How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 1

This is a common question from within our local yoga community and I was asked again last week so I offered to write a blog post about it.  Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series, the sequence I teach, has many forward bends in it.  As such a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice will open the hamstrings up quite quickly.  People tend to have difficulties with this if they don’t have the space for a regular practice in their life, they are exceptionally tight and find forward bending challenging,  they have a history of back problems and or they are very active and need to stretch out their hamstrings after their activity.  Liverpool half marathon runners from yesterday’s race, take note 🙂

Hamstrings and Back Pain

If you are really tight in your hamstrings it may prevent your pelvis from tilting when you bend forward, which can put your back at risk.  As your body is very much interconnected a tight back will often lead to tight hamstrings and vice versa.  The causes of back pain are numerous and are beyond the scope of this blog post.  If you have a problem with your back I recommend you work with a professional to work out how to best recover.

 What Causes Tight Hamstings?

Many people have tight hamstrings. You are not alone. Causes include:

  • Back tightness
  • Compensation from weakness elsewhere such as the glutes
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Sitting

How to Stretch Out Your Hamstrings

Charlie stretching out his hamstrings in a yoga pose, lying on his back and using belt to stretch the leg back.

If you can’t grab your foot or leg easily you can use a belt as my student Charlie is demonstrating.   Aim to get your leg to go straight up gradually over time, that is a good range of motion, Charlie is nearly there through dedicated practice 🙂 Make sure the leg you are stretching is straight.  You should feel the stretch across the length of the muscle either in the back of the thigh or even the calf and not in the joint, back of the knee or in the buttocks.  If you feel a sharp pain there or anywhere, something is wrong.  Keep your leg completely straight and engage the front of your thigh, this will help to relax the hamstring through what as called reciprocal inhibition.  If you are still having difficulties let me know as there are other suggestions I can make.

 

Guidelines for Practicing this Pose

  • If it hurts back off and modify. If you are not able to do it pain free contact a professional and stop doing the position
  • Take deep even breaths through your nose and allow yourself to relax into the position
  • Do not push too hard, gently and consistently allow the hamstring to open
  • Practice this regularly, at least 3 times a week
  • If you are running or cycling etc do this afterwards
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds, around 10 deep breaths
  • You can do this stretch up to 3 times
  • If you have one leg tighter than the other, start with that leg and do an extra one on that side.

I would like to thank Charlie for allowing me to use his photo in this post.  More student pictures coming up.  I would also like to thank my students whose questions have led to me to learn so much and whose dedication inspires me to continue to do so.

In part two I am going to give an alternative hamstrings  stretch and talk about how you can use self massage to help release the hamstrings.  Do you have tight hamstrings?  Have your hamstrings opened up through practicing yoga?  Do you have any questions or is there anything else you would like me to write about on this topic?

Welcome to Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool

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Helen Aldred

Find out about Ashtanga Yoga classes in Liverpool view timetable or contact Helen.

Ashtanga Yoga Classes in Liverpool City Centre

Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic style of yoga, which connects your mind body and breath.  Helen Aldred teaches a range of yoga classes for complete beginners to those looking for more of a challenge.  All yoga classes are in Liverpool City centre and are drop in, no need to book.  Feel free to come along and see how ashtanga yoga will benefit you. Find out more about ashtanga yoga, Helen Aldred or the yoga classes.

Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Blog

This blog is community hub for students of ashtanga yoga in Liverpool and beyond.  If you would like to Helen to write about a particular topic or you would like to contribute to the blog contact Helen. Please join the discussion and share your thoughts.

No Impact Man – Film Review – Is Individual Change Enough

Marc and I have just finished watching a documentary film set in New York about a family who decide to live a year making as little impact on the environment as they can.  They live in New York city and give up electricity, cars, buses, elevators, clothes buying and eat local seasonal food.  The documentary follows their family through the highs and lows of their experiment. The film was  released in 2009 and I only recently found out about it. Have any of you seen it?

