Ashtanga, Ahimsa & Asana

ASHTANGA

The general yogic term ashtanga literally means ‘eight limbs’. All yoga styles follow the eight limbs set out by Patanjali¹, author of the Yoga Sutras¹. He named the eight limbs of yoga as follows: Yama = ethical disciplines; Niyama = self observation; Asana = posture; Pranayama = breath control; Pratyahara = sense withdrawal; Dharana = concentration; Dhyana = meditation; Samadhi = a state of joy and peace

There is a style of yoga called ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ which is a dynamic form of yoga founded by K. Pattabhi Jois consisting of set sequences which are grouped into series. The whole style integrates vinyasa – which literally means movement between poses accompanied by regulated breathing (ujjayi breath).

AHIMSA

Ahimsa is one of the ethical disciplines of yoga. It is the first principle of the Yamas and as such is the first principle of yoga. It translates as ‘non-harm’. This principle of non-harming is to be applied to the body as well as everything in life. In terms of the body it means that it is important to be aware of the body when practising the yoga postures and to modify the poses and practices based on the individual’s particular needs and any underlying health conditions. Everyone can practice yoga from the youngest to the oldest but because every body is different it is necessary to engage with ahimsa to ensure safe practice. When practising yoga it is worth remembering the ethical guideline of ahimsa:

  1. The whole ethos of yoga is about self-exploration which means that there should never be an emphasis on doing a posture perfectly or competing with yourself or others.
  2. As our bodies are all different shapes and sizes with genetics giving us varying lengths of bones, etc., not all yoga poses will be accessible and therefore modifications will be necessary.
  3. Don’t do anything that hurts or increases pain. STOP what you are doing at once.
  4. Be aware of how your body is responding to a posture.
  5. If you are injured or have had an operation, give yourself time to heal before re-starting your yoga practice.
  6. The secret to ahimsa in yoga practice is tuning in and listening to body, mind and spirit and not acting in any way that can cause harm.

ASANA

Asana, is the third limb of yoga and in Sanskrit it literally means ‘posture’. The quality of the posture is also established in the meaning of the word. A yoga posture is intended to bring steadiness to the body and calmness to the mind.

In the ancient yogic texts Patanjali describes ‘asana’ as follows:

Posture (asana) is to be seated in a position which is firm but relaxed.

Chapter 2 Sutra 46 The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali¹

Not all yoga postures are seated but still the aim of all yoga postures is to get oneself into a state of mind for stillness and meditation. Any yoga posture should allow for the free flow of energy and vitality throughout the body without restriction from tension and other obstacles of the mind and body. Ultimately the body and mind should be so stress-free that the yogi can meditate.

The postures or asanas we all know have many shapes and include standing, sitting and lying poses. There are forward bends, backbends, side bends, inversions, twists and balances.

In the explanation of Patanjali’s sutra 2:46 Prabhavananda & Isherwood¹ state: ‘Asana means two things: the place on which the yogi sits, and the manner in which he sits there.’¹

All of the postures or poses we all know are leading towards the ultimate sitting posture in stillness with an erect spine – steady and calm with our focus on the infinite.

Posture becomes firm and relaxed through control of the natural tendencies of the body, and through meditation on the infinite.

Chapter 2 Sutra 47 The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali¹

Bibliography

1 Prabhavananda, Swami and Christopher Isherwood. (1969) How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. New York: New American Library (translation and commentary). pp.159-161

This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.

Blogging books

As a newbie blogger three months ago I needed some help setting up a blog even though I had recent experience in digital publishing working in a publishing house. Looking around the numerous blogging books available the three publications I have found most useful are listed below. If any of you awesome bloggers know of any recent books or even blog sites to recommend regarding blogging advice I would love to hear from you.

