Grounding Your Centre with Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Balasana – Child’s Pose

This asana gets its name from the Sanskrit words ‘bala’ (बाल) that means child and ‘asana’ (आसन) that means pose. This asana resembles the fetal position. It is a resting pose that focuses on the thighs and also helps alleviate back pains. If this asana is performed with a full gravitational pull, one can notice a great sense of mental, physical, and emotional solace.

The Science Behind The Child Pose

The Balasana is a restorative, calming pose that relaxes and rejuvenates the body. The stretch in the back relaxes the spinal column. It calms the muscles, thereby helping to alleviate pain, especially in back, neck, and shoulders. The knees are also stretched and relaxed, and therefore, the tendons, muscles, as well as joints are healed and made ready for functioning. The pose resembles a fetal position and is said to provide physical, mental, and emotional solace to the being.

This pose truly promotes positive feelings, transporting you back to your childhood days and stripping you off ill feelings and arrogance.

Alignment Guidelines

  • Lengthen and widen the spine with each inhale. Sink deeper into the pose with each exhale.
  • Keep the arms engaged by reaching through the hands.
  • Sink down into the hips.
  • Relax the shoulders down, away from the ears.

How To Do Balasana (Child Pose)

  1. Kneel down on the floor and touch your big toes to each other as you sit on your heels. Once you are comfortable, spread your knees hip-width apart. Inhale.
  1. Bend forward, and lay your torso between your thighs as you exhale.
  2. Now, broaden the sacrum all across the back of the pelvis, and narrow the points of your hip such that they point towards the navel. Settle down on the inner thighs.
  1. Stretch the tailbone away from the back of the pelvis as you lift the base of your head slightly away from the back of the neck.
  1. Stretch your arms forward and place them in front of you, such that they are in line with your knees. Release the fronts of your shoulder to the floor. You must feel the weight of the front shoulders pulling the blades widely across your back.
  2. Since this asana is a resting pose, you can stay in the pose from anywhere between 30 seconds to a few minutes.
  3. To release the asana, first stretch the front torso. Then, breathe in and lift from the tailbone while it pushes down into the pelvis.

Precautions And Contraindications

These are some points of caution to take into consideration before you do this asana.

  • If you find it difficult or uncomfortable to place your head on the floor, you can use a pillow for comfort.
  • It is best to avoid doing this asana if you are suffering from diarrhea or knee injuries.
  • Patients with high blood pressure must avoid practicing this asana.

Pose Alterations

To try a variation of this asana, you can also place your hands beside your body, alongside your torso, with your palms facing upwards. This will increase the relaxation quotient in the asana.

The Benefits Of Balasana (Child Pose)

  • It helps release tension in the chest, back, and shoulders.
  • This asana is highly recommended, especially if you have a bout of dizziness or fatigue during the day or during your workout.
  • This asana helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • It helps to massage and flex the internal organs in the body, keeping them active and supple.
  • This asana helps to stretch and lengthen the spine.
  • If this asana is done with support on the head and the torso, it relieves pain in the lower back and neck.
  • It helps to stretch the ankles, hips, and thighs.
  • It promotes blood circulation all throughout the body.
  • The tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the knee area are thoroughly stretched.
  • It encourages the right way of breathing and calms both the body and the mind.

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The Balasana is a basic yoga posture that brings out the child in you. While it completely stretches and relaxes your body, it also successfully makes you very happy.

Sattvic Diet – Japanese Shojin Ryori

Yogic Diet – Sattvic Foods

Sattva – It means one that is pure, natural, vital, energetic, clean, conscious, strong, true, honest and wise.

