Vi-Nyaah-Sa

Vinyasa, (pronounced: vi-nyaah-sa)  is a Sanskrit term used in certain styles of yoga. In Sanskrit, Nyasa means “to place” and Vi means “in a special way”.  So we define Vinyasa as, “a specific sequence of breath synchronized movements used to transition between certain postures.” The Vinyasa flow is a variant of Surya Namaskar A and consists of the flow from chaturanga to chaturanga dandasana to urdhva mukha svanasana to adho mukha svanasana. Vinyasa is the alignment of one’s movement and breath and it turns static poses into a more dynamic flow. The length of one inhalation or one exhalation dictates the length of time spent transitioning between postures. Poses are then held for a predefined number of breaths. Attention is placed on the breath and the transition between postures rather than solely on achieving perfect body alignment in a pose, as in Hatha yoga.
Vinyasa is used is various forms of yoga. For example: Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga
The breathing style used in Vinyasa Yoga is Ujjayi. This is a relaxed diaphragmatic style of breathing which first fills the lower belly (activates the 1st and 2nd chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (3rd and 4th chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. It is characterized by an ocean sound which resonates in the practitioner’s throat. Throughout a practice, this specific breathing style is maintained in alignment with movements. The steady cycle of inhalations and exhalations provides the practitioner with a calming, mental focal point.
Together, Vinyasa and Ujjayi create internal heat, which leads to purification of the body through increased circulation and sweating.
 

Anticipation, Apprehension – My first class

 
Leaving the Tirisula TTC, I was not at all confident about my ability to teach yoga to beginners.  It had nothing to do with the course; the course was great. It was me.  I’ve heard many people say you don’t have to be a good practitioner to be a good teacher but I couldn’t subscribe to that.  I just couldn’t. My body wasn’t flexible or strong enough for a lot of asanas. How could I, in all good conscience, teach?  Anyhow, back in the Andamans, a few of my friends who work on the island insisted I do yoga classes with them.  As teaching is part of the 30 hour project work, it worked well in my favour and Yoga with Pritha at 4:30pm was planned.  I had 4 students, all beginners to yoga.
I wasn’t sure how to structure my first class.  Should we say the prayer? Should we chant Om a few times? What about Pranayama?  My students wanted to do yoga to get “fit and bendy” as one of them said.  They weren’t really interested in the “other, superfluous” (as another called it) stuff.  So there I was, sitting on the horns of a dilemma, wondering whether to structure the classes according to what the students wanted or how I thought would be the right way of doing it.  I didn’t want to make someone spend 15 minutes with breathing and pranayama if they really weren’t interested.  But it was important, no?  After losing a whole night’s sleep over how I’d structure my first class as a yoga teacher, I decided to do the prayer, pranayama and Oms, but a shortened version.  I told them we would do it for the first few classes and if they really didn’t think it was interesting or beneficial, we would figure something else out.  Of course, it worked because there is a massively therapeutic and relaxing element to the vibrations and energy created by the Om sound as well as a few rounds of Kapal Bhatti and everyone felt it instantly.  Phew.
My other big worry were the asanas.  For the first class, I made sure I taught only those asanas that I felt confident performing myself. That wasn’t too hard.  What I was worried about was what if they asked questions I couldn’t answer?  And someone did. She asked me where and how the body weight should be placed in Matsyasana so as to avoid stress to the neck.  I knew it was mostly in the arms, but what about the legs? Do I relax them or keep them engaged? I had to go back into the asana to figure it out.  Slightly embarrassing, but not a huge catastrophy.  My students knew this was my first class; I was upfront about it.  Also, they were my friends so I got away with being way less than perfect.
Anyhow the point of all of this is that, I enjoyed my first class, it wasn’t as frightful as I thought it would be and after class, my students said “Pritha that was great. Can we do it again tomorrow?”  Great feeling. Each day, teaching gets less stressful and more fun.  I realize now that baby steps are important.  Thanks to my first group of students who really are wonderful and very forgiving.  Teaching them, my friends, is a great stepping stone to building the experience and confidence for going off and teaching complete strangers.
 
