Ashtanga Yoga, and Delving into the Eight Limbs of Practice

Ashtanga Yoga, and Delving into the Eight Limbs of Practice

In my classes over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at what are generally known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga as written by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras. I’s my understanding that Ashtanga Yoga is named such because Guruji, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois wanted his students to become and remain grounded in the practice of all of these Eight Limbs. In Sanskrit, ashta=eight and anga=limb. Many yoga lineages consider the Eight Limbs and the Yoga Sūtras an important part of the teachings and practice. Here are four versions/translations of Verse 28 from the Sādhana Pāda, or Book II (2) of the Yoga Sūtras: II-28 “By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates its glory.” from B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali II-28 “From the practice of the component exercises of Yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination which develops into awareness of Reality.” from I.K. Tamni’s The Science of Yoga: The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali II-28 “Through the practice of the different limbs of Yoga, when impurities are destroyed, there arises enlightenment culminating in discriminative enlightenment.” from Richard Freeman’s Teacher’s Intensive (Manual) II-28 “By embracing Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight-Faceted Path, Intuitive Wisdom dawns and reveals our inner radiance.” from Nischala Joy Devi’s The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras. II-29 Lists the Eight Limbs, which I’ve described in another post, here. In the classes I teach, which are introductions and modified (short) versions of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series, any outside observer would notice we practice āsana and prānāyāma. For this discussion, we can think of āsanas as the postures. Our prānāyāma (liberating the breath/prāna) practice involves steadying our inhales and exhales, and ujjayi breathing. It can also be said that we practice various degrees of pratyāhāra (turning the senses inward), dhāraṇā (concentration), and dhyāna (meditation) during a class, or at home on the mat. Over the next few weeks and months, we will explore these ideas, as well as the yamas (ethical restraints) and niyamas (observances). How do these concepts apply within our practice on the mat? How do they apply in our lives outside of a yoga class? Does this mean we are working towards practicing yoga 24/7? What parts of the practice are we consciously or unconsciously evading? In class and upcoming essays, I’ll refer to various translations of the Yoga Sūtras.  Don’t just take my word for it. Get a copy for yourself. (There are links in the book titles above, and there are many more excellent translations.) Study the Sanskrit. Investigate different translations and commentaries. Notice the subtle...

Read More

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

Ahimsa (non-violence) is an important part of yoga philosophy, and one of the yamas (guidelines for living well) on the eight-fold path (eight limbs) of yoga. We can think of this in many ways. Non-violence towards others. It may be obvious that we do not want to harm or kill other humans. We also want to root out violence in our feelings, thoughts, words and actions towards all beings. Are passive-agressive remarks to your friend or spouse violent? What about violent thoughts about the driver that cut you off in traffic? If we take more resources than we need, are we being violent towards other people? towards animals? towards nature? Is eating meat violent towards animals? Is eating mass-produced, highly processed fake-meat products loaded with GMOs and preservatives less violent than eating a chicken raised humanely by your neighbor on a nourished piece of earth? Every action we take has far-reaching results, and we can do our best to be informed and act according to our principles. There may not be easy answers. When these subtle and complicated gray areas arise, we can sit with the ideas. We may watch our own feelings or thoughts, and notice any corresponding internal conflict. There’s no need to create more internal conflict by beating ourselves up. All we can do is our best at this moment. We are growing our awareness. Notice how your actions and words make you feel. Do you feel better or worse if you respond angrily in a political debate? How do you feel if you listen, and take in the other person’s perspective, if just for a moment? “Hate does not drive out hate. Only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Buddha Non-violence towards the self. Most spiritual teachers agree that non-violence actually begins with the self, and that any internal conflict reflects as conflict in the outside world. The good news is that we have the ability to reduce the internal conflict through meditation, yoga & self-awareness practices. “Either we accept the way of life as it is, with violence and all the rest of it; or we say there must be a different way which human intelligence can find, where violence doesn’t exist. That’s all. And we say this violence will exist so long as comparison, suppression, conformity, the disciplining of oneself according to a pattern is the way of life. In this there is conflict and therefore violence.” ~ J. Krishnamurti Kindness towards the self. When this all gets overwhelming, I like to come back to basic kindness towards the self. We can be very gentle with ourselves, very friendly towards the self. Laugh. That helps. Or cry. Whatever...

