Sukhinaḥ Yoga

Yoga classes in Dublin, Ireland


Lust for life and living in the present

Namaskara friends!

Firstly, apologies for recent lack of blogging. I have been busy concentrating my efforts on building firm foundations for my future, trying to settle in back home after four and a half years abroad. I am thankful for my daily yoga practice, which really brings me back to the present. Even though my mind still wanders during practice, it definitely wanders less than when I’m not practicing!

So a few random musings over the last few weeks are jotted down below.. I hope you enjoy the read.

Q.  How is yoga, or more precisely, asana/ physical posture practice, different to other forms of exercise?

I have recently taught a complete beginners class of yoga, and I have attempted to explain to my students how yoga is different to other forms of exercise, such as stretches before a soccer match, or a Pilates class. I think there is no one definitive answer, and so far, this is what I’ve come up with:

  • You’ve got to feel it to believe it. A lot of what I’ve personally experienced from yoga, I can’t put into words.
  • But the words of wisdom from one of my teachers are very pertinent to this question – yoga helps unite body, mind and breath.
  • When the three factors (body, breath and mind) begin to work in sync, i.e. when you are focused and present with your body – that is yoga, and the true benefits of this practice will manifest.
  • So the distinguishing factor, or that which sets the practice of yoga asana apart from other forms of exercise, is breath. Breath connects you to your body and mind. In most forms of exercise, we tend not to focus on the breath so much.
  • We all know that breath is vital to life, and is a function that can be performed consciously and unconsciously, voluntary or involuntary. The breath therefore provides a connection between the body and mind, consciousness and unconsciousness. In many languages the words for spirit and breath are synonymous (Sanskrit: prana, Hebrew: ruach, Greek: pneuma, Latin: spiritus, Chinese: Qi).

So I like to associate the word yoga, which is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” (meaning to bind, join, or unite), with the pure union of body, breath and mind. To unite these three aspects and ultimately gain peace of mind, yoga demands you remain totally in the present moment. Quoting Kino McGregor, “the premise of presence in yoga means that practice is more about listening to how your body truly feels in the moment rather than dictating from above what you want your body to do.”

The benefits of controlling the breath and meditation

And after asana (physical posture) practice, which is the third step in Patanjali’s eightfold path of Ashtanga Yoga, comes pranayama (regulation of breath), pratyahara (abstraction of senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). One teacher explained to me that before dhyana, you have to master 1) pratyahara, and 2) dharana, i.e. these are preliminary steps on the path to meditation or dhyana. One interpretation of dhyana: a deeper awareness of oneness, which is inclusive of perception of body, mind, senses and surroundings, yet remaining unidentified with it. Here is a really interesting article published late last year on the benefits of meditation: Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks.

Celebration and living in the present – Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

I passed an old house, in Sligo, Ireland earlier today, and written on the wall of the house (pictured below) is an excerpt from the poem, To a Child Dancing in the Wind, written by one of Ireland’s greatest poets, W.B. Yeats. Yeats’ poetry, prose and drama have always been associated closely with Sligo.

wbyeats

I had to share this with you all, given the special day that it is – Saint Patrick’s Day, where we celebrate everything Irish, and the Irish spirit of love for life. So like the innocent child in the poem, perhaps just temporarily, we all should throw caution to the wind, have one last dance, and truly immerse ourselves in the present moment. So today, let’s celebrate the things in our lives we feel lucky to have — our health, friends, families, selves, and those of you who are Irish – the beautiful land of our birth.

Oṁ Shāntiḥ 

Maria


Brrrrrr it’s cold outside.

Namaskara friends!

Are you feeling the chill as much as I am?!  After spending the last year in India, and the previous three and a half in sunny Sydney, this Winter weather here in the Northern Hemisphere is a touch harsh. It’s dark when we wake up, the Sun rises, we blink, and it’s dark again. So for those of you reading who have a regular practice, I don’t know if you’re experiencing similar to me, but I’m finding it extremely challenging to get out of bed in the morning to commence my daily sadhana (practice). And for those of you who don’t have a regular practice.. I hope this blog post doesn’t bore you or put you off.. but it’s all part of the journey!

So.. I am trying to look on the bright side (ahem.. excuse the pun), and here are some of the positives keeping me motivated this cold winter season:

1. Brahma Muhurta

In Winter, rising for my sadhana (practice) at 6/ 6.30am, I am practicing in Ireland’s equivalent of India’s Brahma Muhurta, the 90 minutes before sunrise. In the Vedic tradition, this peaceful, tranquil period is considered an auspicious time to practice yoga and most appropriate for meditation. In India, Brahma Muhurta is usually between the hours of 4am and 6am, depending on the time of year, but remains pretty constant due to India’s proximity to the equator. For us more northern Earthlings, our time of sunrise fluctuates greatly with the seasons. In Summer, sunrise may be 4.30am compared to Winter’s 8.30am… and I will not be waking at 2.30am for practice.. so I am looking on this as a Winter blessing!

