Home Yoga Practice

Do you have a home yoga practice? Have you developed a regular yoga practice for yourself? Maybe your regular practice is to go to your favorite yoga classes every week as consistently as possible. And your home yoga practice might be to take a few minutes to move and stretch each day.

I started thinking about home yoga practices for my students. Sometimes I have to cancel a class. When I’m away from our classes together, I hope my continued encouragement to do yoga at home gains traction. As a yoga teacher, I want students to learn yoga and eventually develop their own home yoga practice. A person makes the most progress when yoga becomes a part of their everyday lives. So, let’s consider the merits of both a yoga studio practice and a home yoga practice.

Home Yoga Practice vs Yoga Studio Practice

Most of us would agree that practicing yoga with others helps to keep us in class, and on the mat from start to finish. It may make us more motivated to put in a strong yoga practice. We stay with each pose, attempt each move, and participate more actively. Yoga is not a competitive sport but it can feel like a team sport. A “team of yogis” moving through asanas and breathing together in pranayama can inspire you go that extra mile. It is uplifting to watch as others move together with you in a yoga studio class.

The home yoga practice can make yoga easy. For starters, you’re at home! You don’t have to find a class, get dressed, comb your hair, drive your car, or go online to schedule or pay for class. The downside is you don’t have to commit to… well, anything. The home yoga practice can make yoga hard, because it is easy to get distracted with home tasks. Like some many areas of our life, we bemoan: “The mind is wonderful servant but a terrible master.” But let’s decide that your heart is in it. You know it will be a good and positive habit to develop. Even the servants of your logical mind must yield to the obvious pros and cons.

Merits of a Home Yoga Practice

  • Developing intentional awareness – many yoga studio teachers (like me!) will give the queue to become more aware, to notice sensation, to scan the body, to go inside and check in with how you are feeling. The teacher may be talking through this at just the moment when you need quiet and stillness! In a home yoga practice, develop a keener awareness by suggesting these queues to yourself by yourself. You set the intention when you say to yourself, “now, go deep inside and feel your body from the inside out.” 
  • Giving your body exactly what it needs – you’re the expert on your own body! You know the difference between a twist that feels oh-so-good versus one that is unpleasant and is moving in the direction of painfulness. Ask your body what it needs. Offer yourself movement suggestions, “how does this feel? oh, well, how about this, then?” Move in ways that help you release and relax, and strengthen and balance.
  • Working on advanced poses – So you want to do headstands? Gear your home yoga practice to poses that prepare your body for headstands. For example, warm up and spend the rest of your time going up and coming down (gracefully! and against a wall!) from headstand and child’s pose with strength and control.
  • Choosing more meditation or more pranayama – Have you ever been in a studio yoga class doing alternate nostril breathing and reluctantly had to stop before you were ready? I have! Several more rounds would have been oh-so delicious. A few minutes more (or less!) of mindfulness meditation or savasana would have been just right. Experiment with yourself. You choose!
  • Working with personal preferences – In a home yoga practice you may find yourself doing the same poses and sequences every session. What’s up with that? A home yoga practice gives you the opportunity, indeed the intention to examine your own choices. Like eating habits, what we most avoid doing in yoga class may be exactly the thing we need most! Working with personal preferences help us to notice and choose a practice (a habit, a meal, a pose) that creates more balance in our lives.
  • Going long or going short – What’s the ideal yoga practice time. An hour? An hour and 15 minutes? Ninety minutes? Two hours? With a home yoga practice you decide. Some days it may be exactly 23 minutes using your phone timer. Other days it may be outside, in the park, in between walking, skipping or running. Go long or go short. Just go and do it!

Planning a Home Yoga Practice

Deciding to develop a home yoga practice is the first step. Once you set the intention to begin, you’ve already started! Yoga Journal offers a few keys to a successful home practice:

  • Make a date with your mat – use the time you have, even if that means 15 minutes
  • Find inspiration – books, videos, or using your favorite sequence from your studio class
  • Choose a focus – standing poses, inversions, twists, forward folds
  • Beginning and ending – develop quiet and calm for the start and the finish
  • Just do it – get past your mind stuff and “experience yourself more clearly”

Beginning a Home Yoga Practice

There are all sorts of videos online for yoga, pranayama, meditation, mudras, chanting, and yoga philosophy. The following are links that give me inspiration in teaching yoga and in doing my own home yoga practice. You may recognize some of the postures, queues, and language that I use when I teach classes at Take Me To The River Yoga studio. You can always come to Take Me To The River yoga studio to practice these same styles in a studio yoga class with me. I encourage you to also try a few of these online classes, get inspired and develop your own most meaningful home yoga practice. 

Somatics and Yoga – James Knight’s youtube channel “Gentle Somatic Yoga” lays out several different somatic practices by topic. For variety and for addressing specific issues, this is a good primer on the topic of Somatics and Yoga.

Mindful Hatha Yoga – Mindful Hatha Yoga tends to be a more gentle practice with focus on slow movement and concentration on the breath. Yoga with Adrienne is a popular yoga channel with different styles. I like Adrienne because she’s approachable, has a sense of humor, and gives great direction and options. This is her Gentle Yoga – 25 Minute Gentle Yoga Sequence

Chair Yoga – The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa has posted several chair yoga videos. This “Gentle Yoga in the Chair” is one of the best I have found.

Kripalu Vinyasa Flow – One of my teachers at Kripalu, Coby Kozlowski teaches this Moderate Kripalu Vinyasa Flow class. 

Mindfulness Meditation – Tara Brach is my go-to meditation teacher. Her videos and podcasts are so inspiring! Here’s her youtube channel. Most all her talks begin with a discussion and end with a short, guided meditation. She is easy to relate to, offering poignant, compassionate quotes from Rumi, Rilke, and telling stories to give texture and deep meaning.

Kirtan Kriya – The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation explains the steps, benefits and results they’ve seen with the practice of Kirtan Kriya. Read up on the technique using the fingers, then go to this link to practice with music and timing. The youtube video has are no words or instruction but just provides the framework of music, chanting and timing for this practice. I’ve written on Mudras and Homunculus Man to explore the physiology behind the effectiveness of hand gesture practices.

 

Chair Yoga is still YOGA

Chair yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga
Getting ready for Chair Yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga

Chair Yoga is still YOGA. Still, meaning in the future, as in the past (an adverb). I’m not talking about “still” as an adjective (not moving)! It’s the real deal. When you do yoga in a chair you are STILL doing yoga. You do yoga with all the benefits of movement, breath, and mindfulness. Even if you swear by your uber-active Ashtanga or your hot flow Vinyasa, Chair Yoga may STILL have something to offer you.

