s t h i r a – s u k h a m a s a n a m
“Posture (asana) should be stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha)” ~ The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
This Sutra can be applied directly to our choice of asana practice, our experience during our asana practice as well as how we connect to our living-world. Refining our ability to create this balance between effort (sthira) and ease (sukham) takes time and practice.
Recently I have been reminding students to ‘find your sweet’, in each pose there is an element of softness to send your thoughts to. For example, in downward facing dog the back of the neck is kept soft, in Warrior 1,2,3 the shoulders are released down the back of the spine and in the splits the hips are released. A softness can even be found in the belly when the inner core is at work, not every point of the belly needs to look rock solid.
I was reminded about finding sweetness during a recent trip in Bali where I saw the Hindu God Ganesha, most commonly known as the remover of obstacles, around every corner. The most striking and differentiating feature of Ganesha is his trunk and for an elephant the trunk gives easy access to many things. In Lord Ganesh the trunk is towards his left side accessing a laddu (a sweet ball). He reminds us to access the fruit of our work in the material world. In other words laddu indicates all material comforts, since he enjoys the sweet!
So when you’re next in a powerful pose, practising on or off your mat, keep it sweet, work from the top down and use the breath to guide you through it. It is not uncommon to reach for fear instead of calm, to feel overwhelmed instead of using what you have to settle the mind. When you next see a statue of Ganesh during your practice let that be a reminder that there is always sweetness to be found.
Y O U R Y O G A F R I E N D
a d h o m u k h a ś v ā n ā s a n a
My housemate recently asked me, ‘Iz, what’s the deal with downward dog?’.
Downward dog, although used regularly in practice is a deceptively challenging posture that requires lots of strength. If attempting this for the first time, do not be peterbed if this is not the most comfortable position. Incredible how a full yoga class of budding yogis with fantastic downward dogs can put you off for good. This pose will come to you after practice and patience. If your starting out bend your knees, this will help align your back and help open up your hamstrings slowly, instead of jamming into your heel. If your wrists are feeling weak, place your foreams down, into Dophin pose or use blocks.
DD is used regularly in yoga because of its ‘all in one’ benefits;
- — Reverses pressure on your spine, which can be beneficial for neck and shoulder injuries
- — Opens up your hamstrings, especially tight if your walking around the hard streets of London
- — Opens the chest, creating the opposite action of sitting at your computer/phone all day
- — Increases arm strength, although its easy to plummet your weight down into chest and shoulders, by pushing away from your hands and rolling the biceps away from the ears we can gain better strength through the whole arm. This pushing sensations can also prevent sore wrists, (a common issue in DD).
‘BKS Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world, asserts that this asana stretches the shoulders, legs, spine and whole body; builds strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the immune system, digestion and blood flow to the sinuses, and calms the mind and lifts the spirits.’
Downward dog is also used in yoga to create a period of reflection, in this pose we can take inventory of our bodies, start to tune in with what’s feeling a little tight and areas which are feeling softer.
If you are still confused by the concept, please feel free to pop to class!
Your Yoga Friend X
The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. As per Yogic scriptures the practice of yoga leads to the connection of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, leading to a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man & Nature. While physical and mental health are natural consequences of yoga, the goal of yoga is about aligning individual geometry with the cosmic, to achieve the highest level of perception and harmony.
So why has this practise become so popular? In today’s society we are stressed like never before. I was never taught how to deal with stress at school or university. Yoga in London has therefore become the most natural way for me to combat troublesome feelings/thoughts. Since discovering yoga myself, there has been a huge boom of the practise all over the UK and a great deal in London. The BBC recently stated that 30 million regularly practice yoga world wide! I believe people today are looking for a logical solution to their problems, finding a sense of play and meditation through the activity of yoga.
With technology and communication moving so fast, this all contributes to the over stimulation of the mind, which now can be calmed for just an a small amount of time though the practise of yoga. Slowing us down, taking the sight inwards to our breath and our thoughts. I once had a student come to my class to improve her flexibility, after which she said ‘ it’s like I have just learnt to breathe’.
These days we are engaging less and less with others in person. So we see less of ourselves reflected back as a result. We live mostly in our mind and have no way of cross checking what it is telling us. When we practice yoga, we can actually get to see, feel, and experience ourselves deeply – not just physically, but emotionally and mentally, and even spiritually as well.
Hence the reason why yoga is so popular today. We subconsciously crave connection, a way to alleviate stress, and even if we go for alternative results, the mental benefits may surprise you.
Your Yoga Friend x