Archives for posts with tag: meditation

I have not been writing for a long time. I do not know but I think this is a process. I have quit writing for some time, calmed my mind down and started writing again. Can I manage to go on writing without any intervals from this day on? I do not know that. I am not thinking about the future. I just wanted to write now and now I am in front of my computer,

Actually there are many things to write. Many experiences I gained in my classes. All physical, emotional and mental but I cannot make up my mind, relax and calm my mind down in order to write. Today is the right time and now I am writing.

A student who is interested in energy came to the class recently. Even though she wants to join every yoga class, she cannot since that class is taking place at an office during lunch time. Therefore sometimes some students can join and sometimes they cannot. When I woke up that morning, I was sure that this student would show up in class. It was the new moon time and I planned to do something related with the new moon. But in fact, I wanted this student who is dealing with healing and energy to do this. We had earlier talked about such plans but did not schedule any time. That morning I woke up and said, “this is the day.” I knew that the student was not always showing up in class but I had the instinct that she would that day. I was not wrong,

When I was about to enter the gym hall we were practicing, that student was getting out of the hall. She said, “teacher, I am coming today. I will join the class.” I said, “I had known that you were coming. I felt it because I would ask you to heal us if every one agrees. It is the new moon, new beginnings and for everything new.” The student could not object us and accepted the offer.

We began with meditation. Every one sat in a comfortable position. We wore socks and put on blankets in order not to be affected by the cold and the mind which could be affected by the cold. We began the healing with “Gayatri Mantra”, which has always been my favorite. I closed my eyes, focused on my breath, began watching my inhales and exhales and I relaxed my body. I leaned on a wall to feel more comfortable. I had been teaching yoga for so long time that I had forgotten to “take.” I was just giving energy but not receiving any. I reallly was in need of “taking” and “receiving.”

The new moon was happening in Taurus and its planet was Venus. So, we would work on “svadhisthana” (sacral) and “anahata” (heart) chakra, the student said. Listening to mantras and guided by the students, our bodies, minds and souls were flowing. My breath was calm and even stopped, I remember. I could not feel my body as if I had no body. There were colors and geometrical shapes in front of my minds. I thanked god, “my brain waves were moving from beta (stress mode) to alpha (meditation and savasana mode). This was the last thing I realized. Then I let myself totally be present with the mantras, the knowledge of my student and the flow. When mantras were following each other, the shapes and colors in front of my eyes changed. First two red lines came from right and left and hit each other in middle. Then colors softened and turned to parliament blue and just blue. I could not keep my head straight and still. It was dropping to right, left, front and back. Then there was no body. I was like flying. Some say that people rise from the floor when practicing yoga and meditation, which I have not witnessed myself, but if you ask if I had been off the floor, yes I would say I had that day. When my eyes were closed and my body was so light and listening to those mantras, I felt so light. As if I was a feet above the floor. That was really what I felt.

We laid down in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) at the end of the healing. When we were resting, the student came beside us. When she was with me, I felt energy spreading to my entire body from my crown chakra (sahasrara), from the top of my head up to the tips of my toes. I shrank and felt a vibration on my body as if my body was electrified. It was an unbelievable and amazing experience. I had not felt such an energy for a long time. Since I was a person who was always giving energy but forgetting to get, this healing was so fruitful and beneficial to me. I think energy givin people should sometimes remember themselves and join such practices.

I did not want to wake up after “savasana.” Unfortunately it was time to return to the real world and get away from that peaceful world. The student said,” actually it is not the right time to do this healing because the new moon has not been realized yet. It is about to happen one and a half hours and the effects will be better then. Normally I would not do this healing before the new moon happens because you cannot healed enough and benefit from it. But I felt that everybody needed this practice and therefore I did it. I had not thought that the outcome would bso good. Actually the moon has not entered the new moon phase and I could not be so giving and fruitful but I think that this is because you were so willing and in need of this energy and therefore we all benefitted. I am so glad.”

After that day, I made up my mind that I would start “taking” and “receiving” from time to time. In order for the cycle to operate well, we should sometimes take not always give. It was necessary to keep the give-take cycle equal. Neither giving more nor taking more. And one should always get healed, purified, refreshed, renewed and give time to herself/himself for peace and to try different practices.

