“Meditation: Because some answers can’t be answered by Google.”
How do we balance a meditation practice and a work schedule? Is it possible to wake up earlier just to sit and breathe before we turn our attention to our work load? Can we take advantage of breaks in the day to set aside a few minutes for sitting in silence? These are questions I constantly asked myself for a long time before taking action. For a while, just the thought of creating some sort of meditation practice was enough for me to be content. I didn’t know how it would manifest and what benefits would truly resonate with my life. Then, one day, I stopped asking and started doing.
Creating space for meditation can be a humbling experience. Like our practice on the mat, it is a mirror of ourselves. When we transition in yoga or hold postures we become aware of our breathing patterns, how we engage and focus. In meditation, we observe how we sit, how we react to external silence and internal chatter. When the voice in our head screams discomfort from sitting in the same posture for an extended period of time, do we silence the voice or listen and walk away? Do we silence the voice that says laundry is more important than giving ourselves space to breathe and release the urgency to attend responsibilities? Do we stay or walk away? Sometimes it’s harder to even discipline ourselves to take the initiative to try and sit for meditation. Wherever you are in this process of developing a meditation practice, don’t give up! The benefits show up in our work life and all other aspects of our being.
How do we find a method of meditation that works best for us? There are so many variations of creating space to “just be”. When we find a method that naturally syncs with our needs and wants, cultivate a regular practice! If you have a regular “asana’ practice, carve out some time before or after “final relaxation” to sit and meditate. Maybe carve out some time after you wake up, before you return from your lunch break or before bed. Try out different variations of meditation. Taking a walk out in nature is a form of “being present in the moment”. Notice your breath with every step, how the wind rustles the leaves. Simply notice all that is around you. My personal favorite form of meditation is holding something in my hand (a rock or mala) that connects me to earth. I then repeat a mantra over and over again that keeps my mind from wandering. Some people focus on colors or images. Research and explore the possibilities.
Meditation does not have to be a linear idea. There are many ways it can be practiced. Keep exploring all the different forms of it and when you find that one or two ways that truly resonates with you, keep practicing! The calmness and clarity that follows is unexplainable. It is simply to be experienced to truly understand. We work hard in our everyday lives for stability and assurance of survival. Imagine what life would be like if we worked that hard for clarity and relaxation. For further ideas on meditation techniques, visit this website below!
Meditate away, om shanti om.
After developing a consistent daily practice of Ashtanga yoga, the practitioner may become very aware of the phases of the moon. Whatever series you are practicing, each and everyday you show up to the mat is different. We start with our sun salutations and notice that we may feel stronger than the day before. We may notice that our breath is more shallow. Whatever catches our attention about the vastness of our practice really allows us to dive deeper into why that is. There are many factors that encompass inconsistency in our daily energy levels. The influence I am expounding on in this post is one of my favorites to discuss, the moon cycle!
There are two things that science has proven and we can all agree with: 1) our bodies are made of 70% water and 2) the gravitational pull of the moon affects the tides of water on earth. Both the sun and moon affect the gravitational pull on earth. When they are in conjunction or opposition of one another, there is a powerful influence on our energy levels.
Ashtanga yoga is a practice heavily focused on moving energy throughout the body. Our breath and bhandas help us move this energy as we transition from asana to asana. The inhale we take is an energetic upward moving force that we correlate with the full moon. We try to take in a full, expansive breath that gives us great energy and can leave us emotional and excessively ungrounded when practiced on a full moon. The new moon is the opposite. It corresponds with apana, a downward force that is very grounding. This energy is greatest on the new moon leaving us less inclined to physically exert ourselves.
Diving even deeper into other happenings outside of Ashtanga yoga practice during these times, we look at the natural cycle of the earth. It is recommended that seeds are planted on the new moon when the grounding force is strongest. It allows the seed to deeply root itself into the soil. The full moon is known for a time of harvest. Produce is bountiful as it has been “growing upwards” with the help of an increasing strong gravitational pull. Statistically, there are more reports of celebrations, arrests, hospitalizations, births, etc. on full moons. You may notice when you are watching a movie that there is a glimpse of a “full moon” shown before a climactic scene. We rest on these days to help us refrain from over or under exerting or energy in our practice.
There is much research and theory that can be studied about the moon cycle and cosmos in general. I encourage you to get curious and glimpse up at the sky as you head to your morning daily practice. What phase does the moon seem to be in or headed towards, how do you feel? Lastly, enjoy the rest we gift ourselves from or asana practice on these days. We can take advantage of these days by journaling or practicing a more internalised form of self-study. Become aware of the vastness of our beings. Notice what is above and beyond.
Ashtanga yoga is a great practice for beginner students. This lineage of yoga breaks down the core concepts of asana practice from the beginning. It is extremely beneficial when the student embarks on the Ashtanga journey by first experiencing the Mysore method rather than a led class. More common than not, I will hear from a prospective student, “I feel like I need to take the led class so I know what I am doing in the Mysore setting.” Though, the opposite is true.
