Do you recall how a few days ago, I wrote a bit about Pranayama: Breathing - Lesson 1, and I provided a recording with a lecture about the importance of breath awareness and deep breathing? And how I also gave the instructions to our first pranayama practice, Yogic Breathing?
I have been practicing Yogic Breathing now for a few days. It has not been easy haha. My mind really likes to wander around! So... In the following video, I chose to share this morning's pranayama experience with you in order to discuss the following issues that I have had (and perhaps you have had as well???) Am I alone here in the struggle? ;)
Anyways, if you find yourself wandering a bit or struggling too, then you're not alone! We will get through it together by practicing daily and by remembering to kindly and gently bring our attention back to the breath.
Please let me know how you are doing! Comment in solidarity haha.
In the meantime, please enjoy watching me confess my own struggles. And please consider taking advantage of the written instructions to Yogic Breathing that I've included for you below. :) Don't forget, you could also listen to the recording if you wished via the last blog post. The practice starts around 18:00, I think. OH. And if you're an email recipient of this post, you'll have to click on the link below in order to view the video. ~ Ashley
The Struggle is Real, But Temporary
Inhale slowly by allowing your abdomen to expand.
Try to breathe so slowly that little or no sound of breath can be heard.
At the end of the abdominal expansion, start to expand your chest outwards and upwards.
At the end of this movement draw your collarbone and shoulders toward your head.
This completes 1 inhalation.
The whole process should be one continuous movement, each phase of breathing merging into the next, without there being any obvious transition point.
There should be no jerks or unnecessary strain. Your breathing should be like the swell of the sea.
The rest of the body should be relaxed. Now start to exhale.
First relax your collarbone and shoulders.
Then allow your chest to move, first downwards towards the feet and then inwards.
After this allow the abdomen to contract.
Don't strain but try to empty the lungs as much as possible by drawing or pulling the abdominal wall as near as possible to the spine.
Again the whole movement should be a harmonious whole.
This completes 1 round of yogic breathing.
Hold your breath for a second or two at the end of each inhalation and exhalation.
Inhale and do another round.
Do up to 5 rounds on your first day of practice.
Every day increase your practice by 2 rounds, or as time permits.
Ten minutes yogic breathing is a reasonable length of time to eventually aim at. With enough practice you will find that the whole movement will occur naturally. No effort will be required.
It is written in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the ancient text on yoga:
"Life is the period between one breath and the next; a person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly, acquires control of the whole being." ~ Swami Satyananda Saraswati
In yoga it is said that each person has a fixed number of breaths allocated to him. If one breathes slowly then one will live longer, for the number of breaths is allocated for the lifetime; if one breathes rapidly the given number of breaths are used up more quickly resulting in a shorter life span. Whether you accept this idea or not, there is nevertheless a great deal of truth in it. A fast breathing rate is associated with tension, fear, worry, etc. which tends to lead to bad health, unhappiness, and of course a short life. A person who breathes slowly is relaxed, calm and happy, which is conducive to longevity.
Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. It occurs automatically without our awareness, yet at the same time it is often something that most people do incorrectly. If breathing is a spontaneous function of the body, how is it possible to do it incorrectly? The answer lies with our respiratory muscles which become lazy over time and cease to give optimum inhalation and exhalation (23).
How can we change the way we breathe in order to feel more relaxed, calm and happy in our day-to-day lives?
Let's continue with our journey into Kriya Yoga
To update our new readers (Hi Hannah!), over the last many blogs, we have been reading and working through two books. "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya" by Satyananda Saraswati and another book titled, “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond" by Nancy Bardacke. In the last couple posts, we have mostly focused on building a healthy pre-meditation routine via the first yoga asana program found within the Kriya book. One (time) option for the program looks like this:
So far, I have also provided a presentation that includes photos of each individual asana/pose listed above (except for Naukasana - I'll explain that pose soon). Then I followed those items up with a brief demonstration of the poses as well as a quick Q&A regarding it. (Jala Neti information can be found here).
Let's review the breathing/pranayama portion of our Kriya Yoga program before we move on to the second lesson! :) I'm amazed at the progress I've made so far with this book. I literally feel like I am participating in my own yoga training. How do you feel about it? Feel free to comment and let me know :)
Below, you will find either a link (for email subscribers) or an audio tool (for web viewers). The audio includes our first pranayama practice! In the first half (1:00-18:00) of the recording, I take a moment to read the portion of the chapter that discusses the following important pieces of information:
Then lastly, I lead an exploration into what it means to really breathe. We break down what it means to experience abdominal breathing, middle breathing, upper breathing and finally, yogic breathing. Please feel free to skip the first half if you like, but once you get to the descriptions of the different methods of breathing, I suggest a careful listen. Sometimes these lectures have so much wonderful information and context, so if you do happen to skip the first part but are left wondering if you missed something, then perhaps give it a full listen.
A few minutes of yogic breathing daily can work wonders. It will make you much less susceptible to illness, and you will acquire more power, vitality and calmness in your daily activities. Your thinking and clarity of thought will improve.
The deep systematic yogic breathing will tend to retrain breathing nerve reflexes that may have ceased to be active by lack of use. In other words, at present you might be breathing only from the chest, hardly using the abdomen at all. Yogic breathing will start to make you breathe abdominally, intercostally and clavicularly during the day, and therefore, allow you to inhale the full amount of air that your body requires for nourishment and good health.
To develop the yogic breathing as an automatic and normal function of the body, try to develop the habit of consciously breathing yogically for a few seconds or minutes. If you feel tired or angry, sit down, or if possible lie down, and practice yogic breathing. If you can breathe slowly then your mind will become calm and revitalized.
Please, let me know if you practiced the recommended five Yogic breaths to start and how it made you feel. And don't forget, tomorrow, add two more breaths and so on. ~ Ashley
What Are We Going to Do Next?
The World in a Raisin: A Mindfulness Meditation
Saraswati, Satyananda. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Yoga Publications Trust, 2013.
When my daughter Isabella was born late last year, I spent almost every single moment carrying her in my arms. Lifting her. Setting her down. Holding her. Giving her alllll my love. That of course, hasn't changed. However, as a result of all that original activity and because I was unaware of the excess weight I was putting onto my thumbs and the tendons that help them to function, I ended up with a relentless injury called De Quervain's tendinosis, which has yet to heal to this day (she's ten 1/2 months old).
As a result of this injury, I have had to discontinue my advanced power yoga practice as well as my other interest -- Muay Thai -- which means no more handstands, jump backs, side planks, punching bags... things like that. At first, I felt depressed at the state my body was in. Although I understood that I needed to be patient with my body as it recovered from having made and delivered a baby girl, I was depressed and frustrated that I wasn't able to care for my body the way I was used to caring for it - via hardcore daily Yoga and Muay Thai. I also wasn't able to care for my family the way I truly wanted to - I felt like an invalid. In the mornings I would wake to find my hands stiff and in pain. By the end of the day, after cleaning and cooking, caring for Isabella, etc... I could hardly move them. Mentally, I thought that I had no more energy to give to a yoga practice. I also found that my ego disliked the idea of doing any yoga practice that wasn't the usual intense, cardio-activating practice I was accustomed. It was a negative spiral for a while.
Finally though, and only after my first 8-hour sleep in months 6 months haha, I went to my mat with discipline and an internal mantra/repetitive thought:
It doesn't matter that I can't do push-ups right now. It doesn't matter that my body no longer feels as limber. I am going to start moving now and I will figure this out.
In the absence of the norm, I found myself becoming more creative with my yoga flows. I became acquainted with new poses, old poses, different parts of my body and especially my breath and thought patterns. I created yoga practices for myself which did not need to include my hands on the floor. I started "teaching in my mind" as if I were teaching other students who happened to have the same type of injury as myself - hands, wrists, or otherwise. As a result, I began to heal. Not only my hands (which are getting there with the help of a therapist) but my mind and soul too.
