Mudras

A mudra is a Hindu or Buddhist gesture or attitude that is devotional and emotional in prayer mudra adelaidenature, almost like symbolically saying to the Universe, ‘here, I’m declaring this to you’.

Mudras link pranic flow to the greater Universal energy, they expand chakras and can awaken Kundalini.

They are said to alter your mood and perception, bring about deep awarenesss and unite the layers of the physical, mental and emotional body together. They can be used in conjunction with asana, meditation and pranayama and even in classic Indian dance moves. There are five groups of mudras: hasta (hands), mana (head), kaya (postural), bandha (lock), adhara (perineal). The more commonly practised being hasta or hand mudras. Continue reading

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What is a Mantra?

adelaide yoga

Someone using mala beads

A mantra is a powerful sound, vibration or sacred utterance that is used to tame the wild mind/ego, provide focus and settle the consciousness into a profound state of meditation.

The word mantra itself, roughly translates to “mind/think instrument” and speaks directly to our subconsciousness.

Continue reading

Pratyahara – the fifth yogic limb

Pratyahara is the fifth limb in Patanjali’s yoga and it means the withdrawal of the senses. It is seen as an inner quest and a form of internalising by ‘freeing the  senses from the thraldom of the objects of desire’ (Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar) with the purpose of quietening the mind so much that it is able to perform intense, unbroken concentration. Without these “distractions” of the senses, the mind has the ability to reach the next limb and continue on the yogic path. Continue reading

Pranayama – fourth yogic limb

After consuming yourself with the yamas and niyamas and asana, the next limb

is pranayama.  It translates as prana = life force and ayama = extension or expansion.

Pranayama is the controlled breathing practices undertaken in yoga. Prana (life force/vital energy) is controlled, fuelled and enriched through the breath. These practices help activate and cultivate prana throughout the physical body and other pranamaya kosha.

There are four aspects of prana – inhalation, exhalation, inhalation retention and exhalation retention. According to the sutras, kumbhaka (retention) is the focus and the aspiration of controlling our breath. Continue reading

Niyamas – second yogic limb

Niyamas are the second limb of Pantajali’s yoga, following on from the yamas. The adelaide yoga purpose of both the yamas and the niyamas is a redirecting of energies, helping us to reduce karma and always move towards clarity. They can all be practised at a psychological level as well as physical. They also provide a solid foundation to move through the rest of the yogic limbs.

The niyamas keep us on a path to self realisation through discipline and are action steps rather than the restraints that are the yamas.

‘The niyamas [are] effective weapons to destroy the citadel of the senses’, Sri Swami Chidananda.

The niyamas are:

Saucha (purity and cleanliness)

Through the purity of cleansing ourselves of our ego self, we are given permission to shine brightly from within, liberating our true nature. Saucha includes bathing to rid the physical being of muck but perhaps more importantly, utilises asana and pranayama for internal cleansing; asana removes toxins and impurities caused by overindulgence (food and drink, negative thinking, pollution, chemicals etc) whilst pranayama helps to purify our nervous system.

Impurities – both in the physical and abstruse – can harm our state of mind and being and block us from accessing that deep spiritual and inner wisdom which can lead us to a space of self actualisation. These impurities can show up as emotions such as hatred, lust, greed, delusion or pride and also as impure or damning thoughts.

Saucha can include practises such as fasting, silence and purging.*

Santosha (contentment)

On an elementary level, this niyama asks that we be happy and grateful with what we have and where we are in any given moment.

The mind can often yearn for things it believes we need in order to be happy but practising Santosha, helps us to unlearn this patterning to find a deeper happiness within that arises when we clear away all the excess “things” and discover what is hiding behind all that wanting.

Rather than being sought after, santosha needs to be cultivated which helps to negate the exhausting grasping we have at life.

‘There is contentment and tranquility when the flame of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire,’ Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, page 38.

Tapas (austerity)

‘By tapas the yogi develops strength in body, mind and character. He gains courage and wisdom, integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity,’ Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, page 38.

Tapas can be analogous to fire. The fire of tapas has cleansing properties but this intense element can also take the form of heat, burning effort, a strong mental attitude or an internal fire. All the things that hot yoga can bring you! (quick, book in your next class here)

‘Life without tapas is like a heart without love’, Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar, page 38.

