Upayoga is a simple yet powerful system of exercise that activates the joints, muscles and energy system.
Based on the sophisticated understanding of the body’s mechanics, Upayoga releases the inertia in the energy and brings ease to the whole system.
Within the human system, the energy flows along 72,000 pathways called nadis. At the joints, the nadis form energy nodes, making the joints a storehouse of energy.
Upayoga activates this energy and also lubricates the joints, creates instant sense of alertness and liveliness. Upayoga essentially means “sub-yoga” or “pre-yoga”. Because of its many immediate and evident benefits, the word upayoga in Indian languages is commonly used to denote “usefulness”.
Upayoga has several benefits:
Relieves physical stress and tiredness
Exercises and strengthens the joints and muscles
Rejuvenates the body after periods of inactivity
Negates the effects of long travel and joint pain
“I strongly recommend every yoga teacher to begin a class by integrating this wonderful practice. There are so many benefits to be acquired. You can also share this knowledge with patients and clients who have arthritis, nervous disorders and M.S. among many other ailments. “
Netra tarpana is an Ayurvedic treatment for the eyes. It strengthens and protects the eyes from the sun’s strong rays.
Therapeutic Purposes: Netra tarpana is a rejuvenating treatment. It relieves tired, achy and sore eyes and improves vision. It is an ideal treatment for people who use computers, drive long distances, operate machines and those who keep long hours.
Experience: First a marma (vital) point face massage is provided. Next, sterilized, warmed ghee is gently poured on the eyes while the client is led through relaxing, simple eye exercises. It is an enjoyable, relaxing and effective treatment that lasts about 20-30 minutes.
Benefits: I addition to aiding the conditions above, this treatment aids in gradual improvement of eye conditions and has the added benefit of improving mental clarity.
Whitens the sclera of the eyes
Cleanses eye of environmental particles on the cornea
If you have heavy, painful periods or your uterus has dropped into your vaginal canal as a result of weakened ligaments and pelvic muscles — a condition known as a prolapsed uterus — yoga poses may be able to help. According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, in an article for “Yoga” magazine, asanas can also help correct a retroverted, or tipped, uterus.
Boat pose, also called navasana or naukasana, helps with balance during pregnancy. According to MyYogaOnline.com, it also strengthens your abs, hips and thighs. In this pose, you balance on your butt and lift your upper body and legs into the air so your body looks like the letter “V.” As you reach past your knees with your extended arms, your lower abs work to help you keep your balance. Over time, YogaWiz.com reports, boat pose can help a prolapsed uterus fall back into place.
UPWARD ABDOMINAL LOCK
Upward abdominal lock, or Uddiyana Bandha, incorporates a specific breathing technique that combines with a standing posture to engage your lower abdominal organs. To do this pose, bend at the waist, bend your knees slightly and rest your hands on your knees. Inhale through your nose, exhale strongly through your nose and pull your abdominal muscles in tight to push the rest of the air out of your lungs. Expand your rib cage without inhaling, which pulls in the lower abs. Hold for 10 to 15 minutes before you exhale and return to breathing normally. Repeat three times.
Sarvangasana, or shoulderstand, usually takes place at the end of a yoga class. In this pose, you rest your upper body on a folded blanket with your head hanging off or directly on the mat if it doesn’t hurt your neck. By reaching behind your back with your elbows bent and the palms of your hands resting on your mid-back, you can lift your legs straight up in the air. Tucking in your lower abdominal muscles, pointing your toes and keeping your back straight help maintain the posture. According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, this common inversion, usually held for at least three minutes in class, helps relieve the pain of a prolapsed uterus and return it gently to its correct position in the body.
YOGA DURING MENSTRUATION
Certain yoga poses, particularly inversions, such as headstand, handstand and shoulderstand, are contraindicated during menstruation. Backbends and standing balancing poses may also be difficult when you have your period. Instead, focus on restorative poses, such as forward bends, seated twists and supported bridge. Replace wheel, or backbend, with supported bridge by placing an upright block beneath your sacrum. Yin Yoga classes, which focus on restorative poses for the lower body, can also be particularly comforting during menstruation.
One of the joys of being a yoga teacher is that I get to see a side of people that most people don’t get to see.
During an hour-long practice, I see a room full of people drop their outer facades and fall into the present moment. I see faces soften. I see shoulders relax. I see defenses fall away. It is hard to accurately describe what that looks like, but it is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
I am honored and grateful to be a teacher of yoga. I see people blossom right into the best, most confident, versions of themselves. There are five things I want to make sure that every yogi knows.
1. Yoga is more than just doing poses on the mat.
The beauty and inspiration of yoga is that it consists of many different elements. The ancient sage Patanjali talks about eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras. They consist of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. If you want more info on each limb, you can read the basics on Yoga Journal, or jump right into the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali.
While most people are most familiar with the physical aspects of yoga, asana practice is only the tip of the iceberg. If you are interested in more depth, more spirit, more love… other limbs of yoga can help you as much, if not more, as being on the mat. There is always more to learn, in each and every limb of yoga, and because of that, we are all students figuring it all out — even the most advanced teachers. Open yourself to the possibilities of the entire yoga tree.
2. Honoring your present moment—no matter what that is—is the key to yoga.
Some practices are hard. Some flow with ease. We all, at one time or another, feel like swearing at our teachers as we hold a pose longer than we want to. We all feel like running from the room screaming like our hair is on fire at one time or another. Whatever comes up is real, it is important, and it needs to be acknowledged. Every time we practice yoga, we have the opportunity to be present, to stop the stories raging in our mind, and just be. It sounds so easy, but it is one of the most challenging parts of the practice. Staying with each breath as it unfolds is the most advanced part of yoga.
3. It is important to feel yoga, not perform yoga.
I don’t look like a svelt cover model yogi. I barely squeeze my ladies into size 12 Lululemon tops. I can’t do certain poses that some of my students can do. However, when I am on the mat, I feel my yoga. When in dancer’s pose, I feel my body express the pose like I am a ballerina on a NYC stage. When I arch my back in camel, I feel my heart center creak open and the energy flood in. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to others. It only matters how it feels to you. Yoga makes me feel beautiful.
Sometimes you’ll run across a person who is performing for the crowd. The pre-class headstands and arm balances, the looking around to make sure everyone is watching, the pushing of bones and muscles into places they have no right going are all tell-tale signs of a yoga performance. I used to get annoyed, mainly because I can’t do many performance ready poses, but now I send love to the performer. I want her to feel her own beauty, not need anyone else’s approval. Watch what happens in your mind when you practice. When you turn inward and are present to your current experience, the room can fall away and the practice can be felt deeply in your heart. You can feel beautiful and strong.
4. What we do on the mat is practice for “real life.”
It’s so great to be able to go to a studio and roll down a mat next to other like-minded people. What we do there is practice for what happens in our “out of the studio” world. We learn to stay present at the office, to breathe through the discomfort of a hard conversation, to accept what is happening with our kids, to let go of the big critic on our shoulder (aka our ego).
Yesterday, I was in a meeting with a grumpy colleague and I felt anger and defensiveness start to rumble in me. I was internally mounting my argument against the poor unsuspecting man, which surely would have blown back his chair and launched him into the next decade. In a word, I was pissed. Then I remembered my yoga… breathe, Katie, breathe. Deep breaths. Three of them. The anger passed. I was able to be calm as I expressed my thoughts. I was able to negotiate. My colleague’s life was saved. Everybody won. That situation was sponsored by vinyasa yoga.
5. What we deal with what happens on the mat is how we deal with life.
This is one of the hardest things for me to learn. When I am in practice and something really challenging comes up, I want to run. I am a bit shamed to tell you that I have actually faked nosebleeds to get out of holding a pose. Running from the room with my hand over my face, I sure as hell got out of that pose.
Guess what my defense mechanism is in life? Yup, run little rabbit, run. Yoga has taught me that how I react to things on the mat is a mirror to my reactions in life. That is a big, hard, ugly pill to swallow, but it is true. My self-doubt comes up on the mat, and it comes up in my life. When I experience a breakthrough on the mat, I learn that if I practice hard and believe in myself, I can do anything. Instant breakthrough.
Yoga is a not just something I do. It is the way I live my life. I encourage everyone to start where they are and let the practice evolve, unfold, and transform you. It all starts with your willingness to be present in this very moment. Breathe on, sweet one. Breathe.
The Beatles had it right when they sang “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Bhakti is about making more love—putting it out into the world, not just in principle but also in practice. There is no one “right” way to do that, but bhakti yoga offers a number of tools to point the heart in the right direction.
One of the best known of the traditional practices of bhakti yoga is kirtan—the devotional chanting of the names of God. Other classic Hindu methods focus on prayer, japa (repetition of mantra), and devotion to the Divine—in society, in nature, in the capital-S Self, and in all of creation. The path will look different for every being that walks it, says the singer-songwriter Jai Uttal, who created the bhakti yoga 101 audio program “It’s so individual, and that’s what is so beautiful about it,” he says. “Each person has a different emotional landscape, and in bhakti yoga we can let our emotions be our internal compass. Nobody can tell us how or whom to worship, but we can draw on techniques that act as keys to open our own hearts.”
What’s the ultimate bhakti practice for when you’ve suffered a loss, romantic or otherwise? Brooks has a ready answer: Be willing to do it all over again. “Fall in love again, and never stop. Bhakti is not a zero-sum game. You never run out of love. You must expect that you will find love again, and even if you find more heartache, there will always be more love.”
That was certainly the case for Cornell. “I went to India for six weeks after my breakup, and during that time I invited a sense of fullness to fill my aloneness by imagining a life in which I was loved and in love,” she says. “I had begun dating, but I somehow knew to hold out for what I really wanted in a partner. Two months after I returned home, I found him.”
Married in 2009, Cornell credits her earlier breakup with creating the openness and compassion she needed to find a more lasting relationship. “Believing in love gave a sacred purpose to the pain I was going through,” she says.
That’s as it should be, Brooks says. Since you can’t transcend heartache, you should embrace it. “We were all created out of love but born into separation the moment the cord was cut,” he says. “That’s what it is to be human. Heartbreak is not the end of love. It’s the beginning.”
Connect with the Divine
In its most literal translation, bhakti yoga calls for faithful devotion to the Divine. This doesn’t mean that you have to worship a specific deity, but simply that you identify a source of spiritual inspiration to revere and call on for comfort and love. “Bhakti is about creating an eternal loving relationship with the divine source,” says Gaura Vani, a renowned mantra musician and member of the kirtan band Hanumen.
“No matter what tradition you come from, chanting God’s name opens a process of healing and cleansing the heart,” Vani says. “The Vedas say that there are as many names for God as there are waves on the ocean. We call him Krishna; Christians call him Jesus; Jews call him Yahweh; the Sufis call him Khuda. Whatever the case, let the beautiful name of the Lord remind you that you are more loved than you can even imagine.”
If you happen to already have a spiritual practice centered around a particular divine entity or spiritual guide, chant that name to fill your heart with love and ask for help healing your heart, says Vani. If not, try asking for help from your capital-S higher Self. Either way, call out with intention, focusing on quality over quantity, and on opening your heart to divine love and intervention.
Saying “Namaste” Is Bhakti Yoga
Just about everyone who has taken a yoga class is familiar with the class-closing ritual of saying Namaste accompanied by Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) and a small bow of the head. The meaning, which is something along the lines of “the light within me salutes the light within you,” is a beautiful way to practice bhakti outside class, too, and to bring more love into your life.
Mean What You Say
Every time you take leave of a friend, loved one, or acquaintance, choose parting words infused with blessing or connection—”take care,” “be well,” or “vaya con dios” all work—and say them with genuine intention. Even if you simply say “goodbye,” take a moment to fill the word with meaning.
Says Vani, “Namaste means ‘I bow and humble myself before you because I recognize myself as a loving servant of the Divine, and I recognize you as a living temple.’” This is something you can do whenever the spirit moves you, even silently, Vani says. “Simply take a second to see that everyone you come in contact with is an expression of divine consciousness,” he suggests. You will soon realize the truth: Love is all around you, whether you’re checking out at the grocery store, standing in line for a movie, or sitting behind the wheel in traffic.
Learn to Love Globally
Practicing bhakti yoga means seeing everyone and everything as a creation of God. Interpersonal relationships (including the romantic kind) are one aspect of this kind of devotion, but a good way to soothe the pangs of heartbreak is to expand your realm of who and what is loved. When you’re feeling bereft, try loving everyone, everywhere.
Nischala Joy Devi, author of The Secret Power of Yoga, suggests a simple seated practice for sending your love out into the world. “Imagine spreading a fine mist of healing energy over the world,” she says. “You can direct your thoughts to the world in general or focus on areas you know are plagued with unrest or war or famine. Hold them in your thoughts, and send them some of your light.”
