Patanjali is known affectionately as the father of yoga. He wrote the first comprehensive manual about how to practice yoga in around 300 BC. The teachings included in his ‘Yoga Sutras’ had been passed on by word of mouth via chanting for many years before. Artefacts and scriptures from the Indus Valley have been carbon dated and suggest that they could be up to 3000 years old.
In his book of ‘sutras’ or threads, Patanjali provides short but profound sentences about how to develop a yoga practice and what the benefits of that can be. A simple overview of yoga can be seen in the ‘8 fold path’ or 8 limbs as is the direct translation.
The sutras were written in Sanskrit and the word for 8 limbs is ‘ashtanga’ – ‘ashta’ means 8 and ‘anga’ means limb. These 8 limbs or steps act as guidelines showing how to live a meaningful of live full of purpose and joy.
This process is best adopted gradually as and when one feels ready to commit. My view is to develop awareness of the controls of one’s mind and body through the practice of asana, pranayama, meditation and relaxation – just like we do in class. I think this is what Patanjali intended.
‘Eliminating impurity through continued practice of the eight limbs of yoga brings discernment and clear perception.’ Chaper 2, verse 28
‘The 8 limbs of yoga are:
Yama – respect toward others
Niyama – self restraint
Asana – posture practice
Pranayama – breath control
Pratyahara – detaching at will from the senses
Dharana – concentration
Dhyana – meditation
Samadhi – contemplation and absorption Chapter 2, verse 29
If you would like more information about this, or would like me to recommend further reading, please feel free to email me.
Ujjayi Breath is a great practice for relaxation – calming for the mind and soothing for the body. It is also great treatment for anxiety and insomnia. Please be patient with yourself when learning this practice as it’s not the easiest practice to do.
Sit in a comfortable position, the spine erect and the eyes softly closed. Allow the breath to become steady, calm and relaxed; breathing through the nostrils and encouraging the breath to be full. Don’t force breath in or out, let it come naturally and feel the ‘ends’ of each inhale and exhale.
Bring the awareness to the throat and gently contract the glottis and continue to inhale and exhale with awareness at the throat. (If you are new to this practice, try exhaling through the mouth making a ‘haaaa’ sound. This will enable you to discover the contraction of the glottis. Tilting the chin down slightly can also help.)
Allow the breath to smooth, deep and slow – it will sound like baby snoring or waves breaking on the sand. Explore the gentleness of this breath – don’t feel as though you are gripping at the throat.
When established with the practice, with each inhale and exhale take your awareness to the abdomen, chest and throat in turn as they expand and contract to encourage full yogic breathing.
Ujjayi is a wonderfully calming breath and can help to relieve insomnia. Simply practice in bed in shavasana when sleep is being illusive.
Practice for 5 – 10 minutes each day – great for calming the body and mind before asana practice, meditation or relaxation.
ROLL OUT YOUR MAT ANY TIME FOR A SHORT DAILY PRACTICE TO ENHANCE YOUR VITALITY AND KEEP YOUR SPINE YOUNG! (Remember – always practice within your capability – people with lower back problems or high blood pressure should take extra care and I advise working with an experienced yoga teacher so they don’t worsen the condition.)
1 Gently Swaying Palm Tree
Standing with feet parallel and slightly wider than hip width apart, this gentle side bend begins by inhaling and taking the linked fingers overhead. This deep inhalation helps to lengthen the spine. As you exhale gently bend to one side keeping the feet, knees and hips still – a small bend coming from the waist and keeping the shoulders square to the front of your mat. On inhalation return to standing – thinking all the time about lengthening the spine upwards. Then repeat the motion with the breath to the other side. Practice 3 to 5 times each side.
BENEFITS – lengthens the spine, tones the abdominals and sides of the waist.
Now come down onto all 4s – make a strong box shape. Have the knees aligned under your hips and your hands – fingers stretched out – shoulder width apart but a little in front of the shoulder line. Look down toward your mat and take the awareness to your breath; notice how it feels. Become aware of the breath in and the breath out. Lengthen and deepen the breath, and as you do so, allow the spine to relax. On inhale feel the abdomen and chest filling up as the spine sinks down toward the floor. On exhale draw the abdominals in toward the spine and allow the spine to round upwards towards the ceiling. Keep following the breath with the movement for 6 – 10 rounds.
BENEFITS- increases the lung capacity and flexibility of the spine, strengthens the shoulders, arms and wrists.
3 Downward Facing Dog
From the all 4s, ‘box’, position, come to a neutral spine (neither up nor down). Take an inhale and tuck your toes under and then, on the exhale, lift your buttocks up and back. Keeping the elbow and knee joints soft, prevents hyper extension of the joints. Breath in the posture for 1 or 2 breaths and then on exhale bend knees and return to the box position. Repeat 1 more time. Build up to holding the position for 10 breaths.
BENEFITS- the inversion of the head below the heart will bring fresh blood to the head and face (if you suffer from High Blood Pressure don’t take the head down, you can do this posture against the wall – see this page for more instructions), stretches out the spine and the backs of the legs, builds strength in the shoulders, arms, elbows and wrists.
Sit on the mat with the legs stretched out in front. Feel the sitting bones in contact with your mat. Place the hands on the mat at your sides, as you inhale feel the back long and strong and push gently with the heels away from you. On exhalation relax a little but don’t let the posture collapse. Work up to 10 smooth, long breaths.
Remain in Staff pose. Bring the right foot over the left leg and draw the thigh into the body using the crook of the left arm. Inhale and feel the crown of the head lift up toward the sky, as you exhale turn toward your bent knee and take the right hand to the mat behind you. Feel the twist in the torso, if your neck is comfortable turn the chin around to the right shoulder. Remain in the twist for 3 – 5 breaths and then undo on the inhalation. Repeat to other side.
BENEFITS- detoxifies the body and aids elimination.
Legs-up-the-Wall posture is an excellent way to gently introduce your body to the benefits of the shoulder stand.
These are numerous, but include improved circulation and alleviation of nervous exhaustion. It’s a great pose to rejuvenate a tired body and unsettled mind – great for stress management. You can hold it for up to 5 minutes.
It is safe for everyone to practice; if you wish to experiment adding blocks or folded blankets under your hips, give it a try – adding a little height at a time. Take care as raising the pelvis increases blood to the head and can make some conditions such as high blood pressure and eye problems worse. Also, there are some traditions of yoga that advise against women raising the pelvis during menstruation.
But this is when we need it most! When our minds are frazzled and our shoulders and neck all cramped up. Give yourself 5 minutes, it will help in more ways than I can mention. Importantly though, you will feel much better and those around you, sensing this, will feel much better too. Sit in any comfortable position…….
Begin by circling the nose in a tangerine sized circle to ease out the neck. About 5 times one way and then 5 times in reverse.
Breathe in and open up in the heart space, sit tall and beautiful.
Expand from the inside out, become more spacious – open up to the breath.
Gently close the eyes and feel your skin; feel the clothes touching your skin, feel the hair on your head, feel the eyelashes on your cheeks.
Feel beyond the skin to the the astral body – our aura that surrounds us.
Lean back a little and feel the support of the cosmos that surrounds you.
Breathe in and draw from the abundant well of air that we live in and lives in us.
Take heart that you are not some isolated thing battling single handedly against the world.
You are the world – and what will be will be.
Invite your breath to become smooth as silk and quiet as a whisper.
While here in this place now, feel gratitude to the earth for the sunshine and air we breathe.
Drink in each breath and be grateful for all that you have.
Be grateful for your challenges for they allow you to interact with the world and demonstrate your passions.
With this gratitude in your heart take your current experience and think of how they might be in the future.
Plant a seed for your future.
Invite the pace of your life to flow smoothly and easily, see yourself as you would like to be.
BKS Iyengar sadly passed away last month on the 20th August – he was a real yoga champion! As one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, he introduced many in the West to the practice of yoga and helped to make yoga acceptable and popular. He was the teacher of Yehudi Menuhin, Aldous Huxley and Donna Karan and set up his own teacher training method.
His principles are not favoured by all yoga traditions as the main focus is on asana (posture work) – some feel to the expense of the breath work and more esoteric aspects of yoga. Personally, I like his approach; in the beginning the body really is the key – the access to our whole being. Yoga is a subtle practice but to get to this subtlety we have to learn through the use of the body. As we learn to move, we learn to feel.
Iyengar is said to have been a drill-sergent in his classes – I think this was to get people going on a physical level. This style of yoga appealed to beginners in the West and is what made Iyengar so successful – to work from the outside in, from the gross to the subtle – and he helped people to ‘get it’. In my classes beginner students sometimes remark that “I’m not really feeling anything”, this is perhaps because I take a softer approach, I like to go gently with people – not so much ‘feel the burn’ as ‘wait for the simmer’!
However, I do return to Iyengar’s book ‘Light on Yoga’ time and time again; the accuracy of the asana and stories about the history of the postures truly bring the practice to life for me. It has helped me to teach in a way that people can relate to and understand. Thank you very much for your help, Mr Iyengar – Om Shanti.
We chant OM at the beginning and end of our yoga sessions – this is the tradition in many schools of yoga.
It is an acknowledgment that the universe around us is constantly moving—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the blinking of our eyes and the beating of our hearts.
Just like the ancient yogis, we use the sound of OM to recognise this never-ceasing movement and vibrate in unison with the universe. Chanting it is meant to resonate that movement throughout the breath, awareness and energy to reveal a more powerful connection with the universe.
I chant OM at home and it reminds me of all of the yogis around the globe, and throughout time, doing the exact same thing. I find it relaxing and is a great beginning to meditation.
Congratulations to Jean from the Wednesday morning group in Ryhall. She was the happy winner from our summer lucky dip. The prize was the Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha book – a treasured guide book of yoga techniques from the Yoga Publications Trust, Mungar, Bihar, India. This book makes an excellent reference for any practitioner and I know that Jean will put it to great use.
Many of the black and white images of the ‘blissful yogi’ (as I call him) come from this book. Each technique comes with a clear description of how to do it, how to breathe and what to concentrate on while your doing it. So, many levels of focus for the beginner and advanced yogi. If you only get 1 yoga book this is the one to have.
Ever wanted to try Yoga but thought you weren’t flexible enough?
Tried a Yoga class but couldn’t tell your Dandasana from your Tadasana?
Been going to Yoga for years but want to know more about Patanjali?
My ‘Introduction To Yoga’ course begins on September 10th and runs each Wednesday 6 -7 at Ryhall Village Hall. Each week we will do physical and relaxing exercises to experience the benefits of yoga and see why it has been practiced by so many people over so long a period. We will cover the basic postures with plenty of personal guidance and attention to modify postures for your specific needs.
Yoga has many benefits and is suitable for all levels of fitness. In this class, gentle posture work will increase gradually over the weeks developing students flexibility and joint mobility. Over time muscles strengthen, lengthen and tone. The circulation improves and physical balance is brought about – all with gentle, moderate and regular practice. Each session ends with a guided relaxation practice and students generally find that by helping the body to relax it improves and enhances their sleep pattern, relieves stress and dissolves muscle tension that may have been built up over many years.
Breathing exercises form an essential part of yoga and we begin these from the first class. As part of each class we will learn about the history and philosophy of yoga this helps us to develop our minds as well as our physical body. Each student will receive a handy file to keep the yoga notes given out each week that will build up to a useful reference.