I have been waiting for summer to come for almost two months. As I am waiting, it is not coming. I love hot weather, sun, pool, sea and sunbathing. The more I want all these summer-linked things, the longer it takes for summer to come. Moreover, I want to write an article on what type of yoga we can do during the summer. However, I cannot write it as the summer has not arrived yet. I decided to write anyway June 21, the summer solstice, has passed away. What type of yoga should we do to celebrate the summer solstice?

Before answering this question, let’s try to explain what summer solstice mean and what happens that day. We experience two solstices a year, including winter solstice on December 21 and summer solstice on June 21. It is the time when the movement of the sun’s path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before it reverses direction.

The summer solstice or June 21 is the longest day of the year. It is the completion of the cycle that began at the winter solstice. The sun is at its highest point on this day. After June 21, days start to get shorter and nights grow longer until September 23 — the autumnal equinox. I should remind you that all these things happen in the northern hemisphere. It is just the opposite in the southern hemisphere.
Let’s come back to the solstice after this brief scientific information. The solstice is the best time to let the nature embrace us. Particularly during the summer solstice, we can find ourselves dancing with bare feet on grass or sand with the sun warming our bodies and soul. So far, we have only talked about the effects of the solstice on our souls.

If you ask me what type of yoga we could do to mark the summer solstice, I would just tell you to perform 108 “surya namaskara” (sun salutations). The sun is at its highest point on this day, so it is so meaningful to mark the day with sun salutations. This way we can burn the fire within us. We can expand each time we inhale and imagine that the sun is warming us each time we exhale.
Can we only mark the summer solstice with a flow yoga? Of course not. We can also mark June 21 with yin yoga. We cannot burn the fire within us with this type of yoga but we can extinguish the fire and we can calm ourselves down on this summer solstice. These are types of yoga we may perform on June 21 summer solstice. Now let’s try to find an answer to the question “what type of yoga during summer”.
As you may remember from my previous articles, our bodies are divided into three groups according to Ayurveda (Indian science of living). They were “vata, pitta and kapha”. Only one type was dominant on some bodies. On some bodies, two or three types were active. Also, one of the body types can be dominant over other during different seasons. During cold, dark, severe and harsh winter, the “vata dosha” (air and space) in our bodies was increasing. Therefore, we were giving priority to grounding in our yoga practice. During winter, the “kapha dosha” (earth and water) was dominant and to this end, we were feeling heavy and exhausted.

What happens to our bodies during summer? When summer comes, the “pitta” (fire and water) in our body increases. We may feel ourselves tired due to hot weather. Moreover, as the “pitta dosha” increases in our bodies, we may be aggressive and demanding. For this reason, it will be good for us if we begin our yoga practice by lying supine during summer. Starting with “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) to bring the awareness to our yoga practice, then a lateral stretch and a twist will make us feel well at the beginning of our yoga practice. This way we can balance our internal heat.
Not only at the beginning of our yoga practice but also during the entire practice we may prefer a calmer yoga style than a fast and active yoga style. This way, we can give more priority to relaxation and meditation. But, this does not mean that we should not practice a flow yoga during summer. We can do it in a calmer and more aware way when we practice flow yoga.
Naturally, we can begin the practice with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series and go on with all standing asanas such as “trikonasana” (triangle), “ardha chandrasana” (half moon pose), “utthita parsvakonasana” (wide angle pose), “setu bandhasana” (bridge), “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel), “bharadvajrasana” (sage Bharadvaj pose), “upavista konasana” (seated angle pose), “parivritta janu sirsasana” (twisted head to knee pose), “baddha konasana” (bound angle pose), “paschimottanasana” (east looking forward bend), “halasana” (plow pose), “salamba sarvangasana” (supported shoulderstand), “karnapidasana” (ear pressure pose), “matsyasana” (fish pose). We can focus on forward bends in our yoga classes or own practice in order to calm the mind and body down.
In addition to all these asanas, we can use a “pranayama” technique called “sitali” to cool our bodies down. In short we curl the tongue and protrude it slightly past the lips. We inhale deeply and smoothly through the tongue and mouth and exhale through the nose. This technique calms and cools us. You may feel cooler when you do this pranayama for a few minutes.

Another “pranayama” technique we can use during summer is to close the right nostril and just breathe through the left nostril. Right nostril is the male and solar side of our bodies and named “pingala nadi” (solar energy center). The left nostril is the female and lunar side of our bodies and named “ida nadi” (lunar energy center). When we close the right nostril, we close the male, active and warming side of our bodies and when we inhale and exhale through the left nostril, we use our female, passive and cooling side.

