Years ago a yoga teacher once told me that “Yoga without the breath is just a circus act”. This really resonated with me at the time and solidified early on in my practice, how integral the breath is when practicing yoga.
During my TTC I learnt that not only is yoga without the breath a circus act, but yoga without following the yogic principles is a circus act too. It’s not just all about the asanas, to be a true yogi you must abide by certain code of conduct. There are 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga, the first of the Yamas (qualities in which a yogi should have) is Ahimsa, or non-violence.
Non-violence towards others in the most obvious way means not to physically harm or injure others, but as well as that maintaining an attitude that does not harm others also. If you can do Tittibhasana and Sirsasana perfectly but then go out into the world belittling others, you become part of the circus act.
Ahimsa means no cruelty towards animals. This aspect of the Yamas is why a large portion of yogis are vegetarians and vegans. In regards to animals, Sree taught us that ahimsa also means not keeping fish in small tanks or birds in cages. In those cases we are trapping the animal just for our viewing pleasure, and thus it is of a violent nature.
I am already a vegetarian so can fully understand this aspect of ahimsa. The biggest aspect of ahimsa that I will integrate into my daily life, is the violence towards myself. Just as I wouldn’t go out into the world and speak negatively to other people, I mustn’t do the same to myself. I definitely notice in my yoga practice if I cannot do a pose I will speak negatively towards myself, but am aiming to culture a more positive attitude and integrate ahimsa towards myself into my daily life.
And I have to admit that having a few injuries along the way has really helped me to practice ahimsa towards myself!
A few months ago I signed up for my first ever half marathon. Practicing yoga really helps me to run stronger and recover faster. It keeps me running balanced with a strong core and a nice steady cadence. So many people talk about how amazing running is when its combined with yoga, however running is not the best physical activity for my yoga practice.
After running, my quads, hamstrings and ITB all tighten up and make it difficult for me to lengthen out, especially in some of my favourite poses like Adho Mukha Svasana and Paschimottanasana. It surprised me just how much of a drastic difference it made in my asanas the day after a run compared to having not run at all.
After guidance from Sree during my TTC, I now leave my yoga practice for directly after a run. This helps lengthen my muscles out again and also loosens them off so they’re not as tight. What I’ve personally found to be very helpful is by starting with 3x rounds of Surya Namaskar, at a nice slow pace holding each asana for 5 breaths, to really get a nice deep stretch. I then follow this with 3x rounds of Surya Namaskara A and Surya Namaskara B. I follow this with all of the standing postures in the ashtanga primary series, Paschimottanasana, Purvottanasana, Janu Sirsasana and a few core exercises before I go into Sarvangasana, Halasana & Karanapidasana.
I find that all of the standing postures in the primary series are perfect for lengthening out those target muscles that all become tightened whilst running. 45 minutes – 1 hour of yoga straight after a run really makes all the difference!
By doing the 200hr TTC, it has taught me that I need to properly warm up the body and the mind each morning. It is important to do the following activities after rising, on an empty stomach.
In the morning the yogi can start with 3x rounds of 20x pumps of Kapalahbathi, this is to clear the sinus cavities and nasal passageway. It also purifies the nadis and energises the mind whilst removing sleepiness.
This is followed by Anuloma Villoma which helps to balance the nadis. Anuloma Villoma is done in Sukhasana, easy pose, with the left hand in Jana Mudra and the right hand in Vishnu Mudra. In the morning we start with the first inhalation on the right nostril, then after retaining the breath, hold the right nostril and open the left nostril exhaling slowly. Then inhale left nostril, hold, open right nostril and exhale slowly. Continue for 20x rounds on each nostril.
Following this we perform Uddiyana Bandha for 5 rounds. This is done to strengthen and tone the abdomen, internal organs and pelvic floor muscles. It stimulates the manipura chakra and soothes anxiety. Uddiyana Bandha has to be done on an empty stomach and avoided when menstruating.
This is then followed by a few asanas to gently warm up the physical body. Pachimottanasana, Bhujangasana and Ardha Matsyendrasana should each be held for 1 minute.
The final part of the morning routine is to meditate on what we are grateful for in our lives. Cultivating gratitude is a practice which elevates our individual consciousness.
This is a part of yogic practice which is now already integrated into my daily routine and will continue to be after the TTC has finished.
The 8 limbs of yoga are a systematic approach to release the mind.
The Niyamas are rules that a yogi will follow in order to be rid of obstacles and to be kind to oneself. This blog post focuses on one of the niyamas – tapas.
Tapas is defined as a cause of which a person undergoes to achieve something great. There will be many obstacles in the path towards the goal, however the individual is not bothered about the obstacles. Austerities will push the person down, but the person will come back up like a soft plant pushing and winding its way through the dense soil in order to break through to the surface. Through performing austerities, the person will attain a strong will.
In yoga this is important as the budding yogi will face many hardships on their journey to a higher state. Only when the gross body becomes pure, can the subtle body become pure. In regards to tapas, austerities are defined as fasting, clean eating, pranayama, yoga, self-care, self-awareness. Consistently performing these activities daily leads to a clean body with which new energy and possibilities arise.
Cultivating tapas is important both on and off the mat. On the mat we use this fire to motivate us physically in our practice. To have strong discipline in our meditation and pranayama. Off the mat, we use this discipline to eat clean and nourish our bodies, by determinedly watching our minds and not attaching ourselves to our thoughts.