People are overall greatly interested in personal growth. It is one of the keywords that gets searched often on the Internet, and there are many different approaches which have been created and developed to fulfil that need. Personal growth and development can happen naturally in a way, but there are things you can do to create a conscious accelerated process. Among these things, is yoga. Other ones are approaches that focus on things like self-inquiry, psychotherapy, coaching etc. These can go hand in hand with yoga too. This article addresses how yoga and personal development go hand in hand, and the role of awareness in that process.
The original aim of yoga was not about the physical body. Yoga means union in Sanskrit, and the point of it was (and ultimately still is) to create union between our being (I, spirit) and the Absolute (Spirit) on all levels. The ancient Yogis of India considered the human physical body to be the soul’s vehicle. The idea of taking good care of it came out of a motivation for wanting to keep it healthy for as long as possible in order for them to grow spiritually (while living in the body).
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the foundation of Hatha Yoga, which is presented as a path towards growth and samadhi (enlightenment). By walking the path of yoga, we increase our manifesting potential of developing on all levels of our being: physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual. This makes it a very holistic form of personal development. If you read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you will notice that only one yoga asana (posture) is mentioned, which is a meditation one. Having said this, we can connect the dots and realize asana is only an aspect of yoga, but not what it’s about at its core.
Practicing yoga makes us connect with our true selves, our true spiritual self, peeling off the layers of our ego and teaching us about parts of us we may not even have been aware of before. We notice we are getting in touch with this part when we start asking questions like “who am I really? and “what is the point of all of this?” A disconnection from this true spiritual self is part of what causes many people to internally suffer and act in disharmonious ways. Yoga practice is known to help many people who suffer from depression and anxiety. While every case is unique and complex, often depression comes from a disconnection from self, and anxiety from a lack of presence with the present moment (i.e., stressing about the past or the future). Often the first step to transformation is having awareness of something (and then being willing to do something about it if it is not serving us). You can consider all the personal developments and improvements that happen with the practice of yoga to be a byproduct of having gained a more refined sense of awareness. Body awareness is something that gets particularly refined through the practice of yoga. When we can be attuned to our bodies, it is easier to keep it healthy, because at the slightest perception of something off balance, we can address it instead of letting it be and allowing it to turn into disease. Hatha Yoga keeps your body toned, flexible and healthy, including glands which are responsible for your hormones, which are in turn responsible for your emotions and not only the way you feel but also for many crucial bodily processes! Hormonal imbalance is the cause of many diseases and practicing yoga increases hormonal balance. Also, because our posture naturally improves with yoga practice, we walk around in healthier alignment that is beneficial for the way our body functions overall and prevents injuries. Moreover, through this refined awareness we are also better able to recognize and work through our emotions, which at times can be heavy and have a negative impact on the body when left unaddressed. In the same way, the power of our thoughts is immense, and yoga helps us to also become more aware of the nature of our thoughts.
The mind can be our best friend, or our worst enemy. It is all relative. We learn in yoga that the mind is a tool, that we are not the mind. The mind is a part of us, and when we are not enslaved by its tricky ways of the ego, we can navigate through life in more constructive ways that serve both our spiritual evolution as well as the greater good. When we get to know our mind and emotions better, we begin to understand some of the driving forces behind our actions better. We can adapt our behavior for the better. The meditative aspect of yoga teaches us to still the mind. A healthy mind, just like a healthy body, requires relaxation. We all know stress is not good for you and it is considered the modern world’s #1 disease and it for a large part stems from a lack of relaxation. Yoga helps us to deal with and diminish stress in more constructive ways.
The philosophical aspect of yoga teaches us life values that help us live healthier, happier, more balanced and purposeful lives. When you look at the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (don’t restraints) we can see how they are like a wonderful interconnected formula for holistic personal development which is at the same time very much considering others in the process. It is a system that is whole and all inclusive, not a competitive ego trip (although it’s easy to fall into one of those, yoga teachers are not immune to this human characteristic). Why not practice yoga when it gifts you with so many things that make your life better by increasing mindfulness, helping you to connect with your true self and disidentify with the ego?
Let’s make a fun little list (which could definitely be made much longer!) of all the levels on which yoga cultivates your personal development. Physically, yoga increases your flexibility, muscle strength & tone, your respiration, vitality and energy. You become more athletic. It improves your circulatory health and metabolism and balances your hormone levels. Energetically, blocks are removed, you get more energy (prana = life force), you learn to explore energy and develop a refined awareness of it. Emotionally, you become more balanced as you learn to recognize and navigate through your emotions and also hormonal balance leads to emotional balance. Mentally, you become calmer, more peaceful and you gain awareness of the way your mind works. Overall, you are more relaxed, less stressful/anxious, more aware, and more connected. Spiritually, you learn to connect with your true self, and to disidentify with other ego parts of you – which are a part of the whole of your being but not WHO you are in ESSENCE (an infinite being!).
Now that we have roughly covered the ways in which yoga practice helps you to be healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally, let’s look at another aspect that yoga can bring to your life in a way that will help you in your path of personal development—the social aspect. Practising yoga can be done alone or in groups. Both have benefits. When you practice on your own, you practice time to connect with self, work on your discipline, feel your own energies and so forth. When you practice in groups, often it is in a setting of a yoga community or studio, where you meet others you can often connect with at a different level. It is an opportunity to meet like-minded people, and relate about things you may have up until that point you were all alone in. You can support each other in the sangha (spiritual community).
Is yoga suited for everybody? Yes and no. Yes, there are many different types of yoga and usually after some time of exploration people find something that suits them. No, some types of yoga are not suited for all, for example an advanced Ashtanga Yoga class might not be the best idea for someone to participate in who is recovering from severe injuries. If you are not interested in yoga, this doesn’t make you a bad person and it does not mean you are not interested in personal development. Yoga is not the only way to personally develop. However if you are here reading this, you probably are interested in yoga and you know that we as Saktiisha Yoga Academy do what we do because we believe that yoga is the best path to personal development
Yoga is not about asana, yoga teaches how to live life with purpose. With yoga, we go from imbalance, weakness and stiffness to balance, strength, flexibility and stability. With yoga you empower yourself, learn to be patient and make wiser choices in life. Life becomes more meaningful. Yoga is something to make a lifelong practice out of. Yoga is both the means and the ends. There may be no end to personal growth, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk the path just because we don’t see its exact end point! The effort you invest in yoga is proportional to what you get out of it, like anything in life. The awesome thing about it is that nowadays there is so much yoga available, that all you need is you acting on your willingness to get started!
Excited? Check out the Saktiisha Yoga Academy trajectory you can follow under the trainings section on our website, and find there a complete path towards your personal development.
Thank you for tuning in, and until next time friends!
Ahimsa stands for “non-violence” or “absence of injury” in Sanskrit. It is the first of the yamas (self-restraints) in Yoga from Patanjali’s Sutras, in which you find the foundations of yoga (made up by the eight limbs of yoga). With it being the very first yama, it is the foundation of all the other yamas and actually of our whole practice because it is rooted in love – the interconnectedness of all beings and things – union – which is ultimately the meaning of yoga. You can consider ahimsa a universal observance ahimsa in which the point is to always have the intention to be mindful of doing no harm in words, actions or thought.
