Posts Tagged With: balance

Gentle is The New Advanced

What is advanced yoga nowadays? Being able do the most challenging yoga poses? For me an advanced yogi is characterized by its attitude towards life, his ability to calm down his mind, his trust in life and by breathing consciously among others. And the same time I love to challenge myself (and my students) and learn new yoga poses. It is about balance.

The following Sneak Preview of J Brown shows beautifully how advanced yoga can look like without shying away people who are new to yoga and keen to take it up;

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Gunas, balance and stress

Three Gunas

According to Ayurveda and yoga philosophy, all living entities are made up and act under the influence of three qualities, known as gunas. These gunas make up nature and creation. Guna literally translated means rope or attitude. It is a subtle material quality which binds the spiritual consciousness to the material body. The three gunas can be used as a journey towards Samadhi. The three gunas are defined as:

  • Sattva
  • Rajas
  • Tamas

Tamas

Tamas involves inertia, darkness, dullness, ignorance, laziness, indifference and stagnation. Tamasic persons are living in the lowest guna, basically experience misery without fully realising it. A person steeped in tamas lives a dull, inactive life with hardly any response to the world. Tamas emerges after 6 pm. Indulgence in intoxicants, sex and gambling is therefore most prominent during night-time.

Rajas

Rajas includes selfish activity, passion, desire, energy, movement and change. Rajas is the energy which seeks to accomplish, achieve or create. It is seen in people that are chasing materialistic or egocentric dreams. Rajas finds expression during the course of the day between 6 am and 6 pm. Therefore people are the most active during daytime.

Sattva

Sattva means ‘pure essence’ and represents the well-balanced and meditative aspect. Sattva involves truth, goodness, purity, steadiness. Yoga in itself is a satvvic activity. A sattvic person is poised, mature and detached from worldly involvement and excitement. Sattva manifest early in the morning between 4am and 6am, the best time to practice yoga. Rajas and tamas lie dormant during that period. For this reason a sattvik person wakes up early. A rajasik person wakes up late and a tamasik has to be virtually pulled out of bed.

Journey

Every individual possesses all three gunas and can be more or less dominated by one of the three gunas. The role of a human during lifetime is to gradually rise from tamas to rajas to sattva and reach enlightenment. When consciousness is completely refined the gunas become quiet and return back to their source: nature. You are completely free from the gunas and see everything as one.

Ayurvedic cooking

An important way to regulate the gunas in body and mind is through ayurvedic cooking. For most people who lead a busy life and are also developing spiritually, a diet that consists of mainly Sattvic food in combination with smaller proportion of Rajasic food is recommended. If you do heavy physical work, more rajastic food in addition to sattvic food is ideal. Tamasic food is better avoided.

food-art-6

Sattvic food

Sattvic food is pure, wholesome, and vital and the most suitable for any student of Yoga. It nourishes the body and promotes spiritual growth. It calms and purifies the mind, enabling it to function at its maximum potential and will lead to true health: a peaceful mind in control of a fit body, with a balanced flow of energy between them. The mind is as alert after a meal of sattvic food as it was before the food was eaten. Sattvic food nourish the body without taxing the digestive tract. They are fresh, juicy, light, nourishing, sweet and tasty.

Sattvic food includes: dried and fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, pure fruit juices, cereals, wholesome bread, milk, ghee, butter and cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, honey, salads and fresh herbs, including herbal teas.

Rajastic food

Rajastic food is mostly very hot, bitter, sour, dry or salty food and stimulating. It effects the mind-body balance. Too much rajastic food can over-stimulate the body and excite the passions. It can makes the mind restless and uncontrollable. Rajasic foods stimulate desire or nervous energy.

Rajastic foods includes: hot substances, such as sharp spices or strong herbs, fish, salt, chocolate, unions, red meat, high protein food, garlic, onions, ‘fast foods’, snacks, coffee and tea. Eating in hurry is also considered rajastic.