I realize now that I was being harsh with myself, literally inflexible and unbending. I was so used to a certain "Ashley" and certain "Yoga style" that I had been unwilling to accept my limitations, body, or self. How sad is that? How much time, I wonder, did I waste not practicing yoga simply because I couldn't do what I wanted? How silly!?
After meditating and reflecting on it all, I've forgiven myself and I am now ready to finally share what I have learned from this whole experience. And here it is:
Beginner's Yoga is just as amazing as Advanced Yoga because Yoga is about learning to accept the present limits of your current body - to embrace, move in it, grow with it, love it.
So, when and if you decide to begin a Yoga practice, whether you are advanced or new to Yoga, the key is to accept and love your body and your practice, no matter what it looks like or feels like. ❤ ~ Ashley
I WANT TO SHARE with you here a few resources that I have either recently come across or have been an avid user/follower of now for years. For example, meet Laruga Glaser! She is a beautiful, talented, and super-flexible/inspirational yogini. Was she born that way? I don't know. What I do know is that she has been a yogini for many, many years. Which means, that her beautiful practice is a complete and total result of what? HER PRACTICE. It's hers. Not yours. Not mine. Hers. And yet, although I will probably never be able to do all the poses that she does, no matter how much effort and energy I put into my practice, I can still admire her. I can still try to emulate her in my own ways, in my own practice - by practicing often and with discipline. And so can you!
The following video is of Laruga teaching Ashtanga Yoga. For more about Ashtanga yoga, consider reading one of my previous blogs such as "What is Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga". However, for now, consider watching the flow for at least the first 10-15 minutes. It may seem repetitive - because it is. That is one of the defining factors of Ashtanga Yoga. Within those repetition, your mind is given an opportunity to stop jumping from one thing to another - your practice becomes a moving meditation.
Purple Valley Ashtanga Yoga. (2018, March 19). Led Primary Series with Laruga Glaser. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SefpsUfI7y4&t=384s
I PRACTICED with the above video yesterday while Isabella was playing with a Tibetan singing bowl next to me (video below). :) Even though I have studied at the K.PATTABHI JOIS ASHTANGA YOGA SHALA, I don't usually practice Ashtanga Yoga as my main practice, so I too had to look up at the video some... and you may have to look up sometimes as well. NO WORRIES! Oh, and you'll also notice the use of numbers (though you may not have known they were numbers) said in a strange language. That language is Sanskrit. No worries again! You don't have to learn Sanskrit to practice yoga, but you will eventually learn some words such as CHATURANGA! haha as a by-product of your practice. Yoga is Sanskrit too --> योग ;)
After viewing the video, maybe you decide that you love it, or maybe you think Ashtanga isn't for you. That's totally okay! But please don't turn your back on it too quickly... or any type of yoga, really. My advice before you give up on a yoga style is to:
In this video, you can hear Laruga counting out the asanas :) You might also notice me modifying poses because it hurts my injured hands. Modifications are totally fine! Please don’t ever feel ashamed to modify your poses like I do, or by using a block or a strap. We were all beginners once.
OTHER YOGA BLOGS
kinolorber. (2019, March 4). Iyengar: The Man, Yoga, and the Student's Journey - Official Trailer. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvqQwr8xfgc&feature=youtu.be
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.
The following are aspects that Pattabhi Jois emphasizes as the main components of Ashtanga Yoga.
Vinyasa: Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas.
The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing. Breathing and moving together while performing asanas makes the blood hot, or as Pattabhi Jois says, boils the blood. Thick blood is dirty and causes disease in the body. The heat created from yoga cleans the blood and makes it thin, so that it may circulate freely. The combination of the asanas with movement and breath make the blood circulate freely around all the joints, taking away body pains. When there is a lack of circulation, pain occurs. The heated blood also moves through all the internal organs removing impurities and disease, which are brought out of the body by the sweat that occurs during practice.