At the end of our yoga practice, we can either rest in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) or we can reverse the flow of the body and rest in “viparita karani” (legs up to the wall).

Have you noticed that yoga is such a wide world that you may practice different types and use different “pranayama” techniques in every season. It is possible to warm or cool our bodies during winter and summer with these breathing techniques. So you may ask how to breath during spring or autumn? There is a breathing technique to equalize the right and left energies in our bodies, which can be used especially during spring and autumn. That is, yoga offers us many different things.
This or that way, summer or winter. Or spring or autumn. Not important. What is important is to love yoga and have yoga in our daily lives during all seasons maybe only by asanas; or by asanas, pranayama and meditation; or by asanas, pranayama, meditation and philosophy.

 

 

“Teacher, I was undergoing an MRI last week. There was something wrong with the MRI device and I had to stay in the device for about one and a half hours.” “So, how could you endure it?” “Teacher, I only thought about the yoga classes. I told myself that this would not last forever but would end soon. And I closed my eyes and focused on my breath.”

One of the students told me all these things in one of the yoga group classes last week. That day, we were working on “vayu”s (wind/air flow/energy flows in the body). Therefore that class was a bit different and more spiritual than any other yoga classes. We were working on some “asana”s (pose) related to the energy flows and trying to observe towards where the body was moving  and how the body was moving together with the breath.

When we were resting in “balasana” (child pose) in-between the flows, one of the students said, “teacher, I can see the advantages and benefits of yoga classes in my daily life. Yoga has changed my daily life. I have turned into a very different person. A recent incident helped me once more see how yoga is beneficial to me.”

The other students and I wondered what had happened to the student and asked her to tell the whole story. At that point, the student said,”teacher, I was undergoing an MRI last week. There was something wrong with the MRI device and I had to stay in the device for about one and a half hours.” “So, how could you endure it?” “Teacher, I only thought about the yoga classes. I told myself that this would not last forever but would end soon. And I closed my eyes and focused on my breath.”

“I remembered the opening meditation and overviewed what we were doing in that meditation. I remembered that we closed our eyes and focused on the breath. I inhaled and exhaled and started to count my breath. I tried to realize at which part of the body the breath was moving. At first, I panicked and my breath was shallow. Then I closed my eyes and tried to leave my mind aside and shut it down. Then the breath started to calm down. And I started to take longer breath. I could deepen the breath from my chest to the abdomen and even to the pelvic floor. The deeper my breath was, I was calmer. As I kept my eyes closed, I was calmer. I concentrated my mind on my breath. A while later, my breath was so calm that it almost stopped. My body was no more tense but relaxed.”

“At that very moment, I realized your words. Bad news, nothing lasts forever. Good news, nothing last forever. Nothing is permament. Everything changes. We were closing the eyes and focusing on our breath in order to silence the mind in yoga “asana”s in which we really have difficulties. We were trying to connect the body and the breath. This was one of the moments which was really hard for me. And, I told myself that it was not permanent and it would last soon. And I believed in what I was telling myself. I hadn’t realized before how yoga got a part of my daily life. It was the first time I realized that I was applying to yoga in the moments I really felt difficulties and problems in my daiy life.”

I could not explain how happy I was to hear all the story. Yes, I am teaching yoga in gym clubs but this does not mean that yoga should be regarded just like any other physical activities. Of course, our priority is to get a good physical and body shape and look. Even though many people come to group yoga classes at gym clubs for only this goal, they start to “be yoga” in time. “To be yoga”… “To be whole bodily, spiritually and mentally.” Then in time, the goal to have spiritual and mental peace replaces the goal to get a good physical shape and look. I guess this is what yoga is and here we can find the philosophy of yoga. To get loved and adored by people just by being itself and without imposing anything or forcing anything or anyone.

“Teacher, there is an important issue I have to decide upon. I have two choices and I cannot decide which one is the best and right for me. Can yoga help me decide?” This was a question I came across in one of group yoga classes recently. I decided to teach a class on the third eye to answer this question.

That day was the day of “yin yoga” (the type of yoga in which we stretch the bodies up to connective tissues). I decied to make a practice which included “yin yoga” poses and poses that would stimulate “ajna chakra” (third eye chakra). I was planning to talk about mind and soul when we were practicing.