The no harm principle is found in other spiritual traditions. For example, it is found in the famous golden rule in the Old Testament (from the Bible): Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31). It is a fundamental virtue in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Moreover, there have been inspirational figures throughout history who promoted the principle of non-violence. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. with his leading peaceful American civil rights movement to counterfeit oppression, and Mahatma Gandhi, who said “nonviolence is our greatest walk of life.” Gandhi believed that the path of non-violence can lead us to Divine Truth. Among the great yogis in history, Swami Vivekananda particularly emphasized the value of honouring ahimsa.
For self-protection, sometimes aggression is necessary among creatures. When it comes to humans, they also sometimes bring violence (himsa). Suffering among people is often related to violence. Humans do not need to live like animals, humans can take care of each other (even some animals do this). It can be a big effort to move from animal tendencies o human ones, because selfishness is biologically deeply rooted within our nature. However, humans are divine. We have a great instrument: an intelligent mind with which we can consciously choose to not do harm, and to be loving instead. To honour ahimsa is one of humanity’s greatest duties (dharma).
Just like all the other yamas & niyamas, ahimsa is something that we can practice on and off the mat. Ahimsa begins with yourself (health, diet, thoughts), and it can be made simple, by starting off by setting an intention (sankalpa) to be loving in all thoughts, words, and actions throughout the day. Because these are the things that can cause harm when utilized in destructive ways. The Vedas even express the difference in ways of causing harm: kayaka (“of the hand,” referring to physical doings), vācaka (“expressive,” referring to words), and manasika (“of the mind,” referring to thoughts). Science comes in there where skeptics might doubt the power of thoughts. Negative thoughts create stress, which makes your body secrete cortisol, weakening your immune system. On the other hand, positive thoughts create happiness, and the secretion of dopamine – the feel-good hormone.
Ahimsa manifests in all the layers of your life: yourself, your relationships, your community, humanity and the planet There is an inner knowing (like in satyam – the second yama: truthfulness) that guides the observance of ahimsa. We know in our hearts when our intention is loving, and when it is not. Ahimsa and satyam go hand in hand. When we do not honour ahimsa we move away from truth. When we are aligned with truth, there is love and unity, there is a deeper relationship with ourselves and the world around us – harmonious relationships
OBSERVING AHIMSA IN DAILY LIFE
There are so many ways you can practice ahimsa. Ahimsa goes as far as you are willing to take it, there are no limits when it comes to how much you can love. Here is a list of 15 ways to observe ahimsa in daily life:
1. Read about ahimsa (in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and other yoga texts)
2. Don’t hurt yourself trying to push yourself into a posture when practicing yoga on the mat.
3. Do not force anything in your yoga practice, or in any other areas of your life.
4. Be mindful of your language – change ‘have to’s and ‘shoulds’ with ‘want to’s and ‘would like, do not gossip, compliment others more, mind your tone of voice, be honest but not intentionally offensive. Note the ways in which your self-talk is full of criticism. The simple act of becoming aware if it goes a long way.
5. Listen more (it’s a way of expressing love).
6.Be kind to your body (live a healthy life by eating a healthy diet, practicing mindful eating, getting regular sleep and exercise, take care of yourself on all levels!
7. Be sure to find a balance in your diet and lifestyle: on the one hand, we want to avoid harming others; however, if not consuming something presents a harm to yourself, then it is important to consider a balanced approach in which you can eat a healthy diet which provides you with the nutrients you need in accordance to your dosha/typology/specific health requirements while causing the least possible harm to other beings in the process – you can aim to find the middle way, for example by opting for vegan meals a few times a week if it is not good for your health to go on a full vegan diet). Nourish yourself!
8. Live consciously, practice awareness, recognize non-loving thoughts.
9. Respect Mother Earth and care for the ecosystem. Be mindful pf what you consume, the products you buy (fair trade and organic products can be expensive and difficult to afford if you are on a budget. You could consider making choices here: for example: opting to purchase some organic items, like eggs or diary. Instead of buying ALL your make-up and toiletries from an organic brand, you could be more frugal about using the products you have and treating yourself to one organic item next time you need to replace one that finished). Stay creative!
10. Be kind, everyone has challenges in their lives which you may not know of.
11. Resolve conflicts peacefully. Learn to control your anger, be aware of your emotions and learn how to manage and channel them
12. Be gentle, and patient with yourself as well as others. Honour the process.
13. Meditate (even if only 10 minutes a day), and connect to your inner wisdom
14. Practice forgiveness, hold no resentment.
15. Leave things / return things in a nicer state than you found them in or was given to you.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF TO CHECK YOUR AHIMSA
X How can I be kinder to my body?
X What is the nature of my self-talk? Sometimes we talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to our friends.
X How can I be kinder to others?
X How aware am I of kind of energy I send to others?
X Is the music I listen to positive and inspiring, or is it negative and hateful?
X What kind of TV shows and movies do I watch? Are they spiritually inspiring, or are they violent?
X How aware am I of the products I buy (are they fair-trade? Where are they produced?)
X In what ways do I create drama, and how can I replace this by creating peace instead?
X How can I make things better?
X How are your actions beneficial to the world, and not only yourself?
X What does it take for you to extend the love in your heart to all beings?
X How can I become a peaceful, calming energy to those around me?
A WORK IN PROGRESS
In conclusion, there are a few things to remember when it comes to observing ahimsa. First of all, it is a work in progress! Be kind to yourself, make it a lifetime project. Changing habits takes time, patience and perseverance. Remember also the power of intention.
It’s easy to practice ahimsa when things are going well. When things get hard, when life hits you with an unexpected slap in the face, when a stranger is rude to you in the supermarket, when a partner is unfaithful, when someone cuts you off in traffic – can you still remember ahimsa?
It is when things get challenging that the practice truly begins. Great growth can potentially happen in these moments when you choose to be aware of your actions and choose to respond to situations consciously instead of impulsively react. This means that when something “happens” that triggers a part of you, you take a few moments of awareness and observe your inner reactions and consider the ways in which you can act from your Higher Self and respond rather than react.
Ahimsa manifests in all the layers of your life: yourself, your relationships, your community, humanity and the planet. To practice ahimsa is to remove all violence from our mind, body, and spirit. It is all about compassion, love, acceptance, kindness, and having an open heart. Pay attention to the subtleties of how you can make it manifest in daily life! Ahimsa serves our spiritual awakening because it also helps us to identify with what we are. It is a path towards unconditional love. To observe ahimsa is to extend to others the love we have within our hearts Ultimately, it comes from the love in your heart – the love that you ARE.
Thank you for tuning in to our saktiisha bimonthly articles of inspiration. May the power of loving awareness always be with you!
There is something special about June 21st. This day marks the Summer solstice and is thereby the year’s longest day in Northern countries of the world. From a yogic point of view, the Summer solstice denotes the transition to dakshinayana (a Sanskrit term for the six-month period between Summer solstice and Winter solstice). This day is known as a special time of the year in which sadhanas (spiritual practices) receive extra support from Mother Earth. It is also International Yoga Day, which aims to raise awareness worldwide of the benefits Yoga. On June 21st, large Yoga events around the world are open and free to everybody. This year, Father’s Day also falls on June 21st. To top it off, there is a New Moon and a solar eclipse on this day. So much happening in just this one day! Now, having mentioned the extra special things about this day, this article is going to be focused on embracing the summer season from a yogic perspective. You will learn about specific yoga practices you can do, gain some insights from an Ayurvedic perspective, including changes you can bring to your diet during the warmer summer days, and also get some tips about things and activities you can consider implementing in your lifestyle.
