So.. here goes – my first blog-post to Sukhinaḥ Yoga!
As Deepavali or Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – comes to a close, I choose this auspicious time of year to write my first blog, on my first ever website, as a yoga teacher – exciting times! Diwali is said to symbolise the triumph of the light of knowledge and truth over the darkness of ignorance. And the lit lamps represent the illuminated mind. And so, I would like to share with you some of the pieces of knowledge I have amassed over the past year here in India.
What is yoga? What a question!
I am certainly not attempting to answer this question in one blog post, however, here are some snippets of wisdom from the late, great, B.K.S. Iyengar, in his book Light on Yoga:
- As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different colour of light, so does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing different aspects of the entire range of human endeavour to win inner peace and happiness.
- Yoga is a timeless, pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual wellbeing of man as a whole.
- The word yoga is derived from the sansrkit root “yuj”, meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion.
- Yoga has also been described as wisdom in work or skillful living amongst activities, harmony and moderation.
- In the second aphorism of the first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (an ancient yogic scripture, regarded by many as the most precise and scientific texts ever written on yoga) yoga is described as “chitta vṛtti nirodhah”. This may be translated as restraint/ suppression of consciousness/ mental fluctuations/ modifications. Or as interpreted by Iyengar, yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels.
Yoga in today’s western world is most commonly known as some funky acrobatic postures! When in fact asanas (yoga postures) are only mentioned in three out of the 196 sutras (threads or verses) of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Patanjali has presented one of the yogic paths in eight limbs or stages (see graphic below), with asana (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques) forming the third and fourth limbs respectively.
Tips for students – asana practice
As my classes are primarily focused on asana practice, here are some tips for students (particularly beginners) to read before coming to class:
- Before practice, empty bladder and bowels.
- Taking a warm shower both before and after practice is preferable.
- Asanas should be practiced on an empty stomach. Allow at least 4 hours to lapse after a heavy meal before practicing asana. Food may be taken 30 mins after completing asanas.
- It is advisable not to drink water 30 mins before, during or 30 mins after practice. Make sure you are well hydrated throughout the day.
- Keep the eyes open in practice – to maintain awareness.
- Breathe through the nose only.
- Practice with complete awareness. Listen to your body. Never exert strain or force. My teacher in India always says “na hathath, na bhalath” – not with the force and not with the pressure. If there is severe pain in an asana, stop immediately and advise the teacher.
- Always practice savasana for at least 10%-15% of the time you practiced asanas for. You can practice savasana at any time in the practice when feeling tired.
- Always advise your teacher in advance if you have any serious health problems, injuries or if you are menstruating, pregnant, or recently gave birth. There may be certain asanas not suitable for certain conditions. Advise the teacher of any recommendation from your doctor in regard exercise. Always please follow your doctor’s advice.
- For female practitioners, it is advised to not practice during the period of menstruation, particularly the first three days. If however, you would still like to partake in a light practice, avoid inversions, deep twists, strong backbends, and any asana that majorly pressurizes the abdomen and uterus.
Again remember “na hathath, na bhalath” – “not with the force, not with the pressure”. Yoga is not to be rushed, just enjoy the journey, the practice and by cultivating patience and awareness, you will experience the health, happiness and bliss it has to offer! Yoga is the path, your body the vehicle, and your destination permanent happiness!