Posts Tagged With: stillness

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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The Ajna Chakra

The sixth chakra is the Ajna chakra, but is also known as the ‘brow chakra’ or the ‘third eye’ and is located between the eyebrows. The Sanskrit meaning of Ajna is ‘command, knowledge or monitoring center’. It is the center of insight and also called ‘the eye of intuition’ and it is the place where you integrate all the information and intuition in your life. The qualities of the brow chakra are inspiration, intuition and inner vision. In the Indian philosophy the third eye is the symbol for enlightenment and also referred to as the ‘eye of wisdom’ or the ‘eye of knowledge’. The Ajna chakra has control over seeing, not only in the physical sense, but also in terms of intuitive seeing, clairvoyance and other paranormal forms of knowing. The symbolic representation and the mantra of the Ajna chakra is the syllable Ohm which represents the beginning and end of all things. The associated colour is the indigo which represents self-mastery, spiritual realization and the attainment of wisdom. Light is the element most associated with the sixth chakra, but some say it is time. The gland associated with this chakra is the pituitary and pineal gland. The pituitary gland is often referred to as the ‘master gland’, because it secretes a hormone that controls the activities of the other glands of the body. For example the pituitary gland controls your growth, skin coloring and the contraction of a woman’s uterus during childbirth.

Ajna Chakra

Ajna Chakra

Balance

When it’s open and clear, you feel deeply connected to your inner wisdom, trust and intuition and it guides you in your choices. You’re able to see yourself and others as energetic and spiritual beings and you can create your own reality by using your imagination, freedom of choice and enhanced insight. You can rely on your self-reflection, perception, interpretation, telepathy and past life experiences. An open Ajna chakra results in compassion and forgiveness. This energy center is directly related to mind. If you awaken this chakra, your mind is able to gain information by subtle means, rather than by the experiences felt by the sense organs. In general, you gain knowledge through the information that senses conducts to the brain. Though, the Ajna chakra has the power to gain knowledge directly without the help of sense organs and thereby the mind becomes purified and evolved. This requires discipline, firm belief and persistent effort. It is about understanding how training can change your behaviour to always be open and loving to everyone, not just close friends and family. There is no ego involved, instead our conditioning, habits, false ideas and misidentifications are dissolved as a result of a healthy active Ajna chakra. Notice really extraordinary people and become aware of their humble character. A great way to open and balance the third chakra is through meditation and visualisation. The sixth chakra is all about reconnecting to the wisdom that is available to all of us from within.

Cherish the humble things in life

Cherish the humble things in life

Blocked Ajna chakra

However in most of us, this ‘inner eye’ remains closed. You have a sense of self-doubt and you don’t trust your inner voice. You are convinced that there is not something like a non-material world, since this is beyond your capacity to reach. A blocked Ajna chakra can result in the following physical symptoms; migraine headaches, eye strain, blindness, brain tumors, strokes, learning disabilities, spinal dysfunctions, nightmares, panic attacks, deafness, insomnia, high blood pressure and seizures. Difficulty concentrating, memory problems, fear of truth, confusion, judgment issues, lack of concentration or discipline are also connected to a sixth chakra imbalance. If the energy in your sixth chakra is not flowing freely, you can become quite superstitious and afraid of your own thoughts and everything you can’t explain with logic. You have difficulties making decisions, procrastinate a lot about any plans made and you don’t know what you want. You strive for routine and are vulnerable to developing depression. If you third eye chakra is overactive, you may be unable to be practical in your daily life and irresponsible. You’re not connected or aware of the world and yourself, everything seems to be external and not part of you. There can be a victim mentality; you will blame everything that happens of a negative nature on someone or something outside yourself. Just as the pituitary gland is the ‘master gland’, the Ajna chakra governs all other energy centres. If the sixth chakra is out of balance, all others chakra won’t be perfectly aligned either.

The power of intuition

The power of intuition

Yoga

Postures that support the opening and balancing of the sixth chakra are Balasana (Child’s Pose) or any other posture in which the forehead touches the ground. Other helpful postures are those in which the gazing point or drishti calls for movement of the eyes such as Marichyasana (Sage Twist). Alternate nostril breathing is a supporting pranayama exercise to activate the Ajna chakra. If you are practicing your asana, pranayama or meditation, notice when your mind becomes quiet. This quiet, clear and peaceful space will allow you to experience a glimpse of the possibilities of the Ajna chakra. This chakra can shine an insightful light on your life that you were previously not aware of. You can concentrate and focus and imagine something and bring that idea into reality.

