BY Isis Gentles
After exploring various types of yoga for a year, Isis began practicing Ashtanga at The Yoga Shala in 2014. She completed Krista Shirley’s Ashtanga Yoga Apprenticeship in 2018, and plans to continue teaching at The Yoga Shala.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was created by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. There are two ways in which this method of yoga can be taught. The first is in a traditional led class where the instructor is walking throughout the room, calling out the poses and the breath count. The second is the method in which Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught his classes called Mysore style. The name comes from the town in which he settled once he started teaching yoga - Mysore, India.
Mysore style Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is, in my opinion, the best way to learn yoga because it allows you to learn at your own pace, with your teacher guiding you every step of the way, especially in the beginning. When you come to class, there will be other students doing their practice at their own pace. The instructor will walk around the room, assisting students to go deeper in the postures, correcting posture alignment or giving verbal cues as needed.
During your very first class your teacher will show and guide you through learning how to properly breathe with sound. This method of inhaling and exhaling through the nose with the mouth closed serves to heat the body so that toxins can be released through sweat.
Following learning how to breathe, the instructor will discuss bandhas or energy locks. There are three such energy locks that are utilized to maintain the prawn or life force within the body. They are mula, uddiyana and jalandhara bandhas. Mula bandha is found at the base of the pelvic floor between the genitals and the anus. Upon inhaling, this area is gently squeezed upward, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles over time. Uddiyana bandha is found just below and behind the navel. If the practitioner has learned to properly breathe with sound, uddiyana bandha will engage upon exhaling. The lower abdomen will naturally be pulled inwards. Jalandhara bandha is located at the throat. In order to engage jalandhara bandha, the practitioner will bring the chin to the chest. This bandha is really only used in two asanas in the primary series but can be used in various pranayama techniques.
The last bit of information your instructor will give you prior to beginning the primary series are the drishti’s or gaze points. During asana practice it can be easy to lose focus or start to look around at other yogis practicing. In order to stay focused on your body and what you are doing, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois taught these gaze points. There are eight of them: Urdhva (upwards), brumadhyai (third eye), nasagrai (nose), nabhi cakra (navel), padayoragrai (feet), angustha madhyai (thumb), hastagrai (hand) and parsva (side).
After going over these important aspects of the Ashtanga method, the instructor will begin to walk you through Sun Salutation A and B and the first few postures of the Standing sequence. While you are memorizing the order of the postures the instructor will be there to guide you if you get stuck. As you get stronger and more flexible and are able to do these beginning postures, the instructor will give you new postures to work on. You may begin with practicing three days a week but the goal would be to practice six days a week, taking a day for rest.
by Sheila Olson
Finding ways to balance a fitness routine with overall self-care can be tricky, especially if you lead a busy lifestyle or are dealing with stress or depression. It’s essential to your overall health, however, to achieve that balance and maintain it in a healthy way. Since self-care can mean any number of things—from finding ways to relax to learning how to eat more balanced meals—it doesn’t have to be difficult to fit it into your life. Think of the things that make you happy and incorporate them into your daily routine alongside a workout program.
Fitness goals differ from person to person, and what works for your friend may not work for you. Keep this in mind moving forward to avoid becoming overwhelmed and to stay motivated. The best way to work out a new routine for your physical health is to merge it with things you already enjoy doing, such as swimming or spending time with a loved one.
Here are a few tips on how to incorporate fitness and self-careinto your daily routine.
Take it easy
Particularly if you are starting a new routine after being inactive for a while, or if you are in recoveryfor substance abuse, it’s important not to overdo it. Start out slowly and work your way up to avoid becoming overwhelmed or sustaining an injury. You might begin with a low-impact exercise, such as walking or simple yoga, and then add in different elements such as weight training or cardio.
Part of physical fitness is learning how to eat well-balanced meals that will give you energy and keep you feeling good throughout the day. It’s also about finding the best way to keep yourself satisfied between meals, such as bringing small, resealable bags filled with fresh veggies, nuts, and dried fruit to work instead of relying on vending machines for a snack. Work out a meal plan that makes sense for you and your family and stick to it as closely as possible through the week. Not only will you feel better, it can also save you money!
Taking care of your mind and body can be difficult if you’re stressed to the teeth, so finding a way to relax is imperative. You can actually incorporate something that makes you feel good with an activity that gets your heart rate up. Think along the lines of gardening, swimming, running around the backyard with the kids or dog, or playing a sport. Merge a hobby with something activeto get the most benefits.
Create an at-home gym
If you have a busy schedule or are coping with depression or anxiety, it can be difficult or impossible to get to the gym several times a week. One of the best ways around this is to create your own home gym, complete with all the things you need for a good workout. You don’t need to break the bank to do this. You can add a yoga mat, resistance bands, a stability ball, and some free weights for a small, manageable workout space in the comfort of your own home.
Get the dog involved
If you have a pet, there are several ways you can focus on your fitness and self-care routine and involve himat the same time. Dogs are loyal companions who love going for a run or having playtime outside, and they’ll keep you motivated even when you’re feeling tired. Take your pup to the dog park, head to the beach for a run, or just have some playtime outside after work. Since spending time with animals can reduce stress, it’ll work wonders for your mental health as well as your physical health.
Finding ways to incorporate mental and physical fitness into your busy routine isn’t always easy, but doing so can help you live a more fulfilled life and can aid in reducing depression and stress, even if you’re in recovery. Talk to your doctor before beginning any rigorous routine and start out slowly to avoid injury.
Flu season has been a doozy this year and we're all crossing our fingers in hopes our we, loved ones, co-workers, or fellow yogis, don't get the bug. And while eating may be the last thing on your mind when you’re sick, it’s essential to keep up your strength. But along with reaching for the standard bowl of chicken-noodle soup, we recommend taking a page from other countries’ books and relying on soothing sick foods full of flavor and healing ingredients, like ginger, garlic, turmeric, cilantro, lemon, and leafy greens.
Contributed by The Tuck Sleep Foundation
Meditation has been an integral part of Eastern culture for hundreds of years. It may have been a fad when it first hit the scene in the Western world but, today, science has begun to discover the many benefits of how meditation on the mind and body.
The Relaxation Response
When the body relaxes there are biological responses that take place such as a decrease in oxygen consumption, an increase in exhaled nitric oxide, and reduced psychological distress. Together these create the ‘relaxation response’ that gets triggered while meditating. There is even evidence to suggest that regular exposure to the relaxation response can change the cells at a genetic level.
Depression, Anxiety, and Fatigue
The science behind the relaxation response supports the idea that the mind can change the body. Studies have shown that regularly helping the body to have a relaxation response can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Meditation can also reduce the feelings and signs of daytime fatigue. More studies have found that the effect of meditation works across age groups with older adults and teenagers having similar responses to regular meditation.
Reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue creates conditions that lend themselves to getting better sleep. Better sleep creates a healthy cycle that can continue to reduce symptoms of mental and physical illness.
The Right Kind of Meditation
Not all meditation techniques promote sleep. Some methods work to bring the mind into focus and stimulate the brain for complex activity. If you’re trying to get ready for bed, you don’t want your brain to be waking up. In general, the less cognitive effort needed the more likely you are to relax.
Four of the most effective methods include progressive muscle relaxation, mindful breathing, counting, and guided meditation. All can be performed while lying in bed so that you can drift off to sleep as your mind an body relax.
This method involves identifying muscle tension followed by systematically tensing and releasing muscle groups. Once you’ve laid down in bed, breathe deeply. Starting at the top of your head and tense one muscle group for five seconds and then release. Inhale before tensing and exhale as you relax. Work your way through each muscle group in your body down to your toes. It may take two or three times through the exercise to release all tension at which point your muscles should feel heavy.
Mindful breathing involves focusing on the inhale and exhale of your breath. As you take slow, deep breaths feel the expansion of your lungs and chest. With every exhale, empty your mind and body of stress as you release your breath. When the mind wanders, bring gently back to the rhythmic in and out of your breathing.
If muscle relaxation and focused breathing don’t work for you, counting meditation might be the right blend of focus and tension release. When you lay down, take a few deep breaths and start slowly counting. Focusing on each number helps you stay present but isn’t hard enough to require mental strain, which will allow you drift off to sleep.
The key to guided meditation is that you don’t have to think about what to do next. You follow someone else’s instructions. Guided meditation may involve mindful breathing or counting, but you simply follow the guidance of the instructor. You can use guided meditation apps and/or audio files.
Whatever meditation method you use, it should help bring your mind to a quiet place of rest for a better night’s sleep.
By Melanie Radliff
Happy New Year, Shala family! We’ve got quite a chilly start this week to 2018, and since cold weather is one of the most compromising times for our immune systems, I want to share a recipe with you for a wellness tonic that I make every morning. I’ve never been in better health than since I’ve adopted this as part of my morning routine over one year ago.
I’ve packed as many healthful ingredients as possible into this tonic, and while it’s incredibly beneficial, it also has a strong and somewhat unpleasant taste. If you don’t feel you can handle it right away, feel free to adjust the recipe to your liking. I always suggest using smaller measurements or using only a few of the ingredients to start, and increasing as you feel comfortable. This should ideally be taken on an empty stomach, but you can eat something light first if you feel the potency of the mixture irritates your stomach.
This tonic starts with warm water and a half (or whole) lemon — this is a great place to stop if you don’t feel up to the rest of the recipe yet. In Ayurvedic medicine, our digestion is viewed as a fire that burns more cooly during the night while we rest, and it must be awoken gently with something warm and invigorating in the morning. Warm lemon water is great for this as it also packs a large dose of Vitamin C and provides a hydrating boost to your body immediately. Added in are turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, fresh garlic, local honey, and a probiotic. I also add a tincture of echinacea, ginger, and elderberry to top off the tonic for maximum health goodness. For those of you interested in the health benefits of each ingredient, continue reading below the recipe for more information.
Most of this can be combined ahead of time and will keep in the refrigerator for about 4 days. I recommend cutting the lemon and garlic as fresh as possible, as the nutrients and vitamins in each will decrease as soon as oxidation begins. Enjoy!
“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.”