Archives for posts with tag: bandha

Spring has come geographically and half of it has even been over. Even though we feel spring one day in the city I am living, winter comes in the following two or three days. When we want to wear spring clothes and rush into streets one day, the other day we just do not want to get up and go out. One day it is cold and snowy, the following two days are sunny and warm. Therefore neither the body nor the mind get adapted to spring. To this end, I focused on balancing poses in my classes last week in order to establish balance.

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Balance is the sine qua non condition of both our daily lives and our yoga classes. When we are balanced and when our reactions are almost obvious and when our general stance is known by everybody around us, life can be easier and more comfortable for us. Balance is necessary to fortify both our concentration and coordination in yoga classes.
In one my last week’s classes, I picked “utthita hasta padangusthasana” (hand to big toe pose) as the peak pose. In the first half of the class, I had to strengthen core muscles, open “hamstring” muscles, stretch hip joint and give priority to focusing. After the opening meditation, we started to work balance on all-fours and opened the right arm to the front and the left back to the back. Staying static in that pose for five breaths, we joined the arm and the leg in the middle when exhaling and we opened them to the front and back when inhaling. With “vyaghrasana” (tiger pose), we worked balance on one leg and then laid down.
Before going on with standing asanas, I wanted to strengthen core muscles. Lying supine, we lifted the right leg to 90 degrees and lifted the arms over the shoulders. In each inhale we were lowering the leg to the ground and bringing the arms to the back and in each exhale we were lifting the body to the level of scapula. After working this core strengthening flow for ten times on the right and left sides, we lifted both legs to 90 degrees and walked in the air. Then we walked the legs to the ground and then lifted them up by walking. We repeated it for five times.
The next core strengthening pose was to bend the knees and put the soles on the ground. Then we lifted the arms over the head beside the ears. When exhaling we lifted the body without rounding the spine and reached the legs with an erect spine and when inhaling we we laid down. After repeating it for ten times, we tried several variations of “navasana” (boat pose). When waiting in “navasana”, we worked out oblique muscles by twisting to right and left. Again in the same pose, we laid down till the scapula touched the ground and when exhaling we got back into “navasana.” This was the end of core workout.
From “navasana” to “halasana” (plow pose). Then with round-ups, we stood up in “tadasana” and neutralized the body. With a few “surya namaskara”s (sun salutation), we warmed the bodies up and went on preparing the body for the peak pose.
Since I like “vinyasa” classes, I like to add “asana”s in-between “surya namaskara” flows. That day was the same. In one sun salutation series, we flew from “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) to “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), then to “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “parsvakonasana” (side angle pose), “trikonasana” (triangle pose) and we stretched the hip joint. After repeating the same flow on the left side, we neutralized the body with another “vinyasa”. From “tadasana” to “utkatasana” (chair pose), we went on strengthening core muscles. In the chair pose, we grounded on left leg and crossed right leg over the left one as men did and not only tested our balance and started working balance but also strengthened core muscles.
As I like “vinyasa” classes, from “one-legged chair” we got into “garudasana” (eagle pose) and stayed there for a few breaths. Then without changing the arms, we got into “virabhadrasana III” (warrior III). From “virabhadrasana III” to “urdhva prasarita eka padasana” (standing splits) and then to “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II). Then we put hands down and got into “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog). Repeating the same flow on the other leg, we stayed in “uttanasana” (standing forward bend) for ten breaths to stretch “hamstring” muscles and get a rest. We stretched “hamstring”s more with “urdhva prasarita eka padasana” and “prasarita padottanasana” (wide-legged forward bend) we added in-between “vinyasa”s.
The peak pose was so close. After being rooted on the left leg, we bent the right leg from the knee and lifted it up to hip level. When inhaling, we extended the leg to the front when exhaling we bent the leg from the knee. After repeating the pose for five times, we did the same flow by standing on the right leg. After opening up the arms on the level of shoulders, we held the yoga belt on that level. Without bending the body forward, we rooted on the left leg and opened the right leg to the back from the hip level. We kept the leg at that point and in each exhale we opened it a bit higher for five times. Then the same flow on the other side.