Ideally a yogic diet would be rich in sattvic foods. Sattvic foods are generally fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes, mild spices and mildly sweet foods. According to Ayurveda, Saatvik foods are important to maintain the balance of a healthy mind and body.
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Some things to keep in mind when preparing Saatvik food –

  • It is always freshly cooked and simple.
  • Food should be combined to get nutrients from a variety of sources.
  • It encourages foods that are grown harmoniously with nature (seasonal foods), and foods that are ripened and grown naturally.
  • It forbids consumption of packaged, canned and processed food in any form.
  • Just the enough amount of food is prepared so that there is no food wastage.
  • The food should be chewed properly, eaten at a moderate pace and not rushed.
  • Food is prepared with love and gratitude before consumption.
Today, I want to share a healthy and delicious Sattvic meal inspired by Shojin Ryori, which is the traditional vegetarian cuisine eaten by Buddhist monks in Japan. As the cuisine is made without meat, fish or other animal products, it can be enjoyed by vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Shojin Ryori – Sattvic Yet Sumptuous Vegetarian Japanese Food

A typical shojin ryori meal is centered around soybean-based foods like tofu along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants, which are believed to bring balance and alignment to the body, mind, and spirit. This simple meal contributed to Japan’s elegant haute cuisine called kaiseki, and today can be eaten at the dining halls located in Buddhist temples across Japan.
Shojin ryori was introduced to Japan from China by the monk Dogen, the founder of Zen Buddhism, whose practice emphasizes seated meditation. Buddhist tradition forbade killing animals for human consumption, which was believed to cloud the spirit and interfere with meditation. As a result, the meals they ate were made without meat or fish and also abstained from the use of pungent flavors like garlic and onion. These principles became the foundation of shojin ryori. Shojin ryori is meticulously prepared so as to minimize waste, with even the carrot and radish peels and leafy green vegetable tops being used to make simple soup broth to accompany the meal.
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Rule of Five
Despite the lack of meat, fish, or strong flavors, Japanese buddhist cuisine is far from bland. The monks use the “rule of five” when cooking, so that every meal offers five colors (green, yellow, red, black, and white) as well as five flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami), which are drawn out naturally from the ingredients rather than added via additional flavorings. This balance in color and flavor is believed to provide nutritional balance while also bringing the body into balance with the seasons. For example, in the summertime, cucumber and tomato provide refreshment to cool the body, while in the autumn and winter, root vegetables warm the body.

Shojin Ryori Ingredients

The main ingredients used in shojin ryori are popular vegetarian Japanese foods like tofu and other soy-related products—abura-age (fried soybean curd), koya-dofu (dried tofu), and natto (fermented soybeans). Fu, a traditional wheat gluten food, is also frequently used, along with konnyaku, a thick gelatin-like food made from the konjac plant.

These ingredients are joined by various vegetables that change with the seasons—tomatoes and eggplant in the summer, kabocha squash and sweet potatoes in the fall, and daikon radish and root vegetables in the winter. In the springtime, tender wild mountain greens such as fuki (butterbur) stalks and buds and the flowering nanohana (rapeseed) plant provide a gently astringent flavor.
The main types of seasonings used for shojin ryori are dashi stock made with kombu kelp, as well as soy sauce, sake, mirin (sweet rice wine), miso (fermented bean paste), vinegar, and sesame oil. However, the seasonings are used sparingly and are only meant to draw out the true flavors of the vegetables, rather than mask them. Eggs and milk were not traditionally used in Japanese cuisine because historically they were scarce in Japan.

Typical Shojin Ryori Dishes

A shojin ryori meal is usually structured around the principle of “ichi ju san sai”, or “one soup, three sides” plus rice and pickles. The soup can be anything from a creamy carrot or pumpkin soup made with soy milk, to kenchinjiru, a type of clear soup made with root vegetables, vegan dashi, and tofu. The sides are typically small dishes like goma-dofu (sesame tofu) garnished with freshly grated ginger or wasabi and a bit of soy sauce.

