In order to get the most out of our practice, we need to be comfortable and focused. This class will include postures to prepare the body to sit for meditation. We will also practice pranayama, or breath work to help clear and focus our energy for a 15 minute meditation practice.
Our Himalayan Institute of Pittsburgh is a peaceful community
welcome to all. In these turbulent times…let us come together, drop within and meditate…or maybe you have never meditated? You could simply sit in silence. Let’s create a positive energy that will promote peace and carry us throughout our world.
Please join us on the second Friday of each month… next session May 11th!
Time: 7pm – 8pm. Sit for five minutes or stay the whole hour!
Bring: Mat, or props that will comfort. We do offer mats, bolsters, blocks, and blankets for your support.
Please pre-register at the Front Desk
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 jar of Chyawaprash
5 cups white flour
3 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Ginger root powder
Directions: Pre-heat oven at 350
1. In mixer, cream together butter & brown sugar then add eggs (one at a time). Blend well then add chyawanprash. Use a knife to get it out of the jar.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, ginger and salt; gradually add to the wet ingredients until blended well. Use a spoon to scoop into a medium size ball. Dip one side in raw sugar and place on a lined cookie sheet, sugar side up. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
For the past couple weeks, some of the students attending this class have been teacher trainees from another yoga studio; part of their training encourages them to go to different studios and experience different styles (very cool, I must say).
Last night’s visiting attendees were two women: one instructor and one trainee. Both were young and energetic, the instructor thin and lithe, her upper body overlaid with colorful tattoos. Her asanas were nearly perfect and lovely to watch.
Like most instructors, I’m sure, I always feel a little intimidated when an instructor shows up for my class; feeling not so much that I’m being judged, but watched. Very carefully. I do the same when I attend a fellow teacher’s class. I’m not judging, but always searching. Searching for new ways to explain a pose or inspire students (or myself). I recognize that my style is mine, that theirs is theirs, and that instructors can’t be compared. I have tremendous respect for all teachers. What intimidates me, however, is knowledge.
Yoga is so deep and vast that when I meet other teachers (especially if they practice a different style), I am always overwhelmed at how much I DON’T know. I am suddenly reduced to a student, a child seeking approval, feeling inadequate.
“No, I don’t remember what my dosha is.”
“No, I’ve never practiced ashtanga yoga (at least I don’t think I have).”
“Nope, never heard of the hasta or the pada bandhas.”
“No, I haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita from beginning to end.”
“No, I can’t do a handstand or hold a hip balance with straight arms and legs for more than a few breaths.”
“No, I don’t make a habit of adjusting my students.”
Cerebrally, I know that we are never “done” when it comes to yoga; that the depth of this practice is vast and never-ending. So why do I feel so less-than when I discover something I don’t know? And how do I release the self-judgement for not knowing everything about something which is fundamentally unknowable?
As always, I look to the Yamas and Niyamas for guidance. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8-Fold path of yogic philosophy. Taken from the Yoga Sutras, there are five Yamas, or restraints, and five Niyamas, or observances.
For this particular experience, Astaya, the Yama of non-stealing, spoke to me. According to Deborah Adele, in her book, The Yamas and the Niyamas, “Astaya guides our attempts and tendencies to look outwardly for satisfaction.” In looking outward, we are stealing our joy and ability to look inward. Astaya asks us to shift our awareness of others to ourselves.
So in looking inward, I can appreciate how far I’ve come, without the distraction of comparing myself to others; because comparing either leaves you feeling dejected or superior, and neither is a healthy alternative. And often what we reach for is not necessarily what we want, but what may look good at the time. In our culture, we have much to compete with. There are pretty little baubles, bangles and beads in front of us wherever we go. If we keep reaching out for things just because they are there, we aren’t fulfilling our truth.
I don’t see myself as a teacher, really, but a guide. I share what I know and take in what my students teach me. I don’t feel I will ever be one of those instructors that people seek out, revered as a master in my field. I work full-time, have a family, so my ability (and let’s face it, energy) to study and immerse myself are limited. But I love my class and my students and take the moments I do have very seriously.
No, I am not trained in Ayurveda. No, I can’t twist my 49 year-old body into asanas that a tattooed twenty-something can do. And yes, there is an enormous amount of knowledge yet to be discovered. Astaya encourages me to “be where I am,” appreciate the journey and discover where I really want to go.
Oh, and I don’t have any tattoos. Just sayin’.
by Judie Markley
Of all of the citrus oils, lemon just seems to have the sunniest disposition with its clean, fresh, yet rather sharp citrus scent.It’s the perfect oil to combat the short, dark dreary winter days. If you are feeling a little down in the dumps,reach for the lemon oil.
Lemons, a member of the Rutaceae plant family, grow on somewhat small yet horizontally expansive trees. The lemon tree, native to Asia, has been cultivated in Italy, Australia and the United States. It likes a lot of sunshine, but not a lot of wet soil. The oil is expressed from the peel of the fruit.
