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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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

How to sit during meditation

Traditionally, yoga practitioners are recommended to start meditation after they have achieved some sort of physical fitness through asana (i.e. the poses) and pranayama (i.e. breathing) practice. This hierarchical method prepares the body (the muscles, joints and lungs) to sit without aches and pains for extended periods during meditation.

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Teaching Yoga – I

I’ve long thought about the role of the teacher or lecturer in psychology. That is no longer a part of my life so my thought have been diverted towards thinking about the role of the yoga teacher. As someone who started practicing yoga at home on her own and struggled to learn from books, I think I can attest for the need for an instructor when it comes to yoga. As much as it is a personal practice, yoga practitioner needs (at least) a second set of eyes to watch her journey closely. One practical reason for this is that it is very easy to do the asanas in a way that can result in short or long term injuries. The other reason is that like in any other learning process, one can lose her motivation and give up even due to the smallest of failures or simply due to laziness.

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How far should one push?

Yoga has never been more popular in the West and one type of yoga prevails above others, namely Hatha yoga in the form of Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga Vinyasa etc. Hatha yoga is distinguished from other types of yoga by its emphasis on asana more than the other practices in the yoga tradition. It is, naturally and inevitably, being transformed and assimilated into a Western style. Yoga in the West has been transformed since the 60s-70s but as practicing yoga became more and more popular and accessible to wider group of practitioners, it is difficult to talk about a unified understanding of its practice.

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