Yoga was about physical exercise for me

Yoga is more than just a form of physical exercise. The modern understanding of yoga does great injustice to it. If you ask any other person on the street about their understanding of the word, there is a high chance that their replies would generally be that it is a stretching workout for really flexible people or that it is a highly dangerous workout that causes a lot of injuries among its practitioners.
To those who have some Sanskrit language knowledge, they would know that the term Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word “Yug”, which means union. Union? Union of? That’s a very vague terminology. Yoga practitioners seek union of their physical body, mind and soul with the divine through the practice of yoga. There are a number of types of yoga. The one that we conveniently have thought it to be is only one of the eight aspects of the Ashtanga Yoga. The physical exercise that is made up of various poses is called Asana.
Another confusion in the field of yoga is the definition of the terms “hatha” and “vinyasa”. Through this course, I realize that practitioners of hatha yoga practise their asanas by holding a particular pose for a longer period of time. Sequence of poses is not highly important in this category. On the other hand, vinyasa yoga is more demanding. The execution of each pose must be precise, the sequence of poses must obey a certain set of guidelines and the transition between poses must be smooth in terms of movement, breath and energy flow.
The other aspects of yoga that are still overshadowed by the overly emphasized Asana are Pranayama, Dhyana, Yama, Niyama, Dharana, Pratyahara and Samadhi. In this article, I would share my understanding of the other two aspects, which are overshadowed by the practice of Asana; Pranayama and Dharana.
Pranayama, which is often treated as a secondary aspect of yoga as compared to Asana, is often being undermined as a mere breathing exercise. Modern science and medical studies could only draw conclusions in terms of physical, chemical and biological effect of breathing, the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in alveoli and the importance of oxygen in our body for sustenance. But from pranayama’s point of view, the western philosophy on breathing is only the tip of the iceberg. The word “prana” has already made it obvious that the practice involves energy, more than just the energy derived from the food that we consume. Similar to the traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of Qi, “prana” is the vital energy that is intangible, abstract and almost mystic. However, this abstract form of energy is the key difference between a living man and a dead one.
The practice of pranayama is claimed to have physical, mental and spiritual benefits to the practitioners. If spiritual advantages are considered beyond your comprehension of logic, then do at least consider the immediate and obvious benefits of the exercises.
For example, the practice of Nadi Shodana, which consists of alternate nostril breathing and breath retention, does directly or indirectly makes the body (circulatory system) especially the heart and lungs to work more efficiently. With a doubled time of exhalation, a doubled time of breath retention and a doubled time of void of breath (after exhalation), the lungs would be “forced” to be more efficiently in absorbing the oxygen from every breath that the body takes. Indirectly, the heart would need to pump more blood (that carries carbon dioxide) into the lungs for the gas exchange and get the oxygen-rich blood cells to deliver oxygen to various parts of the body. A specific time to breathe, such as 5 seconds, is generally longer than our regular breathing. This means we train ourselves to develop deeper breathing habits. Deeper breathing would lead to more oxygen in every inhalation. Longer time of exhalation would mean that a higher percentage of the air exhaled contains carbon dioxide. Thus lesser oxygen would be released through respiration as compared to our regular breathing. Longer breath retention time would mean more time for the lungs and blood to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Lastly, longer time of body without breath would train the body to be more efficiently in the delivery of oxygen-rich blood cells to vital organs and parts of body, it would create “hungry” oxygen deprived blood cells that would absorb oxygen faster and it would train the mind and body to not be in a state of panic in cases where there is an unexpected trauma.
The third aspect of yoga is somewhat being overlooked or misunderstood by its more abstract cousin, dhyana. General public often fail to recognize that the link between the state of conscious and meditation is the art of concentration, Dharana. Perhaps it is easier for the people in the past to practice concentration. The reason for coming to such conclusion is that in this current age, we have reached to a stage where we are constantly being surrounded by distractions of all sorts. It could be the television or the Internet. It could be pop culture or fashion. Surrounded by sky-high buildings that seem trying to reach the heavens and media that bombard us with endless flow of information 24/7, one would not be surprised at how short the attention span of the younger generation is. Mankind has become so accustomed to fast changing landscape that their patience grow thinner and their knowledge is skewed towards superficial subjects. Mankind becomes more and more entrapped and enslaved in this illusion-world.  Weakness in dharana is revealed in situations when the mind takes the reins of your body and gives you an emotional roller-coaster ride. The failure to keep the mind under your control means that your concentration is weak.
Dharana trains the body to be disciplined. Concentration comes in various forms such as determination, perseverance, endurance and focus. But the essence is same which is concentration. It helps to prevent the mind from overtaking the body. Concentration would aid us from becoming easily affected by external factors. When we are no affected by external factors, our tasks would be easier and faster to accomplish. Being concentrated does not mean we become oblivious to the surroundings. We are still well aware of what is happening around us but we have an option to turn off those that are not pertinent in our lives.
In practice, there are many ways to train our concentration. One of the ways is to use visual or imagery to train the mind to focus. In Buddhist practice, mandalas are used to aid the believers to focus and concentrate before transcending into a state of meditation. Some rely sounds, from chants or bells, to get into meditation. Others use the sense of touch, such as hand mudras, as point of focus. Only after we have successfully practise dharana, we would then be ready for dhyana, meditation.
(200hr Yoga TTC – July 2013)
“But I could be wrong.”
― Carl Sagan

