The five life-forces of the body

We’re taking a close look at pranayama. The movements of PRANA are not only those which enter the body through the vehicle of the breath. There are movements of PRANA also within one’s own body. These pranas are called VAYUS (vital airs); they are the intelligent life-forces which are manifested in the astral body and function through the five subsidiary nerve centres in the brain and spinal cord.

We’ll begin our class this week with some bridges. These are great for connecting mind, body and breath. Then on to some twists which are so excellent for stimulating the wheels of energy.

Now we’ll move to seated through the boat posture and continue with butterfly knees. Let’s try the balance known as merudandasana – that’s always fun! And we’ll work with tortoise. It’s a wonderful forward bend.

Progressing on to seated twists we’ll take care to twist from the base of the spine. Don’t let the head get bossy and lead this movement!

Now to standing. Every half-term we choose a ‘challenge posture’. At the moment it’s the eagle, which is a most interesting balance. Are we improving? Repetition allows you to really get to know a pose…

Let’s finish our standing work with the salute to the moon, and then return to the mat for the cool-downs and meditation.

For meditation we’re going to imagine that we have a large crystal deep within us. As we breathe in, the crystal grows larger and brighter. as we breathe out, we melt into sapphire blue.

Relaxation works with the subtle energy – ANU LOMA VILOMA KRIYA.

Our last class of this term is July 19th.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

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Yoga means union

Namaste.

We’re studying the last of the Niyamas. Ishwara Pranaidhana means to have awareness of forces greater than ourselves. I’m beginning this week’s class with a reading by a maori. It says it all for me – it explains our struggles and our eventual understanding. It explains that life, like yoga, is about connecting, joining, uniting with all that is.

We’ll start with kapalabhati, Then move on to malla kriya. Lots of focus on the breath today, as we then progress to the tree of life breath with ujjayi pranayama technique.

Now let’s get into our asana work with a forward bend, backward bend and twist.

Warrior through to triangle greets us next on the list and then parsvottonasana – deep backward bend, forward bend, and backward bend once more.

Let’s try a balance – the tree. Then we’ll approach our challenge pose, downward dog, from the other direction. Coming down into dog instead of up into it gives us a fresh perspective. After some examination of the dog, we’ll finish in child pose.

Meditation takes us straight to union – OM on the in breath and OM on the out. Relaxation brings us into complete balance -Anu Loma Viloma Kriya.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti offers us a deep peace and understanding that we are all one. Until next week…

Cleansing your space

We can’t discuss Saucha, cleansing, without addressing the idea of clearing our space. New folk always wonder why we take our shoes off at the door of a yoga hall, centre or ashram. This action is about cleansing. Our footwear touches the ground that we walk on in the everyday world. Removing our footwear reminds us to leave our everyday world outside. It’s an act of humility, too, as we respect the traditions and philosophies of yoga practice. From a practical and cleansing point of view, removing the shoes means that we leave the rain, dirt and impurities outside of our yoga space!

We discovered last week that three of the Shat Karmas are concerned with the digestive system. Let’s therefore begin this class with Pawanmuktasana 2. This works on the digestive system and tones the abdomen. On to the shoulderstand and plough postures, and then we meet the fish. This posture is great for the respiratory system – another area which requires cleansing.

Nose-to-knee poses have featured prominently in our saucha work. we’ll move from them into the bridges and then proceed to supine twists. The boat pose will take us to sitting where we’ll focus on more twist postures.

Now let’s come into cat pose where we’ll employ uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lock. We’ll rest in swan, and then reacquaint ourselves with our current challenge – the variation on the swan. Such a big cleanser for the heart!

Meditation is in four parts. You begin by focusing on your name – ‘I am Carole Kerton, I am Carole Kerton, I am Carole Kerton’. As you repeat your own name, over and over again, visions and flashes will come to your mind from you past and your life. Then you move to repeating, ‘I am Carole, I am Carole’, so just using your first name. Different flashes may come to your mind. Move now to ‘I am, I am’, and observe the shift in your mindset. Finish with the repetition of ‘So-Ham, So-Ham’. This means, ‘I am that I am.’ This is the sound of the breath. SO represents the cosmic consciousness, and HAM represents the individual consciousness.

Relaxation is our aura cleanser and energy balancer, Anu Loma Viloma Kriya. Yoga practice cleanses the space in which we work. Chanting around your home, and playing the Gregorian chants, is a great way of cleansing your living space.

Last day of term is July 20th.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Six Acts of Purification

In Hatha Yoga, there are six acts of purification or Shat Karmas. These are often referred to as Kriyas and they are as follows:

NETI – nasal cleansing

DHAUTI: body-cleansing,(tongue-scraping falls into this category)

NAULI: abdominal cleansing (the first step towards this is mastery of the abdominal lock)

BASTI: colon cleansing

KAPALABHATI: skull cleansing

TRATAK: cleansing for the eyes

We’re focusing on the first of the niyamas – Saucha. All of the above practices relate to saucha, which means cleansing or purification.

Let’s begin with one of the Shat Karmas – kapalabhati. This is a pranayama technique as well as a kriya. We’ll then proceed to Malla kriya and then work with the abdominal lock, Uddiyana Bandha. This is the first step to Nauli, another of our Shat Karmas.

Salute to the Sun follows. Let’s try three rounds. Three of our Shat Karmas are concerned with the digestive system, and this sequence is great for getting everything moving!

Now for a balance. We’ll meet the Dancer’s pose. All of yoga practice shows us the liberation that can be gained by establishing healthy discipline. This pose is wonderfully expansive and free.