NB: (I’m not making this up when I tell you that Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire came on the radio whilst writing this)

‘Tapas is a determined counter-attack against the habitual propensity of the senses to achieve satisfaction, to taste satisfaction.’ The Philosophy, Psychology and Practice of Yoga by Sri Swami Chidananda, page 32

Svadhyaya (self study)

This niyama is about you getting to know yourself and the inner workings of your being and soul, as well as your needs and behaviours. It’s a process to acknowledge the inner darkness as well as the inner light and provide you with the ability to see your true Divine nature that exists within everyone.

The process of turning inwards and practising an education of the self, helps us to become accountable and responsible for our behaviours and actions. The education comes from external forms of study of resources and illuminating ideas, study of the scriptures and japa, as well as an internalising, a listening to yourself and knowing yourself as best as you can (despite this ever evolving process).

‘Life presents an endless opportunity to learn about ourselves; our flaws and weaknesses give us the opportunity to grow and our mistakes allow us to learn. Examining our actions becomes a mirror to see our conscious and unconscious motives, thoughts, and desires more clearly,’ Yoga Basics.

Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to the Divine)

This encourages a complete opening of the heart to the Divine, which is said to lead to Samadhi (which is the last limb of yoga and a higher state of consciousness). This is a surrendering to God (whatever that form takes for you), a letting go and a folding of the ego self. It is more of a softening in to the Universal flow; a relaxing, a releasing of sorts, with which comes an unforced opening and an allowing of the ego to dissolve.

A dedication and devotion to something greater can accompany the surrendering or just a gentle knowing and accepting that the Universe is a complete source of power.

The purpose of both the yamas and the niyamas is a redirecting of energies, helping us to reduce karma and always move towards clarity. They can all be practiced at a psychological level as well as physical. They also provide a solid foundation to move through the rest of the limbs.

Whereas Yama puts a stop to your flow in the downward gross direction,in the animal direction, Niyama has the effect of diverting the flow in the opposite higher direction towards the Spirit. That is the rationale behind Niyama’ Sri Swami Chidananda.

Initial exposure to the yamas and niyamas can be daunting and overwhelming, to say the least, so remember to take them gently, with compassion. Although Pantanjali may have had the intention for them to be followed in a set order, Swami Sri Kripalvanandaji reminds us ‘When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas, the entire garland will follow.’

 

Click here to read our post on the yamas.

*please seek the advice of an experience yoga instructor before undertaking these practices. Not recommend for beginners.

Patanjali: the legend

Legend has it that Patanjali compiled and codified the yoga sutras. The yoga sutras (sutra translating as thread) is considered the fundamental text for practising and living yoga and not just in the sense of asana but with regards to the full eight limbs. Those limbs being yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Remember the recent post about one of the limbs, the yamas? yoga adelaide

Patanjali compiled 196 sutras or concise aphorisms that are essentially an ethical blueprint for living a moral life and incorporating the science of yoga into your life. Although no one is sure of the exact time when Patanjali lived and wrote down his sutras, it is estimated this humble physician (who became one of the world’s greatest and most well known sages) roamed India somewhere between 200 BC and 200 AD and that his birthplace was a celestial abode called Ilavrita-Varsha and his mother being Sati and father, Angiras (one of the ten sons of Brahma).

The verses are interconnected and all related together, hence their namesake of sutra (thread). ‘The scripture is regarded as the most precise and scientific text ever written on yoga,’ Four Chapters on Freedom.

He was said to be able to communicate since birth and was believed to be an incarnation of the mythical endless serpent, Ananta. The tradition runs that upon his birth he made known things past, present and future, showing the intellect and penetration of a sage while yet an infant. He married Lolupa, whom he found in the hollow of a tree on the north of Sumeru, and is said to have lived for many, many years. It was also claimed that he once reduced a group of Bhotabhandra residents to ashes by fire from his mouth after being insulted by them.

It was believed he had a variety of talents that included being a physician, dancer, medical intuitive, philosopher and grammarian. There are many uncertainties and skepticism shrouding what Patanjali actually achieved. Given his suspected parentage, he was an accomplished dancer that created classical traditions of dance styles still performed today in India and he is regarded as the patron saint of dance but it is a given in the yogic community that he was the one to package up yoga in the sutras we follow in most yoga lineages today. Although he did not create yoga he was instrumental in bringing it to the world.