UTTANASANA (Deep standing forward bend)

Meaning: Intense stretch
–  This is one of the poses within the sun salutation sequence
Dristi: Nosetip
Preparation poses:
1)   Paschimottanasana  (West posterior stretch pose)
2)   Ardha Uttanasana (Standing half forward bend)
3)   Forward bend leaning on a chair
4)   Uttanasana with knees bent, then slowly engage quads to straighten
1)   Stand in Tadasana with feet hip width apart and hands on the hip
2)   Breathe in and lengthen the spine by arching back
3)   Exhale and flex the hip forward by contracting the hip flexors (including psoas, pectineus and rectus femoris muscles)
4)   When bending forward, shift weight slightly to the toes
5)   Pronate both arms and press palms into the mat
6)   Activate the lower part of the trapezius to draw shoulders away from the neck
7)   Contract deltoids and biceps to flex the elbow
8)   Contract rectus abdominis muscles slightly to deepen the stretch and to protect the lower back
9)   Engage the quadriceps by pulling the kneecaps (patella) up to prevent knees from bending.
10)  Aim to flatten your torso against your thighs
11)   Hold in Uttanasana for 5 Ujjayi breaths, with eyes gazing at the nosetip
12)   Attempt to deepen the stretch with each exhalation
13)   After 5 breaths, slowly inhale and extend the hip joint by engaging the abdomen
14)   Return to Tadasana
Variations to Uttanasana:
Padangusthasana (Standing forward bend with bound toe)
Padahasthasana (Standing forward bend with palms under the feet)
Counter poses to Uttanasana:
Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Purvottanasana (East anterior stretch pose)
Muscles lengthening/Stretching:
Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus (posterior), hamstrings, gastrocnemius
Muscles contracting:
Psoas, pectieus, rectus femoris, trapezius, deltoids, biceps, rectus abdominis, quadriceps
Stretch reflex in Uttanasana:
When bending forward, the muscles being stretched (namely hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae) will involuntarily contract in order to resist over lengthening. This is a protective response to avoid injury to the muscles. When the erector spinae contracts, the back rounds and this prevents deepening of the stretch in Uttanasana. When the hamstrings contract, the knees flex and this again prevents deepening of the stretch. Rounding of the back and flexing of the knees are very common mistakes when executing this Asana. In order to lessen the stretch reflex, relax into the stretch and practice passive stretching in forward bend. This allows the muscles to adjust to the stretch.
Contraindications to the pose:
1)   People with back injuries – Attempt pose with bent knees and move into the pose cautiously
2)   People with neck injuries – Always lengthen the neck and avoid compressing the back of the neck as you look forward
3)   People with Osteoporosis
A disc bulge may occur if too much weight is borne by the Lumbar spine. To prevent this, avoid rounding the lower back.
Benefits of the pose:
1)   Helps to reduce stress and calm the mind
2)   Stimulates the Pineal, Hypothalamus and Pituitary endocrine glands in the brain
3)   Stimulates the liver and kidney
4)   Improves digestion
5)   Relieves headaches, menstrual cramps and insomnia
6)   Helps correct spinal problems such as scoliosis