True to its sunny disposition, lemon oil is antidepressive in nature. It increases one’s sense of humor and feeling of general well being. It dispels feelings of indecisiveness so one might sense greater emotional clarity and direction. It’s also useful to support the attributes of joy, strength and memory.
Lemon’s antiseptic properties make it good for disinfecting everything from wooden cutting boards to infected wounds and sore throats. Now I know why my grandfather added lemon to his homemade cough syrup. Add a drop or two to a glass of water and give your liver a lift.
Once you understand how to use essential oils for daily skin care, lemon makes a wonderful addition for softening the skin and helps with oily and irritated skin. It’s a good choice for a cellulite blend as it has diuretic properties and speeds up blood flow.
So when you want a little extra freshness and lightness in your life, reach for that lemon oil.
According to the yoga sutras (1.31 – 1.32), irregularities of the breath is one of the obstacles that we seek to overcome throughout yoga practice. By practicing Pranayama (prana= life breath, yama=control) we are able to overcome these irregularities.
Breath work brings many valuable benefits to our overall health. A a conscious practice of proper breathing calms the nervous system, reduces blood pressure, relaxes the body, and increases oxygen to the organs. By consciously focusing on the breath we can quiet the mind and improve concentration.
There are a multitude of pranayama practices in yoga: Nadi Shodhanam, Bhastrika, Kapalabhati, Ujjayi, etc. Each practice brings it’s own benefit, from quieting the mind for meditation to increasing the heat in the body to cleansing the body of toxins. However, what we want to focus on before moving into any of these practices is the basic step of retraining ourselves to breath properly. Once we can connect to the diaphragmatic breath, we can move onto some of the more advanced breathing exercises.
Have you ever watched a newborn baby breathe? When we are born our breath is naturally a diaphragmatic breath. We have not yet experienced the day to day stresses this life puts upon us making us hold our breath and retain tension in our autonomic nervous system. At a very young age we begin to lose the innate ability to breath deeply. The breath moves high into the chest, we suspend the breath (either in or out) and engage in a constant “Fight or flight” reactionary breath, unwittingly keeping ourselves in a constant state of stress.
We have forgotten to breath and therefore need to retrain our system. In order to do this we need to start at the very beginning, teach ourselves to breath as we did when we were infants. Reconnecting with the movement of the diaphragm, acknowledging what is happening with our breath and learning to deepen and even out our breath until it becomes as natural as it was when we were born.
Diaphragmatic breathing is the practice of using the diaphragm with consciousness. As you inhale the diaphragm drops, gently pressing into the organs of the lower torso. As you exhale the diagram contracts and presses the air out of the lungs. We first practice this in an exaggerated fashion, letting the belly expand on the inhale and pull in on the exhale, but once we can connect back to the natural breath the movement of the lower abdominal muscles decreases to the point of a gentle rise and fall.
An additional behavior to take notice of is if you are breathing through your mouth or through your nose or some combination of both. Our nose is built to be our first line of defense for our immune system, the book The Science of Breath, does an excellent job describing the function of the nose. So let the breath move only through the nose when you are practicing the diaphragmatic breath.
Take this practice with you throughout your day, check in with your breath on a regular basis, notice if you are holding the breath (in or out) and remind yourself to breathe. Notice if you hold your breath in stressful situations and if consciously breathing helps your stress level decrease. And bring this practice to the mat. Notice how you are breathing throughout your yoga practice and if you can keep the breath steady and even.
The breath is the keystone that moves us from the physical body to mental awareness. It is the best tool you have to strengthen concentration and mindfulness and to begin moving through the last four limbs of yoga.
Join us next time as we move into Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the Senses.
Here in the west, Asana is associated mainly with the graceful movements and postures that we experience in the course of a yoga class. We flow through sun salutations or hold steady in our Warrior or Triangle poses. However, In regards to the eight limbs, asana refers only to a comfortable and steady posture. From this posture a practitioner can be fully at ease in order to achieve higher levels of concentration necessary for moving deeper into their practice.
This doesn’t mean that the postures aren’t a necessary element in the eight limbs. In order to release and let go of what is happening in our bodies, we first have to turn our attention to our body. Practicing the postures in any style or level of yoga class is how we are able to access this awareness. And once we realize what our bodies need; where they are tight and where they are limber, where they are strong and where they are weak, we can begin work to strengthen and stretch to achieve that comfortable and steady posture. (note: awareness is not equivalent to judgment, judgment holds you back, awareness moves you forward.)
As a result, sages and yogis, over the course of a couple of thousand years, have developed postures and movements to stretch and lengthen the spine (forward folds, back bends, twists), to open through the pelvis and the hips (triangles, warriors, lunges), to strengthen the muscles that hold our spine straight (core work), to work the shoulders in order for the muscles to release and relax down the spine and away from the ears, and to build awareness of the alignment of the vertebrae in our neck so that we know when we are extending it too far forward or too far back. These postures have all been designed and coordintated so that we can access and maintain a comfortable cross legged position on our cushions or our mat.
