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Yoga for Mindfulness

January 19, 2019

The practice of Yoga has profound effect on all aspects of our life. Yoga not only improves our physical health but also takes care of our mental well-being creating balance between the body and the mind.

The practice of mindfulness is very helpful to harmonize the body and the mind too. Fortunately, there are many yogic techniques available to practice mindfulness. Before getting to know how to practice mindfulness, we need to know what mindfulness is. In simple words, mindfulness is your presence in your experience. For example, if you are having your dinner then stay connected with your dinner only. Your full awareness and focus should be on your food, but nowadays, we watch TV while eating, we talk over the phone while having dinner or lunch. We are just physically eating but mentally we are connected with the input from the TV or the person on the call. We are not present in our eating experience.

Similarly, at the work place, we can improve our efficiency through the practice of mindfulness. Research shows that people spend almost 47% of their working hours thinking about something different from what they are doing (Harvard Business Review).

In other words, many of us operate on autopilot, without awareness of what we are experiencing. The good news is that you can train your brain to focus better by incorporating mindfulness exercises throughout your day.

Yoga is very helpful to control our monkey mind, particularly Pranayama helps a lot. Yoga helps to block the fluctuations of Citta (Consciousness comprising of mind, intelligence and ego). After continuous practice of Yoga, you will be more focused or connected with whatever you do.

Next time when you get to the office, take 10 minutes at your desk or in your car to boost your brain with mindfulness practice before you dive into activity. Close your eyes, relax and sit upright. Place your full focus on your breath, maintain ongoing flow of attention on the experience of breathing: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. To help yourself stay focused, stay focused on your breath. Anytime you find your mind getting distracted, simply avoid distraction by returning your focus to your breath.

Most importantly allow yourself to enjoy these minutes. Throughout the rest of the day, other people will fight for your attention. But for these 10 minutes your attention is all your own.

Start with this simple breathing technique and slowly-slowly introduce Asana and other Pranayama techniques into your practice. After a few days of continuous practice, you yourself will find the beauty of Yoga within you.

What if Yoga itself is an illusion ? Maybe, it was created to understand other illusions. The final stage of Yoga, Samadhi, can be another kind of cosmic manifestation. A manifestation where time is not linear. After reaching Samadhi, one can feel non-linearity of time. We can have experience beyond space-time but experience beyond space-time can be some kind of matrix, some kind of an illusion. And we can’t deny this possibility. We are just plunging from one illusion to another and will never know the absolute reality. In conclusion, Yoga doesn’t ensure us that we are going to know the absolute reality but surely it leads us to amazing possibilities that will enrich our experience.

How to Practice Asana

January 19, 2019

Asana must be established within. Just getting into the posture is not asana. It must be established within in such a way that your posture, breathing patterns and your dristi should synchronize with each other.

It doesn’t matter how many hours you practice. What matters most is how much devotion you have to your practice. And devotion can come only through complete surrender. Through complete surrender one can feel the purest form of love. Through complete surrender one can achieve the highest form of yoga. This synchronized and harmonious state of your existence will enable you to create emptiness within you. Through this emptiness, pranic energy can flow freely. Through this emptiness, panch koshas (the five bodies) can be merged together and finally one can get a glimpse of Ananda (bliss) .

Virabhadrasana-A

A very common problem we face in our 9 to 5 society is lower back pain. It is also one of the top reasons people get introduced to Yoga. Most of us have experienced it at least once in life and many develop a chronic problem over time.

Bound to our chairs, hunching over our keyboards, staring at our screens, we are working our bodies into this very typical imbalance. Extensive sitting, unilateral or repetitive movement, and lack of exercise result in hunched shoulders, tight necks, slipped discs and lower back issues.

The lower back consists of 5 vertebrae forming a slide inward curve called lordosis. This part of the spine, called lumbar, carries the most weight and is a common area of discomfort and injuries. Big muscles and important nerves meet here, supporting the back, connecting the trunk with our lower body. These muscles are known to tense or spasm causing pain. Carrying the most weight and having quite a big range of movement, they are also the most likely to cause problems. If the disks in between them are squeezed or dislocated they tend to pinch nerves which run closely to the spine. It can also be muscles around this area which cause the pain, like the iliopsoas which is the primary connector between the torso and the legs. It plays a role in hip and torso flexion as well as stabilising the lower back.

Now, as we have an idea of the reasons why we get lower back pain let´s find out what we can do about it.

As many muscles and nerves meet in this area of the body as many of them can play into the causes of pain. This is why healing the lower back includes a diverse selection of Yoga Asana.

In general, it can be said, that a regular physical practice with focus on alignment as well as balance of strength and flexibility can help you immensely to reduce back problems.

Release acute pain, mobilize, strengthen and stretch by practicing these Asanas on a regular basis. You can practice them in the following order.

MAJARYASANA & BITILASANA – CAT & COW

Connecting with your breath, these poses are practiced together. They are perfect to wake up and mobilise your spine at the beginning of your practice or whenever you feel tension in your back.The Cat & Cow movements increase blood circulation around the spine and the abdominal muscles get toned. These are important to support stabilising the lower back.

BALASANA

This Asana releases tension in the back muscles and helps lengthen the entire spine. It helps you to calm your mind and relieve stress. Breath deeply. With every inhalation, lengthen your arms forward, with every exhalation send your sit bones towards your heels. If you have knee problems or trouble to sit on your heels, fold a blanket and put it between your sit bones and calfs.

Practice this pose whenever you feel tightness in your lower back. You can include it in your practice at any point you feel tired or tensed.

ANJANEYASANA – LOW LUNGE

Stretches the front of the hip (hip flexors) and leg as well as the lower abdomen. At the same time, it strengthens almost the entire leg including quadriceps, ankles, gluteus maximus, and the hamstrings. You can include these low lunges in your Sun Sautations at the beginning of your practice.

VIRABHADRASANA-A


This posture works similarly to Anjaneyasana and can be practiced daily to work on your base. From the toes to the tips of your fingers it strengthens your whole body, and brings balance and confidence to your entire practice.

UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA
Opening hips and chest, the extended side angle pose works the side of the body. Creating strength in the front leg, as well as lengthening and working the upper side body, this pose can energize the entire body.

The intense work in your entire side body strengthens important muscles supporting the straightening of your entire spine.

The posture helps lengthen the muscles around the ribs, creating space for your lungs. This will let you breath more freely. Do this pose in the morning and you will start your day well energized.

NAVASANA

Not only will this pose work your abdominal muscles, which are important to strengthened the back, but also your legs. Especially, the iliopsoas muscle will be strengthened. When practicing this posture, make sure to stretch the psoas with a low lunge bending in your front knee in order to warm and work it both ways during your practice.

PURVOTTANASANA (ALTERNATIVE: REVERSED TABLE TOP)

This pose works on the entire back of your body. It is an excellent counter pose for any forward bend in your practice. If the full posture is not available for you, the reversed table top position with bent knees is a good alternative.

BHUJANGASANA

Another helpful posture if you feel stiffness in your lower back is the Cobra. Make sure to press your pubic bone and your feet into the floor. Roll your shoulders back and away from your ears to feel a nice stretch in your chest and your abdomen. Lift your hands from the floor and feel a little extra work in your lower back.

SALAMBA BHUJANGASANA (SPHINX)

This pose works similar to Bhujangasana. With your forearms on the floor it will be easier to hold the posture longer in oder to get the most effect from its restorative benefits.

SHALABASANA – Locust pose

Shalabasana is a very effective pose when it comes to strengthening your back and increasing flexibility of your spine. It works your arms and shoulders, massages your inner organs and tones your abdominals at the same time.

MARICHYASANA C & SUPINE TWIST

This asana releases stiffness in your lower back. Make sure, you ground your sit bones properly. If you feel like you are rounding the lumbar spine, use height under your buttock.
This twists not only releases tension in your back, but it also works your inner organs. It can help with constipation and has positive effects on your liver.