Sweat is an important by product of vinyasa, because it is only through sweat that disease leaves the body and purification occurs. In the same way that gold is melted in a pot to remove its impurities, by the virtue of the dirt rising to the surface as the gold boils, and the dirt then being removed, yoga boils the blood and brings all our toxins to the surface, which is removed through sweat. If the method of vinyasa is followed, the body becomes healthy and strong, and pure like gold.
After the body is purified, it is possible to purify the nervous system, and then the sense organs. These first steps are very difficult and require many years of practice. The sense organs are always looking outside, and the body is always giving into laziness.
However, through determination and diligent practice, these can be controlled. After this is accomplished, mind control comes automatically. Vinyasa creates the foundation for this to occur.
Tristhana: This means the three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other.
Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body. Breathing is rechaka and puraka, which means inhale and exhale. Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale. Breathing in this manner purifies the nervous system. Dristhi is the place where you look while in the asana. There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.
For cleaning the body internally two factors are necessary, air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for fire to burn, air is necessary, hence the necessity of the breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, evenness is required so that the flame is not smothered out, or blown out of control.
The same method stands for the breath. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire, increasing heat in the body, which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.
An important component of the breathing system is mula and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks, which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.
The six poisons: A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois teaches relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. In the yoga shastra it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
This forms the practical and philosophic basis of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
Yoga can be practiced by anyone, whether young, old, very old, healthy or sick. Even so, the way in which a young person is taught will differ in manner from the way in which an old or sick person will be taught. Therefore, each student must be considered as an individual and taught at a pace that is suitable for their situation in life.
All students commence their instruction in the same manner in which on the first day of class they are taught Surya Namaskar A, followed by Padmasana and deep breathing, and a few minutes of rest to conclude their first day of practice. The next day after Surya Namaskar A has been performed, Surya Namaskar B is taught, and one then again concludes in the same method as the previous day, with Padmasana, deep breathing, and rest. After both of the Surya Namaskar have been learned correctly, each of the various asanas are added one by one. When one asana is correct, the next one is taught. Depending on the age and ability of the student, it can take anywhere upwards of 3 months to learn the primary series.
The format of the practice always remains the same; one always begins practice with Surya Namaskar, concludes with Padmasana and rest, and the various asanas gradually fill the space between these two poles. Learning yoga in this traditional manner benefits the student on many levels. It is possible for one to gain independence and confidence in their sadhana (spiritual practice), as well, something truly becomes one’s own when they learn it by heart. It is through the daily practice of Ashtanga Yoga that we draw it into ourselves, understand it, and become proficient in its methods, thereby reaping its wide range of benefits. For this to be accomplished, a slow, dedicated and patient approach is best.
Vinyasa means careful linking of breath and movement. The Surya Namaskar and each of the successive asanas are comprised of a particular number of vinyasas. Vinyasa creates heat in the body, which warms the blood. The warmed blood passes through the muscles, nerves, internal organs and glands, removes toxins from them, and carries them out through the sweat. This is how the process of purification begins. It is important that the student does not rush ahead doing too many asanas, and allows the body to be gradually purified. If one rushes ahead quickly, it is possible for sickness to occur, rather than purification. It is important that the teacher checks to ensure that the position of the body and the movement of breath are correct in each asana before moving the student forward so that one may reap the proper benefit of Ashtanga Yoga.
Because of the difficult nature of remembering and mastering the various vinyasas, on Fridays and Sundays, group guided classes are taught, in which all the vinyasas are counted out loud and all students follow along together accordingly.
The method of Yoga taught at KPJAYI is that which the ancient Sage Vamana in his text called “Yoga Korunta” has told. Although many books on Yoga have been written, Vamana is the only one who has delineated a complete practical method. In the 1920’s, the Yogi and Sanskrit Scholar, T. Krishnamacharya traveled to Calcutta where he transcribed and recorded the Yoga Korunta, which was written on palm leaves and was in a bad state of decay, having been partially eaten by ants. Later, Krishnamacharya passed on these teachings to the late Pattabhi Jois, whose school continues to teach this method today.
"Success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success."
( Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Verse 67)
The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
Niyama: personal observances
Asana: seat or posture
Pranayama: breath control, development of energy
Pratyahara: sense withdrawl
Samadhi: absorption, enlightenment
In order to take flight, first develop the root.
Lightness is cultivated from grounding. Start here. With a number of opportunities to establish roots in the practice, when learning to ground, move the energy downward through the limbs. The rebounding energy, in turn, surges upward, allowing the subtle channels of the body to flow and energize, arising first from a place of stability.
Look in nature. The tallest trees in the world, the redwoods, have a vast intricate network of roots supporting their skyward stretch. I like to think of it the same way in practice. Whenever my hands or feet are touching the floor I consciously ground my awareness and energy down toward the earth. This is where I gather my strength. It’s an offering.
If you've taken my class before I often say while your hands or feet are pressing into the mat, "Stop... look at your hands... look at your feet. These are your roots. Spread your fingers wide. Ground down into the earth at all four points... these are your roots and you are a strong, yet flexible tree." Do you remember me saying this?
I've been studying Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois's books and Youtube videos about Ashtanga Yoga over the past two weeks... preparing for my course next week. Currently I am reading, "Yoga Mala". Quite possibly, one of my favorite yoga books thus far.
Primary Series, among other things, is designed in a manner to ground and center, attaining an intimate relationship with our bodies. Starting from the gross level of awareness, then through time and practice, slowly, moving upward into the subtle reaches. It’s intelligently designed. Often I feel gathering strength originates from focus and awareness. Even if it hasn’t physically manifested yet, it doesn’t matter. We are working the most challenging muscle of all in between the ears. If we work with internal guidance the outward manifestation will start to form. It really isn’t the goal, think of it more as the byproduct of consistent, devotional practice. Practice is the goal. Then we taste the true experience.
Grounding doesn’t always correlate into working with the downward flow of the body, even though this is an important step. It is also about fully inhabiting the body from root to tip. Every inch, every layer, ALIVE. Every part of our bodies integrated with the greater whole. This doesn’t mean tensing, grasping or holding. This simply means awakening every cell of the body through the breath. If we can’t feel it, we can’t transform it. Equally stated, we can’t let it go either. Truly, what we are aligning to is the conscious awakening of the parts of ourselves that lie dormant or inert. We already encompass everything. Think of it as an excavation. Some may have to dig deeper than others, however in the larger of scope of things it doesn’t matter. Our body, our lesson.
There’s a pulsation. Feel it. Through the breath our sensitivity toward this pulsation arises as we channel the energy. Grace begins to take form. Join with it. It onsets by inherently listening, feeling the natural flow of the body emanating from the center, radiating outward. This too is grounding. The center is the area of Mula bandha up toward Uddhiya bandha. The entire area. Encompass this area. Even if it feels dead, it doesn’t matter, send your awareness there. Like I said, before it initiates in the mind, then in time, the body follows. We are creators, it takes consistent effort and patience. The refinement of the bandhas happen over a duration of continual practice. Don’t get too wrapped up into it if it doesn’t make sense, because it’s still a mystery, even to me. All I know is connecting toward center brings the energy down into the body where the intelligence resides. Ever had a gut feeling? It never lies. Does it?
“Start by doing what is necessary;
then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
As cliché as it sounds, the power is within. I like to say, in an Ashtanga yoga practice, it’s about having an in-body experience. We begin with what is tangible, and accessible, our bodies, and often before we have considered entering into daily practice we haven’t become intimately connected with what houses our souls. I remember when I first began my yoga practice at Devi Yoga in Sedona, AZ... a primarily Ashtanga yoga studio; I was amazed at what took place as I settled into the body. Through the power of the breath and the conscious connection centered on each movement the synergy created was a revelation. Ah-ha. The gateway to greater liberation is through the body revitalized by conscious breath. Of course there isn’t only one way to freedom. However, from this realization the power of practice started to unfold. Layer upon layer we lighten up, whether it manifests in our body, or better yet, in our hearts and minds, never forgetting the added element bringing in a sense of discovery and curiosity in the process.
Lightening up isn’t only about fancy entries and exists out of postures. It entails bringing a sense of devotional wonder into our hearts through the experience of yoga. Each conscious step we take to dive inside through this physically demanding practice will begin to shed the unnecessary. What holds us down, what blocks our light, through observation comes clarity. “Mind medicine,” as Guruji would say.
“We don’t use the body to get into the posture we use the posture to get into the body.”
– Bernie Clark
Yesterday, my friend Daniela and I went exploring and managed to climb 1008 stairs to the very top of the Chamundi Hill here in Mysore, India… all in order to see a temple. 1008 steps people! I think that’s the most stairs I’ve ever climbed in one attempt and I am totally feeling it today in my calves. Lucky for me, today’s blog topic is abhyanga (pronounced ah-bee-yawn-ga), which just so happens to be the perfect solution for my sore muscles.
Over the past few days we’ve some spent time exploring the importance of the Ayurvedic practice dinacharya (daily routine), as well as the benefits of jala neti. Today, we are going to break down the practice of anhyanga, which is one of the principle actions within a strong and healthy dinacharya, and we are going to answer the following questions:
Abhyanga – What is abhyanga?
Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often this oil is chosen specifically for your particular dosha or condition while keeping the current season in mind. The oil is usually warm and is massaged into the entire body before bathing.
It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. From my experience, I completely agree. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. There is no greater expression of self-love than lovingly anointing ourselves from head to toe with warm oil. Doing so allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and to penetrate deep layers of our bodily tissue.
Abhyanga — the Ayurvedic oil massage — is an integral part of the daily routine recommended by this healing system for overall health and well-being. Traditional ayurvedic texts wax eloquent on the benefits. Here's what one says:
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”. ~ Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89 - (One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda
Benefits – What are the benefits of Abhyanga?
"By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age." ~ Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
Abhyanga provides the means for trans-dermal absorption of the healing qualities of the material used in the massage, and it helps the skin, which is the largest organ in the body, perform its diverse functions efficiently, whether it is allowing toxins to be released from the body or nourishment to be absorbed by the tissues. It is like oiling the engine of your car — if you do it regularly, your engine will be in peak condition, and give you years and years of trouble-free performance.
Oils – Which oils should I use?
Oils used can vary depending on the season and the individual’s constitution (prakrti) but commonly used oils include sesame, coconut, sunflower, mustard and almond. The seasons change and therefore if we are to live in harmony with the seasons, we must change as well. For example, during the winter, you may want to use a warming oil such as sesame oil which is particularly helpful for the cooler, lighter vata dosha. However, being that pitta is already a fiery dosha, you may want to balance it out during the winter by using sunflower oil, opposed to the heating sesame oil or the cooling coconut oil. No matter which oil you are using, attempt to find organic, cold-pressed oils as they are better for you opposed to regular cooking oils.
If you would like to learn what your dosha is and/or receive a recommendation of an oil for your abhyanga, feel free to look over my Ayurvedic Services and then contact me. I’m happy to help!
Sesame Oil: If you choose sesame oil, look for cold-pressed, chemical-free organic sesame oil for the best results from your massage therapy. Sesame oil contains antioxidant properties, and is helpful in protecting the skin from free radical damage. It is considered highly nourishing for the physiology and has heating properties.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has keshya properties -- that is, it improves hair quality. In Southern India, women apply coconut oil to their hair every day – which gives them long, lustrous locks. Applying it to the body results in a cooling effect.
Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil is basically a neutral oil which is good for every dosha at some point throughout the seasons. It can be mixed with sesame oil to lessen the heating properties of that oil or it can be added to coconut oil to increase the heating properties of that particular oil. Sunflower oil also has a natural anti-bacterial property which makes it great for infection prone skin.
• Vata Dosha: Sesame oil or sunflower oil
• Pitta Dosha: Coconut oil or sunflower oil
• Kapha Dosha: Sunflower oil
Routine – What are the steps of an abhyanga routine?
The ayurvedic massage is traditionally performed in the morning, before your bath or shower to facilitate the release of toxins that may have accumulated during the previous night.
Enjoy the feeling of having nourished your body, mind, and spirit and carry that with you throughout your day. Daily abhyanga is generally followed by yoga or gentle stretching exercises and meditation.
Today I slathered myself in coconut oil and instead of showering it off, I left it on the entire day and it felt glorious! Take a look at my makeshift abhyanga station. I boiled some water and then turned off the heat. Instead of placing the plastic bottle of organic coconut oil into the boiling water, I placed some of the oil in a small metal bowl and then kept the bowl afloat with a large spoon. After a short period of time I dipped my finger into the oil to confirm that it was warm and then used a small spoon to repeatedly lift some of it out to place on my palm. I slathered it into my hair, my face (which I washed off at the end), my ears and joints, my body and feet. It was an amazing and super nourishing morning. I have felt so calm and peaceful all day. I hope you enjoy abhyanga as much as I do. You may not get to do it everyday, but trust me, just a few times a week makes such a difference in your overall well-being and health. Enjoy!
Oh! It's especially helpful before your yoga practice because it lubricates the joints, allowing you to sit in lotus more comfortably for example. Shower before the yoga though or you'll slip all over your mat!
Your reason for wanting to practice yoga or your reason for currently practicing yoga is not important. The important thing is that you have overcome previous prejudices and postponements to try yoga for yourself. You have overcome the biggest obstacle.
Perhaps you are doing yoga to develop a healthy body or a beautiful body. There is nothing wrong with this motive and the practices of yoga will help you attain this. All I say to you is: “Be aware of your mind. Do you feel more peaceful? Have you developed greater concentration?” If so, then through personal experience you will know that yoga practices have a beneficial influence on the mind as well as the body.
Perhaps you have some illness or body ailment, which you want to eliminate and have come to yoga as a last resort. Whether it is physical or mental, it does not matter, for yoga can help, as the very essence of yoga is tied up with these faculties.
Many people have unsatisfactory relations with wife or husband, friends or colleagues. The practice of yoga will help to put your relationship on a sure, positive basis. Remember, a relationship improves in depth of understanding according to the level of self-awareness. Yoga aims at enabling you to know yourself and to see your foibles and nature in others. In this way, understanding arises and through this your personal relationships will improve.
Perhaps you have heard that yoga can improve or rectify sexual relationships. Yes, this is true and is a perfectly good reason for starting yoga, especially since inadequate sexual relations are often the cause of much unhappiness and frustration. A body that is perfectly healthy and efficient and a mind that is tuned to a high point of sensitivity and calmness, as they are through yoga practices, increase one’s ability to enjoy sexual union or remove the obstacles that at present make it impossible.
Maybe you have religious beliefs, but without any spiritual experience. Or maybe you have no religious beliefs and you seek spiritual experience. Or perhaps you have no belief in the existence of spiritual experience, but have come to yoga merely to see what it is all about. It does not matter – you have come. That is the main thing.
What I am trying to say is that whatever your situation in life, whatever you believe or do not believe, whatever you want from life, yoga will help you because it changes your whole being and hence your relationship with and attitude to life itself.
The ultimate point of yoga and my yoga classes is to expand your consciousness, to open your eyes to the vast number of things around you, of which at present you are unaware. It was Shakespeare who said: “There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We must keep our minds open to new possibilities. It is yoga that shows us a way.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
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