Raja Yoga – Tames the mind

“Mind over body”…
We hear it everyday. At work, in the gym, in school and even words from our very successful leaders around the world. It’s true that if you have a strong mind, your body usually listens to it and you’re able to cross through many boundaries that your physical body might deem as tough. For me, i’d much prefer to be able to tame my mind.
I am a physically active person. Being active for me, also means that i would not be able to sit around and and laze. And as such, my mind follows suit. I’m constantly planning what to do next, or what i can do at the same time. “One stone kills two birds” sounds logically great. I wanted to live my life to the fullest. I felt like i was at my prime. Accomplishing many tasks at one time and never slowing down. Moving along the corporate world has also contributed to tune my mind to multi-task. Not a bad advantage as it usually brings some financial or rewards in my job.
The disadvantages began to surface 4 years ago. I could not sleep well. I felt tired even after 12 hours of sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. My temper was quick due to lack of sleep. I had limited patience and got agitated easily. My thoughts became negative and i was never happy.
“It has to do with age. Your metabolic rate is begining to slow down. Your body starts to go downwards…..”. Those were the words that doctors and friends told me.
I was not convinced then. I was just reaching a quarter of a century and my body is falling apart?! How could it be?! I began to observe myself more. I found my problem. I did not know how to still my mind. My mind was constantly running and i could not slow it down. If mind is over body, and the body is acustomed to this rule, what is over mind?
I have tried meditation. Even though it was basic, i learnt no useful techniques that led me into it or helped me still my mind. I wandered of and each time after meditation, i felt more drained. I could not hold a proper conversation any of my family members. I tried counting, and in a fifteen minutes conversation, i threw tantrums 4 times. I thought i was going through depression.
Begining the Yoga instructor course was a turning point for me. Seems like everything was planned. I came to learn about Raja Yoga which is also known as Asthanga Yoga (formulated by Pantanjali Maharishi).which is concern directly with the mind. Techniques are applied to bring it under control. While the mind is tamed, the control of prana (life vital force) is mastered. This form of Yoga is also known as the Eight Limbs Yoga because its practices can be divided into 8.
 1. Yamas – Retraints (should not be in the form of suppression). This consist of Ahimsa (non violence or non injury), Satya (being trueful), Brahmacharya (chastity and submlimation of sexual energy), Asetya (non stealing and lack of jealousy, Aparigraha (non acceptance of bribes)
2. Niyama – Observances (purity, contentment, austerity, study of religious sciptures, worship of the Lord and surrender of ego.
3. Asana – Steady pose. Aims to attain a steady mind.
4. Pranayama – Control of vital energy
5. Pratyhara – Withdrawal of senses from objects
6. Dharana – Concentration
7. Dhyana – Meditation
8. Samadhi – Super Conscious state ( the state where all sensory experiences as well as time and space are withdrawn).
In the course, i learnt not to be an intellect. I learnt not to listen to my body. Simply, observe and be aware. Lately, i felt calmer. The idea of multi-tasking seems lousy and mind draining. Focusing and doing one thing at a time slows my mind down. It still wanders when i try to meditate. At times when i can’t draw the thoughts away and bring my mind back, i use the pranayama method which requires me to focus on my breathing. So far, Nadi Shodana and Brahmari works for me as i need to bring my mind inwards to my breath and automactically, it shuts everything off and mind becomes still. I knew i was right because i felt so relaxed after each session, as if my mind had just returned from a vacation.

Chakrasana

Chakrasana in Sanskrit, is also known as The Wheel. It takes its name because upon completion of this posture, it resembles a full circle of semi circle.
This pose opens up the chest by opening the thoracic region on the upper back. At the same time, it strengthens the gluteus muscles, the legs, calves, wrists, arms and spine. As it requires a strong core, it helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles as well.
In this pose, elbows are fully flexed, wrists are extended at 90 degrees, hips are hyper extended and lumbar is extended.