 

Acro-Yoga

Few weeks back, I walked into a garden café to ponder what I would blog about and there was a group of 6 people doing something that sort of looked like yoga.  Except they were on top of each other, in two sets of three. “Its called Acro-yoga” is what I was told by the French instructor leading the sequence. “A combination of yoga and acrobatics and involves two or three people doing one pose together” Seemed interesting; new concepts usually are.  They asked me if I wanted to join the class and since I had nothing else to do and could not think of a topic to blog about, I agreed. Seemed really hard and scary and like a lot of fun.   The first thing I was told is that I had to trust my team members and completely relax my body.
Here’s how the class worked.  One person is the base, one person is a flyer and the third person, if the pose calls for a third, is a spotter. As beginners. all three must be of roughly equal size and weight.
First, we learnt the plank on plank which is a two person pose.  I was surprised at how easy it was to have someone else do the plank on top of me while I was also in plank.  Some strength, but mostly technique and perfect alignment. I was the bottom plank or the “base”, she was the top plank, or the “flyer” and had her feet on my shoulders and hands holding my ankles. Easy enough.
The second pose involved three people.  I, the base, went into downward dog. The flyer backed up onto my sacrum, went into a back bend with arms stretched out behind her. The third person held on to her arms and, standing behind me (the person in down dog) also did a slight backbend, pulling the flyer deeper into the bend. I hope this makes sense?
Next we learnt the ”folded leaf”.  As the base, I lay on my back with my knees bent and with Charlie chaplin feet placed just below the flyers hip bones.  With straight arms, we held hands.  On an exhalation, the base straightened her legs to 90 degrees and bends her arms, bringing the flyers head down and legs a little less than 90 degrees, feet pointing to the ground and as wide apart as possible.  You tend to get all clenched up, especially as the flyer.  Its about trust and an openness to fall, because you really are only falling a few feet.  I thought of it as more acrobatics and less yoga, but with many of the same principles of breathing and alignment and keeping an open mind to a little bit of pain.  Either way, it was tons of fun. I took two Acro Yoga classes; they were a nice little break from the routine of  the Ashtanga primary series
This “acro – trust – yoga” seems to be becoming the latest yoga fad.   The last one I’d heard of was yogilates a combination of yoga and pilates.  And then there’s hot yoga.  And probably many other hybrids that I’ve yet to stumble across.  It’s all about ideas and being the first to have them. You take a concept, anything that hasn’t been done before, give it a fancy name, put a cool marketing spin on it and soon, everyone’s raving.   People are looking for innovative and interesting things to do to such an extent that it’s even penetrated this age old, established practice. I wonder if I can find a way to combine  yoga and splashing about in water. “Aqua-yoga.” Find a few celebrities to endorse me and I’m half way there to my first million. Whoever said there’s no money to be made in yoga?
 
 

Aum Salutations to God Vasudeva

1. Aum the Universe, the cause of the universe, Brahman, Omkara, The All-pervading, the Recipient of offerings in sacrifice, the Lord of the Past, Future and Present, the Creator of beings, the Sustainer of Beings, the Absolute Existence, the Self of Beings and the Originator (or generator of beings).
2. The Pure Self, the Supreme Self, the Supreme ultimate goal of the liberated, the Immutable (unchanging), the Spirit (who exists in the body), the Direct witness to everything (with no intervening medium), the Knower of the field (the body) and the Undecaying one.
3. The Union (of the body with Paramatma), the Leader of those who know yoga, the Lord of both prakriti (primordial nature) and the individual self (Purusha or the jivatma), the One with the body having the features of both man and lion, the One who has Lakshimi eternally (embedded in his chest), He whose hairs are handsome (or who has under His control the trimurthis – Brahma, Vishnu ans Shiva) and the Highest of Spirits.