Sirsasana or headstand is a pose that predominantly uses isometric contraction as the muscles contract to stabilize the body. In this pose the prime mover is the serratus anterior, shown in the image in red. This muscle originates from the ribs and inserts in the scapula with contraction drawing the scapula away from the spine and allowing the hands to extend above the head. The serratus anterior combines with the lower trapezius to depress the scapula. At the same time the rhomboids contract to prevent the scapula from rotating too much. The latissimus dorsi help prevent the winging of the scapula, but are also stretched.


The arms are flexed above the head and slightly externally rotated. The pectorialis major flexes arm up while the infraspinitus assists in external rotation of shoulders. Engaging medial triceps brachii prevents movement of elbows out to sides. The triceps stabilize arms and shoulders. Forearms help to balance body, hands slightly supinated. Rectus abdominus slightly engaged to ensure neutral, or slight posterior tilt of the pelvis. Other core muscles such as the transverse abdominus also provide stability and protect the spine.  

The gastrocnemius and soleus contract to point the foot while the tibialis anterior stretches.

The inverted position of sirsasana has effects on a number of systems in the body. If a student is calm and relaxed in sirsasana the inverted position will increase the stroke volume, that is, the volume of blood ejected by each ventricle during a single contraction. This is because gravity assists in the blood leaving the ventricles rather than pushing against it as it does when we are standing. If the student is calm their heart rate will should lower as more blood is leaving the heart so fewer stroke per minute are required. This takes some of the stress off the heart. The inverted state also makes it easier for blood from the toes to return to the heart.

According to yoga theories sirsasana is also one of the best poses for benefiting the pituitary gland which regulates many of the bodies hormones, particularly those relating to the thyroid, affecting our metabolism; adrenal cortex stimulating the release of glucocortoids and thus increasing blood glucose; hormones such as follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, prolactin and oxytocin which are involved in reproduction and human growth hormone which stimulates our growth as the inverted position directs a greater quantity of blood to the head.


Halasana technique

The name comes from the Sanskrit words hala meaning “plow” and asana meaning “posture” or “seat. The plow is represented in the myths and traditional stories of Egypt, China, Tibet & India. In the Ramayana, King Janaka uncovers a beautiful baby girl as he is plowing the earth in a sacrificial ground. He adopts the baby and names her Sita, and she later becomes the beautiful wife of Rama. This story relates the power of the plow as a tool for revealing hidden treasures.


  • Calming, restorative effect on the sympathetic nervous system
  •  Assists in balancing the glandular secretions adrenaline and thyroxin
  •  Improve in the elimination of toxins in the digestive and urinary tracts
  • Relief from hypertension in the pose for those with high blood pressure
  • helps nourish the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine by increasing circulation and suppleness
  • Promote mental clarity and increased vitality

Finishing sequence:
Halasana  is part of the finishing pose as it helps to prepare the practitioner for relaxation, pranayama and meditation. This pose taps into the body’s natural processes of relaxation by pacifying the nerves, soothing the brain and heart , and regulating the breath. All this preparation helps to develop the stillness and alertness needed for pranayama and meditation.

  • Take care not to overwork and possibly injure the vulnerable cervical vertebrae.
  • Practice on a thicker yoga mats else if you are using a thinner mat, try folding the mat in half to create a double thickness under your head, shoulders, and arms, or use two mats, one on top of the other.
  •  Additional support will be needed in the event of serious neck problems
  • This pose can put significant strain on the cervical spine, which does not normally undergo this type of stress, and can cause injury if not performed properly.As alternatives, simply lying on the back and raising the legs into a hamstring stretch, or doing a seated forward bend may be appropriate.


  • Lie flat down on your mat with arms at your sides, palms down pressing into the floor.
  • Spread your shoulder blades apart with a slight inward rotation of the arms.
  • With an inhalation, lift your legs up to vertical, keeping your spine flat on the floor.
  •  Take several breaths here, feeling the release of any tension in the throat, shoulders, and chest with each exhalation.
  • With your next exhalation, slowly draw your navel toward the spine and lift your legs over your head, lifting your hips off the floor.