Turn inwards for stillness, peace and clarity

Turn inwards for stillness, peace and clarity

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The Anahata Chakra

The fourth chakra is called the Anahata chakra and is sometimes referred to as the ‘heart chakra’, because it resonates in the heart and relates to compassion and love. Anahata means ‘stillness’ or ‘unhurt’ in Sanskrit. This name implies that deep beneath our personal stories of brokenness and the pain in our heart, wholeness, boundless love and compassion reside. When the fourth chakra is flowing and open, you feel deeply connected to everyone in your life and feelings of compassion arise. This fourth energy center governs intuition and love. Glands, organs or body parts associated with this chakra are the heart, thymus, lungs, chest, arms, circulatory system, shoulders, upper back and breasts. The primary colour is green and the element for the fourth chakra is air. The sense for this chakra is touch and the emotion is compassion and joy.

Anahata Chakra

Anahata Chakra

Center of the Seven

The Anahata chakra is a powerful chakra and is referred to as the center of the seven, since there are three chakras above and three below. The fourth chakra lies in the core of our spirit, the center of the body and is directly connected to the third eye and the crown chakra. This chakra is the balance point, integrating the world of matter (the lower three chakras) with the world of spirit (the upper three chakras). Through the heart chakra you open to and connect with harmony and peace. The health status of this center represents the quality and power of love in your life and it is the seat of balance within the body.

Living in your head

If your heart chakra is obstructed, you can experience feelings of loneliness and a sense of alienation. Other signs if you fourth chakra is out of balance can be; feeling sorry for yourself, paranoid, indecisive, afraid of letting go, afraid of getting hurt or unworthy of love. You may live your life mainly in and with your head and not with the heart, with the result of being overly focused on thought and the tendency to cut yourself off from emotions and your body. Physical illnesses related to a blocked fourth chakra are heart attack, high blood pressure, insomnia, asthma, difficulty in breathing and other lung diseases. If the heart chakra is deficient, you may experience feelings of shyness and loneliness. Since the heart chakra is the center of the being, blocks in this center can throw your entire system out of alignment. It can cause emotional detachment, inability to love or show affection or self hatred and loathing. You are not able to connect with other humans, experience self-love or true happiness and intimacy. A blocked heart chakra can lead to despair, jealousy, hate, unrealistic fear and rage. Our lives and intimate relationships will suffer unless you can find a way to connect with the heart center and achieve healing and harmony. Yoga is a perfect method to achieve this.

Opening backbend

Opening backbend

Yoga

For an excessive heart chakra, forward bends are recommended, because they are grounding and foster introspection. Asanas that enliven the heart chakra include passive chest openers in which you arch gently over a blanket or bolster, shoulder stretches such as Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) and Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and backbends or basically any pose that opens the chest. By practicing backbends you develop trust and surrender and you heart opens fully. If you feel fearful, then there will be no room for love and your body will contract. Love can melt away fear and bring joy to your practice. In addition, in many back bending poses the heart is positioned higher than the head which is wonderful to let the mind drop away from the top position and instead lead with the heart.

Bring joy to your practice

Bring joy to your practice

Pranayama

The element for the fourth chakra is air. This air is essential for life as the breath brings oxygen to your cells via the lungs and the heart muscle then pumps the blood throughout the body and thereby giving and sustaining life. Like the element water, air assumes the shape of whatever it fills, yet it is less subject to gravity than water. Air permeates breath and therefore pranayama practice can help to balance and tone this chakra. Basically all forms of pranayama can assist you to use more air, more prana and thereby increasing your vitality and enthusiasm for life.

Love

The challenge of the heart chakra is to remain open and balanced in a world which can be emotionally painful. This center is the place of unconditional love, forgiveness and utter devotion. The most effective and powerful way to open, energize and balance not just the heart chakra but all of your chakras is to love yourself and others. It sounds so easy: allow yourself to love and show compassion towards others, since love is the greatest healer. Though, it is a challenge and obstacle for most of us. Besides love; heartbreak, grief, pain and fear are all emotions that are felt intensely within this energy center. All of us have to deal with disappointment, greed, conditional love of others and loss from an early age onwards. Therefore a deficient or excessive heart chakra is so common. Definitely, learning self-love is an amazing tool to develop and maintain a healthy heart chakra. Remember, that there is a never-ending supply of love in the universe and there to be used in any moment. You can first start with opening yourself up to love by giving your love to others. Slowly, you can learn to treat yourself with love, patience, compassion and kindness and replace judgments with acceptance. Unconditional love can be a creative and powerful energy that may guide and help you through the most difficult times in your life and you can use it to free yourself from your limits and fears. In addition, if you keep yourself in a loving space, you will have a positive and healing effect on your environment.

