Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Styles of Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is the most common practice of yoga used in the West. Hatha Yoga is the science of physical and mental self-control through the practice of postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation.
In hatha yoga, you do not have to change your spiritual beliefs or learn to chant in ancient languages. However, some people are still anxious about what they will encounter in their first yoga class.
There are several forms of Hatha Yoga which is still evolving. Iyengar is a very precise form of hatha yoga, repeating precise movements within each physical posture and breathing exercise. The postures are held for longer periods of time and each part of the body has a precise placement for each posture. Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) is performed in a heated room (around 105 degrees fahrenheit). The purpose for practicing in a hot room is to keep the muscles warm and to detox and flush out the toxins in your body through sweating. This style is not recommended for children, elderly people, pregnant women or those with medical conditions of course. Vinyasa/Flow is a style of yoga where you flow from one posture to the next. Some postures are held for additional breaths, but many of the exercises consist of one movement for one breath. Ashtanga/Power Yoga is a physically challenging style of hatha yoga that focuses on developing strength and power through yoga practices that generate heat in the body. Deep breathing is practiced throughout each session. The breathing, along with many strengthening postures warm the muscles, which are then stretched deeply near the end of the practice. Anusara Yoga was created by John Friend in 1997. This form of hatha yoga is based on universal principles of alignment, which underlie all postures, "heart opening" postures and the spiritual/meditative benefits of hatha yoga. Joy in practice and in everyday life is an important underlying philosophy of this school.
The style of Hatha Yoga i connect with the most in the present moment is Vinyasa/Flow. I love moving with the breath. Creating different sequences by linking the poses together is fun for me. I love to hold the postures, but i also enjoy moving more frequently allowing my heart rate and body temperature to rise getting more of a cardiovascular work out at the same time. I also teach a slower version of Vinyasa class called Breathe/Stretch/Flow. In this form of yoga, the poses are linked together to create a flow. We hold the postures longer and each sequence ends with a good resting pose that deeply stretches the muscles.
My advice for anyone new to Yoga, is to try different forms. Take a few different classes and see what fits you best. Every instructor has a unique style. Decide for yourself what you would like to gain from taking a class, check out the different styles, and go for it! No matter what form of yoga you choose, you will get the full benefits of gaining focus, strength, stamina, and flexibility. Most of all renewing your mind, body, and spirit.

Resources: Yoga Education Institute

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward-Facing Dog is considered one of the most fundamental of all yoga postures. It is often used between other postures as a transitional posture to keep the flow of the practice. It is also considered a "resting pose".
There are many benefits to Downward Dog. This posture stretches the palms, chest, back, hamstrings, calves and feet. It relieves low back discomfort and improves digestion. Strengthening the arms, wrists, legs and torso, down dog also energizes the body. Most of all it improves focus and stimulates the mind.
Instructions for getting into Down Dog are as follows: Come to all fours, placing hands directly under shoulders, knees and feet hip width apart. Spread your fingers wide. Inhale, curl your toes under and draw your shoulder blades back. Exhale, lift your hips and press back through your heels, drop your head. Press your tailbone high and open your chest, pressing your chest towards your feet. Keep your arms straight, press down through your whole hand (including thumb and index finger). Look towards your feet, shake your head side to side to loosen shoulders and neck. Pedal your heels toward the floor one at a time to get more stretch in your calves. Breathe deeply into your back body.
Align your ankles, your knees, and your hip joints so that the weight of your body is carried evenly through your legs. Move your pelvis, torso, and arms, feeling their skeletal alignment, and place them as best you can in one direct line from sits bones to fingertips. Center your ribs, waist long. Close your eyes if you need to and feel the pose. The closer you get to alignment, the more even your hands and feet will be on the mat.
Some people may have problems with their wrists and find it hard to place weight on them. By placing the forearms on the floor instead of hands is beneficial. Also, bending the knees can be beneficial to those who tend to round their back in the pose. It is better to have bent knees than a rounded back.
Once you have the pose, hold it for several breaths feeling the pose making adjustments as needed. When you are ready to come out of the pose, walk your feet between your hands and come into a forward bend. Slowly roll up to standing. Breathe in Mountain Pose (Tadasana).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Recommendation

I chose Meditation and Its Practice by Swami Rama as a recommended reading. I felt meditation is the area I needed to focus on in the present moment. I have been practicing meditation for some time now and this book really clarified a lot of questions i had regarding the practice

I will admit, several years ago no one could convince me to meditate. Coming from a religious background, I too considered it foreign and for other religions. I was afraid of the concept. My religion made me fearful, but my inner self knew there was more out there than just dogma and set principles. I did not experience or try meditation until I found Yoga. I saw an advertisement and decided to give it a whirl. It completely changed my life from the first practice.

The book was not very lengthy, but flowing with information that was extremely helpful for me. Swami Rama defines the word meditation and the confusions of its practice. He stresses well on how you are not focused on the outer world during meditation. He discusses clearly how most of society teaches us mainly about the external world for survival. I agree with this statement because I knew no one during my adolescence and young adulthood who knew how to connect with their inner body. Meditation is the way to connect with our inner self.

“Meditation is a practice”, Swami writes in the book. Swami goes on to explain that it takes time and patience to quiet the mind chatter: “Meditation is simply a quiet, effortless, one-pointed focus of attention and awareness.” Simple, but not easy, it is a practice.

It was wonderful to know that in meditation, it is impossible to empty the mind. I think a lot of people get discouraged thinking that we do have to empty the mind. Swami Rama teaches that by focusing attention inwardly, we can slow down the mind chatter (worrying, planning, thinking, and reasoning). Swami writes, “Only meditation teaches us to fully experience the now, which is our link with the eternal.” I believe that is for certain. An acquaintance once said to me, “I feel prayer is speaking to the divine and meditation is listening to the divine.”

Swami Rama gives a solid definition of what meditation is not. Meditation is not contemplating or thinking, hypnosis or autosuggestion, and definitely not a religion. After explaining what meditation is not, Swami continues with what you will need to learn to meditate. This all seems encouraging coming from the reading. How to prepare for meditation was discussed as most important. The first step was to cleanse the body, then to stretch, relax, and calm the mind and nervous system, and finally to sit in meditation. I believe a lot of people would think they had no time to prepare for this. Sometimes, I only have a small block of time to meditate and only prepare by washing my hands and sitting comfortably. I have wonderful experiences when I do a short preparation and when the preparation is lengthier. Other factors influencing meditation seemed to be right on: “Urges for food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation have to be skillfully managed to progress in meditation.”

It was encouraging to read about how the seated positions were not mandatory. Knowing that a simple cross-legged position is perfect makes the meditation process easier.

I use mantras on occasion, but for the most part, I use breathing exercises and focus on the breath. Swami Rama discusses the essentials of the breath awareness as well. I noticed from practicing yoga regularly, the balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Swami writes, “The breath is a bridge between the body and mind.” The breath can show us the defects in its flow, mentioned in the reading as: shallowness, jerkiness, noise, and extended pause between inhalation and exhalation. As meditation practice progresses, these “defects” slowly lessen. Swami teaches many breathing techniques in the book. I plan to try them all at some point.

One fascinating thing I learned was regarding our nostrils and the fact that they were not both so active at the same time. I have practiced Alternate Nostril breathing not really realizing why. I rarely did it for that reason. Realizing the purpose is ”to develop the skill to voluntarily control the breathing process and to create a joyful, deep state of mind that is conductive to meditation by learning to open the nostrils simultaneously” was pleasing to me. I plan to begin practicing the technique very soon.

Swami briefly describes the four distinct functions of the mind: manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta. We should take care of these functions and study them well. He also speaks about " taking care of your external behaviors, so that you may not acquire the diseases transmitted through unhealthy food, sex, or imbalanced ways of living."

Swami writes, “Human emotion is an immense power, which usually operates below the surface of the lake of mind, like a shark swimming under water. If that emotion is not guided, it can contaminate the whole lake.” I realize I cannot remain content or satisfied without cleansing, yoga, or meditation. I truly believe that “Meditation creates fearlessness.” And as Swami instructs, “The final step in meditation is to remain in silence. This silence can not be described; it is inexplicable. This silence opens the door to intuitive knowledge, and then the past, present, and future are revealed to the student."


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Life.... So It Flows.........

"If you try and grab hold of the world
and do what you want with it,
you won't succeed.
The world is a vessel for spirit, and
it wasn't made to be manipulated.
Tamper with it, and you'll spoil it.
Hold it, and you will lose it.

With Tao, sometimes you move ahead
and sometimes you stay back;
Sometimes you work hard
and sometimes you rest;
Sometimes you are strong
and sometimes you're weak;
Sometimes you are up;
sometimes you're down.

The sage remains sensitive,
avoiding extremes,
avoiding extravagance,
avoiding excess."

Translated by: Brian Browne Walker

Friday, July 17, 2009

Who we are not.........

In the beginning, i fell into yoga for the purpose of exercise. I had no intentions beyond that purpose. During the first year or so, i would practice several times a week, ending the practice with relaxation pose and never going beyond to meditation. I really had no clue what meditation was at the time. Yoga brought a lot of questions to mind along the way. I used to ask myself why i constantly talked to myself, I questioned why i could not control my thoughts or emotions, and I felt so much empathy for others i would worry a lot. I wanted to fix myself and save the world.

After practicing yoga for about four years, i finally decided to see a Yoga Therapist. My therapist would guide me through breathing, meditation, and postures. During the process, i would bring up questions and concerns that came to mind. She would adjust my postures from time to time. In doing this, by the end of every practice, i could answer all of the questions i had in the beginning. All of the answers were inside of me. I just had to quiet my mind and body long enough to hear them.

During my time in therapy, i also started reading a lot of books. "Untethered Soul" by Michael A. Singer was the book that really awakened me to my life's purpose. By reading the book, i found i was identified with my mind and compulsive thinking. I had only a little glimpse of my "true self". My mind created a screen of concepts, labels, images, words, and especially judgements. I couldn't be in the present because i was too caught up in my past childhood experiences. I was still a victim of a lot of circumstances.

I realized i had to do something to separate me from my "false-self". I had to really practice yoga fully. From the breathing and asanas (postures) to spending much time in meditation, i began to discipline my mind not to think continuously. I was able to become the "watcher of my thoughts" by detachment. No longer identified, i finally awakened to a freedom that now i will never let go of. The voices are still in my head, but i know they are not my true self. I can watch my thoughts without judgement and let them go. It is not as easy as it sounds. It is a practice. That is why yoga is a lifestyle.

Practicing yoga and meditation regularly, you learn to silence the mind. You gain so much in return such as focus, balance, strength, stamina. Your mind, body, and spirit become aligned with the universe.

Eckhart Tolle explains it well. "When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the mental stream - a gap of "no-mind". At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being."

If you want to really get to know your "true-self", take time to yourself to quiet your mind. Not only will you know yourself on a deeper level, you will learn the nature of compassion. "Having gone beyond the mind-made opposites, you become like a deep lake. The outer situation of your life and whatever happens there is the surface of the lake. Sometimes calm, sometimes windy and rough, according to the cycles of seasons. Deep down, however, the lake is always undisturbed. You are the whole lake, not just the surface, and you are in touch with your own depth, which remains absolutely still. You don't resist change by mentally clinging to any situation. Your inner peace does not depend on it. You abide in Being - unchanging, timeless, deathless - and you are no longer dependent for fulfillment or happiness on the outer world of constantly fluctuating forms. You can enjoy them, play with them, create new forms, appreciate the beauty of it all. But there will be no need to attach yourself to any of it." Eckhart Tolle,"Power of Now".

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Sun Salutation

"The Sun Salutation... limbers up the whole body....  It is a graceful sequence... performed as one continuous exercise.  Each position counteracts the one before, stretching the body in a different way and alternately expanding and contracting the chest to regulate the breathing.  Practised daily it will bring great flexibility to your spine and joints and trim your waist...." (page 34)
--From The Sivananda Companion to Yoga, 1983 Gaia Books Limited.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A little About Christy...

Christy was recommended Yoga at the age of 25 after being diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Overcoming many levels of childhood abuse, she was too dark at the time to give it a try. Christy spent the next few years in therapy and heavily medicated. It took giving birth to her first born child to wake her up! "Born into the darkness, Yoga helped me become better planted in the light". Christy has been studying Yoga for over 10 years now. She became certified through Nancy Wile Ed.D. E-RYT, founder of Yoga Education Institute (Registered Yoga School through Yoga Alliance). Other inspiring teachers: Mary Irby, Aretha Mckinney Blevins, Linda Mills, Jan Campbell, and Jami Grich Ph.D. In addition to her Yoga studies, she has an associates degree in Photography and Graphic Design (Visual Communications).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Let The Breath Take You Into The Body....

"If at any time you are finding it hard to get in touch with the inner body, it us usually easier to focus on your breathing first.  Conscious breathing, which is a powerful meditation in its own right, will gradually put you in touch with the body.  Follow the breath with your attention as it moves in and out of your body.  Breath into the body, and feel your abdomen expanding and contracting slightly with each inhalation and exhalation.  If you find it easy to visualize, close your eyes and see yourself surrounded by light or immersed in a luminous substance - a sea of consciousness.  Then breath in that light.  Feel that luminous substance filling up your body and making it luminous also.  Then gradually focus more on the feeling.  You are now in your body.   Don't get attached to any visual image."  -Eckhart Tolle, The Power Of Now.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Private Yoga Lessons...

Yoga classes are a wonderful way to learn and practice yoga, but not all group yoga classes are suited for every situation. In private yoga lessons are designed specifically for your needs. You can experience one-on-one instruction in the comfort of your own home, office, or book a session at Yoga Of Dickson Studio at 209-E Henslee Drive in Dickson, Tn.

Why take a private class?

1. If new to Yoga, large group settings can be overwhelming or intimidating. Taking a private classes along with regular classes can quickly build your confidence.

2. Those dedicated to group classes, may add private lessons to develop a home yoga practice.

3. Students may want to target a specific area, such as tight hips, weak knees, stiffness, poor balance and focus.

4. Students may be looking to focus more on going inward for restoration, spiritual growth and emotional balance.

5. Students may also be looking to intensively explore an aspect of yoga, for ex: Pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, and asana (poses) or philosophy.

A complimentary phone consultation is given to determine the best course of action. Each private session is customized to meet your needs, taking into consideration your fitness level, stress level, and personal goals.

Please call Christy O'Brien for pricing and scheduling at (615) 202-3332.