As the seasons change at a macrocosmic level, our being also goes through the seasons at a microcosmic level. Our bodies adapt naturally. As above, so below. Still, there are things we can do to attune our microcosm to the macrocosm in order to bring harmonious balance.
SUMMER YOGA PRACTICE
In the summer season, it is ideal to do slower, calming practices, as well as practices that support your body’s self-regulation processes. With the days getting hotter, consider practicing gentle yoga flows with deep breathing, and yin yoga practices which you can really sink into and relax. Some yin yoga poses you can consider practicing in the summer are for example: anahatasana (the melting heart pose), lying down twists and shoulder stretches, and tadpole pose with twist. Because of the contemplative nature of yin yoga, the practice will give you an opportunity for introspection and surrendering your heart into full presence.
Grounding poses which are literally close to the ground are ideal, as the earth provides a cooling energy and stability. An example of such poses are: paschimottanasana (the seated forward fold), child’s pose (balasana), and kurmasana (turtle pose, which is a semi wide-legged forward fold).
Twists help to purify and flush out excess heat and tension from the entire abdominal area.
Twists such as ardha matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist) and reverse warrior poses or lunges with twists are great for cleansing the liver, keeping the digestive system healthy and the spine flexible – all particularly helpful if you have gone out partying 😉
Backbends are great for opening up the entire area after possibly being physically in a more inverted, crunched in the previous colder months of the year. Ustrasana (camel pose) is also great for opening up the chest and shoulders, and it also helps to regulate body temperature, along with bhujangasana (cobra pose) and matsyasana (fish pose). Chakrasana is a strong backbend will send a shot of energy through your entire being, and open your heart, readying you up for a great day out. Also. gomukhasana (cow face pose) is a shoulder opening pose which helps to increase your lung capacity and also open up the chest.
Inversions calm the mind and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates calm feelings. Inversions such as sarvangasana (shoulder stand) vrischikasana (scorpion pose), and sirsasana (headstand) will challenge you into a new perspective and vitalize your body.
And remember always of course, about savasana in your garden, at the park, or the beach 😉
Sitali pranayama (the cooling breath) is particularly cooling, as reflected in its name. This is because the air (and prana, life force) is cooled down by the tongue through the technique employed in the practice. To practice this breathing exercise, you stick your tongue out and curl it in a semi tube-like form. Then, inhale slowly through the mouth keeping the tongue curled, and exhale through the nose.
In Yoga, the left side of the body is yin (passive, feminine, cold), and the right side of the body is yang (active, masculine, warm). Since in the summer the energy gets hot, we want to balance it out by engaging in cooling practices. Since the left nostril corresponds to the left, cooling side (and the left subtle energetic channel called ida nadi) breathing through this can decrease inner heat and be refreshing. Basically, to practice this, you close off the right nostril and breathe in and out through the left nostril for a count of 5-20 breaths. Chandra Bhedana pranayama (“the moon passing through” breath) is another breathing exercise which also activates ida nadi, and is more balanced than the one previously described. To practice it, inhale through your left nostril and exhale through the right one. You can do this for a few minutes. Start slow and gentle!
Sitkarin pranayama (the sipping or hissing breath) has similar effects to that of sitali pranayama. The effects are different in that it is not as cooling as sitali and the effects are deeper on your subtle body. To practice this breathing exercise, instead of curling the tongue, you let it float in your mouth, having the teeth lightly touch, so that when you inhale through the mouth you create a hissing sound. Exhale through the nose.
Also, with so much happening in the summer – family get togethers, parties, and other adventures, remember to meditate regularly to stay centered and connected to that peaceful place in your heart throughout it all.
SUMMER & AYURVEDA
The summer season corresponds to pitta (fire) dosha in Ayurveda (the other two being vata and kapha), because it is driven by the energy of the Sun, which is strongest in the summer. Pitta is characterized by heat and dryness, and it is responsible for your digestion and metabolism. When the temperatures rise, pitta can aggravate. Examples of how this is commonly manifested are: heartburn, ulcers, indigestion, skin rashes, sunburns, dehydration, hot-tempered attitudes, frustration and irritation. So, we want to balance this out by bringing in more cooling, calming energy, realizing that the aggravated pitta creates not only physical imbalance, but can also mentally and emotionally make us “fired up.” How to do this? Besides bringing adaptations to our yoga practice, we can implement changes into our diet and seasonal lifestyle.
In regards to your diet, it is recommended to eat lots of watery fruits and vegetables such as watermelons, melons, cucumbers, and fresh raw salads filled with leafy greens. To stay hydrated, consider drinking coconut water, aloe vera drinks, or electrolyte-filled water. Cooling and refreshing teas are a good idea, however it is best to avoid drinking ice-cold drinks as they disturb your digestion. Also, herbs that decrease pitta like mint, coriander, fennel, and cilantro, are some which you could consider making teas with, or adding to your salads. Three additional cooling elements to add are: cleansing bitters such as asparagus, kale, and rocket (which make the heart and small intestine stronger, as well as purify and cool your blood), astringents (which have a toning function and support the absorption of fluids), and healthy, natural sweets such as fruits (which balance the fire in your digestion). Have a big breakfast to energize you for the day, and keep dinner small and light. Avoid hot, spicy foods which are likely to aggravate your digestive fire. It is also best to avoid alcohol, vinegar, and fried foods. The main idea to follow is to eat light, easily digestible water-rich foods to keep you hydrated and cool.
LIFESTYLE & ACTIVITY
Although many people feel called to work out intensely to “get that beach body,” it is best to exercise in a way that you do not overhear and deplete yourself. If you are a runner, choose to run in the cooler times of the day such as the early morning. To avoid overheating and sunburns, it’s best to not overexpose yourself to the Sun between 10AM and 2PM. In terms of clothing, wearing organic and cooling materials such as cotton, silk, and hemp will help keep your body cool – think: “breathable” clothing. Because the nighttime is cooler, during the summer it is all right for your wellbeing to go to bed after 11 pm, and if you can, sleep with the windows open. Using a natural moisturizer on your skin before you go to bed and in the morning to keep your skin hydrated. Overall, make sure to stay hydrated, and slow down.
Essential oils carry a certain energy, and during the summer season, rose oils can be your best friend because they are very soothing. You could consider using a rose massage oil, and include self-care massage sessions (abhyanga) to your routine, as massages will have a very calming effect on your whole being. Other sweet-smelling oils like jasmine, lavender, chamomile, and honeysuckle help to relax and balance pitta. Coconut and sunflower oils will also serve the purpose if it’s what’s available for you.
There’s more you can do. You can listen to gentle ambient music which feels soothing to your soul. You can also listen to or chant mantras. You can also spend quality time in nature, particularly near water (beach, river, canal, creek, lake etc.). Relax, and take it all in: the sound of the breeze, birds, or the crashing of the ocean waves on the shores, the pastel-coloured sky during sunset, and the cooling feel of the late-evening summer breeze.
EMBRACING SUMMER JOY
Remember that the key to balance is moderation. Summer is typically a holiday season meant for having fun, relaxing, and enjoying yourself. It can work against us to get too fired up, so remember to stay cool – not only physically, keep also your mind, emotions, and spirit cool! Knowing that the intensity of the hot summer season can trigger our moods and make us short-tempered, easily dehydrated, and fired up, in this post I hope to have served you this summer by sharing a myriad of ways in which you can stay cool, healthy, balanced and joyful this summer. The summer solstice is a transition into the remainder of the year, with the Sun shining its light upon it, reminding us of the eternal light within our very selves. So let us remember, and celebrate this light within our hearts!
Thank you for tuning in, and may you all have a beautiful summer season.
There are many types of Yoga. The four main ones are: Jnana, Karma, Bhakti & Hatha Yoga. Many forms of yoga fall under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. Yin Yoga is one of them, and this blog entry is dedicated to it.
WHAT IS YIN YOGA?
To understand, first of all the concept of yin & yang needs to be addressed. Yin means dark and negative, while yang means light and positive. Yin & Yang is symbolized in a multitude of physical manifestations. Yin qualities are typically: feminine, black, dark, north, water, passive, moon, earth, cold, even numbers, estrogen, sleep, valleys, soft, shakti. Yang qualities are typically: masculine, white, light, south, fire, active, Sun, heaven, warm, odd numbers, testosterone, wakefulness, mountains, hard, shakti. The list could go on for both, as in fact, everything in physical manifestation can be attributed to having either a yin or a yang dominant quality. Some examples of Yin & Yang that give a better idea of the principles of Yin as receptive and Yang as active: winter & summer, female & male sexual union, student-teacher relationship etc. While yin & yang seem to oppose each other, Taoism teaches us that they are actually complementary and interdependent. Yin and yang are relative to each other, Where one ends, the other begins.
One of the main purposes of Hatha (ha =Sun, tha= moon) Yoga is to bring balance to the yin & yang aspects of our being so that our energies may center. Yin practices nourish the restorative aspects of our being (while Yang ones stimulate dynamism). Yin Yoga is a gentle, restorative type of yoga which was developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. It is a branch of Hatha Yoga that particularly focuses on the yin aspect of our being. Yin Yoga combines the knowledge of Hatha Yoga with Chinese Medicine’s meridians, Taoist philosophy and Buddhist meditation techniques. According to Taoism (ancient Chinese philosophy), Qi (life energy) runs through our bodies. This is in line with yoga philosophy, according to which prana (life force) runs through nadis, which are a concept comparable (and in some cases equal) to that of the meridians in Chinese medicine. Through the opening that happens as a result of Yin Yoga practices, more life energy flows freely through our being as blockages are released.
There are more or less twenty classical poses plus variations in Yin Yoga. Often, the Yin Yoga postures focus on parts of the body which enclose a joint: hips, pelvis and lower spine. During Yin Yoga practices, instead of moving the body intensely (as is the case in more yang practices such as for example Ashtanga Yoga), you really take your time in each posture, and also in the way you transition from one posture to the next. Postures are not so physically demanding and are typically held for 3-5 minutes (while in more yang types of yoga practices you hold the pose for 3-5 breaths) with a softer engagement of the muscles. It is a much slower practice in which poses are held for a longer time in a relaxed way, working on the body’s deep connective tissues and joints. It is very favourable for your organs, immune system, muscles and joints. It has a passive and restorative style that is pleasant and meditative.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
This gentler approach to strengthening and lengthening does not target our muscles, instead, it targets connective tissue, which is one of the four types of tissue in our body. Connective tissue functions as a web that binds different parts of our body: it holds our organs in place and connects our bones and muscles. They are for example: deep fascia, ligaments, bones, and joints. Joints are easily injured, and Yin Yoga helps to keep them healthy. It helps to stretch tissues that tend to get bound up. The connective tissues slowly and gently unwind. It increases your joints’ range of movement in a passive way, produces more synovial fluid (which has the purpose of reducing friction between cartilage of synovial joints during movement) for the spine and joint capsules and decompresses the spine, creating more space between your vertebra. In the practice, it is necessary for muscles surrounding the connective tissue to relax in order for the stretch to occur. It creates lasting structural change in your body, and you improve the flexibility. You let the pressure sink in, and your body opens up, while honouring your body’s limitations at any given time. By concentrating the mind and releasing tension, you can really go deep in this practice. Paul Grilley says: “you will find more freedom in tight spots.” Practicing Yin Yoga is a great way to prepare your body for meditation because of the way it opens up parts of your body which may otherwise be rather stiff and cause discomfort when sitting in meditation postures for extended periods of time.
PRINCIPLES OF YIN YOGA
Sarah Powers (as mentioned earlier, together with Paul Grilley co-founder of Yin Yoga), defines three principles of Yin Yoga:
1. Finding your edge: you are not pushing or forcing your body into any specific shape or trying to make the most intense version of a pose possible. From an intensity scale 1-10 (with 10 being maximum sensations, and 1 standing for no feeling), you would want to be at a 4 or 5. There is just enough discomfort that you create a change in your body, but not enough to strain your body. So, you don’t push yourself to the limit. Instead, you purposefully choose to find your edge, just before your limit. Pain is not the edge! The key is to find your edge respectfully, really attuning to and listening to your body. Also remembering that your edge might be different every day, as other factors are influential to it (for example: how hydrated you are, how well rested you are, the weather etc.).
2. Being still: you don’t fidget or move once you are in a pose. Props can be very useful to support this practice – bolsters, pillows, straps to support you staying in the pose without moving at all, in a relaxed way. This is a great way to train for meditation. Most yin yoga poses are done lying down, on the ground, using props. The focus on surrender, using gravity as a friend (where more active types of yoga challenge gravity instead)
3. Holding the pose: Overall the poses can be held anywhere ranging from 1-10 min, sometimes even longer depending on the pose, your level of practice, and the aim of the particular practice. At saktiisha, it is usually somewhere between 3-5 minutes.
Another way to look at the practice of Yin Yoga in three parts, is to look at the levels it targets: physical, energetic, and emotional/mental. Physically, it targets connective tissues, joints, and bones. Energetically, it fosters harmony through free flow of life energy through your subtle body. Emotionally and mentally, it prepares you for meditation as it helps you to cultivate introspection and inner stillness.
BENEFITS OF YIN YOGA
-Keeps the joints healthy
-Creates balance and harmony
-Releases stress & tension
-Helps to relax, surrender, and let go
-Supports preparation for meditation
-Releases stored/suppressed emotions
-Increases free flow of energy and improves circulation
-Increases mind and body awareness (overall mindfulness)
-Rejuvenates: working on the deep connective tissues makes our bodies less dense and tight as we get older.
-Activates the parasympathetic nervous system (and this benefits many involuntary bodily functions)
-Supports healing: because of its restorative nature, it can be beneficial for those suffering from or recovering from certain injuries or chronic conditions
YIN YOGA AT A DEEPER LEVEL
The practice of Yin Yoga brings unity and balance, especially for those who live very active (yang) lives. Modern society is very much on the go, with its high demands of performance and sensory overstimulation in so many places. When our yin is activated, we become more relaxed and receptive. When we are relaxed, we are healthier. We all know that stress is not healthy – in fact it has been called the biggest disease of the West, as too much stress inevitably leads to illness. Being receptive makes us more connected to our environment, and also serves conscious relationships (of whatever form – family, friends, colleagues, “strangers”), because it helps us to attune to what the other is feeling. When we are able to connect to others at this level, relationships become more balanced and meaningful (opposed to us selfishly only attuned to our own feelings and needs).