Did you know? Patanjali can be roughly translated as ‘falling from heaven’, ‘offering sacred knowledge coming from the heart’ or ‘falling into folded hands’. Read more here.

Some people even purport that Patanjali also wrote a treatise on Ayurvedic medicine with a focus on diagnosis of disease and drugs, the structure and function of the human body and its fitness and its aesthetics.

Often called the “father of yoga”, there is still much mystery surrounding Patanjali and some facts and information have been misinterpreted or diluted over the years, not too dissimilar to that of another legend of man we may be familiar with: Jesus and his teachings.

 

 

 

 

Yamas – codes to live by

In Patanjjali’s (the father of yoga) yoga sutra there are eight limbs which comprise the eight yamas adelaidefolded pathway to enlightenment. These limbs are seen as steps or guides on the yogic pathway.

The first limb is Yamas, which are deemed the restraints or codes to live by in society. The yamas are complemented by the niyamas which are our personal codes of practise.

‘The Yamas comprise the “shall not” in our dealings with the external world and the niyamas comprise the “shall do” in our dealings with the inner world,’  Wikipedia.

The purpose of both the yamas and the niyamas is a redirecting of energies, helping us to reduce karma and always move towards clarity. They can all be practised at a psychological level as well as physical. They also provide a solid foundation to move through the rest of the yogic limbs.

The yamas are:

Ahimsa (non harming)

This can translate as harmlessness, removal of harmful intention and absence of enmity. This manifests as the cultivation and practise of non violent thoughts, words, actions or intentions towards the external world, one another, animals (and all living things) and especially towards the self.

‘…may all beings look at me with a friendly eye, may I do likewise, and may we look at each other with the eyes of a friend,’ Yajur Veda.

It is believed that practising ahimsa cultivates love, where the violence or harm is removed, it creates space for only love.

Ahimsa can take the form of practicing loving thoughts, not hurting animals, not judging others and even avoiding pushing yourself to the point of injury in your asana practise.

Satya (truthfulness)

Satya is the practise of incorporating the continuous truth and honesty at all levels of your life (even towards the self), which helps produce greater self reflection and develops integrity and overcome delusions. It translates as unchangeable or continuous truth.

It is the action of focussing on thoughts and speech that do good as opposed to do harm.

‘In most ways, the practice of satya is about restraint: about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with the first yama, ahimsa. Patanjali and his major commentators state that no words can reflect truth unless they flow from the spirit of nonviolence,’ Yoga Journal.

The most wonderful gift you can give yourself is the truth.

Asteya (non stealing/non coveting)

Asteya focusses on taking something without permission, which isn’t just limited to physical goods. This can also extend into taking someone’s time, ideas or space and even hoarding unnecessary possessions.

Here are some great practical ways of practising asteya.

‘Asteya also includes the concept that you should try to be content with what comes to you by honest means,’ Yoga 108.

Bramacharya (chastity)

This is the practise of managing sexual energy and whilst it may not manifest in the form of abstinence, it can be the practise of mindful relations and adhering to ahimsa towards the self and others. Some yogis choose to embrace this yama as self imposed celibacy.

The belief around this is that celibacy is beneficial in reserving prana, which encourages or is required for enlightenment. Yogis also believe that bramacharya can lead to physical and mental wellness and clarity, good health and inner peace and clarity.

It can also be considered the control of the senses.

‘According to the Yoga Sutras, the end-result or fruit of Brahmacharya practised to perfection is unbounded energy and vitality.’ Wikipedia

 Aparigraha (non possessiveness)

This is the practise of greedlesness, non attachment to material and impermanent things which is said to create a pathway for a mindset of flowing abundance by letting go of the desire of things. With the removal of neediness and desire, comes contentment and peace.

Anything that can be lost, we shouldn’t be attached to but rather we should act from and value those things that can never truly be lost, such as love, ‘…the work you put into improving yourself, quieting your mind, learning how to behave in a moral and ethical manner, and learning how to act in accordance with your true inner self is something that can never be lost,’ Instant Good Karma.

‘The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God or himself to provide for his future,’ Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar, page 35.

Addtionally, there are other yamas which are not as well known or as common. They are Daya (compassion), Arjava (rectitude), Kshama (forebearance/patience), Dhriti (steadiness), Mita-Ahara (moderate eating).

Stay tuned for our post about Niyamas.

Read our What Does Yoga Actually Mean? post.