearts. Yoga Asana, or postures, are categorized based upon the primary movement that occurs in our bodies when we do them. Inversions are described as a position in which your heart is above your head. When we invert our bodies we change the way in which we see things, the way blood flows, the way fluids in our bodies move and the way gravity affects our bodies. Gentle inversions create a shift in experience and perception of the world. I like to imagine that inverting my body is like turning a container upside-down. Everything on top dumps out and everything on the bottom is revealed. Shake things up and you might discover toxins that you didn’t know you had stored away.
Beside your sofa or bed lay a pillow. Rest your hips on the pillow and put your calves on the bed or sofa. Stretch your arms out to the sides. Rest with your eyes closed for 40 breaths.
4) Cultivate Opposites
Yoga is a practice of cultivating opposites. In order to remove the toxins that result from habits, we have to identify them. If you spend most of your day sitting, you should create opportunities for walking. If your job includes managing people you should step back and let someone else take the lead in other situations. If you really like strongly flavored foods, you should include bland foods on every dish as a compliment.
Make a list of your favorite activities and foods. Then, beside each item on the list, write down something that is opposite or complementary. Seek out opportunities to cultivate the opposite.
If you would like to learn more or receive individualized guidance in any of these techniques I would be happy to schedule a session. As with any new activity begin gently and seek out guidance from a qualified teacher.