Tag Archives: The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

Pose of the Month: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

July brings us a new pose of the month- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or, Bridge Pose (setu = dam, dike or bridge, bandha = lock). This is a great pose for yogis in all stages of practice, and the benefits are extensive. Anatomically, Bridge focuses on the neck and shoulders and in women, the uterus. The chest, neck and spine are stretched, while the abdominal organs, lungs and thyroid are stimulated. The pose can also alleviate stress, improve digestion and rejuvenate tired legs. Here are some tips to help you get into Bridge:

  • Lie on your back, and if necessary, use a blanket under your shoulders to support the neck. Bend your knees with your feet on the floor, keeping the heels close to the sitting bones
  • As you exhale, actively press your inner feet and arms into the floor, pull the tailbone up toward the pubic bone, and lift the buttocks until the things are about parallel to the floor. Engage your thighs and inner feet to keep them parallel
  • Keep the knees over the heels and press them forward away from the head, lengthening the tailbone
  • Keep your arms on the floor or clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend, allowing you to rest on the top of the shoulders
  • Lift your chin slightly away from the sternum and firm and broaden the shoulder blades against your back. You should feel the space between them lift up into the torso
  • Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.

For an added challenge, try lifting a leg until perpendicular to the torso and repeat on the opposite side. Sliding a block under the sacrum can provided added support and increase the restorative properties of the pose. Use caution if you have a neck injury and if you have any questions, be sure to ask an instructor.

Photo Source: http://yogajournal.com


Inner Spiral -with Chris Calarco

Sunday  was Father’s Day and even though some of us were not able to spend it with our dads, we were lucky enough to set our intentions for them in the Anusara class led by Chris Calarco. The practice felt particularly special that morning- maybe it was because we were getting to share our gratitude for life with a room full of yogis who also have fathers that helped them get to where they are today. Or maybe it was because Chris’s parents were visiting from the East Coast and were in class with us, beaming with obvious pride and love for their son. Or perhaps it was the deeply personal and insightful guidance given by Chris himself. Using the principle of Inner Spiral as a theme, he led us through an inspiring physical practice while sharing his struggles and triumphs with his own Inner Spiral. This principle has had such an effect on Chris he wrote a piece about it and graciously shared some of his writing in class.

(Picture from http://chriscalarcoyoga.com/)

His message has become widely popular (!Go Chris!), and can be read on the Wanderlust Blog page  among others.

So for those who were in Chris’s class yesterday and want to be inspired by the whole article, or those curious about Anusaras 3rd principle of alignment,  please enjoy Chris’s story below 🙂

And take a minute to check out his website (http://chriscalarcoyoga.com/) which has details about the upcoming July 23rd Yoga Groove- a class that unites yoga and music, with a dance party to follow. Mark your calendars, you won’t want to miss this party!

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I had been practicing yoga regularly for about 5 years…

I was certified to teach Vinyasa and loved the feeling in body and mind yoga produced. I thought of this feeling as a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. I sought it out whenever I could fit my practice into life as a child psychotherapist. However, without warning, my motivation to practice fell off the face of the earth as I lost my way. For almost 9 months my whole being shifted and I lost touch with my body, my friends and my practice. Even before yoga came to an abrupt halt I had gradually, and unconsciously, migrated away my first teachers and their studio. I hadn’t found a new studio per se but lived as more of a yoga vagabond, wandering from studio to studio with my head down, practicing hard and then quickly getting out the door. I wasn’t a very social yogi. Around the time I became a nomad, my teacher’s, Annie Adamson and Todd Vogt of Yoga Union in Portland, Oregon, were beginning to integrate Anusara Yoga’s 5 Universal Principles of Alignment into their classes during their process of training.

Upon deep self-reflection, a hefty dose of depression, and a lot of help I finally returned to the mat, making a massively liberating decision to commit myself fully to the practice and teaching of yoga. As I became reacquainted with my body I soon found myself bound and stuck in common poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) and Utthitha Parsvokonasa (Extended Side Angle). I was disappointed that after 5 years, even given the layoff, I remained shallow in my Triangle with bottom hand just below my knee. Athletic but never super flexible I felt a sense of resignation, as if I had reached my edge in asana practice and I would not grow. I knew I could always access the good feeling after a class but deep inside this was not enough, I longed for much more. I wanted access to advanced poses, I wanted to increase my strength and flexibility but most of all I yearned to change my habits of mind and magnify my life from within. I left yoga because of depression and was determined to make a resonant and permanent change.

I scheduled a private lesson with Annie and expressed my frustration with Triangle and Extended Side Angle. Quickly, I found Anusara’s third principle of alignment was going to be my new intimate dance partner. Inner Spiral is an “energy spiral” thought of as a refinement of the body’s alignment in all yoga postures. The spiral begins on the inner edges of the feet and widens as it moves upward toward the pelvis and outer edges of the waistline. Inner Spiral turns the front of the legs and pelvis inward, towards the midline. It moves the inner edges of the feet, legs, and pelvis backward as the inner heels, inner knees, and inner thighs flow back. These actions also broaden the legs and pelvis apart. Inner Spiral’s key words are “In”, “Back”, and “Wide”. Physically, this manifests an increased healthy curve in the lower lumbar spine and the sitting bones press out. Renowned teacher Sianna Sherman often half-jokes that one of Anusara’s secret principals is “when in doubt, stick it out”.