At a deeper level, the practice of Yin Yoga is a safe way to practice surrender and letting go. It helps us to release the need to control. Energetically, you get a sense of wellbeing from the sense of relaxed openness. It helps us to learn to use our mind and breath to manage discomfort in a conscious way – a valuable skill that will greatly serve us (and others!) off the mat. Yin Yoga gives you the space to turn inward, increasing your level of mindfulness, and allowing emotions you may have been supressing to finally emerge! The nature of the practice supports you to witness them without getting too caught up in the story.
Practicing Yin Yoga will have an overall positive effect on your health and wellbeing. One of the greatest gifts it will offer you, besides all the benefits already mentioned – is the opportunity it presents you to slow down and connect to Self. You can choose to practice Yin Yoga on its own, or also as a way to balance more vigorous practices (ashtanga, hatha flow, vinyasa, etc.). You can follow Yin Yoga classes with us at saktiisha. Keep your eyes peeled on the schedule, sometimes there is also a Yin Yoga teacher training offered, which is a great opportunity to deepen your practice.
Thank you for tuning in. I hope this blog provides you with the insights you were looking to learn about Yin Yoga, and that it serves you!
Tapas is Sanskrit for austerity or discipline, and it is the third of Patanjali’s Niyamas. The niyamas are moral codes that encourage positive behavior. Tapas is all about perseverance, and burning enthousiasm. When we look at the etymology of this Sanskrit term, it comes from the verb ‘tap,’ meaning ‘to burn’, giving a feel of a passionate, fiery discipline. I call it an umff. You can train your willpower like you would train a muscle. If the words discipline and willpower make you cringe, some extra practice on the navel (manipura) chakra can help you to create a more harmonious resonance with these concepts. There are so many other things you can do, which I will share in this blog.
The essential aspect to the “methodology” of the practice of tapas is that you decide to do X action for X amount of time, and that you stick to it and do not break it – no matter what (unless it’s a life or death situation of course!). And if you do, the next day you double it up, meaning you do double the practice. For example: you could take a tapas to practice trikonasana (the triangle pose) every day for one week for 5 minutes at a time. The idea is also that you begin with something realistic, so that you set yourself up for success. It is interesting to note (speaking from personal experience) that once you set a tapas, you will be challenged! For example, you set a tapas to fast every Thursday for a month, and you get invited to a birthday party on one of those Thursdays. You can still go to the party, and have a good time, yet not eating and honouring your commitment to your tapas! It is important to stick to your tapas and resist the temptation. I read somewhere once that temptation is the Universe’s compassionate way of letting you go through the consequences of an action in your mind without actually having to go through them in real life and I found that really inspiring! Excuse me for not recalling where I read that – it was about a year ago, and it really stuck with me. Sticking to your tapas will greatly increase your willpower.
In spirituality, the practice of tapas boosts and speeds up the process of spiritual evolution. It’s one a challenge in spirituality for many, yet it is something that can most certainly be overcome through willpower, commitment, and devotion to the intention. Practicing tapas together with a group of fellow yogis and/or yoginis can be very valuable, as the supporting energy of the group makes a huge difference. The motivation factor is multiplied and it’s also a very beautiful way to connect with other yogis in a different way.
What is a great way to cultivate inner fire?
The answer is: TAPAS! We are not talking about the delicious snacks from Spain! There are two types of inner fire: there is kamagni, which is generated by stress, and yogagni, which is generated through the practice of yoga—pranayama and postures. The latter one is the one we want to call in, especially in times where a healthy inner fire is needed to stay healthy and stay focus on our purpose regardless of the circumstances.
WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR OBSERVANCE & PRACTICE OF TAPAS:
*Feel free to add to the list if you get the idea!
1. Practice asanas, pranayamas, meditation that work on manipura chakra.For example: uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lock), nabhyasana (the boat pose) , mayurasana (the peacock pose), simhasana (lion pose), and bhastrika (the breath of fire).
2. Intermittent fasting: fast one day a week (either sunrise to sunset, or for 24 hours. It is also moreover known to be purifying and great for your health.
3. Seek advise: ask one of our yoga teachers to advise you on how you can set up a useful tapas in your home practice.
4. Just do it: Take a “useless” (but harmless!) tapas for the sake of tapas. This means that you are not necessarily doing a Yoga technique, it can be something like emptying a box of matches and putting them back in the box. It sounds simple. But try it, and some of you will see how much resistance will come up, you might be surprised! The point of the exercise is to strengthen your willpower.
5. Call in Tripura Bhairavi: For the slightly more mystically inclined yogis among you, she is the fifth off the 10 Mahavidyas, which is Sanskrit for “the Great Knowing Ones/Knowledges, also known as Goddesses in part of the Tantric Yoga Philosophy which focuses on the worship of Shakti/the Divine Feminine. Tripura Bhairavi is the Goddess of spiritual action, effort, inner fire, and tapas. Meditating with her will help you to cultivate the spiritual energy of inner fire that flows through the practice of tapas. If you are interested learning more about the 10 Mahavidyas, I would highly recommend you read Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas Paperback by David Kinsley (1997), and Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses (Spiritual Secrets of Ayurveda) by Dr. David Frawley (1994). These two books are great!
6. Align your words with your actions
Have the willpower to follow through with what you say you will do. Whether you make an agreement with yourself or with someone else, the commitment is just as important!
IMPROVING YOUR LIFE THROUGH TAPAS
You can improve your relationship with any area of your life through the practice of tapas. For example, if you would like to improve your relationship to time (although a very abstract concept in and of itself!), you could take a tapas (consecrated spiritual effort) related to that – such as committing to wake up every single day at the same time, no matter what, or to do meditations with the energy of Kali (the first of the 10 Mahavidyas). If you would like to improve your relationship with food, try fasting one day of the week (fasting is known to have amazing healing benefits anyway so you would be doing yourself a wholesome favour! If you have any ailments, do consult with your doctor or physician first before going on any fast that is longer than a day; and just to add: do your research, I am only sharing an idea here!). Again, sometimes it’s also a good idea to ask for some advice, especially if you are in doubt.
Your commitment to the sadhana (spiritual practice) is personal. You can really go deep if you want and are doing it with aspiration. The outcome is not always 100% quite like you may have wanted or expected, but it is always exactly what you need.
Discipline, willpower, and perseverance will get you far in life. It’s what makes the difference between the dreamers and the achievers. Embrace the stop-complaining-and-just-do-it-mentality. Empower yourself. To take a tapas is to consecrate a spiritual effort. Stop waiting around for a miracle to happen and start taking some action!
May the inner fire in all of us continue to harmoniously burn, keeping us pure, and keeping us moving peacefully through it all!
Spiritual practice is a continuous discovery, a journey, a yearning for the Divine. This blog post is in the honour of Shakti who represents the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, there where Shiva represents Divine Consciousness. The woman and her mystery is a theme that pervades the heart of many cultures. She is the source of all life, of pleasure, and transcendence. The Mother Goddess Shakti is ever-present in everything that lives. The mystery lies in life itself. The Divine flow of Shakti tingles down through all of us as our Shiva consciousness observes.
WHO IS SHAKTI?
You may already be familiar with the concept of Shiva and Shakti. Or perhaps you have freshly stumbled upon it now. So, what’s that all about? Simply put, Shiva represents Pure Consciousness and Shakti the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, which together make up the Universe. Shakti is always dancing around Shiva. Without each other, they cannot exist. Men represent the Shiva aspect and women the Shakti aspect although both have a shiva (yang, “vertical”) and shakti (yin, “horizontal”) aspects. In Tantra Yoga, there are two main branches: Shaivism (worship of Shiva) and Shaktism (worship of Shakti). Shiva-focused spiritual practices concentrate transcending the mind to the higher levels of consciousness through meditations and living ascetic lives of detachment. Shakti-focused practices concentrate more on enjoying the gifts of life with presence and awareness, thereby inviting the force of Shakti can bring the practitioner to liberation, self- realization, and union – in other words, samadhi (enlightenment).