Beginner’s  tip:

  1.  move near a wall and with your legs vertical,
  2. bend your knees to 90 degrees &  press your feet into the wall, and practice raising your hips.
  3. When you feel a softness coming to your frontal body, move away from the wall to work at lifting your legs over your head until they are parallel with the floor.
  4. Keep your legs firm, your knees straight, and avoid hardening your buttocks.
  5. With your toes on the floor, lift your top thighs and tailbone toward the ceiling and draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis. Continue to draw your chin away from your sternum and soften your throat.


  • Once you can maintain your balance( shown in the above pic), focus on the rise and fall of the breath, filling the back of the lungs as you inhale
  •  As the spine lifts, the toes will sink toward the floor.
  •  Keep normal breathing and  with each cycle, try  to release tension in the frontal body while supporting the lift in the back body (spine).
  • After 10 cycles of breath, slowly bend your knees and roll the spine down until the whole back side of your body rests on the floor.

Beginner ( first timer) lesson plan

5 min:

  • Introduce your self
  • Ask for medical history, not feeling well

20 min:

  • Do OM X3; explain OM

It is believed to be the basic sound of the universe, the cosmic vibration and contains all other sounds. When repeated correctly it penetrates all and creates harmony and unity with all that exists – with mind, body and spirit and that to all others

  • Start on breathing; show them how to breath, exhaling sucking in the belly and inhaling expanding tummy.

Warm up :

  • Move your legs on the spot( jogging style)
  • Swing your left leg forward and backward x5 ( do the same with the right leg)


  • Stretch out your hand and move up ( inhale ) & move down ( exhale) with hands touching the mat x5
  • Stretch your hand up and interlock your fingers. Inhale and stretch. Do the same on the left side and right side (holding breath for 3 counts)


  • Rotate your shoulder clockwise and anti clockwise


  • Rotate your neck, left to right and right to left x5

30 min:
Sun salutation A

  • Stand at the front of the mat, place hand together in prayer position.
  • Inhale, arms up and As you exhale, hollow out your belly and fold into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), connecting down into the earth. Keep your legs firmly engaged.
  • Inhale half way up, look up , hands placing on the mat, step right leg backwards followed by left leg.
  • Stay in plank position
  • Inhale and exhale normally
  • Exhale,8 limbed staff pose on the mat  where  toes, knees, chest, chin are touching the floor
  • In hale , lift the knees, moving slightly forwards into upward facing dog.
  • Exhale into downward facing dog.( adho mukha svanasana)-breakdown as below:
  1. Come into all fours
  2. Place your knees right under your hips, making sure first you have fully extended your spine.
  3. Place your hands on your mat, shoulder-width apart
  4. Light spread your fingers and making sure your middle finger faces directly forward.
  5. Lift your pelvis to the ceiling and draw your hips back, look at your feet. They should be hip distance apart.
  6. Your heels may / may not touch the ground- try to ground your heels ( you will be able to feel your spine being stretch and your hips, hamstrings & shoulders)
  7. Press hands and stretch your hips back from the tops of your thighs.
  8. Shift your weight back into your hips and look towards your belly
  9. Ensure the crown of your head is aligned to the natural line of your spine
  10. Breath slowly X5
  11. On your 5th exhale, bend your knees & look between your hands.
  • In hale, look up place right leg between the palms and repeat the same for left leg.
  • Exhale back into uttanasana ( standing forward bend)
  • Inhale and stand up in praying post.
  • Remain here for a few breaths & continue your next  salute

Standing pose:
Trikonasana=Triangle pose;Utthita trikonasana:
(Do take a block if needed)

  • From Tadasana( mountain pose) facing the long edge of the your mat.
  • Step your feet wide apart and turn your left foot out so it is parallel to the front of your mat
  • And turn your left foot in slightly.
  • On inhalation, raise your arms parallel to the floor, extend your arm bones away from your center with all your heart.
  • On exhalation, bend towards right leg, keeping hip square. Place your right hand on your right leg / on a block/ hold the ankle.
  • Keep your gazing point towards the your left thumb; keep your breast wide apart and look up. Breath for x5 . Repeat on the left side.