This is the basis of the Buddhist practice of tonglen (“sending”) meditation: taking the suffering of others (and yourself) into your heart and then sending back loving compassion to all who suffer. When you send your love out into the world in this way, the effects can be dramatic for both sender and receiver, says Devi. “Victims of the recent earthquake in Central America reported that they felt the prayers from people around the globe and that the prayers eased their suffering,” she says. “It also has a big effect on you in that it gets you out of your head and back into your heart.”
Practice Self-Love and Devotion
In the deepest throes of despair, it can be hard to lavish yourself with love. Your asana practice is a great way to show devotion to your Self, and when you feel immobilized by sadness, it can help bring you back into your body, says Mark Whitwell, author of Yoga of Heart and The Promise of Love, Sex, and Intimacy. “When people are depressed, they stop their asana practice,” he says, “but that’s when they really need it!”
Whitwell sees asana as a bridge to help you reconnect to a state of wellness that was available to you before your experience of loss. But it’s also a way, he says, to realize the ideals of bhakti just as you are here and now—broken heart and all. “Consistent daily practice is your way to reconnect directly with the intimacy that is life,” he explains. “It is a whole-body prayer, a celebration of that which beats the heart and moves the breath.”
If you don’t feel up to doing your usual practice, try a few Cat-Cows and slow Sun Salutations, staying mindful of the body and breath. “When you practice, you connect with a deeper source of love and become part of the context in which all relationships are arising,” says Whitwell. From this broader perspective, he adds, “it is easier to accept loss.”
If your heart is feeling locked up by sorrow, consider adding an element of bhakti yoga to your daily practice. Here, a few modern bhakti masters offer ways to exercise the muscles of love and fill your heart to overflowing.
Be Nurtured By Nature
Nature is a powerful reflection of divinity, says Sara Ivanhoe, a Los Angeles yoga teacher who recently participated in the making of the film Women of Bhakti. “When we are suffering from heartbreak, we have all this love we’re carrying around and an intense longing to put it somewhere,” she says. “Giving it to the planet makes sense, especially if you’re a yogi.”
The ancient yogis offered unconditional love to all that was around them, says Ivanhoe, worshiping and emulating the sun, the moon, the plants, the animals. You can do the same, she says, by simply stepping outdoors and opening your senses and your heart to nature—trees, grass, and plants if you’re in the countryside; air, sunlight, and wind if you’re in the city. Mountains, blades of grass, and the stars at night work equally well as sources of inspiration and, yes, love. “Yoga was created to help yoke our consciousness to nature, which nourishes us,” she says. “When you are able to do that, you have a huge amount of support.”
Ivanhoe suggests a simple journaling exercise for reaching out to nature for help in healing your heartbreak. “When you are consumed by grief, ask yourself, ‘If nature could console me and talk to me, what would she say?’” she suggests. Go outdoors to do this, if you like, and don’t feel that you have to craft an essay; just write down what comes to you. “Nature is full of guidance and support for us,” Ivanhoe says. “We only need to ask for it.”
Fill Your Heart With Song
In bhakti yoga, says Jai Uttal, music is medicine. And singing—a mantra, a hymn, or the name of your spiritual guide—is another way to treat an aching heart. “You can sing kirtan sweetly, or sing them fiercely with angst, or sing them with yearning or whatever emotions are arising in you,” Uttal says. “If you get bored, keep on singing. Sing until the singing itself becomes part of your molecules, and your heart flows into the ocean of divine love.”
And don’t worry about what your voice sounds like—kirtan is about filling your heart with love, not about being a great singer. “No matter our accents, our ability to carry a tune, or our musical aesthetic,” says Uttal, “when we sing kirtan, we are awakening our hearts and healing old traumas.”
Hillari Dowdle is a longtime Yoga Journal contributor and a newly certified yoga teacher living and writing in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Chinese Body Clock is based on Chinese medicine and the body organ Qi(energy) cycle. It’s the idea that there is a cyclic flow of energy through the body that moves in two hour intervals through the various organ systems. See diagram above. Click on the diagram for a larger version.
So for each two hour window, there is an organ system operating a peak energy.
