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

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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

Aparigraha non-greed

Let’s study the last of the Yamas. The Yamas are the first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as set down by Patanjali. Take time to consider the ancient yogic teachings and to recognise why this practice still works so well in modern times. Our focus here is Aparigraha, non-greed. We’ll approach our practice with a gentleness and an acceptance – not grabbing greedily at the practice and then rushing back out into our day.

Cat-stretch is a great place to begin. Resting on all fours, we’ll explore the range of the movement in the spine today. After a rest, we’ll proceed to introduce Sama Vritti pranayama into the cat movement. Now let’s add a leg movement and try the Tiger pose.

Swan – cat – dog is a great sequence which allows us to move inwards. We’ll use a dog pose to take us into standing and to Mountain pose. Now, let’s feel the earth beneath our feet and move smoothly into Mountain sequence.

We’ll follow this with the squat and then meet our challenge – can we sit neatly down on the mat without falling backwards?! (For those proficients who have mastered this movement, you can try going from squat to mat, from squat to mat etc.)

Meditation, after the cool-downs, is one taught by Ram Dass. Focus on just the tip of the nose. Notice the air as it enters the nostrils on the in-breath, and notice the air as it leaves the nostrils on the out-breath. If you mind becomes distracted and a thought occurs, follow that thought around as though it was a flower, and then return to the centre of the flower which is the tip of the nose.

Relaxation will feature the solar plexus and the colour golden-yellow. Let’s gently re-balance our energies. This will have a healing effect and will follow on from the mudra used in meditation – Shivalinga.

How good to be back to a new term! And the sun’s shining!

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

Moon Breathing

This is our last week for focusing on Brahmacharya, non-misuse of energy. To the ancient yogis this study would have involved being celibate. Nowadays, we are more inclined to think of it as being faithful and not promiscuous. Being involved in many relationships at once would dissipate the energies. But Brahmacharya is so much more than this. The positive side of this study is to use the energy for good; to use the energy as a channel for love; to use the energy as a force for helping others.

We’ll begin with a breathing exercise while seated, moving from Anjali Mudra on the in-breath, to Even-Hearted pose on the out-breath. We’ll then emulate this movement with the knees. This will prepare us for the challenge pose, half-lotus.

Now let’s lie on the abdomen and refresh our memories with the creeping crocodile. This is a great way to open the hip joints. Then we’ll move into work with the cobra, locust and bow postures. Rolling on to the side, we’ll practise our side-stretches and Vishnu’s couch.

From resting on the abdomen, we’ll push back into swan and then attempt the sequence swan – cat – cobra. Then can we progress to swan – cat – dog – cat – cobra? Staying in swan, finally, we’ll move into the variation. This is marvellous for opening the shoulders and hips!

Last asana will be the mermaid. It will feel so good to finish on a twist.

For meditation we’re going to work with Moon Breathing or Chandra Bheedana Pranayama. When we clear and cool our energies, we can utilise them wisely; we can open up our third eye and remove the pirate patch from over it! The intuition will instruct us how best to use our energies, best for us, best for all beings, best for the planet.

Relaxation is about breathing in the sun’s energy and breathing out the moon’s energy. Let’s feel the subtle difference.

This week is the last of our Spring term. We return for the Summer term on April 20th. That is for a twelve-week term, but we’re tagging on the week that we lost to the snow day. Hence we finish on July 20th. Have a great break!

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Harmony of Soul

‘Day after day let the yogi practise harmony of soul: in a secret place, in deep solitude, master of his mind, hoping for nothing, desiring nothing’. Bhagavad  Gita.

Let’s add to that ‘Master of his energies’. We’re studying Brahmacharya – non-misuse of energy. Yoga teaches us the wonderful study of Pranayama – the gathering, storing and wise use of PRANA, life-giving energy. Through observation, we notice how we use, and sometimes abuse, our energies. Let’s keep our minds tuned to non-misuse of energy as we progress through this week’s practice.

We’ll begin with the leg moves from Pawanmuktasana, and then work with the challenge pose. Half-lotus is a traditional posture used for meditation.

Now we’ll find our way in the equestrian pose and on to the monkey. Many people experience sciatica at some time in their lives and our next pose alleviates it. This is the pigeon, and we’ll follow it with the swan – cat – dog sequence. Let’s use Ujjayi breathing.

Passing through the dog to standing, we’ll become grounded in the mountain posture. Let’s explore the energy effect of warrior and triangle, then find the joy in the dancer’s pose – such a lovely balance.

Now back to the mat through the squat, and we’ll finish our asanas with cosmic egg.

Meditation is silent repetition of a mantra: I breathe in prana, I breathe out waste.

Relaxation will test our imaginations! Here we work with Surya Kriya and bring some warmth into our solar plexus region.

Talking about warmth, the roads are clear here although we’re living in a white world. I’m proceeding as though we will have our classes tomorrow, but will review the situation in the morning. Should it have freezing ice on top of the snow, we’ll cancel so as to keep you all safe. Fingers crossed that we’re ‘business as usual’.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Non-misuse of energy

Brahmacharya is the fourth of the Yamas – the don’ts. Here we discuss non-misuse of energy. To the ancient yogis this would have meant sexual energy. They would have chosen to be celibate. But there are many ways to misuse the energy. When we live an ethical life, adhering to the rules of ahimsa, non-violence, satya, non-lying, asteya, non-stealing and aparigraha, non-greed, we are already conserving energy. We’re not scattering it far and wide in negative circles, but keeping it for what is right and pure. Through yoga we learn to direct our energy correctly.

We’ll begin this week’s practice with butterfly knees and rocking buddha. Then we’ll check in with our hip joints as we move forwards and backwards. We’ll attempt Merudandasana, the balance, and then move into some work with tortoise posture. Now we meet our challenge pose for this half-term – half-lotus. And for those advanced yogis – full-lotus.

Let’s now come up on to one knee for the gate sequence. This is such a good series of movements for opening the sides of the body and toning the trunk. From the gate sequence we’ll move into a mermaid twist. More work on toning the trunk! And then into cat stretch and breath. We’ll employ ujjayi breathing, which is a great way to become focussed and to gain pranic energy.

Meditation is a visualisation – the crystal cave. Here we give our imaginations a good work-out!

Relaxation will focus on the solar plexus chakra. This is the seat of our energy reservoir. We’ll use the seed sound RAM to recharge our energy stocks, whilst fully conserving energy in the relaxation pose.

Watch your use of energy as you progress through next week.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti