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Yoga questions and answers 41pgs

  1. 1. Questions and Answers 1. What is yoga? The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as "union" or a method of discipline. A male who practices yoga is called a yogi, a female practitioner, a yogini. The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment). Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation. 2. What does Hatha mean? The word hatha means willful or forceful. Hatha yoga refers to a set of physical exercises (known as asanas or postures), and sequences of asanas, designed to align your skin, muscles, and bones. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body especially the main channel, the spine so that energy can flow freely. Hatha is also translated as ha meaning "sun" and tha meaning "moon." This refers to the balance of masculine aspects active, hot, sun and feminine aspects receptive, cool, moon within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose. Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment. 3. What does Om mean?
  2. 2. Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean? Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of Om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell. Chanting Om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant Om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing. 4. Do I have to be vegetarian to practice yoga? The first principle of yoga philosophy is ahimsa, which means nonharming to self and others. Some people interpret this to include not eating animal products. There is debate about this in the yoga community I believe that it is a personal decision that everyone has to make for themselves. If you are considering becoming a vegetarian, be sure to take into account your personal health issues as well how your choices will affect those with whom you live. Being a vegetarian should not be something that you impose on others that kind of aggressive action in itself is not an expression of ahimsa. 5. How many times per week should I practice? Yoga is amazing even if you only practice for one hour a week, you will experience the benefits of the practice. If you can do more than that, you will certainly experience more benefits. I suggest starting with two or three times a week, for an hour or an hour and a half each time. If you can only do 20 minutes per session, that's fine too. Don't let time constraints or unrealistic goals be an obstacle do what you can and don't worry about it. You will likely find that after awhile your desire to practice expands naturally and you will find yourself doing more and more. 6. How is yoga different from stretching or other kinds of fitness? Unlike stretching or fitness, yoga is more than just physical postures. Patanjali's eight-fold path illustrates how the physical practice is just one aspect of yoga. Even within the physical practice, yoga is unique because we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of our breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what
  3. 3. makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed. Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind. 7. Is yoga a religion? Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. The father of classical ashtanga yoga (the eight-limbed path, not to be confused with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois' Ashtanga yoga) is said to be Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutra. These scriptures provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body. Yoga sometimes interweaves other philosophies such as Hinduism or Buddhism, but it is not necessary to study those paths in order to practice or study yoga. It is also not necessary to surrender your own religious beliefs to practice yoga. 8. I'm not flexible, can I do yoga? Yes! You are a perfect candidate for yoga. Many people think that they need to be flexible to begin yoga, but that's a little bit like thinking that you need to be able to play tennis in order to take tennis lessons. Come as you are and you will find that yoga practice will help you become more flexible. This newfound agility will be balanced by strength, coordination, and enhanced cardiovascular health, as well as a sense of physical confidence and overall well- being. 9. What do I need to begin? All you really need to begin practicing yoga is your body, your mind, and a bit of curiosity. But it is also helpful to have a pair of sweat pants, leggings, or shorts, and a t-shirt that's not too baggy. No special footgear is required because you will be barefoot. It's nice to bring a towel to class with you. As your practice develops you might want to buy your own yoga mat, but most studios will have mats and other props available for you. 10. Why are you supposed to refrain from eating two to three hours before class? In yoga practice we twist from side to side, turn upside down, and bend forward and backward. If you have not fully digested your last meal, it will make itself known to you in ways that are not comfortable. If you are a person with a fast-acting digestive system and are afraid you might get hungry or feel weak during yoga class,
  4. 4. experiment with a light snack such as yogurt, a few nuts, or juice about 30 minutes to an hour before class.
  5. 5. The Branches of Yoga Whether you are devotional or intellectual in nature, yoga has a path for you. By Mara Carrico In ancient times yoga was often referred to as a tree, a living entity with roots, a trunk, branches, blossoms, and fruit. Hatha yoga is one of six branches; the others include raja, karma, bhakti, jnana, and tantra yoga. Each branch with its unique characteristics and function represents a particular approach to life. Some people may find one particular branch more inviting than another. However, it is important to note that involvement in one of these paths does not preclude activity in any of the others, and in fact you'll find many paths naturally overlapping. Raja Yoga Raja means "royal," and meditation is the focal point of this branch of yoga. This approach involves strict adherence to the eight "limbs" of yoga as outlined by Patanajli in the Yoga Sutras. Also found in many other branches of yoga, these limbs, or stages, follow this order: ethical standards, yama; self-discipline, niyama; posture, asana; breath extension or control, pranayama; sensory withdrawl, pratyahara; concentration, dharana; meditation, dhyana; and ecstasy or final liberation, samadhi. Raja yoga attracts individuals who are introspective and drawn to meditation. Members of religious orders and spiritual communities devote themselves to this branch of yoga. However, even though this path suggests a monastic or contemplative lifestyle, entering an ashram or monastery is not a prerequisite to practicing raja yoga. Karma Yoga The next branch is that of karma yoga or the path of service, and none of us can escape this pathway. The principle of karma yoga is that what we experience today is created by our actions in the past. Being aware of this, all of our present efforts become a way to consciously create a future that frees us from being bound by negativity and selfishness. Karma is the path of self-transcending action. We practice karma yoga whenever we perform our work and live our lives in a selfless fashion and as a way to serve others. Volunteering to serve meals in a soup kitchen or signing up for a stint with the Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity are prime examples of selfless service associated with the karma yoga path. Bhakti Yoga Bhakti yoga describes the path of devotion. Seeing the divine in all of creation, bhakti yoga is a positive way to channel the emotions. The path of bhakti provides us with an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance for everyone we come into contact with.
  6. 6. Bhakti yogis express the devotional nature of their path in their every thought, word, and deed whether they are taking out the trash or calming the anger of a loved one. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are prime examples of bhakti yogis. The life and work of Mother Teresa epitomize the combination of the karma and bhakti yoga paths with devotional aspects of bhakti and the selfless service of karma yoga. Jnana Yoga If we consider bhakti to be the yoga of the heart, then jnana yoga is the yoga of the mind, of wisdom, the path of the sage or scholar. This path requires development of the intellect through the study of the scriptures and texts of the yogic tradition. The jnana yoga approach is considered the most difficult and at the same time the most direct. It involves serious study and will appeal to those who are more intellectually inclined. Within the context of our Western religious traditions, Kabalistic scholars, Jesuit priests, and Benedictine monks epitomize jnana yogis. Tantra Yoga Probably the most misunderstood or misinterpreted of all the yogas, tantra, the sixth branch, is the pathway of ritual, which includes consecrated sexuality. The key word here is "consecrated," which means to make sacred, to set apart as something holy or hallowed. In tantric practice we experience the Divine in everything we do. A reverential attitude is therefore cultivated, encouraging a ritualistic approach to life. It is amusing to note that, although tantra has become associated exclusively with sexual ritual, most tantric schools actually recommend a celibate lifestyle. In essence, tantra is the most esoteric of the six major branches. It will appeal to those yogis who enjoy ceremony and relate to the feminine principle of the cosmos, which yogis call shakti. If you see and are deeply moved by the significance behind celebration and ritual (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other rites of passage), tantra yoga may be for you. Many tantric yogis find magic in all types of ceremony, whether it be a Japanese tea ceremony, the consecration of the Eucharist in a Catholic mass, or the consummation of a relationship. Combining the Paths You may already be involved in one or more of these branches. For example, you may already be a hatha yogi or yogini practicing the postures with a teacher or by yourself. If you are a hospice volunteer for AIDS patients, or a participant in a Big Brother/Big Sister program, you are actively practicing karma yoga. Perhaps reading this book will spark an in-depth study of yoga philosophy, setting you on the path of jnana yoga. Remember you need not be limited to one expression you may practice hatha yoga, taking care of your physical body, while simultaneously cultivating the lifestyle of a bhakti yogi, expressing your compassion for everyone you meet. Trust that whichever avenue of yogic expression draws your interest, it will probably be the right yoga path for you.
  7. 7. The Eight Limbs from Yoga Journal's Yoga Basics Patanjali's eight-fold path offers guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. By Mara Carrico In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means "eight limbs" (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one's health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature. Yama The first limb, yama, deals with one's ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The five yamas are: Ahimsa: nonviolence Satya: truthfulness Asteya: nonstealing Brahmacharya: continence Aparigraha: noncovetousness Niyama Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. The five niyamas are: Saucha: cleanliness Samtosa: contentment Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self
  8. 8. Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God Asana. Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation. Pranayama Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, "life force extension," yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself. You can practice pranayama as an isolated technique (i.e., simply sitting and performing a number of breathing exercises), or integrate it into your daily hatha yoga routine. These first four stages of Patanjali's ashtanga yoga concentrate on refining our personalities, gaining mastery over the body, and developing an energetic awareness of ourselves, all of which prepares us for the second half of this journey, which deals with the senses, the mind, and attaining a higher state of consciousness. Pratyahara Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. Keenly aware of, yet cultivating a detachment from, our senses, we direct our attention internally. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth. Dharana As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. Having relieved ourselves of outside distractions, we can now deal with the distractions of the mind itself. No easy task! In the practice of concentration, which precedes meditation, we learn how to slow down the thinking process by concentrating on a single mental object: a specific energetic center in the body, an image of a deity, or the silent repetition of a sound. We, of course, have already begun to develop our powers of concentration in the previous three stages of posture, breath control, and withdrawal of the senses. In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or
  9. 9. breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation. Dhyana Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all. The strength and stamina it takes to reach this state of stillness is quite impressive. But don't give up. While this may seem a difficult if not impossible task, remember that yoga is a process. Even though we may not attain the "picture perfect" pose, or the ideal state of consciousness, we benefit at every stage of our progress. Samadhi Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the "peace that passeth all understanding"; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. On the surface, this may seem to be a rather lofty, "holier than thou" kind of goal. However, if we pause to examine what we really want to get out of life, would not joy, fulfillment, and freedom somehow find their way onto our list of hopes, wishes, and desires? What Patanjali has described as the completion of the yogic path is what, deep down, all human beings aspire to: peace. We also might give some thought to the fact that this ultimate stage of yoga enlightenment can neither be bought nor possessed. It can only be experienced, the price of which is the continual devotion of the aspirant.
  10. 10. What are the Roots of Yoga? A beginner's guide to the history of yoga. By Mara Carrico Sanskrit, the Indo-European language of the Vedas, India's ancient religious texts, gave birth to both the literature and the technique of yoga. One definition of the word Sanskrit, "well-formed, refined, perfect or polished," connotes substance and clarity, qualities exemplified in the practice of yoga. The Sanskrit word yoga has several translations and can be interpreted in many ways. It comes from the root yug and originally meant "to hitch up," as in attaching horses to a vehicle. Another definition was "to put to active and purposeful use." Still other translations are "yoke, join, or concentrate." Essentially, yoga has come to describe a means of uniting, or a method of discipline. A male who practices this discipline is called a yogi or yogin; a female practitioner, a yogini. Yoga comes out of an oral tradition in which the teaching was transmitted directly from teacher to student. The Indian sage Patanjali has been credited with the collation of this oral tradition into his classical work, the Yoga Sutra, a 2,000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy. A collection of 195 statements, the Sutra provides a kind of philosophical guidebook for dealing with the challenges of being human. Giving guidance on how to gain mastery over the mind and emotions and advice on spiritual growth, the Yoga Sutra provides the framework upon which all yoga practiced today is based. Literally meaning "thread," sutra has also been translated as "aphorism," which means a tersely phrased statement of truth. Another definition of sutra is "the condensation of the greatest amount of knowledge into the most concise description possible." Keeping these meanings in the mind, we might think of the art and science of yoga as a kind of magnificent tapestry that is woven together by the threads of universal truths. Initially, the discipline of hatha yoga the physical aspect of yoga was developed as a vehicle for meditation. The repertoire of hatha yoga prepared the body, and particularly the nervous system, for stillness, creating the necessary physical strength and stamina that allowed the mind to remain calm. The word hatha also has several translations. With ha meaning "sun" and tha meaning "moon," we have the common interpretation of hatha yoga as "a union of the pairs of opposites." A more technical translation of hatha yoga is "force or determined effort." Thus hatha yoga, the "yoga of activity," is the yoga that addresses the body and mind and requires discipline and effort. It is the yoga that we can feel, that we can experience, right here and right now. Hatha yoga is a powerful method of self-transformation. It is the most practical of the yogas, and sages have recommended its practice in some form for millennia as preparation for all the other yogas.
  11. 11. How to Wash Your Yoga Mat If you've lost the manufacturer's directions or aren't sure who made your yoga mat, here's a primer from Sara Chambers, founder of Hugger-Mugger yoga products. If your mat is lightly soiled, use a spray bottle, damp sponge, or terry cloth rag to apply a solution of two cups of water and four drops of dish soap. Rub the soiled areas. Wipe the mat with clean water; then rub with a dry terry cloth towel. Hang to air dry. If your mat is heavily soiled, submerge it in a solution of warm water and mild detergent; use very little soap as any residue may cause the mat to become slippery during future use. Thoroughly hand wash the mat and rinse in clean water. After squeezing out the excess water, lay the mat on a dry towel and roll the mat and towel together. Stepping on the rolled up mat will squeeze more moisture out of the mat and into the towel. Then unroll and hang to air dry.
  12. 12. How to Find a Yoga Teacher Once you've familiarized yourself with all the different types of yoga, you'll have to find a place to study and a teacher to study with. There are several ways to find the right yoga teacher for you. Your local Yellow Pages will list teachers and schools in your area. Call up the schools or individuals who are listed and ask them to mail you a schedule of classes, and any other information they have that might be useful to a new student. Ask your friends or associates at work to recommend a teacher or school. You'd be surprised at who practices yoga. You may want to start with a beginners class, even if you consider yourself to be in "good shape." Don't let the stereotype of the skinny little yogi sitting in Pretzel Pose fool you—some classes can be a real workout and will have you begging for mercy. Most beginning classes are ongoing, which means you will be joining a more experienced group of students. If this looks intimidating, or if you have concerns about looking "foolish," try to remember that just about everyone in the room, including the teacher, once stood in your shoes—or your bare feet—and that they're all fixed on their own practice and (though there are exceptions) not interested in judging yours. Once you've gathered all of your information, talk to someone at each school or, if possible, the teachers of the classes you're interested in. Be sure to first find out something about the school's approach: some classes (like Ashtanga vinyasa) are notoriously vigorous, while others (like Kripalu) are much milder. Be sure you have some idea of what you're getting into before you go, to avoid any unpleasant surprises. You'll also want to know: the average size of the class (more experienced and popular teachers usually have large classes, and thus less time to work with individuals, while novice teachers who might be a little rough around the edges usually have small classes but more opportunities to give you personal attention); the length of the class (most run between 60 to 90 minutes); the cost of the class; what kind of dress is recommended; and whether the school provides you with an exercise mat or blanket, or if you need to bring your own. If you have any physical problems or limitations, briefly describe them and see if the teacher feels comfortable working with you. You might ask about his or her training, certifications, and teaching experience. Next, if you're able to sample a few different teachers, try one or more classes with each one. Don't expect miracles. If nothing seems to "happen" after the first class, don't be discouraged. Try again, or try another teacher or another school, until you find the right situation for you. Give yoga a fair chance. Once you've settled on a teacher, it's best to study with that person as much as possible, especially if you're working with a particular problem. This gives the teacher time to get to know you so that she or he can tailor postures and instructions to suit your special needs.
  13. 13. There are a few things to be on the lookout for. Never perform any position in class that generates "bad" pain, especially in the knees, lower back, and neck. Naturally at the outset you'll be feeling some pain—or what I like to call "heightened awareness"—in places like the back of your legs, groin, or shoulders; and while it may be necessary, even honorable, at certain times and in certain places to suffer in silence, you're asking for trouble if you ignore or grit your teeth with "bad" pain in a yoga class. Either tell the teacher what you're experiencing and ask for an alternative position, or stop altogether and assume a rest position until the class is ready to move on. Also, while many teachers make manual adjustments in class—pressing on your back to help you twist, for example—always be certain that you're comfortable with the contact. And if the adjustment is too extreme or harsh, let your teacher know immediately.
  14. 14. What does "Namaste" mean? My yoga teacher says it every week after our practice and I've always wanted to know. Rita Geno Aadil Palkhivala's reply: The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra. The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another. "Nama" means bow, "as" means I, and "te" means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means "bow me you" or "I bow to you." To perform Namaste, we place the hands together at the heart charka, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart. This is an especially deep form of respect. Although in the West the word "Namaste" is usually spoken in conjunction with the gesture, in India, it is understood that the gesture itself signifies Namaste, and therefore, it is unnecessary to say the word while bowing. We bring the hands together at the heart chakra to increase the flow of Divine love. Bowing the head and closing the eyes helps the mind surrender to the Divine in the heart. One can do Namaste to oneself as a meditation technique to go deeper inside the heart chakra; when done with someone else, it is also a beautiful, albeit quick, meditation. For a teacher and student, Namaste allows two individuals to come together energetically to a place of connection and timelessness, free from the bonds of ego- connection. If it is done with deep feeling in the heart and with the mind surrendered, a deep union of spirits can blossom. Ideally, Namaste should be done both at the beginning and at the end of class. Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart. Are there any particular asanas that I should practice during any particular season or at a certain time of day? Your personal rhythm within a 24-hour period, as well as your relationship to the sun and moon, heat and cold, and the crispness or thickness of the changing seasons, can indeed factor into which asanas you practice when. Some people are raring to go first thing in the morning, while other people won t even speak for at least an
  15. 15. hour after the alarm goes off. Some love winter and outdoor activities such as skiing and snowboarding. Others put on a few pounds and hibernate in the winter and come alive with the fire energy of July and August. Since an important part of yoga practice is getting to know yourself and how you change from moment to moment, it makes sense to let your energy inform you about how to practice according to the season or time of day. To begin, it's helpful to know that some poses are energizing and some are calming. For example, backbends are invigorating and not recommended before going to bed at night. Forward bends are calming and helpful when you are feeling over stimulated. Sun Salutations create heat and flowing movement connected to the breath. Standing poses build strength, stamina, and a sense of grounding, since your feet are rooted into the earth. Balancing poses cultivate concentration. Twists detoxify the body and relieve tension in the head, neck, and back. Inversions, which turn us upside down, literally change our view of the world and remind us of the impermanent nature of everything, especially when we are stuck in a rut. In general, yoga practice is recommended in the morning or the early evening. A morning yoga session can be quite active and consist of a full practice. Always finish with Savasana (Corpse Pose), no matter what time of day or season your practice. You may choose to do a different type of practice in the afternoon. While it can still be a complete practice, you may want to emphasize a series of seated forward bends such as Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Janu Sirsasana, Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide Angle Pose), or Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Follow that with a small backbend such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), simple twists to neutralize the spine Reclining Twist or Ardha Matseyandrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) work well and an inversion. Each season invites us to shape our practice differently. If you live in a place where it gets very hot in the summer, it is best not to overexert yourself. If the temperature is in the upper 80s, 90s, or even 100 degrees, be mindful of the speed with which you move through your practice. You may even try using the weather to explore how to come away from your edge and lessen your effort to help balance the heat of your body. In the summer you can try combining practices. Start with a seated meditation, followed by a cooling pranayama, and then a Sun Salutation series without jumping through. Then try supported, restorative backbends such as lying on your back with a rolled up blanket under your shoulder blades. Your inversion could be Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose) or Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), both of which are more cooling than Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand). As you finish your practice, you can wash your face, hands, and feet with a cool washcloth soaked in lavender water before resting in Savasana. Autumn brings opportunities for sharing and heart-opening with Thanksgiving, homecoming parties, back to school, and work with colleagues. The temperature is
  16. 16. mild and the air crisp, which encourages big, energizing movements such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Backbend). Winter can be a time for quiet contemplation. You may choose to focus on forward bends, which are calming and restorative, unless you find the winter to be depressing. If that's the case then continue to work on backbends and other chest- openers such as Dhanurasana, Ustrasana (Camel Pose), or Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana (One Legged King Pigeon Pose). You can also try hand balances like Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose) , and Bakasana (Crane Pose) , all of which require a playful energy and an open mind. Since the weather is cold, even if your yoga room is warm and I hope it is you will need to spend plenty of time warming up your muscles. Try doing some half Sun Salutations before going into full jumpbacks, and move into all asanas slowly and mindfully. Cultivate an interest in what your body is feeling during this season. Rather than thinking, Ugh, I feel so stiff and tight, explore how you can let go of that thought and how doing so can create freedom in your joints. Spring is a wonderful season to focus on Sun Salutations. As each day grows a little bit longer, the practice of paying homage to the sun begins to feel like a beautiful call and response between the two of you. It is also a time of new beginnings and can be a great time to introduce new poses into your practice. Finally, I suggest that you reflect on your own experience of the seasons and whether you want to work with the energy that the season provides or counteract the energy with an opposing focus for your practice. Also, keep in mind that if you change your practice too frequently, you will not cultivate a sense of grounding within external change. I find it valuable to maintain a similar structure to my practice, no matter what time of day or year. The focus may change, but sticking to the same general format is a powerful technique for going deeper. It may also be helpful to create rituals within your daily practice that are unchanging, like a daily sitting and/or walking meditation, beginning your practice by chanting Om, or doing Sun Salutations. Cyndi Lee is the founder of OM yoga center in New York City. She is a longtime practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and has been teaching yoga for over 20 years. Cyndi is the author of OM Yoga: A Guide to Daily Practice(Chronicle Books) and the upcoming Yoga Body, Buddha Mind (Riverhead Books). For more information, visit What does "Ashtanga" mean? Rena Grant, Seattle
  17. 17. Richard Rosen's reply: The term "ashtanga" comes from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, where it refers to classical yoga's eight (ashta)-limb (anga) practice. (Some yoga scholars such as Georg Feuerstein maintain that Patanjali's real contribution to yoga was kriya yoga, the "yoga of ritual action," and that the eight-limb practice was borrowed from another source.) The eight limbs are restraint, observance, posture, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditative absorption, and "enstasy." This last word, which means "standing inside of," is Mircea Eliade's translation of samadhi, which literally means to "put together" or "bring into harmony." In samadhi, we "stand inside of" our true Self in preparation for the ultimate state of classical yoga, the eternal "aloneness" (kaivalya) of that Self in the purity and joy of its being. While Patanjali's underlying dualism between Self and nature has long been out of favor, his eight-limb method still influences many modern schools of yoga. One of those schools is the currently popular Ashtanga Yoga developed by K. Pattabhi Jois from the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya (father of T.K.V. Desikachar, brother-in- law of B.K.S. Iyengar, and mentor to both). Since I'm not an authority on this practice, I asked Ashtanga teacher Richard Freeman to explain. He replied that the Krishnamacharya-Pattabhi Jois system is indeed modeled on the eight limbs of Patanjali; the emphasis, however, is on the correct performance of the third limb (posture) as a means of realizing all the limbs, including, of course, samadhi. Since we in the West sometimes focus exclusively on posture and overlook the other limbs, Richard believes that Pattabhi Jois calls his system "Ashtanga" in part "to encourage his students to look into the whole practice more deeply" and integrate all the limbs. Richard Rosen, who teaches in Oakland and Berkeley, California, has been writing for Yoga Journal since the 1970s. What areas do I need to work on to be able to sit in simple cross-legged position while maintaining an erect spine? --Nancy Nuccio Esther Myers' reply: Sitting cross-legged is an important part of yoga practice and is commonly used for breathing and meditation practices. It requires flexibility in the back thighs, back of the pelvis, and inner thighs, as well as external rotation of the hip joints. These are all very strong muscles that can take a long time to stretch. Whether you sit in a simple cross-legged posture like Sukhasana or a more difficult pose like Padmasana (Lotus Pose), developing the flexibility to sit easily is a gradual process.
  18. 18. And it s important to note that everyone has a different anatomical structure in their hips, which may potentially inhibit this kind of movement. If this is the case for you, then trying to work up to Padmasana (Lotus Pose) is an inappropriate goal. I encourage you to try other poses that may be more comfortable, like Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), sitting on your heels, Virasana (Hero Pose), sitting between your heels, or Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose). You can also meditate sitting on a chair. The chair should be firm, your back straight, and your feet on the floor or supported on a book or cushion. If you choose to sit cross-legged, it is important to have your knees level with or below your hips. If you are having difficulty maintaining an erect spine while sitting cross-legged, begin by sitting on the edge of a cushion, bolster, or rolled blanket. For additional support, place rolled blankets or bolsters under your knees. (You may find that with the knees supported, the inner groins relax and that when you take the supports away, your knees drop further easily.) Tightness in the inner thighs and hips is often connected to tension in the deep muscles of the abdomen (like the psoas). You can begin to release your pelvis by practicing breathing deeply into your abdomen. Focus on the rise and fall of your belly as you inhale and exhale. In all of the poses that follow, imagine the exhalation releasing out of your pelvis and through your legs, helping the thighs to relax and let go. Standing poses, especially Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose), and Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), will help open the hips. Leg stretches lying on your back, Supta Pandangustasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose), taking the lifted leg both up and to the side will also stretch your legs. Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose) forward bend is also an excellent hip opener. Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose), lying on your back with your feet together and knees apart is a good resting pose that will allow your hips to gradually open. Put a folded blanket or a bolster under your feet, so that your back is resting on the floor. In both of these poses, allow yourself to relax into the stretch, letting gravity help you to sink into the floor as you exhale. Sitting poses that will help are: Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend), Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), and Upavistha Konasasana (Open Angle Pose). Learning to stay longer in these poses will help the flexibility in your hips; however, you need to be careful not to overstretch your lower back. Setu Bhanda Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) are good counter- poses. Esther Myers' 10 years as a student of Vanda Scaravelli inspired her to find her own unique, organic approach to yoga. Esther has taught classes across Canada, Europe, and the United States, and has extensive experience training teachers. She is coauthor of a practice manual for beginners and author of Yoga & You. She has produced two videos, Vanda Scaravelli on Yoga and
  19. 19. Gentle Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors, both of which are available through Shop YJ. Why are women not supposed to do inverted poses during their menstrual cycle? Barbara Benagh's reply: First of all, there is no consensus on whether to avoid inversions during a woman's menstrual cycle. The two opinions are basically divided between those who think that no women should practice inversions during menstruation and those who feel the choice varies from woman to woman. Those who encourage a ban on inversions cite fears that certain physical problems may arise. Until recently, increased risk of endometriosis was considered the most common risk. But since more is known now about that disease, the idea has been debunked. There is also a theory that inversions may cause "vascular congestion" in the uterus resulting in excessive menstrual flow. (For more info, click here.) If true, this risk is probably most relevant for women who hold inversions a long time. Some teachers say that since a woman's energy is low during menstruation, high-energy poses such as inversions should be avoided. This makes sense, yet not all women experience low energy during menstruation; indeed, many feel quite energized. Philosophically speaking, menstruation is considered to be apana, meaning that energetically, its vitality is downward-flowing. The argument against inversions during menstruation maintains that inversions will disturb this natural energetic flow. However, inversions are recommended in some systems of yoga as therapy to improve elimination of excess apana. In Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, B.K.S. Iyengar recommends practicing inversions to alleviate menstrual problems such as heavy flow and irregular periods. The contradictions don't stop there. Some teachers recommend avoidance of inversions such as Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) while suggesting no such caution with other poses that invert the uterus, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Downward-Facing Dog. Since I know of no studies or research that makes a compelling argument to avoid inversions during menstruation, and since menstruation affects each woman differently and can vary from cycle to cycle, I am of the opinion that each woman is responsible for making her own decision. Pay attention to how you respond to inversions (indeed, ALL asanas) during your period. A short Headstand may be fine while a longer one isn't; maybe you will find that backbends or twists adversely affect your period. If your energy is very low, restorative poses may be just the ticket, though you may find a more active sequence of standing poses alleviates cramps and the blues. You really won't know what works and what doesn't until you feel it in your own body.
  20. 20. The bottom line is that hatha yoga is full of contradictions and varied opinions, leaving each of us ultimately responsible for our own choices. Pay attention to your body and discover what works and what doesn't not just during your period but every day. Barbara Benagh, YJ's 2001 Asana columnist, founded the Yoga Studio in Boston in 1981 and teaches seminars nationwide. Currently, Barbara is writing a yoga workbook for asthmatics and can be reached at Noisy Joints The popping, cracking joints you hear while practicing yoga may be problematic or not, depending on the cause. Cracking and popping noises can be attributed to a few different phenomena. One explanation is that when a joint is pushed into or out of its normal position (which could be done during a yoga pose) gases, primarily nitrogen, are displaced and escape from the synovial fluid inside the joint, causing a popping sound. Another reason for the noise, according to frequent Yoga Journal contributor and international yoga teacher Judith Lasater, comes from a tendon moving across a joint or from arthritic changes that have already occurred in the joint. She believes that if this popping occurs naturally during yoga practice, or in daily life, for that matter, there is not a problem. However, it is unadvisable to continually try to pop one's joints (i.e., cracking the knuckles). This practice tends to create hypermobility and can lead to instability in the joint. This instability can cause the surrounding musculature to tighten up a bit to support the joint and thus the urge to pop will arise again, says Lasater. If the popping is from a tendon moving across a joint or from arthritis, continue to pay attention to the area, and if the symptoms change, or if there is pain associated with a popping or cracking noise, seek the counsel of a qualified health professional. March/April 2000 When Emotions Well Up During Yoga In times of stress I tend not to practice yoga at all because going to class arouses more feelings than I can cope with. Should I tell my teacher about this? Sonja, Minnesota
  21. 21. John Friend's reply: In general, it is healthy and natural to experience feelings while doing yoga, especially during these challenging times. The physical body, mind, and emotional body are all forms of a singular Supreme Consciousness that vibrates within us. Thoughts and feelings are completely intertwined in the fabric of the body, so yoga often initiates the release of emotions. With a focus on balanced breathing, even muscular engagement and uniform stretching, mindfulness, and a positive mindset, hatha yoga can be one of the healthiest ways to begin to clear unresolved feelings such as sadness, anger, or fear. Yes, please tell your teacher before class when you are feeling particularly emotional on that day, so that he or she can better support you by modifying poses and breathing instructions as necessary to help you stayed centered. Also, your teacher can be better prepared to offer you comforting words or a tissue if needed. During those emotional times you might also want to set yourself up in the back corner of the classroom so that you won't have to worry about disturbing your classmates. In order to help you keep your emotional state from becoming too overwhelming, allow your breath to be balanced between your inhalation and exhalation while doing the poses. To help you stay centered, you can also lengthen your inhalation if you are feeling sad or depressed, or lengthen your exhalation if you are feeling anxious or fearful. Strong emotions and tears might still arise while you breathe evenly, but you will be more likely to stay centered if you focus on balancing your breathing. If your emotions become overwhelming, you are experiencing uncontrollable physical releases like sobbing or shaking, and you are having great difficultly staying mindful and thinking clearly, then this is not an appropriate time to continue to do active yoga poses. During these periods take private time for yourself to properly and fully release your emotions. And remember that while you are going through any emotional catharsis, it is beneficial to affirm positive ideas about yourself and others instead of harboring destructive feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred. This month's expert, John Friend, is the founder of Anusara Yoga, which combines the celebration of the heart, the art of inner body awareness, and the science of universal principles of alignment. Office Yoga Tips I am desk-bound for most of the day. Are there any yoga poses I can do in a confined space? Zenia
  22. 22. Cyndi Lee's reply Yes! In fact, depending on your desk setup, clothing, and the level of comfort with your co-workers, you can practically do an entire yoga practice at your desk. Begin by sitting on the edge of a chair with your feet placed squarely on the floor about hip distance apart. Place your palms flat on your thighs, and feel length in your spine--head balanced over heart, heart balanced over hips. Inhale and exhale evenly for five counts each. Repeat as many times as you'd like. Inhale and lift your arms overhead, taking hold of your left wrist with your right hand. On an exhalation, bend to the right. Stay there for three breaths. As you inhale, come back up to vertical and change wrists. Exhale, and bend to the left. Stay there for three breaths. Inhale back up to a tall spine. Exhale, release your arms. Circle your shoulders a few times, sensuously rolling them up, back and down. On the fourth roll, interlace your fingers behind your back with your arms as straight as you are able to make them. If you don t have room behind you, reach back and hold onto the outside edges of the back of your chair. On an inhalation, lift your chest, making a high backbend. Stay here and draw three full, rich breaths into your body. As you exhale, release your hands, place them on your knees and round your spine. Tuck your pelvis and pull your navel away from your knees, coming into a seated cat pose. Breathe deeply and feel the broadness of the back body. Let your head dangle to open the back of the neck. From where you are, begin to fold forward, letting your upper body fall through your thighs. You may be able to reach the floor with your palms flat. Otherwise, try to hold onto your ankles or shins. The idea is to let your head drop lower than your hips--this is an inversion. Slowly roll up and find length in your spine. On an exhalation, twist to the right. You can place your left hand on the outside of your right thigh and your right hand on the back of your chair. Check to make sure that your right armpit-chest area is lifted. Remember to include your head in the twist as well. As you look over your right shoulder, move your eyes to the upper right corner of your eyes and then the lower right corner. Repeat this eye exercise two times. Then close your eyes as you untwist back to center. Repeat to the other side. This should take five minutes or less and be quite refreshing. Good luck! Cyndi Lee is the founder of OM yoga center in New York City. She is a longtime practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and has been teaching yoga for over 20 years. Cyndi is the author of OM Yoga: A Guide to Daily Practice(Chronicle Books) and the upcoming Yoga Body, Buddha Mind (Riverhead Books). For more information, visit
  23. 23. Other Yoga Questions – Transcript from Class I teach Hatha Yoga and have only been doing it for 4 months, there are 2 students in my class who like to try forward bends (although they have slipped discs), I do tell them to pull there tummy in to support there lower back, and insist they do not force any movement, I tell them the idea is to rather stretch out first before trying to get down onto the floor - is this incorrect? Could you let me know Allison Yes, pulling the tummy in and going slowly is the proper way to do forward bends. However, with slipped disks, it's best not to do them at all. If you only have been doing yoga for 4 MONTHS? (did you mean years?), I suggest you refer medical cases to a more experienced teacher. Christophe You warn "only a teacher can give you feedback on your practice and help designing a practice that suits you." Now here's the problem: Yoga is popular. And there are many "experts" here in the West, some of whom have severe limits as teachers. Even classes with "qualified" teachers are often so large, that the teacher's ability to give the kind of individual instruction you recommend is restricted. In a 3 day workshop I attended recently, there were 60 students of all levels, hardly the venue for developing a practice that "suits you." Despite classes I've had with several other possibly qualified teachers, no one told me something quite basic: that I needed to stop my astanga practice at navasana. Yet you warn not to practice on your own and also advise to find a teacher of yoga who undertands the spiritual aspect of yoga practice. Just what kind of teacher- student relationship are you recommending? The way yoga is taught commercially in large western cities is not beneficial. Classes are too large, and no matter how experienced and qualified the teacher is, they cannot give personal feed back. When I learn ashtanga from John Scott, we were never more than 12 in a class, and his wife was generally assisting. That's the way it used to be in Mysore as well: Patthabi and Sharath, 12 students. Now it's one "teacher", 60 students, what kind of individual attention are you expecting in that sort of setting? You might as well buy a video. I have been, once or twice, in that sort of situation when teaching large workshops. As a teacher, you just have to lead a class for the average student, hoping that the less advanced won't injure themselves or get discouraged, and that the more advanced won't get bored and will still pickup bits of information here and there. But you certainly don't get people to built their OWN practice that way. In truth, this is not teaching, but performing. Ashtanga is traditionally taught in self practice class. Talking to other ashtanga teachers, the general consensus is that a comfortable students to teacher ratio is around 1 to 6, anything more than 1 to 12 is ridiculous because it is impossible to keep up with all your students.
  24. 24. Find a small self practice class, or come to one of our retreats (we limit numbers to be able to give proper tuition, students to teacher ratio is normally 1 to 6, never more that 1 to 10 in an ashtanga class). If you can't find a small self practice class in your area, this is what you do: You get a small self practice group together, around 6 like minded people who really want to build their own ashtanga practice. You find a room and meet up there once or twice / week to practice together (I presume you are practising in between at home, otherwise, meet up 5 days week for your self practice group). Once or twice every month, hire a good teacher for two hours to come to your self practice group, give everyone individual feed back on their practice, and if need be, move people on. It won't cost you much more than two weekly classes, and you'll get far better value for your money. Fair play to you for figuring out yourself that you should stop at Navasana., this is indeed a standard cut off point, that takes months or even years to get past. Can you bind in Marichyasana D? If not, you should stop earlier, Marichyasana B or C, perhaps even Janusirsasana C. Again, any teacher worth their salt would point it out to you right away, provided their class is small enough for them to have time to look at you. I'd just like to get one point straight, before I finish off. I certainly don't warn people against practicing on their own. I warn them that practicing exclusively on their own may lead, in the long run, to developing bad habits that at best will take a long time to correct, and at worst will actually create serious problems. This is why you need the feed back of a teacher. It might be once / week for an hour in a class setting or twice a year for a week in a retreat setting, but is is indispensable. But of course, while you need a teacher to move you on and check on your practice, you also need to practice at home, on your own, because that is the only time that you are actually going to do your OWN practice, everything else is someone else's and may indeed not suit you. Wishing you a happy, fruitfull practice Christophe Are there some specific poses that one can do to promote the flow of cerebral spinal fluid? Karlyn Hatha yoga aims to increase the prana around the body, and some like to think it ties in with awakening the kundalini energy and shunting it up the spine. In any case, most yoga poses work the vertebral column which houses the CSF. The inverted poses will probably be beneficial too, as the usual downward gravitational force will be reversed. I suggest that instead of 'increase' the circulation, you may actually mean you want to regulate it, so that the CSF moves easily, and with its natural pulsatory rhythm from the cranium and down the vertebral column. If this is the case, I recommend seeing an osteopath who has been trained in craniosacral technique. Go for a balanced yoga practice which includes a flowing mix of movement and breath, (like Cat Pose). Then, to work the spine in each direction of its movement,
  25. 25. include one or more each of the following: forward bend, side bend, back bend, twist, plus something inverted, then take a relaxation, concentrating on the natural rhythm of your breath. Christina I'm trying to find out what the difference is between Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga? I found a lot of information on Ashtanga, but hardly anything on Hatha. Can you clarify the differences for me? Andrea Ashtanga is one of the most dynamic, and one of the most popular, brand of Hatha Yoga, the yoga of the body. Other styles of Hatha yoga includes Iyengar (still pretty strong, but more static than it's ashtanga cousin), viniyoga (also a cousin of ashtanga, but much milder), sivananda (classical hatha yoga, often refered to as simply Hatha Yoga), Satyananda (a spin off Sivananda), Bikram (a yoga workout in a very hot room), Kundalini (strictly speaking, part of hatha yoga as well, but with a different emphasis), to name but the more popular. See For information on various yoga styles Christophe I normally suffer from terrible pms. I started yoga a few weeks ago and have only been to 2 lessons, one of them a week before my period was due. The week that followed was quite amazing! I was so calm, understanding almost serene! I handled everything beautifully, and felt more confident than I have done for years. I went to a lesson yesterday, the day my period started properly, and felt okay, though a bit stiff. Then the next day, I felt like I got 3 months worth of pms all rolled into one day! How can this be? In the first lessons we did the shoulderstand and plough, which I find easy and comfortable, but we didn't do this yesterday. Could there be a connection? J. You are on the right track with Shoulderstand and Plough as they are considered hormonally balancing poses. As they are inverted postures, they promote blood flow to the brain. This brings nutrients to promote optimum health of the hormone controlling glands. Do continue with regular (daily) practice of these inverted postures, (after warming up with the other yoga postures you are learning). Other postures which are recommended for PMS are badhakonasana (cobler's seat, sometimes called butterfly), suptabadhakonasana (reclining cobler's seat) and sirsasana (headstand). Take care to avoid inversions when your period starts. During menstruation, many women find the seated postures like forward bends calming and soothing. You may also do some resting postures at that time, consult with an Iyengar teacher. It might take some time to level out many years of hormonal imbalance. To get such a fast reaction from a couple of classes certainly bodes well for you. There are some great hormonal balancing herbs around too, if you are inclined to see a herbalist. Good luck with your yoga practice!
  26. 26. Christina I was diagnosed with a slipped disk (herniated disk at the left side L5-S1). There are also degenerative changes of the L4-5 and L5-s` discs with decreased hydration noted. No bony abnormalities (per MRI scan). I started a yoga program about a month ago and developed severe discomfort, the typical sciatica pains. Any forward bending sitting down is very very uncomfortable. Any suggestions what yoga positions I can do in order to help aleviate the problem? William Yoga can work wonders with slipped discs, but it must be the right kind of yoga! Forward bends will flare up a herniated disc and the lumbar spine around it must initially be kept in a concave position. Forward bends done to your limit will naturally round out the lumbar spine, placing pressure on the disc and aggravating the problem. Practicing a short sequence of yoga postures Gentle backbends and abdominal strenthening exercises are the way to begin. Forward bends and twists can be introduced only later, and the utmost of care must be taken. Keep a journal, work softly and check for pain 24 hours later, as it might not flare immediately if you overdo it. The best forward bends to begin with are with the back stabilised - lying on your back with 1 leg in the air. Stretching and lengthening the hamstrings will take pressure of your vulnerable lower back and help prevent a recurrence. Ideally you would work with a yoga therapy expert, so seek one out if possible. Christina I am currently doing some research into the benefits of inversions to the body. I am particularly interested in finding out how an inversion, where the feet are raised 45cm from the floor, would benefit the body if such a position was practised daily for approx 30 minutes. Has there been any medical research into the benefits of inversions? Gayle Inversions are considered antiaging. Yogic lore speaks of a nectar in the brain which drips away, sort of like sand in an hourglass, and to turn upside down slows the loss of this precious nectar! Certainly inversions bring an easy fresh blood supply to the upper body, usually above the heart. In this way, they can help nourish the roots of the hair and the skin on the face (your face may go red when you are upside down as there is more blood in the skin.) They are also considered to balance the hormones as they feed the endocrine glands in the brain. Fresh blood brings oxygen and nutrients to promote good functioning. Also included is the thryroid gland at the throat, which controls your metabolic rate and is involved with general energy levels. Thirty minutes is rather a long time to be upside down, though, especially for beginners, but try it out and see for yourself! Christina
  27. 27. I have been practicing yoga (mostly ashtanga, Iyengar and Sivananda) for a number of years, but it was recommended that I stop six months ago after I was diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome. Apparently, "extreme stretching" was increasing the instability in my joints, particularly in my spine and shoulder girdle. I am reluctant to give up yoga permanently. Is there a particular form of yoga that would help with the hypermobility? Leila Many people with hypermobile joints can practice yoga.You need to be very focused on determining when you are stretching the ligaments and shift the emphasis on the muscles. Develop the ability to have the muscle groups around the joints 'hold' the joint, rather than just going into an automatic way of doing things which causes the joints to lock or overextend and thus worsen the problem. Astanga is a very strengthening practice, but as it is so fast and flowing, I would suggest it is easier to unknowingly go too far into a pose for your benefit and overstretch. A focus on Iyengar could certainly help, as it is much slower, the poses are held for longer and so this gives your brain a chance to catch up in its focus. Sivananda, with only 12 postures, might need to be supplemented with other ones. Work with a yoga teacher to choose poses which strengthen the muscles around the joints you are concerned about. ie Plank pose for hyper mobile shoulders, activating the thigh muscles for the knees in all the standing poses, and so on. Christina I am in relatively good shape and after doing hatha yoga classes started doing power yoga and now ashtanga yoga. I already notice a big difference in muscle tone and strength and feel quite high energy after the classes. However, almost always several hours or more after a power yoga or ashtanga class I feel a pretty deep fatigue where i feel very drained that lasts a couple hours. Is this something to be concerned about? Is it an indication I am overdoing it, or a normal reaction? Barbara No, you shouldn't feel drained after a yoga practice. Proper yoga practice lets you energised and light. Your feeling that way might be due to overpractice, but might other cause as well. For example, it could be that you are not closing your practice properly. It is very important to do a proper closing sequence and to stay in Savasana long enough. As a rough guide, one should stay in Savasana for at least 10 minutes for every hours of practice. The length of your closing sequence should be proportionate to the amount of practice you have done, for someone who does half the primary (to Navasana), a closing sequence would take 15-20 minutes. I would suggest that you talk to your teacher(s?) about that, for only people who have seen your practice can advise you on it. Other than Patthabi Jois, who else teaches the ashtanga system in India? Despite of claims that the ashtanga system is an ancient system described in an old manuscript known as the yoga korunta, no one, apart from Jois and Krishnamacharia has ever seen this manuscript, and Patthabi Jois says it's been
  28. 28. "eaten by ants", so it is a moot point whether the system was actually devised by Jois and Krishnamacharia or whether it is truly a traditional system that had been lost and that they rediscovered. Ultimately, this doesn't really matter. Because yoga is a living thing, new systems and styles will come up, older ones will die or be forgotten. Ashtanga viniyasa is a very powerful system, designed by people who knew a lot about yoga. In any case, all teachers of what's known in the west as ashtanga yoga are, directly or indirectly, students of Krishnamacharya and of Patthabi Jois. There are in Mysore two Indian teachers, BNS Iyengar and Chechadri, who teach what they claim is the original Ashtanga Vinyasa system, which differs somewhat from Patthabi Jois system (the first series is nearly the same, but second series is quite different) . However, BNS Iyengar studied with Krishnamacharya and Patthabi Jois (see for more information) and Chechadri is one of his student, so ultimately, it all comes from the same source. What do you think about combining Iyengar with ashtanga. Yoga is a living art, so anyone with a proper understanding of its basis is free to adapt it to their own needs and call it whatever they want. It has been done before (Iyengar, Power yoga, Jivamukti yoga, kripalu yoga...). In that particular case, both styles complements each other well because ashtanga is often too fast and therefore lacks depth, but Iyengar, by discarding the vinyasas system, is sometimes too static and has lost the connection with the breathing. Also both styles come from the same source (the teaching of Krishnamacharia), so it works well and has often been done. I have been a trained fitness instructor for the past 20 years. I use to practice Yoga in my 20's and I now have a great interest in it again. I know all about safe body alignment, I'm fairly strong, and I have great flexibility. I take Yoga from a trained instructor and I read up on it a lot. I have no interest in the meditation, chanting etc.. or the dietary beliefs of the Indian practice. The fitness club I work for teaches "Functional Yoga". I take my participants through Hatha type movements like downward dog, upward dog, cat & dog, etc... What do you think of this type of teaching? Cindy Unfortunately, because yoga is so much in fashion, they are many unqualified instructors, with no interest in the spiritual side of yoga, teaching yoga postures. Some of them, through a thorough knowledge of anatomy or of other western systems of exercises, might have a very good understanding of the mechanics of that they are teaching. However, what they are teaching is not yoga, more like gymnastic. While I have no problem with any yoga student showing little or no interest in the bigger picture and seeing yoga simply as a set of physical exercises to help them stay in shape, I don't believe this is an acceptable attitude once someone starts teaching. I believe that if it has no spiritual side, it shouldn't be called yoga, even if it includes postures and exercises borrowed from it, because whatever we have done
  29. 29. with it in the western world in recent years, yoga is and will always be a spiritual discipline. I am 28 years old. I want to go to India on my own to study yoga for a few months. Do you think I should have any concerns being a woman. Rachel Dear Rachel, A peculiarity of travel in India is that Indian men have been known to grope western women but it seldom gets more dangerous than that. (Local women tell me their indignant response would be to slap their face in return!) Indian women generally go out in pairs or groups, so a single woman is a bit more of a target, and foreign women are considered to be freer than local ones so do take care after dark, just as you would while travelling in any Western country. Minimise bother and respect the locals by dressing modestly. Cover your legs, avoid singlet tops and in general opt for baggy rather than tight. India is full of really nice, super friendly and very curious people, and if you behave sensibly, you are unlikely to have more than the occasional bit of bother. I don't know where you intend to study, but many yoga schools in India have plenty of foreign students who you can make friends with, so in all likelihood you will find you are not alone as much as you might expect to be. By the way, a great reference book for yoga schools is 'From Here to Nirvana'. Enjoy your trip, Christina Could you tell me what causes muscles, especially leg and foot muscles, to cramp during the asanas? I have heard that a lack of water and a lack of trace elements such as selenium, magnesium and potassium contribute to muscle cramps but these reasons don't seem to provide a complete explain. What are some of the other variables? Sankara Muscles will certainly cramp when there is a lack of potassium, calcium and / or magnesium, and they are more likely to do so when they are working hard (ie, in a yoga class) and can't get supplies of the nutrients quickly enough. (If you believe you are deficient in any of these, consult a natural health practitioner, or a reference book). Many beginners experience cramps, even if they may not manifest obvious symptoms of mineral deficiency. Blood and nutrient supply alters as the circulation changes, and even the energy fields change and could possibly produce transient symptoms like cramping. If you get cramps in a pose, come out of the pose, massage the area, and, when it has subsided, resume your practice. Christina
  30. 30. I am very interested in taking up Ashtanga Yoga and wonder is it possible to learn and do this type of yoga from a video, just like some people do a workout from video? Debbie I wouldn't recommend learning ashtanga solely from a video. All classical texts on yoga insist on the need for a teacher. Faulty practice can be injurious on a variety of level, and a video or a book will never tell you if you are doing something wrong, only a teacher can give you feed back on your practice and help designing a practice that suits you. A teacher is also needed to introduce you to the breathing techniques (ujayi) and to the subtleties of the bandhas (energy locks). Ashtanga is not simply a 'workout'. It is a very powerful yoga practice which works not only on the physical body, but on the emotional and spiritual levels as well. If there are no ashtanga teacher in your area, then I recommend that in addition to your practice and study of a video or book, you get to ashtanga workshops or ashtanga retreats (you will find some on our Yoga Holiday website). Alternatively, try to get to a drop in class, there are some in any big cities. Happy Viniyasa! I have been practicing an hour of ashtanga yoga 4-5 times a week, for about a month. I have lost 15 lbs in the last month since starting. I have been doing some weights and cardio about 3 times a week, but would like to just do yoga. Could yoga alone help me continue loose weight? Shelley Congratulations! I keep telling overweight people who are asking about yoga for weight loss to do ashtanga. Your success story illustrate clearly that it does work! Yes, I am sure that an hour a day is enough to keep your weight under control, no need to do weight or cardio on top of that, unless you enjoy that type of work. However, you might be soon putting on a bit of weight around the shoulder as you are getting stronger :) Enjoy your practice... I would like to start a yoga class but am obese and unfit. Although Ashtanga yoga would be my first choice I know that at the moment I would not be able to do it so could you advise me on what the best form of yoga would be at this stage for me to get fit. M. Indeed, rather than astanga, you are probably better off starting with a gentler style focusing on body awareness, relaxation and meditation, such as Satyananda or Sivananda. Once you have made some progress and lost some weight, move onto more demanding styles like ashtanga/power. A reader suggested BIKRAM yoga to prepare for more demanding forms of yoga such as Astanga to overweight people. You sweat alot in Bikram, which feels great
  31. 31. and is very important too. Watching Ashtanga classes helps alot to prepare mentally to get into it, she says. Also see our online store for some videos that might put you on the right track Christophe I practice ashtanga yoga, I wanted to know what a woman should do when she gets her period? A modified practice? Should she refrain from the first day? Casey Pathabi Jois says not to practice at all for the first three days of menstruation. A number of senior teachers recommend a modified practice, more static and much less strenuous than a normal ashtanga practice, based mostly on forward bending and suspine postures. Nearly everyone agrees that inverted postures (headstand and shoulder stand) shouldn't be practiced while there's still bleeding, and I wouldn't recommend strong backbends during this time either. Like many people today I seem to regularly feel under stress. To most people I am a confident and outgoing person, but behind the facade I am a bundle of nerves. I have made up my mind to do something about it.. I appreciate there is no quick fix out there and I am willing to work at making my life better and "happier". Can Yoga help, if yes what type and how should I go about it? Tony Yes, yoga is one of the most efficient stress management technique, and from your comments on being willing to work at it, rather than expecting a quick fix, you are approaching it from the right perspective. To get real benefits, you will need to practice at least 4 times a week. For a beginner, 20 minutes of self practice 3 or 4 times a week and one or two classes will be perfectly adequate and you should start reaping the benefit of such a regimen within a few weeks. Christophe Is it a good idea to start yoga when pregnant? Deirdre Pregnancy is a time in a woman's life where she particularly need to be relaxed, calm and healthy, for this will greatly benefit the child she is bearing, so yoga is a good idea then. In addition, some yoga posture are well know to be excellent for preparing the body for delivery, and some yogic breathing techniques are excellent during delivery! A few word of caution, though. First, always inform your teacher that you are pregnant, and check with them if they are willing to have you in their class. Some won't have the knowledge or the time needed to adjust their class to your special needs.