Sequence leading into the pose

  1. Lie on your back
  2. Bend the knees and place both heels close to the hips
  3. Place the palms firmly on the ground next to the ears with elbows pointing upwards
  4. The palm and heel of each side should be in one straight line.
  5. Inhale slowly.
  6. Continue to inhale and press the palms firmly on the ground.
  7. Raise your shoulder, chest, abdomen, hips and thighs above the ground.
  8. The neck and back should be arched with the crown of your head resting firmly on the ground.
  9. Exhale and inhale a few times while at this position.
  10. Take a deep breath.
  11. Press your feet and palms on the ground while holding your breath.
  12.  Taking the support of your hands and feet, slowly raise your head, shoulders, trunk, abdomen, hips and thighs to the optimum level.
  13.  Your head should be hanging in between your shoulders.
  14. Make sure the elbows are not bent.
  15.  Arch the body as much as possible, opening your thorax and taking the pressure off your lumbar.
  16.  Exhaling gradually, bring the lower part of your body down and return to the starting position.

Pose Modifications
One can choose to have blocks placed below the palms, or to lift up on fingertips as well as the balls of the feet.
Restrictions
The usual restrictions are limited strength in the triceps brachii muscles, the limited extension of elbows, limited flexibility in the thoracic region, spine, iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles. For those who are not as flexible, the diaphragm is also another limiting factor in this back bending pose.
Theway to keep improving is to practice everyday with consciousness of each inhalation and exhalation, and in time to come, your elbows will be fully extended, the muscles will also be strong enough to lift you up.
Benefits
The physical benefits of this pose are that it strengthens and increases the flexibility in the spine, wrists, thorax and hips. It also strengthens the muscles especially on the arms and abdominal region.
This back bending pose is also known to have a therapeutic effect on back ache sufferers (though we need to practice with caution and awareness) and asthmatic victims. As the body is bent the opposite manner, it also stimulates the digestive system and acts as a massager for our liver and pancreas.
I have my limitations on this pose at the moment, but I will persevere in my practice. There was a few times, during practice, when Master help lifted me up. For the first time, I breathed in so much deeper. I just wanted to stay in the pose while enjoying the deep inhalation and exhalation. Afterwards, I felt like my lungs are cleared and light. Breathing becomes easy and I feel so much lighter. I guess the other therapeutic effect it has is on the recovery of depression. When one is able to breathe deeper, the clouds in the mind clears.

Surya Namaskar – An Everyday Affair

Before I started writing this article, I did a quick search on the main search engines on internet by typing “Surya Namaskar”. Needless to say, the results were overwhelming. Zooming into different sites, the interpretation and benefits of this favourite sequence of asanas are different. I decided then to write what I personally feel about this amazing sequence of asana.
Surya Namaskar, means Salutation to the Sun. A legend that described the origin or Surya Namaskar was that Hanuman (the son of 2 illustrious fathers, Shiva and Vayu) pay tribute to his teacher, Surya (the Sun God) for educating him. Thus he performed the sequence to show his gratitude, respect and faith.
First Experience
My first experience with this sequence was when I took my first Yoga lesson in a neighborhood Community Centre. We went through the motion of this sequence in a 12 step manner, 3 times at the beginning of every class and without knowing why, that was what I looked forward to in every lesson. My feelings when performing this sequence are as if I am giving thanks. Giving thanks to be able to see the beginning of every day, to the wonderful world with light and that I am even able to go through the flow. It gives me a deep sense of peace and contentment and at the same time, I could feel the ball of energy building up inside me, preparing my physical body in readiness to meet what follows after and the world.
A better understanding of the sequence
Lately my understanding of the sequence was enhanced. I have come to understand the reason why this sequence was performed at the beginning of Yoga Classes. This sequence generally involves the spine to bend in an alternate forward and backward manner increasing its flexibility and opening up the joints. The shoulders, biceps, triceps and retracted scapula also played a great role in transition to Cobra pose. To summarize this, in performing Surya Namaskar, we used about 98% of our body skeletal and muscular system.
For our internal body, Surya Nasmaskar enhances cardio-respiratory system, exercises the heart, massages our internal organs, increases blood circulation and speeds up the removal of toxins.
The physical benefits are probably obvious as we get toned and start reducing weight with more practice. The internal benefits are that long term practice encourages blood circulation, promotes cardio-respiration and massages the internal organs. For the mind, the synchronization of every breath and movement, invites a sense of peace and calmness, which in turns reduce anxiety.
Seldom do we perform an exercise which works our shape,body and mind all at the same time. Thus, I deem it as an everyday affair to love oneself and be gratified.