Savasana/Cool down( 5 min):

  • Lie down, spread your legs apart, your palms facing towards the ceiling.
  • For instant relaxation, in hale & tense your toes, ankles, thighs, buttocks and abdomen. Exhale
  • Inhale and make your hands into fist, tense your chest, biceps/ triceps , facial muscles, crown of your head and exhale
  • Relax and focus on your right feet, relax your toe, thigh, ankle. Relax your left feet, toe, ankle, thigh.
  • Relax your abdomen, and focus on your hands. Relax your shoulder, hand, ankle, wrist, fingers.
  • Relax your facial muscle, your eyes, your head crown
  • Bring the awareness back to body and sit in Sukhahasana. Bow gratitude.

Bhujangasana, the cobra pose

Banda and Pranayam- Keep breathing deeply to the abs region using Ujjai Breath and lock the Muladhara.
boo-jang GAHS-anna
bhujang = serpent
(bhuja = arm or shoulder + anga = limb)

Classification and Level:-
Basic prone backbending pose
Joint Actions
Spine extention; sacrum counternutation; hip extension, internal rotation, adduction; knee extention; ankle plantarflexion; scapula neutral (possibly upward rotation); glenohumeral joint external rotation; elbow extention; forearm pronation.
Breathing- Inhale/exhale – focus on the movement of the breath. Apply Ujjai breath
Organs – Abdominal, arms, spine and legs.
TECHNIQUE (Getting into the pose) :- Lie on the stomach. Legs together as much as you can. Arms at the side of the body, forehead on the ground..
Hands below shoulder shoulder level. Elbows close to the ribcage. Palm facing down, inhale.
Lift the head and chest up, using the back muscles. Extend the elbows by using the arms, to feel the deep stretch on the spine. Gazing point, ceiling.
TECHNIQUE (Getting out of Pose) :- Exhale, slowly lower the body, layer by layer. Finally release the arms to the side of the body.
SPHINX ASANA:-  A good preparation for Bhujangasana, follow with a foward bending Asana. The benefit of this asana are the same but only at a reduced level. The sphinx asana is good for stiff backs, those with acute backache or slipped disc. Relax here for as long as they are comfortable.
SARPASANA – (Snake pose) – A good preparation pose for Bhujangasana. This is very useful for asmathics. It helps to release blocked emotions.
TIRYAKA BHUJANGASANA :- This one is a full cobra pose. This variation is only for those with a very supple back.
ASANA – Steady pose involves balance, focus, determination, concentration and mindfulness.
Yoga asana integrates the body, the mind, the intelligence, and finally the self, in four stages.:-
1st Stage – ARAMBHAVASTHA – Physical body (Anatomical body)
2nd Stage – GHATAVASTA – mind learns to move in unison with the body.
3rd stage – PARICHAYAVASTHA – Occurs when the intelligence and the body become one (physiological body).
4th Stage – NISPATTYAVASTHA – The state of perfection – Spiritual Awareness flows into the student of yoga through those stages.
DUKHA – Which is misery or sadness or pain, vanishes, and the ‘Art of living’ in Simplicity and Peace is realised.
To practice asanas correctly, you need to learn to bring all those levels together.
ASANA is divided into sections such as Yogasana Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced.
PRANA means ‘Vital Energy’ or ‘Life Force’. It is the force which exists in all things to give it life.
AYAMA is defined as ‘Extension or Expansion’ thus the word Pranayama means extension or expansion of the dimension of prana.
Four Aspects of Pranayana – Inhalation, Exhalation, Internal Breath, Retention, External Breath Retention
Locking action – means to ‘Hold’, ‘Tighten’.
Four types of Banhda :-
1) Jalandhara Bandha (Throat Lock)
2) Mooladhara Bandha (Perineum Contraction)
3) Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Contraction)
4) Maha Bandha is called the Great Lock as it combines all the Bandhas in one practice – such as Utthan Padasana
‘Gesture’ or ‘Attitude’. Attitude of energy flow, also defined as a ‘seal’ ‘short cut’ or ‘curcuit by pass’. Can be a simple hand position too.
Mudras are a combination of subtle physical movements which alter mood, perception and attitude, and which deepens awareness and concentration.
Hasta – Hand Mudras
Mana – Head Mudras
Kaya – Postural Mudras
Bandha – Lock Mudras
Adhara – Perineal Mudras
‘Shat’ means six and ‘Karma’ means action.  Shatkarma is to create harmony between the two major ptanic flows, Ida and Pingala, thereby attaining physical and mental purification and balance.
Yoga Asanas focus on ‘Being’ in the pose rather than just ‘Doing’ the pose.
As leaves move in the wind, your mind moves with the ‘Breath’.
The discipline of the ‘Asana’ comes when you extend your body correctly, evenly and to the maximum.
Yoga ‘Asana’ is a light which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.
An Asana is not a posture that we assume mechanically. It involves a thoughtful process at the end of which a balance is achieved between movement and resistance.
Respecting the Principles of Yoga, I am trying to be systematic, but not formulaic, each asanas has its own unique terms.
Yoga practice is fundamentally experiential.
The Locations of the chakras and their correspondence in the Physical Body –
* MULADHARA CHAKRA – is at the base of the spine, at the coccyx (perium). It represents earth elements
Senses – smells
‘Psychological Function’ – Grounding, Security, Support, Stability, Courage, Material drive, Sexuality.
‘Physical Disfunction’ – Fatique, elimination
Emotions – Passions
‘Gland’ – Adrenal.
‘Asana’ to do – Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog stretch) and all forward bends.

