by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
As a yoga practitioner, you are part of an ancient tradition that dates back at least 5,000 years and has produced great spiritual and philosophical geniuses who have provided answers to some of life’s biggest questions. Questions such as, “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where will I go after this?” and “What should I do while I’m here?”
The understanding that yoga is, in fact, a complete science is often taken for granted in a world that focuses mainly on the physical postures and how to master them. If we travel into yoga’s past, perhaps we can remember what this ancient technology was originally designed for—the integration of the mind, body, and soul with the Divine.
Classical yoga connects back to Raja yoga and Patanjali, the teacher of the eightfold path. The foundations of yoga’s philosophy were written down in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in approximately 200 AD. This ancient yet practical text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides a blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoy lasting peace.
Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path, it becomes evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus that together brings completeness to individuals as they find their connectivity to the Divine. Because we are all uniquely individual, a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding. In brief, the eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
1. Yama: Universal morality (societal codes of conduct)
2. Niyama: Personal observances (personal codes of conduct)
3. Asana: Body postures (yoga poses)
4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of Prana (breath)
5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses (Savasana)
6. Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness (present-moment awareness)
7. Dhyana: Devotion and meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi: Union with the Divine
Several hundred years later, Patanjali was followed by another icon of yoga named Adi Shankara. His work elaborated on ideas found in the Upanishads, ancient spiritual texts from India, and his Crest-Jewel of Discrimination became a classic Vedantic text on non-duality or oneness. Shankara elaborated 10 Shlokas, or verses, that describe the omnipresence of spirit, paraphrased as follows:
1. The true self is changeless and persists forever
2. The true self is above castes and creeds
3. The true self is the eternal witness
4. All teachings of various religions and philosophies are shallow in comparison to the true self
5. The true self pervades the whole universe
6. The true self is colorless and formless
7. The true self is the absolute knower
8. The true self is above consciousness
9. The true self pervades everything
10. The true self is neither connected nor separate
Looking Back to Look Forward
In the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” To the ancients, yoga was a complete system and asana was a small yet useful part of the whole. The entire goal of the system was to connect inward to the timeless, limitless nature of the spirit or the ‘true self’. Those ancient yogis didn’t confuse the tools with the goals.
The modern day view of yoga has lost sight of the system. Many people believe that yoga is a set of physical postures only. The whole and part have been reversed and the meaning or goal has been lost. The misunderstanding that yoga and asana are one and the same is the common cultural myth of our times. Looking back may be the way to move forward.
In spite of the immense popularity of postural yoga worldwide, there is an opportunity here to uphold yoga’s original integrity. Still on board? Keep reading.
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by: Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
Take a moment and focus on your breath. What do you notice?
Focusing on your breath allows you to gauge where you are in the present moment. It can help you determine if you’re in balance.
We unconsciously hold our breath many times each day. It’s typically the first action that we take when we don’t want to lose control of a situation. This is a normal reflex; we reduce our breathing to a survival level when we’re tense and trying to just “get through it.” We take in just enough oxygen to stay alive. Vigorous exercise may be the only time when we truly and deeply breathe.
We should be doing the exact opposite. Studies have shown that yoga and pranayama can help to reduce stress, relieve tension in the body, help improve the immune system, and support better sleep. Yoga poses and breathing techniques, including belly and rhythmic breathing as well as the child’s pose, will help you relax and reduce stress. These exercises are simple, don’t take much time, require no equipment, and can be done anywhere. Try each and see how they affect your stress and anxiety levels. Try the following yoga poses and breaths for managing stress.
This is a core breath that is used at the beginning of most yoga classes. It can bring awareness into the body and calm the mind.
When you think about the belly or abdomen expanding, think about a balloon as it expands. The breath should be deep and elongated. Use this breath when you want to relax or let go of your thoughts.
This is a more energizing breath. Use this if you’re feeling sluggish or disconnected from your body and need more energy. This is a good alternative to drinking another cup of coffee.
You’ll feel more energized after just six in-and-out cycles of the breath. Pause between cycles with a regular inhale and exhale. This will keep you from becoming lightheaded. This breath will turn routine activities into a moving meditation.
Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
This breath is great for releasing tension and balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Try this breath before meditating or just before going to sleep. It helps to quiet the mind.
Focusing on your breath shifts awareness away from the mind and towards the body. Taking awareness off the mind stops the incessant mind chatter that is distracting and deepens our stress levels.
Practicing these three breathing techniques can help eliminate stress, which slows down aging, and can even prevent illness.
Strike a Pose
This posture calms the mind and helps to relieve back, neck, shoulder, and hip tension. This powerful yet gentle pose provides mental, physical, and emotional relief.
Supported Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
This posture has so many great applications and benefits. Even if you don’t have menstrual pain, sciatica, gastritis, osteoporosis, or anxiety, this pose can help reduce stress hormones and elevate your mood. The entire body is stretched in this pose. It also provides mental calmness because the head is slightly lower than the heart.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This is the ultimate relaxation pose. Beta brain waves are decreased and the central nervous system is relaxed; the entire mind/body benefits from this pose. It’s why every yoga class ends with Savasana.
Take a little time today and try one of these three breathing techniques or poses to reduce stress and improve your overall health. Let us know if they help.
- See more at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/3-poses-and-3-breaths-to-manage-your-stress#sthash.rEY4YjQR.dpuf