Our final look at Patanjali's five Yamas include the concepts of non-stealing and non-attachment. At first glance they seem similar in that they both relate to our relationship to material possessions. From this standpoint, think about how much emotional and mental energy we use wanting things we do not have and once we get them, we start wanting the next thing. It is an extraordinarily hard habit to break.
If we look at the deeper meaning of Asteya, we see that it encompases a natural integrity and fairness in all of our dealings, whether it be what we buy at the store, how much we are paid for the word we do, or how much we get our of our relationships, even our yoga practice. We aim to have an even energetic exchange in all of our dealings.
The subtleties of Aparigraha go beyond the simple meanings of non-hoarding or non-grasping. Yes, we reduce our suffering if we can release our need for material goods that go beyond our basic needs, but what about our attachment to other people, or even to the stories we constantly tell ourselves? Can we strive to be unattached in every level of our being so that we hold life more gently and compassionately?
This week in class we are working on a simple variation of Surya Namaskar, or the sun salutation using a chair as support for the hands. In keeping with Asteya, we will examine how the asana practice, when practiced mindfully, gives us just as much energy as is required to practice. Take a moment also to think on why we come back to the mat again and again, what are we getting out of our yoga practice? Bring Aparigraha into your practice by letting go of the results of each posture and focus on each precious moment while practicing, releasing attachment to any pre-conceived outcome.
Hold hands palms facing upwards in front of the solar plexus. The hand should be separated with the thumbs touching the side of the index fingers.
This mudra encourages awareness of the natural fairness of the give and take of life.
Benefits: This open-handed mudra brings breath and awareness to the upper abdomen. It also brings awareness to the ebb and flow of energy through the hands.
Cup hands with little and ring fingertips together creating a bowl shape.
Benefits: Compassion, generosity, giving
Chair Sun Salutation
1. Mountain Pose - Stand in front of chair with feet hips width apart, inhale and raise arms overhead
2. Forward Bend - Exhale and bend forward grasping sides of chair with hands, bend knees as much as you need to release tension in backs of legs and lower back.
3. Left Lunge - Inhale and step right foot back to a lunge. Right heel stays lifted and extend strongly through back leg as you bend right knee
toward chair seat. Keep arms straight and raise torso upward.
4. Downward Facing Dog - Exhale and step left foot back beside right foot and press heels down into floor as you press hips back over heels. Keep arms straight as you extend them overhead, keep belly pulled in.
5. Plank - Inhale and lift heels off floor, bring shoulders over wrists and keep body and legs in the same plane, like a plank of wood. Exhale and hold this posture.
6. Upward Facing Dog - Inhale and lower hips slightly toward chair as you keep the arms straight and keep pressing back through the legs.
7. Downward Facing Dog - Exhale and press hips back over heels. Keep arms straight as you extend them overhead, keep belly pulled in.
8. Right Lunge - Inhale and step right foot forward, bend right knee toward chair seat. Lift left heel off floor but press strongly back into left leg, arms are straight and torso raises upward.
9. Forward Bend - Exhale and step left foot forward beside right, bend knees and lower head towards seat of chair.
10. Mountain Pose - Inhale, bend knees deeply and use your leg strength to stand up with a neutral spine raising arms overhead touching palms together. Exhale and bring palms over heart.
11. Repeat to other side leading with the left leg.
Chair Cross-leg Twist
Cross right thigh over left. Inhale and sit up tall. Exhale bring left arm outside of right knee, right arm under chair back. Try to twist navel, ribs and chest allowing head to follow. (Hold 10 breaths each side).
Benefits: Squeezes muscles of torso and detoxifies organs.
Chair Forward Bend
Hold onto chair seat and inhale to sit up tall. Exhale and lean forward over legs. You may rest elbows on knees or come all the way forward allowing arms and head to dangle. Hold 10 breaths. Inhale and draw navel in as you come up.
Benefits: Stretches muscles of low back and all along spine, encourages a calm state of mind.
Legs in the Chair
Lie on back with legs in the seat of a chair, or in this case the ottoman. Place arms away from sides and palms up. Rest 15 minutes. This is less of an inversion than Instant Maui but has many of the same benefits.
Benefits: Induces relaxation response, reduces swelling of feet and legs, relaxes lower back
This week we will be discussing the second and fourth Yamas of Patanjali's eight limbed system of yoga. Satya, or truth-fullness, and Bhramacarya or the conservation of life force and how they are similar when applied to our yoga practice.
Truth-fullness, being honest with yourself and others, speaking your truth. This can also be seen as owning your thoughts, emotions and reactions to life. Truth-fullness, being honest with yourself and others, speaking your truth. When we live in satya, our thoughts, words and deeds are all in alignment with our highest purpose and we have the integrity to as own our thoughts, emotions and reactions to life. When you are faced with needing to speak the truth to someone that may cause harm, temper satya with ahimsa.
Satya in relation to the practice of asana means that you are honest with yourself about how far you can go into a pose and still respect your body and breath. If you are in a pose and are struggling to breathe, you have gone too far and are not being truthful to yourself or in the presence of your classmates and teacher. When you find yourself acting without satya, it can be a reminder to let go of the ego.
Bhramacarya or the conservation of life-force, moderation, (some translate this as abstinence). In action, bhramacarya means exercising control over your emotional state, using your energy wisely, and making sure to save enough energy for yourself. In this time of business, many of us take care of others before taking care of ourselves. Remember what the flight attendants tell us about securing our own oxygen masks prior to helping others? Well this idea can also be applied to other areas of our lives, if we are so tired from being on top of our jobs, the errands, the family, and our friends, and we feel depleted and cranky, then we are not practicing bhramacharya.
Also, this yama can relate to over indulging in sensory pleasures such as food, drink, or sex. Moderate your enjoyment of all of these things so that the mind does not become obsessed. The goal is not to repress your desires completely, but to turn away from sense attachments so that you can feel more at peace with yourself.
Bhramacarya in relation to asana means you should try to balance the amount of effort or tapas, with surrender in each posture. If you find yourself expending too much energy by trying to do the poses perfectly, forgetting to relax into the postures, this can be balanced by applying bhramacarya.
While practicing the sequence below be truthful with yourself about how far to go into each posture, how long to stay and conserve your energy during the transitions.
Reclining Tree Pose
Lay on the back with the legs extended. Bend the right knee and place the right foot on the inside of the left leg and use blocks to support the outside of the right knee. Raise arms overhead and extend into the left leg, as if you were standing on that foot.
Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
Lie on back with knees bent and feet hips with apart. Inhale and lift hips away from floor, rolling onto upper back. Press arms back into floor and lengthen tail bone towards backs of knees.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Begin on all fours with hands slightly forward of shoulders. Turn toes under and lift knees off floor. Keep shoulders wide and palms flat, press thighs and sit bones back, scooping belly in.
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Begin in Tadasana. Bend both knees and lower pelvis, grounding thighs. Inhale hands either to hips, arms parallel to floor or overhead. Exhale and lean torso forward from hips as you sit back bending the knees. Be sure that the knees do not go forward of the ankles and do not arch the lower back excessively.
Block Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Stand with feet hips-width apart, block between feet. Engage legs and bear weight on left leg only. Place right ball of foot onto block with knee turned slighty out, rest heel on inside of left calf. Draw belly in and release tail bone towards floor. Inhale and draw arms overhead without gripping shoulders.
Hold as long as you can balance with comfort, release and change sides.
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Stand with feet hips-width apart. Engage legs and bear weight on left leg only. Draw right foot, onto calf or inner thigh (do not press on side of knee). Press foot against leg and leg against foot. Draw belly in and release tail bone towards floor. Inhale and draw arms overhead without gripping shoulders.
Hold as long as you can balance with comfort, release and change sides.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
Stand in Tadasana. Inhale arms overhead. Exhale and bend forward from hips. Engage quadriceps and draw belly in as you press heels into floor, and sit bones upwards. Release back into Tadasana by drawing hands onto hips and lifting entire torso up as a single unit.
Legs up the Wall
Sit beside wall. Swing legs up wall as you lay back on mat. Rest hands on lap, belly or place arms out to sides with palms facing up. Rest at least 10-15 minutes, then roll over to release. The back should be relatively flat on the floor and the legs can be slightly bent, especially if the hamstrings are tight.
Therapeutics: Activates the Relaxation Response, reduces swelling in the legs and feet, balances the nervous system, good if you have been sitting or on your feet all day
This month we will explore the first limb of Patanjali’s eight limbed path of yoga, called the Yamas. The five Yamas, or self-restraints, point out pit-falls which when avoided, help us to lead more balanced lives and avoid future suffering. In Sanskrit; Ahimsa – Satya – Asteya – Bhramacarya – Aparigraha. Translated to Non-violence – Truth – Non-Stealing – Conservation of Life Force – and Non-Hoarding. When applied in both our daily lives and in our yoga practice, these five tenets of living bring about a compassionate death to the ego and a richer connection to our highest wisdom.
The first Yama is Ahimsa, non-harming or non-violence in thought, words and speech towards yourself and others. This can also be seen as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" but it relates more specifically to the level of awareness that one has about their own thought processes, speech, and habitual actions. Ahimsa in relation to the practice of asanas means that you do not push yourself beyond your limitations and respect your edges. Listen to the subtle signals from your body that you have gone far enough into a pose. Also, try not to judge yourself about how well you 'perform' the asanas.
This week's sequence incorporates a backbend, forward bend and twist practiced first using the arms to support the body, then practiced restoratively. Be careful during the arm supported postures that you are not forcing the body to do more than it is ready and comfortably willing to do and always be mindful of keeping a non-harming attitude.
Begin with palms together. Create space between palms keeping finger tips, thumbs and heels of hands together; hold at the heart.
Benefits: Activates the heart center
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Lie on the belly with the hands under the shoulders. Press pubic bone into floor and lengthen legs behind you. Inhale and press upper body away from floor keeping shoulders back and chest broad.
Hold 5-10 breaths and release chest to floor.
Therapeutics: Opens front body, stretches lower back, strengthens arms
Janu Sirsasana (Head of the Knee Pose)
Sit on floor with sole of the left foot on inside of right thigh with the right leg straight. Press right leg into floor and extend through ball of right foot. Inhale and sit up tall through front of chest. Exhale turn torso towards right leg and release forward from hips, keeping heart forward and shoulders relaxed.
Hold up to 1 minute each side, then release.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)
Sit with left leg cross-legged and that heel beside right hip. Step right foot down on the outside of the left knee. Inhale and wrap left arm around front of right knee. Exhale and twist into right leg, compressing the belly. Twist from belly, through ribs, chest, and then head.
Hold for up to 1 minute, then release and change sides.
Therapeutics: Compresses the belly to increase digestion, wrings out muscles along spine
Place two blocks on mat, one perpendicular to mat on lowest height, the other parallel to mat on middle height. The blocks should be 4-6 inches away from each other. Sit facing away from blocks and lie back placing shoulder blades on low block, back of head on high block. Place arms on floor with palms facing upwards.
Therapeutics: Opens the heart and relaxes the trapezius muscles of the upper back
Supta Balasana (Supported Child's Pose)
Kneel straddling a long bolster. Place a second bolster over first with end of bolster in front of your low abdomen. A third bolster can go under the far end of the second bolster or use a folded blanket or block to support under it. Extend front of body over second bolster and rest forehead on backs of hands. Rest up to 5 minutes.
Therapeutics: Creates a calm, grounded space to get away from the demands of daily life
Lie on back with knees bent and feet on floor. Shift hips to the left a few inches from center. Draw the knees into the chest and release legs to the bolster on the right. You may use right hand to hold down outside of left knee. Reach left arm back to floor and turn head to the center or to the right.
Hold for 1-3 minutes, then bend knees and draw them up to center, change sides.
Therapeutics: Broadens back of pelvis, stretches outside of legs, gently compresses the abdominal organs
Home Practice Blog
I attend Cheryl's class regularly and feel that my practice has improved immensely over the past few years due to her expert coaching. Her teaching style is clear and compassionate and her previous experience in teaching adults is evident in her organized approach and easy to understand instructions. I also appreciate that Cheryl not only teaches us about how to correctly position ourselves, but also touches on many aspects of yoga philosophy, which in turn has deepened my personal practice and heightened my awareness of the connection between mind and body, breath and relaxation.