 2. East facing practice

The room I’m currently practicing in faces East. These days I’m starting my daily practice with 20 minutes of ajapa japa (mantra repetition), which I have carried on since my stay in Sivananda ashram in Kerala in November 2014. Many sages and yogic masters believe that during Brahma Muhurta, the entire atmosphere is charged with powerful electromagnetic vibrations that travel from Northern/ Eastern directions. I found a great blog article that summarises why it’s good to face East, check it out if you want to read further about this. Anyone who would like to read more on vibrations – I strongly recommend you read Autobiography of a Yogi. Rumour has it Apple’s founder, the late, great Steve Jobs, read this book every year and it was said to be the only book he had downloaded on his iPad2.

3. Practicing in the cold helps build strength

Gregor Maehle, in his book ‘Ashtanga Yoga, Practice and Philosophy’ advises cold yoga rooms helps with strength, and also increases awareness and attention to detail (compared to practicing in a hot room – which helps with flexibility). Maehle says we have to study the posture more deeply to get to the same point in a cold room, but this pays off in terms of benefits:

  • There is more learning if the temperature is low; and
  • The body becomes sturdier due to the awakening of physical intelligence.

So if you’re like me, and you don’t know how to change the central heating timer.. which in my house comes on at 6.30am.. then this is definitely a positive. However it is all about balance, and as Maehle acknowledges.. we should never build up a degree of flexibility that is not matched by the necessary support of strength, and vice versa… building up great strength without increasing one’s flexibility restricts the range of joint movement. So.. to increase the heat.. I light that internal fire with some extra vinyasa. If the sages in the Himalayas can practice in sub zero.. so can we! 🙂

Beating the Winter blues

Sharing below some pointers that were passed on to me, that have definitely helped me this winter:

  • Remain positive. Focus on the positives.
  • Have a weekly or monthly goal, e.g. conquering a new asana, trying out a new sequence.
  • Attend vinyasa classes or step up the number of surya namaskaras/ vinyasa in your home practice. This will help ignite the fire within during the cold.
  • Wear layers. Including socks, perhaps two pairs of leggings, stay warm.
  • Indulge in massage… the art of abhyanga, self massage, before showers preferably, using warming heating oils on your dried out joints, such as sesame oil. For more on the art of abhyanga – check out this blog post, which I believe sums up the technique very nicely.
  • Do try get out in nature, winter has its own beauty and charms. That blast of cold crisp air in my opinion is second to none!
Soaking up the shakti vibes @ the resting place of Celtic Goddess, Queen Maeve of Connaught,  Knocknarea, Strandhill, Co. Sligo

Soaking up the shakti vibes @ the resting place of Celtic Goddess, Queen Maeve of Connaught, Knocknarea, Strandhill, Co. Sligo

In the words of one of the most iconic vinyasa yoga masters.. 

“Do your practice and all is coming”

~ Sri K Patthabi Jois

Oṁ Shāntiḥ

Maria

 


Winter solstice, yuletide and new moon blessings!

So much is happening in the next few days… Winter Solstice, last moon day for 2014, and Christmas!

Winter Solstice

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, today we celebrate the day with the fewest hours of daylight – December Solstice.   Today, the Sun reaches its most southerly declination and is directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere. The December solstice has played an important role in cultures worldwide from ancient times and although winter was regarded as the season of dormancy, darkness and cold, this event celebrates that nature’s cycle was continuing, and embraces the return of lighter days.

The solar tradition

Some say the word “yule” is derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit symbolising heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honour of the Scandinavian god Thor. A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log. In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until twelfth night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.

Here in Ireland, we have an ancient architectural solar marvel called Newgrange. Newgrange was constructed over 5,000 years ago (about 3,200 B.C.) during the Neolithic or New Stone Age, which makes it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Archaeologists originally classified Newgrange as a passage tomb, but it is now recognised to be much more – an ancient temple which was once a place of astrological, spiritual, religious and ceremonial importance. At dawn, from December 18th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber. On Winter Solstice as the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. Modern day winter solstice celebrations take place at this sacred site each year.

Saluting the sun with surya namaskara

The sun is such an integral part of life on Earth. Surya namaskara takes on a new dimension when we become aware of the effects of the sun on our lives and even moreso when we reflect on how important it was to our ancestors before electricity etc. Tune into Mother Nature, let your inner light shine this winter solstice with some sun salutations.. go on.. make room for that Christmas feast, activating that digestive fire and giving yourself a boost with oodles of energy! Even 6-12 rounds will do you wonders.. and you won’t feel guilty eating that extra mince pie 😉

Surya namaskara, meaning “salutation to the sun”, can be seen as a form of worship of the sun, and all that it represents on micro and macrocosmic levels. Surya namaskara awakens the solar aspects of our nature, awakening the inner light, heat and fire, releasing vital energy for the development of higher awareness. So solstice is the perfect day to practice your surya namaskara, and pay tribute to the source of creation and life!