After we began the class with meditation, we stayed in “utthita balasana” (extended child pose) for at least three minutes. I recommended that the students place their hands or something like a sweatshirt under their forehead if they were not able to place their forehead on the ground. When staying in this “asana” (pose), I started to talk about the mind. I told the students that the mind was totally pure and clean when we were born but was being polluted as we got socialized in time. The right, the wrong, the sin and the shame. All these were things that the society was putting in front of us and asked us to accept and obey. And the mind believed in all these things and made us live our entire life within these patterns. The mind believed that it was safe and healthy to live within these borders and patterns. Therefore, it preferred to stay in the safe haven and was not pushing itself hard. At this point, we were losing our connection with our soul and the divine power. We could not see the signals and messages sent to us and we were turning into individuals only conspired of mind, brain and reason.

We practiced poses to stimulate the third eye, i.e. the area between the eyebrows, throughout the class including “salamba sarvangasana” (supported shoulderstand), “halasana” (plow pose) and “karnapidasana” (ear pressure pose). During the closing meditation, we closed the eyes and turned the eyes towards the area between the eyebrows.

I was talking about the mind and soul all during these poses. “When was the last time you did something really from the heart? You did not listen to your mind even though it said it was wrong but listened to the heart and did what the heart told you? Anything that your soul liked but mind and reason objected? I just want you to think about it as we wait in this pose. When was the last time you put your mind aside and did something that your soul wanted? Can you remember or was it so long before?”

“When the mind is active, there are always patterns, borders, the right, the wrong, the sin, the taboos and the shame. The mind prevents us from seeing clearly. However, if you listen to your heart, it will show you the right way. The mind knows the truth and what is right but we never listen to it. We always take the mind into consideration. Now, we should return to the question the students asked before the class began. If we are the pieces of the God, then we should know the truth and what is right once we are born.  The soul knows what is right and wrong however the mind prevents us from seeing them. If we inactivate the mind for some time, we could hear the sound of the divine power, the earth, the universe or the God — however you may name it. And thus, you may see which choice or which path is right and good for you. However, the mind makes our eyes so blind that we cannot see the signs that are just in front of our eyes. If we listen to our soul and if we keep listening to our mind, we can realize that the divine power is talking to us and showing us the right and the good. As long as we become more aware, as long as we open our hearts, as long as we listen to our soul, as long as we get away from “robot-style” individuals who only act with their “brain” and “mind.” Then, we will become individuals who are not polluted by the society but instead clean, open-eyed and loveable individuals. As long as we re-establish our connection with our soul.

What draws my attention in yoga classes is that everybody has a different type of body. Some of them have flexible hips and some are born with a flexible chest. It is so easy for some people to stand on their hands whereas it is impossible for some people to stand upside down. If we leave aside the soul and mind, the characteristics of our bodies help us do certain “asana”s (pose) or refrain from some of them.

2009-2010 tum fotolar 006

It was an evening class. I wanted to focus on backbends that evening. There were a few new comers. People who had showed up in a yoga class for the first time… Nevertheless, I insisted on a backbend flow and the peak pose. The peak pose would be “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel pose).

We began the class with meditation as usual. What was important during meditation was to feel comfortable. So, I was not forcing students to sit at a certain pose. What was important to feel bodily comfortable so that the mind also relaxes. Therefore, every one was free to sit either in “sukhasana” (easy pose) or “virasana” (hero pose) or “dandasana” (staff pose). What was important was to sit with an erect spine, without rounding the spine. I asked the students to pick the pose that was comfortable for them, close their eyes, relax the chin and jaw and the area between the eyebrows, to roll the shoulders back and push the shoulder blades down, to extend the spine as their breathe in. I watched the students picking up their meditative poses, either “sukhasana” or “virasana.” Those with knee issues preferred “dandasana.”

That evening, one of the students sat in “padmasana” (lotus pose). I can hear you ask what was so special about that. Yes, nothing special. “Padmasana” is one of the “asana”s we may prefer while meditating. What is interesting is that this was that student’s first ever yoga class.

Following meditation, we started to get prepared for “urdhva dhanurasana.” We stretched the chest, hip flexor muscles and shoulders. It was time for the peak pose. I wanted the students to try the peak pose in three stages. In the first stage, they would do “setu bandhasana” (bridge pose). In the second stage, they would get into “setu bandhasana” and then they would place their hands beside their ears and put the top of the head on the ground. In the third trial, they would exactly do the second stage and then try to lift their body up to fully get into “urdhva dhanurasana.”

