The profound benefits of the inward journey of yoga
Health begins with firmness of body, deepens to emotional stability, then leads to intellectual clarity, wisdom and finally the unveiling of the soul.” BKS Iyengar Light on Life
Many of us come to yoga because we want to be healthy and we want to remain mobile and able for years to come but this is just the beginning! Yoga not only takes care of physical health but also moral, intellectual and mental health.
The practice of asana is three fold. There is the external “quest that brings firmness to the body; the internal quest which brings steadiness of the intelligence and then the innermost quest which brings benevolence of spirit” BKS Iyengar Light on Life
Sthira Sukham Asanam Yoga Sutras of Pantajali 2.46
"When an asana is done correctly, the body movements are smooth, there is lightness in the body, and freedom in the mind.” B.K.S. Iyengar
How does the practice of asana and pranayama take us to the inner- most layer of the soul? It takes a little bit of faith, courage, memory, absorption and unwavering attention. These are the yoga vitamins (as coined by BKS Iyengar) prescribed to each seeker on this yogic path.
The techniques of asana get the body strong, balanced, stable, and mobile. When practicing with alignment, sensitivity and perception you are beaming a light on the areas that are in the dark increasing your intelligence and awareness. The body is an instrument to become more sensitive and aware. Once we become aware of something we can start the process to make real transformation and this takes courage and faith.
Where did this idea of yoga being only a feel good thing come from? It is meant to uncover and allow your beautiful self to shine through but it’s not a path of no effort.
Asana makes you feel good; it opens the joints, muscles and makes space in the body. This opening allows for energy to flow like a river and it feels good. Stretching, extending, lengthening, opening the body all create the space to clear the mind and improve one’s mood. BKS Iyengar said that if the armpit chest area was open you would never suffer from depression. And this is why poses such as backbends are prescribed for those suffering from depression and are essential for us to practice not just for flexibility in the spine but for confidence and a positive attitude.
Did you try the pose on the chair in the video last week? Dwi Pada Vipariti Dandasana. Did you feel an increase in energy and a clearing away of all the junk in your mind? Did you know practicing this pose will increase confidence?
Have you ever had one of those days when the only light at the end of the tunnel is a pint of ice cream and 3 movies on your couch ? A regular practice of backbends can regulate these moods and forward bends can help with anxiety or an overheating mind or body. And, just for the record I’m absolutely not against ice cream or movies.
Not only do the actual poses shift our moods but in the Yoga Sutras, Pantanjali in Sutra 2.33 tells us that when we start going down that rabbit hole, we must think the opposite or elevate our thoughts towards the vision of the Yamas and Niyamas; honesty, non-harming or non-greed for example.
When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.
Carrera, Jaganath. Inside The Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (p. 141). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.
BKS Iyengar comments that it’s not just doing or thinking the opposite but to investigate and go to the root cause and examine where the behavior came from. Those skills of awareness, sensitivity and perception to see the cause and make a change is what we learn and practice through asana.
“But instead of trying to cultivate the opposite condition, he should go deep into the cause of his anger or violence. This is paksabhava. One should also study the opposite forces with calmness and patience. Then one develops equipoise.” “
And he interestingly brings this idea to our practice of asana, The practitioner "adjusts harmoniously the right and left sides of the body, the front and the back. Learning to interchange or counterbalance the weaker with the intelligent side brings about changes s/he grows, able to observe equipoise in the body cells and the lobes of the brain; and calmness and sobriety in the mind. By raising the weak or dull to the level of the intelligent or strong, the sadhaka learns compassion in action.”
Excerpt From: B. K. S. Iyengar. “Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.”
This path is one of awareness and connection. First we address the body which then balances our emotional states from which wisdom can shine forth and reveal the soul.
Dorothy travels far and wide on the yellow brick road searching a way back home, accompanied by her friends who are all seeking outward for their hopes and dreams. After a arduous and harrowing journey, she finds out that she herself always had the power of three clicks to return home.
The path of yoga is awesome but it’s not an easy one - no flying monkeys thank goodness. And I know that only feel good experiences or living in the dark is not an easier path then one of higher consciousness.
Like a hang glider running to the edge of the cliff, it takes courage, faith and trust to jump knowing you will fly and see miraculous sights.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and
though the voices around you
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
MAKE YOUR ASANA BENEVOLENT
Choose any posture and compare and adjust the right and left sides as well as the right and left sides of each part of the body. Notice: lightness in your body and freedom in your mind.
If you are feeling low do this sequence Urdhva Hastansana, Baddhanguliasana, Gomokasana, Virabharadsana 1, Dwi pada Vipariti Dandasana, Sirsasana (if you practice it), Sarvangasana and Savasana.
You can do the beginning of this sequence with repetitions and quick movements to lift up your energy.
* Shoulder injuries or high blood pressure - keep your hands on your hips or interlock your fingers behind your back and extend your elbows.
* Back pain - keep your knees bent in Dwi Pada viparati Dandasana
* Knee injuries - Keep the leg straight in Virabhadrasana 1
POSTURE AFFECTS MIND AND MIND AFFECTS POSTURE.
As you adjust your posture notice the HUGE effect it has on your mental state.
1. Stand with your shoulders rolled forward, slouching forward with a big hump in your back. Walk around the room and notice how you feel and what thoughts come into your head.
2. Now, stand up straight, roll your shoulders back, lift your sternum and take a walk. How do you feel now? What thoughts are in your head?
MAKE YOUR POSTURE EFFORTLESS
1. Lift your arms up into Urdhva Hastasana. Extend your arms fully. Lower your arms, without dropping the extension in your trunk.
Are you standing taller…without so much effort?
2. Interlock your fingers behind your back and extend your elbows to roll your shoulders back and lift the chest. Keep the legs firm, thighs back and center of the buttocks moving forward. Release the fingers yet keep the arms firm. Try to touch your palms10 times. Release.
Is your chest more open…without having to do so much?