The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit Yuj, which means unite in the spiritual union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. It is the quintessence of an exemplary way of life and collection of teachings that encompasses all levels of the body, mind and spirit and all relations of the Self with the own body, emotions, but also others and the entire Universe. In particular, the present essay will focus on the power of yoga to integrate body, mind and soul as an all encompassing organic way of life, from the etymology of the word itself meaning "unite".
I love telling my student what yoga means to me on a very personal and pragmatic level, since I know how essential the role of a yoga teacher is as a guide and door opener to a fully new physical, emotional and spititual journey for you as student. You might read countless literature on yoga philosophy by luminous gurus in the ﬁeld such as Iyengar, Chopra, and so on, but ultimately yoga has to be a unique, very intimate calling and personal journey. Yoga to me was the bridge I needed to gap the unbalanced distance and miscommunication between my mind and my body, between my mind decision making on a daily basis and the ideals it actually aspires to live by.
Hatha Yoga, whose word formation itself incorporates the sun (ha) and the moon (tha), the masculine and the feminine, aims at balancing these energies into the body and mind experience. Yet there is so much more than just the asanas, as you can infer from the Ashtanga 8 limbs of yoga. From the relation to yourself and others to the asanas, breathing techniques, meditation techniques all the way to samadhi, this is the powerful manifesting awareness between the vision and the action. Yoga healed my body by restoring the connection with my mind. Yet I did not experience it at such ﬁrst and I hated it. My ﬁrst yoga encounter happened in a gym, in the hurry of 45 minutes ﬁlled with ladies in search of the perfect instagram picture and men who could not wait to show off and burn some calories. I did not understand why yoga was called a spiritual practice because the focus was onto the shrunken piece of a puzzle, detached from all the rest of what yoga is, encompassing behaviour, meditation, philosophy, for the mere pursuit of physical external results.
WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTMANUELA GALLINAYTC300HRS
It was only when I accomplished my yoga teacher training in Goa back in 2016 that I could delve into the all encompassing way of life that yoga is. A friend of mine with sincere eating disorders and distorted body image attended that same retreat and I could witness her change, evolve, learn how to restore communication with mind and body, learn how the body feels and that it is normal for the body to evolve and change. She stopped sabotaging herself and started from the inside out to rewire her mind around the healthy re-established communication with her body and soul. Four useful asanas
Having explained to you the importance of an all encompassing approach when studying and understanding yoga, nevertheless I did not intend to denigrate the beneﬁts of asanas for the yoga practice. In fact, the body is an extraordinary vehicle for perception of the universe and captivating messages that are delivered into the mind.
Let me brieﬂy illustrate four asanas that truly help me reach the integration of body, mind and spirit when done properly and with the correct understanding background.
Asana 1: Veerabadhrasana 1 (Warrior Pose1 )
To get into the asana, you will start with the right leg for matter of energy balancing mentioned above. Standing in Mountain pose at the top of the mat, exhale and step with your left foot back about 4 feet apart. Align your left heel behind the right heel and then rotate putwards of 45 degrees your back foot pivoting at the heel. Adjust your hips so that they are straight in line with the front and parallel with the long side of the mat.
Now inhale and rise up both arms shoulder-wide and parallel to each other, and retract your shoulders away from your ears. Exhale, engage your uddjana bandha (activate the abdominals) and focus to adjust the tailbone in neutral position.
With your left heel grounded and steady, exhale and bend the right knee. Keep your face relaxed and gaze in front of you or upwards.
Keep this asana for at least one minute.
To come out of the asana, inhale, press your back leg heel ﬁrmly into the ﬂoor amd extend the right leg, keeping the arms high as to elongate the spine. Turn your right foot to the front and adduct back the arms down along the body. Exhale, relax, come back to Tadasana or samastitihi (mountain pose) amd repeat on the other side.
I chose this asana because despite its apparent simplicity of execution, it entails multiple aspects that have a major impact on its effectiveness. Once these aspects are taken into consideration and accomplished, this asana is a powerful tool to integrate body, mind and spirit.
