Day 3 of Practicing Ashtanga in India

I woke up late this morning, but got to the shala at about 5:15. Saraswathi asked me to be there at 4:30, but she doesn’t care as long as I can find a space to practice.

I always start in child’s pose. Today I made a dedication, something I don’t normally do in my own practice. When I walk in to the Shala, this kind of trance comes over me, the breathing and ambient sounds are so soothing, so powerfully hypnotic. It’s hard not to find devotion amidst all of the hard work each yogi is putting into their practice and body.

I love the way that the practice moves inside. Every time I do the 10 Surya Namaskars (5 A, 5 B), I am exhausted afterwords. Every time, triangle poses feel like freedom. I can see why the primary series is structured the way that it is. Though it is definitely not a suitable practice for someone brand new to yoga. Even a few years could be rendered meaningless in the face of the sequence. Putting both feet behind your head is no easy task.

I only messed up one part before I came to the end of what Saraswathi has taught me. She allows me to practice on my own, make mistakes, then do it over with her guidance. It’s not that explicit, but that’s what is happening. She understands that I know a lot of yoga, but she respects the series enough to tell me to stop at certain points and I’m happy to do so. Today I received Ardha Bandha Paschimottanasana and Trianga Mukha Ekapada Paschimottanasana. Loved it. Half lotus is still very difficult for me, as I have extremely tight hips from football, rugby, and especially basketball. The lateral movement of defense really tightens hips to be able to move very quickly side to side and I am pretty sure this is the major culprit behind why it has taken so long for them to open up into external rotation. Plus, my ankles are weak from lots of sprains, which compounds the difficulty of moving into lotus postures.

I can grab my toe, but the pain in my ankle is just a bit much right now, so I do half-lotus without the bind. I finished trianga Mukha, then Saraswathi told me to go do Sirsasana.

For those of you who don’t know, I am passionate about being inverted and the mental effects of being upside down. I’m always a bit wary of head-stand, but it is time for me to step in and take the activation and full extension in the back of my neck and learn how my body wants to do Sirsasana. In other words, no more avoiding the pose for handstand. 10 breathes without Saraswathi, then she came and assisted me afterwards. I did the closing sequence, and called it a day.

I walked outside to the rising sun. It was beautiful and made me very happy. I had a coconut from the vendor outside of the Shala and enjoyed a 10 minute walk back to my room. Now I’m off to find some more Ayurvedic oils and maybe check out the zoo this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow. I have already bought oil that I want to talk about with you all, so make sure to look out for a post on Ayurveda in the near future.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 3: Asana)

asana depiction

Asana means posture, or alignment of the muscular-skeletal system. This is the limb of yoga that is becoming very popular at the moment, especially in the West. The physical practice of Asana is also known as Hatha yoga. According to the legends and myths of the Hindu religion, Shiva founded yoga and passed it on to humanity. But the physical practice of Asana is really only a vehicle to sustained meditation, which is the ultimate goal of a yoga practice.

Yoga isn’t about expensive equipment, supplements, tearing and building muscles, or simply relaxation; physical yoga is about creating efficiency in the neurological systems of the body and ensuring that the circulatory system is running optimally, including the organs, oxygenation of the blood, neurotransmitter equilibrium, and more. Studies all over the world are finding the extreme benefits of the exercises for the inner organs, heart, and mind to be truly healing for many of the ailments of modern society. Stress, heart disease, neurological dysfunction, and physical injuries can all be aided, if not cured, by many of the physical yoga practices.

Truly, the Asana practice of yoga is a stepping stone into the higher states of consciousness, such as Samadhi (the 8th limb of yoga), Pratyahara (the 5th limb), and living with mindfulness to the environment and in spiritual harmony with the world. Essentially, yoga is a purification process for the body that allows the mind to be at peace and in constant states of bliss, undistracted by the suffering and pain that attachment can bring. The yogi realizes that the sacred mind is a product of the body, and that the body is a sacred gift. Each breath and beat of the heart is a blessing and learning to appreciate them all is part of what asana can allow for the mind.

The names of Asanas are meaningful and symbolic; they represent the evolution that man comes from, his origins in the animal and natural world. That is why many poses are named after animals, sages, and beings that existed before the body of man had evolved. They teach us that life is a universal gift, to be respected and loved. By taking control and conquering the limitations of the body, the yogi makes himself a fit vehicle for carrying the divine light to others and spends his time in the service of his fellow-man and the life surrounding him. Yoga asana helps to remind man that his body is a divine gift of countless ages to evolve and that the life that resides within him originated in the life outside of him and that all life shares the divine gift of life.

Performing Asana will make the body healthy, the mind steady, and the spirit at peace with the surrounding world. True health cannot be purchased and must be sought through work and discipline; something that western medicine tries to deny. The science of Asana has evolved greatly over the years to target individual organs, nerves, lymph, muscles, bones, and ligaments. The science is highly advanced but there is much room for growth and evolution in the practice and yoga will continue to evolve with civilization. Ultimately, physical asana will give you control over the mind by disciplining the body, which is where consciousness stems from. Vitality, bliss, discipline, and fulfillment are the gifts that the physical practice of asana will give the practitioner.

Stay tuned for the remaining 5 limbs of yoga, the next part will focus on Pranayama, or control of the life-force (breath).

“The goal is ne…

“The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice”

Yogis who practice with enthusiasm, self-honesty, and high levels of energy are close to reaching Samadhi, or the supremely blissful state of existence. But sometimes, even the most intense and powerful of aspirants may become mild or average, slow and moderate in his practice.

This is part of the Sutras where Patanjali talks about the different categories of practitioners and their path on the yoga journey to enlightenment. I interpret this as attempting to give continued inspiration to people who take their practice seriously, and gives understanding that even the most powerful and steadfast of yogis will experience some turbulence on the journey. Bad days happen. Consistency is key with yoga, so detaching from the performance of a practice is key, especially for the impassioned yogi.