Importantly, Inner Spiral requires the engagement of its partner principle, Muscle Energy (Anusara’s second principle), to be radically transformative. When the muscles of the legs are engaged and we actively make them flow “In”, “Back”, and “Wide” there is integration throughout the entire lower body that creates vibrantly new ripples of freedom in the groins, hamstrings, and lower back. Within the first ten minutes of my private with Annie I looked into the mirror and was astounded. I did not recognize the person in Triangle pose. My stance was wider and more stable, my bottom hand was on the floor (Hallelujah!), and I felt a lusciously deep stretch in my groins and lower back. Now I had to begin working with Inner Spiral and all five principles in every pose! The work had beautifully just begun.

In Anusara’s methodology, each Universal Principle of Alignment is associated with one of earth’s natural elements. Inner Spiral is like water. Just as rivers flow naturally, nurturing the surrounding land, Inner Spiral watered the seed of each asana inside my body. With active engagement, Inner Spiral created a new sense of liquid depth in me and in turn granted access to the freedom and revelation l longed for. I no longer am a yoga vagabond as I have found a home inside my body and with Annie and Todd at Yoga Union. I am expanding my limits, working at my edge, and nailing postures I never imagined. Inner Spiral has literally blasted me open to the new possibilities that are always available if we align heart, body, and mind. For me, the body came first, and the others soon followed suit. Feeling extraordinarily liberated and full of deep gratitude for my fellow yogis, teachers and this system of yoga, the journey continues. Inner Spiral changed my life and it can change yours.

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A little about the author….

Chris has been practicing yoga for the past six years and has recently begun teaching in Portland, Oregon. He has been listening to music since Poison overtook his heart at age 12. Yoga and music, yoga and music, yoga and music! Jai!

The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an ancient Hindu text of yoga philosophy and practice. Within the Sutras, Patanjali examines Ashtanga Yoga, or the Eightlimbed Yoga (ashta translates to eight, and anga to limb). The eight limbs of yoga are an ethical framework for a yoga practice that becomes much more than just a physical endeavor, bringing together body, mind, and spirit. Each of the limbs builds towards the next, together creating a holistic approach to life through yoga. The first limb of yoga are the Yamas, five universal principles focusing on our outward behaviors and integrity towards others. The five yamas (the same as the five vows of Jainism) are also called the abstentions:

Ahimsa: Nonviolence. Inflicting no harm on others or yourself through thought or action.

Satya: Truthfulness. Honesty in all that you do, say, and think.

Asteya: Non stealing. Not taking that which is not your own, extending beyond physical objects to things such as attention, relationships, and responsibility.

Brahmacharya: Non lust, or abstinence. Many view this not as a call to celibacy, but to refrain from meaningless sexual encounters.

Aparigraha: Non-covetousness, or non-possessiveness. Not desiring what does not belong to you, or what you do not need. Freeing yourself from material greed and the need to be the center of the attention. 


 The second limb of yoga are the Niyamas, five observances of inner discipline and spiritual responsibility towards ourselves.

Shaucha: Purity and cleanliness. This coms from practicing the five yamas, which clear away physical and mental negativity. It is also essential to be fastidious about keeping your body, clothing, and surroundings clean and consuming only fresh, healthy food and drink.

Santosha: Contentment. Finding tranquility by accepting and being happy with what you have and where you are. Learning to live in the moment and grow from there.

Tapas: Austerity. Self-discipline of body, speech, and thought. The purpose of self-discipline is not simply to develop ascetic control, but to strengthen the body and mind for higher spiritual purposes.

Svadhyaya: Education and learning. Study of the sacred Vedic texts, or whatever teachings and books that are relevant to your spiritual growth, in order to become more aware and mindful of our connection to the divine.

Isvara pranidhana: Surrender to the divine. Living in constant awareness and worship of whatever higher power or divinity you believe in.

The third, fourth, and fifth limbs focus on external, or physical aids to yoga practice:

Asana: Asanas are the physical postures most commonly associated with the practice of yoga in western cultures. In true yogic philosophy, however, the asanas provide the physical discipline, energy, and concentration necessary to prepare the body for long and focused meditation.

Pranayama: Prana is the the universal life force that flows through us as breath. Pranayama are focused breathing exercises with a basic rhythm of inhalation, retention, and exhalation. Pranayama strengthen the connection between breath (body), mind, and emotion, which builds the concentration necessary for meditation.

Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses. Removing sensory awareness from world around us through asanas, pranayama, and meditation. Pratyahara allows us to detach from our senses and examine ourselves without distraction.

The sixth, seventh, and eighth limbs are internal aids to yoga, and achieving divine awareness.

Dharana: Concentration. The final step in preparing for meditation is through developing and sustaining intense, concentrated focus on one physical point or object. Practicing asanas, pranayama, and pratyahara, prepare you to free your mind from superfluous thought and distraction and develop uninterrupted concentration.

Dhyana: The act of concentrated and undisturbed meditation. When concentration moves into meditation the mind is no longer aware of distractions and can achieve a stillness and awareness without thought. When practiced and achieved, the tranquility experienced in Dhyana will translate into other, everyday parts of your life as well.

Samadhi: Transcendence through oneness with the divine object of meditation.

This ultimate goal of the eight limbs of yoga brings you into a higher consciousness and awareness of one’s connection with the universe and the divine. Samadhi is enlightenment, ecstasy, bliss.