The true gifts of life

The true gifts of life

Relationships

The first three chakras are the chakras of the self. The fourth chakra is the energy center of relationships and refers to giving and to receiving. To keep this chakra healthy you need to maintain a balance between giving and receiving and in your relationships. It is good to remind yourself that life without other beings would be empty, dull and worthless. It is the love for your family, friends and other people in your life that keeps you here and keeps you going. You could see life as a celebration and a celebration without your loved ones is not complete, but fruitless and aimless. Also, it is just as important to give as it’s to allow yourself to receive. In order to give love fully, you must allow yourself to receive love fully. You can use this beautiful affirmation:

“I am loved.
There is an infinite supply of love.
I love myself and others.
I love everyone.
I invite love into my life.”

Put your heart into it

The third chakra represents fire, passion and personal power. Though, without air, a fire will burn out. In the same way, without heart, you cannot have true will power. Without this passion supplied by the heart chakra, true transformation is difficult. The saying “put your heart into it”, illustrate this beautifully. As said before, the heart chakra is a powerful energy center, since it is the center of all energies and unifies our being as a whole. An imbalance in the heart chakra will adversely effect all the other centers. Therefore a clearing of the heart chakra will improve the interaction of all other chakras. The more balanced the chakras are, the more balanced you will be in all walks of life. With a healthy heart chakra you will approach all situations with wisdom, love and equanimity and you feel compassionate, empathetic and see the good in everyone. Sounds worthwhile to balance your Anahata chakra, isn’t?

Love in the air

Love in the air

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Muladhara Chakra

Our first chakra is the Muladhara or root chakra and is located at the base of the spine. Mula means root or base in Sanskrit and this first energy center symbolizes our roots. It involves grounding, supporting and nurturing and establishes the deepest connections with your physical body, your environment and the earth. It is your survival center and your fight-or-flight response is initiated from this chakra. There is an energy stored under this chakra which is often referred to as the ‘coiled serpent’ and Kundalini yoga focuses on stimulating this energy. The associated colour with the Muladhara chakra is red. The associated body parts include the base of the spine, the legs, feet and the large intestine.

The root chakra

The root chakra

First Chakra Imbalances
If you find you are constantly suffering from financial or health issues, your first chakra may be blocked or unbalanced. Circumstances that can cause these imbalances include travelling, relocation, feeling fearful and big changes in your body, family, finances and business. People with busy minds and active imaginations are especially vulnerable to become deficient in this chakra, since they feel ungrounded most of the time, living more in the head than in the body. At the moment I experience a ‘survival crisis’; I have moved to the other side of the world, my temporary job agreement will end soon, I worry about my finances and future job possibilities and feel fearful towards all these insecurities. In addition, I am the owner of an extremely active mind and I have developed a perfect talent for worrying about everything in abundance. I have almost forgotten to relax and trust in my life and especially in my own skills and abilities – also related to the third chakra. Organs and glands associated with this chakra are the adrenal glands and organs of elimination (kidney, skin, colon), bones, hair, nails and legs. If the chakra is sluggish, you might have constipation and if this chakra is overstimulated you might have diarrhea. If I feel stressed, excited or worried, it has an immediate effect on my digestion resulting in many toilet visits.