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Other vegetarian Japanese food that appears commonly in shojin ryori dish is vegetable tempura, made with seasonal vegetables. The vegetables are marinated in miso-flavored water prior to being battered and fried so that each piece is flavorful enough to be eaten without dipping sauce. When eggplant is in season, nasu dengaku is also popular, a dish of deep-fried eggplant topped with a rich miso glaze.
shojin ryori
A shojin ryori meal may also contain traditional Japanese salads like shiro-ae, a salad of mashed tofu and vegetables flavored with soy sauce and sesame, and namasu, a raw-food salad made with julienned vegetables like daikon radish and carrot seasoned with vinegar.
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As Shojin Ryori focuses on simple cooking methods with raw, unprocessed fresh ingredients, you can also try your hand at preparing Shojin Ryori at home, with your local seasonal produce. Give it a shot, you may be surprised by how delicious and simple it can be! (:

Yoga and Testosterone

What is Testosterone?

Testosterone is an androgen hormone produced by the adrenal cortex, the testes (in those assigned male at birth), and the ovaries (in those assigned female at birth). It is often considered the primary sex hormone associated with those assigned male at birth. Present in much greater levels in men than women, testosterone initiates the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs during foetal development. Testosterone is produced by the gonads (by the Leydig cells in testes in men and by the ovaries in women), although small quantities are also produced by the adrenal glands in both sexes. In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. The majority of testosterone produced in the ovary is converted to the principle female sex hormone, oestradiol.

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Functions of Testosterone

  • Testosterone signals the body to make new blood cells, ensures that muscles and bones stay strong during and after puberty.
  • Testosterone aids in learning and memory. It is especially associated with spatial intelligence.
  • Testosterone enhances libido both in men and women.
  • For biological males, testosterone stimulates the development of secondary sex characteristics associated with males (like body hair and muscle growth) and is essential in the production of sperm.
  • For biological females, testosterone helps keep bones and the reproductive system healthy and contributes to the sex drive.
  • A balanced testosterone level is important for fertility in any gender. Low levels of testosterone in men can cause infertility. High testosterone levels are associated with infertility in women.

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How Is Testosterone Production Regulated?

The regulation of testosterone production is tightly controlled to maintain normal levels in blood, although levels are usually highest in the morning and fall after that. The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are important in controlling the amount of testosterone produced by the testes. In response to gonadotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland produces luteinising hormone which travels in the bloodstream to the gonads and stimulates the production and release of testosterone.

As blood levels of testosterone increase, this feeds back to suppress the production of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus which, in turn, suppresses production of luteinising hormone by the pituitary gland. Levels of testosterone begin to fall as a result, so negative feedback decreases and the hypothalamus resumes secretion of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone.

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Cortisol and Testosterone 

Cortisol suppresses the production of testosterone in the Leydig cells located in the male testes.  There is an area of the brain called the hypothalamus which is responsible for signaling the body to create testosterone. This part of the brain is affected by cortisol during stressful times, but when you are able to manage stress, you can suppress cortisol levels and allow your body to keep on producing testosterone at optimal rates.

Also, cortisol and testosterone both require substance for synthesis – cholesterol. If there’s too much cortisol in your bloodstream, the body will prioritize using the cholesterol for cortisol synthesis instead of using it for testosterone stability. If you’re not overly stressed, cholesterol can help create testosterone.

Meditation and Yoga help you manage stress and offer the perfect solution for how to lower cortisol levels and enjoy healthy T-levels.

What happens if I have too much testosterone?

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) in women
    PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that affects reproductive, metabolic and psychological health. It is estimated PCOS affects between 5 and 15% of reproductive-age women, and it is the most common cause of anovulatory infertility. Women with PCOS may experience irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism, acne, male-pattern hair loss, subfertility and higher incidence of miscarriage. Reducing androgen levels, including testosterone, is key to managing these symptoms.

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What happens if I have too little testosterone?