The Mysore method allows the practitioner to learn at their own unique pace. Advancement to the next posture in the series is determined by the teacher. A student is encouraged to create a daily practice and when they consistently are guided by their teacher they are able to develop relationship within the practice. The teacher can take time to introduce the student to proper breath work, focus, alignment and so on. When we take group led classes it can be difficult for the teacher to address everyone’s individuality on the mat. How the Mysore method is structured, a practitioner is basically receiving one on one instruction within a group setting. Since people arrive and leave during an allocated time, rather than everyone showing up at once, the teacher can float from student to student giving instruction.
If a student has never tried yoga before and attends an Ashtanga class, they have true beginner’s mind. There is no need to break habits that haven’t formed from home practices, class settings, etc. They are able to learn true foundational work that they can translate into other yoga classes they may take. They can confidentially move on their mat with breath, alignment and body awareness.
The Ashtanga yoga method is truly a unique lineage of yoga. Anyone can benefit from it. The practice does not discriminate against physical capabilities, gender, age, and so on. It simply asks that you show up to your mat and be open and accepting. The healing benefits of this practice are vast. I encourage beginning practitioners and well versed yogi’s to try a class to understand the beautify of Ashtanga Yoga.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
― Shunryu Suzuki
Along the eight-fold path of Ashtanga yoga is the third limb, asana. When translated from Sanskrit into English, asana means “posture”. We all typically begin on this third limb before we really breakdown and understand the first two limbs, Yamas & Niyamas. It is through asana practice that we really begin to explore the mind-body connection. As we breath and flow from posture to posture on our mat, what is our mind doing? When we marinate in an asana for five deep breaths, are we truly mentally and emotionally present? A fantastic posture to really answer these inquiries is Sirsasana A, headstand posture. To balance in this posture takes a great deal of focus, presence and engagement from head to toe, or rather from “toe to head”. Let us dive deeper into understanding the dynamics of “the king of asanas”.
In Ashtanga yoga, we take position for headstand following a chaturanga after our backbends and counter pose, forward fold. From downdog, we bring our knees to the mat and begin to find our prep with our hands, arms and head. Before we bring our head to the mat, we want to to find a supportive distance between our elbows. Come down to your forearms and grab opposite elbow. This is the standard distance we want our elbows to be apart. If you have a longer neck then we bring the elbow closer together.
Next, interlace the fingers out in front of you and close the palms. Place the crown of the head on the mat and snuggle the head against your closed palms. Curl the toads under, lift the knees and walk the feet as close to your face as you can. Make sure to be squeezing your chest and back, drawing the shoulder blades away from the ears and pressing firmly through the forearms and palms. Once your hips are stacked over your shoulders, engage mula and uddiyana bandha, and begin to lift the feet off the mat. If your feet don’t lift, stay here for five to ten breaths building strength and flexibility.
Once lifted, point the toes as you engage your chest, back and abs. Allow the breath and full engagement of the body to continue to lift the legs until they are stacked evenly over the hips and shoulders. When you find balance and stability, strive to stay vertical for 15-20 breaths with your gaze between your brows. Slowly lower down with your legs together and take balasana, child's pose.
Sirsasana A is a complex pose and should be practiced under supervision of a qualified instructor. There are various ways to enter the pose and many helpful tips and hints to understand the proper engagement to successfully achieve the full expression of Sirsasana A. The benefits are numerous and worth the journey and patience to finding balance upside down.
The light in me sees & loves the light in you!
Why is it important to incorporate the closing sequence into our Ashtanga yoga practice? Whatever series of the eight limbed path we are practicing, we are starting with saluting the sun. We stoke an internal fire and increase our prana quality and intake to sustain us through our movements. We create an immense amount of energy and practice standing & seated series. The closing sequence is where we wind down and prepare for rest. Skipping our surya namaskars is like stepping out of bed and jogging without becoming present with our breath, focus and body awareness. Skipping the closing sequence is like finishing a run and not finding some stretches to release the tension created in our muscles. When we engage in activity without preparation or restoration, we increase the risk of having an injury or being counter productive to our purpose.
With Ashtanga yoga, if I don’t practice my closing sequence with integrity, I often leave my mat feeling overly stimulated or ungrounded. Too much emphasis can be placed on our seated series & we miss out on the benefits of a good quality closing session. Traditionally, the closing started with inversions, counter poses, seated meditation and final relaxation. Urdvah dhanurasana (upward facing wheel posture) was usually taught after secondary series was mastered. Now it has been threaded into the closing sequence to help counter all the forward bending in the primary series. The closing encourages our nervous system to calm down and prepare our bodies for final rest.
We have the uplifting and energizing effects of our backbends. We then take a gentle fold countering or heart opening. Clarity and balance are practiced through our queen & king of asanas, shoulderstand & headstand. We weave in the their counterposes, fish & child’s pose. Seated meditation is the final piece of closing. All of the vinyasas, drishtis, asanas prepare us for this moment of stillness and eventually laying down for final relaxation. It is important to leave room for a well deserved posture of release. Our practice is then sealed off and we can approach our everyday life with vitality and post yoga bliss! Next time you approach the mat, try approaching your closing sequence with curiosity. Try slowing down and really being present in each breath towards final relaxation!
“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.”