Read More

The Moving Meditation of Ashtanga Yoga

The Moving Meditation of Ashtanga Yoga

Yoga is meditation. It’s about being present to whatever is going on in your body, in your mind, in your emotions, in your heart, in the world….. I currently teach two group classes at Yoga Mala in Bloomington: Ashtanga Primary Series (modified) at 6pm on Tuesdays, and Ashtanga Basics (modified & more introductory) at 5pm on Fridays. The Ashtanga primary series is a set, flowing sequence of poses, beginning with several sun salutations, and followed by many standing postures. These help us build a grounded, resilient foundation. Seated postures then bring us down to the earth, to the floor. The seated sequence in the primary series is organized around forward-bending, and may help us to release the past. We continue to unfold with backbending and inversions (legs-above-head). Now, we’ll have moved the body in all directions. Things will slow down on the physical level as we sit quietly in meditation, and practice subtle breathwork (pranayama). We end the 90-minute session with savasana, a reclined, restful pose. We can absorb the practice, and re-ground ourselves. All poses can be modified to suit an individual’s current needs. Remember, this is all about being present & not about forcing a body into a particular shape (despite what we may see in pictures or other bodies). Often, letting go of the need to look like your naturally flexible or gymnastically-talented neighbor on the next mat is part of the wisdom practice of yoga. This is not a competitive sport. This is learning to feel, hear, and experience what’s going on within your system in the moment. The practice is propelled by the breath, always grounded in the breath, or pranic life-force. We practice with awareness, and so develop our awareness. We learn to soften as we strengthen, to unite sun and moon, male and female, yin and yang, ha and tha (as in hatha yoga), deepening into our truest selves bit by bit. Here’s one thing I love about the Ashtanga sequences: we revisit the same poses, in the same order, time after time. They become like dear old friends: long-term relationships. We are able to sink ever more deeply into the subtleties of the body/mind/spirit via the asana practice—we know what poses are coming, and this flow becomes meditative. Really, this is all that we are up to: meditation. A big, whole body, feel-good, nourishing, awakening meditation. namaste~    ...

Read More

Save Water (and time) with Thai Massage

Save Water (and time) with Thai Massage

Massage therapists: Did you know that a Thai Massage session requires half the sheets that a table massage does? (Thai on the mat, client fully dressed = one flat sheet, one pillowcase. Table massage =  one flat, one fitted, one pillowcase/face-cradle cover.) That means half the laundry, saving you time and money, and… this saves hot water, laundry detergent, and all of the resources that go into the sheets themselves. Unless we are buying organic cotton sheets, that can add up to lots of pesticides, herbicides, & other nasty chemicals that go (or don’t go) right into our land and water. More costs go into labor and shipping, as most cotton comes from overseas. Don’t you wish they’d come up with some other packaging besides those plastic zippered bags (petroleum) for new sheets? How many clients do you see per week? per year? How much laundry do you wash per week? Dry? I’ve already waxed poetic about my outdoor clothesline, and in winter I try and air-dry my massage sheets indoors. This requires major organization on my part (& doesn’t always happen) in my tiny house. But, I try. I feel that to keep my business running in a way that reflects my commitment to a diverse and abundant bunch of ecosystems on earth, I should use minimal natural resources. I love that I get to make these choices as a small-business owner. Being the boss rocks. I fell in love with Thai massage having no idea that it would cut my laundry in half. It was just a bonus. In Indiana, we are in the midst of an extreme drought, and Bloomington just issued an Emergency Water Restriction Order. I feel a tiny bit better about my water consumption via washing machine each time I have a day full of Thai bodywork sessions. I think of conservation as an exciting and fun part of the healing arts. We share this beautiful planet! How are you conserving in your practice? Let’s share ideas. We’re all in this together....