Yoga and the Muladhara Chakra
Fortunately, yoga exists. There are many yoga poses that correct Muladhara chakra imbalances and thereby bringing you back to your body and the earth and help you experience safety, security and stillness. Standing poses balance and strengthen the first chakra which helps the body to become more grounded and centered. If you are not able to stand firmly, then you are like a tree without roots. There only has to be a small storm and the tree is easily uprooted. You first need to be rooted, before you can grow and move forward. Yoga can provide you with this sense of stability on the matt and in life’s challenges. Other specific target areas for this first chakra are the piriformis muscle in the hip and buttocks and the adductor muscles in the inner thighs. Tightness in hips, groins and hamstrings are related to blocks in the first energy center. These are exactly the places where most of my tightness comes from. A lot of people store emotions in the hips and therefore develop tightness in this area. If you’re in a pose such as pigeon or lizard pose you can start to observe your arising emotions. The practice of yoga can enhance the development of the Muladhara chakra qualities: calmness, patience and a willingness to slow down and stay in one place. Your confidence can be boosted and fears can be eased as you allow yourself to trust the earth and your body. It is helpful to end your yoga practice with peaceful restorative poses, like Supta Baddha Konasana or Salamba Balasana, because this will settle an overactive mind and encourage you to surrender to gravity.

Balancing this first Chakra further
The sense associated with this chakra is the sense of smell and the food for this chakra are protein-rich foods and red foods. Preparing protein-rich food and enjoying the smells while you’re cooking can support you to bring yourself back in your body. As a vegetarian, I probably easily miss out on a lot of red food. If you nourish your physical body it supports you with grounding. For this reason, eating is a first chakra activity and the challenge is to eat mindfully. A peaceful walk in the nature, can also help you to ground and connect with the earth. Signs of excessiveness in this chakra include gaining a lot of excess weight, greed and hoarding. Hoarding keeps the energy from flowing freely, you need to let go to get the energy moving. The challenge is to accept your body, feel it, validate it and love it. For me personally, a massage can help to quiet down my mind and make myself (more) aware of my physical body.

Tree pose

Tree pose

True transformation
Fear of survival, fear of abandonment and feeling insecure are all first chakra emotions that can be stored in your body. Emotions can leave deep impressions within your body and often cause illness. By targeting the muscles where these emotions are stored, you can begin to unblock emotional toxics that are trapped. Yoga is a great tool to do this. For sure all of the seven chakras are important and interconnected with each other. Therefore balancing one chakra will usually create change in another chakra as well. However, it is important to balance the root charka first to create stability and centeredness, necessary for true transformation and personal growth. Safety and security are required for real growth and change.

Balancing your first chakra

Balancing your first chakra

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Calm Yoga

Yin yoga is a style of yoga founded by Paulie Zink, a Taoist yoga teacher and martial arts expert. It is a combination and mixture of traditional Hatha yoga and several disciplines from the Chinese Taoist tradition – such as Tao Yin, Qi Gong and Kung Fu. In addition, Paulie Zink included yoga postures, variations, visualization and techniques developed by himself. In the Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang symbolize the duality in the world around us – opposites interacting with each other. These opposites cannot exist without each other. Yang involves movement, change, activity and masculinity. Yin in contrast refers to stillness, calmness and femaleness. Hatha yoga and most of the other Western yoga practices are generally Yang orientated, since they are focused on muscles and movement with an emphasis on stretching the muscles. On the contrary Yin yoga is an essentially quiet practice and therefore a perfect preparation for meditation. In Yang asanas the muscles are addressed in particular. While during Yin yoga the focus is on the connective tissues,  especially in the hips, pelvis and lower spine, including tendons, ligaments and joints. These Yin tissues are generally not addressed in more active styles of yoga.

Yin yoga is certainly suitable for almost all levels of students. A main skill you require or develop while practising this style of yoga is patience. Since you stay in the postures for a reasonable amount of time, generally two to five minutes, but possibly up to twenty. Gravity and time are your main props. The form of asanas can be taken loosely and you let go of your muscles as much as you are comfortable able to. To stay in postures for a length of time is where Yin yoga’s benefit lies: to allow time and gravity to stretch the connective tissues around the joints. Over time, practicing this style of yoga can lengthen the tissues and increase the range of motion. To illustrate: muscles account for about forty percent of the resistance against the body’s flexibility, while connective tissue accounts for about fifty percent. Yin yoga is a perfect complement to the dynamic and muscular Yang styles of yoga.

At first sight this style of yoga can seem quite boring and passive. Though, from my own experience I can guarantee that Yin asanas are actually quite challenging, physically and mentally. Most people are used to move in their daily life and are often in a rush to get from one place to another. While in a Yin yoga pose, you are not moving, you stay exactly where you are in the moment. This soft body approach results in benefits which are extremely useful in our hectic and busy daily lives. It allows you to live with a more flexible and open body and mind. 

 

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