Now it was time for the peak pose. Being rooted on the left leg, we put the yoga belt under the sole of the right foot and opened the leg to the front. The aim was to continue keeping “iliac crests” side-by-side and this way open up the leg to the front. Another thing we should pay attention was to keep the shoulder side-by-side. Thus, the body would not be bent to right or left or to the front or back. With an erect spine and keeping the hip joint still, we would try the pose. After staying in the pose for five breaths, we opened the leg to the right side. The aim was still the same, i.e. to keep the hips even. One should not be in front of the other. If the hip was not even, maybe we needed to narrow the angle of the leg. Maybe bend it from the knee a little bit. After staying there for five breaths, we brought the leg back to the front and when exhaling we bent over it with a rounded spine. In the end of five breaths, we lifted the body up and we brought the leg down. The pose was over on the right side and now it was the left side’s turn.
“Utthita hasta padangusthasana” was an assymetric pose and therefore after trying it on the right side, we should wait in “tadasana” (mountain pose) for a few breaths and tried to experience the feelings and emotions. Closing the eyes, we focused on the effects of the asana on the body.
I reminded students that the right and left sides of the bodies could feel very different from each other. One could feel stronger and more balanced on one side but weak and unbalanced on the other side. Maybe balance on the two sides were almost the same. We could not know if we did not try but I reminded that we should be cautious when testing the other side since we could not know how it would feel beforehand. After trying the pose on the left site, we neautralized the body in “tadasana” and got a rest.
After a last “vinyasa”, we sat in “dandasana” (staff pose), which was so beneficial to neutralize energies in the body. Using “mula bandha” (root lock), “uddiyana bandha” (abdominal lock) and “jaladhara mudra” (chin lock), we stayed in the pose for ten breaths and calmed the minds down. Following “paschimottanasana” (sitting forward bend), we laid down on back and calmed down the bodies with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist). In the end came a long “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting position).
Snowfall continued throughout the class. When students were seeking balance and peace, I wondered how my balance and peace was. Dark, gloomy, rainy, snowy and cold weather as well as spring that was not coming was deteriorating my own balance. I thought whether that class for the students or for me. Was I trying to find my own balance by working balance on students? Or were we, the teachers, focusing on asanas our bodies and minds wanted in some of our classes? Or maybe sometimes we were focusing on asanas that our students needed thanks to the mental interaction with them. There should be balance in our classes like in our daily lives. Sometimes we should bend forward, sometimes we should bend backward, sometimes we should focus on balance, sometimes on inversions and sometimes we should get rooted and grounded.

Two things have changed my perspective on inversions. One was to start classes in a yoga studio, meet a distinguished yoga instructor, her recommendations to me and thus changing my perspective and her sharing everything she knows and learns with me. The second was to overcome my fear by continuous trial and practice. Of course, this was not an easy and short process as you may imagine. It happened in almost six months.

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Everything began when I was chatting with this yoga instructor one day. I told her that I could do headstand (sirsasana) but I could not do feathered peacock pose (pincha mayurasana) and handstand (adho mukha vrksasana). She asked me to try the poses before her eyes. As usual, I got into half handstand pose and tried to take my legs out of the wall one by one. She said, “Burcu, you are trying the most difficult handstand variation. Ok, you can strengthen your arm muscles and learn not to lean on your shoulder girdle but it takes a long time for you to get away from the wall.” She was right. I was trying for two years. I said, “but I cannot jump towards the wall. The wall is an obstacle. I feel like I may hit my head on the wall. I do not think I am strong enough to jump on the wall. This is something I have been afraid of since I was a kid. I cannot do it, I cannot make it.” My mind has accepted “cannot do it and cannot make it.” So, how much I pushed the limits, I could not make it. That simple!