It is also important to note that, although the root of the word asana (as~) means to “sit,” and we see images of sages in the Lotus posture, or in any of the other many variations of a cross legged seated pose, the Sutras do not specify what this “perfected posture” is. It is widely accepted that the focus should be on aligning the head, neck and trunk while maintaining the natural curve of the spine (Cervical and Lumbar). So if you are uncomfortable on the floor, or your hips or back or legs are tight (or a combination of the three), find a position that works for you. Uses cushions and pillows to support you, sit with your legs out straight in front of you, sit with your back against the wall, or sit in a chair. It is also helpful to work with a teacher who can address where you need support (via props) in order to find the ideal position for you.
So the next time you roll out your mat, take some time to watch your body and discover how you can become more comfortable and steady in each posture as you flow through your asana practice.
- Shaucha – Purifying body and mind
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Training the senses
- Svadhyaya – Self-study
- Ishvara pranidhana – Surrender
As we mentioned last week, Niyamas are the counterpart to the Yamas. Niyamas, like all of the 8 limbs, are achieved through careful observation of our actions, and results of those actions, in order to become aware of their benefits or disadvantages.
To look at their definitions without any analysis, it looks as though they have the wrappings of a strict religious devotion. However, the devotion that is needed here is not a devotion to an outside entity, it is devotion to our own spiritual growth. Through the Niyamas we can begin to realize that this work we are doing within ourselves is reflected upon those surrounding us.
This can be compared to the idea of “what you reap, so shall you sow.” If you make the effort to eat healthy foods and exercise, then you will be working towards a healthy body. In the same way, if you feed your mind healthy thoughts and information, then you will be working towards a healthy mind. Of course, this is an oversimplification. We live in a world where it isn’t always convenient and affordable to eat organic and take the time to chew each bite 100 times before swallowing. Similarly, we are constantly inundated with images of violence in our news and in our entertainment.
The point here is to make a conscious effort. To work towards slowing down and being aware of what we are putting into our bodies and what we are filling our minds with. Once a student begins to pay attention, they may find that the body really doesn’t want that cheeseburger and that the unsettled stomach after having a pint of ice cream soon becomes more of a deterrent than the desire for the immediate satisfaction. The waves of emotion from watching or reading about violence and the abundance of exposure that ugliness of the world receives fro the news media will become exhausting once the mind discovers that there are options to expand and explore the self.
Finding happiness with where you are. This one really is as simple as that. However, to put this into action could require a reversal of a lifetime of training for keeping up with the Jones’. We live in a world of consumerism that, unless you are ready to pack up and head for the caves, none of us are immune to. We need to eat, we need clothes, we need a roof over our head and stuff to put under that roof, and then a couple more things to put under the roof, and then a few more items, and then that’s all you need. Except for the iPad, you need that too.
Of course, it isn’t all about being content with what we have. It’s also contentment in our relationships (or lack there of). Being content with your job (or lack there of). Can you be content with just where you are? Our lives are fluid and changing with each moment. If we are stuck in the mind set of “Everything will/was be better when/if…….” then we are lost outside of the current moment and attaching our expectation of happiness to something (or someone) outside of ourselves.
Tapas literally translated means “to burn.” A student working on this yama is working to burn off the mental impurities in order to gain control over the body and its senses. If I may use the lingo of the eighties, the saying “no pain, no gain” can be viewed as Tapas. Any time we make a significant change in our lives, or a change is put upon us, there will be resistance to it a struggle or even suffering until we acclimate to the new situation. So with Tapas we make the decision to make our minds clear and steady by turning towards that suffering and pain and addressing it.
This becomes a kind of washing of the mind, cleansing of the thoughts, and a rinsing out (or letting go) of the impurities and open us up to a greater awareness of our body and our senses.
With so much external stimuli to contend with we begin to split our world into internal and external realms. And what we view as the external overtakes our mind and our senses to the point of losing the awareness of what is happening within.
Svadhaya is the practice of rediscovering what is happening within ourselves. Bringing awareness to the mind body and breath until we come to the realization that the separation of the external and internal is false. That our awareness is all encompassing and all things are interrelated.
Anything we do with to deepen this awareness is Svadhyaya. This could be studying the yoga texts, sitting for meditation, attending a yoga class and being aware of each posture and its effect on the body, or even throughout the course of your day watching your breath change as you are confronted with different situations. Anything that you do to deepen the awareness of the self is Svadhyaya.
We can imagine this yama as a practitioner sitting in lotus pose meditating, letting go of the mind, and surrendering into bliss, enlightenment, God, etc. However, to truly engage in the practice of Ishvara Prandihana, we must surrender any attachment to the outcomes of our actions. A practiced yogi dedicates all actions to the benefit of the Universal Consciousness.