All students did the first stage. Some of them tried while some did not try the second stage. And something interesting happened in the third trial. A new student could do “urdhva dhanurasana” with the right alignment.

After the peak pose, we neutralized the bodies with “dandasana, “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend), “baddha konasana” (bound angle pose) and “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist). The class ended with “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).

Some of the students took their time to leave the studio after the class ended. What drew my attention also drew the attention of the old students. “Teacher, have you realized the new students today”, they asked. I answered, “yes, I have realized them. I have seen that one of them could easily do ‘padmasana’ at the beginning of the class. However, we try very hard to do that pose but still have difficulties. And the other student could so easily do the wheel pose. How different our bodies are, aren’t they? Some of them can easily bend backward and feel so comfortable in wheel pose. Some of them feel so happy in ‘padmasana.’ Some of them feel happy and comfortable with handstand. When I was a child, I was refraining from handstands in our gym classes. I loved to do wheel pose but I hated handstand. The school ended and I thought that I would no more have to do handstand. How could I know that I would have to deal with this pose again during yoga teacher training program? This means that refraining is not a solution. There is still something I am supposed to learn from it.”

“Every one has a different type of body. Some can stand on their arms as if they are standing on their feet while some of them like to bend backward. Some have flexible hips and no problems with ‘padmasana’ or ‘hanumanasana’ (monkey pose/split). What is important is to realize what our body prevails and not prevails and our talents and just enjoy the journey when our bodies do not let us do some poses.

I cannot post a blog for some time. I just think that writing about yoga and meditation would make me seem like a person who closes her eyes to what is going on in her country, especially to increasing terror incidents in our country, economic crisis and political developments. Therefore, I did not want to post blogs on yoga and meditation. Even though I sat in front of the computer every week, I looked at the screen and then decided not to write. Actually, I do not want to write even at this very moment.

BEN_4569

What makes me feel happy in these days when I really feel sad and hopeless is my yoga classes. I would not even want to go out of my house even if I did not have any yoga classes. When I went to classes, I feel relieved and away from everything maybe just for an hour. I think the spirit and happiness of students in yoga “asana”s (poses) are reflected on me. And I show up on the scene just like an actress, forget all negative things and smile for an hour.

Cobbler’s children have no shoes… Me, too. Even though I do my self-practice and spend a lot of time practicing yoga and meditation, it is no use. The only thing that makes me happy these days is my yoga classes and the bliss of my students at the end of classes.

All my students were in the same mood during this time. Therefore, we focused on “hip opening poses”, “twists” and “chest opening asanas.” We tried to love more and understand others by opening our chest. With twists, we wanted to get rid of what has been kept inside for a long time and detoxifying. With hip openers, we tried to end the emotions like anger, hatred and fear. Even if it was just for an hour, we forgot all these emotions and thoughts and could breathe. Even if it was just for an hour, we could fully integrate our body, soul and mind. Even if it was just for an hour, we forgot all negative things. Even if it was just for an hour, we watched our own body and tried to realize how our breath was. Even though it was just for an hour, we purified ourselves from all thoughts and made our mind just focus on body and breath. And at the end of that one hour, we left the class with a little bit peace and happiness, which was what we longed for.

When we were a child and when we were younger than two-digit ages, the new year was the best time of the year. However there were not so many opportunities like this before. There were not any shopping malls that were decorated with new year lights where you could feel the joy of the new year. You could only feel that the new year was coming from the cake shops. And also from the lunch at the school.

thumbnail_img_20161230_121220_548

The new year’s eve was like a holiday at school. The cook used to wear Santa Claus costume and serve us the best food we had ever had so far. There was nothing different with the food that day. They were just serving us the food we loved the most. There were no lessons. We used to have fun all day. At night, our parents brought us altogether in either our place or some other’s place and they went out to have fun in a restaurant. Remember, I have told you that you could only feel the joy of the new year in cake shops. Our parents used to buy us a special cake for the new year from a cake shop in order to please us. When they came home, we would already have been fallen asleep. The new year was to play with friends, eat cakes and to fall asleep before midnight when we were a kid.