“HypnoBirthing” or natural birth, not so far from yoga…

Giving birth is something women have been doing for centuries but it seems, today, we have forgotten how to do it. With our modern lives, where everything is fast and easy to get, we forget the most simple and natural things. We want to decide the sex, the date and even the time of the birth of our child and we forget to listen to our body, to nature. We think with our intellect instead of letting our instinct talk. We hear everywhere, in stories and from other women how giving birth is about pain and we get scared. Our brain is conditioned even before experiencing; we believe that giving birth is going to be painful, we panic and a lot of us capitulate and let the doctors be in charge of everything. We become complete spectators of our own bodies. And birth becomes a surgical act instead of being natural.
My first experience of giving birth was like that; I felt like I wasn’t deciding anything and all my wishes went out the window once I set foot in the hospital. I was disappointed. I felt like I had missed something. I was not going to let this happen again, I wanted to stay in control, so I decided to search for other possibilities. One day, being pregnant for the second time, I heard about HypnoBirthing®. It is a unique method of relaxed, natural childbirth education, enhanced by self-hypnosis techniques. It provides the missing link that allows women to use their natural instincts to bring about a safer, easier, more comfortable birthing. As a birthing method, HypnoBirthing® is as new as tomorrow and as old as ancient times. Marie F. Mongan, the author of the book method said: “We believe that every woman has within her the power to call upon her natural instincts to bring about the best possible birthing for her baby and herself”
This method will prepare you a few months before your due date to move through your limitations, fears and expectations, it will prepare you to relax and control your breathing. You will learn how to naturally stimulate your body to auto-reduce the pain with body hormones. When a woman is about to give birth and starts having surges (contractions), she needs to be relaxed and positive thinking to be able to breath deeply and let her body open with the rhythms of the surges. If she is scared and contracts when the surge arrives she will be working against her body. The breath is the key for the body to open. By letting the breath flow with the surges we are working together with nature to stretch the pelvic bones open. If on the contrary, we contracted and hold our breath, while the surge is trying to open our bones we are contracting our muscles against it and that’s when the pain is strong.
In the Raja Yoga Sutras 1.2 by the sage Patanjali, you will learn that controlling the mind is not possible without controlling the prana (vital energy, breath), as the two are intimately connected. We can easily see the connection if we observe the breath of a person engaged in a deep thinking or meditation. The breathing will be slow and calm. Alternatively, when the mind is affected by negative emotions, it will be seen that the breathing becomes irregular and unsteady. By withdrawing our attention from the external environment and by focusing inwards on the breath and sensations, you still the mind and increase your awareness of the body. When you are confident and you trust your body, the baby inside you will feel it and work with you to come out easily. The mother together with her child accomplishes birthing.
The HypnoBirthing® method will also talk about how visualization is important. During labor, it’s crucial to visualize your body relaxing, your hips slowly opening and the baby moving down, you see yourself strong, confident and graceful. You can picture yourself as a rose button slowly becoming a fully beautiful flower, as each surge is a petal opening. When your mind is focusing on a calm and gentle scenery, it’s easier for you to go deeper in the concentration.
I feel giving birth in peace and in full awareness is very important for the child being born and the mother to be. This little baby has been nurtured for 9 months in the womb, in constant intimate relationship with his mother; and suddenly he is pushed out from his warm and safe place, so it is best if he feels accompanied along the path. He will come into the world gently and surrounded by love. And for the mother, to be going through birth, to be feeling her body and her baby working together will make her invincible.

Experiencing meditation

Meditation is very hard to explain, it’s like trying to explain a color to a blind person. We try to empty our mind and try very hard not to think about anything but we still have little voices chitchatting in the back of our head, “am I not thinking anymore? am I doing the right thing” and so on. It’s very hard to still our mind. To understand the process of meditation, the best way is to experience it. That’s what we did. I will try to relate my own experience as best as I can but it will always be very different for another person.
We were a group of 10 people, together in one room. Although it was daytime, the room was pretty dark, as we had closed the windows and the shutters to cut us off from the noises and distractions of the outside world. Our yogi master asked us to talk nonsense for 30 minutes straight. We could move around, stand, walk, sit, lie down, cry, laugh, shout or do anything we felt like to but we had to talk complete nonsense, no sentences had to be formed, a bit like little kids playing baby talk. We were asked to do that so our mind would stop thinking, our feelings, tensions and everything else from our unconsciousness would come out without us thinking about it. After 30 minutes of talking like that, it seems like the mind becomes numb.
At the beginning I couldn’t stop myself from thinking. I was thinking about what nonsense word I was going to say, was I going to stand, talk loud or soft, but after a while my mind got use to it and a nonsense pattern came in and I wasn’t thinking anymore. I decided to remain sitting. My mouth was moving automatically and sounds were just coming out. I had to close my eyes to stay focus. I couldn’t look at other people or it would have distracted me. At first I felt a bit shy because other people were around me but very soon I didn’t care. I was even carried further by this mumbling noise from everybody else talking. I felt a bit tired, like if I was doing a physical exercise. When the 30 minutes ended, we had to stop talking, sit in padmasana for 15 minutes, both hands on top of the knees in chin mudra, our eyes closed and observed. I felt very strange, a bit like after running for a very long time but without the physical tiredness. My mind was still, I had no thoughts. I was visualizing blue waves in my head, like a slow tide coming in, like a brush painting inside my eyelid. It was very calming and soothing. Then we had to lie down in savasana for 15 more minutes. After a few minutes I couldn’t feel my body anymore, it was like it had disappeared. I was floating in a soft place, feeling very relaxed, so relaxed it was like sleeping, still conscious though of where I was but very detached. Nothing was bothering me nor distracting me. I was just lying. Our yogi Master woke us up with chanting a “om” and we all sat up. There was a very strange feeling in the room, we were all very calm, relaxed and connected. I felt like we had shared something, we had united somewhere during the meditation.

