Sanskrit – a language of the gods?

There are about 170 000 words in the English language. 

A finite number to express an infinite number of things – objects, thoughts, concepts, gross and subtle, real and imaginary. A tiny number to have available to us to describe and understand a tiny fraction of the whole universe. 

No wonder we are frustrated and confused. 

No wonder we have such a limited understanding of the world, our own minds, the workings of the cosmos. No wonder our connection to each other is so shallow and restricted. No wonder we can’t access the full potential of our beautiful, perfect minds. 

According to the Vedas, the lifespan of the universe is cyclical, just like the lifespan of a tree, a flower, a star, a human being. The vibrational force that is the matrix of the cosmos, contracts and expands, first creating higher and higher, subtle and fine vibrations and then, when it has reached a peak, turn into  lower, corser ones. Each beat of Shivas drum marks the beginning of an era and the sound that emanates from it lasts for many millions of years until it‘s vibrations have slowed to silence and the next drum beat occurs. 

All that is part of the universe is part of these vibrational forces, both creating them and being created by them. Our bodies and minds work in harmony with the universe. They have no other choice. They ARE the universe.

The vedas tell us about a time on earth, when energies vibrated on a high and subtle level, creating lightness, clearness, awareness in our minds. Love and compassion, pure bliss and perfect health would have filled our beings. We were perfectly aware of our connection to all that exists, living as gods and goddesses on and with the earth, not divided by gender, race or belief. There was no need to eat solid food as pure sunlight provided enough energy and sustenance. Our bodies reflected the lightness and clarity of our minds and we had a lifespan of 4000 years. Our true self, our purest soul, was aligned with the whole universe and so this era was called the age of truth – Satya Yuga. 

As is the cyclical nature of everything, change occurred, vibrations began to slow, the universe contracted and we began to resonate with it. We are all an expression of the same ultimate reality, so naturally we began to change to embody this new era. Our individual intelligence awoke. Our curiosity brought us to explore the world with our senses, we became aware of our individual differences, we divided our genders, our ego minds grew and our bodies materialised and became dense. Slowly, greed and jealousy arose in us. We developed a taste for foods and beautiful things so we began to plunder the earth. These agitations created cloudiness in our minds and lost sight of reality. The awareness of our true nature was diminished by one third – which is why this era was named Treta Yuga.

After further slowing and contracting of energies, humans lifespans became shorter and shorter, their bodies denser and heavier and their lives revolved more and more around material things. Satisfaction of the senses became more and more important and soon, what the earth gave us for food wasn‘t enough anymore, so animals were killed for meat. Once animals were slaughtered, it did not take long for humans to kill each other and when emotions, greed and desperation became unbearable the first wars emerged.

 Blindness and ignorance toward our true source became stronger, the mind more and more agitated and fearful and the knowledge of our true reality became diminished by half so this era was named Dwapara Yuga. 

And as the lowest point of vibration approaches, humanity is at it‘s blindest point, most unaware and ignorant of their own divine origin, led by fear and separation. With a lifespan of a mere 100 years we are killing not only animals for food but for sport, for the satisfaction of the senses. People are killing each other for reasons born of utter ignorance and fear. Awareness and compassion are reduced to just one quarter remaining.

Blind being led by the blind, humans are destroying themselves and everything around them, including the earth itself. The age of destruction – Kali Yuga – is the age we currently live in.

But even in the darkest of times there is always some amount of light. The light of consciousness can come in many forms, as humans are as diverse as the stars in the sky. 

And to survive Kali Yuga, we need a form of light. 

What if we had some of the knowledge from Satya Yuga recorded for us so we have a tool to remind us of our divine origins? What if the inhabitants of the previous ages had a way of communicating with us, to shine a light for us that allows us to survive Kali Yuga with awareness and love in our hearts?

What if the Vedas themselves are this message?

Full of knowledge (Vedas = knowledge) about the workings of the universe, our own origins, the secrets of the mind and soul together with practical instructions on how to become aware of and fulfill our own potentiality as humans, living lives in perfect health, love, and happiness, written in a variety of forms so every kind of person – from the scientifically minded, the practical, the emotional to the religious – can understand their messages, These scriptures can not be underestimated in their importance to humanity. 

Written by Rishis (Seers – those who see things others can‘t) who claimed this knowledge comes from the gods themselves – orally transmitted over thousands of years or received in deep meditations from the inhabitants of Satya Yuga, they speak to the most ancient, timeless parts of our being, stirring in us memories of our forgotten heritage and slowly awakening us to the realisation of who we truly are and where we come from.

The earliest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda was found in todays Syria. It’s age and origins are debatable and there are many differences between western and eastern findings but they likely date back to more than 4000 B.C., possibly 12000 B.C or more.

The start of Kali Yuga is estimated to about 3000 B.C (after the great battle of the Mahabharata epic). 

The Vedas are written in Sanskrit, a language which is commonly referred to as the mother of all languages, as most of our Indo European languages developed from it, or from it‘s assumed prototype (simply called Proto Indo European language).

What makes Sanskrit so special though is that, unlike any other language, it‘s structure and alphabet is completely built on the vibration of sound. Each letter of the alphabet – 52 in total – represents a certain sound that emanates from, and affects a certain place within our body and also resonates with a certain aspect of the universe. Each thing is therefor named after it‘s true vibration, reflected in the sound of it‘s name, which is also why it is believed that chanting Sanskrit, even if one doesn‘t understand the meaning, has a profound healing effect on the body and mind, aligning our own vibration to that of the chanted word.

Sanskrit grammar is so complex and perfect that out of these sounds, any number of words can be arranged, to describe correctly any aspect, be it real or imagined, of the universe. The number of words in Sanskrit are estimated to be between a few million and infinity.

The perfection of the language is even reflected in it‘s name – Samskrita – perfect creation. It refers not only to the perfect creation of the language but the perfection in all creation.

 In fact the perfection of the grammar is so profound that there was never any need to change the language to adapt to cultural evolution as is the case of (to my knowledge) all other languages. Old forms of German or English from just a few hundred years ago for example can nowadays only be properly understood by language experts while even the oldest Sanskrit scriptures, authored thousands of years ago, can still be read with the same ease as any newly composed text, once the rules of grammar are understood. These rules never needed to be changed and the same rule book (the Ashtadhyay, written by Panini ca 500 BC) is used by everyone learning Sanskrit today.

As an example to the meaningfulness of each word – the syllable AUM is a combination of vowel sounds from all five locations of origin in the mouth – guttural, palatial, cerebral, dental and labial. Vowels in Sanskrit are called Svarah (that which shines by itself) or Matrika (mother/matrix of all creation) so these five basic sounds contain the potential for all other sounds and connect us with „that which shines by itself“ within us and within the whole universe.

Chanted as a continuous sound (OM) it resonates deep within our own potentiality and connects us with all that exists in its true, pure potential. 

John Cramer, a physics Professor of Washington university, has converted data from cosmic microwave background into sound waves and published his recordings online. The sound of the Big Bang – one of Shivas drum beats, one Maha Yuga, compressed in to a 20 or 50 second sound file, illustrates this slowing down of vibration and frequency clearly. In human sound, it would sound very much like the Sanskrit syllable AUM.

It is no wonder that it is called the language of the gods. And maybe this is closer to the truth than we think?

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Add Self-Care to Your Fitness Routine

Blog post by Sheila Olson (www.fitsheila.com)

 

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Photo via Pexels

Sticking to a daily fitness routine takes a lot of motivation and perseverance. Regular exercise benefits your mind and body in numerous ways, but there are other important actions you can take to further improve your overall wellbeing. For example, self-care involves taking steps toward reaching your full wellness potential. Take the time to practice key aspects of self-care, so you can continue down your path to good health.

Make Time to Relax

Try setting aside a specific amount of time each day when you can self-indulge and relax. The Huffington Post recommends scheduling a 20-minute morning routine so you can start each day calm and mindful. Or, if you prefer, take breaks throughout your day to reduce stress and return to a sense of calm when you need it. Include your favorite hobbies, such as knitting or doodling, in your relaxing regime. Yoga and meditation are great activities to center yourself and keep your mind focused on what’s important to you. You may even want to create a special meditation room in your home. Finally, set aside adequate time in your schedule to get quality sleep. Make sure you get to bed early at night, especially if you have to wake up early for morning workouts. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try using noise machines, investing in a good pillow and keeping your bedroom dark and cool.

Go Easy on Your Body

High-impact physical activity is great for your body, but it can also place stress your muscles and joints. Try to give your body a break every once in a while with some low-impact workouts. Some great options include walking, elliptical machines, cycling and yoga. You may even want to switch up your regular sidewalk run with a hike in nature or some laps at the local pool. Most strength training workouts are considered low-impact and can protect your joints and promote stability.

Establish a Routine

Following a healthy daily routine is key to providing structure to our lives. A routine helps us develop good habits and makes us more efficient. Without a routine, you may fail to reach your full potential. Plus, you’ll likely feel stressed and overwhelmed by daily decisions.

Establish a daily routine and schedule your workouts at the same time every day. Include time in your routine for cooking healthy meals at home so you’re not left grabbing a quick bite on the go from a fast-food restaurant. Make sure your schedule includes enough time to get your required sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Any less than this and you won’t have the energy to make it through your workouts or give your body time to repair itself.

Practice Self-Compassion

Your well-being is highly dependent on how you treat yourself. If you find the voice in your head delivers more criticism than support, maybe it’s time to practice some self-compassion. First, learn to forgive yourself for your mistakes or shortcomings. You shouldn’t base your self-worth on perfection. It can also be useful to develop a mindset focused on growth and look at challenges as events to be overcome rather than avoided. Find gratitude by appreciating everything you have instead of focusing on what you don’t. Finally, practice mindfulness to learn how to deal with self-judgment and negative thoughts with acceptance.

Self-care is all about prioritizing yourself and improving your well-being. In a fitness routine, many people overdo it and push their bodies too hard. It’s easy to get lost in watching your physique improve and forget about your overall health. Try to approach fitness with a well-rounded routine focused on a happy, successful lifestyle of self-care.

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How to Include Yoga in Your Bedtime Routine

A new Guest Blog by Ellie Porter:

You may think that a bedtime routine is only helpful for kids, but it’s beneficial for people of all ages. Creating a routine helps train your brain into knowing that when you do those particular things in that order, it should start sending signals to the rest of your body that it’s time for bed.

One thing you should think about adding to your bedtime routine is yoga. When practiced twice a week, yoga has been found to improve sleep quality in nurses and reduce the effects of work stress on your psyche. It’s also a light exercise that will help to wear down your muscles at the end of the day while also allowing you to stretch almost every muscle in your body. Practicing daily has been found to reduce insomnia symptoms

Yoga has also been found to have significant effects on both mental health and sleep quality in long-term practitioners. It’s definitely something you should try adding to your bedtime routine to help yourself in the long term.

There are a plethora of ways that you can do yoga, most of which do not require anything expensive. Whether you want to try going to a studio to learn or rely on Youtube or apps on your phone to help guide your practice, yoga is a great way to bring your body and mind together before you try to sleep.

Those nurses in the study practiced yoga for 50 to 60 minutes twice a week, but you don’t have to. It doesn’t take long. Fitness Magazine even created an 8-minute workout specifically for before bed. Make sure that you aren’t doing too strenuous a routine. You want to trigger the relaxation response in your brain, but you don’t want to cause your adrenaline to start pumping.

Turn on the air in your room, light a candle with a soothing smell, and start with some deep breaths in child’s pose. If you want to do yoga without a guide, you might want to put on a podcast or audiobook, or just some soothing instrumentals, to help you focus.

You can even do yoga from your bed if you have the right kind of mattress. You can do anything from wide child’s pose to a seated spinal twist to happy baby pose, all without leaving your bed. Some mattresses will make it harder than others because they have soft foam support cores or bouncy inner springs. If you want to do yoga in bed, it’ll be easiest with a hybrid mattress that isn’t too bouncy or too soft. You can even do it with your partner if they’re willing to join you.

While you’re doing yoga, you might also want to try meditating, which has been found to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. A few minutes of meditation can help avoid racing thoughts once you lay down to sleep, and can also help with helping you to stay asleep longer. Like yoga, it’s a straightforward process that anyone can learn. Harvard Medical School created a guide to basic mindfulness meditation for any who wish to learn it.


Ellie Porter
Managing Editor | SleepHelp.org
ellie@sleephelp.org
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Yoga and Weight loss

Does Yoga help me loose weight?

This is a question that sometimes comes up and the answer is clear, but not straightforward. So I thought I would address it today.

When we think about any type of physical exercise for weight loss, we usually think about how many calories we burn, how much we sweat, raise our heart rate, etc.

In Yoga, it is not about burning calories. We don’t even aim to raise our heart rate. It isn’t even just a physical exercise  – although of course if you are practicing Ashtanga full primary series with all it’s Vinyasa jump backs and throughs – you will certainly sweat and burn calories! But it’s not the main reason why it’s great for loosing weight…. In fact I believe that any traditional style of Yoga could be the best way for anyone to loose weight – if done the way it was intended to be practiced.

Yoga is a science of the Mind. As Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutra: “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha” – Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.

We practice our physical Asanas (Postures), with the purpose of balancing our whole system, including the endocrine system and lymphatic system. We become stronger and more flexible, which leads to more physical comfort. We cleanse and detoxify and recreate balance within our energy system, which leads to overall better health.

We practice the breath, so we can calm and also strengthen the nervous system and lead us into a state of inner calm and awareness.

We practice concentration, so that (over time and with practice), we begin to experience a meditative bliss within the fluidity of our practice.

And we practice awareness.

The more we practice on the mat, the more apparent it will become that our practice spreads out into our everyday life. We become more aware of our own actions and the world around us. We become more comfortable in our own skin and come to terms with who we truly are. We walk through life with more peace and easiness.

Which leads us to make better choices.

How? Have you ever been drunk, on your way home from a party, stopping at a fast food place and gorging yourself with chips or burgers?

Have you ever been run down and tired and not been able to stop yourself from eating a whole packet of cookies? You get the idea.

When we are in a good place, aware and feeling confident, we don’t have to force ourselves to eat better – we just do.

If we feel like we deserve to be treated well, we will treat our own bodies well too.

And we will be motivated to do so without having to force a discipline on us that is hard to keep. What changes is what we WANT.

So – does Yoga help for weight loss? Yes. It certainly isn’t a quick fix but it is a lasting one that has the potential to change your lifestyle permanently.

 

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Understanding the practice of Ashtanga Yoga

 

As it is September and a new beginners class is starting up, I thought it was a good time to write about the meaning of Ashtanga yoga.
Ashtanga Yoga has never been intended as a purely physical Asana practice and I believe it is important to understand, at least in the very basics, the philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga.
The name itself – Ashtau (eight) + Anga (branches, or limbs) = Ashtanga Yoga (the Yoga of the eight limbs) tells us that there is much more to the practice than only a physical exercise.
Only if all eight limbs are practiced, it is truly Ashtanga Yoga.
What are these eight limbs? Scripted in the famous “Yoga Sutra” written about 200AD by the Indian sage Patanjali, they give us a concise description of the theory and practice of Yoga, including the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga:

Yama – (controlling our behaviour toward the external world)
Niyama – (controlling our behaviour toward ourselves)
Asana – (posture practice)
Pranayama – (breath control)
Pratyahara – (withdrawal of the senses from external to internal awareness)
Dharana – (concentration)
Dhyana – (meditation)
Samadhi – (deep contemplation or the blissful state that arises from merging with the object of meditation)

All Yoga should really be drawing instruction from these 8 limbs but the difference in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is that we attempt to practice all these 8 parts together in a daily practice.
Asana (Posture) Practice is only one eighth of the full practice that makes up a true Ashtanga Yoga practice.
It does however play a particularly important part, as it becomes the entrance point through which we begin to connect to our inner self, working our way from the physical body (which is immediately available to us through our senses and nervous system) through the breath, calming our mind and in this stillness, finding a better connection to ourselves. This connection is vital for all of us, whether we strive to find spiritual enlightenment or merely look to achieve better health and more happiness in life.

I will explain the eight limbs in a little more detail:

YAMA:
A set of 5 guidelines that, if we follow them, can help us to achieve a better and more peaceful relationship with the world around us. We can practice them in our daily Asana practice so that we become familiar with them and plant seeds that can grow into better habits and attitudes for the rest of our lives, on and more importantly off the mat.
These guidelines are
Ahimsa (non-violence), the first and most important principal of the practice of Yoga. On the mat we should practice to treat our own bodies kindly and with love, never push or pull in an attempt to stretch further than we can or work harder than what is good for our bodies. Once we become familiar with an attitude of non-harming ourselves, it will make us more aware in our daily life and it will be more natural for us to take peaceful actions rather than those that cause harm to any other person or living being.
Satya (truthfulness) – when practicing on our mats, at home or in a class, we need to be very honest with ourselves and assess where we are at in this moment in time. Even though the Ashtanga sequence is always the same, your practice will never be the same. It serves like a mirror. A constant measure against which you can measure the state of your body and mind and breath each day anew. We need to look at it and accept it with love and honesty, even if we may wish ourselves to be different. To truly see and accept ourselves as we are is the basis for any kind of happiness. Over time, we become more in touch with ourselves, more happy with ourselves and ultimately with the world around us.
Asteya (non-stealing) is something very important that we need to practice on our mats in order to become aware of it in our everyday lives. It doesn’t only mean to not take our friends pens and lighters or shoplift, etc. It means to not want or take what is not ours and follows on from the practice of truthfulness. On the mat we often look around, if we are in a class situation and see someone stronger, more flexible, younger, thinner, etc and we become envious and competitive. We want to look like them, practice “advanced” postures like them, etc. This is when we have to remember the practice of Asteya.
Brahmacharya (continence) has often been interpreted as “sexual abstinence” however this would have been in a cultural context. Literally it means to “walk with the divine”, meaning to acknowledge the divine in everything we do and not waste our actions (and our energy) on unimportant things. It means to save our energy for things that truly serve us and others. On the mat it means to use your energy wisely, look for good concentration and good alignment, don’t lose you’re breath, modifying or slowing down when needed, etc, rather than racing through the sequence. To become wise with how to use our energy will obviously be an advantage in all our actions in life.
Aparigraha (non-grasping) – meaning that we should practice with dedication but without grasping on to any outcome we may desire. We should just be in the moment when we do our practice, not focusing too much on any goal we might have, as this would just keep us from being truly present. A goal, whether it is to achieve a certain posture, calm our mind, heal our body or even to be enlightened, should never be the focus of our practice. Any goal will either be achieved, or not but practice should be done anyway. It’s about the process, not the achievement.

NIYAMA:

Sauca (Purity/Cleanliness) – refers not only to the necessity of showering regularly and keeping a good hygiene practice but also, maybe even more importantly, of internal cleanliness. Yoga Asana practice in itself is in part designed to detoxify, purify and activate the self regulating systems of our bodies but how helpful would it be if we went straight from the mat to the table to eat a big bacon and sausage breakfast? Any regular practitioner will have experienced the difference in practice after a heavy evening meal or drinking wine, or during a phase of eating a lot of junk food. It is not pleasant and in our regular practice of the same sequence we begin to realise those differences in the state of our body and mind that is influenced by our diet and lifestyle. The desire to eat more healthy foods often naturally follows a regular yoga practice.
Santosa (Contentment) – not to be confused with the western notion of complacency. Contentment in the yogic sense is one of the highest forms of happiness, as it does not depend on outer circumstances. It does not mean to be passive in our life choices and just put up with anything we experience, but it means to be able to truly be happy with what we have been given in life. On the mat, we may experience restrictions in our body, feeling that we “should” be stronger, more flexible, better able to concentrate, etc. But wherever we are at in this moment in time, can be a source of happiness, if we don’t take things for granted and wish our life away. We are all perfect.
Tapas (discipline) – meaning “heat”, it refers to the fire of motivation that we need in order to even get up and go on to our mat to practice. Without it, there is no practice. We need to find what motivates us, learning that discipline is not a rigid thing, forced upon us by some external force or even by our logical mind, but a motivation from deep inside us. What this motivation is, is different for everyone, but we need to find it in order to become disciplined, in our practice as well as in daily life.
Svadyaya (self-study) – an important part of our practice is the continuous learning process. We need to learn about ourselves, on the mat, when we pay close attention to our physical sensations, strength and weaknesses, the state of our breath, our energy levels, the state of our mind, our emotions, our insights. In our daily practice we have a great opportunity to study ourselves. In addition, reading the underlying philosophies and texts of Yoga will help to deepen this understanding.
Isvara Pranidhana (dedication) – to dedicate our practice to a higher purpose, to acknowledge that there are greater forces than ourselves and that in the end, we are all part of the same, beautiful, omnipotent forces of the universe, means to transcend our own Ego nature. Transcending the Ego is a necessary step in order to see the “bigger picture”, to see things not through the lens of our limited, emotional reactive egoic selves but from a higher perspective, really is one of the highest goals of the practice of Yoga.

ASANA

This is the practice of postures. Although Yoga in itself is an ancient practice, originating more than 5000 years ago, Asana practices have been evolving, always changing with the needs of the people of the times. Postures as we practice them today are merely about 200 years old and are influenced by western exercises as well as eastern philosophy. The primary series of Ashtanga Yoga (also called Yoga Cikitsa, or Yoga therapy), has been designed to strengthen, cleanse and relieve tensions and tightness in every part of the body, not only superficially but also deep inside our core, even having a healing effect on our organs and particularly on our nervous system. They work not only on the physical body but also on the system of Nadis (Energy channels, in Chinese medicine known as meridians). It is a set sequence that should be used continuously as a guideline but modified in whatever way needed individually. It is likely that during practice, imbalances and weaknesses will show up. If this is the case, they will need to be addressed by further modifying, adding appropriate postures and where needed seeking other more specialised therapies before returning to the full sequence again. Whatever shape our posture practice takes, each Asana should be practiced with a balance between being grounded and strong, being dynamic and active and also expanding in all directions, creating lightness in our body.

PRANAYAMA

Breath control – The breath has a direct influence on the nervous system and is the link between body and mind. Our breath is influenced by the state of our emotions and can in turn influence them, calming our mind almost instantly. By learning yogic breathing techniques we can learn to control the breath and therefore our nervous system and our mind. In Ashtanga Yoga there are many pranayama practices but, to begin with, we just use mainly one technique called Ujjayy breath (“victorious breath”) which helps us in many ways. By learning this technique (which at first can take a little practice) we can keep our breath long and even, therefore sending messages to the nervous system to relax the body and mind, even though we are moving a lot, even sweating through our physical practice. This will help to stay centered and focused and we learn to keep our concentration for longer. Ujjayy breath also keeps our core activated during the practice, which is of great importance for proper function in postures. It can also help to create heat and fire in the body (if practiced strongly), which is what helps with purification.

PRATYAHARA
All the attention we give to our physical body, our breath, our sensations and emotions during our practice session helps us to stay present in the moment. We need to learn to disconnect our senses from the outside world. In a class situation, we may be tempted to check the time, see how strong the person next to us is, get distracted by noises etc…but the practice of Pratyahara allows us to access a deeper place within ourselves, away from the everyday noise of the world and getting a little closer to the core of our being.

 

DHARANA
Once we stop getting distracted by the outside world, concentration can begin to happen. During our practice we concentrate on our breath and on our focus points (drishti). Drishti helps us not only to direct energy to a certain point or direction, but also it helps our vision and inner focus to stay steady and concentrated on one particular point in space. This trains our ability to concentrate our mind and stay focused on one particular object of attention.

DHYANA
As we get more and more practiced in concentrating on one object of attention, our state of concentration begins to remain for longer periods without interruption. This state is a state of meditation (dhyana). Here is where the real practice of the mind begins.

SAMADHI
With even more practice (a lot of practice!) this meditative state of the mind begins to deepen and our awareness seems to completely merge with the object of meditation (ie we feel as if we ARE the breath, there is nothing but the breath, or the body). This is accompanied with a feeling of complete bliss, were we are one with ourselves and the object of our meditation. It is also accompanied by the ability to completely let go of everything we hold on to, to experience only oneness, even just for a moment.

In conclusion, we can see clearly that there is a lot more to Ashtanga Yoga than just ploughing through a series of postures and achieving more and more difficult shapes with our bodies.
We can also see that an advanced Yoga practice really does not mean that we can wrap our legs behind our head or stand on our head for a long time. It does however mean that we have achieved a regular and consistent practice of all of the above limbs (at least up to Dharana – the rest will come by itself) and we are able to maintain concentration and an even breath throughout the practice. It also means we have studied ourselves enough to know where our weak spots are and where we need more or where we need less of something. We need to know when it is wise to modify and take it easy and when it is wise to overcome fears or feelings of laziness. All this is part of our practice and if we keep that in mind, Ashtanga yoga will be a truly healing method for anyone, old or young.
Or, as my teacher David Collins put it by quoting Dr. Jigar Gor and Judith Hanson:
“Yoga is not about touching your toes but about what you learn on the way down”.

(For more historical information on the development of Ashtanga Yoga please refer to my blog post “a brief history of Yoga”)

 

 

 

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What makes a true Yoga practice?

Yoga Sutra of the month

Samadhi Pada

1.12

ABHYASA VAIRAGYABHYAM TANNIRODHAH

(the restriction (of the fluctuations of the mind) is achieved through practice and dispassion.

This Sutra is, in my opinion, one of the most important ones to remember for any serious Yogi – and one that is easily forgotten.

Abhyasa (practice) – is the more obvious part. If we want to achieve a steady and clear mind (which after all is the main goal of Yoga) and harvest the fruit of our efforts, we must first put in the work. We cannot be lazy and think “tomorrow I will practice” or only practice what comes easy to us. If we do so, even though all practice will bring results, the results will be very limited.

What shape or form the practice takes can be personal. For some it can be based around a seated meditation, for some it can be chanting, a strong posture practice in the Ashtanga tradition or any other devotional practice, as long as it is practiced with dispassion.

The second part of this sutra, Vairagya (dispassion) is what makes the practice a truly yogic practice. It is also the part that is easily forgotten, especially in our posture practice, when we strive to achieve. We want, so badly, to reach our toes in Paschimottanasana, to bind in Marichyasana, to stand on our head without wall support, that we fall into the trap of delusion all over again – the delusion that achieving a certain shape with our body is Yoga. In class, we may think in our mind of the postures that are still to come, of the time still left in class, of the person next to us who we somehow think of as a “better Yogi” than us because their head touches the ground in Prasarita Padotanasana.

But this is a dangerous trap that can keep us from practicing Yoga.

To practice dispassion means to practice letting go of any attachment to the outcome of our practice. It means practicing with complete faith in the practice. It means being completely in the moment. Letting go of the wishes and demands of our egoic mind and actually transcending the Ego little by little until we feel just one with our bodies and minds and our practice.

Even the ultimate goal of Yoga – complete self realisation – is a goal and while it is a commendable goal, it is better to let go even of this. The only true yogic practice is done as a mindful and meditative practice of being in the moment, giving our effort to the practice without wanting anything in return.

Abhyasa and Vairagya are two sides of the same coin of yogic practice. Only when the two come together can a state of yoga be experienced. One side only does not work – Practice alone, without dispassion, is no more than exercise, or gymnastics. Dispassion without practice is nothing but  lethargy. 

But both together is what makes a true Yoga practice.

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The only practice we really need..

Yoga Sutra of the Month

One of my favorite Sutras, because there is so much to get out of. Because if we only practice by this one rule, the world would be a wonderful, kind and peaceful place.

At least if we all tried to keep it in the forefront of our thoughts throughout our everday life, we would all be much happier.

Samadhi Pada

1.33

MAITRI KARUNA MUDITA UPEKSHANAM SUKHA DUKHA PUNYA APUNYA VISANAYAM BHAVANATAS CITTA PRASADANAM

“The projection of friendliness, compassion, gladness and equanimity towards objects (be they) joyful, sorrowful, meritorious or demeritorious (bring about the pacification of consciousness.”

(translation by Georg Feuerstein)

Yoga is all about the “pacification of consciousness” or in other words, the calming of all the agitations of the mind, so that we can become peaceful and able to see clearly into the depths of who we truly are.

Patanjali gives us here a very direct and simple (yet not easy) practice, through which we can achieve this state of peacefulness of mind.

The meaning of “objects” (visaya) in sanskrit is much broader than in our western understanding and includes all thought forms, beings and things that can be encountered with our mind.

In this case, the most obvious “objects” we can encounter carrying those attributes are our fellow human beings.

The people we meet in our lives usually fall into one of those four categories – they can either be joyful and happy, sorrowful and suffering, meritious in doing and achieving good things in life, or demeritorious in behaving unethically.

Usually we encounter a mix of people who, just like ourselves, all have a little of each category within them. It would be easy to fall into the trap of being merely reactive and letting these attitudes spark of our own agitations of our minds.

It’s easy to react to someone’s unethical behaviour with anger or to someone’s success with jealousy.

But if we put the advice given by Patanjali into practice in our daily life, we can become accomplished in being friendly toward the happy and joyful people, compassionate toward those who are suffering, glad for those who are doing good and things and achieve successes in life and cultivate a feeling of equanimity or indifference toward those who are acting unethically.

In Buddhism this practice is known as the Brahma Viharas or the four immeasurables

(Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity) and are beautifully expressed as a prayer or meditation practice:

May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,

May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,

May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,

May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

Love means to want others to be happy.

Compassion means to want others to be free of suffering.

True Joy means to be happy for and with someone else’s fortune and happiness.

Equanimity means to have a clear minded and tranquil state of mind.

(From www.viewonbuddhism.org)

It is truly a beautiful practice we can all do on a daily basis, in everyday life, in our daily meditation and even during our daily Yoga practice.

If we just bring it into our minds regularly, it will soon become easier and eventually will become the “default” setting in our minds. Just imagine how much happier we will be!

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Greed and the Heroin Addict

Yoga Sutra of the month
2.39
APARIGRAHA STAIRYE JANMA KATHAMTA SAMBODHA
“When steadied in greedlessness (he secures) knowledge of the wherefore of (his) birth(s).”
(Translation by Georg Feuerstein)

 

This Sutra is probably a little confusing at first glance, but I’ve been pondering about the subject of greed quite a lot lately and after re-thinking this Sutra, i want to share my thoughts with you.
I feel very strongly that greed, is one of our most prominent and destructive affliction that has accumulated in our collective mind and is in this moment in history coming to a peak that may well be responsible for the destruction of the world.
Most of us would probably say that they are aware of this dilemma. And yet we proceed to destroy the planet, knowing that what we do has an impact. We proceed from one acquisition to the next, letting material possessions overrule all common sense or compassion, even love for our closest friends and family.  Our desires for things have become so strong that we often cannot control them anymore, while our minds developed ingenious strategies to make us believe that what we do is justified.
Why are we so caught up in this web of greed?
According to Patanjali, greed is born of ignorance. In our ignorance, we cannot see who we truly are, so we cannot know what makes us happy, we are confused. In our confusion, like a blind person reaching for something to hold on to, we grasp at the next best explanation provided by our own Ego, the function of our mind that helps us to distinguish Me from You. And our Ego tells us the only thing it can tell us, the only thing it is programmed to look for – that we are separate from each other and to look out for what distinguishes us from others, how to compare and judge what makes us seem superior. This feeling of separation is, whether we are aware of it or not, naturally a scary one. Deep inside we all must feel lonely, an emptiness maybe that we can’t explain. And we look to fill this emptiness with things.
In our desperation we try to fill our void with an image of who we think we are.
We believe that we are what we can see on the outside – a man, woman, beautiful, ugly, tall, short, a teacher, a student. We identify with only external and fleeting attributes. Of course this leads to even more fear. If we think that we ARE something that is very short lived (like youth, beauty, strengths or our place in society), that by it’s very nature must change sooner or later into it’s opposite, we must, deep inside, be constantly worried about losing our identity. So we hold on to anything we can that may affirm this false identity in an attempt to make it last forever. We collect things, like pretty clothes, houses, cars, items that symbolise something we want. And because we think that we are separated from everyone else, we only (or firstly) look out for ourselves. And yes, for  a short moment, after we acquired something we were longing for, we experience happiness. But what most of us are not aware of, at least not in these moments, is that the reason for this happiness has nothing to do with whatever it is we had acquired, but only with the temporary relief of wanting. For a short while, we experience no desire, and we equate the cause of this feeling of contentment and happiness with the thing we acquired, so we want more things. And so it continues. We confuse our wants with our needs a hundred times every day. We buy plastic even though we are aware of it’s detrimental consequence for nature, we eat meat even though we know how the animal industry works, all because we say to ourselves that we “need” this or that.
We have entered a cycle of addiction, following the same patterns as any alcohol or drug addict. We are under the spell of consumerism just like a heroin addict is under the spell of his or her daily high that fills the same void – that of lost connections to ourselves, we can only glimpse in the feeling of unconditional love.
Our greed overtakes our common sense and our mind helps to feed the addiction. The question is, how can we break out of it?
If we treat our everyday greed like any addiction, we may at first need a substitute for our drug of choice, something to wean us off and make the transition easier, like the Methadone for the heroin junkie. Instead of being addicted to buying pretty things or overeating, we may begin the sweet addiction to our daily yoga practice.

A daily dose of Asana practice, mixed with deep breathing and the stilling of the mind that comes with concentration, ending in the blissful cloud of Savasana, will make us feel so wonderful, like a natural “high”, that it can become an addiction in itself. But instead of lulling us with delusion, this kind of “drug” will be more like the famous “red pill” Morpheus offered Neo in the the movie “The Matrix”, in order to wake up from his state of dreaming and begin to see reality as it is. More and more, like this pill, our yoga practice will make us aware of the different aspects of life and of ourselves. And as we continue the practice,  with growing awareness, our greed will diminish bit by bit. And just like the heroin addict who has been so consumed by the addiction that he or she was not able to maintain responsibility for everyday tasks and has been so distracted as to become blind toward his/her own senseless actions – once the addiction subsides, clarity and insight can set in again.
I don’t believe that most of us are very much different to any drug addict, only our problems are a little less immediate, sometimes more subtle and more widely accepted.
The more we can manage to rid ourselves of much of our greed and lose our desire to grasp at things that do not serve us on our journey, the clearer will our sight become towards the truth, enabling us to understand ourselves and the world around us far better and with much more compassion, so we can treat it with respect and responsibility.
Even after a relatively short time of sincere and regular Yoga practice, one can feel the fruit of this kind of development.
I imagine that after lifetimes of the practice of Aparigraha (Greedlessness), we may reach a state of completion, in that we are fully free of desire and have developed such a clear understanding of even the subtlest aspects of ourselves. We then may, as Patanjali hints at in this Sutra, become so subtly aware that we can remember our past lives and the karmic imprints (Samskaras) that have lead us to our current birth and lifetime. With this kind of understanding we may truly be able to free ourselves of the karmic bonds that keep us returning here again and again.
However at any stage of this journey, we gain more understanding, deeper insight and a increased happiness and feeling of compassion.

Maybe Greedlessness (Aparigraha) provides the key for us to live in peace and harmony with each other on this planet, so we can feel the connection that binds us all again and realise that we are not alone but that we are all part of the same divine consciousness, depending on each other and on nature, sharing the same worldly experience in all it’s glory.

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Consciousness and the physical body

The material universe isn’t created out of nothing.
It is an accumulation of subtle energies.
Our own body is a network of cells, which are an accumulation of molecules, which in turn are formed by atoms. These were previously thought to be the smallest particle in natures existence but with the development of scientific technology, it was soon found out that Atoms consist of protons, neutrons and electrons and that those are made up by smaller fundamental particles like quarks and leptons.
Wether this is the end of the line or not is not yet clear, we may be surprised by new findings at some time in the future where technology might have advanced even further. In fact it is quite likely that we will never get to the “end of the line”.

Eternity seems to be a given, only whether it is the eternal rhythm of the birth and death of new particles and organisms or the idea of one basic eternal matrix, or core of the cosmos (as dualistic Samkhya philosophy suggests),  that gives birth to everything else makes a great – and long lasting – debate.

According to all Indian philosophy the subtle always precedes the gross. Which is only common sense, as to build a molecule, the atoms had to be there first.

In the non-dualistic teachings of the tantric philosophy for example, it is pure consciousness that lies at the source of every living organism, while every molecule, every cell, even every thought form of these organisms are an expression of this eternal consciousness, endowed with it’s own cosmic intelligence.

If we think of our bodies that way, we recognise that each cell in our body is a perfect expression of our own pure consciousness (soul) and has it’s own, living intelligence which never tires to work only for the purpose of our soul’s higher good – which is to experience life in order to evolve, to expand our consciousness until all boundaries are dissolved and it merges with it’s highest and purest form, unbound to any individual life or karmic causalities.

We also realise that our bodies are far from being just mechanical constructions (as modern medicine may sometimes try to make us believe) but in fact are in constant movement. Never still, cells being born, maturing and growing, heart beating rhythmically, molecules in constant movement and communication with each other. Our body is in fact a never ending process, even after we die, when the clusters of molecules and atoms break up, having fulfilled their purpose, and re-join the earth’s own connective tissues – the soil, the water, the air – only to form again at another time to fulfil a new purpose.

We often think of our bodies as one entity, made up of different kinds of tissues, a skeleton, muscles, etc. But in fact, each of our cells has a skeleton of it’s own, different tissues and organs and acts within it’s own intelligence and means of communication.
Stem cells for example respond to the amount, and the kind of stress they are put under and develop, accordingly, into tissue cells that can resist the amount and type of stress they have been under -for instance, if they have been under a lot of stress they may turn into stronger bone cells, etc. They learn and are shaped through their experiences, just like we are.
Understanding this, we begin to realise that every act we impose on our bodies – be it what food we eat, how we move, what yoga posture we hold, how we breathe and even how we think and feel – is a direct communication with our intelligent cells. And our cells listen and respond accordingly.
And what’s more – they are not alone.
Our bodies are made up of about 40 trillion human cells – which comprises only about 10 % of the total amount of cells in our bodies. The rest are foreign organisms – the cells of bacteria and viruses, most of which are “friendly” and are carrying out essential tasks for us, mainly in our digestive and immune system – our lives literally are depending on them. So that means that 90 % of us are not really “us” – which really puts a different perspective on the idea of being interconnected!
Viewing our bodies not as mechanical machines but as a multitude of living, intelligent expressions of consciousness continuously acting in servitude of a greater purpose may help us to keep in mind our own responsibility to offer respectful communication filled with love and wisdom toward our own bodies – and the bodies of all other beings, as we all have in common the same consciousness that also pervades the whole universe.
And it is this consciousness that (according to non dualistic Indian philosophies) manifests in intelligent awareness, thoughtforms, emotions and eventually the physical realm.
Consciousness creates awareness, awareness creates thought, thought creates emotion and emotion creates physiology.
Therefor, to create true change in your body or any other aspect of your life, it has to begin with connecting with your own consciousness. Becoming aware and practicing extended awareness that can eventually permanently influence the more subtle realms of thought, emotion and the physical body.

Our nervous system gives us the ability to communicate with our surroundings. We can not only directly taste and touch anything outside (or inside) our bodies but even connect with the wider surrounding via our sense of sight, hearing and smell. Our nerve endings pass on those messages to our internal system so our bodies can respond accordingly.
Waves of energy vibration (electrical impulses, according to traditional western science) pulsating through neurones, are continuously communicating the dynamics of life to our bodies.
The specific dynamics of life in our modern times however have, as we are all well aware of, become increasingly overwhelming, confusing and contradictive to our inert and instinctive nature and can hardly be understood by the simple processes of our cells without causing havoc within the living organism that we call our body.
However we do have a very powerful means to control this overstimulating communication of the nervous system and that is our breath.
The breath has a very direct influence on wether the pulsating messages of the nervous system are delivered in a clear, calm and steady way, in agitated panic or are disrupted and lost on the way.
The breath can bind the intelligent consciousness of our cells to our the intelligent consciousness of our mind. It interacts between the outside and the inside world, between our  body and our mind. It can help to unify our whole being, giving us a sense of wholeness. (Yoga = to unite)

Each action we take, each Yoga pose we execute, each bite of food we take, is a communication. We can choose what we communicate and how – if we are aware of what we are doing.
To be aware 100% of the time and able to act only out of wisdom, love and respect for our bodies and those of other living beings is a very difficult task for any human being living on this planet.
But as with everything, practice makes – eventually – perfect.

For me, this practice begins on the Yoga mat. Here we can become aware of this amazing, vibrating, living expression of our true self – our body. We can truly take the time to pay attention and listen. We can communicate by placing the right kind of stresses on areas of our body that will result in stronger, healthier cells who can do their work optimally, like the removal of blockages and unwanted organisms. We stretch, so our body can experience greater freedom of movement (in the external as well as the internal micro environment of our body). We remain aware so we can consciously feel and project the love and respect we can give to our body.
And we can breathe. We breathe in a way that will tell our nervous system: It’s okay. Everything is safe. No need to panic anymore. You can relax now.
And with this message – of safety and relaxation – we can carry out even the most difficult tasks, or the most challenging asanas without the accumulation of stresses that are too much for us to handle.

Our mind becomes clear, our emotions are more balanced and our physical body cells can use their energy for what it was really intended – the greater good of serving YOU.

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Dualism vs Non Dualism

Dualism vs NonDualism

Indian philosophies and it’s six points of view (darshana) vary slightly in many ways, as this knowledge was collected from different sources at different times and and places and based on different experiences.

Samkhya for example is very much a philosophy of Dualism (Dvaita – on which Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are based on), based on the belief that there are two separate eternal forces, that where never created but exist, in their pure potentiality eternally. They are both real. These two forces are Purusha, the pure consciousness or soul the cosmos and of every living being  that is unchangeable and does not have creative power – and Prakriti, the ever changing matrix of the cosmos, the core of the cosmos, the cosmos itself, in all it’s shapes and forms, both gross and subtle.

Prakriti consists of three qualities, or Gunas, which are in complete balance and pure potentiality as long as Prakriti and Purusha are separate.

These Gunas are Tamas (Inertia), Rajas (Movement) and Sattva (Illumination).

gunas-illustration

Purusha and Prakriti exist in an everlasting attraction to each other. At some stage, when the attraction becomes too strong, they begin to merge into each other.

When this happens, the perfect balance of the Gunas is disturbed. In an eternal effort to come back into a balance, the Gunas move, increase, decrease and begin the “dance” of evolution and life.  The first evolute is created: Buddhi, or the higher mind. At this stage, the potential state of Prakriti is still in a very subtle form and Buddhi (or Mahat, the cosmic intelligence) becomes a discerning and intelligent force, born out of the imbalances of the gunas and closely connected to Purusha, the soul and pure consciousness. It doesn’t in itself have a consciousness but reflects the pure awareness of our self. Here there is access to all higher knowledge.

The second evolute emerges from Buddhi – Ahamkara, the I-Maker (Ego). Out of the intelligence of the Buddhi emerges another, more concrete and less subtle power of discernment. Ahamkara is able to distinguish Me from You. It compares. It judges.

Growing out of this instinct to compare and distinguish comes the lower mind, or Manas – a much less subtle force that we can sense – as well as the five subtle sense potentials through which Manas is working. These are the potential of hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting and smelling. And on a lower level still, situated in the gross body, are the corresponding sense organs – the eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue and the organs of action – hands, feet, anus, sexual organs and mouth.

These consist of the gross (material( elements of fire, water, earth, air and space (ether).

So the evolution of any living thing, according to Samkhya, consists of Prakriti in it’s potential state, and her 23 evolutes.

From the dualistic (Dvaita) point of view, Purusha needs Prakriti in order to experience itself and live out any karmic impressions that may have accumulated. But it also has to emancipate itself from it, in order to be free. Maybe this can be compared to a mother guiding us through the experiences and lessons of life but eventually we need to become independant. 

In Yoga, we are trying to free ourselves from this dependency on Prakriti by involution, by reversing the process of evolution, by going backward.

We are trying to access through the gross, physical body and work our way, via the nervous system, to our mind and eventually transcending our Ego mind to enter our Buddhi Nature. From here, we can feel the presence of our true soul, Purusha.

samkhyachart

(Diagram from http://www.santosha.com/)

Vedanta on the other hand, from which the Bhadavad Gita draws in it’s dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, is mostly (although not completely) based on the metaphysical concept of non duality (Advaita).

Only one pure state of consciousness exists that is the substance of the cosmos, the one supreme reality. This reality is called Brahman.

All living things are created from this one reality and are all connected. 

In their individual state (ie our own individual souls) it is called Atman, although they are absolutely the same (much like the space inside a room and outside a room are the same – the only difference are the walls that make it hard to see out).

Everthing else, including our thoughts, emotions and the perception that we are separated from each other, is referred to as Maya (Illusion). This illusion comes from the distorted perception of our own reality, like a mirror that is warped by our own karmic imprints and caught in the web of cause and effect. Almost like we are in a dream, which we are witnessing but are not waking up from, and as long as we are in it, we believe it to be real.

Advaita Vedanta believes that if we can remove this veil of wrong perception and see clearly, experience, remember our own true divinity, we can experience the true bliss, happiness and unconditional love that is the true nature of Atman. Then we become free from a conditioned existence, where we can only be happy IF.. rather than in a true state of bliss. (Moksha).

Non Dualism also has a concept of evolution, as explained best through the model of Pancha Kosha (the 5 Sheaths or Bodies of Existence):

Here, we also begin with the lowest vibration, the densest of Sheaths that is most accessable to our perception, the Physical body (Anna Maya Kosha) and work our way internally toward our true inner nature.

In both cases, we need to have certain experiences that arise from the seeds of karmic imprints that have been planted at the beginning of time. And in both cases our destiny is to free ourselves from these karmic bondages and either emancipate ourselves or wake up from our cosmic dream.

d9930-210560_orig

Another point of view of indian Philosophy, slightly newer and often described and the 7th Darshana is the Tantric point of view.

In this strongly non dualistic philosophy it is believed that everything IS consciousness.

There is only one reality, which has 2 aspects, like two opposing poles making up one magnetic force – Shiva and Shakti, Consciousness and Nature.

In this model both aspects are part of the same reality, but only Shakti is capable of creation. Everything we experience, every living being, every part of living nature, is an expression of divine consciousness. Therefore there is no need to seperate one from the other or judge good from bad, we just need to experience everything with divine awareness in order to awaken to our own truth.

Much like Samkhya, Tantra (Shaiva Tantra, or Kashmiri Shaivaism) also refers to an evolution of experienced existence but adds more detail by counting 36 instead of 24 evolutes (Tattvas).

tattva10

(Diagram from http://www.bhagavadgitausa.com/)

These are all different descriptions of the same truths, as seen by different eyes.

What all these have in common is that we are all divine beings, pure consciousness and connected to each other because we are all the same source. Our true state of being is bliss, an eternal happiness that does not depend on any outer circumstances, and pure, unconditional love, that connects us to each other and all other beings.

The only thing that stands in the way of us experience this true, blissful state of ourselves, is ignorance and the wrong identification with things that are impermanent and not true reality.

So the solution to the problem, according to Yoga, is to resolve our ignorance.

By removing any obstacles that stand in the way of seeing clearly, we try to make our minds calm and transparent. We try to clean and enhance our energy, we create a healthy body, so that nothing stands in the way of achieving this clear state of mind.

And the most obvious place to begin, is in our physical bodies.

By practicing postures and eating healthy, we try to achieve a state of physical health.

By practicing breath control and relaxation, we calm and strengthen our nervous system and increase the flow of energy. By the practice of concentration and meditation, we clear our mind so that eventually all aspects of ignorance, even of a karmic nature, can dissolve.

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