Yoga is a philosophy of life; Yoga is also an ancient form of exercise that originated in India over 5,000 years ago to prepare the body for sitting still in meditation; Yoga combines focus on the breath with a series of movements (postures) in a moving mediation that can be tailored to suit you. These postures build strength and flexibility throughout the entire body and have vast benefits for the physical and mental health.
You will find out the benefits for yourself, but here’s what to expect! You will:
- Be more calm and tranquil: focussing on the breath and staying in the present calms the nervous system and promotes well being
- Build strength and endurance in both body and mind
- Become more flexible
- Increase your energy levels and boost your immune system
- Develop more compassion and patience; the focus on the breath allows us to be more mindful and kind to others, and to ourselves!
- Be curious: Yoga can facilitate a journey of inquiry, of our bodies and minds. It is the perfect opportunity for us to find out who we are, how we work and what our boundaries are. The more curious we become, the more we can learn, grow and transform through our practice.
- Feel more connected to others: We are all connected. Yoga helps us realise this interconnectedness and tuning in to the people around you during a yoga class can create an inspiring group energy that can carry you through even the most challenging postures.
- Become more balanced: Balance means more than being steady while standing on one leg. It is also our approach to life and the choices we make each day. The balancing postures in yoga have a really positive effect on both our internal and external worlds
- Develop better eating habits: Yoga encourages us to listen to our bodies and may start to crave nutritious and wholesome foods that support your well being. And if you’re anything like me and love the (ahem) odd slice of cake, the mindfulness that is cultivated on the mat means you will eat with more awareness and enjoy every bite!
- Have more confidence: Just the act of going to class sends a positive message to your subconscious, you are actively choosing to take time for you and your well being.
We live in a world where stress, anxiety and depression are increasingly common place. The top 3 stress symptoms are trouble sleeping, anger/irritability, fatigue. Short-term escapes from this stress and anxiety can be sources of anxiety in themselves. It is therefore so important to bring stillness and calm to our lives and to look after our health. Yoga and the associated body-mind awareness can help the restless mind to become calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels.
As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals, creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for industry; so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates abundant energy for human uplift.
The steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. Every expert was once a beginner, be kind to yourself and allow the journey to unfold.
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion.
Yoga is one of the 6 orthodox systems of Indian philosophy and was collated, coordinated and systematised by Pantanjali in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the Jīvātmā (human spirit) can be united with Paramātmā (the Universal spirit) and so can secure liberation (moksa).
What is Ashtanga yoga?
Ashtanga yoga is a style of yoga founded by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century which is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. The approach is based on a specialised sequencing of postures and focussed breathing techniques. Ashtanga means eight limbs or branches of a tree. The 8 branches of yoga are:
- Yama : Universal morality
- Niyama : Personal observances
- Asanas : Body postures
- Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
- Pratyahara : Control of the senses
- Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The asana or physical yoga poses is only one branch. This dynamic, physically demanding practice synchronizes breath and movement to produce an internal heat designed to purify the body. Ashtanga yoga, with its many vinyasas, is great for building core strength and toning the body. Prepare to sweat as you briskly move through a set sequence. When practised with regulation and awareness, the tree branches begin to sprout. Practice is the only means of feeding the tree; the founder K.Pattabhi Jois is fond of saying “99% Practice, 1% theory”. It is always better to do a little practice than none at all.
In the Ashtanga Vinyasa system (What is Vinyasa?), asanas are performed in a specific order, which has the effect of ‘unlocking’ the body in an intelligent and scientific way designed to specifically align the body and strengthen the nervous system, each pose preparing the body for ones to come. Each pose has specific health benefits for the practitioner and when combined into a flowing sequence this has the effect of realigning and detoxifying the body and the nervous system as well as developing inner strength, flexibility and improving general health and wellbeing. The ashtanga system consists of six series of poses (the primary series is the first sequence); each series starts with the sun salutations and the standing postures and ends with the finishing postures.
Each practice session is a journey. Endeavour to move with awareness and enjoy the experience. Allow it to unfold as a flower opens. There is no benefit in hurrying. Yoga grows with time. Some days are easy and the mind is calm and the physical body is light and responsive. Other days you may find the mind running wild and the body like wet cement. We must breathe deeply and remain detached. Asanas are not the goal. They are a vehicle to access a deeper internal awareness. Create a practice that best suits your personal needs so that it is something that you look forward to. Yoga is a place of refuge and a soothing balm for the stresses of modern life. Rather than simply moving through the postures, feel that action from deep within. Listen to your breath. Where is the mind? Can you maintain focus and remain calm even when faced with a challenging posture? Enjoy yourself.
Ashtanga Primary Series
Yoga Chikitsa is the Sanksrit name for the primary series and it can be translated as Yoga Therapy. It is a healing process of cleansing and toning for the body, mind and senses. There is an understanding in yoga that there exists within the body a complex network of energy pathways knows as “nadis”. The energy which flows through these channels is a powerful yet unseen force called “prana”, thought to be the underlying source for all life. Along the nadis, obstructions can form which inhibit the free flow of prana. These hindrances are called “granthis” or knots. These knots may arise due to a variety of reasons and their presence may not even be detected until their unravelling. This unravelling process is a result of consistent and regulated practice. The clearing of granthis allows prana a clearer avenue along which to travel and consequently we can function more efficiently; this is the source of the healing aspect of the Primary series.