Then, the yoga instructor started to help me. She showed some asanas to strengthen my core and some other ways to get into a handstand. She recommended me to practice every day. “You should practice every day. You should try every day. One day, it will happen.” Ok, let’s see.
When I got home, I googled handstands and watched my videos. I also kept the recommendations of my friend in my. I also watched videos to strengthen my core muscles.
The following day, I started my self-practice. Once I completed the cardiovascular and weight workout, I placed my mat beside the wall. First I began with core strengthening asanas and series. I thought I had strong core muscles. No, I did not. After starting to practice the core strengtheners I watched in yoga videos, I saw that my core was not as strong as I thought. So, I focused on strengthening my core.
After working the core, I went on with several series I had to do in order to stand on my hands. Leaning on the tip of the big toe in “uttanasana” (standing forward bend) and lifting the legs to the sides one by one, jumping into a handstand in “prasarita padottanasana” (wide-legged forward bend) and trying to stand on arms in balance even for one second, jumping from “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) onto a block as if you are getting into “bakasana” (crow), jumping from “uttanasana” into “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank) as if you are “flying” and by lifting the hip, and the same type of jumping from “adho mukha svanasana” into “uttanasana”. Finally, jumping to the wall.
Jumping to the wall was the most difficult one for me. I was not only trying “adho mukha vrksasana” but also “pincha mayurasana.” I was jumping, jumping and jumping but my legs were not reaching the wall. I was afraid. Why? I was just jumping on the wall. No chance to fall. One of the fitness instructors in the gym club told me this. “Burcu, why are you afraid of? Throw your legs higher and higher, up and up. They can only hit the wall. Nothing will happen. You won’t hurt yourself.” He may be right but let me realize this. First convince my mind.
Days were passing by. Those days, one of my friends at the gym club offered to help me. “You jump, let me grab your leg and this way you will get used to.” Maybe, he was right. I won’t lose anything if I tried. The second stage in my inversion process began this way. Every morning, my friend was helping me. I was going to the gym club half an hour before he came and working my core and inversion series. Then he was grabbing my legs.
Some more time went by. “No, no way. I can never do these poses in my whole life.” These were the views in my mind and surely, inversions were only a dream for me. And let me tell you something funny. If I see the mirror when I was jumping, I was getting excited and I could not even jump. When I see myself trying to jump to the wall on my hands, the pose was more and more impossible for me.
Days and months passed. One day, I went to my private class. When I was waiting my student to show up, I tried to jump to the wall. Before this class, I had a kids yoga class. I was so tried. Why was I trying handstand now? Was it to do with the devil? I placed my mat beside the wall and started to jump. First jump, second jump, third jump. What? One of my legs touched the wall and I stayed day for one second, or two seconds. Let me go on trying. Jump, jump, and jump. I am on my hands. Or am I just assuming so. No, I am on my hands. I placed my legs to the wall and stayed there for a few breaths. I am not at the point of taking my legs off the wall. “Please, my dear student. Come into the studio. See me. Let this not be a dream. Am I really in the wall-supported handstand? Please, someone see me and varify me.”

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That day was the day when my practice bore fruit. I was ambitious and worked hard. I practiced every day. Morning and evening. Whenever I went to a class, I was trying inversions beside the wall before the class began.
What happened after this first handstand? I did not give in and I went on practicing. As I said, I showed at the studio at least half an hour before my classes and I was working. I was also trying feathered peacock pose. One handstand, one feathered peacock pose. The same process with “pincha mayurasana.” At first, my legs were so away from the wall. Then, I started to throw my legs higher and higher. And one day I reached the wall. Then I tried to take my legs from the wall in “adho mukha vrksasana” and “pincha mayurasana.” First one by one, then both of them. I practiced and practiced.