Tamasic food

A tamastic diet benefits neither the mind nor the body. Prana, or the vital life energy is withdrawn, powers of reasoning become clouded and a sense of inertia sets in. The body’s resistance to disease is destroyed and the mind will be filled with emotions such as anger and greed. After eating meals which are largely tamasic in nature, the mind becomes dull and sluggish. Tamasic foods require large amount of energy while being digested. They are old, dry, distasteful and decaying and create heaviness and drowsiness.

Tamasic foods includes: alcohol, tobacco, eggs, drugs, meat, strongly processed foods, stale and overripe substances and overcooked and fried food. Overeating is also considered tamastic.

Final note

Above all, I would recommend listening to your body’s signals and eat mindful. I would say that your mind set is almost more important than the actually food on your plate. Some say that if you have arrived in the final limb – Samadhi – also known as Enlightenment, it doesn’t matter at all what you eat. You can eat perfectly healthy sattvic food, but with a tamasic mind set. And the other hand you could consume a tamastic diet, but with a sattvic mind set. Is one better than the other? Balance is my keyword. And a reminder: stress is related to 99% of all disease. So relax!

balance

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Yoga is about…..

Yoga is about

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Rest versus Activity

What is your personal favourite; a strong and fast-paced or a more gentle practice? I’m quite drawn to a strong, challenging practice. If I’m challenged, a strong focus is required and my mind doesn’t have a chance to interfere. At the same time, I’m easily stressed and rushing to my daily activities. A fast-paced practice stimulates my sympathetic nervous system – also called the ‘fight or flight’ response – even more. I’m more in need of input from the parasympathetic nervous system, associated with relaxation, nourishment and renewal. The parasympathetic system functions in opposition to the sympathetic system. The parasympathetic system is consistently active at a low level and levels of activity increase when it is necessary to bring the body back to a balanced state from a state of elevated sympathetic activity. If the parasympathetic system is active, it slows down heart rate, dilates blood vessels, activates digestion and stores energy.

In the end, it is all about balance: yin & yang, the feminine & the masculine, activity & rest, sthira & sukha. So rather, I need to learn to listen to my body carefully. What style of yoga is serving me at the moment? Am I kind to my body? Naturally, I include quite a lot of sthira or effort in my yoga practice and in my everyday life. Habitually I try and work hard to reach my goals and lack trust in life. Slowly I’m integrating more peace, stillness and rest in my life. For sure I’m forever learning to be more patient and enjoy my journey.

A wonderful nourishing yoga pose

A wonderful nourishing yoga pose

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In between Outbursts of Happiness and Emotional Hangovers

Loving Happiness

Loving Happiness

Welcome in my crazy ever-changing world. Lately I have moments I’m feeling overwhelmed by happiness. I cannot remove that smile from my face and feel so unbelievable grateful for my life and myself. There is not a clear reason why this state of happiness suddenly arises. It just is and I let it be.

And then, the next moment my world starts to tumble and I arrive in a negative dark world. It feels like I’m kicked off the top of the mountain back into the valley. I’m an expert in crying and can do that for a couple of hours with some dry breaks in between (I should look for the Guinness World of Records for crying one day). After a while my head starts to ache and feels heavy because of all the tears. I go to bed with this heavy head of mine and wake up with the feeling of a hangover. Often, there is a clear happening that brings me into this sad place. Afterwards, I often feel ashamed; why have I made such a big drama of most often something little. I feel sorry for my partner who I pulled into the drama with me.

Crying is good?!

Crying is good?!

While in Africa, I had my crying moments as well. There I learned it is not acceptable to cry unless someone died or your house burnt down. It is a sign of a weak person. I agree there are many persons who have way more reasons to cry compared with my Western comfortable life. Though, I don’t think it is a necessary a bad thing to do; it is an outlet of your emotions, what is natural – just have a look at children to confirm that.