In fact, the asana is called warrior for the strength and determination that it conveys, facing with open chest and well grounded foundation any challenge in front of you. Another interesting point regards the psoas, which is addressed in performing the warrior pose. The psoas is the deepest muscle in the human body and connects the lumbar spine (between L3 and L4) with the inner side of the femur. It is also called righteously the muscle of the soul or the muscle of courage and it is stretched during the warrior pose in each side in the back leg. By connecting the body with the mind, this pose teaches on strength, determination beyond pain and overcoming own limits with self-discipline and grounding. It also improves the stamina and sense of balance.
Spiritually, the same beneﬁts can be applied to one's approach to life with courage, trust in the grounding and support from nature and the Earth.
Asana 2: Vkrasana -The Tree Pose
Start in tadasana (mountain pose), with feet slightly apart. Focus your awareness on the feet and lift and spread the toes for maximum foundation and balance support.
Distribute your weight equally on both feet, yet prepare to raise your left leg. Inhale, bend the left knee and place the plantar foot area on the inner leg at the level of your ability between the knee and the hips level. Bring your hands at your heart in prayer and exhale, ﬁnding your inner balance.
On the next inhale, raise the hands towards the sky and elongate the spine, thus creating the extension of your full tree towards the sky. Hold the position with gaze in front of you for at least ﬁve deep breaths before exiting and moving to the other side. To exit, exhale slowly and release the arms and left leg down to starting position.
This asana is named after the tree, and with reason. A tree is deeply rooted in the ground from which it receives support and nourishment, but it is also elongating with the foliage and twigs into the sky in search for the sunlight. Analogously, this asana teaches stability and strengthens the ankle and deep muscle of the foot and legs, and it allows also to improve posture while exercising the abdominal muscle.
The asana has a fundamental connection body and mind, due to the balancing challenge offered by one leg stand. In fact, you could go as far as to call it a. proper meditation. When we are in challenges balancing positions and our mind is wandering astray following each thought, we are bound to fall as we do not have connection to the micro movements and inner forces of the body. The result is that we fall.
Yet if we keep our mental awareness within what happen in every body cell by asking yourself "where is my body in space now?" and shifting the focus away from the outside world and into the inner body, then the mind will automatically be diverted from thoughts and be fully focused on the body. In this way the connection is established between the mind and the body.
There is also a powerful spiritual connection happening when you perform the tree pose. Akin to a tree which is deeply rooted in the earth from which it receives nourishment, you will also focus on your feet and their connection to and support from the earth, from which like life force nourishing energy will ﬂow up your leg and bring light and cleans away blocked energy on its way. Inhale and visualise this nectar of life driving up through the spine until reaching the crown of your head. Elongate the spine as if you were growing your twigs and foliage towards the sky. Exhale and settle this energy into your entire upper body until the end of your hands and ﬁngers, like leaves of the tree.
Asana 3: Balasana - Child's pose
This asana is very calming and you perform it starting on all fours with knees as wide as the hips and hands and arms away from the body and parallel to each other. Gently bring your body to sit on your heels with toes touching each other and bring your forehead on the mat, with eyes closed. Breath in and out deeply through your belly and relax into the pose. Mentally, imagine an opened window at the level of your third eye, right in the middle of your forehead. Imagine how your head is full of thoughts and by keeping your forehead window open, all these thoughts fall one by one through that window and into the Earth. Free yourself and become lighter and worriless like a baby.
From the physical point of view, belly breathing is very relaxing for the body. as well as stretching the spine by counteracting the nerve squeezing lordosis that we tend to develop by standing around and walking for too many hours, with the wrong posture and probably the wrong shoes. Mentally and spiritually, the connection is powerful with the inner child and developing trust in the earth and life again with the grounding effect offered by the position.
