Learn about these 5 important aspects to support your asana practice.
On our mat, we encounter pleasant experiences as well as challenges. Both are needed because (in my opinion) although our practice starts on the mat, to fully transform it into a lifestyle, we must learn to take its teachings in our daily life. And life itself is an experience of ups and downs through which we can learn to find a balanced approach. So if the physical postures are the yoga practice you are currently journeying through, then it is important to create a strong, balanced and safe foundation in it.
Let’s look at some key factors to consider on the mat.
Intention or as we know it in Sanskrit “Sankalpa” is the most fundamental building block to our Sadhana (spiritual practice). Remind yourself when you step on your mat of your intention. Sankalpa goes much deeper than just “intention”, but the reason why it is so important to come back to your “why” is to help you keep focused. Another reason is because the ego loves to come on the mat too. And ego guides us into competition and pride, both which are not useful in any yogic practice. Sometimes it is nice to want to reach a particular asana and keep working towards that, but try not to get lost in it. The asana practice is a daily commitment to the connection of our Self with the physical objects of the Self (body and mind). I tell my students often that everything is temporary. Yes, one day you will be able to do most asanas, but maybe another day your body will feel tired, experience muscle stiffness and less strength. But is this really what matters? Will these “accomplishments” make you more compassionate? Will they bring you closer to your Divinity? The answers as well as the practice always unfold beautifully when we practice and live in humbleness.
2.Pain is not ok
You may have heard the often quoted phrase “No pain, no gain” which is used in different contexts. But yoga is not one of them. If you ever feel physical pain in your practice, this is your body screaming for help because you are pushing it beyond its capacity in that moment. It is telling you that whatever you are doing is too much and it is hurting the body. This is not following the principle of “ahimsa” (non-harm). There is a fine line between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is bearable, pain is usually not. Especially so for joint or bone pain. If any of these occur, stop immediately and adjust the asana accordingly to suit your current state. Some signs of pain can be: changes of the breath/ difficulty breathing, inability to move/feel stuck, cannot cope with the sensation which is usually quite a sharp and unavoidable one. Please don’t ever put yourself through pain in your asana practice.
3.Strength and flexibility go together
In my experience as a yoga teacher, I have come across the belief from many students that flexibility is a requirement of asana practice; and a highly desired one. But this is not so. Flexibility comes with practice, and so does strength. Both are just as important and connected.
Often I see students focusing only on developing flexibility of certain areas in the body to be able to do an asana. It’s important to understand that when developing flexibility, we must also focus on developing strength; and vice-versa. If you focus solely on flexibility practices, then the muscles will become exhausted and injury can happen. Hatha yoga is about balance of the dual energies, masculine and feminine (Pingala and Ida nadis), the prana and the mind and this means active and passive together, strength and flexibility, power and softness combined.
4.A balanced practice
This takes me to the next aspect, which is “try to follow a complete practice”. An asana sequence should always follow the approach of what Hatha means, which is balance of the dual energies (as explained above). The only exception are yin yoga and restorative yoga practices, both focusing only on activation of Ida nadi, the feminine energy. Whilst these are wonderful and indeed needed, remember to also develop a consistent balanced practice. So there can be days when the body needs to soften and have a more gentle and passive practice, which are perfect for yin and restorative. These practices may also help when feeling stressed, anxious or when there is a need to take a more therapeutic approach on the mat. But just make sure that on the other days you balance this with active asanas also. A complete practice should have both active and passive asanas. Exception of course is if there is injury in which case body needs to rest and perhaps some very gentle restorative asanas can be done.
5.Resistance teaches acceptance
BKS Iyengar had a famous saying “The pose begins when you want to leave it”. Every physical body is different and has its own reactions to an asana. Naturally, there will be categories of asanas that we will resist. Sometimes because the body is not ready, and other times because the mind is not open, flexible or ready for this experience yet. But there is a beautiful teaching that comes with this resistance. Definitely don’t force your body to practice an asana all day if you feel resistance to it or pain (remember the above, pain is not ok). But try to stay with it, in a safe space. Try to go beneath the initial sensation of shock and aversion and see why you are not feeling comfortable in it. Is there a need to adjust the asana? Or is your mind telling you to run away from it? Whatever it is, this resistance can teach us acceptance of an energy or physical discomfort we experience. It is there because it comes from a space of ourselves, whether physical, mental or emotional. And when we stay with it (again in a safe space/variation that suits our body’s current state), gradually and with the help of our breath, we begin to naturally experience a connection with it. And this is the beauty of the practice. It makes us stronger, not where we already feel strong, but where we need to be strong. It teaches us to soften, not to feel weak but to allow and be open to the experience.
