Personal Practice Guidelines

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Posted in Developing a Personal Practice, Hatha Yoga

Asana and Meditation

When practicing postures (asana) it is most beneficial to try to cultivate concentration and awareness. Develop the ability to meditate on your body and posture whilst practicing asanas. Bring in the yamas and niyama (Yoga Sutras, 8 Limbs) into your practice. What are your attitudes towards yourself and your body when you are practicing? Are these attitudes positive or having a negative impact on your practice and being?

A couple of, off the cuff suggestions based on the list below for the 8 limbs.

  • When practicing there are times when closing the eyes is useful. This engages Pratyahara, although there are specific practices for Pratyahara also.
  • Ahimsa, can you stop trying to force yourself into a posture, and apply awareness to be a safe yogi?
  • Samtosha, can you be content with where you are, whilst trying to make progress instead of being unhappy with your practice?
  • Use a Drishti point. This is a steady gazing point such as big toe or a point on the floor in front of you which you focus your gaze on.
  • Can you learn to integrate bandhas, pratyahara, ujjayi and moolabandha to bring a more intense concentration and mediation into your practice?

The 8 limbs are:-

  • Yamas
    • Ahimsa – non-violent
    • Satya – truthfulness
    • Asteya – nonstealing
    • Brahmacharya – self control without disapating energies
    • Aparigraha – noncovetousness
  • Niyama
    • Saucha – cleanliness
    • Samtosha – contentment
    • Tapas – accepting the challenges of tranformation and letting go of the things that cause us pain and suffering
    • Svadhyaya – study of respected texts and healthy ways of living with respect to oneself
    • Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to the mystery of the unknown in matters we can’t control or understand
  • Asana – the postures we do in class
  • Pranayama – breathing practices to control prana and energies in the body
  • Pratyhara – Sense withdrawl, or turning our attention inward.
  • Dharana – concentration
  • Dhyana – meditation
  • Samadhi

Yoga Bija

Posted in About Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga (Yoga Sutras)

Shoulder Stand: Straight Body Elbows back, how?

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

The Essence of Raja Yoga

Hari Om,

Our human heritage, the sum of what it is to be human has obvious traits and abilities and those that are more subtle. Like science discovers things about the world and ourselves we can utilise (for better or worse), so there are aspects of being human that we can find and use (hopefully for the better) for ourselves, without the need to change external things or use external things to change us.

The essence of Raja Yoga is to explore and find these subtle aspects while Hatha Yoga explores the more obvious ones. This requires us to gain an understanding, and with real understanding it’s very difficult not to transform. The transforming and positive change that ripples through us enables further exploration and understanding of the subtle. It’s a positive feedback loop that becomes self motivating in time.

Yoga is this one-pointed union, where one is absorbed in one’s original nature, not distracted by extraneous influences and frantatic working’s of the mind.” (pg.31 Seeing Yoga by Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati, 2005)

What do we mean by this? How many times have you forgotton what you were about to do or became distracted from what you were doing? Distracted by thoughts. Ever ended up finding yourself daydreaming and then remember what it was you were doing? It happens alot to me, for example if im walking along and then end up thinking of all sorts of things, suddenly I remember I have missed all the sights and sounds and experiences of of the walk.  I have no recollection of buildings and people I have passed. The opposite is to be full aware without distraction, and to be in control of your own mind. This takes time and effort to attain, and practice of certain techniques is the path.

However we first must become interested and motivated, initially in what ever small and minor way, to engage in this process. The path of exploration into the subtle has a begining, and the right guidance is required to make real and sustained progress. Knowledge and the path of learning, as can be seen with science, has no end. Once scientific principles emerged and first human starting scientific exploration, that was it, there will be no end. Yoga sutra I.1 (see translations below) refers to this moment, the start and also explaines that without practice no true progress can be made.

The problem is that the average seeker is too preoccupied with the mind’s chatter to look at the mind itself; this lack of awareness is the failing we all suffer from.” (pg.31 Seeing Yoga by Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati, 2005)

Yoga is concerned with the whole person, it is as they say holistic. The body, breath, mind and spiritual (whatever your definition of spiritualality is) aspects. There are many approaches to the progression of yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one such book of knowledge. The first two nuggets of gold and guidance (called sutra, knot of wisdom to be unfolded and understood), are as follows;

  • Yoga Sutra I.1 (section 1 of 4, sutra 1 within that chapter) – different transalations as follows;
    • “Now concentration is explained” (Swami Vivekananda, 2007)
    • “And now the teaching on Yoga begins” (Alistair Shearer, 1982)
    • “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made” (Sri Swami Satchidananda, 2007)
    • “Here begins the authoritive instruction on Yoga.” (T K V Desikachar, 1987)
  • Yoga Sutra I.2 (Section 1, sutra 2)
    • “Yoga is restraining the mind stuff (Chitta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)” (Swami Vivekananda, 2007)
    • “Yoga is the settling of mind into silence” (Alistair Shearer, 1982)
    • “The restraint of the modifications of the mind stuff is Yoga.” (Swami Vivekananda, 2007)
    • “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exlusively towards an object and sustain focus in that direction without any distractions” (T K V Desikachar, 1987)

Yoga sutra I.2 (above) gives us some idea of what we are aiming for. Without knowing where we are going (assuming we are going anywhere), it is impossible to move in that direction (is there any movement?). The yoga sutras form what we would know to be a map of the terroritary of subtle and profound human experience.  The yoga experts, Gurus, Swami’s and teachers are there to be our guide.

The question then arrises, are you ready to explore? or happy to be as you are? Is everything as it should be in your life, or are there moments that cause you pain and unhappiness? Are there things you don’t understand about yourself or others? Would you like to be more confident or mentally healthy? Do you suffer from depression or feelings and thoughts you sometimes find difficult to handle? Well in that case maybe it’s time to add a sprinkling of Raja Yoga to your life and move beyond the limits you are finding in your life.

Take a look at yoga sutra I.1, it says concentration is explained (Swami Vivekananda), and then look at sutra I.2 where it talks about directing the mind exlusivly towards an object (physical or not).  When you concentrate on something, you must be fully aware of it otherwise you are not focussed on it. To be concentrated means you are without distraction, you are fully immeresed in, or aware of the object of concentration. Here object can be anything, not even a physical thing. Now the confusion might arrise as to how and why concentration is so important. The explanation involves the not immediatly obvious benefits and effects conferred when an individual is in a state of true concentration (or awareness) or part way towards this state. Therefore the answer to the enquiry of why, what and how are only answered by direct experience, and direct experience is only gained through doing. Like anything that becomes perfected (e.g. playing an instrument), ones ability to excel and do better improves only through practice. This is why meditation is so important. In order to meditate you need to be able to sit, let go (relax) and surrender. In order to sit comfortably long enough to experience these states, you need a comfortable position. A strong, flexible and healthy body needs to be developed in order to sit appropriatly.

The transformation occurs through practice and experience. The transformation becomes real and permenant. Our normal daily lives outside yoga/practice/meditation, are transformed.

The relevance and effect of attending yoga class, practicing physical postures, breathing (paranayama) and relaxation (and/or meditation) could be a whole book in it’s own right. However it is important, to at least know there is a link and relevance of attending yoga classes or doing personal practice. The class supports the personal practice, and the practice supports the class in the end. I hope this gives you a better appreciation of yoga.

Remember that each time you attend a yoga class or practice at home, some progress is being made even if you don’t see or realise it is happening. This is something I have seen happen in and for myself and in others. Unfortnantly real understanding has to be attained for oneself as Swami Vivekandanda says so well, “Experience is the only teacher we have”. So easy it is for people to make their mind up about something they have never done, normally based upon fear or lack of understanding. It’s okay not to have tried something, but can you really hold an oppinion about it if you haven’t?

I will leave you with one final quote from the book Seeing Yoga.

The key to our true nature, so patanjali says, lies in calming the waves of disturbances on the mind.” (pg.33 Seeing Yoga by Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati, 2005)

Are you ready to start a new journey?





Posted in About Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice, Raja Yoga (Yoga Sutras)


How often do you experience who you are, and how you are, free of distractions and mental turmoil?

This ability, skill or however we refer to it, is available to us all. It is our right and human heritage to be able to experience who we are. Except, it seems that our present culture/society does not seem to show us, or help us see and develop this ability to experience ourselves free of distractions. This capacity we have is important. The benefits of exercising this ability are many, but unfortunantly appreciation and knowledge of this are hidden to most. People who meditate, or those who practice yoga for example, end up finding and appreciating this human feature.

One way to start to explore this is to attend a yoga class where the awareness and ability to concentrate and shift your awareness will be developed. In time you might start practicing yoga/relaxation/meditation at home.

These sorts of practices have  a couple of effects, the immediate one during practice, and the accumulative one which is even more applicable for those who practice regularly. There is also the fading after affect of a sessions. I have had several students tell me just comming to class once a week has a positive effect on their week following and a destressing effect during.

The benefits are;

  • an unfolding and increasing ability to be find and experience relaxation and calmer sense of being
  • ability to switch into and maintain a calm/relaxed state
  • improved body condition – strength, flexibility and muscle tone
  • confidence
  • well being
  • improved breathing
  • healthier states of mind
  • self understanding
  • self control
  • self mastery
  • … and many others as well



Posted in About Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice, News
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