We’re still doing Chair Yoga at Take Me To The River Yoga studio in the Wednesday morning 10 am class. It started out with one of my students needing a few more options to the poses in our regular Hatha Yoga practice. She was uncomfortable in our reclined poses. So I combined our favorite yoga poses with Chair Yoga for seated poses, and several options for standing variations using the chair.

As an aside here… people often ask what its like in a typical studio class. My usual response is that it depends on who shows up! My classes do have brief descriptions and titles like Kripalu Yoga, Kripalu Vinyasa Flow, Mindful Yoga, HRV Yoga, Energy Body Yoga, etc. But “It is all Hatha to Me” (I need a t-shirt with this slogan). Hatha Tantric Yoga. Traditional Yoga. Classic Yoga. I teach YOGA to the class. I check in with the students who show up, and adjust the class accordingly. That often means offering several options to the poses, depending on the ease and preference to the anatomy and the energy in the room!

Chair Yoga combines all the elements of a typical Yoga class using the chair as a “prop.” Props like blankets, blocks and straps will be familiar to those students who have practiced yoga. The chair is just another prop. The special prop-erties of the chair are support and comfort for weight, balance and mobility.

Students wary of sitting on the floor, or getting up off the floor come to appreciate the support of a chair in their yoga practice. People with conditions such as ankle, knee or hip pain, low back pain, lack of flexibility, fatigue, shortness of breath may find greater ease by practicing yoga in a chair.

One of the first Chair Yoga practices I experienced was in a 2012 youtube video posted by the Moffitt Cancer Center here in Tampa, Florida. It’s called Gentle Yoga in the Chair. The practice is wonderful and the comments below the video post tell the true story of what this kind of practice can mean for many, many people. I have gone to Chair Yoga school on this video and with many online Chair Yoga videos. Even with a long running personal practice, I find Chair Yoga is still YOGA!

If you relate to the popular yoga meme, “I just came for the Savasana,” you simply must experience Savasana in Chair Yoga. It’s still Savasana!

Ahimsa in an aggressive world

The Yamas are five moral codes and the first guides of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Ahimsa is the first of the five Yamas. The word Himsa is translated as violence. The addition of an “A” changes himsa (violence) to no violence or non-violence. So the short meaning of Ahimsa is non-violence, an instruction to live in a non-violent manner.

Ahimsa may be the most important of the Yamas. This is because the other four Yamas hinge on this first guide. After all, if we practice Ahimsa the result is a smoother journey with the other Yamas. It may make us more truthful (Satya), avoid stealing (Asetya), reduce excess (Brahmacharya), and be less possessive (Aparigraha).

Ahimsa is never Going all Jack Nicholson on your fellow driver
Is “going all Jack Nicholson” with a golf club in a road rage more violent than other harmful actions?

Today we live in a very aggressive world. Being a little forceful here or acting out a little road rage there probably would not be seen as violent. It is easy to claim that we are not violent and that we practice Ahimsa because violence is such a strong word. Laying on the horn because someone cut us off doesn’t seem as “violent” as going all Jack Nicholson on someone’s windshield in a road rage with a golf club.

The lines become more blurred when we examine the concept of Ahimsa. What our society considers a “normal reaction to stress” becomes indistinguishable from true anger, violence and aversion. Anger, rudeness, disrespect and personal attacks become commonplace. Our harmful words and actions become normalized.

When we examine the aggressive nature of our culture it is harder to parse out simple ugliness and full blown violence. The “I win and you lose” is a tenet of everything from sports to capitalism. We end up in the danger zone of harm to others, as well harm to ourselves.

Ahimsa in a larger, social context asks us to do no harm. That automatically broadens the definition to include others, ourselves, and everything in our world. Non-violence becomes less tolerant of all harm. Ahimsa asks us to consider others and ourselves before taking any action that might cause harm. Ahimsa sheds light on how we individually create an increasingly violent, aggressive world. Practicing Ahimsa helps us change it.

Asteya and the many ways to steal

Do you steal? If you don’t steal, what does stealing mean to you? If you do steal, is there any difference between stealing something big and valuable (like a car) versus stealing something small and seemingly inconsequential (like paperclips at work)? What is ownership and are there moral rights around ownership? What can be “owned?”

Let’s explore the idea of taking something that does not belong to you from the perspective of yoga and the yogic path. Asteya, or non-stealing is the third of five Yamas. The Yamas are the moral codes set down as part of the yogic path. The path of yoga is spelled out in the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Asteya, or the idea that you should not steal from others is a moral cornerstone found in many major religions. For Christians it shows up as either the 7th or the 8th commandment, appropriately sandwiched between adultery and bearing false witness.

Asteya or steal this bookThere are many cultural examples of rule making among humans for defining socially acceptable, honorable ways of living. Rules for right living often address a specific need that is tied to a social context within a historical time and place. For example many Jewish traditions around food selection and food preparation have a rich historical context for healthy living.

Asteya is not bound by time and place. It is a direct, clearly translated order that can be found in cultures the world over. Do not take something that does not belong to you. And, of course there is a flip side. Here’s a discussion around acceptable and even honorable stealing to accomplish diversity, peace and other social goals.

The idea of stealing also shares wide and nebulous boundaries with i’s closely related cousin: lying. Ask a group of people to discuss what constitutes stealing or to debate the merits of lying to help someone versus telling the honest-to-God-truth, and you’re guaranteed to generate a heated discussion! Stealing and lying fall into the foggy zone of “it depends.”

Back to Asteya! Asteya, non-stealing. Or defined further as “the abstinence, in one’s deeds or words or thoughts, from unauthorized appropriation of things of value from another human being”. From the depths of the foggy zone of “it depends,” arises a broad definition to include the idea of value. Value might be in the eye of the beholder or in the eye of the possessor. How do we decide what has value enough for the individual?

What do you find valuable? Is it your possessions? Your home? Your time? Knowledge you have gained that others may “spirit away” in a manner that makes you feel cheated, violated or stolen from? Maybe Asteya should be viewed from the other person’s perspective. Stealing might be decided as the taking of something that another person perceives as valuable. It may not be something that you perceive as valuable. The recognition of how someone else feels could be a guiding factor.

Maybe we should be “unauthorized” to appropriate things of value from another person. This idea certainly takes the “me” out of the equation. Stealing is not about “me.” Stealing is about the other person’s value system. Stealing is about taking something viewed as valuable from someone else. Otherwise, we could just ask permission . . . could I please have a cutting off your beautiful plumeria plant?

Many of the Yama’s pose important questions of morality that we can use as a starting point of inquiry.

Svadhyaya and Swami Kripalu 

The first time I heard the word “Svadhyaya” I immediately thought of “The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood,” the 1996 book by Rebecca Wells that was turned into a movie in 2002. It seemed a natural leap, a reasonable thought progression . . . Svad-h-ya-ya. It was that YaYa part that swept over me like a wild banshee cry.

But of course, Svadhyaya has next to nothing to do with the YaYa Sisterhood. Unless you consider the book’s plot line that “the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for,”  ties into the self-study that is Svahyaya. That’s a lot of self-examination for a southern tale, and may not be that far off for the YaYa Sisterhood!

In yoga, Svadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas (there’s a YA in there!), along with Saucha, Santosha, Tapas and Ishvara-Pranidhana. And the Niyamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga. I hope you’re keeping count of all these numbered items for which yoga and many oral traditions are famous! A lot of YAs being laid down too.

The short description for the yogic practice of Svadhyaya is that of self-study. A book that is better suited to the “YaYa’s” of yoga, and one that is all about self-study is “Pilgrim of Love, The Life and Teachings of Swami Kripalu,” compiled and edited by Atma Jo Ann Levitt. It begins with the epigraph, “To pilgrims of every path, and especially those willing to be fools for love.” This path to love is very serious and is far from foolish.

Pilgrim of Love. The Life and Teachings of Swami KripaluPilgrim of Love teaches us much about Swami Kripalu, whose name was given to the Kripalu Ashrams in Pennyslvania where he taught yoga from 1977 to 1981. (In 1983 the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health continued the legacy in Stockbridge, MA, its current location). Swami Kripalu followed the path of Kundalini yoga, a branch of yoga sometimes referred to as the yoga of awareness.

In this book’s deep dive into the life and teaching of Swami Kripalu, there are many lessons for the study of yoga and yogic philosophy. The chapter on “My Guidance to Disciples,” he shares the message given to him by his teacher Gurudev. It is a series of 14 guidelines meant as a summary for yoga Sadhana. As with many of Swami Kripalu’s teachings, the guidelines are not for casual yoga participants, is intended for serious yoga practitioners, and goes well beyond the yoga postures that dominate western yoga.

The guidelines start with something common to most spiritual practices, “#1. Love all living beings, do not hate anyone.” And end with #14. Read this guide every Thursday. Guides 2-13 range from the pleasant to extremely difficult. Like #7. If possible, take cold baths three times a day (… to maintain purity and piety of the body. Never sleep during the day, and so on), to the much more difficult #5. Initiates should have one pure and moderate meal a day with milk in the morning and evening. Do not eat meat. Do note use liquor, marijuana, tobacco, coffee, tea, or other stimulants. Ok. Cold shower. No coffee. I got this. Not. Even. Close.

One must stand in complete deference to a gifted teacher guiding us to “cross the ocean of samskaras and attain the supreme love of God.” We should not expect that a commodified life of sloth and torpor to usher us to the gates of Heaven, or to send us into immediate Samadhi!

Swami Kripalu’s guide relating to Svadhyaya is #12. As a source of self-study, contemplate the meaning of Shri Gnaneshvar’s Bhagavad Gita. Memorize lines 54 to 72 of the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Chapters 12, 15, and 16 should also be memorized and recited every day. Recite Brahmacharya Bhavani (treatise on celibacy) every morning. Practice bhajans, and read and contemplate good books everyday. Never stop listening to the messages of pious saints.”

The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is about the Practice of Yoga and lines 54-72 are all about giving up attachments and investments in both craving and aversion. And the other Chapters 12, 15 and 16 respectively are titled in various translations as The Yoga of Devotion, The Ultimate Person, and Three Kinds of Faith. Memorizing and reading these passages everyday would certainly give one food for thought. Turning the spotlight inward with these passages is a lesson in self-study to examine our behavior in greater detail.

For all you Yogic YaYas out there, the following are a few links to other blogs discussing the Niyamas and Svadhyaya!

https://kripalu.org/resources/yoga-s-ethical-guide-living-yamas-and-niyamas
https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/the-niyamas-svadhyaya-or-self-study
http://www.expressionsofspirit.com/yoga/eight-limbs.htm

 

Two Beautiful Candle Poses

Candle PoseThis is a strange yoga alignment story. The image above may seem like an odd conjunction. But for me, it seemed a perfect match. Two candles. Both posing. Maybe I should back up and explain!

Earlier this week I was walking my dog and came upon a Night Blooming Cactus in a pose of full expression. I’ve seen these flowers many times. They grow on the large oak tree trunks in my Tampa neighborhood in Florida. Curious and wanting to know more that day, I looked it up. Listen to this: it blooms once a year on one night only! Its botanical name is Selenicereus Grandiflora. Let’s break down that Latin like Sanskrit: Greek Moon Goddess (Selene), Latin word for candle (Cereus), large flower (Grandiflora). My mind takes a yogic leap. It’s a Candle. A Candle Pose.

Maybe I’ve found my edge and this Grandiflora alignment is really over stretching! Who would would expect to answer this analogy correctly on an exam: Iyengar in candle pose is to Night Blooming Cactus as down dog is to cat stretch. Anyway, the idea was sticky as a yoga mat to me!

Now, when I go into shoulder stand, I’ll start thinking about candles. Then as I lower down into plow I’ll begin to feel some odd resemblance to a melting candle. Some moments later I’ll realize that my mind has started to wander. I’ll bring myself back to the present moment, focus on my breathing, inhale deeply and exhale slowly …. as I blow the candle out!

 

This is why we plank

In the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records Mao Weidong from China took home the proverbial gold for holding plank. He held a four hour and 26 minute planking amazing posture that surpassed the previous record by more than an hour. Sometimes in yoga class the heavy breathing and groaning starts a mere 30 seconds into a plank hold. This is why we plank: to build core strength. Holding plank is an effective way to build core strength because it requires engaging several muscles to hold the pose.

plank-muscles-worked2

A relative few have considered the 30 day plank challenge, posting only a half gazillion photos on the web and an equal number of 30 day plank challenge charts to help either track progress or possibly instill a 30 day guilt trip. The 30 day plank challenge doesn’t make the top 5 in the 30 day google search, being surpassed by squats, abs, the generic 30 day challenge (lumping butts, chest, arm, cardio and even Christmas), squat challenge results and the fitness challenge.