A gentle duo asana practice to stretch and let go of stress together.
When it comes to asana practice, we should never feel pressured to accomplish anything. It is ultimately a personal sadhana (spiritual practice) that when done with devotion, love and commitment, it can help us to realise our true self, beyond the body and mind. Although this is a personal journey, yoga stands for union, accepting others as the same Divine essence we are. Therefore, understanding that we are all connected.
Duo asana practice or partner yoga can be useful for so many reasons. One of the main ones, being of course connecting with others through the practice. Another benefit of it is that we can receive support from our yoga peers, not only to help us physically in the asana, but emotionally as well. Sharing the practice is also about learning to trust, accept and be patient with your peer/others which are all qualities of Anahata, the heart chakra. Therefore, this practice may be helpful to activate and connect with this energy channel, opening our heart to life, to others, to trust and to love.
This asana sequence is a gentle practice to stretch and let go of stress. Try to synchronise your breathing with one another and hold the asanas for a bit longer (time mentioned below, although hold for as long as it feels good for you). Finish the practice with relaxation in Savasana.
Hold for 5-7 breaths each.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (variation)
Hold for 1.5 minutes.
Hold for 1 minute on each side.
Practice together with Marjaryasana 10 times in slow movement.
Bitilasana on inhalation
Marjaryasana on exhalation.
Hold for 1 minute on each side.
Hold for 3 minutes each.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (variation) with Balasana
Hold for 2.5 minutes each.
Practicing with @kalliovi
A gentle asana practice for monthly cycle.
During our monthly cycle, a lot is happening in the body. Our system is cleansing itself, therefore during this time, according to Ayurveda (the sister science of yoga), we can focus on doing less/more gentle physical or external effort in general so that we don’t disrupt the flow of apana prana.
WHAT IS APANA PRANA?
Apana prana is responsible for the waste or excretion of the bodily fluids. During our cycle, apana prana is more active as it is removing toxins from the body. This is why in Ayurveda, it is not advised to practice inversions during the monthly cycle time as it can interfere with the flow of this prana, which moves downwards.
The asanas most suited for this period of the month are hip opening, gentle twists and some other seated or reclined asanas. Hip opening yoga postures stimulate Swadisthana (the sacral chakra) which is around the area of apana prana. This can help to support the apana prana activity. Gentle twists can also be practiced because they are known for their detoxifying and cleansing benefits. Some seated asanas are also supportive, particularly as they help us become more grounded and balanced. The lower part of the body is governed by Muladhara the root chakra, so any asanas that focus on activating this energy channel can help us to feel more stable and steady. This is also the main area of apana prana.
The sequence below focuses on all the above areas. It is a gentle asana practice yet effective and supportive for the period of the monthly cycle. Yoga props can be used to assist the body into each asana.
*If you are pregnant, have any injuries, past/recent surgery, check with your GP first.
English name: Lizard pose
Focuses on: both the hip flexors and hip extensors
Hold for: 3 minutes on each side
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana variation 1
English name: One legged king pigeon pose
Focuses on: both the hip flexors and hip extensors
Hold for: 4 minutes on each side
English name: Seated wide legged forward fold
Focuses on: inner thighs/groin area
Hold for: 2 minutes
English name: Reclined hero
Focuses on: lower back and quadriceps
Hold for: 3 minutes
English name: Reclined spinal twist
Focuses on: spine mobility
Hold for: 2 minutes on each side
Banana pose (yin yoga)
English name: Banana pose (it is a yin yoga asana)
Focuses on: intercostal muscles and spine mobility
Hold for: 2 minutes on each side
English name: Corpse pose
Focuses on: relaxation
Hold for: 10 minutes or longer
Relax with these 4 beautiful yoga asanas to practice before sleep.
