I read 21 Things to know before starting an Ashtanga Practice by Claudia Altucher over and over. It is a fun read and every time I come across a different tip or fact/truth/wisdom that I need at that moment.
Here are my most favorite.
"Yoga means to yoke, to unite. We unite body, mind and spirit. But what does that mean?
Pattabhi Jois says that yoga is: 'A path we follow by which we can attain something'. And that something we are trying to attain is the SELF.
This Self is the part of us that is always at peace, the part that was never born and will never die, the part that is timeless, eternal, always flowing in this moment, free of compulsive thinking.
Patanjali gave a very clear three point description of how we can all achieve the state of yoga. He said we can gain it by doing these three things:
- accepting pain as help for purification
- studying of spiritual books
- surrendering to the Supreme being
The system of yoga designed by Pattabhi Jois is based on the Yoga Sutras.
Master Yogi and teacher Yogeshwara Ramamohan Brahmachari, who lived in the mountains/forest beyond Nepal at the foot of Mount Kailash, was found by Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya spent almost eight years studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, learning asanas and pranayama. He was also made to memorize the whole of the Yoga Kuruntha - an ancient text believed to be lost after it was eaten by ants.
When Krishnamacharya finished his studies he asked how much he should pay his teacher, but Ramamohan didn't want money in return. He told Krishnamacharya to go out into the world, start a family and be a yoga teacher.
Krishnamacharya attracted several students who became very famous:
- Pattabhi Jois
- B.K.S. Iyengar
- Indra Devi
Ashtanga yoga is a life-time progress and not a 'get rich quick' thing.
There is no rush, nowhere to go but inwards.
Getting on the mat six times per week eventually happens as we begin to notice the benefits of the practice and prefer them over our own old routine.
Suddenly we notice that we feel better on the days we practice and not so good on the days we do not. We then start re-arranging our lives so that practice can take precedent.
Gradually we are immersed in this new world, our life begins to change for the better and we start reaping the benefits of the deep breathing, the time to ourselves, and the healing nuances of the practice.
The practice of asana is the doorway into yoga. Just having this time to ourselves where we can quietly focus on our breath and body is revolutionary.
The practice of yoga starts with asana because it is a strong body that will focus our mind and end the delusions.
We start with asana practice and then we begin to pay attention to our daily actions. All comes.
We cannot get into the deeper limbs of yoga (for instance pranayama) if our bodies are not healed and strong.
Asana comes in first as a way to restore our bodies to their original blue-print.
The daily practice makes us stronger and gives us the nervous system that is required to withstand the energy that comes with the upper branches in the tree of yoga which include f.e. the ability to concentrate single-minded on one object for long periods of time.
Things have got to change somewhat to accommodate powerful energies, and a strong and healthy body is the foundation.
Anybody can breathe. Therefore anybody can practice yoga.
The Primary Series is called Yoga Therapy - Chikitsa - it tones the body, cleanses the internal organs and makes use of muscles we had no idea we had. Our body needs ventilating after decades of pollution (physical, emotional, spiritual)
- Asagrai: tip of the nose
- Nabi Chakra: the navel
- Hastagrai: the hand
- Padayorgrai: the toes
- Angusta Ma Dyai: the tumbs
- Udhva/antara drishti: up to the sky
- Parsva: far to right or to the left
- Ajna Chakra/Broomadhya: the third eye
Do your practice and all is coming. How? She describes it as follows:
the daily asana practice begins to cleanse our bodies in a deep and profound way, so much that our cycles of food-intake, rest and elimination become cleaner, efficient, and stable. Our body finds new ways to release toxins that have accumulated over years, through sweating, twisting, inversions, etc.
As a result of these new healthier habits the body becomes stronger, leaner and supple which in turn helps the mind become more focused and efficient in its thinking process. Because of the new gained clarity, we make better choices and begin to use our energy more effectively in all areas of our lives. We get clear about who are our friends and who just pretend to be, who is a positive influence and who steals our energy instead. We get clear about how we use our sexual energy, we pay more attention to our creativity and our instincts, we become more in-tune with our own spirit or our Self.
As a consequence we get better results in our lives which ultimately lead to better living conditions, better surroundings and better energies around us.
We slow down a little, we become more aware of coincidences in life, faith and trust develops. All the things we want begin to come to us provided they help us on the way to our own truth. The things we think we want but are not really relevant for our spiritual development somehow either disappear from our radar or fade away.
The paradox is that after a long time of dedicated and focused practice we start wanting less things, even though they become more accessible.
Breathing: I am the one who needs to hear my breath, not everyone else.
The fastest way to get to the next pose is to perfect the ones you already have.
Moon Days: Our bodies are mostly water which in turn, just as the oceans are influenced by the ties and the cycles of the moon. A new moon is compared to the end of a breathing cycle - the end of the exhale - where we normally pause and then breath in - while the full moon would be the equivalent of the top of the inhale when, with filled lungs, we briefly pause to start the cycle all over again.
Bandhas: their main purpose is to prevent energy from leaking out of the body and induce it to flow upwards through the chakras and eventually enlighten us.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Patanjali wrote 196 short sentences which need de-coding and they take us through all the limbs of yoga, and beyond the asanas.
Yoga is all about getting out of our own way, it is about how present we can be, how detached from what our mind tells us we should be doing, thinking, doing.
Shiva: he drunk the poison that was threatening to destroy the world, but didn't swallow it, just kept it in his throat, and that's why his neck is blue.
It is not even 9 AM and you have already accomplished something. Knowing that the practice happens no matter what, leaves the mind out of the equation, once it becomes a routine the mind does not even get on the way anymore.
If it is not broken and there is no fever, we must get on the mat.
Being uncomfortable in a position and yet staying with it, breathing in it, is another way in which yoga helps me of what to do later on in life as well, when I feel uncomfortable, and I just breathe through that as well.
It is a proven system, ask anyone who has been practicing for a long time and you will see how much they love it and how their lives have been transformed, most likely for the better.
It is a system that comes from a lineage of at least four generations of real yogis, people that woke up every morning to the practice, just like you and me do.
The Primary Series make the body clean, it eliminates bad fats and it clears constipation.
Complaining is the biggest obstacle to success in any field. It is a waste of energy and in a leak in the system.
The main reason why complaining is a waste of energy is because the ego likes to tell us how we are special and separate from everything else, how our suffering justifies us getting lost in thought and avoiding being present, how fueling our discontent keeps the mind occupied and gives her a sense of existence.
Life is suffering (Buddha), being a yogi doesn't make anyone exempt from having stuff happening to them. It is the way we react that changes, the level of awareness with which we approach life's challenges.
Yoga has a profound cleaning effect. It helps to become more regular in the processes of elimination and in your cycles. It also helps to rest better.
And my house is now clean too. My books and finances are in order.
"It takes time and patience, everyone wants to be a teacher without even being a student. The shala gets calls from people asking how they can become teachers. The answer: Do your practice.
Pattabhi Jois used to say: "Anyone can practice, old, sick, very old, there is only one person that cannot, that is the lazy."
Find the areas where energy is leaking. Get rid of persons who are draining your energy. Find out where your time is going. Tv, Facebook?
Where is your money going? Create a beautiful and realistic budget. Make your home in order.
Gossip is one of the biggest leaks. Consider not doing the gossip thing for a while and see how it feels.
"Do your practice, the right answer will come to you."
"Once you are true you don't need to fear."
"We need to get grounded in the practice, do it for the love of it, not for the next pose, not for the authorization, but because it works."