The project was criticised for

  • Being a promotional stunt for his book, no impact man, which of course it was.
  • Some environmentalists felt that the extreme nature of the experiment was giving them a bad name.
  • It goes against the consumerist mindset of the modern world and I think people possibly felt their lifestyle was being judged.

I loved it because

  • It made me think about my own choices and the impact they have.
  • It made me think about what impact one person can have.
  • It challenged belief systems and I think it’s always good to question.

Ethics is something I have been giving a lot of thought to recently.  I have always been a firm believer that you need to be the change you want to see in the world.  This belief is really useful to me because it stops me getting overwhelmed by the problems of the world and moves me into a state of action.  I am aware that with all the efforts that I make there are always so many ways I can improve.  I also feel that I don’t have the right to tell others what to do, every action has all sorts of positive and negative consequences. Who am I to tell others what to do? One person can only do so much, efforts spent in one area is time and effort that could be spent elsewhere.

 

One of things that I love about yoga is that it gradually makes people to be more aware of what they do.  With that awareness comes personal choice rather than just flowing with the whim of others.  We live in  a society where consumerism is everywhere we are bombarded with it. Advertisements tell us if we have blah blah we will be so happy, so sexy, so successful.  The gap between the rich and the poor in this world is staggering:

The richest one fifth of the world

  • consumes 45 per cent of all fish and meat, whereas the poorest fifth consume 5 per cent
  • consume 58 per cent of total energy, the poorest fifth have less than 4 percent
  • own 87 per cent of the world’s vehicles, the poorest fifth own less than one percent.
  • consume 84 per cent of the world’s paper, the poorest fifth 1.1 per cent

The statistics are from Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, Bread for the World, 2007.  I found them in the wonderful book Yoga for a World Out of Balance by Michael Stone.  This book is brilliant and I will write about it in more depth once I have finished reading it.  Despite these staggering polarisation in terms of how we consume we are all interconnected if I pollute the air you have to breathe it, whether you polluted it or not.

 

When I read statistics like that it makes me wonder not only if my own actions are enough but if my belief that all I have to do is be the change I want to see is enough.  When I first stopped drinking a few years ago, I realised that other people found it really challenging.  I don’t mind if other people want to drink at all as long as that’s what they want to do and they’re not harming anyone, who am I to judge?  Yet people get uncomfortable because it makes them challenge their own beliefs.

As a vegan, I experience the same thing, many people seem to want to argue with me about my choices. I have never tried to force my beliefs about veganism on anyone.  I don’t want to be the annoying person that rants at people while they are eating.  I feel that lacks compassion for my fellow man.   I don’t have that right and as passionate as I am about it I believe we each have a right to make our own informed choices.

I have been wondering recently if individual change is enough and if it isn’t what should I be doing about it.  I think it is not about telling other people how to live their lives or acting superior for all the great things we are doing.  In many ways I am very fortunate to live in culture where I have so much choice that I can learn about where my things come from and what impact they have, that I am not starving,  I have so may choices, I can read and learn at the touch of a button, I have so may things to be grateful for. There is also so much that I am not doing, I often leave lights on, I don’t always eat organic or seasonal, I sometimes forget my bags for life and there are many things that I have no even considered.  There is so much more I can do, I know I am not perfect.  I think what I am realising is that it is not about telling people what to do, I don’t have that right, however maybe there is a need to open a discussion to share what we can do and how we manage to make our own impact or tread a little lighter on the planet so that everyone can benefit.

Do you believe in the power that one individual can have to make a change?  Has yoga made you more aware of the impact of your actions on others or the world?  Do you feel empowered to be the change you want to see in our world?

 

New Years Resolutions a Month on – 10 Tips to Create a New Groove

So it’s  February, every one has gone quiet about the  topic of new years resolutions.   Why is that?  Well………. change can be challenging can’t it.  If you decided to make a new year’s resolution the chances are you have to change your previous habits in order to succeed.  You may find that your old habits die hard.  Unfortunately statistics show that many people do not manage to keep their new year’s resolutions.