For sure, I’ll never be that super emotionally stable person, but always will continue to experience ups and downs. That is all right and I can live with that. My personal learning curve at the moment is to balance my life a bit more – including my emotions.  I’ll make the same mistakes over and over again, till I learn and grow. With hindsight, I’m grateful for the confrontations life faces me with. It allows me to develop myself and get to know myself more and more. I feel grateful for all the gurus who appear into my life in the most unexpected circumstances and appearances and who provide me with the most inspiring advice and comments.

There is so much to be grateful for and happy about. Let’s bow our heads and smile.

Enjoy your smile

Enjoy your smile

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The Sahasrara Chakra

The seventh and last chakra is the Sahasrara chakra or the ‘crown chakra’. This chakra resides at the crown of the head and connects you to higher consciousness and pure awareness. The Sanskrit word Sahasrara means ‘thousand fold’ and therefore this chakra is also known as ‘Thousand Petaled Lotus’. This lotus burst open when you remember your true nature and experience enlightenment. The crown chakra is the foundation of your spiritual body and links you to the highest spiritual consciousness. This chakra relates to spiritual will, inspiration, idealism and intuitive knowing. It is about integrating your consciousness and subconsciousness and living in the NOW. The associated glands and body parts are the pineal gland, brain and central nervous system. The element of the seventh chakra is thought or cosmic consciousness. This cosmic consciousness can feel like an ultimate intelligence and a sense of all knowing. The associated colour can be violet or white, a combination of all colours. This is in line with the chakra as an integration center of all the other chakras.

A white lotus, the symbol of the crown chakra

A white lotus, the symbol of the crown chakra

A blocked Sahasrara chakra

A blocked crown chakra can result in the following physical and mental problems: diseases of the muscular system, skeletal system and the skin, depression, chronic exhaustion, headaches, coordination difficulties, poor balance and clumsiness, sensitivity to light, sound or the environment. Emotional issues related to an out of balance seventh chakra can be; lack of purpose, loss of meaning or identity, trust, selflessness, lack of devotion, inspiration, values or ethics. If you have a closed crown chakra, it is highly likely that you are unable to live in the present and unable to gain closure on unfinished business. You always seem to be either revisiting your past or looking ahead to the future. You are normally confused and have no purpose in life. You may live on poor quality food, exhaust yourself and are probably ignoring your bodily needs. Fear of religion or spirituality and frustration can also be experienced. There is little joy in your life and you are afraid of things that cannot be understood with the physical senses. It can lead to unwise decisions, unhappiness and a sense of indecision. You can feel alone and separate and feel cut off from spirituality. An excessiveness in the seventh chakra can appear as being overly intellectual and feeling superior to other human beings. It can be described as ‘being in your head’ and you may possibly show some hysterical, psychotic and/or manic-depressive behaviour.

In the Here and Now

In the Here and Now

Yoga and other stimulants

There are different ways to balance your crown chakra for example through prayer, (chakra) meditation or colour and sound therapy. The Tibetan Bowl creates sounds that can help you to achieve a balanced seventh chakra. In terms of nature, viewing mountain tops can be helpful. Supporting yoga poses to balance this chakra are Padmasana (Lotus Pose), Salamba Sirsasana (Supported headstand) and all meditation poses. Since meditation is the yogic practice for this chakra, it clears and quiets the mind and connects you with the higher self. A daily head massage is also a good method towards balance of the crown chakra. In addition, you could focus on your dreams and write down your visions. You could also consume violet foods and drinks, wear violet clothing and use violet oils such as lavender or jasmine essential oils. Foods that can help to open up the seventh chakra are foods that generate space, for example raw green veggie juices. Moderate fasting can also activate the seventh chakra. One of the most important elements of physical, emotional and spiritual health is being inspired by your own life and live in the present moment.