Days, weeks, years and years passed by. One-digit ages were over. Two-digit ages came. Everything was so fine at the 20s. Between 20s and 30s, we used to go out to mark the new year. Drink, music and dance till the morning. When we were heading from 30s to 40s, everything started to change. The new year was no more as attractive and joyful as it used to be. We had lost that joy. The house and Christmas tree that used to be decorated with joy in the 20s and 30s were replaced with some sentences like, “oh my God, it’s the new year’s eve again. What are we going to do? How can we have fun? It is more boring than ever.” On the other hand, the new year’s eve celebrated with friends was still fun. The “crazy night out”s were replaced with “chat” and “a dinner table” with friends.

And again we are on the eve of a new year. Am I joyful and enthusiastic? Not really. So what am I feeling? I have goals for the new year. I am willing to learn new things and develop myself. I am eager to read and learn more. I am willing to travel and see new places. I am eager to visit exhibitions, go to seminars and develop myself more. I have the ambition to progress on the path of yoga, practice new “asana”s or at least try the “asana”s I am not good at and enjoy the journey. I am willing to make new beginnings. I am willing to have a new hobby. I wish to write a book, which most of my friends ask why I haven’t started so far. New year, new wishes, goals, willingness and beginnings. And the ambition to achieve all of them in the new year.

A long meditation and “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) in the last yoga class of the year. What did I wish for? “2017 has come and gone. It is now a history. We do not care about the past in yoga. We cannot intervene and we cannot change the past. The past is over and you should forget about it. 2018… New year, new wishes, new demands, new dreams, new goals and targets… However it has not yet arrived. It is about to come. However, the future is so far away from us. We can only have plans and goals but we cannot know what the future will bring us. So, no need to think about it so much. We can deal with it when the time comes. So what about now? Now, the moment we are just living? We should try to enjoy “now” and the “right now” and the “very right now we are living.” When we are talking or writing, the right now is over. The right now is also a past. So we should have a goal in the new year. Just to live the right now we are living and not to think about a moment before or after. Just to live the right now and realize and be aware that all our wishes, goals, dreams, demands and targets are not so far away from us.

And let there be hope… Let there always be hope… 2018! Be a lovely, more peaceful year in which we face no problems or troubles in our country and in the world. Let us wake up to bright mornings. Let us close our eyes at night peacefully. Let there be love. Let everyone love each other more. Let everyone understand each other… Let us all be peaceful, serene, happy and hopeful… Let there always be hope… 2018! Please bring better and brighter days to particularly my country, will you?

I do generally not talk about yoga philosophy and the story of “asana”s (pose) in group yoga classes. The answer is so simple if you want to learn the reason of it. I usually teach group yoga classes at gym clubs and new students always show up in classes. I think what would I feel if I were in their shoes. I imagine myself in a gym club joining my first ever yoga class, assuming that yoga is “simple, easy and stretches the body.” And I imagine myself in a yoga class in which the teacher talks about something, which is totally nonsense to me. I think of my own first yoga class as a student. I remember myself thinking “body is body, can body have a language, can it talk, is it possible for parts of the body to express a special emotion” and wishing the class to end particularly when I was lying down in “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose). I remember begging the god to end the class immediately. Maybe because of this, I do not talk about philosophy in group yoga classes at gmy clubs. But sometimes I feel myself totally turned inward and eager to talk about philosophy. Last week was such a week.

20160114_123329

When students asked to stretch both back muscles and hip mucles, I decided on the peak pose as “kurmasana” (tortoise pose). This “asana” would stretch both upper back muscles and shoulder girdle as well as hip muscles and would be a class that would make all students happy. Usually I talk about the peak pose and which muscles would be strengthened or stretched for that pose at the beginning of the class. I informed the students again in that class. Maybe it was because of the books I had been recently reading or subjects I had recently been interested in, I did not know the reason but I started to talk about philosophy all of a sudden. Turning inward, harmonizing the body, mind and soul, slowing the breath down and then calming the body down. After calming down the body, watching the breath and keeping the mind on the body by watching the breath. Of course, I was saying the same things at the beginning of all yoga classes but that day, something was different. Only deal with yourself, close the eyes and turn inward, live inside your body not outside, cut links with the outside world for at least a few moments and just focus on the body and the breath.

After stretching the parts of the body that should be stretched for the peak pose, it was time for “kurmasana.” The tortoise pose was a pose in which we bent forward and turned inward. As how tortoises turned inside, got into their body and home when they felt afraid or take some time alone, we got into our home, return home and body and turned inward. I ended the class saying, “instead of just focusing on the outside world, just watching the outside world and being interested in it, sometimes we should live in our bodies, turn inward and feel our inner self.”

