Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather.
- Pema Chödrön
A lot has been written about the many benefits of yoga, from the body to the mind. However, we sometimes miss the true goal of yoga, which is its ultimate benefit.
Certainly, a flexible, strong, and balanced body is a perk in itself. This year has really opened our eyes to the preciousness of a full, clear, deep breath. And I think we can all get on board with the idea of calming our minds.
You may even be aware of the benefit others get from your yoga practice. But to know the ultimate benefit of yoga, we need to understand the translation of the word “Yoga,” which means to yoke or unite.
I am a part of all I have met.
- Lord Tennyson
Sometimes we think of yoga as a solitary activity. It is a way we can learn to tune in and connect with ourselves. This allows our body, breath, and mind to exist in better partnership.
Many yogic practices work to balance the partnered sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of our autonomic nervous system. In this way, we marry the dynamic and the peaceful.
However, yoga isn't for isolating ourselves from the rest of the world. Yoga is learning to condition ourselves so that we can be more compassionate and effective in whatever our dharma (life’s purpose) calls us to do.
As we learned from this pandemic, for many, yoga is a way to connect both with oneself and with like-minded people. This may be through their teacher or perhaps the community (sangha) they are involved in. A sangha lifts and strengthens all involved.
The trick is learning to live yogically with the needs of your sangha around you (and in a way, we are all part of our local, national, and worldwide sanghas). The Yamas and the Niyamas guide us to balance our own needs with the needs of those around us and the universe as a whole.
So partnership is actually a very important part of yoga. Because what I do has an effect on you and what you do has an effect on me, learning to live together is about as important as it gets! Especially now that we are confronting such divisiveness within our social bonds.
As we know, yoga is more than poses but has much to offer us in terms of how we relate to ourselves and the world around us. Together, we can create a much brighter future. I firmly believe that.
Since we also celebrate partnership through Valentine's Day, February is the perfect month to explore partnership within our yoga practice. Luckily, there are many yoga poses we can explore with a partner, whether that partner is familial, platonic, or romantic.
I invite you to try out this handy-dandy partner yoga sequence with your favorite yoga buddy. If you're looking for more, you and your buddy are welcome to join us on Valentine's Day for a special Partner Yoga class. Members get 50% off!
A SIMPLE YOGA SEQUENCE FOR BEGINNERS
The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.
For January, we focus on the Beginner’s Mind. January is a month when many of us elevate our choices and commit to new ways of being. This is the month when we see New Year’s resolution setters and many beginning yoga students.
We love welcoming some of the newest yogins (yoga practitioners) to the art and science of yoga. Talk to any of our teachers or students and you’ll find we are all eager to share our experience of our developing yoga practice, which I think starts with the community you are in (in Sanskrit, this is called Sangha).
I just love how our regular students embrace new students. This is the kind of studio where you are not anonymous. It takes courage to be seen. But the relationships that have developed within the four walls of 1818 W. Belmont (and even in an online or hybrid format, everyone is still saying hello to one another, sharing their pets, etc.) show how impactful a smile or an encouraging word can be, especially in our darkest hours.
That is what yoga is. Yes, you’re probably going to feel amazing after your first (or millionth) yoga class. Yes, your mind is likely going to feel calmer and your emotions and energy levels more balanced. But this is all in service of turning the positive state of being developed through yoga into blessings for the entire world.
Yoga develops union, not simply between mind-breath-body but between ourselves and the rest of the universe. It helps us feel at home in our bodies and on this planet. Then we become empowered to welcome others into this state of being “at home”.
As much as we love welcoming new yoga practitioners at 5KY, I think it may be a bit of a selfish act, to be honest. Because meeting new students helps remind us of what yoga is like at the very beginning. The transcendence of that first breakthrough.
I remember being very resistant to the idea of practicing yoga before I tried it. I thought it was a bit twee. After an old injury worsened in my foot, I decided I would have to swap the dance classes I was taking in my theater program to a gentler yoga practice.
My first teacher was an alumna of the school, whose physical condition and control over her body amazed and inspired me as a performer. So I set about the practice and discovered that not only did I feel stronger and more capable, I also felt a sense of relaxation and well-being I had only ever felt after exhausting running sessions that were roughing up my foot.
When I left college, I was sold on yoga but still very skeptical about the spiritual aspects of it. I didn’t want to be indoctrinated or chanting for things I didn’t know what they meant. Nevertheless, I was very committed to practicing yoga (though I now understand the only part of yoga I was practicing at the time were asana or yoga poses) a few times a week.
This is the way many of us enter yoga. Fighting and struggling with the physical condition of our bodies (at least, I did). It is natural to start there because the body is the only part of ourselves that is physically tangible. We may feel it is the only thing we actually have control over.
Then I met my spiritual teacher or Guru, Sivakami Sonia Sumar. After surgery on my foot, the financial bottom dropping out in 2008, and a traumatic experience post-college, I was very closed off and defensive. It was like my head was separated from my body, even after practicing yoga consistently with a variety of teachers for two years.
On the very last day of the program I was attending with Sivakami, she asked us to talk about something which we wanted to work on letting go of. Not really knowing why I began to cry after my turn.