According to yogic philosophy we are born with mental and emotional tendencies which shape out actions.  The more we do a particular action the more more strong the groove becomes and the harder it is to change it.  Should we give up then?  No, I think the challenge of change is what makes goal setting so transformational.  It becomes less about making a specific change and more about being able to take conscious action rather than get stuck in a groove which is no longer serving you.

Scientists have found that when we repeat a particular we strengthen the connection in brain pathways.  However we are capable of creating new pathways whenever we want it just takes practice.  Eventually the new behaviour will become natural, so how do we get there?

Here are my 10 tips?

1) If you make a mistake, give yourself a break.  Think about what you could do differently next time?

2) Talk your goals through with friends, make them real.

3) Believe in you, you can do anything you want.

4) Be realistic and shoot for the stars.  You need a goal you can believe in and one that inspires you to make changes.

5) Recommit, if you find that you have slipped back into old pattern make a plan for how to make the changes you really want.

6) One step at a time, big goals can be overwhelming, always ask yourself what the next action is?

7) What was holding you back?  What benefit are you getting from any old behaviour that is stopping you from moving forward with your new goal.  What do you need to let go of – old view of self, watching less TV to create more time, etc. Can you think of another way to get that benefit?

8) Why do you want this?  What difference will it make?  Get motivated!

9) Know that change is not always linear, what can you learn from any steps that might have seemed like steps backwards.

10) Be here and now.  You are not your past or your future you are what you are right now, decide what that is and don’t let anything hold you back.

Did you set any new year’s resolutions?  What has helped you stick to your plan?

Practice or Talent – How You Can Get Good at Anything

My boyfriend and I recently had some friends around for dinner.  As we sat around

Marc playing guitar

My boyfriend Marc playing guitar

chatting the subject of learning a new musical instrument came up.  Two of the people present are very talented musicians.  I am not one of them, unless you count my digeridoo explorations in teenage years.  At one point I did consider learning the guitar.  I even had a lesson from my boyfriend once.  What I realised was I could indeed play the guitar if I was willing to put the practice in. The truth is I wasn’t.  It’s not that I am not a committed person, in fact I have taught myself to be very dedicated.

 

You see I believe that you and I can do anything and become good at anything. What we need is practice. This has been a pivotal belief for me as it has allowed me to achieve all sorts of things. I recently redesigned Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool’s Website. I have always designed my own websites although I have no background in web design. I do this partly because I am a very small business and it saves money and partly because I enjoy doing it as well as the challenge and the learning. This is the first site I have built using css and html code and it has been and continues to be a big learning curve for me. I have taught myself using books and videos and a lot of trial and error and I still have a lot to learn.

 

Apparently it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an “expert” at anything. That’s a lot of practice and I am certainly no where near that in my web design journey.The thing is that some people have beliefs that they are not good at certain things or that they don’t know much about a particular topic.

 

As a yoga teacher, I am completely dedicated to learning about yoga. I feel I owe that to you, my students. Sometimes this suprises people, they think I should know enough by now. After all I have been doing yoga for 16 years. I practice it, I read about it, I write about it, I talk about it and I teach it. There is always more to learn and I feel it is my job to keep learning and experiencing so that I can pass on what I discover.

 

When you see others with amazing yoga practices, I think it’s easy to forget the many hours of dedicated practicing that led to that. Yoga is about so much more than just being able to do the positions, called asana. Yet with dedicated practice the body will change, things that were once impossible will become possible. I realise some people don’t have the time to put into their practice and maybe that’s because your practicing something else, like being a dedicated  Mother or becoming specialist in your chosen subject or career. These are all choices that we have made. I find it empowering to know that the reason I am not able to play the guitar is simply because I choose to do other things with my time.