Uddiyana Bandha

The Sanskrit word uddiyana means “to rise up” or “to fly upwards”, it is often translated as the stomach lift. Another meaning is that the physical lock helps to direct the prana into sushumna nadi so that it flows upward to sahasrara chakra (crown of the head).
The first time I tried this practice I couldn’t understand how to make my whole belly disappear inside my chest! Witnessing it on someone else was amazing; the person was creating a hollow under her chest. The whole belly was gone! I was trying to squeeze my abdominal muscles as strong as I could, my face was turning red but sadly my belly was still there.
After a few practices I started to feel the vacuum happening in my body and felt very pleased to see the hollow below my chest. Let me explain:
Place your awareness on the abdomen and the breath; your spiritual awareness is on manipura chakra (solar plexus). This practice should be done early in the morning on an empty stomach, you can easily understand why. Stand on your feet, inhale deeply through the nostrils and bend forward from the waist as you exhale. With your knees slightly bent, your hands on your thighs, your arms straight and your gaze at your navel, exhale to your maximum, empty the lungs as much as possible. Make a false inhalation, also called a mock inhalation, closing the glottis to prevent air from entering the lungs and expanding the chest as though breathing in but not actually taking in air. By pretending to inhale, your thoracic cage becomes larger, expending from side to side and from front to back. And since there is no air inside your chest, the air pressure has to decrease, which in turn creates enough of a vacuum to pull the diaphragm up, creating a dome. This movement will automatically draw the abdomen upward and inward towards the spine, underneath the rib cage to form uddiyana bandha. It’s easier to hold the breath by locking your chin, jalandhara bandha, by flexing the head forward. You can hold this position as long as you feel comfortable. Before straining yourself, release the abdominal lock and relax the chest by relaxing the external intercostals muscles, it will lower the dome of the diaphragm and the abdominal organs will lower into the belly. Raise your head and straighten your torso to the upright position. Inhale slowly through the nose.
If you have difficulties to master this position maybe you’re not exhaling enough at the start or you may be letting some air in on your mock inhalation. A third problem people seem to have is not relaxing your abdomen enough during the mock inhalation. Your belly should be lifted by the vacuum created inside you and not by pressing in with the abdominal muscles.
Contraindications:
Uddiyana bandha should not be practiced by a person with high blood pressure, holding your breath after inhalation is always contraindicated, holding it after exhalation, as in this position, is less dangerous but not recommended because it will increase the venous return, the flow of blood back to the heart.
Any intense abdominopelvic practices are all contraindicated for everyone with stomach and duodenal ulcers, hiatal or inguinal hernia or any major abdominal problems.
It should also be avoided during menstruation and pregnancy.
Benefits:
Uddiyana bandha is a veritable elixir for the abdomen. It stimulates the function of the pancreas, the release of glucagons and the liver, the release of extra glucose into the general circulation. The digestive fire is stimulated and the abdominal organs are massaged and toned. The adrenal glands are balanced, removing lethargy and soothing anxiety and tension. It will increase the amount of oxygen in the blood and decrease the carbon dioxide levels throughout the torso. Uddiyana bandha stimulates the solar plexus, which has many subtle influences on the distribution of energy throughout the body.

Garbha Pindasana

An embryo in a womb would not feel as hopelessly trapped as I did.

This is one of those asanas that get you stuck, literally, at step three.
Step one: Fold the legs into Padmasana. Rotate the femur until the knee points down to the floor, and the soles and heels face upward to rest on the upper thighs.
Step two: Slide the right arm through the gap between the right calf and thigh, and do the same for the left side.
Erm. What gap?

“If you can’t stick your hands in, you probably need to lose some weight.”
That was meant to be a joke, but the flesh does get in the way. For now, a more practical and immediate possibility will be to gently bring the knees closer together by bringing the foot further towards the pelvis, so that the thighs become almost parallel. If this does not hurt too much, where there was initially no gap, a glimmer of light should be able to shine through.
If the student has sufficiently warmed up before this posture, sweat on the limbs will increase the ease of the arms slipping through. Otherwise, one can spray water on the contact points to serve as a lubricant too.
On a side note, if the student finds it hard to perform a full Padmasana as the ankles are still not flexible enough, preparatory poses such as Ardha Padmasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottasana will help. There is no need to rush into the more difficult posture. Build up your foundation first by making sure you are able to perform all the basic poses with relative ease through constant disciplinary practice, and the rest will follow.
Step three: Wriggle the arms through, and bend the elbows under the calves.
And there I was. Trapped.
My legs were tied in a knot. My hands were bound and getting increasingly numb due to lack of blood flow. No matter how much I force my arms through, they simply refuse to budge. And perhaps somewhere in my mind I did not want to push through further. I was getting my body into a situation where I felt I had no control, and my mind instinctively wanted out.
Step four: Place the chin in between the palms, sit on the tailbone, and roll back and forth a few times.
An external push on the shoulder sent me rolling flat onto my back, rendering me even more helpless.  I lay bound in a fetal position waiting for help because I was unable to roll back on my own.
I dreaded this asana because I saw no point to it, and it deprived me of control over my own limbs.
Calming the mind