In the genital area (spleen). Lower abdomen, represents ‘Water Element, Senses – Taste.
Psychological Function – Feelings, Emotions, Intimacy, Confidence, Movements, Freedom.
Physical Dysfunction – Impotence
Emotions – Desires.
Glands – Gonads.
Asana to do – Ustrasana (camel pose) and some other back bends.
At the navel (solar plexus), pancreas, represents ‘Fire Element’.
Senses – Eyes.
Psychological Function – Personal will power, knowledge, laughter, humour, curiousity, awareness.
Physical Dysfunction – Diabetes, Indigestion
Emotions – Purpose, sunshine, power drive.
Glands – Pancreas.
Asana to do – Kukkutasana, Peacock.
In the Heart Region (Centre of chest), represents ‘Air Element’.
Senses – Touch
Psychological Function – Relationship, Acceptance, Self Control, Guilt, Forgiveness, Growth.
Physical Disfunction – Lethary, Asthma.
Emotions – Balance, Love, Compassion.
Glands – Thymus
Asana to do – Urdhva Dhanuvasana (bow pose) and all the back bends.
At the base of the throat. It represents ‘Ether Space Elements’.
Senses – Hear
Physical Disfunction – THyroid, Hyperactivity, Hormonal Problems, Swelling, Mood Swings, Infections.
Psychological Function – commincation, speech, creative expression, wisdom, planning, caution, spiritual drive.
Emotions – Expansion, Healing
Glands – Thyroid
Asana to do – Sirsanasa (Headstand pose), Setu Bandha (Bridge Formation Pose)
Between the eyebrows (forehead, pituitary), the seat of the mind, Interlect. It is in the present moment. It has passed all the elements and levels.
Physchological Functions – Intuition, Psychic, Self Realisation, Release, Understanding, Abilites.
Physical Disfunction – Blindness, Headaches, Sleep Disorders.
Emtions – Imagination
Glands – Pituitary
Mudra Shambari.
Above and beyond the other six the crown of the head.
Psychological Function – Knowingness, Charisma, Meditation, Inspiration, Awareness, Wisdom.
Physical Disfunction – Depression
Emotions – Bliss, spirituality
Glands – Pineal
How it affected me and resonated for me  is the “Vishuddha Chakra”.
Thyroid is what I have for many years. It is under control with taking everyday a ‘Thyroxin’ Tablet. When my thyroid is overactive, my energy is depleted, stress rushes in and creates an emotion of sadness, fear, confusion.
I will be doing more of the Asana focusing on healing the throat chakra. Asana such as Setu Bandhasana, Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana), Uttana Padasaha (Extended Stretch Foot pose), Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Urdhva Padmasana (Upward Lotus Pose), Halasan (Plough Pose). To create vibration I will be chanting the “AUM” 108 Times.