  32. 32. Do not practice asana (postures) between 10 and 14 weeks. Pranayama (breathing) and meditation are recommended at that time. Before 10 weeks, all asanas can be practiced. After 14 weeks, some twists, backbends and forward bends will gradually have to be left out of your practice. In all major cities, there are some special classes for pregnant women, and some teachers specialise in this. This might be your best bet if you are starting. Check that out. You might also want to check out our list of recommended books and videos for more information on the subject. A friend and I have recently begun taking Ashtanga Yoga and enjoy it a great deal, however, my friend gets exceedingly nauseous during practice, especially when doing downward dogs. She has a gallbladder condition which she is treating with a naturopath - I'm not sure if this has any bearing on the situation. Is this normal, and is there anything that she can do to remedy this problem? Nausea during yoga practice is often linked with the gall bladder or liver, and as your friend has a pre existing gall bladder complaint, it is probably that. In order for her to continue practicing and benefiting from yoga, her practice needs to be altered so she experiences less discomfort. If, due to discomfort, she doesn't enjoy it, then she won't want to continue. If she is getting nausea in downward facing dog, then I would examine her posture with a teacher. Increased pressure is being put on the gall bladder in this inverted position, which could account for the symptoms, in which case I would recommend a shorter holding time. Start with one breath and over time, if all goes well two and so on until one day she could reach five. (Remember that Astanga Vinyasa is a system but your friend is not a system. She is an individual with special needs. She needs to be respected more than the system, so it is the system that may need to be changed to suit her, not the other way around.) In addition to the inverted pose, if her shoulders and/or hamstrings are tight then she will not have a straight line from wrist to hip, instead will have a rounded back. This concaving will put additional pressure on the gall bladder causing the billious feeling. In this case, she needs to include stretches which develop hamstring and/or shoulder flexibility in her practice. In all yoga poses, the core of the body which contains the organs needs to move in accordance with the outer body - the skeleton, arms and legs. In fast moving practices like astanga this is harder to attune with, and beginners can find themselves forcing poses by using their arms and legs in a dictatorial way. The direction of movement must come from the inside, out. The organs must be invited into the movement. When people do not move with the support of their organs, nausea can result. To experiment with this, practice your astanga very slowly, taking several breaths to come into each pose with an internal focus. Your friend might feel safer practicing a slower style of yoga which supports inner exploration. For beginners, astanga moves so fast it is hard to access that at times. Lastly, yoga postures have definite healing effects on the organs, and it is highly possible her condition may improve from the practice.
  33. 33. Christina Brown I wish to learn yoga. I am not in a position to learn it formally in an institute. Do you think that it is advisable and possible for a person to learn yoga by himself? Sridh There's a saying that a good book is better than a bad teacher. Certainly better than no teacher at all! However, it is important when learning yoga to get feedback on one's practice, and this, only a teacher can do. Only a teacher can see, hear and feel the way you work, and advise you. Faulty practice of yoga can lead to a number of problems. For that reason, I would strongly advise you to find to a competent yoga teacher as soon as you can. It doesn't have to be in the framework of weekly classes, if your circunstances do not allow for that. May be you can find a teacher in your area who would be willing to give you private classes once in a while and thus check on your practice and advise you on how to further it. May be you could occasionnaly attend some seminars or courses, but in any case, even if you can't get to a regular class, you must, to learn yoga properly, get some help and advice from a good teacher. I am a beginner to yoga (2 months) and have been getting sore shoulder joints from downward dog. Is there a common mistake that would cause this? Glen Pain in the shoulder joint during Adho Mukha Svanasana could be caused by a lack of upper body strength or too much weight on the hands putting pressure on the shoulder joint. There are several ways to reduce the stain on the shoulders in Adho Mukha Svanasana. The asana can be practised towards a wall, with the hands working on blocks in order to place them higher than the feet. This will subtly shift the centre of gravity back towards the feet, placing a lighter load on the arms. If this fails to reduce the strain, use the seat of a low chair, raising the hands even higher. Alternatively, work with a partner. Place a belt on the upper thigh (make sure it's high enough to not place pressure on the knee). As you enter the pose, your partner will lean back with the tie. This will reduce the weight on the arms, and increase the stretch on the hamstrings and calves. If the arms are strong enough to support the weight from a floor position, consider how you are entering and working in the asana. Remember to stretch down through the heels. Lengthen the spine, stretching from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Roll the scapula (shoulder blades) away from one another to broaden the upper back. Ensure that the inner elbows are facing. Mimm Can I ask you what you think about travelling to India to study Yoga? Have you any advice? Brid
  34. 34. The first step is to decide is what style of yoga you intend to study. It would be wise to start studying your choosen style at home to make sure this is the right choice before heading to India to further your studies. Here are a few options: Iyengar. You could go to India and study with the Iyengars at the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. There are also in Rishikesh some very experienced teachers in that style of yoga. There are also some good teachers in the UK. Ashtanga Again, you could go to India and study with Patthabi Jois in Mysore. There are also a number of very experienced ashtanga teachers in Europe, America and Australia. Check out the list of teachers on the Ashtanga site. All certified teachers are very advanced practitioners who have studied extensively with Pattahbi Jois. Viniyoga The Indian option is to study with Desikachar at the Krishnamachariy yoga Madiram in Chennai (Madras). A number of Desikachar senior students teach in the West. Check out the Viniyoga Britain site. Satyananda The Bihar School of yoga and the Bihar Yoga Barathi run courses in India for Western students. Check out their site Sivananda Run two ashrams in India. Check out their website. You will find some useful addresses on our addresses page. You might also get yourself a copy of the book "From here to Nirvana", a spiritual guide to India packed with information and addresses. Christophe I've been practicing Yoga for about 10 months. Before Yoga I lifted light weights and used a treadmill or an elliptical for 45 minutes 3 x a week. I now exclusively practice Ashtanga, 3 to 4 times a week for 90 minutes, and really only occasionally do something aerobic like go for a walk. I sometimes injure myself, for example pull a muscle or compress my wrists, and I always feel sore and slightly exhausted after practice. My questions are: Will I eventually build up stamina and energy? Will I ever stop feeling sore after practice? Crockett 90 minutes of practice sound like a lot for someone who has been practicing ashtanga for less than six month. Practice has to be built slowly, for it's only by working within our limitations that we eventually overcome them. On the other hand, 3 to 4 times a week isn't a lot for a dedicated yogi, which you obviously are. It would be better for you to do an hour 5 or 6 times a week. You would also probably feel less tired after practice if you were practicing a little less. Ashtanga practice is supposed to let you feel energized, not tired and sore. Also make sure you always do an adequate closing sequence (if you are practicing 90 minutes, you should do a full closing sequence, including headstand) and lie in Savasana at the end of your practice for at least 10 minutes. There is often a
  35. 35. tendency to rush through the end of the practice because time is running short. This is not good and can indeed lead to tiredness. A pleasant soreness in the bellies of some muscles can be a sign that you are progressing, but pain in the joints is a sure indication of poor form and alignment. In this case you should pull back and study the posture more closely. Granted, accidents do happen sometimes, particularly if you are trying out new postures, but they are always a sign that you are doing something wrong, and an invitation to correct this wrong. And as for building up stamina, I can only repeat Patthabi Jois advice: "Do your practice, and all is coming." Christophe I experience migraine headaches frequently, often severely enough to require medical attention beyond the medication I am prescribed. How can I combat these attacks using my yoga practice, and are there any positions I should avoid? In the plow position, I often experience neck pain, is this an indication that I should cease this pose? Also, and unrelated to my first question, my calves are terribly tight, and I have difficulty getting my heels completely to the floor in the downward facing dog. Any suggestions? Mindy There are many causes for migraine headaches and I suggest seeing a natural health practitioner who can go over your diet and lifestyle and emotional wellbeing to determine the cause(s). Yoga can assist is the cause is muscle tension or mental stress. A three pronged preventative approach might be daily practice of the following: (1) Work the muscles (so that they can better release afterwards) with the arm positions of Gomukhasana (Cow), Garudasana (Eagle) and Parsvottanasana (Standing Sideways Extension). To releae the neck, perform isometric exercises. Use one hand to resist as you stretch your neck forwards, diagonally forwards, sideways and back. (ie, place your palm on your forehead, push into your palm and resist with your palm for three to five breaths. Repeat three times.) (2) Next let your head release forward, diagonally forwards and sideways and increase the stretch with the pressure of one hand. To the same with the head turning so you look over one shoulder. (3) Supported restorative poses. Use folded blankets and bolsters to do long, restful holdings poses like Viparita Karani (buttocks on bolster) or rest your forhead on a bolster in Child Pose, Dog, and the forward bends. These are outlined in BKS Iyengar's latest hardcover book. Some people find it helpful to bandage the head relatively firmly so the eyes are covered, or just use an eyebag. The neck should not be tight in shoulderstand or plough. If you are experiencing neck pain then get an experienced teacher to observe you in the pose, feel what is happening to the neck, and make suggestions, possibly using props, as to how to change your alignment. (This is the same rule for pain in any yoga pose). Generally it is a sign of a long-term yoga practitioner if the heels reach the ground in dog pose. I often tell my students who can do this to walk their feet further back so
  36. 36. that the heels come up a little and they have more of a challenge. My suggestion for this is simply practice, practice, practice. Best regards, Christina I have recently experienced excruciating pain only in my left knee in Lotus. The left knee is terribly stiff. What should I do? Brid Most knee problems in Padmasana actually originate from the hips. We westerners tend to have very stiff hips from years of sitting on chairs. The first step is therefore to loosen the hips. I would suggest you incorporate in your daily routine 5 or 10 minutes of hips openers such as simple cross-legged forward bend, Ardha Hanumasana (like a split, but with the front leg bent, going forward), Gomukasana.... Bekasana, Virasana and Vamadevasana might help alleviate the pain in the knee. However, If it is a medial ligament injury, these postures will be very difficult, and might damage the knee more.... If the pain is in the back of the knee, which it often is, then the trick of a relatively thin rolled up towel under the knee for bent knee asanas can considerably reduce the pain. If Padmasana is too painful, just don't do it. Sit in Siddhasana for long periods of time (may be at your desk?), raising the buttock on a block or a cushion if necessary to keep the back straight. Eventually the hips will open and you will be able to do Padmasana with little or no pain. B.K.S. Iyengar says that by perseverance and continued practice the pain will gradually subside. I have found that to be true, but it took a while Christophe I had a baby four months ago and I want to get my flexibility back as well as dealing with the stress of a new baby. Is there a form of yoga more suited to this situation or is it a case of seeing which one I prefer? Ann It really depends on how much physical work you want to do, for you are listing two different goals there. For regaining your flexibility, you need to look at active styles of yoga, such as Iyengar or ashtanga. As for dealing with the stress of a new born baby, more gentle forms of yoga, such as Viniyoga or Sivananda may be more appropriate, although any style will help on an emotional level as well. So yes, it is a matter of seeing what you prefer, and possibly also of deciding which is more important to you. Christophe My hamstrings are sooo tight, and my progress loosening them is sooo slow, in fact nearly non-existent. I ride a bike, walk on a treadmill and use an elliptical machine in the gym between 2 and 5 times a week for 30 min, with light stretching after. Is my cardio routine interfering with my yoga progress? I really feel more relaxed after a cardio workout.