It is interesting to learn that the purpose of this asana is to calm the mind. I was feeling panicky because my limbs were entangled, and my breaths shallow due to compression of my lungs and abdomen.
And then, it suddenly occurs to me that unwavering concentration and calm awareness are also the pre-conditions to entering this asana, and in fact, all asanas. It transforms your practice into a meditation, which is one of the primary differences between practicing yoga asanas and pure “exercising”.
Therefore, do not expect a posture to calm your mind, but train your mind to enter the pose with calmness and control.
First, identify the physical limitation with peaceful awareness and overcome them, such as wearing shorts instead of long pants, using sweat or water as a lubricant, and bringing the feet as high up as possible to increase the space between the calves and thighs. Wriggling the arms through requires a strong and determined mind too.
As one finally enters into full fetus position, continue to breathe and focus. Be aware of the situation, but do not think. Close your eyes and see in your mind that the legs are folded, accept that the arms have gone through, and relax. Nervousness tightens the muscles, restricting blood flow. Release mental tension, and blood will circulate to the fingers.
Finally, roll back and forth with a firm abdomen. Synchronize the movement to your breaths, and engage in bandha to keep the body compact. Exhale on rolling back, and inhale as you come up. Maintain the momentum, and let a focused mind guide the body each time you strive to roll up.
Benefits
This posture regulates the adrenal gland, massages the abdominal organs, alleviates digestive problems, and stimulates the manipura chakra. By rocking back and forth, one also massages the spine, builds up abdominal strength and works the small muscles in the lower back. More importantly, this asana connects the body and the soul, as one gets into the posture by calming the mind, and calms the mind by getting into the pose.

Opening mantra Asatomaa

Opening Mantra 1 : Asatomaa

This is the first part of the opening mantra we recite before our practice. After you are familiar with the words, let’s recite wholeheartedly with sincerity.
The mantra is part of the pavamana prayer, which is the closing chant of chapter 3 in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, part 1:

असतो मा सद्गमय

तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय

मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय

ॐ शांति शांति शांति

Asato maa sadgamaya
Tamaso maa jyotirgamaya
Mrityor maa amritamgamaya
Ōm shanti shanti shanti

Translation:
Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real,
Lead Us From Darkness To Light,
Lead Us From Death To Immortality,
OM Let There Be Peace Peace Peace

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28.

When the mantra (verse) says: “Lead me from the unreal to the  real,” “the unreal” means death and the “real,” immortality; so it  says, “From death lead me to immortality,” that is to say,  “Make me immortal.”  When it says: “From darkness lead me to light,” “darkness”  means death and “light,” immortality; so it says: “From death  lead me to immortality,” that is to say, “Make me immortal.”  In the verse: “From death lead me to immortality,” there is  nothing that is hidden.

In a nutshell, the whole meaning of this invocation is to unreveal the ultimate truth, and remove the maya (illusion) which is blinding us.

