Ashtanga Yoga – Traditional Opening and Closing Chant

In Ashtanga yoga there are two traditional chants. One at the start of the class and one at the end.  In my classes I only do this chant in my non-beginners classes.  I do this because I think chanting can be a bit intimidating to some people.  This can be especially when they are just beginning their yoga journey.  People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons and I think that is fine, yoga has many benefits.

 

When I do teach the chant, it is is optional.  I know many of my students love it and some people just listen for whatever reason and that’s fine. I would hate someone to miss out on the many benefits of yoga because they don’t feel comfortable chanting.

Why do the chant?

I think the chant is really useful as a way to seperate your yoga practice from day to day life. If you don’t want to to chant you could take a moment to connect with your breathing.

What language is the chant and what does it mean?

The chant is in Sanskrit – an ancient language of India. The opening chant gives thanks to Patanjali, who wrote the yoga Sutras.  This ancient text can be considered the philosophical underpinnings of yoga.  If you are interested in deepening your understanding of yoga, you should definately read the yoga sutras. It was written approximately 200 years BC and has amazing relevance to our lives today.  In my mind when we say this chant we are also giving thanks to all the yoga teachers who have passed on the yoga tradition so that we can practice today.  The closing chant is more about taking the benefits of our yoga practice and putting them out into the world. You can find a  full translation of the chants here.

 

Religion and the Chant

Some people may not want to chant because they feel it is religious.  Yoga is not a religion.  It has a philosophy and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether they have a religious faith or not.

 

Pronunciation of the chant

This post came about because some of my students said they struggled to pronounce the chant when they are practing by themselves.  Last week I came across this wonderful video on yoga mammas blog.  The video shows Sharath and his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, saying the opening chant.  Pattabhi Jois was the founder of ashtanga yoga, he is no longer with us and the current head of the lineage is his grandson Sharath.  I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to study with both of them.  This video shows a beautiful transmission of the tradition.

 

Here is another video of Sharath chanting the closing chant.

 

Do you like chanting?  What do you like or dislike about it? Do you have any questions about the chants?

Building a Regular Ashtanga Yoga Practice

I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me develop my self practice over the years.  Claire wrote a wonderful post about how some yoga is better than no yoga.  I totally agree. Sometimes people feel like they have to do the whole practice and so they end up doing nothing.  A good starting point is to 5 Surya Namaskara A and 5 Sury Namaskara B after you have done that you may feel like doing more and if you have time then go for it, if not simply close the practice with the last 3 positions of closing.  This practice will take approximately 15 minutes and will be a very beneficial way to start your day.

How often you practice is entirely up to you.  You will get benefit from doing yoga just once a week.  In my experience the more often you practice the more you will benefit. I have a daily practice, 6 days a week  which has been very beneficial and has meant that the benefits of yoga come into my daily life and are in fact inseparable from it. The six day a week practice is what is recommended in Ashtanga and is practiced by thousands around the world. However, I realise it may not be possible or even wanted by everyone. Each individual needs to work out what works best for them and their life.

For me the practice of yoga has been incredibly transformative and sometimes my mind puts up its own resistance to that. It will try and find all sorts of excuses to not get on the mat. I’m tired, come on give yourself a break etc. Obviously there are  times that this voice needs listening too. You don’t want to drive your body into the ground, injure it, or make yourself ill. Guidelines for practicing when ill or injured are specific to the injury, illness and individual and should be discussed with your teacher and where appropriate your gp or physiotherapist, etc. Here I am talking about a general tiredness or mental resistance.

So sometimes your mind will say it’s tired but it’s just an excuse or it is partially true and needs listening to to some extent or your completely exhausted and need to rest. The imbetween version where I am tired but can practice happens fairly regularly, my job is physically demanding. I have found the best remedy is to consistently practice, whilst listening to my body. If you practice anything regularly then it is very important you learn to listen to your body and react accordingly, which is best done with the guidance of a teacher. It is important to tune into your body each day and react according to its needs, ignore the ego!

The length of your practice should be something you can easily maintain on a daily basis without it tiring you out in the rest of your life. If you practice consistently you will ache less as long as you practice at an appropriate level. The best way to work this out is to come to a Mysore style class, where the teacher determines the length of the practice for the student. This is gradually built up. The ego tends to want to do more, at least mine does from time to time! A teacher can be a useful external gauge.