Tibetan Singing bowls

Tibetan singing bowls

Balanced crown chakra

If your crown chakra is balanced, you are released from ego driven desires and you are able to trust in your highest guidance. Your sense of empathy and unity expands and your consciousness raises. You can experience another person, place or object as if you are inside of them or as if you are ‘being’ them. You will have wisdom, trust, selflessness, humanitarianism and the ability to see the bigger picture in a spiritual life. You feel calm, deeply at ease and fully aware with a gentle and compassion nature, free of worry. You show the ultimate goal of every human being: inner peace and satisfaction. You are truly in the present moment, living in the ‘Here and Now’. You reach a state of ‘being’, rather than a state of ‘doing’. There is no longer a sense of division, the macrocosm becomes the microcosm and all is in unity and you are in optimum balance. Compassion is the main sense that develops if you crown chakra opens. This ‘crown compassion’ is more about perception and communication, compared to ‘heart compassion’ which is more about emotions and empathy.

Union or Yoga

If all your energy centers are open and balanced, all selfish desires disappear. You are grounded, grateful, peaceful and visionary. By opening your crown chakra, you have reached the highest state of consciousness. Through firm grounding into the earth (first chakra), opening up your creative energy (second chakra), manifesting your dreams in the world (third chakra), opening your heart (fourth chakra), expressing your true voice (fifth chakra) and connecting with your inner knowing (sixth chakra), you are finally experiencing total unification or yoga by activating the seventh chakra.

Compassionate communication with lightness

Compassionate communication from the heart and with lightness

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Yoga Inversions and Menstruation: Yes or No?

The other day I had a discussion on whether to invert or not while having your period. Opinions about this subject vary widely. On the extreme ends you have people who say you don’t need to change your yoga practice at all while menstruating and others say you should not do any yoga except for some gentle restorative yoga poses while menstruating. If I’ve my period I usually practice inversions like headstand and shoulder stand. I think your body should be your guide, since every woman has different experiences. For sure it is a controversial issue. Most yoga teachers always offer other options, if you don’t feel like doing inversions, because you’re having your period or for any other reason. A lot of women choose not to invert while menstruating, because the blood flow can be interrupted or disturbed. I think it is important to honour your body, for example you should give yourself permission to take it easy if you are experiencing  discomfort such as low energy level, pain, mood swings, fatigue, bloating and irritability.

Turning inward

Naturally, menstruation is a time to look within and explore. Women have an increased awareness and sensitivity during this period. Therefore, existing problems and issues in your life can affect you more strongly. Your period is a time to nurture and heal your body and mind. The menstrual cycle is also very delicate and easily affected by stress, travel, diet changes and emotional issues. My menstrual period started irregular, but when I was living in Senegal for three months my period became regular to my surprise. During my stay in Senegal, I felt relaxed, enjoyed the lovely weather and was eating fish regularly. The state of your menstrual cycle is a reflection of the state of your physical and mental health. Your mind can have a great impact on your cycle as well. Therefore it can be helpful to include meditation and reflection into your practice.

Inversions

Certain asanas are said to be avoided during menstruation, especially inversions or any asana that makes the uterus upside down. Once again, my opinion is that every woman needs to decide for herself, since we all have such different experiences. The reasoning is that if you practice inversions one type of prana, known as apana, which normally flows in the downward direction from the manipur chakra (navel centre) to mooladhar chakra (cervix) is reversed. This can be useful to increase the prana in the body and to help awaken the kundalini energy. Though, if you’re menstruating it goes against the natural flow and in some women this can stop or disturb the menstruation. Another reason for not practicing inversions during your period is that the uterus is pulled towards the head and causes the broad ligaments to be over stretched. This can cause partial collapse of the veins and leaving open arteries to continue pumping blood. This can lead to vascular congestion and increased menstrual bleeding.

Powerful asanas

Besides inversions, strong asanas in particular strong backbends, twists, arm balances and standing positions that put a lot of stress on the abdominal and pelvic region should be avoided. Also, because these positions need more physical strength and exertion which can be lacking during your period and can be depleted further by intense practice. Bandhas should be avoided for similar reasons. In the end, it is all about listening to your body and accepting that menstruation is a time of introversion, acceptance and balance. If you decide to practice yoga while on your period, do not push or strain and instead do some more gentle poses, but hold them a little longer.