Parivritta Parsvakonasana

Keep the back heel on the ground.
This simple instruction adds an incredible layer of complexity to the twist in Parivritta Parsvakonasana. The pose looks almost benign at first sight, with both legs and one arm as the supporting pillars of balance. It is more challenging than a simple spinal twist, yet definitely less intimidating and more manageable than, say, inversions. At first sight.
Getting into the posture
The initial steps of getting into the posture are simple enough. From tadasana, abduct both legs from the hips to widen feet 1.2m to 1.5m apart. Rotate right hip joint and right ankle outwards so that the right foot points 90 degrees to the right. Rotate left hip joint and left ankle inwards slightly.
Next, rotate the hips further clockwise to bring the shoulders and torso to face the right side, making sure that the hips are squared to the breadth of the mat. At exhalation, bend the right knee such that the right thigh is parallel to the floor. To maintain alignment, lift the left heel off the floor at the same time and spin on the ball of the foot until the inner left foot is parallel to the inner right foot. Firm the sartorius muscles to turn the right thigh outward, so that the center of the kneecap is in line with the center of the right ankle。
The challenge begins as one turn to the right from the lumbar region on exhalation to bring the left elbow over the right knee, and extend the arm to place the left palm by the side of the right little toe. After painstakingly bringing the left armpit in contact with the right knee, the right hip may have swung out to compensate for the lack of twist in the thoracic vertebrae, shifting the body out of alignment towards the left, taking the back leg and foot along with it.
To focus first on getting one elbow deeper on the outside edge of the other shin, one can start by practicing with the back knee on the floor to take out any balance element at this point. Once there is good contact between the knee and armpit, the arm and leg can be pressed into each other to create pressure to bring the torso deeper into the twist. This pressure also serves to manage one’s balance when the back knee is off the mat, during which, one needs to contract the gluteus muscles to square the hips, consciously tighten quadriceps, straighten the back leg and push against the left sole to maintain balance and alignment.
Next, rotate the right shoulder outward and open the chest to deepen the twist, and extend the right arm overhead. Turn the head to look at the upper thumb.  With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor to help. Twist a little more with every exhalation.
Now, rotate the left heel slightly inward, and press it to the ground.

The right hip immediately swings out again, and one loses balance easily. The mind loses focus as it tries to keep the right arm extended overhead, left palm on the floor, torso twisted, back leg straight, and back heel pushed against the floor all at the same time, somehow forgetting that the hips also need to remain squared. The pose has become one wobbly, uncomfortably twisted figure as a result of simply adding one extra step of grounding the back heel.
Learning is continuous

Repeated failures in performing this Parivritta Parsvakonasana correctly may build up frustration within oneself, because even though each individual aspect of the pose is manageable, combining them to form a stable, aligned posture somehow remains beyond reach for many. Not to mention staying there for five breaths.
The first mental approach is to understand that this is not one asana you could immediately get into. It takes patience and lots of practice to build up strength and flexibility in the relevant body parts.
Next, understand that students with different body conditions and thus limitations have their own reasons on why this posture is not yet achievable. To twist with more ease, one could gain some proficiency in Marichyasana C and Parivritta Trikonasana first to increase flexibility in the thoracic region. Lack of thoracic flexibility causes the hips to go out of alignment when one focuses too much on bringing the left armpit over the right knee without twisting enough of the spine.
Beginners may be unable to reach the floor with their palms. The student can first either rest the forearm on top of the bent-knee thigh, or use a block outside of the front foot to support the hand, for the student to benefit from the twist.
Thirdly, the student needs to be constantly aware of the position of the hips, and alignment of the back leg. It does not seem difficult to tighten the gluteus muscles to keep the hips squared, nor to pull through the knee caps and quadriceps upward towards the pelvis. Yet, it requires energy and focus to twist, tighten, straighten, balance and maintain all at the same time.
Finally, to practice pressing the back heel down, one could do the posture by bracing the back heel against a wall first. As one bends the front knee and then lower the torso to the side, you can imagine that you are pushing the wall away from you. Press the head of the back femur bone deep into its socket and lift the inner back groin deep into the leg.
Benefits of Parivritta Parsvakonasana
This asana greatly increases the flexibility in the hips and lower back. It also lengthens the leg and back muscles. The twisting action opens the chest, groin, hip flexors, and legs, as well as strengthens the shoulders, spine and surrounding muscles. It stimulates peristalsis in the intestines, improving digestion. It also tones and massages the pancreas and liver, and stretches the kidneys. Blood is sent to the spinal discs and other deep tissues, and the abdomen is compressed to release unwanted gas out of the body.  When done correctly, this posture articulates the spine, and aids in correcting scoliosis.
As one of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga, asana requires constant practice to build up the body’s health and strength. One does not need to be demoralized by not getting the posture right in the initial stage. The solution is a holistic one, involving a healthy lifestyle, a positive mind, and practice, practice, practice. Clear the mind with the help of pranayama, and focus. Steady the mind and you steady the body.