For many years when I was a bit younger, I had prided myself on not crying easily. But now, the tears wouldn’t stop. They flooded my eyes through the entire hour and a half long yoga practice, including the 15-minute deep relaxation at the end.
I was terribly embarrassed to have lost control over my emotions during class. So I skipped our first of only two meals at the ashram where I was staying and slept deeply. When I woke up, I felt like I had all this weight lifted off my shoulders.
That afternoon, we were given a puja (which is an act of worship) by a swami from India, all standing around a small Ganesh statue in a grove of palm trees. I thought that this could be my opportunity to start anew. My heart had finally opened.
It was at this point that I decided to have faith in Sivakami and therefore, the methodology of yoga as a complete practice, not just yoga poses. I mean, if she could break down years of walls I’d build up in six days with that stuff, what could she do in six years? What about 60?
This was when I could officially call myself a beginner at yoga because I was finally practicing all the components of yoga with my whole heart. Over my 10+ years studying with Sivakami and at the Integral Yoga Institute to become a Yoga Therapist, my scientific and personal understanding deepened about why these practices (physical, mental, and spiritual) are so beneficial.
This is why the fit of the teacher with the student is paramount. Your teacher is there to inspire you to open your heart and go further into your practice. Otherwise, we’re just spinning our wheels.
Some people are extraordinary and able to do all this without a teacher. They have connected to the Guru within (Guru literally means remover of the darkness: Gu - darkness, Ru - remover) without the help of a Guru in the form of a person.
I think most of us would benefit from a connection to a person who has already walked the path and can give us directions. For some, they can read books and get inspired by the words of Gurus from the past and feel that spark of inspiration. I think I needed a Brazilian woman who could give me a big, Brazilian hug.
So whenever someone tells me they’re a beginning yoga student, I instantly think of this entire story and how I feel now and how yoga has helped me become stronger and more balanced. I think all longtime yogins have a story about their journey practicing yoga.
Your story about why you, as a beginner, are practicing yoga reminds us to approach our own practice with the mind of a beginner. Because the mind of the beginner has no preconceptions and is absorbing so much information, it has to remain in the moment.
For this reason, beginners inspire experienced practitioners as well. We are so excited for you to start your own journey!
But you may be wondering, how do I get started with yoga? After all, there are so many options: different yoga studios, different yoga teachers, different yoga apps.
So I would love to give any beginning yoga students out there a short introduction to a complete hatha yoga practice according to the lineage I am in, which descends from Integral Yoga and the Sivananda tradition of hatha yoga.
This year, we’ll be posting helpful resources on our blog each month, from practice guides on sun salutations, breath work, and meditation, to explanations of why yoga specific practices are beneficial to us.
If you’re looking for more personalized attention from a live instructor, I am also hosting a Yoga for Beginners four-week workshop. I’d love to see you there!
Swami Satchidananda spoke about habit-setting like changing a car's oil. To get the dirty oil out, you simply pour clean oil in and the old oil is purged from the engine. Our habits are like this too: if we focus on adding good habits, we will slough the bad habits off eventually. If we focus on reducing or removing the bad ones, it seems to only exacerbate the issue. Apparently, this is called ironic process theory, as related this month by the brief New York Times article, "Resistance Is Futile. To Change Habits, try Replacement Instead." With the big spring clean upon us, many of us look to "clean" ourselves. Which often takes the form of habit-setting.
Purity is a niyama (observance) in Raja Yoga. Although purity might be taken to mean maintaining personal hygiene rituals, wearing clean clothes and keeping a clean house, it also means creating purity within, physically and mentally. Some people have a negative reaction to the word "purity" because today, it may connote an impossible standard of goodness. What I think Patanjali was suggesting is to have a Replacement attitude instead of a Resistance attitude, as described by the NYT and Swami Satchidananda. We don't have to be completely pure to get benefits from making a choice that leads us to more purity. Even though there is always dirt, shouldn't we sweep our house from time to time?
Yoga and Ayurveda offer several practices that aim to purify us on many levels. Hatha yoga keeps our bodies strong and supple, meditation keeps our mind nimble and focused, and a healthy diet ensures we have good, clean energy to run on. There are other practices, called kriyas, that some yogis use to create a purer internal environment, such as using a neti pot or practicing eye exercises. Fasting is another cleansing practice espoused for centuries by yogis, that is gaining credibility in the scientific world. For a more scientific approach to fasting than I'm going to take here, you can look at this article from CMAJ or an opinion from a neuroscientist on the Johns Hopkins Health Review.
Whether or not you fast, it's still a good idea to take a break from foods that tax the digestive system. This is especially true as we transition from heavier foods that warm us in the winter, to more raw foods (which can also tax the system) in the spring and summer. To make the transition smoother, either from one season to another or as an intermediary before and after fasting, yogis eat kitchari. An Ayurvedic recipe traditionally made of mung beans and white rice, it is very easy to digest, filling, and nutritious. Ayurvedic practitioners use it to purify the blood and cleanse the body. It is also delicious. Very, very delicious. Oh yeah, and super easy and fast to make!