Yoga for menstrual discomfort

Gentle yoga poses can actually alleviate the painful symptoms of your period. The following asanas are great choices if you’re experiencing menstrual cramps and bloating:

  • Bhadrasana or butterfly pose
  • (Ardha) Paschimottanasana or (half) seated forward bend
  • Marjariasana or cat pose
  • Pavanamuktasana or the wind relieving pose
  • Viparita Karani or legs-up-the-wall pose
  • Vajrasana or diamond pose
  • Savasana or corpse pose

A gentle restorative yoga practice can ease away any period or back pain, balance the emotions – mood swings, anxiety, anger, depression, irritability and gentle open the pelvic region, relieving any congestion. Other techniques such as pranayama, yoga nidra and meditation can be very beneficial. In general, it is recommended to practice positions that allow one to become more grounded, to alleviate any emotional disturbances and to gain inner strength. Or any poses that relax and lengthen the abdomen, since they are great for menstrual cramps. It is not the best idea to spend a long time in child’s pose, contrary to most women’s urge to curl up into fetal position while experiencing cramps. Since the already tense muscles tend to stay tight in child’s pose.

 

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Flying Yoga

Acro yoga has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years. It blends  together elements of yoga, acrobatics and Thai massage. Thereby it combines the spiritual wisdom of yoga, the dynamic and playful energy of acrobatics and the loving kindness of Thai massage. Through the practice of Acro yoga you develop trust, connection and playfulness between you and your partner. The essence is to be in the here and now and in balance with each other. Acro yoga is suitable for people from all levels and ages, from beginner to advanced students.

There are three main roles in an Acro yoga practise: base, flyer and spotter. The base represents stability and grounding and is the individual who has the most points of contact with the ground. Most of the time this person is lying on the ground with the entire back torso in full contact. The main points of contact with the flyer are the feet, generally placed on the flyer’s hips. The flyer is the person who is elevated off the ground by the base and represents freedom and dynamic balance. A flyer needs balance, confidence and core strength. The spotter basically ‘spots’ the flyer to make sure the flyer lands safely. The spotter also supports the base and the flyer by making recommendations to improve alignment. The spotter represents safety and guidance. An Acro yoga workshop usually begins by building mutual trust through an opening circle and several yoga postures as a warm-up. The main part of the workshop will be the flying poses and for the more advanced students acrobatic flow. The workshop ends with the exchange of (Thai) massage.

The flying poses may look spectacular, yet they are mainly tools to let underlying themes appear. The unique playfulness of Acro yoga supports you to step out your comfort zone and build up trust and connection with others. Most styles of yoga are quite individual and focused on turning inwards. The meaning of yoga is to unite, to connect and to realize we are all one. In an increasingly digital world the desire for personal connections can be even stronger. This can explain the popularity and creation of Acro yoga. For me, Acro yoga is a beautiful way to interact with other yoga practitioners and to feel and experience my interconnectedness with other people. The practice of Acro yoga can stretch your body more deeply and in a different way, compared to a solitary yoga practise. It is a safe and fun way to meet new people and cooperate with others. Imagine how the world would change if everybody would practise Acro yoga on a sunny day at the beach? I guess it would be a fun and playful world to be in. Get out and play!

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Yoga of Awareness

Kundalini yoga is an ancient and unique form of yoga and is also called the yoga of awareness. It is the most spiritual type of yoga I have practised. It is brought to the West in 1969 by Yogi Bhajan. The focus is primarily on expansion of self-awareness and realizing your true potential. Kundalini literally means ‘the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved’. This metaphor refers to the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within each of us and enables us to become one with the infinite consciousness. In other words, Kundalini is the untapped energy or prana at the base of the spine that can be pulled up through the body and awake each of the seven chakras. When this prana reaches the crown chakra at the top of your head, enlightenment occurs. However, for most of us, this potent energy lies dormant at the base of your spine. Through the practice of Kundalini yoga, you can release this energy by breaking through emotional blocks, energy imbalances and addictive behaviour. For this reason Kundalini yoga can be highly transformative, since it releases held issues whether body or mind.

