Creating a Yoga Flow: Part One

Although now a highly ridiculed phrase, I’m on my “New Year New Me” game. Truthfully, every day is a good time to start enhancing ourselves and setting goals towards our ideal life. However, there’s something special about this season that seems to motivate us. Each year is like a new chapter in our lives in which we get to start fresh with new goals. Unfortunately, many of us tend to fall off the wagon within a few months, weeks, even days. Some find it scoff-worthy; you may even come across comical memes about it online. I think it’s unfair to judge the lot who strive for change even though many of us run into regular life obstacles which, frankly, don’t care about our timelines. On the other hand, some of us simply get bored or overwhelmed with all the goals we’ve set in front of us. I’m certainly guilty myself. So, for 2018, I’m taking a new approach to reaching goals by encompassing them into my yoga practice.

On January 1st, I will begin building a Vinyasa flow that will grow every week. For those new to yoga, Vinyasa is a yoga practice that uses a continuous movement from one pose to another opposed to holding a single pose for an extended period of time – although these methods can be somewhat combined. I’m beginning with 3 asanas and will add a different pose every week accompanied by meditation and a written journal in which I will explain my practice of the 8 Limbs. I will also post a video of the flow on Instagram for visual feedback. The goal is to track my progress throughout the year to see how much I improve mentally, physically and spiritually by the end of 2018. Weekly additions will hopefully ward off boredom and because I choose my own poses and because I am only adding one a week, I will reframe from getting too overwhelmed.

The initial three poses are downward dog, child’s pose and frog pose. Feel free to join me in this challenge and share your progress on social media also. Remember that yoga is more than just poses and physical fitness; it’s a lifestyle! However, it is what you make it and the possibilities are endless. Happy New Year! Namaste.

What “Yogi Life” Really Means

Yoga is all the rave these days. You probably have friends on social media striking poses with foreign names and calling themselves living the yogi life. Maybe, you’re one of them. However, do you really know what it means to be a yogi? If you think it only requires you to be athletic, limber and to give up meat most of the time, the answer is more than likely “no”. Yoga is much more than a fun way to get fit, it is truly a lifestyle.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, a sage by the name of Patanjali compiled a group of verses known as the Yoga Sutra. These verses became the foundation for true yoga practice. The text contains the guidelines of the Eightfold Path or ashtanga which literally translates to “eight limbs” in English. Each limb is a piece of wisdom aimed at developing one’s mental capacity and physical ability with the goal of achieving spiritual oneness. These limbs are 1. Yama, 2. Niyama, 3. Asana, 4. Pranayama, 5. Pratyahara, 6. Dharana, 7. Dhyana, and 8. Samadhi. Each limb is distinct in its purpose but collectively prepares the practitioner to reach one end goal.

Yama, the first limb, is summed up best with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want done unto you. It is about how we move in the world and how we treat the other living beings around us. Yama is composed of five distinct parts with more specific guidelines regarding non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness. The second limb, Niyama, is about self-discipline and spiritual practices. It establishes the importance of meditation and is also split into five small principles regarding cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerity, the study of sacred scripture and surrendering to God.

The third limb, asana, is the most popular part of the yoga practice. Asana is Sanskrit for pose or posture and is about more than just one’s physical ability and agility. The practice of asanas is to build concentration and consistency necessary for following the other limbs and eventually achieving advanced levels of meditation. The fourth limb, Pranayama, which translates to life force extension is about the breath. It emphasizes the importance of breath in meditation and how it connects the mind, body, and spirit. Some even believe that breath mastery could truly extend the days of one’s life.

Pratyahara, the fifth limb, is another common practice among people of faith although under a different name. Followers of Abrahamic religions often refer to it as fasting. This is the limb that challenges us to give up external distractions and habits that do not necessarily serve us, for example, unhealthy foods or excessive television. Pratyahara directly prepares us for limb six which is Dharana or concentration. With the absence of external distractions, one can better notice the internal distractions and prepare to eliminate them. This is done in the immersion of silence to perfecting the ability to focus on a single point for an extended period of time which is also necessary for meditation.