30DayChallengesMany asanas in yoga require a strong core to properly get into and hold the pose long enough to realize benefit. A weak core can result in injury and soreness in yoga practitioners who push beyond their core strength. This why we plank: to have enough strength to progress in our yoga practice. The yogi must engage the abdominal muscles to get in the pose. Holding  plank pose properly begins to have an immediate strength improvement pay off, unlike some of the more passive asanas that do not require much strength. The muscles in the shoulder must engage to hold the torso in place. Dr. Ray Long from Bandha Yoga uses the term “co-activation” to describe similar muscle engagement of the gluts and abs in chaturanga dandasana. He goes on to describe the benefits of co-activation, or engaging the gluts and abs as a way strengthen the core.

“As we evolved from quadrupeds (walking on all fours) to erect bipeds, the spine has transitioned from a suspension bridge type of structure, using tension/compression relationships, to a weight-bearing column. This change exposes the various structures of the spine to different potential stresses. For example, the “sway back” position results from a weak abdominal core. For this reason, back rehabilitation programs always incorporate abdominal strengthening exercises. In other words, conditioning the front helps to protect the back.” – Dr. Ray Long, The Daily Bandha blog and Bandha Yoga: Scientific Keys to Unlock Yoga Practice.

This is why we plank: the front helps to protect the back. The combination of a strong back and a strong core helps to reduce the stress placed on our spine. Strengthening the core is a key element to improving our yoga practice. Yoga asks us to dive into our energy body, to become focused and knowledgeable on ways to improve strength, balance and flexibility. This is why we plank.

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga for shoulders

Working with the shoulders is important because we hold a lot of tension in our shoulders. We may also experience pain in the shoulders and down the fronts of the arms due to improperly engaging the shoulder and surrounding muscles in postures such as chaturanga dandasana.

In yoga class we are often given the queue for dandasana (mountain pose) to lift the shoulders, roll them onto the back and keep them slightly back and slightly down. For chaturanga dandasana different instructions are needed to provide more support to the shoulders and the body using the arms and hands.

Repetitive action in other physical activities can cause or add to muscle soreness in the shoulders or along the fronts of the arms. If we add improper shoulder alignment during our yoga practice we may compound the problem. Rotator cuff injuries, upper back soreness and tightness of the shoulders all may benefit from engaging the shoulders using the correct technique.

In this article, “How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank” by Doug Keller on the Yoga International website, the author explains how we often draw the shoulders forward too much and strain the pectoral muscles in chaturanga. A few well-illustrated exercises are provided that guide the yoga practitioner to activate the muscles around the shoulders and upper body.

Chaturanga Dandasana image from the article by Yoga International, How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank
Chaturanga Dandasana image from the article by Yoga International, How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries in Chaturanga and Plank

Many yoga teachers who work with correct asana form will often remind us that we tend to bring our bad posture habits to our yoga mats. We may suffer pain and sometimes injury by continuing to shift load improperly to muscles and muscle groups. Remember to bring body awareness to your yoga practice, watch for signs of pain and discomfort and learn what adjustments you need to make in your own, individual body. Your physique is unique! And your spine is divine. Namaste!

Shiva’s 8,400,000 asanas

Did Shiva really teach 8,400,000 asanas? How many asanas are there? How long is the list? The exact number of asanas is determined by who you ask! The history of yoga asanas on Wikipedia does a good job explaining the exact number of asanas within particular disciplines, giving various counts of 2, 4, 66 with 136 variations, 84, 908 with 1300 variations and the 8,400,000 Shiva list.

Apparently Patanjali never mentioned asanas by name in the great yogic text, The Yoga Sutras but speaks about the basic of elements of the correct seated posture as a part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. From the Yoga Sutras we can surmise that the four basic asanas are the seated poses such as: Sukhasana (comfortable, cross-legged pose), padmasana (Lotus pose and its variations) Vajrasana (sitting on heels) and staff pose (seated with legs outstretched and feet together).

The Goraksha Samhita or Goraksha Paddhathi, considered the oldest of Hatha Yogic texts lists the 84 classic poses but only describes two in detail: Siddhasana and Padmasana.  The Hatha Yoga Padipika also lists the 84 classic poses and states that the first four are necessary or vital to attain yogic perfection: Siddhasana, Padmasana, Bhadrasana (also known in more contemporary texts as Baddha Konasana, bound angle butterfly pose) and Simhasana.

Shiva’s asanas “most useful in the world of mortals”

Shiva was said to have taught 8,400,000 asanas, which seems reasonable if you’re a god! He toned it down for us mortals and described 32 of the most useful to regular humans. It seems like a good place to start. Here’s the list with notes and common pose names in parenthesis:

    1. siddhasana (siddha in Sanskrit means “perfect” and “adept”)
    2. padmasana (lotus)
    3. bhadrasana (bound angle butterfly)
    4. muktasana (liberation)
    5. vajrasana (vajra in Sanskrit means “thunderbolt” or “diamond)
    6. svastikasana (prosperous – similar to Siddhasana except top foot is tucked into top thigh)
    7. simhasana (lion)
    8. gomukhasana (cow face)
    9. virasana (hero)
    10. dhanurasana (bow)
    11. mritasana (Savasana or Shavasana, corpse)
    12. guptasana (variation to Siddhasana where organ of generation is hidden by both heels, gupta in Sanskrit means hidden)
    13. matsyasana (fish)
    14. matsyendrasana (Lord of the Fishes, seated twist; see half seated twist Ardha Matsyendrasana and Complete Lord of the Fishes Paripurna Matsyendrasana)
    15. gorakshana
    16. paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
    17. utkatasana (chair)
    18. sankatasana
    19. mayurasana (peacock)
    20. kukkutasana (cock or rooster)
    21. kurmasana (turtle)
    22. uttanakurmakasana
    23. uttanamandukasana
    24. vrikshasana (tree)
    25. mandukasana
    26. garudasana (eagle)
    27. vrishasana
    28. shalabhasana (locust)
    29. makarasana (crocodile)
    30. ushtrasana (camel)
    31. bhujangasana (cobra)
    32. yogasana (staff or Dandasana)

Learning the Sanskrit for Asanas

Learning a new language can be a challenge for some people. There are those of us who seem to have a knack for acquiring language skills easily, mastering the exact pronunciation and gaining a good understanding of a new, foreign syntax. For me, it is more like the pounding of the round peg in the square hole. It just doesn’t sink in!

I find myself overanalyzing the word structure and trying to leap frog over the hard work of memorizing by making up word patterns that I think I am seeing. This approach of “analogous thought” has served me well when learning concepts, recognizing trends and when trying to anticipate the next likely event. It apparently is the worst way to learn a new language!

And so it is with my efforts to learn the Sanskrit names to yoga asanas. There are many lists on the internet and thousands of books that are helpful. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Yoga Toolbox by Joseph Le Page and Lilian Le Page. A sturdy binder containing 90 laminated cards. It’s a comprehensive book that illustrates the poses and gives detailed information about getting into the poses, alternate poses, the effects the poses have on the Chakras with notes on the Koshas, Prana Vayus and Ayurveda.

Yoga Journal’s index of yoga poses lists the Sanskrit name and the English name is an easy to read table with links to pictures and descriptions of the poses.

Wikipedia’s list of asanas is a table with columns for the Sanskrit translation, Sanskrit text, English common name, image and classification in an easy to navigate format.

My personal favorite tool in the form of a game with animated flash cards and score keeping for the competitive at heart:

Yoga Toolbox – Yoga Asanas on Quizlet. Quizlet.com is a simple online tool that is useful for teachers and people wanting to make learning easier and more fun. I’ve set up a set for Yoga Asanas that you may find fun and entertaining. The Quizlet platform has gone back to the age-old method of games as an engaging learning tool. I particularly like the “Scatter” and “Space Race” tools. Of course there is a Quizlet iPhone app that weaned me off time sucking Zynga’s “Friend” games like Words with Friends, Running with Friends, Hanging with Friends and Gems with Friends. Now I have a new addiction! Quizlet sets.

To master, teach

ToMasterTeach1IMG_2028To learn, read.
To know, write.
To master, teach.

Oh, how I wish I knew how to read tea leaves. After opening my tea bag, plunking it in my cup and covering it with boiling water, I turned over the tag to read these three simple lines of inspirational text. Sipping my tea quietly put me in mind of how teaching others is the best way to learn.

Maybe the tea leaves would reveal that I have always loved teaching because I love to learn. I love yoga and I love teaching yoga. And now teaching yoga is teaching me.

Malcolm Gladwell goes through many formulas for achievement in his 2008 book “Outliers – The Story of Success” but it’s his 10,000 hour rule that stuck with me. He says that it takes at least 10,000 hours of doing something before a person gains true skill.

Teaching motivates me to put in the time so that I might master a subject. After all, one should feel very confident in their understanding of something before they try to teach someone else. In order to know something thoroughly you have to read, write and practice. That takes time. Teaching gives you bonus hours once you’ve become competent enough to spend time passing knowledge on to others. Teaching also has the effect of making you feel like you’ve earned back much of the time invested, especially when the light bulbs burn brightly over your students’ heads.

I’m confident that I have put in over 10,000 hours doing yoga poses (asana – one of the 8 Limbs of Yoga) but I certainly would not say I have mastered asana. For the other seven limbs of yoga quick math tells me that if I spend an hour a day everyday for nearly 28 years I’ll make the required 10,000 hours. Quick psychology tells me 10,000 hours of teaching yoga would remind me that I’ll remain forever a student! Many traditions would say that the moment you think you’ve mastered something you’ve just hit the 10,000 hour reset button that puts you back at the beginning.

If tea leaves could talk they might say, “rinse and repeat:”

To learn, read.
To know, write.
To master, teach.

Pratyahara – the branching of the 5th limb

In oral traditions much effort is given to numbering spiritual precepts. The four noble truths, the ten commandments, eight-fold path, three sections of the Torah, five pillars of Islam and others. This continues in print and online with titles in the self-help genre: the twelve step program, four agreements, seven habits of (fill in the blank) and the eight steps to seven figures, a healthy back, better communications, and on and on.

So it is with the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The list helps to compartmentalize the main areas of concentration for the yogic path. The limbs provide a mind map revealing interconnectedness and the endless suffering of the human condition. The word “limbs” is very well suited to the Eight Limbs of Yoga because it has many straight branches, curvy branches, leaves, roots and berries and bark of every texture imaginable! If turned into a pure listing it would be called the “16 subcategories of the infinitesimal inspection of spiritual molecules found in the human species.” That’s a little long to be memorable!

For this discussion I’d like to turn the fifth item on the list of the Eight Limbs of Yoga into an analogy. The fifth limb, Pratyahara involves so much “branching” that it seems better suited to analogy. Let’s consider this analogy: Pratyahara is to the Eight Limbs as trunk is to tree. Its mid point in the Eight Limb list makes it a good candidate for a trunk, supporting the top four limbs and connecting them to the lower three limbs. The trunk of Pratyahara reaches right down to the last item on the list, the ultimate oneness of Samadhi.

A few translations and definitions to get us started:

• To draw toward the opposite
• Sanskrit – prati means “against” or “away”
• Sanskrit – ahara means “food” or “anything we take into ourselves from the outside”
• Control of the senses, or sense withdrawal
• Withdrawing from thoughts or actions (i.e., internal: thoughts, impressions, emotions; external: all that we take in with the five senses)

Ok, here we go. Start climbing the tree. Did I mention it was a Sequoia? Pratyahara is one tall order. Shut off all input of the mind and all information coming in from the five senses. Withdraw all attention to what we experience as being alive and draw to the opposite. Got it?

B.K.S Iyengar explains that Pratyahara is a “hinge” or pivotal moment in the yogic path. He describes that the practice of yoga Asanas and Pranayama breathing generates an expanding energy that can spin out of control. The loss of control comes when the yoga practitioner falls in love with the extra attention and greater attraction that they receive in the world with their new found yogic strength. The hinge point comes when we incorporate Pratyahara in our practice by withdrawing from the desire to control, consume and seek gratification. The forward fold of this hinge comes with our detachment.

It is quite human and instinctual to experience and indulge the senses and to entertain thoughts and emotions. So how do we begin the practice of Pratyahara? Is it even possible to reach such a state?

A few ideas for practicing Pratyahara:

• Breath. Pranayama – Control the breath to control the mind. The mind is governed by the breath and the senses are governed by the mind.
• Spend time away from sensory overload – turn off the TV, computer and cell phone
• Stay away from wrong food, wrong thoughts and wrong associations
• Open up to the opposite (right diet, positive thoughts, right relationships)
• Meditate
• Use Visualizations (creating positive impressions and pleasant thoughts that clear the mind of external worry, anxiety, anger, tension)
• Karma yoga – right work, right action, service to others, surrendering personal rewards

And the most difficult practices of Pratyahara:

• Withdraw from unwholesome impressions
• Place your attention on the formless nature of the mind

At the very least it is helpful to remember: where the prana flows, the energy goes!

Yoga Sutra I.23 – Getting out of your own way

I’ve always been really curious how one can learn to discern the point where “right” becomes “wrong,” where white starts to bleed grey before becoming black. It is not always so clear cut! I want to know – when does mind-centered determination need to give way to surrender?

How do we know when the contentment of santosha is wrong thinking in disguise? Is there a way to discern the right choice and the right direction in life? Who just asked all those questions anyway? Was it my small mind or my big mind? Early Homo sapiens probably pondered their own variation of these thoughts 200,000 years ago and before. Now, here I am with that same old monkey mind!

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras follows a most interesting format by dividing the sutras or threads into four padas (translated as footprint or step from Sanskrit), providing the backstory to enlightenment, steps to practice, the progression of the yogani, and how liberation is achieved.

In the first pada of the Yoga Sutras Patanjali is describing Samadhi and the theories of yoga. At I.22 Patajali states that the speed with which one arrives is based on whether one employs mild, moderate or intense practice. But then he cuts right to the chase with I.23.

Īśvara-pranidhānād va || I.23 ||

Īśvara – pure awareness, the ideal awareness, God, the Supreme Lord, the Almighty
praṇidhānād – surrender all actions, devotion
vā – OR, ALSO

I believe the meaning and the importance of this sutra is more pronounced because of the Sanskrit word OR (va). A true listener will sit up in their seat when an orator says “you can go this way, that way… OR if you want to just arrive at your destination, do this.” Patanjali is saying Isvara can be attained immediately by surrendering the self, the ego, i.e., getting out of your own way.

Chip Hartranft, in his extensive commentary and translation of the Yoga Sutras, discusses I.23 this way:

Realization may ALSO come if one is oriented toward the idea of pure awareness. Ishvara.

B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Life (p. 261) describes the importance of Īśvara-praṇidhānda va and tells us what it is not, :

“[Īśvara-praṇidhāna va] is the most theistic of all aspects of yoga. Īśvara is Divinity in a general and nondenominational sense. What it definitely does not mean is using the ego to second-guess the will of God. It is, on the contrary, the surrender, through meditation (dhyāna) and devotion (bhakti), of the ego itself.”

Iyengar references I.23 in the closing lines of his book, Core of the Yoga Sutras this way:

“From cita-sakti, the yogi has to move from the four established aims towards the realization of the atman, to surrender totally to God. His journey moves him from citta-prasadana to atma-prasadana and from atma-prasadana to Isvara-pranidhana. Here culminates yoga-marga.”

These ideas combined as a line of reasoning and give me several take homes or points of view to ponder in relation to my original inquiry. We cannot second-guess the will of God. That should mean I can now afford to get out of my own way by eliminating doubt, uncertainty or operating from a lack of saucha (purity of thought).

Chip Hartranft’s translation of the Sutras closes with “… the power of pure seeing. That is all.” For me, yoking the concept of the power of pure seeing and “getting out of our own way” resonated as a potential answer to the opening questions and also addresses the inquiry I bring to my own yoga practice.

What remains for me is another question: what tools or concepts do we really have to help us see the moment when “right” starts to turn “wrong” and we begin to see the “white” turning to the proverbial  “black?” I understand the concepts of not second-guessing God, meditating and surrendering the ego – and the difficulty inherent in that path. The problem is made real everyday when we have to confront situations of loss, betrayal, selfishness, thoughtlessness, and dealing with the suffering we cause our selves and others.

The final answer most certainly is found along the yoga path. I still feel that the dividing line between right and wrong may move ahead of me like the mirage of wavy lines on a hot asphalt highway. As I trudge down the long road to freedom and enlightenment, I am expecting (hoping?) that what feels like giving in to someone else’s “wrong feeling” position today will look more like acceptance tomorrow. What feels like my righteous demands will give way to acquiescence. My own mind will still need to try to determine what is right and wrong. And my hand will still need to bravely draw an emotional boundary as a form of personal ahimsa. The load will become lighter, the path more defined. The monkey mind will become still and free from the need to know today what will be tomorrow’s present moment.

Pranayama – teaching and practicing

Pranayama is one of the 8 limbs of yoga that deals with using the breath to teach us to manage our “prana” or life force energy. Breathing is one of our most important life functions. We have direct control over our breath. The way we breath is the clearest indication of our state of mind. Pranayama practice is the most direct route to controlling our emotions and the start of controlling our mind. Breath awareness and breath practice will guide us to the proper way to dial into whatever energy level is required for our daily activities. This includes building up energy as well as calming the unpleasant energies of stress, anxiety and fear.

There are many types of Pranayama techniques. This discussion includes: Dirgha, Ujayi, Kapalabhati, Nadi Shodhana and Sitali.

The following Pranayama techniques should be done in a comfortable seated position with an erect spine. It is best done in the morning on an empty stomach and in a quiet location with fresh air and good ventilation.

General warning: consult your doctor before beginning this or any Pranayama practice. During this workshop or when practicing Pranayama on your own, if you experience any negative or physical or emotional effects (pain, anxiety, agitation, etc.), discontinue practice immediately and consult with me, another qualified yoga teacher or a physician.

1. Dirgha (long)
Three part breath: fill the belly, ribcage and collarbone
Main precautions: recent surgery to head or torso
Notes:

  • Is a warm up breath used to bring the mind into focus, is a concentration technique
  • Welcome the breath
  • Wherever the mind goes, the prana flows
  • Loosen jaw, relax, “invite” the breath
  • Options: 1) intense, working the breathe, or 2) gently, using regular breathing

Duration: 2-3 minutes

2. Ujjayi (victorious)
Ocean-sounding breath: create meditative sound by gently constricting the throat
Main precautions: respiratory infection, sore throat
Notes:

  • Victory over the mind, victory over the clutter of the mind
  • Be gentle with this breath, use steadiness and a rhythm
  • Is all about creating the sound, the technique of creating the ocean breath
  • The sound is heard on both the inhale and the exhale
  • Noise is created when the glottis in the throat is slightly closed by the epiglottis, some can create the sound deeper in the throat
  • Helps with letting go of distractions, stress, anxiety
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic, creates groundedness

3. Kapalabhati (skull polishing, lamp shining)
Skull-polishing or skull-shining breath: strong exhalation, passive inhalation. Done by gently pumping the belly during the exhalation and completely relaxing the belly during inhalation

Main contraindications and precautions: pregnancy, heart conditions, uncontrolled blood pressure, respiratory infection, respiratory conditions, emphysema, nervous system conditions, MS, COPD, glaucoma, hernia, colitis, IBS, acid indigestion, any recent surgery, menstruation (first few days), high anxiety, emotional vulnerability, ulcers, irritable bowl syndrome, cold/flu, heart conditions
Notes:

  • Breath is performed as if you were blowing out a candle with your nose, using a crisp, short exhale
  • Is a Kriya, a purifying technique
  • Active exhale (willfulness) and passive inhale (surrender)
  • To be done smoothly with rounded off edges
  • Stimulating, clears nasal, heating practice
  • Best in the morning, best seated or can be done standing

Duration: 30 breaths = 1 round, do 1-3 rounds

4. Nadi Shodhana (channel cleansing)
Alternate nostril breath: use Visnu mudra (right thumb and right ring finger)
One cycle: inhale through left nostril, exhale through right nostril, inhale through right nostril, exhale through left nostril
Main precautions: respiratory infection, deviated septum
Can be done hands-free, in which case there are no precautions.
Hands free technique:
Visualize the body being divided into two halves (right and left), as you inhale imagine you are drawing prana up one side and as you exhale imagine you are letting prana flow downward, loosening and taking out toxins. This is just as effective as alternate nostril because “where the mind’s attention goes, the prana flows.” Follow the breath with the mind’s focus. “Pranafied and purified.”
Notes:

  • Nadi = river or channel, Shodhana = to purify
  • Alternate, closing off the nostrils using the thumb and ring finger of the right hand
  • Can put 2 middle fingers on forehead (creates heat), or fold 2 middle fingers down for a more cooled experience
  • Thumb represents “space” element, ring finger represents “water” element
  • Quiets the mind, soothing, calming
  • Good for PTSD, insomnia, nervousness, anger, fear, high blood pressure, grief, writer’s block, lack of clarity

Nadi Shodhana is the most important Pranayama technique and profoundly healing
If done daily for 15 minutes will change your whole perspective

Body has 72,000 Nadis, or channels for prana.

The 3 most important Nadis are:
ThreeMainNadis

  • Sushumna – intense, energetic channel that runs up the spine along the chakras
  • Ida – left nostril (controlling the right side of the brain: feminine, cooling, creative, intuitive, lunar)
  • Pingala – right nostril (controlling the left side of the brain: masculine, stimulating, linear, rational, solar)

5. Sitali (cooling)
Cooling breath: inhale through curled tongue, exhale through the nose
Sitkari – an option if tongue does not curl: inhale through clenched teeth and exhale through the nose
Notes:

  • Pronounced SHEE-tali or SHA-tali
  • Swallow frequently as this dries out the tongue and mouth
  • Cools down the tongue, good for moods of anger or aggression or whenever the mind is running hot with emotion (Anger is pitta – fire/hot)
  • Good for excess heat in the blood (i.e., rash, hives)
  • Good for frustration, criticism, inflammation, any kind of “itis”

Duration: 30 seconds to 2 minutes, be soft, quiet and consistent

Four seats of yoga – these ground the prana:

  1. Sukhasana – easy pose, simple cross legged
  2. Swastikasana – sun wheel, creates a closed chain keeping prana enclosed
  3. Padmasana – full lotus, slightly open chain, blood pools in the belly which is good and needed for advanced Pranayama
  4. Siddhasana – half lotus, accomplished or expert pose

When the ego (Ahankara) is challenged by prana, two things are likely:

  1. We quit, close down
  2. Get tired, become fatigued

Prana can bring up/create strong emotions (Samskara) and can cause fatigue.
“Invite” the prana into those areas of our body or those spots that are dark and “inky.”
Slowly and slowly!

Marma points used in Ayurvedic

AyurvedicMarmaPoints

Teaching and guiding Pranayama (Tips)

  • Warm up, speed up, cool down
  • Teach from your own personal experience
  • Emphasize precautions/contraindications
  • Offer options (i.e., “If you cannot do Kapalabhati, stay with Dirghe”)
  • Pause to assess energy between each round (“Scan the body” “How does that feel?”)
  • Don’t overwhelm (“pepper” just a little Pranayama in the class as appropriate)
  • Do not force
  • Give yourself permission to not know (the answer to questions)
  • Medical conditions: if you are not sure, give basic/safe options (i.e., safe = Dirghe and Nadi Shodhana)
  • Provide time for integration (e.g., journaling, meditating, sharing, etc.)

Deciding which kind of Pranayama to practice or teach

    1. Determine what is needed for balance before you start. Is calming and gentleness needed or is energizing needed?
    2. Beginners may not want/understand much Pranayama at first.
    3. Steps to presenting: name, define, give benefits/contraindications or precautions, demonstrate, lead practice.
    4. Can use Pranayama before Asanas to center the class.
    5. Dirghe can help center the class at the beginning (maybe use a short sequence, then do Asanas, then add in more Pranayama if appropriate).
    6. Can follow the flow of Ashtanga, the 8 limbs of yoga in your approach to a yoga class structure, going from gross to subtle:
      • Yama – read a poem
      • Niyama – set or invite and intention
      • Asana
      • Pranayama
      • Pratyahara
      • Dharana
      • Dhyana
      • Samadhi
    7. Breath and invite prana into the areas that need healing.
    8. Prana is powerful and subtle. As a teacher, build up skillfulness with a specific Pranayama, study it thoroughly, and find out what works best for you.
    9. Try all sorts of variations, guides, queues, times of days, conditions, etc. to find your own way to “language.”
    10. Know your audience (i.e., may not want to say “clean and purify” to someone with eating disorders but would instead say “nourish and calm”).
    11. Love, patience, compassion – consider language that is most appropriate for the student.
    12. Recognize what is out of balance in someone, then choose something that will help balance that. You may have to start with energies that attract them and then slowly (slowly and slowly!) introduce opposites and skillfully guide to harmony.

Learning to be with yourself in a deep and satisfying way is the springboard for sharing that depth with others. Share yourself in a way that is fulfilling and keeps your love flowing. Teach from the radiance of your own experience with Pranayama.

Share the stuff you love.
Share and teach the things that light you up.

Sources

Workshop with Larissa Hall Carlson at The Lotus Pond Center for Yoga and Health, Tampa Florida

Illustration of Marma points from various sources including: http://ayurvedayogavilla.com/scretsofmarma.html

Illustration of three main nadis from various sources including: http://www.india2australia.com/ajna-chakra/

A discussion of Tapas – the third Niyama

What it means to me, where I practice Tapas in life and yoga practice, ways I do not practice tapas and how I bring this practice into my daily living.

Any discussion on the meaning and importance of the term “Tapas” in the modern western world wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that many of us think of Tapas as small meals eaten in overpriced restaurants. It actually fits in this discussion because the definition of the Spanish word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover.” According to The Joy of Cooking by way of Wikipedia, “the original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry.” Wikipedia further describes Tapas as being either hot or cold, can be combined to make a full meal and are designed to encourage conversation. Consider this topic covered and still relevant in a yoga discussion!

Hold that half Buddha smile as you consider that the Sanskrit term “Tapas” is not too far afield from these small plates of Spanish food. Laugh out loud with a shaking Buddha belly as you envision an enlightened master tell the story of keeping the annoying “fruit flies of life” out of the sweet sherry of your contented mind by covering your glass with Tapas! Is your western mind having trouble following the thread? Here’s the analogy: fruit flies are to impurities as glass of sherry is to body-mind. The two will seem as one in a few more paragraphs.

In traditional yoga teachings Tapas comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap,” or “to burn.” Scholars writing about Tapas describe it as the fiery discipline needed for purification. It is the burning off of impurities and impediments (and fruit flies!) through a consistent, dedicated practice. Tapas is the first component in yoga in action (Kriya yoga).

Several sources of yoga literature describe Tapas in very strict terms using words like asceticism, abstinence, penance and austerity. I believe these terms cloud the concept in severity and harshness that seems unwarranted. It is true that bringing discipline and consistency to our lives and our relationships can be harsh and very difficult. But let us consider that as human beings on the difficult path to union and bliss (Samadhi) there is nothing wrong with having a hard time mastering Tapas. It may be an unfair starting point, for mere mortals working to gain discipline along the path to think of Tapas as atonement, repentance or a penalty for some wrongdoing.

Instead, I relate to teachers like B.K.S. Iyengar who describe Tapas as having a zeal or passion for “yoga in action” (Kriya yoga) that is a determined effort on the path. Tapas is the burning dedication and aliveness we feel when we are on a quest, a pursuit, or involved in a spiritual endeavor. This approach to Tapas feels positive and helps to inspire and motivate. At the very least it speaks to the concept of restraint as a personal choice one makes in exchange for a better life.

Another school of thought on Tapas that I personally am trying to bring into my life of relationships and yoga practice is the idea of abiding and of enduring opposites. I am trying to approach this form of Tapas with a passion and patience using continual awareness of the thoughts in my mind. Watching for opposites as they arise helps me see them and understand where they come from. I can do this by noticing what happens in my mind when I experience wildly opposite emotions (love/hate, joy/anger, calm/anxious), when I practice breathing (Pranayama) slow or fast, or when I stay in a yoga posture (Asana) for longer versus a shorter amount of time.

Many times in the course of a day I notice I am not practicing Tapas. One of the most obvious ways is when I finally realize that I have not noticed Tapas for several days! This is a clear sign that I am not practicing with any of the adjectives in this discussion: zeal, passion, dedication, abiding and consistency. Specific examples would be when I choose to eat breakfast or dinner before practicing yoga making it unlikely that I will go to my mat or when I meditate for a few minutes and then have this urge to jump up and look up something on the internet that ostensibly relates to my practice. The list goes on with things like becoming impatient or irritated at running into an acquaintance who is very different than I am and who talks at length on subjects for which I strongly disagree. Road rage. Anger or jealousy toward loved ones. These would all be considered impediments to purification, or on the simplest level roadblocks to being of clear mind to practice yoga, Pranayama and meditation with clarity and focus.

I continue to work at bringing more Tapas into my life is by choosing the intention and discipline to practice yoga and Pranayama everyday, along with the other 8 limbs of yoga. I work to actually use the words “yoga in action” when I speak and when I make decisions through incorporating the 3 components of Krya yoga: Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana. I find that Tapas slips from my daily practice when I become too rigid on the length of my yoga practice or in the intensity of my Asana series. Back to the glass of sherry analogy . . . I don’t need a full glass of sherry everyday and a few fruit flies in the glass won’t kill me! In other words, I need to remember the Yama’s of Aparigraha and Brahmacharya so that I am not too greedy, clinging too tightly to how things must be or expelling energy in wasteful ways.

To borrow the definition of Tapas from the Spanish term “tapar” I would like to reiterate the idea that keeping a cover or a lid on your glass is in fact yoga in action – where you remain pure and free of fruit flies and where the sherry in your glass is always rarefied and clarified! Both kinds of Tapas are less like small meals and more like morsels that increase the appetite for the larger feast of life.

Notes

Translations and Yoga Sutra

Sanskrit verb “tap” means “to burn.” Tapas is a “fiery discipline” for purification.

Tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah  (Yoga Sutra – Chapter II, v. I)

Self-discipline, self-study and devotion are yoga in the form of action, as a means of orienting toward the ideal of pure awareness.

Tapas in Niyama and as Kriya yoga

Tapas is the third of five principles of Niyama and the first of the three components of Kriya yoga (yoga in action: Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana).

Explanation

Tapas is the ability to endure opposites like heat and cold, pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow. It is often referred to as penance and austerity. Tapas is not simply enduring difficulties but abiding in the midst of difficulty. Tapas is having a zeal or passion for yoga in action and is a determined effort on the path (the Sadhana, or quest, practice, discipline, pursuit, spiritual endeavor). It is the discipline of consistency that is focused on the quality of life and relationships. Consistency is difficult because it requires a dedication to practice (postures, meditation, breathing) regardless of external circumstances. Tapas is having a willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over to bring awareness to the present moment.

Purpose of Tapas

The purpose of Tapas is to bring strength to the body and mind through the elimination of impurities. This happens by burning off impediments that keep us from being in the state of yoga. The body prepares to hold the infinite consciousness and the body-mind can come to see the divine that is in everyone.

Sources

Judith Lasater: http://www.judithlasater.com/writings/livingtheniyamas2.html

Chip Hartranft – The Yoga-Sutra in English, Appendix B, The Wisdom of Yoga by Stephen Cope.

B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sutras