Check out this article in the Times of India for a breakdown of a classical version of the surya namaskara sequence and how this practice benefits and contributes to obtaining a fit and healthy body and mind. Stay tuned to future blog posts in 2015 for further insights on surya namaskara – with lots more interesting details, reasons and benefits for practcing the asanas, pranayama and meditational techniques (including chakra awareness, bhandas and mantra repetition) within the main structure of this beautiful sequence.

Wishing you all a very merry and loving Christmas

Bhujapidasana

Bhujapidasana

It’s almost time to celebrate the birthday of the maha guru of love, Jesus Christ. Taking some inspo and wisdom from the birthday boy…. “love one another as I have loved you”. So in this period of parties, festivities & frivolity… remember to let the love shine through.. and remembering to keep up your yoga practice with plenty of heart opening asanas!!

Last moon day in 2014

And finally.. happy new moon.. last moon day of 2014 is Monday 22 December.. for astral insights check out mystic mamma…..big fan!

Oṁ Shāntiḥ

Maria


Reflections on ashram life and embracing the oh so sweet savasana

Namaskara friends!

Greetings from beautiful Sri Lanka! Sri Lanka is the Sanskrit for “resplendent island” and this truly is just that! Being the cancerian water sign that I am, it feels so good to be back so close to the elements in their rawest forms – sand, sea, sun and fresh air!

Last December I only intended on visiting India for a month or two, but somehow Mother India charmed me into staying for the majority of 2014. I ended my year with a ten day sādhanā (disciplined and dedicated practice and learning) at the Sivananda ashram in Kerala. I was looking for a place where I could retreat to, give gratitude and reflect upon the amazing time I have had this past year. Surrounded by the beauty of the Sahyadri Hills and Agastya peak and lake, this abode of peace and shelter provided ample nourishment to my body, mind and soul.

Our days commenced with a 90 minute satsang of meditation and devotional chanting, followed by a two hour asana and pranayama practice. The day also concluded with a late afternoon two hour asana and pranayama practice (the same sequence as the morning practice), followed by light supper and another 90 minute satsang.

While I love the strong asana practices I undertook as part of my daily sādhanā in Mysore for the past year, I really embraced the Sivananda sequence which is a slower, less agressive and more graceful practice.

So in this blog post, I am trying to share with you the benefits and importance of yoga and in particular savasana, which were highlighted to me during my time at Sivananda.

Why is yoga better than other exercises?

According to Sivananda, the fundamental difference between yoga exercises and other exercises is that physical culture usually emphasises violent movement of the muscles. This tends to produce large quantities of lactic acid in the muscle fibres causing fatigue.   Asanas are practiced slowly reducing the production of lactic acid. Whatever is produced is neutralised by the increased oxygen that is taken in during the accompanying deep breathing.

Sivananda’s five points of yoga:

  1. Proper exercise (asana)
  2. Proper breathing (pranayama)
  3. Proper relaxation (savasana)
  4. Proper diet (sattvic – pure)
  5. Positive thinking (meditation).

Would you believe?

With Sivananda it takes two hours to complete two pranayama exercises and 12 asanas?!

This sequence (practiced both morning and afternoon at the ashram) takes a full two hours, primarily because they embrace sivasana (corpse pose) so much. The practice starts and ends with savasana and there is savasana between each asana.

Benefits of savasana

  • Relaxes the body, breath and mind.
  • Improves memory and concentration power.
  • Helps to reduce nervous and muscular tension.
  • Aids in lowering blood pressure and reduce heart rate.
  • Assists in reducing headache occurrence, and provides relief from fatigue and insomnia.
  • Sivananda promotes savasana as a good way to absorb and digest the benefits of the previous asana.

“When prana [life force] and manas [mind] have been absorbed, an undefinable joy ensues”
Hatha Yoga Pradipika (chapter IV) 

“The stresses of modern civilisation are a strain on the nerves for which savasana is the best antidote.”
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga

I will leave you with a quote from Swami Vishnu-devanada-ji, that is in sync with Sukhinaḥ Yoga’s outlook and philosophy:

“Health is wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows the way!”

Oṁ Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ, Shāntiḥ


Yoga: its meaning & tips before asana practice

Namaskara friends! 

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.

Screen shot 2014-10-25 at 23.01.06

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!

Oṁ Shāntiḥ

Maria