Sleeping well is so important for our overall wellbeing. When we get a good night quality sleep, we naturally wake up feeling more calm, balanced and ready for the day. Practicing some gentle or restorative yoga asanas can help to calm the mind and create a harmonious state between body, breath and mind.
It is important that before we sleep we let go of any mental and physical tension accumulated through the day. Doing so, means that we free ourselves from what we hold onto and take our sleep journey in a tranquil way. This can be done in different ways, asana is one of them. The following four asanas can be practiced in bed using pillows instead of the bolster. Putting on some calming music can help with setting a peaceful atmosphere. Candles or lavender incense sticks can also create a serene experience of tranquility and beautiful scent.
Frog pose known as Mandukasa is a wonderful asana to release any physical tension from the inner thighs and let go of any emotions that we might be holding onto. It is part of Swadisthana, the sacral chakra, which is the energy channel of pleasure of all kinds, particularly feeling joyfulness for life and activating our creativity amongst many other benefits. Practicing Mandukasana before sleep allows us to free our body and mind of stagnant emotions and rest joyfully during the night. Practice this with a pillow or two under your chest and hold for up to 5 minutes or as it feels good for you. Melt the heart space into the pillows and allow the asana to gently unfold.
SUPTA HASTA PADANGUSTHASANA
Practicing reclined hand to foot pose releases tension from the hamstrings and calves, both being part of Muladhara, the root chakra. This is the energy channel of the root chakra, our centre of stability, grounding and feeling safe in the world. This asana helps to relax the mind and boosts blood and prana circulation in the legs which is usually helpful before sleep. It is beat to practice it with a strap and keeping the foot slightly active, but not forcefully so that it is more gentle. If you have any back pain or discomfort, bend the knee slightly. Practice on each leg for 2-3 minutes each.
This beautiful reclined spinal twist provides a gentle stretch to the spine and helps to boost the samana prana (prana of digestion) and the prana in the chest and shoulders area. It stimulates the digestive organs which can help the digestive organs process our food so that bowel movement is regular in the morning. The spine is the main pathway of communication between the brain and the body, so clearing away any physical tension and stagnant energy from it will free the mind of too much chatter. Practice on each leg for 2-3 minutes each keeping both shoulders on the mat or the bed.
This restorative variation of reclined hero pose opens the chest and shoulders, both areas of the heart chakra. Focusing on Anahata, we open our heart to what is in the present moment, surrendering to a peaceful state and embracing the feeling of love, always part of us. Supta Virasana provides a gentle stretch to the quadriceps, the front upper thighs muscles which, like the hamstrings, can accumulate plenty of tension through the day. Practice for 5 minutes or as it feels good for you and focus on deep breathing and melting the body onto the bolster or pillows.
In Raja yoga, the 8 limbs of yoga are the steps Sri Patanjali suggests to take for those longing for Moksha/liberation from the ego and attachment to the physical self. The second limb, known as the Nyamas refers to the personal behaviours that we should practice according to Patanjali on the spiritual yogic path.
The 5 Nyamas are:
Saucca - cleanliness
Santosha - contentment
Tapas - austerities
Ishwara Pranidhana - surrendering the ego
Whilst I will explain each of these in later blogs, I wanted to focus on Santosha as this in my opinion is something that can be practiced by everyone, not only those who aspire to take on a yogic path.
What is Santosha?
Santosha refers to contentment, being content with life. But what is contentment? What does it actually mean to be content? Some might say it is to be happy and this makes sense right? But with happiness, sadness will follow at some point, so will this still be a state of contentment?
The way I can explain Santosha is the neutral ground between happiness and sadness. When we search for happiness, we are not exactly practicing Santosha. It means that we see happiness as an external concept outside of ourselves, so we seek it through the physical life experiences and for some, through things. If we have something we want, then we feel happy. If we don't, then most of the time we are sad because we don't have it. Whenever we seek happiness, we can learn that with it will always come sadness too. Both are connected, one cannot be without the other. We are happy because we don't feel sad, and we feel sad because we don't feel happy.
Santosha comes in between and in my opinion it is the concept of being in contentment and satisfied with what is in this moment. It is neither happiness, nor sadness; it is not dependant on either of those. It is a state of joyful, acceptance and surrender.