 

So yoga is my subject, I may learn other things like web design or cooking but never with the same dedication. After all there are only so many hours in the day. I can’t possibly put that level of dedication into anything else and I am fine with that because I love yoga and I love teaching it, so it’s easy for me to find the motivation to delve deeper every day.

 

I have not always been as strong and as flexible as I am now. In fact I used to be clumsy and uncoordinated, yoga has transformed me physically and mentally and continues to do so. When you see someone practicing yoga and find it inspirational, it shows what years of dedicated practice can do.  What was once impossible turns into a reality with dedication and hard work.

 

What would you like to learn to do?  What can you now do that once seemed impossible in yoga or in life?

 

Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool – January Challenge – Daily Yoga Practice

People often ask me how often they should practice.  This is a very personal question.  Ashtanga yoga is traditionally practiced six days a week, I realise that for many of you it would be challenging to find the time.  The truth of it is the more often you practice, the more benefits you get.  One of my students Claire, wrote a wonderful blog post about how Some Yoga is Better Than No Yoga.  I couldn’t agree more.  People often struggle to practice regularly because they don’t know how to keep their practice short.  I am able to prioritise a couple of hours daily for my practice, I consider it essential as a teacher to maintain a strong practice of my own.  For me it’s an non negotiable part of my day, that helps to shape all other experiences.  Whilst it’s great to have time for a full practice, if you can find just 15 minutes to practice, I am sure you too will feel the benefit.

So here is my challenge to you:

For the next four weeks, to practice yoga for at least 15 minutes, I will describe the practice, later in this post as well as giving some top tips to help you stay on track.  If you make it to class, then there is no need to do your self practice as well, you’ll have done at least an hour already.  You can start your four weeks any time in the next week and start your four weeks from that day.  If you’d be willing to blog about the experience that would be great, I am sure others would love to hear about it.

So here is your practice, 5 sun salutation A’s and 3 sun salutation B’s, the last three positions of the closing sequence and 5 minutes of relaxation.  If your unsure what I mean by any of this and I am your teacher, ask me in class and I will show you, otherwise ask your teacher.  You can of course do a longer practice than that if you have time and you want to, and why not?  The more you do the more you benefit.  The idea is to find something you can fit into your life every day, 5-6 days per week, I think everyone can find 15 minutes.

Are you ready to give it a go and see how a daily practice can benefit you?

Here are my tips:

  1. Schedule your practice in your diary if you keep one, at the very least decide when your going to do it the day before.
  2. Aim for consistency, find a time that works for your schedule and stick to it, this will help it become a habit.
  3. Be flexible, if you can’t stick to your designated plan, create a plan B.
  4. Good times to practice are first thing in the morning, in your lunch hour or first thing after work.
  5. Keep motivated by going to a yoga class, reading a book, watch a video, talking to a friend who does yoga.
  6. Get support for your home practice by talking to your teacher, if that’s me, I am always happy to help.
  7. Keep safe, be gentle with your body and don’t push it too hard, learn to respect it.
  8. If something hurts talk to your teacher,  so that they can make some adjustments to what your doing.
  9. If you miss a day, don’t give up.  Learn from it, is there anything you could have done differently if you were challenged like this again?
  10. This is your time, enjoy it 🙂

Self practice is great once you get motivated, once you have your own mat it’s free and you can fit it around your own life.  However we all need to visit a teacher when we can, myself included.  I go to classes with my teacher in London as often as I can because it helps keep my home practice motivated, there is always more to learn and there is no substitute for the teacher student relationship and all it cultivates.

So who is going to do January’s yoga challenge?  What helps you to practice regularly?