When I showed up in the evening yoga class, I was planning to teach a core strengthening class. However there were new students in the class and therefore I decided on an easier class and picked a hip opener pose as the peak pose. What is challenging in a group class at a gym club is the new students who join their first ever yoga class besides the old students. You always want to please both the new and old students and make them get the most benefit from the class. That evening was really challenging for me. I decided on a hip opening sequence because it would be easy for everybody to perform however I picked up a challenging pose as the peak pose in order not to offend the old students. “Hanumanasana” (monkey pose). This pose required the opening of groins, inner thighs, hip flexor muscles as well as hamstrings. We opened up the required muscles in the first half of the class. “Hanumanasana” was an “asana” which told about devotion, loyalty and love. It told us the story of a person who tried to do and achieve something with loyalty and devotion to help his friend. It told about how an impossible thing could be achieved when you loved and devoted yourself to a friend. It was a story that talked about making a giant leap forward with love, devotion and loyalty and turning back with another giant leap forward. Maybe our leap was minor that day, maybe it was not so giant when compared to our past leaps. Maybe it was better than the previous leaps. What was important was to make the leap. What was important was to take action. What was important was to make leap with devotion, loyalty and love. To take action, to make a giant leap forward and take step with love, devotion and loyalth not only in our daily lives but also in yoga classes… To take steps and get to somewhere with pure love and without being negatively affected with ambition.

At the end of that day, I realized that I should give priority to philosophy in group classes. Students could join other group classes in gym club and get physically strong and stretch in those classes. What was important was to honor and refresh our souls and minds in yoga classes, which could be only done with more breathing exercises, meditation and philosophy. To turn inward like a tortoise and to take steps, make a giant leap forward, take action and overcome obstacles with devotion, loyalty and love like “God Hanuman.”

We are so used to living in a rush that we try to hurry even in our spare time. Some of us want to read a book, some want to take a walk, some want to dance, some want to go shopping, some want to wander around and some want to practice yoga and meditation in our spare times. Can we really fully live in the present time and benefit totally from our spare times?

14708153_10154601821189666_743189785718200487_n

When I show up in yoga classes, I see students who want to make the most benefit from one-hour classes. As we think of yoga as one of physical activities we do in gym clubs, we only think of which muscles are strengthened and how many calories we can spent in that one hour and what we want is to only get the maximum benefit from yoga classes. We forget that yoga is something beyond physical activity but it is something that makes our soul and mind feel relieved. And classes turn into periods of time in which we only focus on our bodies.

As time passes, we come to understand that yoga is something beyond body. Even though how strong the bodies are, we can have difficulties in practicing some “asana”s (poses) and start to think why we cannot do those poses. And at that moment we realize that yoga is beyond physical activity and it is something in which our body should act in harmony with our soul and mind. When that moment comes in group classes, students want to experience “pranayama” (breath liberation)  techniques and “meditation”, which had just happened in two group classes last week.

We prepared our mind to turn inward by forward bends before trying “meditation.” Our mind is always interested in the outside world, not the inside. So we closed our eyes which were always looking outside and tried to see what is inside with the eyes closed. We watched our breath and directed the mind to a single point.

According to yoga master Patanjali’s “ashtanga yoga”, first comes “pranayama” (breathing exercises) and then come “pratyahara” (withdrawal of senses), “dharana” (concentration) and “dhyana” (meditation). After meditation comes “samadhi”, i.e. “bliss”.

We used “shanmukti mudra” (the seal we used for withdrawal of senses) and in order to ensure concentration we needed to focus our attention on a single point. In the evening class, we had candles and lit the candles for “trataka kriya” (mind purifying method by gazing at candle light). In the morning group class, we gazed at a bottle. In fact, the mind was doing the same exercise when it felt tired. Have you ever realized what you do when you look at the monitor for a long time and your vision is blurred? Yes, you are right. You gaze at a wall or some plain place and you empty your mind, don’t you? You look at the sea, lake or a river in order to empty your mind.

The breathing exercise came afterwards. Inhaling and exhaling throught the left nostril only in order to activate the calm side our body. To turn the brain waves from “beta” to “alpha” and prepare the mind for meditation.