In my opinion, we cannot always be happy. There are moments in life when sadness needs to be experienced. And there are also times of complete happiness. But if we learn to practice Santosha, we can experience both without being too attached to either. We can always be in a state of being, simply being.
Finding gratitude for life and all that we are gifted with is one way of practicing Santosha. Even some unpleasant experiences for which we might hold cold feelings such as pain, sadness, guilt, shame, regret etc later on we can maybe understand the lessons that came with that experience because we cannot change what has happened. Being present in the moment, without the mind wondering in the past or rushing towards the future is also a way of practicing Santosha. This is perhaps one of the most important parts of it. When we are present we are here and now. There is nothing else. This does not leave room for any other desires of wanting to change something or wishing for something different. It is what it is and if we can change something, the inspiration for this comes only when we are clear in the mind and open with our heart.
Surrender and acceptance relate beautifully with Santosha. Whilst we might think we can control life, we are more often than not proven differently. It is not about being in control, but learning to surrender to the flow of life without forcing for things to happen. We can try with patience, strength and self-belief to open a door of opportunity, but if that door does not open regardless what we try, perhaps we need to wait for a different time or open another door before that one opens. Everything is in synchronicity with the Divine essence and trusting this requires strength and unshakeable faith.
Yoga is not an easy path. It is not all calm and peachy. It is like a mirror through which we can see every layer of our existence, every part of our being and finally, one day maybe, we can see ourselves, our true self. But this requires so much commitment, dedication, belief and continuous practice. Yet it is the practice itself that can bring us into Santosha. The practice teaches us to be disciplined yet adaptable. We learn to be wise but open with our heart; to express ourselves freely yet to listen more; to free our body from all kinds of tension yet lovingly; to sit in silence and calm yet not to be afraid of the crowds and chaos. All of these, and more are the lessons we get from our sadhana (spiritual practice) which all are to be practiced in our life, throughout our physical existence.
Santosha can happen in every moment. It is a walk by the sea and listening to the sounds of the waves; it is the feeling of allowing raindrops to touch our skin without rushing out of the rain; it is the perseverance we keep when we fall; and the humbleness developed when being of service; it is a quick beautiful connection with a stranger without rushing into the future or analysing where it leads; it is the moment we find steadiness of body and mind through the connection of our breath. Santosha is also in the times when we fall and we recognise the power in rising again. It is in the tough periods of mourning and grief yet we fill our heart with gratitude and joy for having had special moments together, regardless how long they lasted. It is in the experiences of darkness yet we acknowledge the depth of light, the true power of illumination.
Santosha is the moment we open our eyes in the morning and no matter what we say "Thank you for giving another opportunity to be of service, to be useful, to love, to feel loved, to experience whatever comes because I trust and I am open to learn".
Learn how to sequence a balanced yoga asana practice.
Knowing how to sequence an asana class is important for many reasons, the main one being safety. There are some key aspects to always take in consideration to gradually take the body into the journey of HA THA - union of the dual energies, the feminine and masculine. Regardless if the class has a theme or not, balance between the two should always be a key priority. This means that we activate the sympathetic nervous system with the more dynamic and active asanas, and also cool down with more passive asanas, which focuses on the parasympathetic nervous system.
The following structure does not apply for yin and restorative yoga practices since they only focus on passive asanas.
Let’s look at some key aspects to take in consideration for creating an asana sequence.
IS THERE A THEME?
It is useful to consider if the class will focus on a specific theme to understand the type of asanas to include more of. For example, if the theme is about the heart chakra, then the focus would probably be more on chest and shoulder opening followed by introspective asanas. If the theme is about strength and mental focus, perhaps there will be some Vinyasas, arm balances, plank etc.
Before we begin moving on the mat, it is essential to focus on our breath. The breath is the fuel to our physical existence; it moves the prana, the life force, so we need to come to a regular breathing cycle. This can be done in Sukhasana, taking a few deep breaths in and exhaling completely. Nadi Shodhana pranayama can also be practiced for grounding and creating balance between Ida and Pingala nadis, the left and right brain hemispheres. Most pranayama practices are suitable bring awareness to the breath and prana flow.
Regardless what style of asana practice we do, in my opinion, warming up the joints is super important. It can be a gentle and quick joint mobilisation focusing in the neck, shoulders, wrists and ankles to introduce slow and gentle movement to the joints.
