This term we have been reflecting in class ‘what is underneath us’. Learning to accept ourselves for who we are and forgive and love all our little foibles goes a long way to enable our enjoyment of life and to see the good in all those around us too. This poem is a lovely bringing together of these ideas.
Here is my past–
what I’ve been proud of,
and what I’ve pushed away.
Today I see how each piece
was needed, not a single
step wasted on the way.
Like a stone wall,
every rock resting
on what came before-
no stone can be
suspended in mid-air.
Foundation laid by every
act and omission,
each decision, even
those the mind would
label “big mistake”.
These things I thought
were sins, these are as
necessary as successes,
each one resting on the
surface of the last, stone
upon stone, the fit
the rough, uneven
face of these rocks
in the sunlight.
pg. 26, Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga
Chakras are energy centers… ancient yogis developed a concept of energy pathways running all around the body – rather than our energy just radomly ‘fuzzing’ about inside us. This is similar to the system of meridians used in Chinese medicine, reflexology and acupuncture.
One of the main energy pathways (nadis) is along the spine. Where pathways cross the spine, the energy is said to become greater and move in a circular motion hence the name ‘Chakra’, which means wheel in Sanskrit.
You can find more out about the Chakras on the following websites
Yoga is a way to keep healthy and happy. It was developed way before we had the science of medicine and so relied very much upon nature and observation. Yoga was developed by Sages and Gurus (wise men and teachers) thousands of years ago. Sanskrit was the language used to pass the methods on (by word of mouth for centuries and then in written format). It is said to be the oldest language and is often referred to as ‘the language of the gods’. Many of the Sanskrit words we use in class (including the names of exercises) have been passed down from these ancient times. So why should we still use them? Aren’t they a bit old fashioned? Well, I think that it’s good to keep the Sanskrit in circulation as a way of remembering that we who practice in this day and age are simply a link in a very long chain of people who have practiced yoga. True that we must acknowledge new developments in science and medicine and we wouldn’t want to be without them but, respecting the lineage of yoga gives us grounding and deep roots from which to grow. You may feel differently, but in case you are interested I’ve compiled a short list of Sanskrit terms which I feel are important to understand when you are embarking on your yoga journey…
The correct pronunciation is AH’-sah-nah. Literally, it means “seat,” but in yoga class it’s pretty much interchangeable with the word “pose.” For example, Bhujangasana = Cobra Pose, Navasana = Boat Pose… and so on.
This is my favorite Sanskrit word because it’s fun to say–nah’-mah’-stay. It means: ‘The light within me respects and honours the light within you’. My incredibly simplified translation: Isn’t it awesome that we just practiced yoga together? Thanks for your presence.
Ooooooohhhhhmmmmmmm. This is the sound/vibration of the universe. But what does it mean? Essentially, we are all a part of this universe–always moving, always changing, always breathing. When you chant Om, you’re tapping into that vibration.
Peace. When you chant, “Om shanti shanti shanti,” it’s an invocation of peace. In Buddhist and Hindu traditions you chant shanti three times to represent peace in body, speech, and mind.
Sthira Suka Asanam
The posture should be steady and easy. This guidance from the great Sage Patanjali means that we should not strain to get into any posture or for it to be too much effort to hold.
On Snday 25th March there will be a Tirth Yatra (Pilgramage) of Leicester’s Hindu Temples.
Why not join in this Yatra to celebrate the 20th year of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and the 10th year of the Leicester Friends group on the auspicious day of Ram Navami? This is a Sponsored Walk visiting the glorious temples of Leicester raising money for Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. The day will run as follows –
We all know and love the story of Goldilocks and the 3 bears. Just as some porridge is too salty, some is too sweet and some is just right… we can learn to balance out our energy with the use of an ancient philosophy devised by yogis thousands of years ago.
According to these ancient yogis, all of matter (including us humans) is a mixture of 3 qualities or energies – known as the 3 Gunas. These may sound a little abstract at first, but even if you have only been practising yoga for a short while the chances are that this will make sense to you – you have probably observed in yourself these 3 qualities at one time or another:-
The busy bee – all action, flighty and rushing around – this is known as Rajas. Rajas is the energy of change, we know it through the feelings of passion, desire, effort and pain.
The solid rock – stillness and inertia – this is known as Tamas. We know Tamas as a feeling of lethargy, dullness and heaviness.
The light of illumination – clarity and tranquillity – this is known as Sattva. Sattva is not necessarily happiness but a moment of inspiration, beauty and contentment.
A balance is required of all the Gunas in our life – all are good! It’s when we have a dominance of one type of energy that our lives can get out of kilter. The regular practice of yoga teaches us the ability to take a step back from the day to day coming and goings of life. This enables us to see through the lens of the Gunas where we are with our energy and how we can redress the balance.
According to yogic philosphy –
An excess of Rajas leads to wilful stubbornness, tiredness and disease.
An excess of Tamas leads to delusion, obscurity and ignorance.
We can cultivate more Sattva in our lives through meditation. By observing our actions and reactions in a non-judgemental manner – being mindful that we will always be a mixture of the 3 Gunas, our job is to try to balance them out.
Yoga is the ability to direct and focus mental activity.
This is the 2nd verse from chapter 1 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra – the insight below is by Michelle Corrigan from her book ‘Your Quest for a Spiritual Life’. I feel that it is an updated view of what Patanjali was trying to communicate to us.
“Yoga is the stillness of the mind – to have focus, and not allow the chitter chatter to distract. When the mind is still, everything is still.
‘Citta’ means mind which means consciousness that connects the mind to the soul. Citta is part of three componenets – mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara)which are combined together as a whole.
Yoga gives you peace of mind and liberates you from activity of the mind. Yoga will bring you calmness and balance. Once your mind is at eace, then the benefits will manifest in the physical body bringing harmony and health.”
If you are enjoying this more philosophical side of yoga then you may like to have a look at this series of lectures by Dr. Kausthub Desikachar
“Start doing yoga from where you are now. Not from where you were yesterday, not tomorrow, not next week. Start from the present. HERE begins the teachings of yoga with the right intent at the right time… NOW. If you seek a class teacher (which is advisable), find a teacher who you feel comfortable with, that creates the right energy in the room, that is in touch with the students. Use your discernment. ”
This is Verse 1: Chapter 1 from Michelle Corrigan’s ‘Your quest for a spiritual life’, a little helpful book that she wrote of her interpretations of Patanjali’s Sutras. I find it an excellent source of information, inspiration and an up to date, modernised version of the Sutras.
On Saturday 12th March the Friends of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies will be organising a Sponsored Walk visiting the beautiful temples of Leicester ending at Gandhiji’s memorial statue. Why not join this special day as the ‘Tirath Yatra’ (pilgramage) coincides with Gandhiji’s Dandi March (also known as the Salt March) whilst that was a march for nonviolent protest, this sponsored walk is a peaceful march in discovery of some of Leicester’s inspirational Hindu temples.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
You may come to yoga classes to build fitness, strength and flexibility; which of course you will over time; however, through these practices, right from the off, we are engaging in the act of Swadhyaya. We flow through postures using breath and movement, building concentration… we scan the body, we bring our awareness to our breath, we still the mind…all these are practices of self-reflection. And by doing this, we get to know ourselves more honestly and see ourselves for what we are, not who we think we are.
Swadhyaya is the 3rd nyama (code for living) and the generally accepted interpretation of this is ‘the practice of self-study and self-analysis’. Sva is interpreted as ‘self’ and adhyaya means ‘investigation or inquiry’. Our path along life as a yogi is to self-inquire through our daily and weekly practices such asana, pranayama and meditation.
(Often with Sanskrit, there are more than a single interpretation, some Sanskrit scholars interpret swadhyaya as the study of sacred texts. According to Patanjali, in order to attain a greater understanding of one’s true being, the study of scriptures is important. The scriptures are used to assist one in engaging in life through self-reflection.)
I feel that, although Patanjali’s Sutras were written thousands of years ago (and were passed on orally for thousands of years before that) they are just as important – if not more so – to us today. We can often go through life without stopping for a moment to look within ourselves, study our values, observe our actions and truly see the impact we have on others by our thoughts, words and deeds. The yogi is encouraged to engage in self-reflection by analysing all of these things.
So how well do you practice Swadhyaya in your life?
Take a moment now… reflect on your breath. Is it fast or slow? Is it deep or shallow? Are you allowing your diaphragm to move fully? What was the breath or pranayama practice that you did in your last class – can you remember? Practice this now and then remain seated for a while to see the effect it has upon your breath.
“Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.” -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44
When we greet with Namaste! We are greeting the light within the person or people we see. It is not their physical shape, attitude or energy of the body but the light within. You can think of this as a persons soul or spirit.
Yogis consider a person or being to be made of several layers and, by the practice of yoga (meaning to yoke), we can bring together these layers (Koshas) so that our life and well being is in harmony. To simplify this philosophy, in class I offer the suggestion to think of the Mind and the Body as 2 halves of our being – rather like husband and wife. They are on the same team but quite often have different approaches. As we get used to this as a concept we can then begin to consider and connect with the other aspects of ourselves, such as our energy, our emotions and our true ‘Self’.
Our light or true ‘Self’ can be hidden by these layers rather like 5 lampshades dulling the light of a bulb. We endeavour to ‘dust off’ these shades with our yoga practice so our true ‘Self’ can shine through and we can be at peace with the world around us.
In simple terms we have our food body, energy body, mind body, intuitive body and joy body. All these surround our light or true Self.
If you want to find out more http://www.swamij.com/koshas.htm has a down-to-earth description of these layers of being or Koshas with their Sanskrit names and attributes.
In the wise words of the Buddha…
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.