“When one organ is at its peak energy, the organ at the opposite side of the clock, 12 hours away, is at its lowest ebb. For example, between 1-3 a.m., the liver reaches its peak, doing its work to cleanse the blood, while the small intestine, the organ responsible for the absorption and assimilation of many key nutrients, is at its ebb. What does this tell us? Principally, that it must be taxing to the system to deal with late night meals and snacking. The body is not programmed to accommodate the modern habit of late-night screen-based stimulation and the eating habits that go with it. When we eat late at night, food is not well absorbed by the small intestine and the liver has little opportunity to do its job of housekeeping.
The idea, then, is to try when you can to plan daily activity around an organ system’s peak energy, while avoiding actions that can tax a system when its energy is at its lowest ebb. Think of lifestyle habits you might modify in order to better synchronize your system’s energy ebbs and flows:
Lungs: With the lungs at their peak energy in the early morning, you might want to schedule aerobic exercise at this time rather than later in the day. And, if you must speak through the long work day, presentations given earlier in the day benefit from greater lung energy. Laryngitis can set in late afternoon when lung energy is depleted .
Large Intestine: To get the day off to a good start, give yourself enough time early in the morning to honor the normal elimination function of the large intestine.
Stomach/Pancreas/Small Intestine: Try to eat heavier meals early in the day—at breakfast when the stomach is at its peak, and at lunch, to catch Qi’s expanding/warming energy as it crests at midday. Eating larger meals of the day early delivers nourishment to the small intestine when it is strongest, which aids absorption and assimilation.
Kidneys: The kidneys are aligned with the adrenals, the glands that produce cortisol to help us spring out of bed in the morning. Early morning, from 5 a.m.-7 a.m., is when kidney energy is weakest—a reason that people with depleted kidney energy often have trouble waking up to a new day.
Liver: The liver stores and cleanses the blood, a fact that becomes more interesting as we consider personal experience. Have you ever partied too much in the evening, and awakened in the wee hours of the morning feeling “off” and unable to fall back to sleep? Chances are good that you were tossing and turning between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. when your alcohol over-loaded liver was struggling to do its work. The timing of the liver’s peak activity also speaks to consuming the last meal of the day as early as possible. The liver’s daily programming assumes an early dinner and bedtime. Before electricity and the light bulb, people ate supper and retired early, allowing time for the last meal of the day to digest so that the liver could be most effective in its peak hours of activity. The “work shift” of the liver, then, reinforces the concept of making the last meal of the day a light one that is consumed on the early side. The more time that passes after food is eaten before peak activity of the liver, the better the liver will be able to carry out its myriad of functions.”
We are lying in savasana—corpse pose—legs splayed wide, arms flopped down, palms facing the sky, and I close my eyes.
My friend is beside me; my yoga teacher has come to crouch at my head.
“Do something for me,” Pete says, pausing with his hands on my shoulders, “do this for yourself,” and I nod, eyes still closed.
“Bring one hand to your heart and one to your belly,“ and I do, slipping my left hand onto my chest and resting the thumb of my right hand in the hollow of my belly button.
I take a deep breath and feel my stomach rise, willing my body to relax.
The thing about anxiety attacks, I’ve come to learn in the last couple days, is that you can’t reason through them. And they can leave you, out of nowhere, fainting out of mountain pose or crawling across your floor.
You tell yourself it’s all in your head, but then you put your head down on the pillow alone in your apartment, and feel this tingling sensation spread out across your skin and every siren in your body goes off, telling you that there is a problem, an actual physical problem requiring god-knows-what emergency-care.
And then you laugh and cry all at once, seeing the absurdity, scared shitless of trusting your body, even your breath.
And so, it took a lot to get me to come back to class. Even as I rolled out my mat, I feared passing out, had vivid images of blackouts in my head, but my friend, who is also a nurse, promised to practice beside me, and when I told my teacher what was going on before class, Pete gave me a rolled up yoga mat to place under my belly.
I spent most of the class in the corner lying on my stomach while everyone rose up and down in warrior poses around me, feeling the rolled up mat push into my body every time I exhaled a breath, comforted to be held in community.
Now in this final pose, the one where we practice for our ultimate surrender, Pete is holding my head.
“Whether healing anxiety or a broken heart,” he says quietly, running his thumb and forefinger from my third eye down to my temple, “the tools are the same.”
I open my eyes just long enough to catch his eyes, full of compassion, and there is that moment of feeling really, truly seen: All of me acknowledged, accepted, okay.