Aum Salutations to Narayana

The Sri Vishnu Sahasranam

The Thousand Names of Vishnu

Translations

Sloka 1
OM

 
Nama 1: vishvam / a) Universe or Cause of Universe b) One who is full in all respects. Om visvaya namah.
2. Vishnu: – a) One who permeates everything, is inside every sentient and non-sentient being. b) One who surrounds everything. Om vishnave namah.
3: vashatkara / One who controls and directs (not merely pervades).
4: bhuta-bhavya-bhavat-prabhu: The Master of all things past, future, and present. Nirukti – trikAla vartinAm seshi – The Lord of all things that exist in the past, present, and future.
5: bhuta-krit / The creator of all beings.
6 : bhuta-bhrt / The supporter of all things. Bhutani bibharti iti bhuta-bhrt – One who supports all. (seems to be further elaborated by namas 8 and 9)
7: bhavah / He who exists with all the splendor. He who exists always, independent of anything else.
8: bhutatma / The AtmA or soul of all beings – sarvesham bhutanam atma
9: bhuta-bhavanah / One who nourishes and nurtures all beings that He created.
 
 
Sloka 2

10: Putatma /  The Pure Self – One who is untainted by the effects of karma – good or bad. Puta Atma yasya sa putatma – One who has the pure Atma is pUtAtmA.
11: paramatma / The Supreme Soul – for whom there is no other guiding or superior soul
12: muktanam parama gatih / One who is the ultimate goal for all muktas or Released or Liberated Souls.
13: avyayah / a) One who does not send back anyone who has reached Him (to the cycle of birth and rebirth .(Sri Bhattar) b) Indestructible (Sri Sankara)
14: purushah / a) One who bestows on the Muktas the enjoyment of the Bliss of Himself in plenty.- puru sanoti iti purushah. b) One who is reclining in this body – puri sete iti purushah. c) One who existed before anything else existed – purA AsIt iti purushah. d) One who completes and fulfills existence everywhere – pUrayati iti purushah
15: sakshi / One who directly witnesses everything .as it is. , The All-Knower, The Omniscient
16:kshetrajnah / One who knows, and can lead, the muktas to the exact place where the muktas will get their sought-after Supreme Bliss.
17: akshara / One whose greatness never diminishes over time in spite of being enjoyed by the miktas constantly. na ksharati iti aksharah .
 

2 Impossible Things Man is Unable to Perform

Our minds have always been attempting to perform 2 impossible things.  Firstly to rewrite the past, which we know cannot be done.  Past is past and cannot be relived, revived and rewrote.  You are unable to go to the past and but retain memories of it, which hardly has the complete details.  It cannot be the real, as there are smritis (memories).
It is no more there, it has no life, it will not achieve anything.  No achievement is possible.  This is one of the ultimate impossible goals of mankind.  Can you undo it?
Secondly, the idea that has always preoccupied mankind and his mind is to establish or cement the future. This cannot be done nor undone. It is not yet – future.  You have no hold of it.  You have no idea of it.  You cannot cast it in stone.  It appears completely open, pure, and mysterious.  There is no certainty.  Amongst the two, the past is more real and completely out of reach and control
Man stands in between these two impossibilities and wants to make both certain especially the future, the tomorrow, next week, month and year – as you know is impractical.  It is like a blind man walking in the dark. The very nature and quality of the future is uncertainty.   We need to respect this uncertainty as it was created by nature and don’t waste precious time looking.  The past is a dead phenomenon.However, we can reinterpret it, to suit our present situations.
Most psycho therapists are just doing that this.  That is, reinterpreting the past to make it more palatable, but the past remains the same.
Astrologists, numerologits, tarot readers, I Ching on the other hand, try to make the future more certain, as man has insatiable desire to know the future.  As such, there are thousands of ways to fool and confuse oneself, to adulterate oneself.
As Patanjali has said in the Yoga Sutras:
3.53 ksana tat kramayoh samyamat viveka-jam jnanam
By samyama on the moments and their succession, there comes the higher knowledge that is born from discrimination.
Freedom, happens when we samyama on the moments.
 