In my opinion, sun salutations are very useful to include in most practices (exception being yin and restorative yoga). Surya Namaskar helps to warm up the body, regulates the breath and helps us become more focused. A specific number of rounds is not required, practice as many as you wish and fits within your time. Surya Namaskar can be considered a practice on its own as well.
SET THE FOUNDATION
As we dive into our practice, it is useful to create set a strong foundation with some of the standing asanas. These activate Muladhara, the root chakra which is the energy centre of balance. Many of the standing asanas also open the hips so they are ideal as they provide the perfect energetic combination of stability and flow.. Some of them, like the Virabhadrasanas, also activate Manipura chakra (solar plexus) so they can help to further focus the mind and develop a sense of will-power and self-belief.
STEADY BEFORE BENDING
A very important aspect to consider is that before we start any back-bending asanas, we must first do the ground work. We need to be steady on our feet and open in the hips. Only then naturally the upper body will open. Back-bending requires openness of the hips because both the hip flexors and extensors attach to or influence the lower back movement. So it makes sense to gradually start from the bottom and make our way up.
These are extremely important because they bring the body back into balance. For example, when we practice a backbend, this should be followed by a forward fold asana for flexion and stretch or the spine, to bring it back into a neutral state. Spinal twists are also useful here. If we practice an inversion, then it is natural it should be followed with an introspective resting asana such as Balasana (child’s pose) to allow the body and nervous system to come into its neutral, balanced state.
EXPLORE THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN
Although many asanas used throughout a practice are considered inversions (Uttanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana etc), the more dynamic ones such as Sarvangasana, Sirsasana, Pincha Mayurasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana are to be done at the end of the sequence. They reverse the blood and prana flow which is a lot for the body and the nervous system. They also require more energy and effort for the body, so practicing these before Savasana is suitable. Although they energise the mind (exception being Sarvangasana which calms the mind) through the reverse of blood and prana flow, afterwards we need to rest to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to be active so that resting can occur. Is it a must to include the dynamic inversions? No, especially if you are not comfortable with teaching them or practicing them without a teacher. As mentioned, many asanas we practice are inversions meaning the head is below the heart, so this can be sufficient.
Finally, the moment of relaxation begins. I mention this often and in my opinion, Savasana should always be practiced at the end of a class and never to be skipped. This is so important because in Savasana, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, allowing us to rest, for the mind and body to feel calm, for the digestive process to work, for the breath to be regulated etc. I was always taught by one of my teachers that one should never walk out of an asana class hyped up. This is not a balanced state. So Savasana is like the master of the practice, where the true wisdom begins and all teachings of the class are revealed.
A supportive approach to 7 arm balancing asanas using yoga blocks.
Arm balancing asanas can be a little challenging at first, but when attempting them from a place of humbleness and not ego, it can become a more accessible journey. For sure strength is required to get into and find steadiness in arm balances, and this can come only through practice. When I say to attempt them from a space of humbleness, I mean that when we first learn how to get into any arm balance, we should do it when we feel ready physically and mentally. Using yoga blocks can help to provide support for the body and find balance and steadiness. They are also a reminder that in our practice, and in life, we sometimes need support and help and we can learn to be open to receive it. I often see student being reluctant to use yoga props because somehow this would mean they are "not good enough at yoga". Please eliminate such concepts because in yoga, this does not exist. This is a cognitive pattern of the ego and we must learn to embrace our time on the mat with truthfulness, courage and humility.
There are three important aspects to take in consideration when practicing arm balances. One is the drishti (our focus point), another is the breath and lastly is mula bandha. The drishti is one of the most important parts of the asana practice. Where we focus our attention has a big impact not only on the steadiness of the body, but also for the mind. To be able to reach mental focus in our practice, in any asana, we must learn to use the drishti, which a teacher usually guides where it is. The breath is the most important part of our practice because it is the fuel of our existence. Without breath, there is no practice. So we need to learn how to use it wisely and to the fullest. In an arm balance, usually the exhalation is on effort, as the body creates space and with it we can activate the core muscles, which give us the strength for maintaining balance. Finally, using mula bandha in arm balances is a great way to develop strength and steadiness. Mula bandha (the root lock) activates the energy of Muladhara, the root chakra, the part of the subtle body related to creating a strong foundation on and off the mat, grounding and stability.