The word shakti origins from the verb sak, meaning “the power to produce an effect, capability, efficiency or potency.” Translating from Sanskrit to English, Shakti means “the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire Universe.” In some interpretations, the word means not a goddess, but a force (Rajmani. 1998:5).
SHAKTI IN THE SCRIPTURES
While exploring the concept of Shakti in various literatures, I found that the earliest clear statement using the word Shakti to describe her relationship to the Absolute is found in the Svetasvatara Upanisad: “Sakti is said to be vividha, manifold; jnana, knowledge; bala, power; and kriya, the capacity to act; these are characteristic to her.” The list here below pertains to ancient Hindu scriptures, which can be very inspiring and insightful when studying the beautiful and vast tradition of yoga.
The word and concept further appear in Pancaratra Agama (300 BC and 600 – 850 BC, to give you an idea of how old these are!), Vyakarana Agama, Mimamsa Vedanta and Kavya Sastraa, Vedas, Upanisads, Puranas (*Markandeya, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Narada, Devibhagavata & Kalika) and other Indian Philosophical Literature. Particular texts that deal with the concept of Shakti are the Netra Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Malinivijaya Varttika, Nityasodasikarnava, and Yogini Hridaya. I am not saying that they all interpret Shakti coherently in relation to each other (because they don’t). Some of the most coherent discussions on the topic can be found in the Saundaryalahari, a Sanskrit book in which the beauty of Parvati is praised in 103 shlokas (verses).
Another term for shakti is prakrti (manifestation of the Universe). In the Kavya Sastra (Indian poetics) the term is used as “the unique potential to the seed of the essence of a poet.” (Rajmani. 1998) Devotees recite stotras (hymns of praise) in her honor. In Pauranic Tantric texts, she personifies and praises devotees or punishes demons.
There is also a lot of contemporary literature you can find about Shakti. In the book “Shakti, The Power of Tantra,” Tigunait lists some of the difficulties revolving around the definition of Shakti: the historical & literary boundaries are not well defined, the relationship between the main branches of Tantric literature is not well understood, there is a lack of thematic and comparative studies available, there is no criteria defined as to which characteristics make a text Sakta (pertaining to Shakti), and there is no easy access to the secret oral interpretation (1998:3). These traditionally secret teachings are at least more accessible here. As to make the universal structure complete, Shakti is always accompanied by a Shiva. In Hinduism, she is the power that underlies the male principle. She is his consort, he is hers. For example, Parvati as the wife of Shiva, or as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. Shakti is never independent of Shiva. The weapons and symbols she holds correspond to her Shiva. She is the power of the Absolute Reality and of Shiva in his many forms: Brahma, Visnu, Shiva, Indra, Agni, Varuna, Yama, Rudra. She may be beautiful and compassionate like Tara, or appear terrifying as represented by Kali. In Thailand, throughout the Yoga courses at Agama, we learn that certain manifestations of Shiva & Shakti correspond to a particular chakra, or energy center.
The Mimamsakas (analysts of the vedas) say that although fire produces heat, under the influence of specific mantras the fire stops producing heat while the fire remains. Then there must be something in the fire which makes it blaze: Shakti.
A pattern of competition and fear can easily emerge among women. Embracing and embodying Shakti is a beautiful way to transcend these patterns. For a woman to see herself in the eyes of every other woman can be such an elevated and evolved way of moving through life bringing many blessings along with it, as it’s a powerful reminder of something greater we all share. Things like Shakti groups and women’s circles reinforce the power of Shakti. Something magical happens when women join forces. There is a mysterious power that comes alive when a group of women with a shared vision unite. We can all help retransform unfavourable relationship patterns among women by cultivating sisterhood, lifting each other up, and engaging in practices that honour Shakti – The Divine Feminine.
RELATING TO SHAKTI IN DAILY LIFE
The dynamic presence of Shakti can be continuously felt throughout all of daily life. It is important to be in the here and now, fully present, in the flow, allowing whatever comes to just arrive and pass through. To create space to connect at a deeper level. There are many ways of learning alone, or with each other. It is very empowering as a woman to experience sisterhood, and at the same time a lot of empowerment can come from times of solitude. The more empowered a woman is, the more she can be seen and adored. And Shakti wants to be seen!
Transcendent, she is indescribable, unimaginable. The Universe is born from her and dissolves back into her eventually. She is in everything that lives, yet she is not the life itself- or is she? The work with Shakti; trying to be fully present with all states of being within and around; aware, attentive but still in the flow and using this power, this intensity as a stepping stone to go beyond.”
I personally love the way Shakti shines through in my movements—be it through dance, moving through nature (something so simple as a walk through the forest can be really quite ecstatic!), or a gentle tingle up my spine – a feeling like Kundalini Shakti is saying hi, and slowly awakening. I tend to start dancing at the sound of music (it works like a reflex), letting the unpremeditated movement freely come through. I have been getting to know Shakti a little better as she moves through me and at the same time couldn’t have done so without the Shiva consciousness (it’s within us all) there to witness it.
The mystery of Shakti could very well be responsible for the evolution of the entire Universe. Shakti is unreal and at the same time present in everything that exists in this reality. Shakti manifests in infinite ways; same essence, different forms.
Thank you for tuning in, and until next time!
Dear Yoga Family,
We have now transitioned through this year’s spring equinox, Spring is here! As nature yet again begins the cycle of renewal, growth and expansion, by the universal law of resonance, the energy within our very being does the same. In this season, we reawaken parts of us that remained dormant throughout the winter. Spring and summer are the yang time of year. Yang is everything that is: heating, active, light, masculine, creative, fire-like, bright, energetic, and moving. Spiritually, springtime presents us with a beautiful opportunity to open our hearts and embrace the change – which ultimately is the only constant.
As we simultaneously enter the time of the astrological sign of Aries. This sign represents the dawning of light and is all about self-development. As in yoga we create unity with all, we can align our being with the beneficial energies of the universe, and tune into some of the most beneficial qualities this sign brings: new beginnings, action, assertiveness, intellectuality, and fire energy.
SPRING YOGA PRACTICE
In the spring season, we want to ideally boost our body’s digestive system, and detox. For this, we can emphasize practicing the kriyas in Yoga. Kriyas are cleansing techniques such as: kapalabhati (stimulates and purifies the brain), neti (purifies the nasal track), trataka (eye excercises which purify the mind and eyes), nauli (abdominal purification and optimization of digestive fire), dhauti (cleansing of intestine), and vasti (cleansing of the rectum).
Moreover, with the current events transpiring worldwide, it is key to also keep our respiratory health on point. We can do this by practicing lots of pranayama (breathing excercises in yoga), and going on long park or forest walks while meditating on breathing deeply.
• Anahata Chakra – Opening the heart
With spring being a time of embracing change, there is an openness needed for us to do this, and the most loving opening that we can experience occurs at the level of the heart chakra – anahata chakra. In our home yoga practice, we can integrate yoga postures that specifically work at this level, such as for example: cobra pose (bhujangasana), mow muzzle pose (gomukhasana), frog pose (bhekasana), turtle pose (kurmasana), diamond pose (vajrasana), and the king of doves pose (rajakapotasana) to name a few. Also, meditating on the heart chakra with the support of gentle music, especially the kind of soft harmonious piano and/or violin will help to tune into this beautiful chakra – the centre of our being where our soul resides, where we can find the true source of universal love.
Overall, spring season is a time to try something new, do something you have never done before, get creative, tap into new positive vibrations, and be playful! Let us remember that life is a playground. Not a game to play, but a place to play for the sake of playing – celebrating the gift of life.
SPRING & AYURVEDA
The spring season is the season of kapha dosha (water and earth) in Ayurveda. It has this energy of awakening from a long slumber (the winter season). It can take some time to get us going.
So, from an Ayurvedic standpoint, it is ideal to take some self-care time first thing in the morning to get rid of any lethargic kapha energy. Then, and get your system going by practicing some kriyas (see the list mentioned above under the section “Spring Yoga Practice”), yoga postures and a few minutes of pranayama. You can drink some warm lemon-ginger tea to ignite your digestive fire and prepare your body for breakfast. Just as an additional comment, the kapha hours of the day are between 06:00-10:00 and 18:00-22:00 – times of the day during which agni (our digestive fire) is at its lowest, which explains why these practices mentioned here are ideal to do first thing in the morning.
In your spring diet, you can opt to decrease the amount of kapha foods you consume (heavy and creamy/milky foods such as: starchy carbs, dairy, meat and puddings), and increase your intake of kapha balancing foods (these are light and easy to digest, such as: clear vegetable soups, spice teas, leafy greens, and beans)
LET YOGA BE YOUR MEDICINE
In her book Mana Yoga: Discovering Your Yoga Nature, Denby Sheather shares with us: “Spring herald’s new standards and new beginnings. It is a time of growth and renewal, of moving forwards and embracing new experiences. Survival of the fittest – we must connect with our innate primal response to adapt to circumstance – and learn to morph not only our bodies, but our minds, hearts and spirits – if we are to survive.”
So, let us be courageous and embark on a journey of profound transformation this season. Letting go of the old and preparing to build a more sustainable world. Through these times, let us let yoga be our teacher, our medicine, our motivation, and our teacher to embrace change, and tap into the creative universal energy which infinitely available for us all.
Wishing you all a healthy spring season!
With love always,
Full of spiritual aspiration, I am excited to greet you once again, and share my eager anticipation for the upcoming yearly Maha Shiva Ratri, the great night of Shiva.
Maha Shiva Ratri is traditionally celebrated on the night before the day of the New Moon in February – March according to the Indian astrological system, falling on February 22nd this year. Just as the Moon influences the tides of the oceans on planet Earth, so it also has its influence upon the microcosm of our being. When it is New Moon, the influences of the Moon are the least strong upon us (in contrast to when it is Full Moon), allowing our mind to be more peaceful, which in turn makes it easier to meditate.
According to Hindu mythology, Maha Shiva Ratri marks the day when Shiva married Parvati. Considered to be an- if not the most- auspicious night to worship Shiva, devotees traditionally gather at their ashrams in India and around the world on this night (an all-night meditation event), and practice Laya Yoga meditation with the Shiva mantra, chanting, and expressing other acts of worship. It is a beautiful opportunity for anyone interested in spirituality to experience the energy of Shiva and bringing the energy up to sahasrara (the crown, what I like to call our cosmic gateway to the Divine).
The first time I attended Maha Shiva Ratri (Sanskrit for “The great night of Shiva”), I was completely unaware of what was about to happen, and the profound spiritual imprint it would leave upon my being. It was March 2015, and I was in my third month of a 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course in Thailand. I’ve never felt so much devotion so many hours in a row (it went on all night, from 10PM to 6AM). My heart felt like it was overflowing, about to burst. Definitely a night to remember to put it lightly.
WHO IS SHIVA?
His origin is unknown, and yet he is the guru of all gurus! Shiva is considered to be Pure Consciousness. He has been represented in a myriad of divine roles. The roots of the Sanskrit term Shiva lie in beautiful legends from Hindu mythology. It appears in Vedic, Puranic (Shiva Purana and Linga Purana), and Tantric (Shaiva Agamas) Literatures.
Shiva is said to have shared his knowledge with his wife Parvati or Shakti, and then with the rest of the world. In the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (one of my favourite books), Shakti asks Shiva how she can experience this Universe, and Lord Shiva instructs her 112 methods to liberation. Meditation techniques exposed in texts as these have been polished by masters, who pass it along to their disciples. This is how the Guru-disciple relationship emerged, and the lineage is continued up until today. “Only the knowledge imparted by a Guru, through his lips, is powerful and useful; otherwise it becomes weak and very painful.” (Siva Samhita III.11).
There is a story of a man who appeared one day in the Himalayas. Nobody knows where he came from or what his name was (which is why he is referred to as Adiyogi, meaning “the first” Yogi in Sanskrit). After many years, on a Full Moon night, Adiyogi is said to have transferred all the knowledge required for conscious evolution to seven sages. This occurrence on which Higher Knowledge was revealed to humankind is referred to as the Guru Purnima. In the context of this story, Shiva is not a God but a real man who walked this Earth—the first guru. Question remains where he got all that knowledge from.
THE STORY & SYMBOLISM BEHIND SHIVA
One of the things I find really beautiful about Hindu mythology is the detailed, meaningful symbolism it is enriched with. Shiva is typically illustrated meditating in padmasana (lotus pose) on mount Kalas: “Its name is verily the Kalas mount, where dwells the great Lord (Shiva), who is called Nakula and is without destruction, and without increase or decrease.” (Siva Samhita V.152). Kundalini Shakti is represented by the snake coiled around his neck, insights into mystical knowledge are symbolized by the crescent moon in his hair, and Higher Knowledge by his third eye. Mother Ganges runs down through the top of his head, purifying him. The flow of the Ganges represents the nectar of immortality- amrita. His throat is blue because according to the myth, to prevent further damage he drank the poison (halahala) which emerged from of the sea turmoil caused by a war between the devas (gods) and asuras (demons). His wife Parvati strangled him so the poison wouldn’t spread, but his neck stayed blue. He holds a trident, representing the three gunas (tendencies of nature): tamas (inertia), rajas (activity), and sattva (transcendence). The ashes on his body stand for the culmination of material existence, the tiger skin is a sign of honour for the Brahmarishis (Hindu ascetics); others say it symbolizes fearlessness. There are more symbols attributed to Shiva with meaning behind them such as the deer, the drum, the axe, the nandi (bull), the ganas (attendants of Shiva), his 5 heads (related to the 5 elements), his 4 arms (related to 4 vedas), and Mount Kalas (with its resemblance to the Shiva lingam) but I don’t want to make you too dizzy at this point!
THE SHIVA LINGAM
Still, I can’t go on without saying a little bit more about the Shiva lingam. The Shiva lingam is traditionally a symbol of Shiva‘s energy and potential. Numerous temples have been built in India in the shape of a Shiva lingam. Devotees worship it to connect with God. It is said to be the first form taken during creation. There is a story of a hunter on Shivaratri (Night of Shiva, on New Moon) who was having trouble finding prey to hunt until he found a herd of deer and aimed for the kill with his bow and arrow but they ran away. He hid in a tree in the cold, shivering and murmuring “shiv, shiv, shiv”…and waited. When a deer appeared again, it asked him not to kill him, to allow him to first say goodbye to his friends and family and that he would then return. The hunter agrees and waits again. The herd of deer decide collectively that they either live or die together. They all sacrifice themselves to the hunter. The hunter lets them live, obviously feeling touched. There was a Shiva lingam under the tree where the hunter had waited. At the sight of this Shiva lingam, the hunter goes to it, kneels before it, and hears a voice coming from it, telling him his prayers have been answered and that he will be rewarded.
There is a general recurring theme with some of the symbolism here. For example, the snake around his waist (Kundalini Shakti), and the crescent moon (mystical knowledge). He has four arms: with the right hand he holds a damaru (drum), which symbolizes the sound of creation and passing of time. On the left he holds agni (fire), which signifies destruction. He holds abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) with his other right hand and points to the raised foot with the remaining left hand, which stands for liberation. Shiva Nataraja dances on Apasmara, the demon of ignorance. The fire circle around him represents the manifest Universe. Shiva Nataraj remains significant in India and worldwide anno 2016. Story goes that there is a place called Chidambaram- between the Pennar and Kaveri rivers in India – which the Cholas (they were a ruling dynasty in Southern India) believed to be the sacred place where Shiva danced the Ananda Tandava (Dance of Bliss) as Shiva Nataraj (Lord of the Dance). Described in 7th century poetry is a battle between the devas and asuras at the Tillai woods of Chidambaram, to which Shiva shows up as a beggar and victoriously defeats demons and snakes with his Dance of Bliss. There is an asana related to this story: Natarajasana (Shiva the Dancer), also known as Uthitta Ardha Dhanurasana (the half-raised bow pose).
In another blog, I will write more about Shiva – in particular, his three aspects: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. For now, I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog about Shiva and that it provides you with some spiritual insights and motivation not only to celebrate Maha Shivaratri, but also to celebrate Shiva every day, because Shiva is the Consciousness that permeates everything in this entire manifestation.
Grace is right here, in the present moment. The Kingdom of Heaven is in our hearts, and I wish for all of us to always remember this as we move through our daily lives. May the Consciousness in you always be free!
Everything in nature goes through cycles at a microcosmic as well as a macrocosmic level. We are a reflection of everything that exists. In other words, we are a microcosm of the macrocosm. A great example of this is women’s menstrual cycles and the cycles of the moon. Another one is the seasons. This is the first of a four-piece series we are introducing this year: Embracing the Seasons. In line with the current season in Europe at the time this post is written, we will begin with the winter season.
First, let’s talk a little bit about why seasons are significant in our lives. There are different ways of living that correspond to each season. The seasons play a big role in the way nature influences our internal disposition. City life tends to disconnect us from natural rhythms. Don’t panic – there are many things we can do to attune to the natural cycles of life regardless of where our feet find us!
The first step is to acknowledge our connection to the natural world, and in this way, we also honour the connection to ourselves.
It is common to experience varying feelings at different periods of the year. If you like, take a moment to reflect on what this is like for you. What’s the air like? What about the smells, sounds and sights around you? How does all this influence how you move through your life? Pause, look around outside, feel it, and ask yourself: how are my inner processes connected to all this? What vital part of me comes alive in the winter?
People seem to love summer, and always be active and on the go. No wonder people end up getting burn-outs, not taking the appropriate time to rest and repose which is very much needed. The all too popular dislike of winter hampers people from tuning into the great potential winter can offer. Winter is very yin in its essence, meaning that its qualities are receptive, passive, feminine, cooling, restorative, dark, and quiet. It is a great time to practice serenity, and nourish yourself with peaceful rejuvenating practices, silence, and stillness. You can find lots of yin yoga classes at saktiisha to meet this need.
Remember that in the yin yang symbol, there is a little white circle in the black half, and vice versa, meaning that there is still activity within the overall passivity. This keeps the greater whole in balance. The activity within the passivity we are talking about here is an inner form of activity that takes the form of reflection and restorative practices.
Why practice Yoga in the Winter?
As the seasons come and go, they remind us of the impermanence of it all, which makes a consistent yoga practice very valuable in keeping our centre throughout our experience of an ever-changing world.
The cold weather is likely to make us feel like lazy couch potatoes – a great reason to roll out our yoga mat and beat the winter blues. Yoga creates heat from the inside out and keeps you warm, improves your circulation, reduces cramps and stiffness, boosts your energy levels, immune system and mood, it opens your heart, a voids winter (weight) gain, and keeps you in balance, grounded and strong. What more reasons do you want?
Creating Heat in your Yoga Practice
• If you are feeling cold before your practice, a simple solution is to drink a hot glass of water (feel free to add some lemon, cinnamon, or make it a herbal tea if it tickles your fancy). Now here comes the fun part: a list of yoga practices for you to integrate into your (perhaps daily) yoga practice in the winter season:
• Sun salutations (surya namaskar – a dynamic practice that cultivates heat)
• Activate and energize manipura chakra (the solar plexus) as it is related to the element of fire with poses like boatpose (nabhyasana), cat-cow (marjariasana), camel pose (ustrasana) & triangle pose (trikonasana).
• Standing Twists (they tone the abdominal area)
• Warrior poses (they generate heat as you use a lot of leg and core strength)
• Choose to keep your arms up as much as possible in standing asanas, as doing so tends to increase heart rate and raise your body temperature.
• Agnisara Dhauti (fanning the fire) & Kapalabhati (breath of fire) – if you are not familiar with these practice, ask a yoga teacher to show you
• Practice Heating Inversions such as handstands, forearm balances and headstand.
• Practice Backbends (they are heat-producing) such as bridge pose (setubhendasana), wheel pose (chakrasana) and camel pose (ustrasana)
• And throughout it all, keep that ujjayi (victorious) breathing going to get more lifeforce flowing through your being.
An Ayurvedic Perspective
Adapting your lifestyle, habits, yoga practice and food choices is important when attuning to the change of seasons. From an Ayurvedic perspective, kapha (water & earth) and vata (air) doshas tend to get aggravated throughout the cold, dry, and often wet winter months. This is why colds, improper circulation, joint discomfort and negative feelings are so common for this season. So it’s best to not indulge in kapha & vata foods (dairy, cold drinks etc), and increase your pita intake to up your fire. As a disclaimer, please note that this is a very general statement so please do consult your doctor or ayurvedic therapist if you are currently undergoing any treatment! Everybody is different and one size doesn’t always fit all.
Overall, eating warm and hearty meals is very beneficial for the winter – it is also very likely that you crave this much more than a summery watermelon – lettuce salad!
Great foods to enjoy in the winter that suit the winter season are soups, stews, grains (oatmeal, quinoa, barley and rice), nourishing healthy oils such as of coconut, avocado and olive, and root vegetables (turnips, carrots, turnips etc). Moreover, drink plenty of herbal teas, hot lemon water, and have fun preparing your meals and get funky adding warming spices like cumin, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, fennel, and black pepper.
A little bonus tip to fight the winter blues
Do things that make you happy: organize yoga date nights and get moving – perhaps discover a new winter sport, or make your favourite homemade hot chocolate, put it in a thermos, get all wrapped up and go for a charming winter walk!
Life is what you make of it, so why not embrace the charm of the winter, enjoy winter fashion and dress warm, practice gratitude (this is of course something for every day, every season), journey inwards with reflective and restorative practice, and make it beautiful as can be!
With love always,