 

Family Time

I decided to write this post after I’d given myself some time to reflect on what the 5 weeks of the Pilates and Yoga course brought.  I’m now in England, celebrating the holidays with my big, loving, crazy family.  Every morning, I wake up before everyone (except my grandfather, who never sleeps) and do yoga.  It helps me remain centered in myself, despite the various demands for energy, time, attention, etc… that are the constant result of living with others.  My daily practice, finding stillness and calm internally also helps me to appreciate the noise and bustle when everyone is awake.  I have so much to be grateful for: a wonderful family, great friends, terrific teachers, my health and (occasionally) sanity.
 
So this post, for me, is about saying thank you to all my classmates for their support and encouragement and to Paalu and Weiling for challenging me and helping me grow stronger and more centered.  I am so thankful that I did the program and that I was able to meet such wonderful people.  I hope you all have a great winter and enjoy doing yoga in whatever forms it takes!

Hanging Bottom over Top

Why go upside down?  Well, its fun. The first time I went into an unaided headstand was one of the most thrilling experiences of my asana practice.  The excitement of being upside down, balancing on my head, the slight danger of falling and the lightness in my legs was what appealed at first.  I felt like I was in a stunt show, doing something really cool.  Going deeper into my yoga practice, I was delighted to find out that my favourite asana is actually doing many other wonderful things for my mind and body; things I was quite unaware of.   Here’s just some of the benefits of hanging with your bottom over your top
1) Balancing on my head, balances my hormones.  Balancing my hormones balances my emotions. All of us, at some point or the other feel completely out of control.  Often, there’s no tangible reason for our mood swings, anger, depression, fatigue, and so on.  It’s hormones.  When our hormones are out of whack, our life feels like its spiraling out of control.  So what do inversions have to do with the endocrine system? In Sirsasana (the headstand), the increased flow of blood to the head stimulates the pituitary gland.  The pituitary gland is the master gland that controls the rest of the endocrine system and an imbalance in the secretion of hormones produced by the pituitary gland can lead to an imbalance in the entire endocrine system The Pineal gland produces the serotonin derivative melatonin, a hormone that affects mood/sleep/wake patterns.  Sirsasana stimulates this gland, revitalizes the mind and central nervous system and is hence a natural cure for anxiety and other nervous disorders which can lead to other illnesses The Thyroid gland, located at the base of the neck, regulates the rate of metabolic activity, growth and development as well as the onset of sexual maturity.  Sarvangasana, another type of inversion, pushes healthy oxygen-rich blood directly into the neck, strengthening the thyroid glands.
2) Sexy Legs Inversions also help prevent and reduce vericose veins by reducing the pressure on the legs and directing blood clogged in the veins upwards to the heart.    
3) Gives my heart a break: Blood flow back to the heart from the rest of the body is easier in the inverted position, as is the pumping of blood from the heart to the head and neck.  Also, in an inversion the ventricals go about the atruim and although the atrium now has to work harder the AV valves finally have a chance to rest
4) The Lymphatic System consists of glands and conduits that comprise our internal communciations network. Lymph is rich in white blood cells and plays an important role in our immune system and toxin removal. The better the system is working, the better we feel. Although it is vital that lymph fluid moves around within our body, there is no mechanism to achieve this motion. There is no peristalsis or lymphatic heart .  It is our activity and movement that determines the movement of lymphatic fluids.  And no other exercise moves lymph around in as many directions as yoga does, especially when we are inverted.

Practicing Yoga Off the Mat

I think of my yoga mat as my sanctuary and try to visit it every day.  I even have a special yoga mat I take with me when I travel so I can remain faithful in my commitment to practice daily.  It is easy to feel gratitude, and reverence and connection to all life when I am on my mat, or after finishing asana, pranayama or meditation.  But once I leave this internal sanctuary behind and re-enter my life the struggle begins.
Early in my practice I naively thought that as I gained strength, flexibility and stamina in the asanas I would be able to master the complexities of a complete yoga practice.  I added pranayama and pratyahara and would sit and repeat a mantra afterward, concentrating in hopes that my mind would relax and empty.  After some time I could sit without thought only feeling my breath enter and exit my body.
During times of stress I found tranquil moments and during times of grief I found solace in my practice.  I realized how different I interacted with people and in stressful interactions on days when I practiced compared to days I did not.  Great, I had become an observer of myself, the observed.  But observing does not alter the event or person observed.
The conclusion was that some days I only practiced yoga on my mat.  The real test of a yogi is how well we maintain our concentration and balance, not while in an asana but while interacting with the rude person on the other end of the phone.  Practicing yoga on our mats, in our “safe environments”, like my sanctuary, really is only practice, we are only in  training.  It is how we use our yoga when we are “out there” that matters, and we are tested daily.  I try to remember this as I smile at the person irritating me, trying not to look at them and find every imperfection within them, but to look through them, beyond them so that I can see their beauty, their humanity.  At the very least see they are not some entity different than me, that we are all the same underneath.