“We hold our anxiety between our stomach and our chest,” Pete says, “and I’ve often found that we have some shame wrapped up there, a sense of not being enough. Breathe into that.”
And then the tears come, warm and sort of glorious, like sweat running down my cheeks while Pete rubs the back of my neck, and laughs. It’s the kind of laugh that comes out when you’re holding a baby and they curl their tiny fingers around your pinky. It’s the moment I knew, because I had gotten myself here to this mat and this teacher and this community, that I would be alright.
It’s also the moment I truly understood the power of a healer. There is yoga, yes; there is meditation, yes; but there is something profound and deeply human in seeking wise counsel in the overlap there between, in matters of the heart and soul.
After almost a year of practicing with Pete, of accepting his invitations to shine light into our dark places, of feeling awe at his capacity for love that seems to grow exponentially with each hug he gives his students, I have come to recognize how important it is to find teachers we connect with—those special people genuinely invested in helping others heal, the ones who can hold that kind of sacred space.
As the great Sufi poet Hafiz once wrote, “That is what greatness does: kindly leaves a shelter for us to gather under, where more nourishment can be offered to all things.”
And so, in just over a month, I’ve accepted yet another invitation from my teacher, and will be heading out on a new journey, one that takes this place of love and light and suffering—the heart center—as a starting point, and charts the course of movement, breath, and awareness into a realm of unknowing.
Most people call this “Teacher Training,” but Pete calls it “Lighting the Path,” and I can think of no better words…except perhaps those, again, of Hafiz, who writes,
“Strange the way my shadow began to fall. I was standing in a field helping the dawn
appear, and when its body, the sun, was fully lifted into the sky
I was amazed to see my shadow in front of me as I faced that luminous candle we all know.”
Take these 12 quick and helpful tips to have a better experience at your next class.
Hydrate all day: Drinking water in the middle of your practice can mess with your flow, so arriving hydrated is necessary. Focus on drinking water all day long; you’ll be amazed at what a difference it will make.
Show up early: Rushing into the studio with a harried mind and no time to chill gets your practice off to a rough start. Allow at least 10 more minutes than you think you’ll need to have plenty of time to change clothes, check in with a cool mind, and sip on some tea, if you can!
Dress the part: There’s nothing worse pulling up the waistband of your pants or making sure your top doesn’t spill out of your built-in bra all class long. That’s not where your mind needs to be during your Downward Dog. Wear clothes that are fitted and comfortable, but not so snug that they’re distracting.
Grab props: More advanced yogis sometimes shy away from grabbing props, but there’s no harm in keeping them next to your mat. Grab a block, strap, and blanket before you take your seat. You’ll never know when you’ll need one.
Be quiet before class: I’m known to chat up a storm with fellow yogis in the moments before class, but do you best to stay quiet and turn inwards. Lay on your back or sit up with your eyes close to connect with yourself and prep for class.
Expect nothing: If this is the only piece of advice you take away from this list, you’ve learned a great lesson. Some days you’re going to be able to fly into a crazy arm balance and other days things are going to be more difficult. Every day our bodies are working with something different; don’t expect anything to look or feel a certain way.
Stop judging: You know that checking everyone out in the room isn’t a good use of your time, you might not even be aware of how much you’re comparing your progress to other students in the class. Keep your mind on your mat, and keep your attitude positive and full of possibility.
Breathe deep: It takes years and years to “perfect” your breath. Whenever a pose is feeling difficult or your feel some self-judgment creeping in, take deep ujjayi breaths in and out through your nose. They will help you release any tension or negativity and help you continue class with a more composed, calm perspective.
Listen to your teacher: Obviously, your teacher is going tell you which pose is up next, but don’t tune them out once you’re in a pose! I find that the tiny details or suggestions they offer once you’re in the pose are the real gems. One subtle tip could help you develop a completely new relationship with a pose that seemed too hard — or too easy!
Smile more: Yes, I know; this one is corny, but it works. Once you’re really flowing, your muscles have heated up, and your breath is connected to your movement, get grateful and start smiling. There’s no need to plaster an inauthentic expression across your face for 45 minutes, but there is plenty of opportunity to stop taking yourself so seriously during class. Smile and mean it; you’re taking care of your body just by being in class.
Try something new: If a pose comes around that you always skip or think you’re “not ready” for, try it tonight. The only way we conquer challenging poses is by experiencing the fear and moving through it. You might not nail it right away, but the only way you’ll eventually be able to hold it is if you try.
Stay in Savasana: Don’t leave or mentally check out during Savasana! Let all of your lists and obligations go; I promise they’ll be there after class. That five or 10 minutes of final relaxation is worth it, because you’re worth it.
Ayurveda promotes the use of specific sounds and mantras to transform, balance and heal particular parts of the body, the subtle body and the mind. Sound therapy is utilized primarily for the mano vaha srotas (the channels of the mind) that govern the function of the brain, nervous system and chakras. We receive neurological impulses from the senses that spark feelings, thoughts and emotions through the movement of prana – the life force, the flow of communication between the cells. Since these impulses come to us through time and space, there is the possibility that they may actually distort the truth of what we are experiencing into a manifestation of our past memories, judgments and misperceptions. However, if we bring awareness into the experience with a balanced body, the light of consciousness will allow us to see present circumstances as they truly exist, with clarity and freshness. Immunity is a good example of clear communication between prana, cell and mind.
In Ayurveda, the mind is comprised of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth) and their subtle expressions: sattva (clarity); rajas (activity) and tamas (inertia). Each individual possesses his or her own dosha – or constitution – (vata, pitta, kapha). Vata is composed of ether and air and is more rajasic and less sattvic. Pitta is fire and water, with the potential for more sattva and less rajas. Kapha is water and earth, and is more tamasic, less sattvic.
Unique tones, sounds and vibrations are prescribed to transform discord into harmony based on these qualities of the mind and the elements of the body in need of balancing. Sound consists of ether, which contains the properties of all five elements. Mantras used to balance the different doshas will possess the same qualities required to harmonize the qualities of the particular dosha. Vata is primarily cold, active and sensitive, and those with this dosha will benefit from sounds that are warming, calming, gently rhythmic and soothing. Pitta’s qualities of hot, sharp and intense will be harmonized by cooling, beautifully rhythmic and compassionate sounds. Kapha, which is cool, dull and sluggish, will balance with warming, stimulating, fast rhythm and uplifting sounds.
Through prana and vibration, the physical body and mind are connected to the chakra system. Unresolved thought and emotion crystallize, stagnate the pranic flow of intelligence to the chakras, which in turn affect their correlating bodily centers. For instance, if constant vibrations of hate, anger and judgment are attacking the heart, then the anahata heart chakra becomes depleted and depressed. This condition affects the cardiac plexus and may lead to heartache and heart disease. Remedies through sound for the heart chakra and the physical heart are vibrations of love and compassion. Potent bija (seed) mantras associated with each chakra may also be used. The bijas ‘Yam’ and ‘Kreem,’ when chanted with love and focused on the heart center, will remove the blockages, dissolve the emotional crystallization and support a happy, healthy heart.
The correlation between the chakras, the physical body and the mantras used to bring them back into balance are as follows:
Mantras are the manifestation of the ultimate Spirit. It is said that they are mantra devata, Matrika, the Mother of all, whose substance is the letters and their vibrations. They must be respected, pronounced properly, used with pure intention and utmost care. They are described in a scripture as “words that do not cause distress, truthful, agreeable and salutary.” Therapeutically, using the qualities of vibrations through sound, instruments and mantras absorb the mind’s incessant thought waves that disrupt a state of silence and peace, increase intelligent communication between the cells and assist one in awakening in the awareness of truth, consciousness and bliss.
According to Ayurveda, India’s traditional medical system, each one of us has an inborn constitution, or prakriti, that shapes our bodies, minds, and predilections. Most yoga teachers know at least a little about Ayurveda and have some notion of the basic constitutional types (doshas) of kapha, pitta, and vata. According to the Ayurvedic Practitioner Swami Shivananda, the Sanskrit word “dosha” literally means “that which becomes imbalanced.” This reflects the Ayurvedic belief that people of different constitutions, left to their own devices, often make lifestyle decisions—and choose yoga practices—that tend to put them further out of balance. Ayurveda also holds that people of different constitutions are prone to diseases that reflect the ways the doshas become imbalanced.
The Stable Kapha
In Ayurvedic thinking, kapha is associated with the earth and water elements. Think heavy and stable. Kaphas tend to be strong, with tremendous endurance, but they also tend toward laziness. Kaphas are more likely than people of other constitutions to be sedentary. Kaphas are prone to depression, mucus-forming conditions such as bronchitis and sinus infections, and Type 2 diabetes (the kind associated with being overweight). If they take care of themselves, though, Ayurveda says they are also likely to live longer than people of other constitutions.
If kaphas do yoga, they are likely to choose gentle styles or restorative classes, things that feel good but don’t challenge them too much. Anyone can benefit from relaxing yoga, of course, but to get the full benefits of the practice, kaphas usually need to be encouraged to work harder and do more. Inertia—that is, the tendency to stay still if you’re not moving, and to stay in motion if you’re already moving—is the operative principle of this dosha. Sandra Summerfield Kozak, coauthor with David Frawley of Yoga for Your Type: An Ayurvedic Approach to Your asana Practice, has found that 15 minutes of vigorous activity at the beginning of practice sessions is often enough to get students out of the so-called “kaphic slump.” After that, they may be energized and ready to give it their all. Similarly, if you can motivate kaphic students to do a challenging practice regularly, they may be able to stick with it, and that can make a huge difference in their mood and overall health.
The Passion of the Pitta
Pittas are typically passionate and highly intelligent, but they are also prone to anger and aggressiveness. Think of Type A personalities. People of this constitution—in which, according to Ayurvedic teaching, the fire element dominates—are more likely to develop inflammatory conditions such as lupus, skin eruptions, and heart disease. Many heart attacks, for example, happen in the aftermath of an angry outburst or other high emotions.
If pittas do yoga, they are often drawn to challenging practices, such as vigorous vinyasa classes, or to conceptually-oriented styles, such as Iyengar yoga, and they can get competitive about their yoga. Even though relaxation is what they need more than anything, they often resist it because they think it’s not a good use of their time (in fact, time urgency is one of the hallmarks of the type A personality). One of the challenges of working with people of this constitution is to get them to back off, try less hard in the poses, be less achievement-oriented when they do yoga, and build relaxation into their routines. They often benefit from just the styles of yoga and practices that many kaphas gravitate toward.
Vata in Motion
Vatas tend to be creative and high-energy, in constant motion, but easily distracted. According to Ayurvedic teaching, in vata dosha the air and space elements dominate. Vatas are more likely to develop conditions such as anxiety, arthritis, and diseases of nervous system. Constipation and insomnia are common complaints.
Vatas tend to choose active, movement-oriented classes. They are less likely to be happy in classes in which the flow is broken up for too long to discuss philosophy or explain the subtleties of anatomical alignment. Due to their restless minds, some vatas may have a hard time with slower, more meditative practices. At the beginning of a practice session, vatas may benefit from flowing poses, such as multiple sun salutations, to burn off some steam. Afterward, grounding practices, such as standing poses held for a minute or longer (depending on the student’s level), can help reduce vata. Some vatas are drawn to vigorous pranayama practices such as bhastrika, kapalabhati, and fancy ratio breathing with long breath retentions. Unless they’ve gotten themselves well-grounded first, however, these practices can put them even more out of balance.
In reality, the Ayurvedic understanding of constitutions is much subtler than what I’ve described above. Each person has elements of all three doshas, so reducing a student to a single type will always be an oversimplification. Furthermore, prakritis like vata-pitta, in which two doshas are balanced fairly evenly, are common; and a few people are tridoshic, meaning they’ve got a more or less even balance of all three. People may also manifest temporary imbalances (vikruti) that do not reflect their underlying prakriti. For example, people of any constitution who undergo the movement, disruption, and stimulation of travel may find their vata getting out of whack. That, according to Ayurveda, is why insomnia and constipation are so common when you’re on the road, and why travelers may benefit from vata-pacifying routines.
Ayurveda is a very deep well, and I believe that yoga teachers and therapists should make this field part of their ongoing study. In addition to the perspective it provides on yoga and yoga therapy, Ayurveda as a form of complementary medicine relies upon a broad array of tools including herbs, a variety of massage and bodywork practices, the multiday detoxification ritual known as panchakarma, and even surgery, although Ayurvedic practitioners tend to start with simple dietary and lifestyle interventions. Learning more about Ayurveda can help you better practice yoga therapy, and you may discover in the process that you also learn more about yourself.