What is the aim of yoga? or what is the aim for the person who practices yoga? Well clearly there are many benefits and reasons to practice yoga. There are also many varied reasons why people become interested in yoga. This is all good.
Looking at the fundamental and essential nature of yoga we find that the real goal is that of quieting the mind. Not making it dull, not turning it off. The mind like a muscle is useful and has it’s purpose. However we tend to find our minds all over the place allot of the time. Most of our real problems emanate from the mind.
In other articles I have looked at Raja yoga and Hatha yoga. Hatha (any physical yoga) was created to prepare one for raja yoga (yoga of the mind). Therefore when practising yoga and following yoga we will potentially become engaged with the real purpose of yoga. Yoga means union, union of what? To all of our nature, a harmonious interplay of our different aspects. Our mind is the control centre and that is the main focus for yoga.
To still the mind, “Cessation of the fluctuations of the mind stuff” (patanajali yoga sutras). If we are to still the mind we will need to meditate. In order to meditate we need to be able to sit still long enough to meditate without discomfort. When we practice postures (physical yoga) and breathing (pranayama) we need to ensure we are cultivating the cornerstones for yoga.
Therefore when practising any form of yoga, any type of practice it must help cultivate following qualities, or at least not disturb them.
- Quite mind
- Develop Concentration
- Heighten Awareness
- Bring you close to the moment of now
In order to achieve these things we can focus our practice on.
- Opening the body to be able to sit for meditation without discomfort.
- Cultivate concentration and awareness
- Remove the afflictions of body any mind
- Learn to meditate whilst practicing yoga
- Gain an understanding of the effects of yoga off the mat
- Realise that yoga is practiceable during ones whole day
During a typical yoga class you can work on these qualities and goals in order to explore the real purpose and meaning behind yoga. You can work your practice to be more mindful, to develop a meditative approach. There is allot you can do to deepen your yoga practice on and off the matt, and in and out of class.
On meditation it’s important to note sitting meditation is not the only way to medidate, but it is an important one.
Posted in About Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga (Yoga Sutras)
Ask yourself, how can I use my yoga class better?. This might seem a little odd at first, but it’s a brilliant question when you think of it. First ask yourself why you go to a yoga class? Is it just to spend time in a class and you like the benefits? Maybe your not concerned about progression/healing, just happy to turn up join in and mix with people. Thats fine, just a good a reason as any other. However, if your at the point where you think you need more from a yoga, the class, or maybe a different class/teacher, first ask yourself “am I making best use of this class?”.
Are you making best use of your yoga class? What do I mean by this question. It’s all too easy to get bored, to decide its time to stop, move on or make a change. But have you really thought about why your at that point with that mindset? Most yoga teachers want to engage with their students more, they want them to ask them questions. Yoga teachers generally want to help you with your practice/body/issues etc. Do you give your yoga teacher (or teachers) the chance to help you? In a class they only have so much time, generally a yoga teacher will help the person they see at any moment as needing the most help. They will spread this help around. A teacher can help you before/after the class, or during if they know what you need/want from them and the class. They might create a new lesson plan, maybe when teaching certain postures they can pop over and help you. There are alot of ways a yoga teacher can help you, but only if they know you need that help. A teacher might not seem like they can help you, but how do you know, until you engage with your teacher to find out what is beyond your perception of their abilities, if there is more the teacher has to offer?
Here are some suggestions for getting more from your teacher and/or class.
- Instructions: As you get more adept at the postures and being in a yoga class, feel free to ignore instructions. Pick up on the instructions that are relevant and focus on your own journey whilst being taught. Maybe the last 3 instructions wern’t relevant, but you could have been focussed on say your awareness and control of shoulder muscles in a posture and learnt experienced something more important for you in that moment.
- Pain in muscles – Adjusting practice, or practicing certain postures in specific ways may help.
- Where is your body restricted? Which postures would you like to be less restricted in? Once you have some ideas you may know what to do, or you have the opportunity to ask the teacher. They might only need to give you some advice you can work with in class. Or they could help you in class, or show you some postures/moves for home.
- Are there any postures your interested in doing? or need help with? Again, chat with your teacher. They can assist you or teach a class or workshop on it.
- Strength – If you want stronger body, or more strength for certain postures. Ask the teacher, give them the opportunity to help you.
- Tell the teacher – what you need from them.
- Beyond Asana – Do you want to know more about pranayama (breathing) or meditation practices?
- Yogic texts – It’s possible to apply these to yoga practice and daily life.
- Yoga practice for meditation – Try focusing you posture practice to help you sit better and for longer to help your meditation.
- Ashram – do you need to spend time in a yoga ashram like the one in West Wales (Mandala Yoga Ashram)
You might be at a point where the difference will be found by taking control more activly and engaging more with your teacher than just turning up. Most people spend more time planning holidays than looking after themselves, their health or what they really need for a healthy happy life. It might be that you need to become more active and aware in your journey. Taking charge of your learning and become responsible is the best way to make a difference.
Where are you in your journey?
Posted in Hatha Yoga
Shoulderstand is one of those postures that once you get beyond the initial distraction of being inverted and how that feels is a relativly simple posture. However in order to have a straight body (straight line between ankle, hips and shoulders) with elbows back enough to open chest and provide a good support, isn’t always easy. The problem I had since starting yoga was this ability yo get the elbows back enough to have a good base and open the chest. This then enables you to become straight and effortless (to a degree) in the posture.
The solution I took to this problems of opening was two fold. Firstly I continued my daily practice but made sure I used my shoulders whenever I could. I even adjusted my practice (as I do from time to time) to include more shoulder opening.
The biggest difference and in the space of a month that enabled me to get my elbows back, was a specific set of movements/positions practiced towards the end of the day. These were simple movements, involving passive stretching held for long periods of time. These movements might need to be adjusted for your body.
- Arms up verticle, shoulders down, then slowly allows arms down behind the head and relax into a stretch.
- As above by slightly wider
- Hands behind head elbows wide and on floor (if you can)
- Elbows touching above forehead (starting as above) and then tuck head in and curl upper body to lift head and shoulders (middle/lower back in floor)
- You can then perform the first two postures by using bridge to lift up, arms up and over, flatten bridge but leave arms behind.
- Note: There are other movements which can be added.
So long as you don’t have any medical issues you should be okay. I have muscle issues, probably muscle knots that im working through. Therefore I had a little pain (controlled saftely) which I worked through using strong stretching. You have to know your own body and it’s limits which are found by exploring gently your own limits in order to work intensly with your body. However I believe it’s the intensity and duration combined with frequency which helped me in shoulder stand.
This sequence opened shoulders and worked the scapula area and related muscles. I was orignally sorting out neck/shoulder issues. As a consequence I can now do shoulder stand fully and the muscle issues are less although im still working on them.
Russell (c) 2015
Posted in Developing a Personal Practice, Hatha Yoga
What is yoga and why do we practice it? In terms of the living yoga tradition this is important to have some idea of. Should you be only interested in moving the body through yoga postures, then pleae do so. To practice yoga as it was intended and for the reasons it came about is much more than just body moves. Any yoga you practice that is physical (ashtanga, satyananda or Iyenger yoga) is a form of Hatha yoga, or simply put yoga on a physical level. This hatha yoga, the form of yoga you are all used too, evolved to prepare the individual for Raja yoga.
Raja yoga is essentially the science, understanding and mastery of the mind. Self realisation, and mental well being. The physical benefits and welbeing brought about through Hatha yoga and cleansing practices help to eliminate the distractions to the mind. A fit healthy body won’t distract the mind. A constantly aching body or any other dis-ease in the body will distract from the real purpose, mastery and understanding of the mind. How can you focus on the subtle aspects of the mind and beyond if your back is in pain? How can you live day to day in a state of yoga and serenity when your constantly feeling pain and distraction in the body?
The practice of yoga ; the postures, breathing and relaxation should start to develop the path of Raja yoga, or more it should help reveal to the practitioner what yoga is about. The way you approach postures and the yoga practice should cultivate and develop in time, an opening to the subtle aspects of yoga. No one can truly give you an experiential understanding of what yoga is, you have to practice to uncover the essence of yoga. No need to be able to acheive the best postures ever, thats not the point.
Practice, thats all, and you will begin to understand the true meaning of yoga.
Yoga Bija (c) 2015
Posted in About Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga (Yoga Sutras)