So if you'd like to replace an old eating habit with a new, tasty, purity-enhancing habit, try this recipe for kitchari. Five Keys Yoga tested and approved. Yum!
4 servings, 30 minutes
1 C mung dal
1/2 C white rice
2-3 C water
2 T ghee (clarified butter)
1 T grated, fresh ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of hing (asafoetida powder)
Salt to taste
I usually add a few dried, hot chilies (chopped) and any vegetables I have in the fridge, but that is optional.
Cook the Dal and Rice
Temper the Spices
I like to eat kitchari with a big heap of steamed kale. The crunchy texture of the kale goes so well with the creamy kitchari, and the extra fiber completes the meal. I often top with nutritional yeast or Bragg's liquid aminos for flavor and extra vitamins and nutrients. You can also adjust the seasoning to suit your dosha, or Ayurvedic type.
Did you try the recipe? How did it taste?
The cornerstone of our health is sleep. Quality sleep repairs our body from daily stress and prepares us for growth. Poor sleep has been implicated in a variety of issues, such as being overweight, having poor work performance, and increasing car accidents. Sleep has four stages. The last two stages - and especially the fourth, called REM sleep - are essential for healing. However, the cause of our poor sleep are often the daily stresses we are trying to heal from in REM sleep! Talk about a catch-22.
There are plenty of tips out there on sleep hygiene: exercising, maintaining a regular bedtime routine, unplugging from electronics, and creating a peaceful bedroom. Yoga is another tool in the sleep toolbox. Both adults' and children’s sleep can be benefited from regular yoga practice. But you don't have to fit a yoga class in to reap benefits for your sleep.
Here are three yogic tips for a happy bedtime that you can practice at home!
1. Nadi Sudhi (alternate nostril breathing) -
Nadi Sudhi is a breathing exercise that acts as a tonic to the nervous system and relaxes the body and mind.
Take a deep breath in. Press a finger gently on your right nostril as you breathe out and then in through your left nostril. Switch and gently press another finger on your left nostril, while taking the first finger off your right nostril. Breathe out the through right. Breathe in the right nostril, switch and breathe out the left. Breathe in the left nostril, switch and breathe out the right. Continue alternating nostrils in the breathe in - switch - breathe out pattern for a few minutes. End by breathing out the left nostril. Practice for three complete rounds, gradually working up to ten.
There is also a hand gesture (Vishnu mudra) that is traditionally used during nadi sudhi. Practicing this hand gesture creates added demands on concentration and develops control of the fingers. To use Vishnu mudra, bring your right index and middle fingers into the palm of your hand. Keeping your thumb, ring and pinky fingers extended, alternate your breath between your nostrils. Gently press your thumb on the right nostril and breath out the left, and then switch, pressing your ring finger on the left nostril, breathing out through the right.
You might also try lying on your belly, right cheek on the bed. Gently plug your right nostril and breathe in and out through your left. This stimulates the right side of your brain, tied to the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax.
2. Legs up the wall - Letting your legs rest up the wall is a wonderful way to unwind. It may also help you fall asleep.
Bring your legs up the wall, while you lie on the floor or bed. You might put a firm pillow or folded blanket under your low back (where it lifts from the floor just above the pelvic bones) or under your head. An eye pillow and blanket on top make this a truly restorative pose.
3. Meditation - Repeating a mantra or focusing your attention on a peaceful object or idea (dharana) loosens the hold of stressful thoughts on your mind.
If you don't regularly meditate, you might like to set a timer for five or ten minutes. Then your mind will be free to rest its awareness in your meditation, instead of wondering how long you have practiced.
A few minutes following the breath as it moves in and out of your body has a grounding effect. Watch your mind as the thoughts come and go, without clinging to any thought in particular, nor judging your thoughts when they arise. It is normal for concentration to waver. So if you notice your mind wander, kindly guide your attention back to your breath, your object of concentration or your mantra.
Spending just a few minutes practicing these techniques before bed may save you many minutes tossing and turning throughout the night.
What are some sleep hygiene tips that work for you?
Are you looking for a way to get kids moving in an expressive way with structure to boot?! Check out GoNoodle!
As an educator, I have found these videos beneficial during transitional times with students who find unstructured times in their schedule slightly more difficult to manage. It also has proven beneficial in preparing bodies and minds for instructional times when students are asked to do more demanding or challenging tasks. Integrating these or any movement breaks into a person’s daily schedule is a wonderful practice for developing a balanced and productive learning/living environment. These videos are great for school teachers, parents, and/or givers that are looking to integrate a therapeutic approach to teaching children self-awareness and regulation skills. They even have little characters you can assign to “complete quests” where children (or adults☺) can receive awards and certificates!
At GoNoodle, you will find a plethora of exciting, motivating stretch and strength videos geared towards relieving anxiety, living in the moment, and being kind to yourself. Students follow along with certified instructor to develop skills that assist in gaining focus and finding a place of calamity. Below are a couple of my favorites.
You can find any of these videos under the “Channels” tab on the site. Be sure to sign up for FREE first!
Guest blogger Jennie Best teaches kids' and adult yoga classes, and is a Yoga for the Special Child practitioner with Five Keys.
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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