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Every practice begins with the first breath – photo by Nata Moraru

How much you should practice at home should be gradually built up even if you are used to practicing for longer in classes a couple of times a week. This should be done at a rate that makes daily practice enjoyable, possible and safe. For individual guidance on how to do this, talk to your teacher.

Another thing that I love about daily practice of ashtanga is that I do the same sequence every day.  So there is no mental negotiation about what to practice or even what pose to stop at.  I just do it.  I also have something that I do consistently in my day with the ever changing fluctuations of my mind and I find that especially useful.  Although some people advocate practicing less when you have less energy etc. I personally have found consistency to be the best advocate for my daily practice, although exceptions obviously have to be made for illness etc. You can only take this approach however if you are consistent. If you take a break from regular practice you have to start with a shorter practice and gradually build up. I guess what I am essentially saying is that I find it easier to practice every day because that’s what I always do and there are no negotiations about what I do, I do my full practice.  If this is difficult for you because of your schedule or priorities then the some yoga is better than no yoga philosophy may work better.  Do something regularly and do more when you can.

Developing a personal practice is a journey and it is something I had to work at rather than something I always had. So how did I get here?  Some things that helped me build to a daily practice are:

  • Planning – Working out when I can fit my practice into my day in advance and sticking to it.
  • Listening to my body, when I wake up I scan my body to see how it feels. When I practice I am continaully doing the same thing.
  • Going to a yoga class. Going to class not only gives me some great feedback to keep me safer during my practice but also helps keep me inspired and motivated to practice. I also find I am more focused in class which I try and bring back to my self practice.
  • Practicing along with a dvd. Obviously you cant see a dvd whilst practicing but having someone talking me through it helps me if I am tired or demotivated.
  • Community -Talking to yoga friends, reading a book, a yoga blog, etc.  Reading about other peoples experiences helps keep me inspired and allows me to look and explore the practice in other ways.
  • Being consistent but flexible. When I have practiced has varied depending on my lifestyle. I currently practice in the mornings but if for some reason I couldn’t, I would just practice later in the day.

I am very grateful and fortunate to be able to practice yoga daily and for all the benefits it has given me. I am particularly grateful to my students who continue to inspire me to delve deeper.

Do you have a regular yoga practice?

What helps you maintain it?

What do you find challenging?

 

Mysore India – Ashtanga Yoga’s Headquarters – Guest Post by Jennie Gorman

Helen has asked me to write a short guest blog about my trip to Mysore last December but keeping this short has proven to be something of a problem. To capture the magic of your first trip to India, with all its wonderful mix of smells and colours, spices and smiling faces, free roaming cows and honking horns, temples and palaces, is something of a challenge, especially as this is the first blog I’ve ever written.

 

Anyway at the end of last November I jumped on a plane bound for Bangalore to spend a month practicing at the Pattabhi Jois AYI in Mysore with Sharath. Some useful advice from Helen before I left was invaluable so I wasn’t completely taken completely by surprise when I arrived, only a little! After my first walk round Gokulum I did wonder where were all the western style cafe’s Helen had mentioned. However after a second tour round the streets by the shala with my trusty guide Kevin the delights of Gokulum were revealed, all the shops and cafe’s I hadn’t noticed before. All either part of houses or set back in gardens behind, the only giveaway was often only a small sign on the gate.

 

Having travelled all the way to India I was keen to get started practicing yoga so registered at the shala the afternoon I arrived. It was also a Sunday so had the opportunity to attend my first conference with Sharat. These are held every Sunday afternoon and provide many insights into the physical and spiritual practice of Ashtanga yoga not normally covered in a traditional class. This was also my first introduction to shala time. The clock in the shala is set 15 mins fast so this needs to be remembered for anything held at the shala, practice times, conference times, class times. It can become a little confusing when trying to convert from Indian time to British time to shala time, especially as none are in full hours.

 

After conference I filled in my registration form and waited in line to pay my fees and receive my registration card with start time. I was starting practice at 9 the next morning. After a good night’s sleep I made my way to the shala for 8.35, 10 mins early for my 8.45 start (9am shala time). I joined the queue in the hall and waited for a space to become available as those practicing finished one by one. Finally it was my turn and I entered the shala to Sharat’s call of ‘one more’. I laid my mat down in the newly opened space and went to the changing rooms to change. And so my first practice began. Adjustments were given by Sharat, his mother Saraswati and a few assistants at key poses such as hasta padangustasana, marichasana D and sputa kurmasana. Sharat stopped me at sputa kurmasana and so I went to straight to back bends followed by the finishing sequence. 2 days later my time had been changed to 8.45 shala time and I was completing the full primary with drop backs. Friday was led primary practice for everyone while Sunday was led intermediate for those at this stage with another led primary for everyone else. Another compulsory class was chanting at 10.30 three days a week. At first this involved chanting some Sanskrit prayers, counting and asana names. Optional additional classes were also available, including Sanskrit, yoga sutras, Bhagavad Gita and hatha yoga pradipika. All of these were run by Laksmish in the evening 3 times a week each.

 

As the month progressed the shala and Gokulum became busier and busier, soon it was becoming very difficult to find accommodation. This was slightly difficult to arrange from England. There are a few guest houses and a handful of hotels that can be booked from the UK but most rooms / home stays can only be arranged once you get there. There are a few fixers that can help you with this once you arrive. For me I went to Shiva just opposite the shala and got a room sharing with fellow yoga students within few days of arrival. It was also only 3 doors down from the shala, very handy for the early morning starts.

 

While a typical day can often involve not much more than getting up for practice, going for breakfast, attending some extra classes, going for chai, fresh coconuts, lunch and wondering round the streets of Gokulum or a trip to the pool there is certain plenty of things to do while staying in Mysore. A visit to Mysore palace, both during the day and again on a Sunday night when it’s all lit up. Sightseeing and shopping around the city. Chamundi hill is worth a wallk up / down for views across the city. A trip to Mysore zoo or just relax at the swimming pool at the Regalis hotel. For Saturdays and moon days it’s well worth making a trips further afield sush as to the hills of Ooty or Coorg, or the Tibetan settlement of Bylakupe.

 

Well while I could easily continue on I’ve probably made this blog long enough now so I’ll leave it there but if anyone is planning a trip or just interested in hearing any more I’d be happy to tell you more.

 

Om shanti, shanti, shanti

 

Thanks for sharing your experiences Jennie. I many people will find this interesting. Below is a brilliant video of of Mysore by Kino MacGreggor, so you can see it for yourself. Enjoy, Helen

 

 

Inner Heat – Mysore Style Ashtanga

This morning I went to a Mysore style class at my teacher’s shala in London.  As you can imagine, due to the recent weather, the room was hot!  The heat of many bodies practicing this dynamic style creates a heat, which combined with my own inner heat and our recent heatwave created a steamy practice.  When people are new to Ashtanga Yoga they sometimes think the sweat is a problem but actually you are meant to sweat in Ashtanga Yoga, this internal heat is part of its cleansing benefits.  Personally I love practicing in summer as my body begins to unravel after the winters practice.


How hot people get depends on many factors but some people just sweat more than others.  I have never been much of a sweater but I can imagine it can be a little distracting.  You may find you slide on your mat a bit.  If this happens a Mysore rug
 or a yoga towel would help you a great deal.  My preference is Manduka eQua® Mat Towel and I was glad I packed mine this weekend!

It was lovely to practice with a group today.  I love the energy and focus of a Mysore style room.  For those of you unfamiliar with this way of teaching, Mysore style is the traditional way to learn Ashtanga Yoga as it is taught in Mysore India.  It is self practice in a group environment with teacher’s assistance.  Individuals practice as much of the sequence/ sequences as appropriate for them.  Physically it allows each body to work at its own pace and get very individualized assistance.  So a complete beginner can practice next to someone who has been practicing for decades.  What I love most about it though is that it develops an inner focus because you don’t have to externalise your awareness to follow the teachers instructions like you do in a led class.  The focus of others in the room also helps me to pinpoint my own awareness and take me deeper into the practice.  I love it!

How have you found practicing in this warmer weather?