Following the breathing exercise, we started medatation without opening the eyes. What was important was to feel comfortable and not to feel cold because the body could not meditate when it did not feel comfortable. Wearing a sweatshirt or using a blanket, leaning on a wall or lying supine. All were welcome in order to feel comfortable. To focus on the breath and concentrate the mind on a single point. Then to only watch the breath and the mind without chasing after the thoughts. Colors, geometric shapes. To think that we were not breathing for a moment but not to be deceieved by the games of the mind. To free the soul and to lay the groundwork for liberation of the soul. To let the soul fly if it wanted to. Then came bliss, “samadhi”, “nirvana”.

Can we really turn inward in our daily lives? Can we close our eyes, turn inside, count to at least five and respond more healthily instead of reacting suddenly when we get angry? Can we stop for a moment? Can we stop and wait instead of running and hurrying? Can we live our spare times happily and without rushing or hurrying? Can we take a deep breath, close our eyes and honor our soul for a moment? Can we enable our mind not to go forward but to act in harmony with our soul and body? Can we live without rushing?

What is the difference between yoga and other physical activities? I sometimes find myself asking this question. What is the difference between yoga and “dynamic stretching” or “pilates”? Or any other physical activity?

BEN_4569

Yoga literally means to unite, to yoke. Yoga means the unity of the body, mind and soul. It means the harmony of the body, mind and the soul. If we lose the harmony among body, mind and soul when flowing in a yoga class, we are not in a state of “yoga”. “Yoga” is actually a “state” instead of a physical activity.

What instructors care about the most in yoga classes is the harmony of the body and the breath. Inhaling and getting into one “asana” (pose) and exhaling into another “asana.” Let’s elaborate it. Doing one “asana” as long as we breathe in and doing another “asana” as long as we breathe out and end up in the final position of that “asana.” Surely we cannot ignore the importance of breath in all physical activities however breath has a peculiar place in yoga. Breath is our soul and therefore any obstruction in the breath means making a concession of our soul. For this reason, we practice “pranayama” (breath liberating) exercises at the beginning and end of yoga classes. Sitting in a cross-legged position or on the knees, keeping the spine erect and focusing on the breath. Focusing on the breath and expanding the breath and in time achieving “pranayamic breathing” which means “yoga breath.” A respiration with the lungs, diaphragm and the abdomen. Using the full capacity of the lungs, deep and long breaths with the help of the diaphragm and the abdomen. And when doing the “asana”s throughout the class, expanding the capacity of the lungs and using “pranayamic breathing.” This breathing style and the importance attributed to breath i.e. the soul throughout the class differs yoga from other physical activities.

Using the breath when flowing from one “asana” to another in fact reduces the burden on the body. We helped our body be opened and closed with the help of the breath and continued the flow without making ourselves physically exhaused thanks to our breath. Actually we were generating energy within our bodies. We were focusing the mind on the breath and thus the mind could not think any other thing when trying to harmonize the body and the breath. It was only watching the breath and the body and tried to move the body simultaneously with the breath. Therefore, the mind was just dealing with the body and the breath and was wandering neither in the past nor the future. It stayed right in the moment and the present time. And this was what differed yoga from other physical activities. The breath, i.e. the soul, the mind and the body was in unity and harmony.

Moreover, we were working on a certain part of the body in yoga classes and made a peak pose at the half of the class depending on that certain part we had stretched and strengthened. We could work on a hip opening flow in one yoga class and focus on inversions in another. We could choose to backbend in another yoga class.

Lastly, the most important feature that differs yoga from other activities is to work on a mental relief. To meditate for at least five minutes at the beginning of the class and to direct the attention and mind on the body and breath in order to release all the tension and tiredness of the day. A long “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) at th end of the class in order to overcome the physical tiredness of the class.

You may think why I am writing this post. I am writing it because I talked to one of the students before a group class last week. The student said, “it is not important how tired I am or how it is hard for me to come to class or how a challenging and difficult flow we do throughout the class, I feel energetic after resting in “savasana” and waking up after this pose. It is as if my body is re-charged.” Yes, it was really so. As we deepen our breath in yoga, more fresh oxgyen is pumped to the blood and this boosts our energy, making us feel more healthy, strong and enthusiastic. According to some studies, yoga poses adjusts “cortisol” hormone, which makes us feel energetic. Like in all other physical activities, yoga helps increase “serotonine” and “endorphine” hormones and we end up the class smiling. I think there is no need to talk about how energetic and enthusiastic we may feel with laughter and smile. What differs yoga from other physical activities? And you are still asking me this question? No traces of tiredness after class but instead a body full of energy which may take you to the next class. And haven’t you still tried yoga yet?