From Backbends to the Kitchen Sink – Goals and the Present Moment

Happy New Year!  Christmas and New Year is usually a time of reflection for me, I think this is because I usually have some time off work, away from my usual routine.  This gives me a bit of perspective on the way things are going and seems like a good time for me to set some goals for my future.   I think goals are important because if we don’t decide on our own direction, we put ourselves at the mercy of other people’s whims.  I  wonder how goals fit in with a commitment to being here and now, which I also have. I think that whilst we can have a version of a future which we will do anything we can to get to, all we ever really have is here and now.  It’s important to not only enjoy the journey but realise that we build the future in the here and now, in many baby steps and as we do this we interact with a world which is beyond our control and ever changing.  So we may need to adapt our plan but it is still worth planning, in fact if you didn’t plan at all you wouldn’t even get out of bed.

 

One of my main goals this year is to be tidier.  In yoga philosophy cleanliness is one the Niyamas (ethical guidlines concerning ourselves).   In truth this has been a goal of mine in the past and I have learnt a lot in my previous attempts which will surely help me to make the necessary changes.  I also have a wealth of experience of which to draw on.  I know that I have made other changes in the past and I know that this is something which is mostly within my own control.  It is easy for me to write blog posts about maintaining a daily yoga practice because I have been practicing yoga for years and I love it, tidying and me have had a different relationship in the past and it is possible for me to draw on what I learn from yoga and apply it to my life, sometimes in surprising ways.

 

I posted this picture of my practice on Christmas day.  I am doing a deep backbend whichHelen doing Kapotasana, yoga pose by Christmas tree is part of the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. It is called Kapotasana and although I may look comfortable enough in this pose, it has been a really difficult pose for me to do.  Obviously it requires a great deal of flexibility, this has taken many years of daily practice for me to open my back up. I also find it emotionally and mentally challenging, I think there is something about having my chest that open, it has been very healing and empowering for me.  Recently I noticed that I would start to dread this pose about 5 poses before I got to it.  With this sense of dread I also had a mental dialogue that went something like this “you will never be able to do it today, your body’s too tight/tired/strong. Why are you even trying, blah, blah, blah! ” Once I noticed my little story, I think noticing is often the first step in change,  I started to notice the feeling of dread for what it was, a feeling at the pit of my stomach that I have habitually created.  Sometimes I would even laugh at it.  Sometimes I could do the pose, sometimes I couldn’t, ultimately it doesn’t matter, it’s a yoga pose. Day by day, this sense of dread started to lose it’s power, as it was no longer being fed by my thoughts.

 

Part of my plan in order to be tidier is to wash up immediately after eating.  I was doing washing up with faded picture of kapotasanathis a few days ago and I felt this amazing sense of dread at the pit of my stomach.   When I noticed, I laughed and told my partner about it. Hello dread, I know you, I thought. No wonder I have struggled to make this change in the past, there is so much emotion attached to it, to deal with it requires dealing with not only a lifetime of habits but also all the emotional negative feelings associated with not doing this.  Thanks to yoga, I am able to notice them and let them go. They don’t really relate to here and now, where I am washing up – it’s not  dangerous, there is nothing to dread.  When you make goals for your future, look back at your past and see how you have changed other things, then notice the present moment again and take it one step at a time.

 

Do you have goals yet?  What can you do right now to make them more real? How has yoga helped you?

When you are Busy? How do you Make Time for yoga?

I have been fairly busy recently. I have sometimes had to work late and my routine has gone thrown out a little.  This doesn’t happen to me as much as a yoga teacher as it used to when I was a school teacher.  It got me thinking about you, my readers, whether your my students or not.  Do you sometimes find it hard to make room for yoga in your life?  As we enter into the Christmas season, things seem to be getting busier for everyone as we make room for Christmas parties and shopping. During this time we often have to drop something in order fit it all in.  In the midst of it all, do you find time for yourself?

 

I have had to be flexible recently about when I practice yoga.  I am really grateful that each day, whatever is happing, I stop and practice.  It is so easy to feel that there is no time to practice yoga when life gets chaotic, busy or when we are going through a difficult time. It sometimes seems there is no time to practice.  I am very grateful that I have practiced long enough to know that this is complete nonsense.  The busier you are the more you need yoga in your life.  I am also grateful to you my student as you inspire me to get on my mat, each and every day, you give me so much dedication and I owe you the same.