The seventh limb is all about reaching full awareness with a still mind. This is deep meditation and called Dhyana. It is distinct from the sixth limb, Dharana, which is about focusing on one particular point where as Dhyana is about focusing on everything simultaneously with great clarity and calm. This is considered a very high level of consciousness and very difficult to achieve but certainly possible. Even more complicated to achieve is samadhi, the eighth and final limb. At this level, the yogi is able to meditate with high consciousness in such a way that she becomes one with all things, even the Universe itself. A remarkable sense of peace is attained and the practitioner transcends what we understand as the physical world.

As you can see, of the eight limbs, only one is dedicated to the strength and flexibility of the body. If you are overlooking the remaining 7 limbs, chances are you are merely exercising and not practicing yoga as each pose or movement should be accompanied by an inward purpose or lesson. Let this not discourage you as yoga is for absolutely everyone. If anything, this should encourage anyone who has begun the physical aspect of the practice and those considering it. Acknowledging and implementing all the pieces of a yoga practice will only enhance not just the physical body but the spiritual being. Namaste.

Warming Up for Yoga Practice

Ever since I began posting my yoga journey on Instagram, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to start a practice. I usually suggest joining an online challenge or looking up YouTube videos of guided routines. There is also the option of going out on a limb and joining a class. I engaged in a combo of all three of these avenues as a beginner and found them helpful in various ways. However, after reviewing my own advice (and my practice), there was one thing that I had a tendency to fall short on: warming up. The downside of online guides and even some studio classes is that the warm-up is often skipped or significantly shortened, especially for beginners.

My yoga journey began in 2013 with a Kathryn Budig tutorial video for building upper body strength. As the video addressed something quite specific, there was no warm-up portion. For quite a while, I went through the struggle of often beginning my practice with a rough start which led to me cutting sessions short. It wasn’t until I spanned out and dug deeper into the World Wide Web that I found out more about yoga and how to begin a full practice. Finally, I stumbled across a few yoga flow tutorials that began with a warm-up and finally the light bulb went off for me. I realized that not only had I not been properly warming up my body but also neglecting the mental and spiritual aspect of the practice.

For me, yoga started as a means to get moving. I was eager to lose weight and get in shape in a new and exciting way. As time went on, it became more and more difficult to maintain my practice. Yoga began to lose its luster and movements I had done over and over were not getting any easier. Once I learned to engage my mind and my spiritual sense of self, yoga became a totally different experience overall. I began to see physical results but more importantly, I began to evolve into a better person entirely.

If you have never practiced yoga but interested in giving it a try, here are a few tips for warming up before you start:

Prepare Your Energy

Albert Einstein helped us out tremendously when he developed the formula that explains how everything is energy; this includes our moods. It’s likely that if you’re weighted down by stress or other forms of negativity, starting and maintaining your practice will be a challenge whether you’re an expert or novice. A great way to replenish your joy-joy feelings (as I like to call them) are energy exercises.

Donna Eden, a pioneer in the field of energy medicine, is well-known in the holistic health community for helping people understand the body’s energy system. She has developed energy exercise routines that help stimulate energy flow, perfect for beginning a yoga session.

Prepare Your Mind

Getting in the right state of mind for a practice is very important. Even if our energy is in the right place, if our minds are focused on something other than the present moment, it can be more of a challenge to execute poses and flows. A great way to calm the mind is with meditation.

Ashtanga, a yoga style commonly practiced in the U.S. and my primary practice, is a part of a philosophy that consists of 8 Limbs; asanas or poses being the third of these limbs. The second limb, Niyama, addresses how to develop self-discipline and spiritual observances with the use of meditation. I find it important to emphasize that this part of the practice is prioritized over the physical aspect of yoga and seemingly too often overlooked by many beginners. Here is a guided meditation I find helpful.

Prepare Your Body

There are several ways to approach a physical warm-up for a yoga session. A Sun Salutation is great for beginners and experts alike, consisting of specific yoga engagements that introduce your body to the type of movement you will be building up to. Some go for walks to help increase blood circulation or perform repetitions of joint loosening exercises. On days I feel my absolute best, I tend to do light and fun dancing to my music of choice. As your practice develops, you will find what works for you on which days.

Yoga is a personal journey so first and foremost, go at your own pace and find your own style. Study the 8 Limbs and apply them to your own life accordingly. You’ll find that it will add quality to your practice, warm-up included, and your practice will build to take shape unique to your personality. Good luck on your journey! Namaste.