And of course, it goes without saying that practice is required to be confident and steady in arm balancing asanas. The practice is what guides us, it is our master that reveals to us some of the greatest teachings on the mat and in our life. What comes from it, is a result of continuous dedication and commitment. We must learn to love the practice and respect it, without desiring too much from the outcome. Just practice and see what comes.
Below are some helpful ways to practice some arm balancing asanas using the support of blocks.
KAKASANA - CROW POSE
PARSVA KAKASANA - SIDE CROW POSE
BALA KAKASANA - BABY CROW POSE
BHUJAPIDASANA - SHOULDER PRESSING POSE
TITTIBHASANA A - FIREFLY POSE
TITTIBHASANA A - FIREFLY POSE (variation)
PINCHA MAYURASANA - FEATHERED PEACOCK POSE
Learn about the 3 important aspects to consider when practicing backbend asanas.
Back-bending asanas can definitely look beautiful, but they require a lot of hard work. It’s important to take in consideration that every physical body has its own natural abilities & limitations. Some people are naturally more flexible than others. They might be able to almost effortlessly get into Chakrasana/Urdhva Dhanurasana. Other people are naturally more strong, therefore they might approach arm balances with more ease or hold Navasana for longer. No physical body is perfect and thankfully yoga asana practice does not require this. Many of the asanas are available to most people, using modifications or yoga props for extra support.
What I sometimes see happen for those wanting to deepen their backbends is that they tend focus just on this. They over practice the more dynamic ones and exhaust their body and spine. They have no particular technique to this type of attempts, it is just the continuous practice of spine extension. And whilst results can indeed come quicker, the body might not be ready for this quick shift. As with anything in excess, over time this will cause exhaustion, muscle fatigue and maybe even injury.
The 3 most important aspects of practicing backbend asanas in my opinion are safety, technique and patience. Let's look at each of these in more detail.
This concept should be applied to all asanas. Yoga postures are not a physical performance, but a physical practice. Each one requires lots of work and commitment through gradual effort applied, repetition and practice, for the body to safely learn to be steady in the asana. Therefore safety is important. Learn about the alignment necessary. Alignment is not there to make us reach perfection, but to keep us safe in the asana. For example, a person who is naturally very flexible and can get into most backbends with ease, should learn to recognise when to stop. Because if over flexibility is there, then one may not be aware when too much effort is applied too quickly and injury can occur without one even realising.
Our back is also said to be the area where a lot of emotional tension related to Muladhara (root chakra) and Swadisthana (sacral chakra) can be stored. Energetically this can create a blockage like sensation and can take a lot of time to release. So first we need to get ourselves grounded and steady, and then begin to open up, let go and welcome in. These are all qualities of Anahata, the heart chakra. We must learn to focus and be completely aware in the practice. To work with the body not go against it.
There are specific steps to follow before approaching a backbend asana. First we must learn to ground the body and mind through (usually) standing or seated asanas and by coming to a cycle of complete and natural breathing flow. Then as we journey into the practice, we gradually shift the focus on opening the hips to provide a healthy mobility range in this area. Both the hip flexors and hip extensors connect to and have an impact on the lower back. If there is stiffness experienced in the hips, and we don’t focus on this area first, then the backbend will not occur in a safe manner. Only afterwards we can start to focus on opening the chest and explore our spine extension range of movement. It is also important to remember that the lumbar spine naturally has a curve, so the extension to focus on is primarily in the thoracic area. This is the part that most needs this movement and rarely we apply this outside of our asana practice. So on the mat, it is the perfect opportunity to do so.
How we breathe is very important too in chest opening asanas. On inhalation we rise and expand through the chest, and on exhalation we create more focus on the hips supporting the backbend or apply the most effort. It naturally makes sense that when we practice backbend asanas, our inhalation will help us open the chest more. It is the fuel of our physical existence. Just as in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) for example, first we inhale and open the chest, then as we exhale we raise the hips. The energising effect of practicing backbend asanas can be fully experienced only when we learn to use the breath in synchronicity with the movement. When the breathing is done effectively, and we work on the thoracic spine flexibility, then the chest and shoulders begin to open with more ease, more naturally.
And as always, counter poses are very important. I always say practice maximum 2 backbends but then apply a forward fold & some gentle twists to neutralise the spine.
Lack of patience is also something we often experience in our asana practice. We want instant results, forgetting that yoga is a lifestyle and a sadhana which ideally we can continue throughout our life, at any age. It takes time, consistency and patience. I have been there myself too. We want so much to do an asana because we believe in ourselves, but sometimes the patience is our practice. We must learn to take it step by step. I get questions such as “how long will it take to do it this asana? What do I need to do?”. This is irrelevant, remember it is not a performance, We need to practice a consistent, balanced practice everyday. And see what comes. Please don’t force your body into any backbend or any other asana. Recognise this is ego, not a higher self decision. Teach your body patiently, learn to breathe correctly in the asana and then let it come when it comes. If you flow with the rhythm of your practice, then you can naturally begin to open your heart to what comes. And this is the treasure of our sadhana.
Part 2 blog series of the 6 qualities for success in yoga as described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
In the last post I introduced the first three qualities for success in Yoga. To emphasise again on the word "success", it is not necessarily used to describe an achievement or outcome, but its meaning can symbolise one who becomes established in the sadhana (spiritual practice).
Our practice can indeed change over time, as well as the yoga path we naturally find ourselves exploring, but the sadhana can always be consistent and done with commitment. It is not just a practice that starts and ends on the mat, but a lifestyle which we can maintain throughout our physical existence if we choose to do so. What we learn on the mat, continues after we leave the mat. Life in our practice and we are continuously learning, exploring and transforming.
Let’s explore together the last three qualities mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika for our yoga lifestyle and spiritual journey development.
For our yoga practice to remain consistent and continue to evolve, there must be unshakeable faith. First, this refers to having unshakeable faith in our guru or teachers. A guru is a yoga and spiritual master who can bring one from darkness to light because they themselves have developed spiritual realisation. A teacher is one who guides their students with patience, truth and right knowledge on their yoga path. However we take it, we need to trust and have faith in our teachers. Then we must have unshakeable faith in Divine essence or that which is of higher nature and pure form beyond the ego/individual self. And finally, we must have unshakeable faith in ourselves, by developing mental strength and will-power.
Related to unshakeable faith, courage is an important quality to develop in our sadhana. Whilst the yoga journey is indeed coated with beautiful experiences and realisations, it also comes with many challenges, obstacles and sometimes doubts. Therefore, to have consistency, courage is needed to overcome these. If we have unshakeable faith in our teachers and the Divine essence, then courage and perseverance naturally evolve. On the mat, courage is needed to approach each asana. Courage of getting into the asana and courage to be present and still through all the realisations the practice brings. Courage to take our practice off the mat and remained focused, patient and compassionate throughout life.
AVOIDING THE COMPANY OF COMMON PEOPLE
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika presents us with the last quality for success in yoga, which is avoiding the company of common people. I understand the word “common” may seem confusing, so I will explain what it refers to. Here, it is advised to stay clear of those who engage their time on gossip and laziness; on tamastic habits and behaviours and those who have lower aspirations. As sadhana is a journey that naturally evolves with discipline and commitment, many changes will take place within. This can sometimes takes us away from old useless habits or from mixing with people who don't support the transformation. This is actually a natural cycle of life, and when we do start to take our practice more seriously as a spiritual tool to self-realisation we will naturally gravitate and attract people who match this energy. It becomes more difficult to spend time with others of low vibration and negative mindset because our understanding of life, habits and mindset transforms. So we want to be in the presence of those who have similar attitude for life. Although it is important to note that we should not judge others and practice compassion always.
I invite you to explore the 6 qualities with patience and humbleness. The practice is lifelong, and what comes with it we can welcome it in and what goes we can learn to release. No matter what circumstances we face in life, we can always step on the mat with enthusiasm and perseverance to keep it consistent; with the analysis/discrimination of what is right and wrong, what supports our practice and what doesn’t; we can practice with unshakeable faith and courage; and by making the decision to surround ourselves with people who are uplifting and joyful. Most importantly, always practice with ahimsa (non-harm) to your mind and body, with satya (truthfulness) and santosha (contentment).