  • Low testosterone levels can cause mood disturbances, increased body fat, loss of muscle tone, inadequate erections and poor sexual performance, osteoporosis, difficulty with concentration, memory loss and sleep difficulties. Current research suggests that this effect occurs in only a minority (about 2%) of ageing men.
  • In adult men, low testosterone may lead to a reduction in muscle bulk, loss of body hair and a wrinkled ‘parchment-like’ appearance of the skin. Testosterone levels in men decline naturally as they age. In the media, this is sometimes referred to as the male menopause (andropause).

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How we can manage?

Reduce Testosterone via Mindful Yoga

  • Researchers found a one-hour mindful yoga class, done three times a week, reduced testosterone levels in women with PCOS by 29% over a three-month period. Other androgen levels, like DHEA, were also reduced, and depression and anxiety levels improved by 55% and 21%, respectively, according to the study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

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Boost Testosterone via Yoga Asanas

The primary way that yoga boosts testosterone is by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This is how yoga helps you to let go of stress and relax. There are also specific asanas that directly increases testosterone production by increasing circulation to the genital area.

1. The Cobra

A study conducted by Russian scientists in 2001, wherein the participants held the Cobra pose for 2-3 minutes, found that afterwards their testosterone levels had increased an average of 16%, but some as high as 33-55%. It was also found that the Cobra pose lowered cortisol levels.

The key to the pose is to lift your head and chest without the help of your arms, pressing the pubic bone into the ground. Keep your hands and arms shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees almost together. Now lower your legs and waist to the floor, so your legs are straight out behind you. Keep your upper body elevated. Look straight up while extending your arms to the floor. Keep your arms angled towards you. If you have neck problems and can’t look straight up then only look as far as what is comfortable.

2. Full Lotus

The full lotus requires you to sit on the floor with your legs straight and your arms at your side. Put your right ankle in your left thigh crease. Then put your left ankle in your right thigh crease. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing upward.

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3. Locust Pose

This pose helps to improve testosterone levels, prostate health and alleviate erectile dysfunction. This pose looks simple, but it requires a lot of core strength.

Start by laying flat on the floor on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Keep your legs hip-width apart and straight. You don’t want your ankles to roll inward or outward. Inhale and lift your head off the floor. Exhale and lift your arms over your head and raise your feet.  This is the beginner locust pose. To do a full locust, continue to raise your upper body, so you lift your upper spine. Extend your arms out to your sides and back so that you look a bit like a bird trying to fly.

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4. Bow Pose

This is an intermediate yoga backbend pose which will strengthen your core and all of the muscles in your back. You will also notice that it improves your posture and spinal flexibility. This pose puts pressure on your abdomen, which will stimulate your digestion and reproductive organs. You should also feel relief from stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

To do this pose start by laying on your stomach. Bend your knees and bring your feet up and as close to your butt as possible. Now reach back and hold onto the outside of your ankles. You’ll then want to lift your heels towards the ceiling, so your thighs come off of the mat. At the same time, you will raise your head, shoulders, and upper torso off of the floor too. The goal is to lift your entire upper body off the floor so that you are only resting on your hips.

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Ways to Practice Svadhyaya

Svadhyaya means self study and reflection in Sanskrit and is the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Simply put, Svadhyaya  is process of getting to know your psychic, emotional, and soul interior, in order to get in touch with your deeper Self. It  represents our search for meaning. 

When we get to know our small Self – which could include our personality, our ego, and our identity – we learn the many habits, behaviors, and ways of relating to the world that have been conditioned by our experiences. In order to transform, we need to get really intimate with these habits, behaviors, and perceptions so that we can identify where they’re ultimately not serving us. This awareness can bring great change and progress, while also getting us in touch with our larger Soul Self, the Self that knows what’s best for our evolution.

Yoga asana practice will allow you to discover areas of tension and stress within your body, especially in your shoulders and hips, which you may not have even realize accumulated along your daily life. These areas of tension in your physical body often reveal some key fears and disturbances residing your inner world. Through mindful asana practice, we can study and understand our physical and mental limits by observing how we tend to react to easy or difficult situations. However, asana practice is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways we can practice Svadhaya on and off the mat. 

