Reflecting on the past decade

Here we are, a decade behind us and a new year to look forward too. This past week I’ve been reflecting on the past ten years. What has transpired? Where is my life headed? What is left undone? I have a lot to be grateful for; I’ve never been so content with life as I am today. Even though the last decade had it’s roller coaster moments and even at times “how could this be happening” consumed my thoughts, I’m glad it all took place. It has made me the person I am; someone activity striving to be the best I can be.

I’m dedicating my free time the rest of the winter months to Svadhyaya, the yogic discipline of studying sacred text and studying oneself. Svadhyaya is part of  Patanjali’s Eight Limbed path (Ashtanga Yoga) described in the Yoga Sutra. In brief, the eight limbs are steps and practices that will lead to enlightenment. Asana and pranayama are both limbs in this path. Through reading and researching yoga text, a better understanding of the Self (our true nature), as well as skills of self-observation that leads to yoga or union will present itself.

One of the best text I found helpful in understanding what yoga is all about, The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar. It’s well written, in simple terms without being over welling.
A great way to experience self study is in your yoga practice. Observe your thoughts, is your mind present? How does the movement/yoga posture feel in your body? What subject matter draws your mind away?

Q&A: Why roll to the right?

When coming out of savasana (corpse pose) we roll to the side and ease ourselves back to a seated position using our arm strength. This way we aren’t jolting our calmed flow of energy, we are moving mindfully and keeping our lower backs safe from potential strain which could occur from a jack knife movement we’d normally get up with. However,  this doesn’t answer the question, why the right?

It has been said we roll to the right to allow our hearts to stay open, continuing to give and receive. I have also recently learned it’s a symbol of the sun rising from the east to the west, dawning a new day after a great rest.

Anatomically we roll to the right so there isn’t any unnecessary pressure and weight on our open heart, keeping a stable blood pressure. As well, the right side of the brain is more meditative then the left allowing your mind to wake up gradually from savasana.

I would suggest resting on the left side of the body after a meal which will stimulate digestion. Also, for those students that are pregnant, for better circulation.

Embrace life with back bends

Bending back and opening the chest also unlocks the spirit within. Practicing these postures takes you along previously untravelled paths, challenging you to overcome fear and frustration, teaching you to move with ease and grace and to live with an open heart and a passion for life and love.
(J Chapmen, Yoga for Inner Strength, p164).

In back bends I bring my awareness to the heart and open it as wide as I can, eager to send and receive what may come. I welcome back bends with an open mind and embrace the wonderful stretch through the front of my body; hips, abdomen, thighs, shoulders and chest, which from sitting at a computer all day is compresses. While all that stretching is taking place the legs, buttocks and spine are required to counter gravity, bringing energy, warmth and strength. After a back bend concentrated practice I tend to feel energized and refreshed.

Back bends stimulate the nervous system and metabolism. The abdominal organs are squeezed helping with digestion and giving yourself a mini detox.
If you have little experienced a back bends, do come into them slowly and gently. They can feel awkward or bring a fearful feeling because you are moving the spine in a direction it isn’t used to going, as well the heart is exposed which may be uncomfortable for some.
Use the breath to help bring calmness to your back bends, inhaling to lengthen the lower back and open the chest, exhale to soften, releasing deeper into the posture. Bring balance in the body by following a back bend with a forward fold.

Some great beginner back bends are: Bitilasana (Cow pose), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Little bridge pose) and Supta Badda Konasana (Heartbed)

Other back bends: Urdha Mukha Svanasana (Upward facing dog pose), Natarajasana (Dancer), Ustrasana (Camel pose), Urdva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose)

Forward bends teaches patience

Bending forward is a familiar action in our everyday lives, so why are forward bending asana so challenging? Our daily routine involves a lot of outward focus with the task at hand; bending down to pick up something, or hunching at our desks and computers while reading important emails.
A mindful forward bend, moved into with presence and awareness is calming and cooling. To maintain alignment in the spine your gaze is guided to look inward, into yourself. That may explain why I find my mind wonders in forward bends more then other asana, my ego is bored and wanting to move on, while my true nature is grasping for stillness in the mind and openness in the body – with practice and patience stillness with come.

The action of a forward bend curves the spine creating space between the vertebra, benefiting the nervous system and improving circulation around the spine. The abdominal organs that directly benefit from this action are the: intestines, pancreas, kidneys, liver, spleen, stomach and gallbladder. Anatomically, the hamstrings and inner leg muscles are lengthened, the knees and front of the legs are strengthened and the back muscles are kept supple. Forward bends help with digestion, body temperature, menstruation and well being.

Examples: Uttanasana (Standing forward bend)    Balasana (Child’s pose)    Paschimottanasana (Seated forward bend)

Hatha vs Vinyasa flow

For those out there that are unsure about what class to attend for the first time, I’ll explain some of the similarities and differences of the two types of classes I offer.

Hatha yoga and vinyasa flow yoga are similar by:
• they both unify the mind, body and soul
• increase strength and flexibility
• come from the same philosophy and standards
• both practices are preformed on a yoga mat (for the most part, in the west)
• they make use of the same asana

The differences between the two styles are:
• Hatha has been prevalent since the 15th century, also known as Hatha Vidya or the science of Hatha. Where, flow is derived from hatha. And most likely influenced by the teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga.
• Flow yoga links the poses together with breath which directly effects the cardiovascular system. Hatha yoga is a gentle and slower pace practice, becoming challenging physically when moving deeper and holding poses for longer periods of time.
• Hatha is perfect for beginners to gain experience and confidence. The time spent in positions allows the student to feel correct alignment and gain awareness in the body. Flow is considered a more advanced practice which is demanding on the systems of the body.
• Flow builds heat in the body every quickly by dynamic movements, the practice is the journey between the postures. The opposite is for hatha, poses are held for multiple breaths, the practice is the poses.