Of course, this was not enough for me. Then came “sirsasana II” (tripod headstand). I could do “salamba sirsasana” (supported headstand) but I was having difficulties in tripod variation. The top of my head was hurting. My mat was too thin. I found a solution. I was placing a towel under my hand and making that part of my mat thicker. Guess what? I also managed to do this pose when I went to my private class. That place is magical for me, I think. I was getting into the tripod headstand by lifting both my legs and pushing them towards my chest. That is, I was not throwing my legs one by one. I was in full coordination and control and using my core muscles. I was beside the wall but not touching it. It was just good to feel confident and safe by the wall. Maybe, I could do it in the middle of the room but it was safer to stand by the wall.
And finally, I started to try getting from “sirsasana II” into “bakasana” (crow). Of course, by the wall. I could do it. Really. At first, I had difficulty in lifting my head when I placed my legs on my triceps but it happened when I used “bandha”s (locks).
If you ask me what happened in this long process, I had bruises in all parts of my body. Particulary at the back of my elbows and triceps. My elbows were hurt. I hit my head on the wall for many times. The top of my head hurt until I got used to inversions. After I got used to, not that much problem. My body and my mind were relaxed. My legs started to get away from the wall. When I was trying “pincha mayurasana” by the wall, from time to time I got into the pose without even touching the wall. But this time my mind was used to getting the signal: “legs to the wall.” I was panicking and immediately touching my legs on the wall. In fact, that was the pose I was trying to do. That was the final stage and exactly the way the pose had to be. Without the support of the wall, without hurrying, easy and relaxed. Yes, I could see. Whatever happens to me, comes from my mind.
The result? I am still practicing and trying. I am not daunted. I try new asanas. I focus on arm balancing poses. I do inversions one after the other. What is my goal? To stand in handstand and feathered peacock pose in the middle of the mat, away from the wall and without any support. It happened in headstand. Why not in “adho mukha vrksasana” and “pincha mayurasana”?

Unity and integrity… Integrity of the body, mind and the spirit… Yoga.. Yoga means unity and integrity and being one and being a whole, so why do we face different types of yoga in our daily lives? Why does hatha yoga exist? Why do we name a certain style of yoga as vinyasa yoga? And then, what is yin yoga?

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In eastern philosophy, yoga is just yoga. It does not have different names and styles. Only the time during which you stay in poses can change, duration of your stay in a pose can be long or short. However, yoga is not divided into styles and types according to the duration of your stay in poses in the eastern world. In eastern culture, yoga is simply “yoga.”
Yoga has started to be named differently according to different styles after it was introduced to the west. More rapid, dynamic and flowing yoga classes are called “vinyasa yoga.” We can also define these classes as “yang” classes. Calmer, more static classes with long-awaited poses are named “yin yoga.” Actually, “yin” and “yang” represent female and male energies, i.e. everything in nature and life are either “yin” or “yang.” “Yin” and “yang” refer to opposite poles like dark and light, female and male, cold and hot. Moreover, “hatha yoga” can be defined as a style of yoga in order to be performed to harmonize female and male energies in our bodies.
It is so natural for us not to have so much time for ourselves in the daily life in the western world. Therefore, we find ourselves in gym halls after we spend a tiring day at work. When we go to gym, our aim is to “achieve the most in the shortest time.” Sometimes we feel ourselves strong, more active and join dynamic classes. Sometimes we feel tired and we wish to have peace in calmer classes.
This is exactly why the western world divided yoga into styles and addressed the working people of metropolises. If we feel ourselves strong, energetic, active and ready to sweat that day, “vinyasa yoga” can be the ideal choice for us. “Vinyasa” means flow. In vinyasa yoga classes, we flow from one pose into another with our breath like a river. Non-interruptedly, we change from one pose into another with the help of breath, and like flowing water. And as if we are dancing. Instructors can add “surya namaskar” (sun salutation series) at the beginning, middle and end of these classes. And also they can ask us to perform a set of “surya namaskar” between some sitting poses, thus we can overcome and eliminate any stiffness in our bodies if there are some at that time.