Ahimsa

Yoga Sutra 2.35 says”ahimsā pratishthāyām tat vaira-tyāgah”.

  • ahimsa = non-violence, non-harming, non-injury
  • pratishthāyām = having firmly established, being well grounded in
  • tat = that, of his or her
  • vaira-tyāgah = give up hostilities (vaira = hostility, enmity, aggression; tyāga = abandon, give up

When translated into English, it means – “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility”.

Ahimsa, traditionally translated to non-violence or non-injury, is the first Yama (restraints). Non-violence, non-injury, extends to others, nature and ourselves. One may think of non-violence in a physical situation, but again, life is more than this. What about our actions, language, and even our thoughts? The mind is difficult to control. Thoughts of a violent nature, toward ourselves or others, can occur and spin out of control. An important lesson to learn here is to differentiate between truth and “chatter”. Truth tends to be penetrating, direct, and without a lot of words. Whereas chatter tends to be just the opposite – disturbing, noisy and senseless.

Ahimsa, as an emotional practice, involves one’s ability to deal with the feelings of anger and its various subtleties. Anger is an emotion that demands change. When it is left to simmer, it can lead to all kinds of resentment, sulking, tantrums, and irrational fear. Anger is the emotion that underlies any level of hostility, outrage, or violent behaviour, so it must be dealt with immediately and not be denied or ignored. If we can recognise and experience anger simply as a kind of energy, we will be able see and then choose another way of feeling and behaving. The key is to come face to face with the intentions of violence, hatred, or fear, accept them and the hostility within us can then be neutralised.

Question: What does Ahimsa in yoga practice mean?

For many of us, it means backing off and learning to let the competitive ego go. Many yoga practitioners believe that pushing their bodies beyond the limit is a mental win. But yoga is not about competition. There is no competitiveness in yoga. In fact, we need to focus on ourselves – not on other people – while practising.

In my first few years of yoga practice, I pushed myself a lot, breathed through the pain and ignored the injuries in my left hamstring. It affected me physically and mentally. I could not do simple poses like paschimottanasana and uttanasana properly. I was frustrated and angry with myself so I disregarded the pain and continued to push myself further. I feared that I would not be able to advance in my yoga practice because of the injury. My morale was hit and I did not feel good after every class. The consequence of my ignorance and egoism – my right hamstring was also injured. I deceived myself by continuing with the practice despite the injuries, thinking that miracle would happen one day and the pain in my hamstrings would disappear. Then one day, I decided to stop the “nonsense” and “listen to my body” during the practice. I realized I need to do less to get more. So I bent my knees in poses like paschimottanasana and uttanasana. I stopped pushing when I felt sharp pain (and not a stretch) in my hamstrings or any parts of my body. I began to practise awareness in yoga classes. The pain in my hamstring went away a few months later and I felt better physically and mentally in my yoga practice thereafter. I have learned that modifying postures to compensate for injuries, weakness, or a low energy level is practising ahimsa on our mats. Rather than gaining satisfaction from fancy postures and physical feats, I find that consistent practice that matches breath to movement is what that benefits us the most and makes the most changes in us.

The challenge in a yoga practice is not in pushing ourselves and learning not to compete with ourselves is a more difficult skill. The challenge is this – rather than push ourselves physically to gain a mental benefit, consider that we can do the same by practicing Ahimsa. It might just change the way we practise yoga and transform our practice…and us. Once we have learned to practise ahimsa and compassion with ourselves, and to let go of our messy egos and their expectations, then we have become true yoga practitioner. The mark of an advanced yoga practitioner is not that he or she can wrap his leg behind his head. It is that he/she treats his/her body as the valuable temple that houses his/her mind and spirit.

Start practising Ahimsa on the mat today! It will go a long way to making you not only learn more about yourself, but challenge you in new ways you never thought possible.

Yoga is a journey and not a process.

Namaste.