Breath of Life

For some reason modern life places the greatest importance on ‘doing something’. And if you are not doing something, you must necessarily be wasting time, or not getting ahead. Even more valuable is if you can be doing many things at one time, then indeed you must be very capable because you are able to multi task. And doing something must necessarily move as far from self awareness as possible. If at all we are doing nothing, then at least we should be entertained by someone, something. How could we set aside time to listen to the sound of breath and the rhythm of our breathing.
Breathing is something we do 14,000 times a day, yet breath is something we are hardly aware of. Our breathing reflects what is going on in our mind. Have you ever thought about how you breathe when you’re upset, when you’ve just fallen in love, when you jump out of bed, when the shower is not hot enough, when you’ve just run up a flight of stairs, when you are about to make a presentation and the server goes down. It’s so interesting, how your body – the one being that you will most certainly spend your life with is communicating with you constantly in the best way it can – through your breath. Yet we think that being alone, or doing nothing, must necessarily be a sign of boredom, or inadequacy. If we can take a moment to relate to this gift of life, we will get to enjoy being, to not look at the present as a means to the end, but an end in itself. The quickest way to change your life is to listen to your breath, and work with it, through it, to create the best you there is.
One third of us don’t breathe well enough to sustain optimum health. Oxygen intake and elimination of carbon dioxide is too inadequate to allow optimal functioning of the heart, liver, intestines and other vital organs. Let’s review the effect of breathing on various physiological systems. : Please note the information provided below is my understanding of Dr Khalsa’s expression of relationship between breath and health.
Cellular level: Longevity and health of every single cell in body and brain depend on oxygen intake through breathing. Nervous system: Deep and slow conscious breathing tones the entire central and peripheral nervous system. Circulatory System: The quality and efficiency of blood circulation depends on breathing. When tiny air sacs in the lungs receive more oxygen, the heart pumps more blood into the body. The body then absorbs nutrients more effectively. Toxins and wastes are more thoroughly eliminated. Because breathing is so directly and closely linked with circulation, the diaphragm is sometimes referred to as the “second heart.” Muscles: Muscles are developed or wasted depending on the efficiency of breathing and blood circulation. When muscles don’t get enough oxygen, they hurt. Liver function: When breathing is shallow or irregular, the liver cannot adequately transmit the blood to the heart. Accumulated blood in the liver can cause inflammation. However, deep, slow and conscious breathing can suck up excess blood accumulated in the liver. Digestive function: observes that poor digestion, including heartburn, is one of the most common reactions to shallow breathing. Deep and slow breathing by providing more blood to the alimentary canal improves digestion and reduces acidity and gas. “Rotto-Rooter” function: Conscious breathing even helps the lungs by cleansing the lungs of the toxins and noxious waste. Inefficient lungs may retain all kinds of toxins, pollutants, allergens, viruses and bacteria. Deep and full breaths recruit the entire lung into the act and can clean it of noxious substances. Mood Management: When the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, we feel anxious, dizzy or lightheaded. With an abundant supply of oxygen, we tend to feel energetic and cheerful. One of the best ways to calm yourself is to breathe deeply. Immune Function: As the controlled breathing reduces stress and negative emotions, your immune function, too, may improve. Pain Management: Deep, relaxing breaths and the practice of consciously holding and releasing of breath increase the production of endorphins, which in turn reduce the feeling of pain.
If one stops to recognize that everything is in the moment and the moment is everything then breathing is probably the moment important activity you would ever be involved in, giving you the best benefits.