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

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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

The Niyamas or ‘Do’s

The Niyamas are the second of the Eight Limbs as set down by Patanjali. The Niyamas are the ‘observances’, the things that we need to do. The first of the niyamas is saucha, purity or cleanliness. To a yogi, inner cleanliness is even more important than outer cleanliness.

Today we’ll begin with kapalabhati, the skull-cleansing breath. This is a great spring clean for the lungs and for the head. Then we’ll come into cat pose and work with cat stretch and breath. After a brief pause, we’ll add uddiyana bandha to this practise. This is the abdominal lock and it’s practised after the out-breath. We suck in the abdomen right back to the spine. This is very helpful with our cleansing programme.

Let’s rest in swan pose, and then meet our challenge for this half-term. We’ll shine a light on the variation of swan. Here we open our knees wide, place the chest on the mat and the chin on the mat. We gaze forward between the hands.

Now back into cat where we’ll add some leg moves. This is great for toning the abdomen, and for cleansing away unwanted fat.

Mermaid twist comes next, followed by all the seated twists. These postures are designed to improve the efficiency of the digestive system – they speed up elimination and make it more thorough.

Let’s try a strong stretch in the form of inclined plane or purvottonasana. This will cleanse away stale energy and blockages from the spine and the back of the body. Then a seated forward bend, paschimottonasana will complete our asana practice and cleanse the mind.

Meditation is a visualisation. We’ll take ourselves under a waterfall, imagining the crystal clear water cleansing our auras, our bodies, minds and emotions.

In relaxation we’ll meet anu loma viloma kriya – here we work with prana on the in-breath and apana on the out-breath. This is a superb way to balance the energy of the in-coming and the out-going, and has sometimes been described as the worry-absorbing exercise.

Don’t forget to use a tongue-scraper every morning, first thing!

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Non-attachment, non-greed

We’ve spent this half-term looking at the last of the yamas, aparigraha. The Sanskrit word APARA means ‘of another’ and AGRAHA means ‘to crave for’. Aparigraha means ‘without craving for what belongs to another’. It can also mean not hoarding or accumulating.

So, let’s take this idea into our yoga practice – not grasping greedily, but allowing our yoga to come to us. We’ll tune in and go with the flow.

We’re starting with butterfly knees, rocking buddha, and the tortoise posture. Knees are all about fear, and fear of losing treasured possessions or relationships is what prevents us from fully embracing aparigraha. Yoga encourages us to love unconditionally, to give without expectation of reward, and to  demonstrate generosity of spirit.

More knee work, and more work to release fear, as we attempt to sit between the knees and then move into supine thunderbolt – suptavajrasana. And then we’ll come up on to the knees for half-camel and full-camel.

Now we meet cat pose in all its forms, and we’ll add ujjayi breathing too. Swan-cat-dog sequence follows this, and we’ll finally use dog to take us to standing. Now down to squat, and sit neatly. We’ll repeat this – dog to standing, squat to sitting, several times. And let’s complete the asanas with the half-lotus.

We’ve been exploring dynamic mudras. We’ll count mantra on our fingers this week, but this time using a neat way to think of the first four limbs of yoga – DO GOOD, BE GOOD, FEEL GOOD, LIVE GOOD. By adhering to aparigraha we’re doing good – to others, but also to ourselves.

Relaxation is a repeat of last week. Lots of people love this one – breathe in and imagine the crystal deep inside you becoming larger and brighter, breathe out and let go into sapphire blue.

Next week is half-term, so no class on June 1st. It’s a great opportunity for home practice, though!

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

The first four limbs of yoga

Shakta Kaur Khalsa describes the first four limbs as the ‘goods’ of yoga. YAMA: do good; NIYAMA: be good; ASANA: feel good; and PRANAYAMA: live good. We’ve been looking at the last of the Yamas, aparigraha, non-greed. Non-greed is all about doing good.

Let’s begin our practice this week with the Integral yoga breathing exercises. This is a great way to open the chest, to connect to the breath and to calm the mind.

Now we’ll connect to the earth by using our Salutation to the  Earth sequence. Feel how centred you become. On to the three warriors – strong poses which strengthen the body, the mind and the inner spirit. Triangle pose follows the warriors, and reverse triangle, too.

How about the half-moon balance? It’s always a challenge. And then we’ll move through the squat to return to the mat. Here we meet another challenge – sit down with control and as quietly as possible.