Salute to the Moon, practised three times will take us into a gentle place where we calm and cleanse the mind.

Back down to the mat through the squat and on to all fours for the Cat stretch and breath. Let’s add the abdominal lock at the end of each out-breath.

Pushing back into Swan to rest, and then we come to our challenge pose – the variation on the Swan. How are we doing? Gaining flexibility? Opening the shoulders, hips and, most importantly, heart?

Meditation is another Shat Karma. This time Tratak to cleanse the eyes.

Relaxation is another Kriya – Anu Loma Viloma Kriya.

It’s so interesting to explore inner cleansing in our sessions. In the West we’re so engrossed with outer cleansing…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

The yogi fully embraces both internal and external cleanliness. Saucha is Patanjali’s guide on this point, and as we progress with our yoga practice, we realise that cleansing the mind is crucial, too. Then we can be fit to concentrate on higher things.

We’ll begin with a focus on the breath as we perform a supine movement – opening and closing the book. This rolling from side to side, working with the breath, is a time to fully connect the mind to the body. To cleanse away the busy everyday thoughts and to become truly present. We’ll follow this with the nose-to-knee poses which aid with cleansing the digestion. Then we’ll move into an easy twist, and a tougher twist. Twists are great for speeding up elimination and making it more thorough!

Bridge movements help us to open the heart. Cleansing the emotions is all part of saucha.

Let’s rest in Deviasana, the goddess, before using the boat to come to sitting. We’ll meet another heart-opener here – the cobra – and then continue with locust and bow. These will be a great preparation for our challenge, the variation of the swan pose. What a great heart-opener this is! We’re opening the front and the back of the heart…

Moving on to our pranayama technique, brahmari, we’ll remain on the knees if possible. Coming forward as we hum away the out-breath is perfect for expelling stale air from the base of the lungs. Cleansing again! But brahmari also clears the throat and the ears. Let’s mention hopi candles at some point in this practice. They’re designed to remove wax from the ears in a gentle and natural way.

Meditation returns us to the idea of cleansing the emotions. We’re going to ‘cut the ties that bind’.

Relaxation allows us to clear and re-balance our energies. Anu Loma Viloma is a fitting completion to our practice, and we’ll go out into the world feeling clean, fresh and renewed.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Structure then liberation

We’re focusing on the first of the Niyamas – SAUCHA, cleanliness or purity. Last week we talked about tongue-scrapers and this week we’ll look at the practice of neti – a most efficient way of cleansing the nasal passages.

Whenever we talk about inner cleansing, our go-to practice is Kapalabhati. So we’ll begin our class here. Kapalabhati is the skull-cleansing breath where we make the exhalation active and the inhalation passive. Let’s do three rounds with 20 sharp pull-ins of the abdomen in each round, expelling the air briskly from the nostrils.

From here we’ll stand for Malla Kriya. This is another cleansing practice. As we whoosh out the air through the mouth, we expel excess carbon dioxide. It is this excess which makes us feel tired.

On to the tree of life breath – yoga being like a tree is an analogy used in our reading. The structure which yoga brings to your life gives you a strong, supportive frame-work. When that’s in place, we experience freedom, liberation. We’re safe to explore fully. Let’s add ujjayi breathing to the movements in tree of life.

On to some standing forward bends. These are wonderfully cleansing and calming for the mind. We’ll follow these with twists, cleansing for the digestive tract.  Let’s try forward bends with the legs wide, and then repeat the twists. Yoga’s so great for getting everything moving! The best way to cleanse is to stimulate all the flowing systems in the body, to work with total awareness, and to keep the mind connected to the flow within the body.

We’ll return to the reference of the tree as we practice the tree balance and then move into the eagle. This will stimulate the lowest part of the body and is a great lead into another go-to cleansing practice – uddiyana bandha, the abdominal lift.

Taking ourselves down to the mat through squat, we’ll come into the all fours cat position and then resume our work with the challenge pose – the variation on swan. This is sometimes described as the squashed frog, which is rather unkind but does give you the right idea!

After the cool-downs, it will be time for meditation. We’re going to focus on the sacral chakra and work with its seed sound, VAM. The sacral chakra is associated with water so it fits well with our flow theme. It brings us in touch with our emotions and the cleansing of them.

Relaxation is our energy cleanser – Anu Loma Viloma Kriya. A ‘kriya’ is an action of cleansing.

Years ago, one of my students used to say that she came into class like an old wrinkled shirt, and I sent her out again all ironed and pristine! I do hope that you all feel that way after this class…

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Asteya (non-stealing) the third of the Yamas or Don’ts

Happy New Year to everyone! You see what a positive wish that is. I wish for everyone to have a happy new year – now can I live in such a way that I make that possible for those around me? Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ If you think the world needs more love, then it’s down to you to manifest more love. Holding back, begrudging, criticising, these are all forms of subtle stealing from others.

We’re going to begin the new year with a run through the joints – Pawanmuktasana 1 is the anti-rheumatic group of movements. We begin at the toes and work methodically through all the joints of the body until we reach the neck. As we work we release stiffness and toxins from each joint.

Let’s move on to Pawanmuktasana 2. This is the anti-gastric group of movements. We work methodically through the digestive system releasing blockages and toxins.

And now to finish off with Pawanmuktasana 3. Here we release blocked energy from key areas of the body. This work is with the energy system of the being.

Meditation will take us right into our connection with the breath as we practise Sama Vritti Pranayama, the square breath. Ooh, isn’t it great to be back to class?!

Then relaxation will ensure that we finish our session with both sides of the body in total harmony – Anu Loma Viloma Kriya.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti