FOCUS OF THE MONTH - February 2018
For those of you who didn't know, every month Sukha Mukha Yoga focuses on a theme. We explore it by incorporating it in our classes and our daily lives. During February, we will look at The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and focus specifically on Chapter 1: The Portion of Contemplation; Samadhi Pada.
In this chapter Patanjali explains the meaning of yoga: Yoggash Citta Vritti Nirodaha. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind.
This is not to say our mind stops thinking or becomes clear of thoughts, but that we are no longer effected by these thoughts, as most of us can be. They no longer cause us suffering or pain. We do not identify ourselves or reality with the thoughts and simply see them as thoughts that come and go, that pass through the mind just like clouds pass through the sky.
"The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection. Your values may change within a fraction of a second...." That is why Yoga does not bother about changing the outside world. There is a sanskrit saying "As the mind so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind." It is said that those who understand this have attained yoga, but for those of us who struggle, Patanjali keeps going on with explanations as to how to attain this state and what obstacles are likely to stand in our way.
As Part of the Focus of the month, our teacher, Dana Amir has written a piece concentrating on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.46: the physical postures are meant to contain two seemingly opposite qualities, sthira and sukha; steadiness and ease.
I remember hearing that sutra for the first time. “How can I be at ease and steady at the same time?” I thought to myself… “They are opposites!” I took it as an intension to try and embrace the opposites in my physical practice and learn to trust it. Just by listening carefully to the instructions given to me in class: “left side, right side. Inhale, exhale. Expand, contract. Warm up, cool down…” I realised how so many opposites are already incorporated in our practice and how we just do it, without asking questions, we trust it. Even the word: Hatha (the style I was practicing) - can be translated as ha meaning, "sun" and tha, meaning "moon." This refers to the balance of masculine aspects: active, hot, sun and feminine aspects: receptive, cool, moon, within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites.
Tree Pose stretches the thighs, groins, torso, and shoulders. It builds strength in the ankles and calves, and tones the abdominal muscles. The pose also helps to remedy flat feet and is therapeutic for sciatica. Like a tree, extend your roots down and blossom your arms up toward the sun.
We will show you a few variations, just stick with these tricks and concentrate on perfecting your tree. When the time is right, you’ll know it’s the season for venturing further out and exploring the world of balance a bit deeper. Keep these tips in mind throughout each stage of this pose. Eventually, you won’t even need to think. Remember that Yoga is about practice and not about performance.
TRY practicing with the support of a wall using a block. Start in Tadasana - Mountain Pose with your right side leaning on a block against the wall. Raise the right arm and place the right hand on the wall for support. Shift your weight into the right leg, and on an inhalation bend the left leg, bringing the foot to the inner ankle for starters. Keep the right leg firm and straight toward the floor (not on an angle) and both hips facing forward. Lengthen both sides of the waist equally. Take 5–10 deep breaths before trying to lift the left leg higher, placing it either below the knee on your shin or high on your thigh. Practice on the other side.
USING THE WALL
1. Stand with your feet together, toes touching, heels slightly apart. Find a straight line of energy through the center of the body, from the inner arches up through the crown of the head. Bring the hands together at the center of the chest in Anjali Mudra. Exhale, root down through your feet, and feel steadiness, firmness, and grounding in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose.
2. Shift your weight onto your right foot. Bend your left knee, and move it into the chest. Keeping a long spine, reach down and clasp your left ankle. Place the sole of the left foot on the inner right thigh, on your shin BELOW the knee or on your ankle close to the floor (wherever this pose meets you at - remembering that it is all about practice - not performance).
3. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor to stand tall and bring your drishti, or gaze, to the wall directly in front of you to help you balance.
4. Press your left foot into the inner right thigh and your right thigh into your foot in an effort to maintain your midline.
5. Square both hips to the front of the room, keeping your left knee moving out to the left.
6. Firm your outer right thigh by contracting the quadriceps muscles, or the front of the thighs. Zip your belly in and your lower ribs together. Lift the chest and bring the shoulder blades down.
What NOT to do:
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama - Alternate Nostril Breathing
This powerful breathing technique, is a pranayama that is easy to do, yet can take you through all the stages of your yoga practice.
How to do Alternate Nostril Breathing:
In this pranayam, the breath is always relaxed, deep and full.
Have the left hand in Gyan Mudra.
Use the thumb of the right hand to close the right nostril, and the index finger or ring finger of the right hand to close the left nostril.
Close the right nostril and gently and fully inhale through the left nostril.
Then close the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
Then inhale through the right nostril.
Close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
Continue repeating, alternating nostrils after each inhalation.
Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing:
Creates whole brain functioning by balancing the right and left hemispheres.
Is both integrating and grounding.
Purifies the ida and pingala nadis, gently.
Creates a deep sense of well-being and harmony on the physical, mental, and emotional levels.
Can help with headaches, migraines, and other stress-related symptoms.
Inhale left, exhale right: Helps to make you calm and integrates unwanted negative emotions and stress. Excellent by itself before bed.
Inhale right, exhale left: Gives clarity, and positive mood. Helps us to focus on what is important.