Every few weeks The Yoga Room will be presenting topics based on yoga philosophy, principles and practices, and also sharing dharma as it relates to our own practice and life. We will be continuing these topics and themes in our classes during the same time frame. We hope to facilitate a broader understanding and knowledge of what it means to truly practice yoga on all levels in your life. . .
Gratitude is the sweetest of all the practices for living the dharma in daily life and the most easily cultivated, requiring the least sacrifice for what is gained in return. It is a very powerful form of mindfulness practice, that allows us to rejoice amidst all life’s suffering. Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Cultivating thankfulness elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that encourages spiritual development.
The practice of gratitude is not in any way a denial of life’s difficulties. We live in troubling times, and no doubt you’ve experienced many challenges, uncertainties, & disappointments in your own life. The understanding you gain from practicing gratitude frees you from being lost or identified with either the negative or positive aspects of life, letting you meet life in each moment as it rises.
An important step in practicing gratitude is to actively notice things you are grateful for throughout your regular day, situations and interactions that are irritating or frustrating. There is a level of well-being and universal cooperation that is supporting you even in the midst of a so called bad day. You do so not to get out of a bad mood or to be a nicer person, but with the intention of clearly seeing the true situation of your life. The particulars may remain the same, but the inner experience of how your life is unfolding begins to shift. Slowly you become clearer about what really matters to you, and there is more ease in your daily experience.
When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you will often spontaneously feel the presence of grace. The grace in receiving a human life is that it grants you the capacity to experience that which is beyond the mind and body – call it god, allah, emptiness, spirit, or the Ground of Absolute. Reflect on this: You, with all your flaws, have been chosen for this opportunity to consciously taste life, to know it for what it is, and to make of it what you are able.
This gift of a conscious life is grace, even when you life is filled with great difficultly and it may not feel like a gift at the time. The grace of a conscious life, and having a mind that can know”this moment is like this” is the root of all wonder, from which gratitude flows. The wonder, the mystery, is that you, like everyone else, are given this short, precious time of conscious embodiment in which you can directly know yourself. However you find life to be – cruel or kind, sorrowful or joyous, bland or stimulating, indifferent or filled with love – you get the privilege of knowing it firsthand. Your sense of well-being is no longer contingent on external circumstances and you are able to rejoice that amidst all life’s suffering there exists joy. You realize that pain and joy are part of a mysterious whole. When this state of gratitude starts to blossom, your mind becomes more spacious, quieter, and your heart receives its first taste of the long-sought release from fear and wanting. This is grace.
by Philip Moffit/ Dharma Yoga Columnist for the Yoga Journal
nata = actor, dancer, mime
raja = king
Step by Step
We’ll start with a modified version of the pose. The full pose will be described in the Variation section below.
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Inhale, shift your weight onto your right foot, and lift your left heel toward your left buttock as you bend the knee. Press the head of your right thigh bone back, deep into the hip joint, and pull the knee cap up to keep the standing leg straight and strong.
There are two variations you might try here with your arms and hands. In either case, try to keep your torso relatively upright. The first is to reach back with your left hand and grasp the outside of your left foot or ankle. To avoid compression in your lower back, actively lift your pubis toward your navel, and at the same time, press your tailbone toward the floor.
Begin to lift your left foot up, away from the floor, and back, away from your torso. Extend the left thigh behind you and parallel to the floor. Stretch your right arm forward, in front of your torso, parallel to the floor.
The second option with the hands is to sweep your right hand around behind your back and catch hold of the inner left foot. Then sweep the left hand back and grab the outside of the left foot. This variation will challenge your balance even more. Then raise the thigh as described in step 3. This second variation will increase the lift of your chest and the stretch of your shoulders.
Stay in the pose for 20 to 30 seconds. Then release the grasp on the foot, place the left foot back onto the floor, and repeat for the same length of time on the other side.
For the full pose, perform step 1 as described above. Then turn your left arm actively outward (so the palm faces away from the side of the torso), bend the elbow, and grip the outside of the left foot. (You can also grab the big toe with the first two fingers and the thumb.) The fingers will cross the top of the foot, the thumb will press against the sole. Inhale, lift the left leg up, and bring the thigh parallel to the floor. As you do this, rotate the left shoulder in such a way that the bent elbow swings around and up, so that it points toward the ceiling. It requires extreme flexibility to externally rotate and flex the shoulder joint in this way. Reach the right arm straight forward, in front of the torso and parallel to the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, release, and repeat on the second side for the same length of time.
(Source: Yoga Journal)
Step by Step
From Adho Mukha Svanasana(Downward-Facing Dog), exhale and step your right foot forward between your hands, aligning the right knee over the heel. Then lower y
our left knee to the floor and, keeping the right knee fixed in place, slide the left back until you feel a comfortable stretch in the left front thigh and groin. Turn the top of your left foot to the floor.
Inhale and lift your torso to upright. As you do, sweep your arms out to the sides and up, perpendicular to the floor. Draw the tailbone down toward the floor and lift your pubic bone toward your navel. Try to not sink into the joint but keep a distinct lift of the ASIS bones upward to create space between the hip and the thigh. Lift your chest from the firmness of your shoulder blades against the back torso.
Take your head back and look up, being careful not to jam the back of your neck. Reach your pinkies toward the ceiling. Hold for a minute, exhale your torso back to the right thigh and your hands to the floor, and turn your back toes under. With another exhale, lift your left knee off the floor and step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana. Repeat with the left foot forward for the same length of time.
This posture is a wonderful way to stretch the psoas, groin and quadricep muscles that are needed for back bending postures. The stretch of the upper body and arms gives the posture great power and “vira” – heroic strength.
The word “Ahimsa” translates as “non-violence” and “non-harming”. At the root of this moral code is not simply the absence of these concepts but in the cultivation of kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. The root of vegetarianism in the yogic culture stems from ahimsa however it does not necessarily imply that we eat no living thing or that we should not defend ourselves: rather it is about exercising judgement and extending kindness toward ourselves in terms of fully taking care of ourselves.
“Should we as vegetarians find ourselves in a situation where there is only meat to eat, is it better to starve to death than to eat what is there? If we still have something to do in this life, such as family responsibilities, then we should avoid doing anything that may cause us harm or prevent us from carrying out our duties. The answer in this situation is clear – it would show a lack of consideration and arrogance to become stuck on our principles. So ahimsa has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. It could even mean that we must fight if our life is in danger.” (1)
Fundamentaly practicing Ahimsa is to adopt a considered attitude and make conscious choices in every situation. The spirit Ahimsa is to combat cruelty, injustice and violence in favor of cultivating kindness toward ourselves, others and the earth at large.
1. passage taken from “The Heart of Yoga” T.K.V. Desikachar
salamba = with support (sa = with
alamba = support)
sarva = all
anga = limb. There are variations of Shoulderstand that are “unsupported” =niralamba, pronounced near-ah-LOM-bah)
Step by Step
Fold two or more firm blankets into rectangles measuring about 1 foot by 2 feet, and stack them one on top of the other. You can place a sticky mat over the blankets to help the upper arms stay in place while in the pose. Then lie on the blankets with your shoulders supported (and parallel to one of the longer edges) and your head on the floor. Lay your arms on the floor alongside your torso, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor, and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso.
Continue to lift by curling the pelvis and then the back torso away from the floor, so that your knees come toward your face. Stretch your arms out parallel to the edge of the blanket and turn them outward so the fingers press against the floor (and the thumbs point behind you). Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Lay the backs of your upper arms on the blanket and spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis over the shoulders, so that the torso is relatively perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up your back (toward the floor) without letting the elbows slide too much wider than shoulder width.
Inhale and lift your bent knees toward the ceiling, bringing your thighs in line with your torso and hanging the heels down by your buttocks. Press your tailbone toward your pubis and turn the upper thighs inward slightly. Finally inhale and straighten the knees, pressing the heels up toward the ceiling. When the backs of the legs are fully lengthened, lift through the balls of the big toes so the inner legs are slightly longer than the outer.
Soften the throat and tongue. Firm the shoulder blades against the back, and move the sternum toward the chin. Your forehead should be relatively parallel to the floor, your chin perpendicular. Press the backs of your upper arms and the tops of your shoulders actively into the blanket support, and try to lift the upper spine away from the floor. Gaze softly at your chest.
As a beginning practitioner stay in the pose for about 30 seconds. Gradually add 5 to 10 seconds to your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Again gradually and 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 minutes. To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again, and roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor, keeping the back of your head on the floor.
(Source: Yoga Journal)
We all want to be happy, yes? We show up on our mats ready for the asana practice to transform us and often wonder, despite the immediate feelings of well-being and physical vibrancy, why we ultimately remain unchanged inside.
Pantanjali outlines this journey toward greater inner peace and fulfillment in the yoga sutras and particularly in the eight limbed path. Practiced in the context of these eight limbs, yoga becomes a guide for living.
“The limbs relate to each other in the same way as the limbs on our bodies do. Rather than being hierarchical, the limbs extend out from and feed into a central, whole being: ourselves. Rather than being separate concepts, the limbs connect to one another. The practice of one limb influences and strengthens all the others.” – Charlotte Bell
Pantanjali’s eight limbs are:
Yama: ethical principles
Niyama: personal practices
Asana: the practice of physical postures
Pranayama: breathing practices
Pratyahara: refinement of the senses
Samadhi: state of bliss, wholeness
The Yamas and Niyamas, the first 2 limbs, are the cornerstone of our philosophical and spiritual discipline. These practices allow us to deeply explore what it means to truly live a yogic life and make available to us a path to inner freedom.
Stay tuned as we start on this journey of exploration…