Twisting will bring your attention not only to your navel region, but it will bring focus to the quality of your breath. Does it reach the base of your spine? Are you using the entire capacity or is it stuck in your chest? Deepen with every inhalation, lengthen your spine and exhale, see if you can deepen a little more into the twist. Breath is also a perfect tool to bring your mind back to the mat during your practice.

In the Supine Twist, your back is supported lying on the floor. If you feel discomfort in the pose, bring your hips more out to the opposite side you are twisting and/or bring your knees further down, away from your upper body.

SETU BANDHASANA (prop: Block)

The bridge pose stretches the front of the body while strengthening the back. Work it dynamically, lifting from the base of your spine vertebra by vertebra, coming down the same way. You can approach this Asana therapeutically by using a block or bolster under your sacrum, resting your lower back. This will still give you the many benefits of the posture without putting any stress on your lower back.

SUPTA HASTA PADANGUSTASANA

This posture stretches the hamstrings and the stretch created in the lower back helps to release compression and tension. The spine is grounded and secured from rounding which often happens when performing forward bends to stretch the hamstrings. Stretching the leg to the side will stretch your groins and hip adductors which can be responsible for your pain.

SAVASANA

Never skip Savasana.

If you would like to learn more and deepen your practice with us, join our classes focusing on different topics and Yoga practices. We also give private sessions, as well as workshops not only on Asana practice, but also on Yoga philosophy.

Please note, if you have acute pain, it is recommended to visit your doctor before performing Asana. In general, it is recommended to consult your doctor or a physiotherapist to locate the actual reason of your pain. This will also make it easier for your teacher to help you with a tailored Asana practice.

Article author: Anette Q.

Last month I was enjoying the lush of a university campus. There, I observed something we all have seen around in almost all private and government campuses – monoculture.

A Monoculture of Poplar Trees

Beautiful looking rows of trees of the same type (our definition of monocultures) in urbanscapes have been a trend across the globe since Andre Le Notre laid out the Sun King’s grounds at Versailles in the 16th century (at least that’s the beginning for European landscape architects). These symmetrically planned parks and gardens are like art pieces made from nature. However, Leda Marritz, an arborist, a horticulturist, and a landscape architect has something to say about this art form:

This practice of only planting a single species is something that has always bothered me. I call this condition we landscape architects suffer from Simple Single Species Syndrome Sickness or S5.”

Leda Marritz has been in the field for over thirty years now, and she refers to this beauty trend as a sickness. Beauty is often defined as perfection, but isn’t this definition of beauty the actual sickness?

Repetitive, accurate patterns do not have much to do with the beautiful wildness of nature. Not offering anything surprising, they easily allow us to take our eyes off the trees lined up like soldiers.

Even the birds lose their interest. They have a preference for a certain type of tree and its location when it comes to settling. You won’t find a raptor’s nest in about any tree in the city. Raptors (generally eagles and hawks) are very picky about their nesting grounds. For example, the osprey, a threatened fish-eating raptor, builds a large stick nest in a tall, most of the times dead, tree. In our perfectly planned urbanscape, those will rarely be found.

Eucalyptus trees are starkly present, but they are non-natives in India and almost invasive. High courts in Southern India have suggested a ban on eucalyptus. These stubborn sturdy trees are well known for reducing water table and leave wells dry. Their beautiful looking monocultures provide oxygen and lush green surroundings but sap us out in the long run.

These sly monocultures are killing birds of prey and waterbirds. The rest you can guess – an ecological imbalance.

Tomato spotted wilt carried by Aphids

Losing predators leads to the increase of the insect population. Insects in turn breed and migrate to crop fields destroying the crops and increasing the demand for insecticides. This results in the decrease of production. Using insecticides harms waterbodies and degrades the quality of crops. In cities, these insects act as vectors of many diseases like malaria, lyme, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue, and more. Insects like grasshoppers, whiteflies, mealybugs and some beetles carry viruses which infect crops. All this, eventually, harms us.

Let us recollect how the food and environment crisis began. It started by planting monocultures.

So, what can we do about this?

A good beginning involves learning from colonial history. It’s a well-studied fact that botanical gardens substantially aided colonization. This fact surprises people, but it’s very true. For example, botanical gardens broke Dutch monopoly over spices and herbs in Kolkata. You can learn more about how botanical gardens helped to establish the British Empire hereKew Botanical Garden is one of the most famous and most beautiful gardens around. It does not involve monocultures, yet it looks elegant.

An elegant lane in Kew – without monocultures

Botanical gardens achieve more than what simple single species syndrome sickness can achieve. It does involve a bit of brainwork, but it is worth it, as it is good for us and for the environment.

The famous Garden at the Bay in Singapore is a role model regarding variety. This idea of perennial polyculture has been implemented in a few places. Hans Raj College has planted 500 species of trees on the Delhi University campus. Recent Arbor Day plantations (certain days throughout the year which are dedicated to planting trees) have also diversified.

It is high time we follow their lead and stop planting monocultures blindly. Let us not naively plant fancy trees in our respective campuses. While we are blindfolded by the lush-monotonous-green on our supposed quest to save the environment, monocultures are wrecking havoc. It’s time we stop, and ask the question – are we doing it right or are we just trying to satisfy our aesthetic eye with symmetry and perfection?

Sometimes we want something so much that we get obsessed with it. Being busy dreaming of the day we are going to achieve our goal, we tend to miss all the beauty on the way. These wonderful moments you get an inch closer to what you want so badly. You lift up for a second, getting a glimpse of what it would feel like to effortlessly drift across the sky. The gasp before the next fall which will not bring you to your destination, but closer to your dreams. Take every tiny step, the stumbles, all failure, and frustration on the way as lessons you have to learn before you can reach your ultimate goal. The truth is, in the end these moments will make the victory, these moments will make you understand, these moments will reveal the truth about yourself, your strength, and your dreams. It will not be the fruit of your effort, but all the work, the sweat, the blood, and the tears you invest which will be the ink your story is going to be written with. Looking at the memories you made on the way is what is going to give you true satisfaction. Learning how to fly will teach you to find back to the moment. It requires focus and intuition, strength and lightness, patience and drive. The practice of yoga teaches you all of these and can release your wings to fly, but only if you are ready for this lifelong journey with all its ups and downs.

The world has become highly indifferent to pain and suffering of others, and we all know it. However, we fail to realize that almost all of us are contributing to it in a certain way. It is very easy to close our eyes and blame others. Who am I to change anything? How am I supposed to help people on the other side of the world? What can I do to avoid terrorism? Yes, you are one in a billion, and no, you will not change the world in a day. But imagine, all these people around you, sharing this planet Earth might have similar thoughts as you and this is the root cause of our dilemma. If only we were aware of how powerful our thoughts are, I promise you, the world would be a different place.

Let’s remember what happened in the USA. Ted Cruz made a comment about wanting to blow up the whole Middle East just to “see” whether “sand glows in the dark”. A presidential candidate saying this is a really big deal. He, and many others, made several insensitive comments during the elections. Why? They had confidence that ‘the people of America’ will like this and support them.

This ‘confidence’ shows how grave the situation is. And why is that? There is fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of existence, fear of the unknown in general. The media uses this collective fear and creates panic and hate. We don´t care if innocent people have to suffer in order to erase the so called ‘enemy’. But, unfortunately, ever so often the ‘enemy’ is not real, but just a creation by someone (most of the times politicians, governments, and multinationals) who wants to push their interests (resources, power, money) through.

Let’s come to a more local example. In India, we complain about the garbage on our roads and how the government isn’t doing anything. But we forget how the garbage got there in the first place. It’s people like us who throw garbage on the road. This shows our insensitiveness towards our surroundings.