Read More

Bring on the New Age Music

Bring on the New Age Music

I’ve had new age music pouring into my ears 30 hours a week for the last eleven years. My non-massage therapist friends cringe when I say this out loud. I get it. Bad new age music is as awful as bad pop music, and the good stuff doesn’t always make it to the masses. This is so unfortunate. Music and sound can be healing. Please visit The Healing Music Organization to find out more about the science and art behind this. “Certain types of sounds and music have a proven effect in creating states of relaxation, balance, healing and visualization. Generally these include certain types of lyrical, flowing melodies and chord arrangements. Certain of these arrangements can create an atmosphere of peace, mystery, awe and openness.” ~Dr. Jeffrey Thompson When I was a kid, I cherished this floppy 45 record of humpback whale songs that came with my parents’ June 1975 edition of National Geographic. It came out the month & year I was born! My family had cabinets full of old Nat Geo’s & I thought for sure that my discovery meant the whales were reaching out to me across time and space, so that I, tiny sensitive quiet girl that I was, could crack their code and help other humans to finally understand what they were saying. I spent a lot of time listening to this poor little record, and I also noticed that I felt really calm and happy when I did. I’m not sure I cracked their code, but I certainly enjoyed the resonance & mystery of their sounds. Fast-forward to college: my local NPR station played (& maybe still does?) two new-agey/ambient music shows on Sunday evenings: Hearts of Space & Echoes. Weekly, I would veg out to these shows, maybe reading, maybe allowing my mind to drift off into space with the floaty music. It felt amazing, and like I was recharging my whole system with the aid of this gorgeous soundtrack. Once I became a massage therapist, I was aware that there was powerful sound and music out there. I would get a little peeved if therapists (or classrooms) were not consciously choosing high-quality music. I think if something is going to be filling the ‘sound space,’ it may as well be helpful and brilliant. All art is subjective…. I’m not a musician, but I know when an album begins to grate on my nerves, or feel stale. I know when I, or my clients drop into a deeply meditative state encouraged or enhanced by music. I can usually feel it when the music is slightly jarring or agitating to an otherwise unwinding nervous system. I’ve noticed that each client at any...

Read More

For the Love of a Clothesline

For the Love of a Clothesline

I love hanging sheets out on my clothesline. You would think laundry would be a dreaded chore: I wash around five sets of sheets a week for work. Each massage client = one set of twin sheets with pillowcases and/or face-cradle covers. The washing is done in a machine, and when I can, I let the sun and wind do the drying. I look forward to the break in my day that is hanging sheets fresh from the wash. The barefoot walk from my dryer through the backyard grass can tell me so much about the moment of the day: damp and cool on a spring morning, scratchy with dry dirt clods underfoot in heat of summer. Indiana is already in a drought this year & rough on bare feet, among other things. The other day I looked out and thought “Well, at least the sheets will dry quickly.” We are in mid-summer in Indiana, and a Mama Robin has a nest of babies tucked in an S-curve on one of our gutter downspouts. The babies and their ever-open beaks peek a little higher over the nest by the day, and Mama Robin seems to have a suitor (Daddy Robin? or friend) that wants to help out by bringing snacks. He sits and serenades the whole family, worm or bug in beak, from the nearby Redbud tree, hoping they’ll invite him over. Hanging the sheets sends me into the backyard, at least for a few minutes, every day. I get a glimpse of how plants are changing, growing, ripening, decaying, and possibly a reminder that I ought to be out there more. Neighbor cats cruise back and forth on invisible highways, sometimes ignoring me completely (if they’re on a mission), sometimes coming over for backyard kitty massages. During the cooler months, a breeze will quicken the slower drying time, and I’ve been known to let the sheets freeze on the line. Sheet-popcicles. I get a little kick out of folding icy sheets into bundles small enough to fit into the dryer when I’ve finally given in. It helps my southern soul feel like I can tackle the mid-western winter. Something about the mathematical organization of five sets of sheets on the four-sided, umbrella-style line makes for a satisfying accomplishment. Flat sheets go on the outer rings with the most width and height, fitted sheets a few rungs inside, pillowcases & face-cradle covers stay to the shorter lines on the inside. It soothes me to get them all hung and smoothed out. I always feel like I’ve passed the test of fitting them all on there, and arranging them in an aesthetically balanced way. The hanging sheets are visually beautiful,...

Read More