(10 mins) – Welcome to the Intermediate Yoga Class. The theme of our class today will be to focus more on the ‘Urdhva Dhanursana’. It will keep your body supple and create a feeling of vitality and lightness. This asana will stimulate the Adrenal Glands, strengthening your will power, and increases the the capacity to bear stress. Isn’t it lovely? Let’s have a funfilled class!
(10 mins) – Pranayam (Breathing) – Let’s do Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril). You will feel the ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ air coming out of the nostril. Hot air from the right and cool air from the left. Let’s experience it. ‘Hot Breath’ is the ‘Sun Breath’, while ‘Cool’ air is the ‘Moon Breath’. Just be aware that when you exhale, try to expel as much foul air as possible from the lungs.
Hand Mudra – Right thumb to the right nostril, and right ring finger to the left nostril. Count mentally, Inhale 5, Hold 10, Exhale 10, for 10 rounds. Do it slowly.
(5 mins) – Let’s do 3 ‘Aum’s along with a mantra.
(25 mins)  – Asana:- Surya Namaskar A and B for 5 rounds.
1. Going into the Pose of Dhanuvasana with Technique Awareness:-
Lay on your back and bend both knees, and pull heels to the Gluteus. Spread feet so they align with hips. Bend elbow, bring it close to the head. Place palm on the floor on either side of the head, fingers pointing towards shoulders.
2. Focus on palms and feet as you are now going into the Launch Pose. Push shoulder blades back. Pull muscles of your back into your body. Exhale then lift torso and buttocks off the floor. Breathe evenly.
3. Lift chest and place crown of head on the floor. Take two breaths. Exhale, and shift the weight from palms to the front feet and push up torso in one single movement. Now adjust your post until the weight is equally distributed on hands and feet.
4. Do not take your head too far back. Spread your fingers and stretch your palms. Keep wrists firm and steady.
5. Keep on pushing body further upwards. Pull spine into the body. Straighten arms and lock the elbows. Hold post for 5 breaths.
Coming out of the Pose:-  Exhale and bend elbows and knees, lower the torso and bring the crown of the head to the floor. Lower back and buttocks to the floor. Lie on your back and take few breaths.
Please don’t do this Asana if your blood pressure is high or too low, extreme tireness, severe headaches and a cardiac condition.
PURVATTANASANA (Plank Upward Intense Stretch) –
Modification – Bend the knees and bring it towards the hands, forming a table position. Focus on lifting the hips. Tuck and squeeze the buttocks.
SETHU BANDHASANA (Bridge Formation Pose) –
Modification – Hands can support the lower back with thumbs out and 4 fingers in. Make sure wrist is comfortable.
BHUJANGASANA (Cobra Pose) :-
For strenthening. All upper front is open and all upper back is squeezed. Lower back no pressure at all. Feel the movements with the normal breaths.
1st day of class was balancing with everyone with the class. Towards noon I felt a little more comfortable. As days went by, we all students and the teachers become one big family. Sharing and caring took place everyday in the 20 days of my life. Everyone was always ready to help me. I am very happy that i have made this move in my life, by joining this course. The Biggest Gift Ever I have given to myself!
1st – “Whomsoever I have encountered is the Right One” – This means that no one comes into my life by chance. Everyone who is around me, anyone with whom I have interacted, represents something, whether we met in the process during my teachings, or in the process of my learning new things to improve myself.
2nd – “Whatever Happened is the Only thing That was Meant to Happen” – Nothing, absolutely nothing of that which I have experienced could have happened in any other way. Every single situation in my life which I encountered is absolutely Perfect, even if it defies my understanding and ego at that time.
3rd – “Each Moment When Something Begins is The Right Moment”. – Everything begins at exactly the right moment when its supposed to start, neither late nor early.
4th – “What is Over is Over”. – It is that simple. When an experience in my life ends, it helps my evolution. That is why I felt totally enriched by my recent  experiences. After that its better for me to let go and move on – “Let Go, and Let’s Go!”
What I received from this “Intense Course” is Courage to change things I can and the “Wisdom” to know the difference.

Utkatasana: Maybe not the most comfortable Chair!