This behavior translates to our indifference towards other’s suffering and our insensitiveness towards nature. The recent immigration crisis and the USA backing off from the Paris Convention are prime examples.

Directly or indirectly, big multinational companies, driven by greed and high profit goals, are often the root cause of environmental destruction. In the name of professionalism, MNCs are not only careless towards nature, but also indifferent when it comes to their employees.

Individual needs and emotions do not have any space in the corporate world. Everyone is expected to work like a robot and maximize the profit of the company. We are trained to function in this system from our childhood, but have you ever stopped and asked yourself what is in it for you? What is your outcome? Money? A career? Material gains? Isn´t it a more psychological and emotional distortion of individuals? And in the end, we spend our money on treatment and pills to fight against stress and disease caused by our daily life.

Isn´t it an extremely clever system? Not so much for us in the end though. All this stress, unease, and physical and mental overload will ultimately transmit deep down to the society, and lead to the creation of a collectively diseased community.

Why are more and more people restraining from caring for their community and ultimately for the society? The reason is not so much carelessness, but more the fact that we become more insensitive towards our own selves. Do we really care about ourselves? Aren´t we too often putting a thousand different tasks and people first? There is always something more important, someone who needs your support, or you have to finish this work project before taking rest. Ask yourself – are you taking enough time for yourself? Do you love yourself? Do you even know yourself?  This is a very essential, basic question, and most probably also the most difficult one to answer.

The fact is, if we are not sensitive towards ourselves, if we are not able to love ourselves, how are we supposed to be able to truly love others and how will we be able to care for others and for the society?

Only individuals who have harmony and love within will be able to create a progressive and peaceful world.

So, ‘what’s the way out?’, you ask.

Ask yourself, what is the path of salvation? How can you be redeemed?

The answer is Yoga. It is much more than just physical exercise. Even advanced practitioners are often not aware of the true power Yoga has.

Yoga means “union”. It teaches us to live in unity and harmony not only with the people around us, but with something more profound – nature.

As one of our articles “How to Practice Asanas”, uncovering the spiritual meaning of attaining asana, says – just attaining the right physical pose is not Yoga. It should come from within. Yoga makes us understand our oneness with the universe – the whole of creation.

Yogis have been striving to find inner peace, nirvana, within themselves for thousands of years. This infinite power and the attained knowledge is meant to elevate humanity.

Compared to other creatures human beings seem to have a “higher” conscious presence. This is not all. Unknown and untapped, we have a miraculous potential. Our inner energy source is required to unleash untapped “power chakras”. Through Yoga, we can awaken these dormant powers and realize our true Self.

Yoga is the path of love. It believes in Unity and Cosmic Harmony, rather than religion.

One God – the Supreme Consciousness

The word God should not be confused with a person, but rather be seen as the whole of our existence, the Universe, Unity of Love for Everyone and Everything – however you would like to call it.

One Aim Salvation for the whole existence

The path of Yoga  is that of love. Bhakti Yoga is one such path. Its goal is to develop an intense love between the Yogi and the Cosmos which dissolves all boundaries. This produces the required “Oneness” between the Yogi and the world. This love destroys all indifference and insensitivity.

The more we realize who we truly are, the more we can see ourselves, the more we develop an understanding for the world around us and the fact that we are an actual part of it.

We have the potential to come to terms with our place in the world and contribute to the society like Swami Vivekananda and Gautam Buddha did. Their path was guided by Yoga in the first place. Their aim was to attain Nirvana and find salvation for themselves and ultimately for the society.

Absolute peace can only be strived for by recognizing our True Self.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to happen fast. The path of Yoga is a long one, full of distractions and obstacles, yet it is our immediate need. Oneness is our goal and Yoga is our support. We need to tap into our consciousness and access our dormant powers. Becoming one with the world is the path Humanity needs to follow. Only then can we eradicate indifference and insensitiveness.

Have faith in yourself, trust your own true power and start walking. The path of Yoga will unfold itself in front of you. The only thing you have to do is to take the first step.

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