The first or Primary Series forms the basis for all subsequent series; regardless of which series is being practised (whether it be Primary, Intermediate or Advanced), the asana sequence starts with sun salutations & standing postures and ends with the “finishing sequence”. Although many of the earlier postures in the Primary series are fairly basic in terms of the flexibility and fitness required to perform, the Primary Series is considered by many to be the most demanding of all the series to learn. This is because when we come to it we are all beginners, and like any new practice it takes time and commitment to start to become easier. The Primary Series is also the time in our yogic journey when we have the greatest number of obstacles to overcome. Primarily these obstacles arise out of mental inflexibly; erroneous beliefs about ourselves, others and the world (or God), which inhibit our progress. Most of us will complain that it is our body’s limitations that are the problem throughout the Primary Series, but more often than not rigidity, stiffness and weakness in the body is a mirror of our limited thinking habits.
The postures of the Primary Series focus heavily on the most common afflictions of Western life:
- Physical limitations – Short hamstrings, tight hips, spinal imbalances, poor posture and weak abdominal muscles (core strength)
- Mental limitations – Flagging willpower, lack of mental focus, weak body-mind connection, negative thinking, erroneous beliefs about our lives.
The therapy of yoga chikitsa is that as we progress through Primary Series, practicing the asanas we are able to with dedication and focus, both the mind and the body are softened together. So, not only does the body become stronger and healthier but our limiting thought patterns begin to shift too, making life easier and filled with limitless possibilities and joy.
Ujjayi is a specialised breathing technique which means “Victorious”. This unique form of breathing is performed by creating a soft sound in the back of the throat while inhaling and exhaling through the nose; the slight resistance in the throat creates a well-modulated and soothing sound—something like the sound of the sea. The breath should be both dirga (long) and suksma (smooth). Ujjayi breathing should be both energizing and relaxing. In Yoga, the breath is paramount to the practice. We must learn to listen to our breath, it is the guide which will tell us the quality of our practice. If we apply too much effort the breath will become constricted or forced, with too little focus the breath may be drowned out by the sound of our own thoughts. Maintain awareness upon your breath and every moment becomes a meditation. Practise The Ujjayi breathing technique.
Posture (Sanskrit “Asana”)
Asanas are postures that use the body to provide the weight and counterweight; they have evolved over centuries to exercise every muscle, nerve and gland in the body. Asana brings steadiness, health and lightness in the body. They build strength and flexibility, reduce fatigue and steady nerves but the real advantage lies in the way they train and discipline the mind; a steady and elegant posture produces mental equilibrium and focuses the mind.
Balance, core strength, effortlessness, flow and lightness rests on an efficient use of the body. When you use your body well you release power that is otherwise tied up in inefficient patterns. When you release muscle tension you free physical and mental energy for other actions of your choice. How do you free that? A good use of the body, or healthy alignment, as it is often called, is the key.
To move better, healthier and more efficiently, it is essential to work with a dedicated focus on how to move. It is essential to move from a conscious state rather than a place where what feels normal is considered natural and therefore healthy and efficient. This is because sensation of right and wrong is often simply based on habitual patterns from the past.
Gaze (Sanskrit “Drishti”)
Drishti is a point of gaze or focus, yet it has little to do with our physical sight. Although we may focus on a particular point (e.g. the nose or the toes), the real “looking” is directed internally and the drishti is meant to direct our attention to the subtle aspects of our practice. The dristhti is a device designed to balance our internal and external practice; in Ashtanga there are 9 dristhti points and each asana is assigned a different drishti, which are commonly associated with the direction of the stretch.
Bandhas are a series of internal energy gates within the body which assist in the regulation of pranic flow (life-force, or energy). They can be thought of as valves which work similarly to the valves within circulation system but, instead of blood, they regulate the flow of prana within energy channels known as nadis. When engaging the locks, energy is forced to spread throughout these pathways and prana fills the body. The 3 main bandhas used in Ashtanga are “Uddiyana Bandha” (flying upward), “Mulabandha” (root lock) and “Jalandhara Bandha” (chin lock). See tips for practising bandha
Yoga and mindfulness
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to things as they are. Mindfulness based therapy uses the same techniques that Yoga has encompassed for thousands of years. These techniques include:
Becoming aware – noticing and noticing that you are noticing
Focusing on the present moment
Working with direct experience rather than thinking about experience
Accepting – letting go of the impulse to avoid, control or hold on to thoughts and feelings
Practicing a non-judgmental attitude, especially suspending self-criticism.
Mindfulness is taught through attention and meditation skills which involve bringing attention to the breath and the body during stillness or movement. Similarly, Yoga is a self-practice and centres the awareness on the breath and postures and promotes inward-focus; the practitioner is then bestowed with a peaceful and content state of mind.
We will practice a basic mindfulness meditation each week, which will give you the tools to develop and independent meditation routine. Here is a selection of mindfulness meditations you can practise at home.
What is Vinyasa Flow Yoga?
Our Thursday evening classes are open level Vinyasa flow classes, with a firm foundation in Ashtanga. Often the class will have a particular theme each week e.g. core strength, working on opening the hips, arm balances etc. and this theme will change weekly.
This is sometimes called flow yoga. “Vinyasa” means breath synchronised movement and in this flowing yoga style the postures are linked together in a flowing sequence, accompanied by music. Contrary to Ashtanga which has a set sequence, each Vinyasa flow class will vary in the postures included but will still include a wide range of movements to increase strength and flexibility. The postures are held for varying amounts of breath, rather than the standard 5 breaths like Ashtanga. It can be thought of a kind of freestyle Ashtanga!
Our Vinyasa flow classes are fun and challenging and open to both beginners and the more experienced. Each class will contain varying sequences and poses to keep the body challenged, yet will have enough familiarity to aid progression. Each class is individually sequenced, adapting to the needs of the class and modifications are offered to ensure you can practise safely and choose the best pose to suit you. Remember all postures are optional so if it’s not right for you then skip it…but if you fancy a challenge then join in! Try Yoga Bradford Vinyasa Flow classes online!