  • Houghton, Robin (2015), The Golden Rules of Blogging (and when to break them), ILEX PRESS
  • Sabin-Wilson, Lisa (2017), WordPress for dummies, 8th Edition, for dummies®️A Wiley Brand
  • Williams, Richard N. (2014, How to blog made easy, FLAME TREE PUBLISHING

I still have much to learn about blogging. The journey is both enlightening and fascinating. By just throwing myself into it I have probably learned more than reading all the books though.

The above three titles are great reference books on a bloggers shelf (a digital shelf perhaps!). I could have written full book reviews on these books but given the dates of publication I thought they’d probably been through the reviewing mill so I have just listed the books for your reference.

Thanks to all those bloggers who have liked posts during my baby steps into the blogosphere. I am stunned at the boundless creativity out there and enjoy exploring other people’s blogs. Blog on …

What is synchronicity?

Synchronicity means ‘the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection’. The origin of this word was coined in the 1950s by Carl Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychologist who collaborated with Sigmund Freud in developing the psychoanalytic theory of personality. He later disassociated from Freud as he found Freud’s focus on sexuality masked the true nature of a human being.

Here is a simple true-life story that illustrates synchronicity well.

I hadn’t seen my yoga teacher, now in her 70s, for some time. I wondered if she was still teaching. Over the last weekend she was very much on my mind and I thought about contacting her. I had made no move to do so for months. My attitude being let it happen when the time is right.

Earlier this week I had just finished teaching the morning classes. Time for lunch and maybe a visit to a garden centre on the way home. In my pocket I had a note with the name of a plant I wanted to buy: ERIGERON.

Pushing a trolley with a squeaky wheel I trawled round the alphabet and eventually I came to the letter E. No sign of ERIGERON. Odd. I thought it would be popular. I had seen it in Cornwall sprawling across walls like a small voluptuous daisy in several hues of pink and white.

Erigeron in Cornwall © Sanandi-jacq

Giving up on the plant-whose-name-I-couldn’t-pronounce I looked for other plant orphans that might like a home. Whilst moving up and down the aisles adoring plants and wanting to give them all a home, I noticed a familiar couple in front of me. Believe it or not – it was my yoga teacher and her husband also seeking plants! What a happy coincidence!

Delighted at the thought of a reunion I jumped out in front of her (later thinking that was not a wise move). Though a little stunned she was equally pleased to see me again after a year. ‘Well. Well. Fancy seeing you. I thought you had moved on again’.

We exchanged pleasantries and updates on status. I asked her what plants she was seeking.

‘A daisy-like plant with an unpronounceable name,’ She said and took a slip of paper from her handbag.

And there it was in black and white – ERIGERON.

I pulled out my note. ‘SNAP! The very same plant I’m after. What are the chances of that!’

Well, if that doesn’t illustrate the idea of synchronicity … .

Can you recall any tales of synchronicity in your life? What explanation would you give for such events?

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Postscript: The nursery didn’t have the plant. We said we’d phone the other if we found a nursery that did. Let’s hope that is some time soon.

Cat, teeth, car

Some days everything seems to go awry. But somehow in the chaos we are shifted out of the status quo and our daily habits. For a while we experience life afresh. New patterns are formed. Received wisdom is questioned.

Take yesterday. A fairly ordinary working day except I had a dentist appointment in the afternoon. The morning proceeded more or less as planned. I had fewer students in my yoga classes but that was accounted for. It is summer after all and people need a break.

Things started to go awry just as I was leaving the morning classes. As I turned out onto the main road from the teaching venue I nearly ran over a tabby cat. I was going at the statutory 30 miles an hour maybe less. A blur of grey and black fur dashed just in front of my wheels and a red collar was the echoing memory. No swerving yet I was observant enough to know I was within inches of inadvertently killing a beloved pet. Running over a pet cat would have crucified my day. But no, I was let off that drama. The cat lived another of its nine lives.

Nearing home I crossed the mini roundabout in a slightly skewed fashion and hit the curb on the other side (rare event!) but continued on relatively unscathed except for my driving pride. Just a little bump. My steering was not as steady as usual my intuition sensed but my rational mind thought no more about it. My stomach was calling for lunch. Body wins over mind.

Salad lunch alfresco with my partner and cat was a pleasant interlude before facing the dentist’s chair. I allowed myself to fully enjoy the present moment to allay the fears of the future encounter with the dentist. Then to the bathroom to diligently circle the electronic toothbrush from tooth to tooth easing out any green flotsam. Funny how obsessively we can clean our teeth if we know they are going to be inspected. Being such a hot day I also had a shower so I could grace the dentist with a pristine presence!

At 2pm with plenty of time to spare, as I hate being late for anything especially appointments and meetings, I got into the car and backed out of the driveway. Thud. Thud. Thud. What the XYZ was that! My partner stuck his head out of the study window and pointed at a car tyre. Dead flat front passenger tyre. What the XYZ am I going to do now?

All yogic calm disappeared for a fraction of a second. Scenarios ran through my head. Can’t get to the dentist. Oh no. Can’t teach tonight. Call the breakdown company. They take an age. But the dentist is waiting … . Present moment awareness kicks in suddenly. Strategic scheming. Partner can give me a lift. At that moment he came out and offered me said lift. Initial issue resolved.

Dentist’s chair. No anaesthetic. Routine cleaning job but boy was it uncomfortable until I let my mind wander over what I was going to do when I left the dentist. I tuned out of the present moment and was in future planning mode. It was only later that I reflected on my yogic training about being in the present moment. In the dentist’s chair the last place I wanted to be was the present moment focussing on every minute stimulus of my gums being poked! My mind was better off in the past or future. What a revelation! It made me think about the importance of questioning received wisdom. Always be in the present moment? Bullshit! What am I missing here? That’s for some guru to explain to me in minimalist language.

Something had shifted in my mind. A questioning.

I had to wait at a bus stop to get home from the dentist’s. It had been years since I had waited at a bus stop. So used to driving a car. There had been a time in my youth where I was anti cars and only took public transport in three different cities – London, Milan and Rome. All great fun and here I was, several decades later, having to use my initiative on the public transport and feeling all at a loss.

Found a bus stop. No good. Destination not featured. Continued to next bus stop. A whole range of buses. Chose the bus I thought was right but realised later, when the bus didn’t materialise at the allotted time, that it only ran at the weekend. Re-scanned the timetables and a few minutes later I was sure I had the right bus. 310 seemed to be the most frequent and had an abbreviation next to it which meant ‘school’. And wonders of wonders it happened to be coming imminently and if I missed that there were several close on its tail. Jackpot! Three in a row.

On a bus. Surprised at the price of £4 for single trip destination. But then I am behind the times and prices have inflated greatly. Up to the top deck. Wandering round the countryside it would seem. At first I felt annoyed then relaxed into the present moment. Marvellous. I get a chance to look inside people’s gardens and houses from the top deck. Wow! This is fabulous. I am seeing these towns and villages from a new angle and perspective. Time has slowed down. I am not focussing on driving. I can observe the countryside and the gardens and neighbourhoods from on high. Time has definitely slowed down. I would have been so lulled into the present moment but an urgency gripped my mind that I needed to get that flat tyre sorted and that meant contacting the breakdown company (which will remain nameless but they are wonderful and over the last few years have helped me and my old car out of many a scrape). FLASH. BING. What kind of a present moment was I in now?

Was I in the present moment of the lulling quality of a bus meandering from town to village to town? Ot was I in the present moment of the emergency of getting a tyre fixed so I could teach another yoga class in the evening?

What does living in the present moment actually mean?

Tree stump creature

Tree stump that takes the shape of a supplicating creature made me stop in my tracks the other day. It seems normal for us to seek out the features of faces all around us.The psychology of survival perhaps. Does anyone else see the same creature looking up towards the sky?

Seeing creatures in tree stumps © Sanandi-jacq