It’s up on to the knees for the half-camel and full-camel poses, before completing our asanas with the mermaid twist.

We’ve been practising dynamic mudras, and this week we’re going to count mudra on the right hand. This is the practice of japa and we’ll use the well-loved mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM.

For relaxation, let’s imagine that we have a crystal deep within us. As we breathe in, the crystal grows larger and brighter; as we breathe out, we let go into sapphire blue. Such a deep rest…

Next week is class as usual – the following week is half-term. So, no class on June 1st.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Sun-greed!

After this extremely wet and muddy winter, we’re all sun-starved in Britain! Now that the summer has arrived, there’s a huge temptation to be greedy and to over-indulge in sunshine. White skin is already being baked red by many. We’re looking at Aparigraha, non-greed, and this is a good rule to observe when planning days out in the garden and at the seaside. Yoga always promotes balance in all respects.

This week we’ll practise Pawanmuktasana 1, 2 and 3. These practices promote a balance in our physical, mental and energetic layers. We aim to reach a place of contentment – a place where there is no experience of lack. We are complete.

Greed shows up in many ways and always gives us pause for thought. Yoga shines the light of awareness on our patterns and exposes them for what they are. We may not be greedy for food or possessions, but are we greedy for someone else’s time? Are we greedy for attention? Do we grab at life, and fail to understand the flow of energy?

Pawanmuktasana 1 is the anti-rheumatic group of exercises. We work all the joints five times, beginning at the toes and finishing at the neck. Pawanmuktasana 2 is the anti-gastric group of exercises. Here we work methodically through the digestive system, repeating each movement five times. Pawanmuktasana 3 is the energy-release group of exercises. This series of movements releases blocked energy in the major ares of the body. There’s a wonderful sense of well-being after this practice.

We’ve been working with dynamic mudras, and we continue to do so. This week the hands are held like a lotus flower on the knees. Breathing in, the lotus flower opens; breathing out, the lotus flower closes.

Relaxation will focus on the 22 main body parts.There’s a slow persistence about this relaxation which reflects our theme of non-greed. We allow relaxation to occur rather than snatching at it.

Enjoy the sunshine! But wear a hat!

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Spiritual promotion

We’re focusing on the last of the Yamas – the Don’t or abstinences in yoga practice. This is Aparigraha, non-greed. The ancient yogis believed that moving to Spirit World was promotion. They believed in making all conditions favourable for a successful and spiritual passing. In our Western world, there’s a tendency to cling on to life at all costs. Even if that life is not particularly rewarding or beneficial. This could be considered to be greed – wanting more and more time on Earth, when perhaps it could be viewed as an opportunity to make room for others.

Aparigraha is a fascinating study with many different facets. it reminds us that we’re all here on a spiritual path; we’re here to serve others; we’re here to serve the universe as a whole.

Let’s begin this week’s practise with Malla Kriya. Whooshing the breath away as we move into a forward bend gets rid of excess carbon dioxide.

On to the tree of life breath, and we’ll add the pranayama technique of ujjayi. This aids concentration as we hear the sound of the breath in the throat rather than in the nostrils.

Now we come to the glorious Salutation to the Sun. Let’s try three rounds! This wonderful sequence begins with a backward bend and then a forward bend. We’ll progress that with some static forward and backward bends, and then some twists.

Now let’s meet Salutation to the Moon. We’ll do three rounds here, too.

Returning to the mat through the squat, we’ll balance here for a moment before accepting our challenge. Sit down softly with control. Then let’s balance in the cosmic egg.

Meditation features a dynamic mudra. We’re progressing from last week’s work with SAA, TAA, NAA and MAA. Here we’ll extend the fingers on the inhalation, and touch each finger to the thumb on the exhalation. We’re adding another dimension, though. First round it’s touching the finger-tip to the thumb – silent SAA, we touch index finger to thumb; silent TAA, it’s middle finger to thumb; silent NAA, it’s ring finger to thumb; silent MAA, it’s little finger to thumb. Second round, we use fingernail. Third round, we use whole finger while pressing fingertip into the palm. This meditation takes a goodly amount of concentration!

Relaxation features the sounds of SO and HAM: I am that I am. This is the unconscious mantra of the breath repeated on average 21, 600 times per day. SO represents the cosmic consciousness and HAM represents the individual consciousness.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti