Yoga and Vinyasa

The word “yoga” means “coming together”. It refers to the coming together of the individual and the higher being, greater consciousness. Yoga is one of the 6 orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy. As a philosophical system Yoga was collated, coordinated and systematised by Patanjali. The sources are not clear whether he or she was a real person or a group of people or an imaginary personality. The general use is that he was a he and a real person. Patanjali summarised the yoga system in 185 sutras – concise and terse aphorisms. This little book starts with a definition of yoga in the second sutra. So, yoga is “citta vritti nirodhah”, that is “calming the distractions of the mind”. The distractions of the mind need to be calmed in order to achieve the level of meditative clarity to come in unison with supreme being.

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Ohm, Now!

WHAT IS OM & WHY DO WE CHANT IT?

Om (pron.: əʊm or ɒm) is said to be the oldest sound in yogic tradition of Hinduism and Tibetan buddhism. Sometimes spelled and chanted as “AUM”, it contains reference to three states of mind:

  1. A: Jagrat – Creator –
  2. U: Swapna – Preserver,
  3. M: Shushupti – Destroyer.

(some more information on this view here)

In another (not very different) view, the mantra “OM or AUM” represents God, the absolute and the vibration of the Supreme. It is pronounced with a strong nasalised or hummed m.Thus, A-U-M represents the divine energy (Shakti) united in its three elementary aspects:

  1. A- Bhrahma Shakti (creation),
  2. U – Vishnu Shakti (preservation),
  3. M – Shiva Shakti (liberation, and/or destruction).

Maybe, in a more modern understanding, we can think of these letters to represent the beginning/birth, the process of life and the death/end of the universe or all things.

When chanted at the beginning of the yoga practice, it sets the tone of the class and helps bring concentration to the mind, marks the beginning and the end of the class. In order to achieve a state of content, yoga needs to be practiced with focus and presence of mind. So, the resonance that occurs during the chant creates a sense of relaxation and helps with the elasticity needed to expand the lungs further.

I, personally, stick to the latter understanding and that is why I like to chant at the beginning and at the end of each class.

Namaste,

e.

Downward Facing Dog Explained

The yoga courses have begun and this week was their 2nd week. In the course, downward facing dog i.e. adho mukha svanasana is usually the first pose that I teach, as I have infinite admiration for the pose.

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As a general principle, adho mukha svanasana is (Yes, it is!) the backbone of vinyasa and ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice. Here is a few reasons why I love the pose some much:

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On Assists in Yoga Practice

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The traditional “guru” halo and the general position of teaching someone something give the yoga instructor a degree of freedom around the bodies (and sometimes emotions) of the people who attend their class. There is an assumption inherent in every asana class that the instructor can give the practitioners physical assists. Indeed, it is only too easy to find videos of Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, standing, lying on people in seated forward folds (see pic below), tugging their arms and legs into binds, grabbing them by the bum, etc. In this regard, Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar yoga, was no different. 

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Why I do yoga

Recently, I’ve been interviewed for the student magazine of the university here. The interview was about a specific yoga class that I started teaching last year (maybe, more on being interviewed about yoga later).

At some point in this interview, I was asked to give some good reasons why people should do yoga. That was too difficult a question for me to answer. Instead, I told them why I do yoga: to win back (at least some of ) the freedom of movement that, like every human, I am losing as my body gets older and stiffer and to remember the freedom of imagination that we all have as a child but usually forget as we grow up.

I am not naturally flexible or strong and I didn’t start doing yoga until I was almost 36, so my body was already pretty rigid and I was really not very fit. Whatever I am able to do now as a yoga practitioner came with continuous practice. I’ve always seen yoga classes as an opportunity to play. During the classes (and even when I swim, for that matter), I used to imagine myself as a baby elephant: cute but rather clumsy. I am less clumsy now but the image of that baby elephant is still there some of the time. Some of the time because now I can actually focus on what and how I feel instead of how I look like to others and what they might be thinking about me. Therefore, I can now have more fun during the practice, be it on my own at home or my usual yoga class at the shala. Now, I feel that I am free to explore the physical and emotional opportunities. I can tease my fears, for example, my fear of backbends because I know I am just exploring and can stop anytime I choose to. As I surrender myself to play, I feel I am more in charge of what happens when paradoxically I really don’t expect anything particular to happen. I just play and have fun.

When I have rolled my mat away, the whole yoga play is finished – nothing to be reconsidered, nothing to reminisce about or to regret. It was what it was and just that. The feeling of satva, contentment with myself and the world lingers with me the rest of the day.

And that is why I do yoga…

Namaste,

e.

Some Useful Info Before Your 1st Yoga Class

What to wear: Put comfortable, clean clothes on. How you look is not important; you don’t have to put on nice, fancy yoga clothes. Yoga is done with bare feet so you don’t need your trainers. Many people choose to wear tops that hug the abdomen/tummy as loose clothing will slip down towards the shoulders during downdogs etc. Yoga classes usually end with a deep relaxation so unless the yoga centre has blankets etc. or you don’t want to use theirs, bring along scarves, thick socks, even a small blanket to keep your body warm. It is quite common to sweat in a vinyasa class. Traditionally we are advised to rub the sweat on our skin but bring along a small towel, if you want to. If you have the time, a quick, warm shower before the class would help you relax as well as to wash off the unwanted BO, excess perfume etc.

For Sit/NTNU People: Kjellersalen (ChillySalen!) at Gløshaugen gym is on the cold side, especially in winter. Though, it feel warmer nowadays. It is really fine throughout the asana practice as one warms up, even sweats, but it is possible that you’ll feel cold during deep relaxation where you lie or sit on the floor for ~5-10 minutes. So, come prepared.

When to arrive: The class will start on time. Arriving 5-10 minutes before the beginning of the class will give you time to set up your mat, signing in your name and start relaxing. Wait for the others to arrive and the class to begin in savasana -lying on your back with your eyes closed- or in child’s pose -sitting on your heels, with your forehead on the floor, arms at a comfortable place of your choosing- or sit upright and close your eyes and begin relaxing the breath and yourself. If you don’t know what to do, focusing on your breath until you hear the first cue of the class from the instructor is a good option. Whatever you do, do it quietly as there will be others trying to relax, too. Should you arrive late, find a mat and a spot without much fuss and join in. I don’t mind people arriving late as long as the peace of the class is not disturbed.

For Sit/NTNU People: The yoga mats at Gløshaugen and Dragvoll are good but if you have a mat that you want to bring and use, you’re welcome to do so. Some complain that the mats get a little slippery. If you experience this, you can bring along liquid chalk, magnesium powder or simply talkum.

When to eat & drink: Yoga is best done on an empty(ish) stomach. It is recommended to stop eating 2-3 hours before the class. Drinking water during the class is not desired as it will cool your body down. Drink plenty of water during the day; make sure you are well hydrated. Empty the bladder before the class. However, if you are too thirsty, you can take a sip or two to wet your mouth.

The attitude: Yoga can be classified as a moderate exercise. In many types of exercise people are encouraged to be competitive to achieve an end goal. Yoga doesn’t have a specific end goal. It is a journey to be enjoyed for what it is. Therefore, there is no competition and there is no one to compete against. Take your time with every pose, allow your body to get ready for the full form of the pose by practicing, at the beginning, the lighter variations that are suitable for your level. Performing a difficult asana will be rewarding only if you savour the time you need to take up to it. Listen to your body. In this line, a sustainable, long-term practice is the best that a yogi can achieve. In order to do this, the practitioner has to be wary of injuries that might occur due to pushing too hard. Yoga starts with the practitioner learning to be nice to her/himself. This idea is represented in the concept of Ahimsa. Practice sincerely and patiently.

Savasana, i.e. the deep relaxation: It literally means the “corpse pose” or “dead man’s pose”. Asana practice helps the muscles to get ready for relaxation. It is a time of conscious relaxation, just shy of sleeping. This is the most important one of all yoga poses. “We will sooner or later, lose all the asanas (poses) except for savasana” said someone once. I agree with this. As the body ages, it will limit the movement, flexibility and strength that are required to perform each asana; modifications will have to be done. Albeit, your savasana will remain mostly unchanged throughout your life time. So, cherish it. If you have to leave, do that before everyone lies down for savasana. Leaving during savasana can be very distracting for others. Respect their need for peace and quiet, even if you can’t enjoy it.

namaste,

ebru