“Ashtanga yoga” is one of the most well-known of vinyasa classes. It is a style of flow yoga developed by Pattabhi Jois. It has an unchangeable flow, and it is not performed during new or full moon because we do not want to hurt our bodies with moon’s effects. This style of yoga uses “ujjayi” (hero) breath, “mula” (root) and “uddiyana” (abdominal) “bandha”s (locks) and we always have a “drishti” (a perspective) in the poses.
On some days, we may feel something different in our bodies but we cannot even define what it is. This may result because of a change in our male and female energies. One day, our male energy may prevail and the other day we may be under the influence of our femal energy. Hatha yoga can be the best thing to do under such a circumstance. In simple, hatha yoga is the yoga of sun and moon, i.e. the unification of male and female energies. We try to balance these two energies when doing hatha yoga. A bit female, a bit male… After doing “purvottanasana” (reverse plank), we do “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend) in order to regulate and balance the two energies in our bodies. “Purvottanasana” means looking towards the east, which is a male asana. However, “paschimottanasana” means the posture heading towards the west, which is a female asana. For this reason, we do poses affecting sun and moon, male and female energies, in hatha yoga. Thus, we balance the energies in our bodies and we try to harmonize our mind, body and spirit– which is the final target of yoga.
One day, we may feel ourselves tired and exhausted. Such a day may be a good opportunity to experience yin yoga and spoil ourselves. Yin yoga is a style of yoga that has come out as a synthesis of hatha yoga and Chinese Taoist tradition. In fact, what we should do is to stay longer in asanas, and feel the relaxation and stretch in our connective tissues.
Yin yoga aims at relaxation and stretch. Finding peace in our bodies and mind. Since we aim to relax and stretch up to our connective tissues in yin yoga, we enter into poses and we give ourselves in. We loosen our muscles. However, it is out of question for us to loosen our muscles in hatha and vinyasa yoga. We tighten our muscles all the time when doing hatha and vinyasa yoga, and we try to warm our bodies up by using “ujjayi” (hero) breathing and thus, aim to eliminate the risk of injuries. However in yin yoga, we aim to give ourselves in, and accept the situation we are in. Under such a circumstances, relaxation and peace prevail. Sometimes, our mood and bodies let us do yin yoga but sometimes the instructors asks us to do such a pose that we cannot stay even a single moment in that pose. We should not forget that the philosophy of yoga is associated with flexibility and acceptance. In that case, we can accept this situation and we can try another pose that has the same affect. What does this mean? We are not depended on a single pose in yin yoga. If our aim is to work a certain part of our body and affect our internal organs, then we can achieve this goal with many different asanas, not just one asana. This is what differs yin yoga from others. If our aim is to work the hip external rotator muscles, i.e. the gluteal muscles and iliotibial band, then we can achieve this goal with many poses like “shoelace”, “square” or “sleeping swan” and we can stimulate our gall bladder.
Yoga is such a flexible and wide world. The western world has adopted classical yoga to its own habits, and turned it into a system and philosophy acceptable to everyone.
In fact, yoga is just “yoga”. Yoga asanas are all the same irrespective of what type of yoga we are performing. Only the duration of our stay in the poses change. We can sometimes use props and try to modify the poses for our bodies.
Whatever it is named, yoga is the art of being a whole in the past or today’s world, in the west or the east. It is a mental and bodily relaxation and stretch, finding peace, and acceptance.
The only matter is to stay yin, calm ourselves, accept and give ourselves in, under a yang pose or circumstance whenever doing yoga or in real life. Similarly, we should become yang, get more energized, strong and active in a ying pose or situation if we are supposed to do so.
We should not forget that yin and yang is an indispensable whole. Every yin element can also be yang, and every yang element can be yin at the same time. What we should do is to balance our yin and yang energies, listen to our inner voice and insights, and meet our instant needs. This can sometimes be running or jogging, dancing, meditating, jumping, a yang style yoga, or a yin style yoga. What can we expect and hope more if we balance our yin and yang energies and if one does not dominate the other?