  37. 37. Kate Cardiovascular work is not inherently stiffening, but both running and riding a bike tighten the hamstrings, so that could be an explanation for your slow progress. You do not say what type of yoga you do, nor how much you practice, so I'll presume you are doing one or two classes a week and not practising in between other than the light stretching after you cardiovascular workout, which isn't really enough to make serious progress. Since you like cardiovascular workout I suggest you replace some of your riding with the practice of Surya Namaskar A and B as described in David Swenson's book Ashtanga Yoga. You can do as many of them as you like, this is a from of cardiovascular exercise that will loosen you hamstrings rather than tighten them. Adho Muka Svanasana (dog head down posture), working the heels toward the floor with the legs straight, is a good pose to loosen the hamstrings (you might incorporate in you stretching in any case). Standing leg raises like Utthita Hasta Padangustasana will also help. Make sure to practice these asanas at least four times a week. Sitting forward bends, on the other hand, might put too much pressure on the back, until you get a bit looser. Christophe According to some experts, the static, slow Hatha Yoga stretching exercises where the body parts are used as a resistance can strengthen bones as well as muscles. I've always heard that the bone-strengthening benefits of yoga were due only to the weight-bearing poses. Do you have any information on this, or know anyone you could refer me to? Dorothy It is true that weight-bearing exercises encourage the laying down of calcium and silicon in the bones, which helps to strengthen them. While we can choose from many weight-bearing activities for the lower body, Hatha yoga has the advantage of offering many postures which allow the upper body to bear weight. Handstand and other arm balancing postures strengthen the bones in the arms and wrists. The headstands are invaluable as the cervical vertebrae bear some (but not all!) of the body’s weight. Hatha yoga promotes overall body health in general. Asana practice will encourage nutrient supply to the bones in general. Hatha yoga does have an added benefit compared to other weight bearing activities as it can help to balance the hormones. Pranayama (yoga breathing) and deep relaxation re-balance the body via the nervous system. Inverted postures increase blood supply to relevant endocrine glands. Shoulderstand and Plough Pose in particular encourage blood supply to the throat, the location of the parathyroid gland. This gland produces a hormone which affects calcium levels in the bone, and helps find an optimum balance between the breaking down of old bone, laying down of new bone and bone remineralisation. Christina What is mantra yoga?
  38. 38. Kathryn Mantra yoga is kind of yoga in which mantras (short prayers) are either chanted or repeated inwardly. The repetition of mantras has a calming effect on the mind. Most other yoga incorporate some mantra yoga in their practice, and you might even have done some yourself if you did any chanting in a yoga class. I was wondering if you can provide me with any advice on a back problem which I've had before starting Ashtanga yoga. I've had severe sciatic nerve pain and sacro illiac joint problems for about 2 years. While I've noticed a good deal of improvement in areas such as hips since starting astanga, I've noticed very little in the way of forward bending, in fact forward bending in general seems to aggravate the pain and even if I induce no pain when practising primary series, I have increased pain for 2 days after practising. As the primary series is almost all forward bending, I don't really know what variations I could use etc. I've also visited osteopaths and chirporactors with limited success. Mark The first thing is to get a proper diagnosis of your problem. Pain aggravated by bending forwards could be a sign of an HNP, (herniated nucleus polposis), otherwise known as a slipped disc. There are various degrees of slipped discs. It could be a disc lesion or tear, less drastic but still very painful and you need to exclude these possibilities. Forward bends are contraindicated in disc problems so, until it heals, Astanga Yoga is not right for you. Instead, try Viniyoga ( or see a yoga therapist. ( Slower yoga practice allows you time to develop body awareness and there will come a time when you will be able to introduce safe forward bends. You can't escape the fact that Astanga Yoga is a severe practice. When such a strong practice comes into contact with a pre-existing physical limitation, it can certainly make sparks fly. Some people find it gives them a burst of energy to heal and a long standing problem disappears. Others have a rougher ride. Sometimes harsher types of manipulation can be less beneficial than gentle forms which help release muscular holding. Try some deep tissue massage or The benefit of Astanga yoga over other styles is the emphasis on the bandhas. Problem areas can be strengthened and healed by working with these internal energy locks. Learning to use these energies (in whichever style of yoga you choose) is undoubtedly protective and might be a key to your healing. Good luck on your path, Christina Brown What are the benefits of doing pelvic tilt before going into cobra posture? I find it 'locks' my lumber spine, cobra surely is aimed at freeing it. Gail I presumme you talking about the Pilates pelvic tilt? Although it's not the first thing I'd think of as a preparation for Bhujangasana (Cobra posture), I expect it was recommended to you for a reason.......
  39. 39. The Pilates pelvic tilt is quite distinctly NOT what is often called the Bridge in some yoga classes, but done correctly would definitely be a good preparation for the pelvic region before any of the backbends in yoga, if done in conjunction with exercises for the thoracic and cervical spine as well as the whole shoulder girdle. If you find that your lumber spine is locking in the pelvic tilt, you are definitely not using your bandas! Try it this way: Lie on your back with your knees bent pointing twds the ceiling- feet hip width apart and parallel i.e. not turning in or out and not too close to your buttocks [ you should have a very small space between your waist and the mat, corresponding to the natural curve of your spine when standing- hands are palms down by your sides.] Make sure your feet are in line with your hips, which are in line with your shoulders, which are RELAXED. Close your eyes and try to feel your alignment. Open your eyes and inhale Start exhaling and the first movement you make is to take your navel down towards the floor, feeling your whole lower abdomen flatten and your lumbar region press into the floor. So you are engaging Uddiyana bandha. Still on the exhalation, use your pelvic floor muscles [mula bandha] to curl your tailbone[coccyx] up and back inwards towards your nose. The waist is still on the floor but the pelvis is tilting with the effect of elongating the lumbar spine, which is supported by the abdominal muscles, [specifically the tranverse, the deepest layer of muscle in the abdomen] or, in yogic terms, the uddiyana banda, which you keep engaged throughout. Now draw your sitting bones together, feeling the hips narrow, the buttocks and the inner thigh muscles engage strongly and you lift the pelvis higher to acheive a SLOPE, a straight line if possible from the shoulder to the knee. DO NOT PUSH YOUR PELVIS UP ANY HIGHER - I suspect this is what is locking your lumbar and causing you to make the same mistake in Cobra. This whole sequence of movement is done on the exhalation - think of dividing the breath into 3 parts. NOW INHALE HOLDING THE SLOPE POSITION, KEEP THE BANDHAS 'ON' AND KEEP DRAWING YOUR SITBONES TOGETHER EXHALE AND START TO CURL THE SPINE BACK DOWN ONTO THE MAT, VERY SLOWLY, IN THIS ORDER: RIBS, WAIST, LUMBAR and finally TAILBONE [it is the mula bandha which controls this downward movement enabling you to do it smoothly, so keep engaging that pelvic floor as well as keeping the navel back towards the spine and the sitzbones drawn together. INHALE AND RELAX [and repeat a few times] So your lumbar spine should feel elongated and the supporting muscles strongly toned Back to the COBRA - IT IS A VERY DIFFICULT POSTURE and done wrongly can definitely lock the lumbar, so approach with caution and make sure that you are using your back muscles to lift your trunk, and not relying on the push of the hands. If you do have a flexible spine it can still damage the lumbar if not done correctly, with the support of the bandhas and the Latissimus Dorsi muscles which support the spine and control the downward movement of the shoulder girdle. Here is a good Pilates exercise which will help you strengthen those muscles: