ABC’s of Yoga
Part 1: Attitude & Alignment
Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah
Translation: Union or yoga arises when the fluctuations /waves of thoughts in the mind /consciousness cease.- From Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
The word yoga literally means “to yoke” or “union”. Beyond the practice of physical exercises, Yoga is the coming together of the individual self or consciousness, with the infinite universal consciousness or spirit. Yoga is a method of inquiry in to the nature of the mind, which emphasises practice and direct experience.
The “goal” of yoga is to align to the universal consciousness in order to experience joy, freedom, FLOW and the stillness of full consciousness. Alignment, is related to mind and body, and refers to how various parts of us are integrated and interconnected. The world is what think and believe it to be. It is subjective in essence – a projection of what we feel it is, based on past experiences and conditionings. What we see in others is what we have inside, like a mirror that is only projecting what is inside.
How we carry the body is how we carry the mind.
Attitude’s of Yoga
Transformation is a reflection of our willingness to connect, to let go, to aspire to realise oneself. In other words, you get out what you put in. Use this challenge as an opportunity to go deeply into self-reflection so that you can empower yourself to recognise and begin shifting patterns that no longer serve and integrating ones that do.
According to Zen Buddhism, when our rice bowl is full, so to speak, there is no room for more. Thus in order to stay open and keep learning, we must continually empty our bowls, so to speak. See if you can meet each moment with a child-like sense of awe and wonder, in a spirit of openness, curiosity and playfulness as we explore and discover our personal patterns and edges.
Be conscious and mindful in your thoughts, words and actions. Honour and listen to your body’s messages, using this as an opportunity to be mindful and discerning of the food and substances you consume, remembering that attitudes and behaviours ‘off the mat’ are just as important, as those on ‘on the mat’.
The Obstacle is the Way
Everything in life the presents can be seen as our teacher. If we allow everything that presents to reflect to us how we can expand, grow and expand then we evolve. How can you see the anger, the frustration, the impatience, the jealousy, the criticism, the rain, the bad meeting….as your teacher?
Shrtire Sukham Asanam
This is the prescription for how all poses should be practiced from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Asana (posture, seated position, physical practice) is steady (strong; steady, stable, motionless) and comfortable (ease filled, happy, light, relaxed). Performed with willingness as well as acceptance. Firm as well as pleasant. Strong as well as relaxed. Maintained with effort as well as ease. Avoid pushing yourself or damaging the body.
There are many principles of alignment in yoga asana from many traditions. Here are just a few very basic ideas to keep in mind throughout your practice:
Yoga asana focuses on elongating the spine and increasing its range of motion. Because Yoga is ultimately of practice of working with subtle energies, maintaining alignment and length in the Spine is of the utmost importance in yoga asana alignment.
Hands /Feet: Our foundation:
We begin by setting up and aligning the foundation of the poses. Spread your hands / feet wide to create the most stable foundation possible to support our being, plant down through the 4 corners of your hands and feet, especially the big toes, then draw the energy in and up through the body though the domes or “nostrils” of the hands and feet. Mantra: Spread out. Plant Down. Draw in.
Soft Elbows / Knees:
There are no straight lines in nature and thus considering we are a creation of nature, this goes for our bodies as well. We can always maintain softness in these joints, ensuring that we are not hyper-extending, as this compromises the integrity of alignment in the pose. Teachers will often remind us to “micro-bend” or to have soft elbows and knees as this helps us to yield into the earth or whatever surface we are upon. Actively yielding to the Earth creates a rebound effect, elongating the body upwards into space.
Shoulders / Hips:
These are the gateways for the arms and legs to connect with the torso, and two common areas in which we commonly experience tension in the body. When the shoulders are hugging the ears, the body is being sent messages of stress! So think about relaxing and softening the shoulder, rolling your shoulders away from your ears creating as much space as possible in the neck. Keep the hips level, ensuring that their height is equalized.
Neutralize Pelvic tilt:
Think of the pelvis as a bowl filled with water. In standing and balancing positions, we want to keep the bowl level so that we are not tipping forward and hyper arching our low back, spilling the water out the front, or tilting it too far up, as is common in people with tight hips doing seated postures, spilling the water out the back. Make sure the hips and pelvis are level. If you find your low back rounding and your pelvis tipping up, then help yourself to a cushion or two or three so that you can be aligned and comfortable. We also want to make sure we neutralise the front to back placement of the hips so that it rests just atop the legs.
Neck and head:
In most active styles of yoga asana, the general principle is to keep the head and neck long and in line with the spine, bringing the chin back in if are heads are jutting forward. I know a body worker who tells his clients: “Take the head away from the computer!”.
Soft Face & Eyes:
Make sure your eyes are soft, your jaw is relaxed and soft, and your face is nice and released. Having a soft controlled gaze or focus, or Drishti, helps us to develop concentration, and focused consciousness to see the world as it is. When we are beginning our practice of yoga, we often lose balance by looking around and paying attention to all of the stimulation and distraction outside of ourselves. Focusing the attention inwards, by holding a soft gaze point either to our 3rd eye or our hearts, encourage stability and inward looking.
We have the potential, using conscious intentions, thoughts and words, to co-create the life we want, to go beyond our limitations and fears, to surrender and open, to choose the type of person we want to be, to flow with the divine grace, to see the beauty in and all around us. The key is to ALIGN ourselves so the flow can move through us.