 

There is always more work to be done, other things I should be doing but I feel it so important to just stop and have some silent time.  Time away from work, email, Facebook, mobile phones, even socialising, time for you.  This can sometimes seem selfish but I know that I have so much more to give as a result of this daily commitment to spending this time with myself practicing yoga.

 

Obviously the more time you have for this the better, remember though that just a few moments will help.  Five minutes watching your breath at the bus stop, 15 minutes to do some sun salutations or  making time to get to a yoga class.  Yoga can benefit the mind in so many ways and when your very busy it may be hard to switch off even when your doing yoga.  One of the many things I love about Ashtanga Yoga is that it flows from one position to another with connecting vinyasas, breath movements.  This helps to keep my mind engaged with the present moment as it is so busy keeping up with what’s happening on the mat.  I also love the challenge of ashtanga yoga, to attempt something impossible everyday and know that if I fail it’s okay.

 

Do you find time for yourself over Christmas season?  Do you think it is important too?

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?

 

Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali Explored – The Ethics of Yoga

 

The Yoga Sutras were written by Patanjali approximately 500 to 200 years B.C.  In the opening chant of Ashtanga Yoga we pay homage to Patanjali.   The Yoga Sutras are an excellent guide for anyone interested in delving deeper into yoga. Despite being written so long ago, they are very relevant to the modern day practitioner of yoga. Each time I have read them I have understood them on a different level as insights from my own practice and life help me to understand them more.

 

In The Yoga Sutras Patanjali defines the term Ashtanga.  Asha mean eight and anga mean limbs. The yoga sutras are     not specific to Ashtanga Yoga and are relevant to all that practice yoga and are interested in delving deeper.

The eight limbs are:

 

  1. Yama – ethical guidance concerning our dealings with society
  2. Niyama – ethical guidance concerning our dealings with ourselves
  3. Asana – the yoga postures
  4. Pranayama- breathing exercises, control of prana, our life force
  5. Pratyahra – sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – a state of consciousness whereby the mind is directed to one point
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. Samadhi- a state of oneness

 

These eight limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga are not necessarily practiced in that order.  Usually practitioners of Hatha yoga, such as Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga yoga that I teach begin with asana, the physical postures.  Actually the other limbs are also practiced within  the physical yoga practice as we shall see when we explore them further.

 

This is a big topic and I would like to write a series of posts about Patanjali’s eight limbs in order to explore them in my own life and hopefully get some other people’s experiences.  I would like to begin with the Yama and Niyama.  In the next part I will discuss each of them in more depth, to begin with I will define each one.

 

The five yamas are:

 

  1. Ahimsa – non – violence
  2. Satya – truthfulness
  3. Asteya- not coveting others possessions
  4. Bramachamera – sexual restraint (not necessarily celebacy)
  5. Aparigraha- to not be greedy

 

The five Niyamas are:

 

  1. Sauca – cleanliness
  2. Samtosa – being content with what you have
  3. Tapas – keeping the body fit,  to create  heat in the body and thus cleanse it
  4. Svasdyaya – self inquiry
  5. Isvarapranidhana – surrender to god

 

Well my Sanskrit dictionary  just grew!  Most of these are self explanatory and are practiced by most people anyway.  By practised, I mean we know these are things we should do, I am sure we all find it challenging sometimes, I know I do. We all get things wrong some of the time!  However they are useful guidelines in which to reflect our choices.  As discussed in the previous post about why people practice yoga, often people begin practicing yoga for purely physical reasons and then find that they are inadvertently changing for the better.

 

I will discuss each yama and niyama in more depth in future posts.

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Do you think these ethical guidlines are useful?

Do you think they are challenging?