Asana 4: Koormasana - Turtle pose
Among the originally over 8400000 asanas which represent the incarnations each human being has to pass through before reaching liberation from the circle of life and death, there are many animal asanas. The belief is that spiritually each animal has different characteristics and can teach us something, and that all animals live in harmony with nature and with their own bodies, with inner hormonal and nervous balance. Let me guide you through the turtle pose.
From Dandhasana, spread the legs in a wide yet still comfortable way and keep the knees bent so as to have space underneath to place the hands, but heels on the mat. Fold forward with from the hips and slide slowly the hands with palm down and the arms sideways and backwards underneath the legs. Keep the legs micro bent if necessary, you can slide the heels forward as far as possible so as to let the body naturally bend forward. Move on with focus on the breath and relaxing into the asana until the chin reaches the mat. Be always gentle and do not force the ﬂexion. In the ﬁnal position you would fold the arms around your back and interlock the ﬁngers under the buttock.
Once you have reached this position, you should hold it for as long as it feels comfortable with eyes closed and deep breath.
After coming back to Dandhasana, a counter-pose is highly recommended such as a bridge (setu bandhasana) and then a Shavasana to completely relax.
The turtle pose has relaxing beneﬁts in the spine and back muscles, and this feeling is directly conveyed to the mind. In addition to that, this asana cures constipation by creating energy in the abdomen, and it shoots the nerves attached to the spine with a resulting feeling of relaxation. The turtle is a very humbling position and lets you focus inwards, surrendering into the Earth. Turtles only retract their limbs when they perceive fear and danger, and this asana shows - and provides - a state of inner security.
In general in the Asanas, the spiritual component is also given by the breath work through activation of energy points such as the Mooladhara bandha and the Uddyana bandha, which in terms act on the chakra points. All backbend asanas have major effects on opening the heart chakra, for example, or all twisting positions activate the ﬁre in the swadisthana and manipura chakra.
By focusing on the breath, asanas become a meditation in movement that truly includes the physical, mental and spiritual level.
The mind is ﬂowing and in constant movement by its nature, it chases thoughts incessantly. But when you meditate, you allow your mind to take a step back, to become an empty calm space and to dedicate to the body and its needs. Meditation is thus establishing a direct connection between the mind and the body.
Mantra meditations are powerful not only because by speaking a mantra you automatically disengage from thoughts, but also because of the spiritual semantical value of the mantras themselves.
My favourite mantra which I often use when I meditate is the following: Locah samastah sukhino bhavantu
which means approximately: May I and all living beings be all be happy and free of pain.
Sit in sukhasana or padmasana, comfortably with straight spine and smiling face gently relaxing the facial muscles. Inhale deeply and chant word by word, one word equals one breath. Chant for as long as it takes your mind to reach and beneﬁt from a meditative state. When you want to close the meditation, chant AUM at the end of the last mantra word with joint hands at the heart. Then with closed eyes rub your hands to keep the healing energy created by the mantra and pass your hands to your face, eyes and head. Open your eyes and breath normally.
The spiritual value of pronouncing such healing words into the universe and let its healing vibration resonate within the mind and body is immense.
Pranayama - breathing techniques
Pranyama is a powerful way to bring mind and body in direct communication, it is a form of meditation and it has cleansing power, in fact shat kryas incorporate some breathing techniques as well.
My favourite pranayama is nadi sodhana or energy channel puriﬁcation technique in the advanced variation called anuloma vilonum (alternative nostril breathing) and you will perform it sitting in meditation position with straight spine. In the ﬁrst stages you can, depending on the energy that has to be balanced, do the surya bhedi or the chandra bedhi that respectively energize or relax. Yet the anuloma vilonum balances out both energies. It balances the brain hemispheres, improves nostrils sensitivity, calms down the mind, lowers high blood pressure.
You can practice it four times a day, but not right after meals and it starts from the left nostril as that is the side of the calming energy needed for the meditation state.
Keep your left hand relaxed in nasagra mudra (nose tip gesture). With the right hand you will use thumb and ring ﬁnger. Close your right nostril to the right hand thumb and breath out all air from the belly through the left nostril. Once the belly and thorax are all empty, breath in gradually from the left nostril until you ﬁll up the balloon of your thorax and belly. Close both nostrils by placing the ring ﬁnger onto the left nostril and hold your breath for few seconds. Then open the right nostril and breath out all air to empty the belly. Inhale again from the right, close both nostrils and hold. Open the left nostril and breath out fully. Continue this alternate breathing for at least ﬁve or six rounds, until you feel a relaxation coming in.
The ratio of time spent for each action of this pranayama goes as follows, with the ﬁrst line of numbers representing the beginner's level and the following the improved stages.
At the end of this breathing, free the nose releasing the right hand and keep breathing yogi breathing for few times to feel the calmness.
This breathing techniques is very successful if you want to calm and focus, as it activates the parasympathetic nerve system which is the one for generating relaxation. It is not recommended if you have a cold as it has cooling effect.
With calmness comes focus, so this breathing technique not only has the physical effect of unblocking the nostrils, but it also increases mental awareness and balances out the energies in the body.
Inhale hold in exhale hold out 1 4 2 2 4 16 8 8 5 20 10 10
Food and Water - Ayurveda
You have learnt that yoga is a way of life that encompasses all possible aspects from the physical level to relation with others and so on. Also the food and water we take in, as prana for the physical body, is a fundamental element that is deeply related to the mental and spiritual level and should considered with the due mindfulness as much as for the major prana of the breath.
A yogi diet, according to Ayurveda (the science of life) is to ﬁll the stomach by half with food, one quarter with water and one quarter remains empty, in order to favour digestion and not be too full as not to be able to meditate or perform the asanas, and in higher spiritual practice to prefer a sattvic diet (for the meaning of sattvic quality, see below) which is rich in vegetables, plain rice, with mild ﬂavours that suit the body. Water is important and should not be cold but taken away from the meals in lukewarm temperature to help the digestive system.
Water in particular has cleansing properties according to Ayurveda, so it is good practice to drink lukewarm water on empty stomach when waking up, before having. breakfast. You become aware with yoga and this awareness together with keeping a practice of a clean diet and self love will make you understand with high sensitivity any imbalance in your body.
Get to know yourself, and your Dosha. We are all made of the ﬁve elements that make the universe - ether, air, ﬁre, water and earth. Earth and Water make Kapha, Fire makes Pitta and air makes Vata. These are the Doshas. With the help of Ayurveda you will be able to understand which is your dosha and subsequent need to balance out with either Kapha, Pitta or Vata asanas and also which foods to favour, which to avoid, in which form (cooked or raw), in which seasons, time of the day and so on.
You will beneﬁt spiritually from the understanding of the Trigunas or universal energies or qualities that have always been present in the world. Sattva (goodness, harmony and balance), Rajas (activity, passion, can become negative or positive according to which other energy it binds to), and Tamas (destruction, chaos, darkness, negative). From people personality to food, all shows these gunas. As an aspiring yogi that seeks balance in mind, body and spirit, you will favour a sattvic food and sattvic peaceful attitude towards yourself and others by following the eightfold path.
Always favour ingredients that are natural and unprocessed, and use ghee as natural fat for cooking, as well as coconut oil for the skin instead of chemical artiﬁcial creams. Go buy from farmers local fresh produce from the place you are living at the moment, for the sake of the environment and the energy which is inside of that food which will nourish and heal or poison your body.
In conclusion, you are one with the Universe and You are Divine. This is a quintessential truth and it is inherent in your soul, and by following the path of yoga in a holistic way of harmony and uniﬁcation you will integrate body, mind and spirit.
To put it in the simple words of Swami Sivananda Saraswati of Rishikesh, yoga is an "integration between head, heart and hand".
About the author:
Manuela from Italy, completed her advanced 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training in Rishikesh, India in May 2018.
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