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