The 6 qualities needed for success in yoga as presented in Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the oldest and most in depth texts of Hatha Yoga. It was compiled and created by Swami Swatmarama in approximately the 15th century. Here, we can get an understanding of many yogic practices which lead to the self-realisation of the yoga path. The text provides clear explanations of many important aspects of Sadhana (spiritual practice) and one who is devoted to the yoga path may find it a helpful guide on their spiritual journey.
In verse 16, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika presents the 6 qualities needed to succeed in yoga. I often write about the importance of not setting goals or chasing something in the yoga path. So the word success here refers to one who becomes established in their sadhana and comes to the state of Moksha/Self-realisation.
In this part 1 of 2 for the 6 successes of Yoga blog series, I will focus on the first three aspects and will attempt to explain each one, so that you can understand it well. As the text is quite old, yet nonetheless insightful, sometimes it may be difficult to relate to some of the teachings especially if you have not been practicing for a long time and under a teacher who teaches you the philosophy. Our world now is much more different than it was for the rishis. If we can take what we can do well and apply it in our daily life, then this can give us the means to continue exploring the path. As most of you (my readers) practice asana as the main yogic practice, I will relate these to the asana practice. However it is important to note that this is just a small part of the entire yoga philosophy and its practices.
The first of the 6 successes of yoga as presented in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is utsah or enthusiasm. One must have a positive attitude toward their sadhana. I often relate this to the second Nyama by Patanjali, which is Santosha/contentment. The spiritual practice is not easy; many challenges and doubts may rise at first, and continue to do so. However, if we can practice with joy and enthusiasm then we will keep focused and committed. The whole purpose of the yoga path is to reach liberation and freedom from ignorance of the true self, meaning that it brings us to our true nature, beyond and away from our ego. This is a beautiful aspect and our practice can reflect such a connection with the Divine essence within. Everyday we start our practice it can be approached as a new experience. There is no need to put pressure on ourselves to reach a specific asana, or even more so, enlightenment. Practice with enthusiasm and see what comes. Keep positive and joyful, because this is part of the process.
DHAIRYA - Perseverance
If we want to bloom any seed of intention, then we must always keep consistent in our practice. Whatever circumstances may arise, we can learn to develop will-power to continue. No matter how many times you will fall on your mat, do it humbly and get back up. Accept this as the teaching of your practice that day. On the mat, and in life, sometimes there will be some situations which come up that can seem as obstacles. But it happens and we can learn to surrender to these and not lose our focus. Keeping our enthusiasm and persevering are needed. Often I get students asking me "How long will it take to reach so and so asana?" to which I respond "this is irrelevant". There is no final destination in our practice, especially on the mat. We do it daily and we persevere no matter what. Some might never be able to fully reach an asana due to their physiology, whilst other can do so with ease. Both are irrelevant. Step on the mat and practice. Keep consistent and committed, keep going, keep growing.
TATTVAJNANA - Discrimination
Tattvajnana is made of two words “tattva” which can mean “truth” and “jnana” which can mean right or supreme knowledge. Discrimination here refers to our ability to discriminate between what is right and what is wrong. Relating to the practice, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika explains discrimination as a means to do everything with good outcome for the sadhana. It is not only about doing so on the mat, but in our every day life. The food we eat, the habits we engage with daily, the choices we make, the company we keep, the material aspects in our life etc must always have a positive effect on our practice. If they don't then this will interfere so it is advised to change and adapt to something that does.
Our practice goes beyond the mat. The way I look at it is that our practice is like our master. It teaches us so many different aspects, which we must then learn to apply in our life. Sadhana is not only on the mat, but continues throughout our life. It is not enough to practice asana for the sake of being physically strong, fit and flexible. These qualities should ideally reflect in our habits and all that we do.
Our spiritual practice is our life. Those who commit to the yoga path, can do so with the willingness to explore their life from a space of truth, direct experience and openness. Whilst I conclude the first three success aspects in yoga, I invite you to take the time to explore these for yourself. Whether you already have a practice or not yet, see if you can apply these to your daily life and spiritual practice. It is so important to do self-enquiry on our yoga path. It might not be an easy road to follow, but it is through the practice we discover the beauty and truth of life. And if you can experience more enthusiasm, perseverance and good actions in your life, perhaps this will bring some balance and joy to your everyday or at least keep you focused on your practice.
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