Each Kundalini class typically includes six major components: mantras, pranayama and/or warm-up, kriya, relaxation, meditation and closing with a song. The class starts with a short chant followed by a warm-up to stretch the spine and improve flexibility. The main part of the class is called a kriya. This is a complete set of exercises including pranayama that focuses on a precise area of the body. The kriyas are precise and bring the body and mind to a state where deep meditation is easily achieved. The goal of a kriya could be clearing the heart chakra or increasing spinal flexibility for example. There are hundreds of kriyas and therefore no class will be the same. The class ends with a meditation and song. Most Kundalini teachers and devotees wear white clothes and wrap their heads with a white turban or other head covering. The white clothing is worn to support both the body’s energetic field or aura and the nervous system functions. The white headband is believed to protect the crown chakra and improve the experience of meditation.

Since the emphasis is on breathing, meditation, mudras (hand gestures) and chanting, a Kundalini class could be intense and odd for newcomers. The breath and movement are often very dynamic and will be unfamiliar to more conventional Hatha yoga practitioners. Though, the use of mantras could support you if you are new to meditation and find silence challenging. Mantra meditation can result in clarity, balance and equanimity. This type of yoga appeals to you if you are up for both mental and physical challenges. I have tried different Kundalini yoga classes and I always love the use of mantras and sounds, because it supports me with the transition from a busy work day to a quiet yoga practice. I am quite used to physical challenges, but Kundalini yoga provides me with a whole new kind of challenge. The combination of specific pranayama techniques and asanas requires me to be focused and attentive. After practising some more physically focused forms of yoga, I felt at ease to spend time and energy to develop myself spiritually as well. My first steps in the world of Kundalini yoga were quite magical experiences; it brought me to stillness and peace, my true self.

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Western World Yoga

In the western world, Hatha yoga is one of the most commonly practiced form of yoga. It is also called the Yoga of Postures, since it is mainly focused on asana and pranayama, the third and the fourth limb of yoga. Hatha yoga is described by Yogi Swatmarama, a Hindu sage of 15th century India. ‘Ha’ means sun and ‘tha’ means moon. Therefore Hatha yoga is commonly translated as uniting opposites and creating balance. It refers to creating balance between opposites such as female and male (energies) or hot and cold. Another common translation of Hatha is forceful or willful, since it requires a lot of physical efforts. A reasonable amount of time is spent in the poses to discover correct alignment and develop strength and flexibility. Patanjali defines asana as ‘a posture which can be hold for a certain amount of time’. Since you spend some time in each pose, the challenge is to focus on the posture, stay attentive and surrender to the moment. In this way body and mind are connected and becoming more balanced.

Hatha yoga is perfectly suitable for beginners, since it generally is a slow-paced stretching class with gentle basic poses with no flow in between the asanas. It is a perfect way to increase your feelings of health and wellbeing and get used to asana, meditation, breathing and relaxing techniques. My introduction to yoga started off with Hatha yoga as well. For me it was a perfect way to get used to different postures, learn to sit still and observe my mind and especially learn to relax. During my first experiences in savasana or corpse pose I felt restless. While other yoga practitioners around me were almost sound asleep, I became aware of my overactive mind; thoughts and feelings where all over the place. I realized how much I was used to comparing myself with others all the time. How easily I judge myself and others. For sure my initial steps in the world of yoga, were not always smooth, joyful and peaceful. Yoga has taught me to be real and to start accepting myself just the way I am. Yoga not only connects my body, mind and spirit, it also provides me with feelings of connectedness with other people.

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