Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga
In our YTT200 we learnt that there are four main paths of yoga are Karma, the yoga of selfless service, Bhakti, the yoga of devotion, Raja, the scientific approach and Jnan yoga, the yoga of knowledge.
I found hearing about Karma yoga and the action of “purifying the heart by learning to act selflessly in service of others” both very humbling and inspiring.   This is because sometimes life can feel like it’s happening at a very fast pace, so it is easy to get caught up in focusing too much on ones self and therefore easily losing track of the bigger picture, of what you are here to be a part of and how you can help others.
Many of us carry out small kind gestures for loved ones and also polite and/or thoughtful gestures for strangers on a daily basis. This may be making a cup of tea for your partner after a hard day in the office or waiting to open a door for an elderly person but I realised it had been an embarrassingly long time since I had given back a significant amount of my time in a truly selfless way.
Of course it is unrealistic for most of us to selflessly give all the time as we are human (!) and have bills to pay, hobbies we enjoy, friends and families to tend to etc etc (the list goes on…) but every now and again it reminded me that it is important to set aside time to help serve your community.  Whether it be volunteering at an organisation, organising something charitable myself or taking some unpaid yoga classes for those who are less fortunate I really want to make this one of my priorities in the New Year.
We are part of something far greater than than just ourselves and carrying out Karma practices is a wonderful way to remind ourselves!

Sirsana / Headstand – The King of Asanas

SIRSANA (HEADSTAND)

Sirsasana or the head stand will forever more hold a very special place in my heart because during the course, through hard work, trust and determination I finally managed to get up into this inversion pose having not been able to for many years and I was over the moon! However it was only after achieving this that I learnt of all the physical mental and spiritual benefits and was really impressed. I have listed these below because these explain why many refer to as the King of Asanas.
Physical Benefits
  • Strengthens the upper body (arms, shoulders and back) and the core
  • Helps to improve deep core muscles and muscular endurance as the posture should ideally be held for an extended period between 2 and 10 minutes.
  • Improves digestion as gastric fire is increased and due to the reversed gravity on your digestive organs,it will help to move stuck material, release trapped gases, as well as improve blood flow to all important digestive organs — increasing nutrient absorption and delivery to your cells.
  • Cleanses your organs; intestines, kidneys, stomach, liver and reproductive systems.
  • It aids all bodily systems including; digestive, endocrine, respiratory, skeletal and cardiovascular by reversing gravities pressure while in the position
  • Headstands stimulate and provide fresh blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands. These glands are vital to our welling, and are considered the master glands that regulate all the other glands in the body (thyroid, pineal, thalamus, testicles, ovaries etc…)
  • Going upside down will squeeze your little adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of stress hormones. The cleaner your adrenal glands are, the better they will function allowing you to adapt to stress better.
  • Decreases fluid build-up in the legs, ankles and feet (edema). Once again the reverse power of gravity will help flush fluids from the body. This will also help reduce the onset of varicose veins.
  • The pose stimulates the lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is very important as it removes waste products from your blood and therefor the posture helps to  de-toxify your body.
  • It is a great position if you want to increase the flow of blood and nutrients and oxygen to your face, brain and scalp. This may also aid hair growth (and some say stop grey hairs!) and rejuvenate skin as more blood reaches the skin cells and hair follicles.
  • Improved circulation occurs as the heart has to pump blood upwards to the brain but as you are upside down the position gives the heart a rest that reduces unnecessary strain. In addition, while in headstand de-oxygenated blood is able to flow more easily from the extremities to the heart.
  • It helps properly align the spine therefore helping to improve posture
Mental Benefits
  • Helps to relieve stress as it is a “cooling posture”. It is particularly helpful if you are having anxiety, stress, fear of otherwise worrisome thoughts. Combine headstand with long, slow breathing and you have a recipe for stress relief as it produces a entering, calming and soothing effect.
  • The posture helps to stop depression as the adrenal glands are flushed and detoxified with the inverted position.
  • It increases mental focus. When getting in to the posture you need to focus on your strength and balance which helps to generate mental clarity.
  • Stimulates the nervous system, increasing memory, mental alertness and clarity.
Spiritual benefits
  • Sirsasana is called the “king of all asanas” for a reason as it allows us to overcome the force of gravity in the material world that can age and deplete our body and mind.
  • Stimulate the sahasrara energy  centre at the crown of your head to enhance clarity of vision and intuition.
  • Help a person
  • It it thought to enhance self confidence, roundedness, balance and empathy while diminishing fear.
  • Sexual energy is thought be converted to spiritual energy and stored in the brain when in this posture

If you’re not up yet keep practicing, you’ll get there and if you are ENJOY! 🙂

Yogic principles in everyday life

Yogic principles in my everyday life
YAMA PRINCIPLES
From our study of Yama -Disappearance of all suppressions – which is the first of the “The Eight Limbs of Yoga” I found there were two principles that I found very poignant and therefore want to remember to integrate into my daily life moving forward.
1. Ahimsa is in the broadest sense can be defined as “non violence” to another human or animal and acting with love of all. On first reflection I found it difficult to understand the deeper meaning of this as I was focussing on the physical and other than killing the odd mosquito or spider I couldn’t see how violence could relate to myself..
However on closer look Ahimsa is a far more sophisticated concept with far more subtle meanings to consider in everyday life. These are the meanings that I would like to be more mindful of in my life.
Non violence in respect of animals
Importance of Vegetarianism – Although I have been a vegetarian on and off since I was young it made me think more deeply of the “violence” caused by eating meat and as a consequence I feel far more committed to not eating meat moving forward.
Non violence in respect of humans.
Importance of non violent speech to others and oneself –  I found this a very subtle but important use of Ahimsa as although I try not to say harmful or violent things to others sometimes when in a challenging circumstance I find my interior monologue can easily be pretty unproductive and harmful to myself. A lot of us can regularly find ourselves being our own harshest critiques and the application of Ahimsa in this way was a good reminder to be kind to oneself.
2. Satya can be most simply defined as truthfulness but once again the meaning has a far greater reach in everyday life. Although I don’t make a habit of habitually lying by any means there are times where it can appear easier to not be 100% truthful with ourselves and others. Even though these are generally only harmless excuses or “white lies” I want to be far more aware of this moving forward as it is much better practice to be honest or alternatively not say anything at all.
The other meaning of Satya that struck me as very important is “living the truth” or living authentically. I know from my own experience that often we are afraid and therefore hold back from areas of ourselves that we are scared to reveal. This is usually due to a lack of confidence, fear of what others may think and/or because the aspect in question may contradict to social norm. The use of Satya in this context reminds us that as long as we aren’t harming ourselves or others that it is healthy, invigorating and refreshing to truly allow ourselves to be who we are and not what others expect we should be. Being authentic as a person not only puts yourself at ease but also others around you as it creates a relaxed and honest energy. It essentially gives you permission to shine unapologetically in all your unique glory (whatever that my be) as there is only one you so it is good to set yourself free 🙂
NIYAMA PRINCIPLES
The second arm of “The Eight Limbs of Yoga” is Niyama, understood as the freedom from all observations or more simply the principles a Yoga teacher should follow.  I found that all of these five principles were incredibly valuable to learn and that I actually experienced the need to implement most of them at different times over the last month to help me in the course.
Saucha – Purity of thoughts
Thinking well of yourself, others and the world, not getting caught up in negativities (no matter what form they may take) or gossip and looking for the positive and good in all situations.
Santosha / Contentment
This ability to have equanimity in life is one that is challenging as most of have preferences and are easily lead by external factors including our senses and emotions which trigger both highs and lows. I have experienced this many times along the way while doing the YTT.  One example was the day I got up into a headstand for the first time and was incredibly happy, invigorated and proud of myself and then was called to cue sun salutations (which I did terribly!) and within moments felt sad, totally demotivated and incapable.
It was a real lesson to not get too swept up in external matters or material objects (good or bad) but instead focus on carrying on walking your path whilst maintaining a calm, humble peacefulness within whatever goes on, much like a tree grounded in the earth whatever the weather conditions may be.
Tapas / Austerities transform impurities
This principle is often defined as self discipline and performing positive duties. The course has been invaluable as we have all (whether it usually comes naturally or not) had to work very hard and be even more disciplined and regimented than in our usual every day life. This has been particularly challenging for me due to having a baby because I found it even harder than usual to keep my routine and self-discipline strong when enjoying very little sleep and always having to be flexible to study around my daughters needs (which are often changeable) not just my own.
However the course has really helped me to establish far stronger self discipline and encouraged me to really rise to challenges and keep going against adversities.  I am very grateful of this as it is not until you are pushed that you realise how strong you really are. I also really appreciated the opportunity to re priorities my days as I believe I had lost focus on what things served me, my daughter and my husband best best. I have loved making asans, pranayama, meditation and study priorities in my daily routine and want to keep this practice up.
Swadhyaya – Self study
Being very honest and healthily critical of yourself so you can progress with your own evolution. Looking practically and rationally at your own bad habits and patterns; how certain things affect you, your emotions and reactions because by looking at these you will be able to understand and therefore change behaviours moving forward.
Ishwara-pranidha – Worship of the Lord within us, surrender of ego
Through meditation I suppose this is a work in progress…
The Importance of Meditation
“Dhyana” or meditation forms one of “The eight limbs of (Ashtanga/Raja) yoga” however I find in my own practice (and think this may be the same for others too) that this part of my practice is too often either given far less time or often totally overlooked. The truth is that although I know how wonderful meditation is I will far more readily make time to go to a yoga class, follow an instructor online or get my mat out and practice asanas myself for an hour rather than sit down for half or even a quarter of that time to meditate. When I think about this it appears nonsensical as meditation can be done in less time, anywhere you plonk your bum (within reason) with fewer props and at no monetary charge however I find its practice a far harder discipline to keep up.
Meditation is a discipline of the mind that requires deep mental concentration and therefore it’s benefits although just as profound as practice of asanas they are not as easily viewed by the naked eye, in the way one can clearly see well defined abs or a pert bum! In addition it is hard work to motivate yourself to sit down in a quiet place, meditation lessons are far less prevalent and taming ones mind can be VERY challenging.
A few years ago I did a silent mediation retreat which was as incredible experience but I found hard to integrate into my every day life so I have been very thankful to reconnect with this practice in our TTC. Master Sree really helped guide all of us in mediations on a daily basis and it has been one of my most treasured parts of each day as it helped keep my mind peaceful and clear. Learning mudras, beautiful mantras, the meaning and how to OM has been not only fascinating but something that from now on I want to try and remember to place equal importance on as asanas in my daily routine. You wouldn’t start your day without jumping in the shower to wash your body so it makes sense that you should also take time to clean your brain!