Svadhyaya Yoga Practice

You can incorporate svadhyaya (self-study) into your yoga practice with an asana, mantra, and mudra to help bring into focus the subtle and not-so-subtle ways this niyama plays out in your life.

To incorporate svadhyaya into your own life and practice, we can practice with the asana, mudra (hand-and-finger gesture), and mantra (a sacred utterance repeated continuously) below:

Asana: Padmasana (Lotus Pose)

Come to a comfortable seated pose with the tops of the feet resting on opposite thighs. Sit on a block, blanket, or bolster for additional support.

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Mudra: Dhyana Mudra

The Dhyana Mudra is the mudra of meditation, concentration and the attainment of spiritual perfection. It increases the ability to focus, as an exercise of concentration. Dhyana Mudra helps you find the emptiness of your mind, so you can find your inner self. When you perform this Mudra, you can eliminate the stress and mental pressure. You will reach out to the state of bliss. This is the most common Mudra used in meditation. The two hands, which form a bowl, show that the interior itself is free, pure and empty in order to receive everything necessary on the spiritual path. And since there is no empty space in the universe, everything that seems ”empty” is full of the energy of subtle matter, this void will be filled with new energy. Our thoughts and emotions will determine the quality. That is why it is so important that a good reconciliation work has been done before and live in peace with everything. A key point of this Mudra is that it has a strong impact on the ‘Sacral Chakra’. The ‘Sacral Chakra’ is usually the first to be collapsed. Out-of-balance ‘Sacral Chakra’ may cause the inability to meet deadlines, which will cause more stress and more anxiety.
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Method of doing Dhyana Mudra:
The two hands are placed on the lap, right hand on left with fingers fully stretched (four fingers resting on each other and the thumbs facing upwards towards one another diagonally), palms facing upwards; in this manner, the hands and fingers form the shape of a triangle, which is symbolic of the spiritual fire. Hands and arms form a closed circle of power, which also corresponds with the position of the legs in the sitting meditation posture.
Benefit of Dhyana Mudra:
• Mental level: Eliminates the stress and the mental pressure.
• Emotional level: Clean and renew emotional energy, healing the wounds of the past.
• Spiritual level: it is certainly for what is most frequently used because it awakens the wisdom within and puts in touch with your own divinity. It also introduces you into the everything and allows you to live very elevated and spiritual experiences. It helps to awaken the conscience.

Mantra: Tat tvam asi

Gaze at the triangle while chanting Tat tvam asi, which can be translated as “You are what you seek.” This meditative pose, mudra, and mantra allow you to observe, without judgment, the thoughts, desires, habits, cravings, and repetitive behaviors that cause you to disconnect from the Self. This wisdom is what ultimately illuminates our shadows and sets us free from the bonds of self-judgment.

Hold the lotus pose, with its mudra, for 3–5 breaths, mindfully chanting, aloud or internally, its accompanying mantra.

Svadhyaya in everyday life

Svadhyaya in the sense of studying our selves in daily life though, requires us to really take our yoga practice off the mat. Knowing what we’re doing in each moment requires us to pay attention, but asking the question “why am I doing this?” requires us to be aware and fully present, which is ‘paying attention’ on a whole other level. This comes down to recognising our habits, and discerning between the ones which come largely from an ego-based place, and which ones are the result of listening to our true Self.

The practice of taking a proverbial step back and observing and questioning our actions can eventually allow us to disentangle ourselves from those aspects of our lives that are harmful towards our wellbeing. As with anything worth doing, it isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort and dedication.

The practice of svadhyaya requires satya (honesty) in order to view ourselves from an honest standpoint, tapas (discipline) – because taking an honest look at ourselves isn’t always something we like doing, and ahimsa (non violence) which reminds us to look upon ourselves without judgement or criticism.

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self” – The Bhagavad Gita