Utkatasana – ( pronounciation: OOT-kah-TAHS-anna)
Utkatasana is commonly referred to as “chair pose” since it resembles a person seating in an invisible chair ; however, to understand the depth of this pose, is important to understand the meaning behind the name.  “Utkatasana” is derived from the Sanskrit words: “Utkata” which means “fierce”, “powerful”, “uneven” and “Asana“, which mean “posture”. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that many people struggle to get into this pose.
To get into the pose, follow these steps:

  1. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
  2. Inhale and extend the arms over the head.  Joint the palms together and make sure elbows are straight.
  3. Exhale and squad down until the thighs are parallel to the floor (the lower the squad, the harder the pose). Make sure the spine is straight.
  4. Look at your “thumbs” and hold the pose for 30 seconds.  To come out of the pose, straighten the legs and return to Tadasana.

Don’t give up:
As the Sanskrit name implies, this pose can be “fierce” for some of us, but the trick is to practice, practice, practice.
Beginners can prepare for the pose by standing with the back few inches away from a wall.  The weight of the body should be transferred to the heels and buttocks should be pushed back and down.  To straighten the spine, tuck the tailbone in. The spine should be straight at times to keep the energy flowing upwards.
Practicing this pose not only will increase the strength in the leg muscles (i.e., thights, calves, ankles) and gluts, Utkatasana will also strengthen the core area.  In addition, it also provides a good stretch to the shoulders and the chest, and as an added bonus, the heart also receive a gentle massage (diaphragm is lifted).

Getting Into Ukatasana

The following sections give examples and explain how to help students get a feel of the pose, develop strength in the muscles used for the pose, get into the pose, get deeper into the pose, and props/variations that can be used.
Getting Comfortable with the Pose
For beginners especially, putting their weight on their heels and pushing their buttocks back in Ukatasana might throw them off balance and make them a little wary of falling. A good way to sort that out is to have them lean their backs against a wall, then while keeping their backs flat against the wall, start lowering themselves by bending their knees to a 90 degree angle until it looks like they are sitting on a chair. Get them to lift up their toes to experience what it feels like to put the weight on their heels. If you have a swiss ball available, do exactly as written in the previous lines, except put the ball between the student and the wall. This will increase the amount of effort the student has to exert, as well as make the balancing a tad more challenging.
Exercises to Strengthen Muscles Used for this Pose
In order to execute this pose, the student will need to have pretty decent strength in their legs, glutes, arms, rhombus and core. Well…pretty much everywhere. Some of the exercises you can use to help lesson common mistakes in the pose:
Squats – develops strength in quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Also lets student experience pushing buttocks back and keeping weight on heels. Can be done with just bodyweight, or using swiss ball against wall. To get the inner thighs working, your student  can squeeze a yoga block between their knees and do narrow stance squats.
Arm Raises – for some reason, it’s quite challenging to raise your arms and take them in line or behind your ears when you are in Ukatasana. You really have to squeeze your shoulder blades together (using your rhombus) and activate your biceps and triceps. A good exercise is to take a yoga block and place it between your forearms. With your arms straight, squeeze the block and raise your arms up taking the block over your head (make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together), hold it there for a few seconds.
Getting into the Pose…and Checking It

  1. Start in Tadasana
  2. Inhale and take your arms up over the head, palms together, thumbs interlocked.
  3. Exhale, bend the knees, push the buttocks back and down. Make sure your weight is on the heels…lift up toes to check.
  4. Tighten your core to bring your body back.
  5. If your back is arched, tuck your tailbone in.
  6. Take note of your arms, if they are not vertically upright and stretched over your head,  squeeze your shoulder blades together, keep your arm muscles active, and try to keep your arms at least in line with your ears.
  7. Look up at the thumbs.
  8. Feel the burn! Take 5 breaths.
  9. Inhale and come on back up.
  10. Exhale and put your hands at heart centre in prayer.

If your student is having a bit of a challenge with this pose, you can try the following:

  • Have the student do the pose with his/her back against a wall
  • Use a swiss ball. Have the student sit on a smallish (or suitably sized) swiss ball as they would in Ukatasana, and execute the rest of the pose – raise arms overhead, keep weight off heels, tighten core, tuck tailbone in.

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.