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
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.
Practicing and teaching I’ve experienced resistance on various levels in myself and have observed it in the students I assist on a daily basis. Sometimes the resistance we face comes across quite clear as it screams at us for attention. Other times it sneaks up without a warning dressed in disguise. Resistance. It’s always around lurking. I’ve been fascinated with the topic particularly since I’ve felt it on a personal level over the past six months. It seems to run in cycles often making itself known more prominently at certain times than others. What I have found is acknowledging its presence no matter how much you wish it wasn’t there, even in the midst of feeling it... to simply show up takes every bit of energy you have, but there is an opportunity for growth in the struggle. Afterward, when the clouds have cleared a wellspring of growth and expansion usually awaits on the other side of it.
Allowing what is to be is one of the most arduous of internal practices we face on and off the mat. After we have experienced our honeymoon period from attaining the “goodies” of a constant yoga practice we notice that the feeling begins to wear off and then we become aware that some of the most extensive work is about to begin. This is the yoga. The goodies only give a small taste of the true experience. A fractional glimpse into the eye of the proverbial storm, but we have to go through the storm at some point and resistance is part of that storm.
Not all situations will be ideal. There will be days our bodies will feel stiff, and our minds will feel as if it sits within the depths of hell. In turn we may experience apathy and boredom as we are seduced by our expectations of how things should be. Of course, this is the play of the mind and the craving of the ego. There is really is no need to judge when resistance crops up because it is inevitable. However, what will we put in its place? A question worth contemplating.
I know for me the practice has evolved and changed over the years. In the beginning there was an abundance of excitement and enthusiasm. Everything felt new and every challenge was something that motivated me to tread forward. I still feel this to some extent but more and more the focus rests in the quiet unchanging part of myself, because after awhile I realize that the body is in a constant state of flux and then ultimately impermanence is experienced. Change is always happening and acknowledgement of that makes the ride all the more graceful. The important thing to remember is the effort and steadfastness we put forth to practice as we rest in this quiet space of awareness is more important than any of the postural goodies we can acquire. Even in the midst of injury, apathy, boredom, fatigue, and depression, all these struggles must be faced head on and there is really no need to wish it were different. Everything in time passes. Grace happens when we let go of the need for it to be any other way.
As a teacher it can be one of the most honest discussions I can have with a student. No, it won’t always be easy, and no it won’t always be fun, but I will tell you, it will be worth it.
“The practice of asanas and pranayama is learning to control the body and the senses so the Inner light may come forth. That light is the same for the whole world and it is possible for man to experience this light, his own Self through correct Yoga practice. This is the natural outcome of a good practice and one will gradually learn to control the mind because one eventually will come to experience the very support of it. But the mind is indeed very difficult to control, but everything is made possible with right practice. We must therefore first and foremost practice, practice, practice for any real understanding of Yoga to take place. Then eventually we will be able to break the fixed patterns of the mind and taste the greater underlying support of it all.” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Super Simple First Steps to Recovering from Illness, Using Yoga and Ayurveda
Over the past three months I have been traveling around the world on a path of personal rediscovery. During these few months I have avoided becoming ill by what now feels like pure luck. I realize now that it was pure luck because I hadn't been taking care of myself as well as I should have. For example, I have been staying up late pretty regularly, as well as eating poorly (although it’s difficult to find the foods that I am accustomed to), and I have been pushing my body to its very edge up mountains and through cities. So it's no surprise that my luck has finally caught up with me as I lie here ill and writing this to you.
Since this is my current situation I'd like to spend this post talking about illness recovery. I've written to you before about recipes and herbs that I've used in order to stave off sickness or to recover from it. You can find that information here for the turmeric tea and here for the ginger tea, but for now let’s talk about other options.
Often when we think about recovering from an illness, we might say to ourselves, "Oh I need to stop doing my normal routine, and then I might take some medication, and then boom I'll go right back to what I was doing before." But the thing that is very important to recognize is that we become ill because something we are doing is not working very well or is not healthy for us overall. Whether it is our perceived stress in life, whether we are working too many hours, or whether we're eating poorly or we are staying up until the middle of the night on a regular basis... becoming ill is a flashing light that says, "HEY SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT HERE!" And if we don't make a change then we create a place for Dis-Ease to develop and stick.
Since becoming sick here in Budapest, with what feels like the flu or a really bad cold, I have found that it seems almost impossible for me to simply go down the street to purchase my usual ‘get well’ supplies, such as:
With this realization I originally felt pretty defeated. But then, with a little self reflection I remembered that I have other tools in my 'tool box' that I can use... that we all do.
Our Thoughts Manifest Our Well Being: Be Aware of How We Use Our Words and Our Thoughts
I caught myself saying more than once, "I'm getting sick... crap I have a cold... crap I'm sick, poor me."
However, one of the things that is pretty important in order to heal ourselves is that we learn to speak of the disease as the disease. As long as we call it my disease, or my cancer, or my thyroid problem, or my cold, then we identify with it. I've caught myself doing this recently. In my experience and observations, if we identify with the disease or illness, it simply won't be going anywhere. In fact we manifest more sickness by identifying with the disease. Does that make sense? It's like by identifying with the disease, we trick ourselves into letting down our defensive walls and instead allow the disease to march on in.
So if you really want to become free of the illness then start to look at it as the illnessand speak of it that way… and then notice that if you want to call it my, what part of it do you want to hang on to? Now that might sound crazy because a lot of people say “Of course not! I don't want to hang on to a disease!” But sometimes for example, we get sick because we won’t let ourselves slow down and rest... and maybe our subconscious enjoys the disease because it forces us to rest. Do you see what I mean? Or maybe, in my case, I enjoyed this illness for a moment because it forced me to stop, slow down, rest, be still, hunt down soup and spices that I’ve been missing and simply, breathe… which in turn brought me back to you and yoga. So if we find that we are really identified with the disease, then there’s usually something in there that we need. Either way, once we observe and reflect upon this, it’s really good to think of the disease as simply something that’s happening and that will pass if we let it pass.
All things shall pass... as they say
Don't let the ego push you around: Checking in with your physical body
I’m going to make the assumption here that you are reading my blog because you either have a yoga practice or are interested in beginning one. But for now, let’s say there are two types of people in this world. Those that practice yoga and breath work, and those that do not. When you’re the person that practices pranayama or yoga on a daily basis, no matter what level, and then you find you can't breathe through your nostrils because they are clogged up, or that you can't hold a downward dog due to a headache, well, it’s a little frustrating, don't you agree? Especially since yogi’s KNOW from experience that yoga postures can help heal us… It's tempting to push ourselves but it is so very important that we do not. It's important that we set our ego’s aside for a moment and remember that yoga postures can still be done very gently, and the result is just as beneficial because it still helps us start moving the negative energy and toxins out of our body while allowing the positive, healing energy to flow more freely through our body.
Whether you are a regular practitioner or not, it’s very important that while you are ill, that you give the body plenty of time to REST. When an illness has happened, now I am speaking very generally because it will vary a little bit depending on what the problem was, but when an illness has happened, if you allow the body to recover, it will. But if we keep doing things that will challenge our body, pushing it back to the edge of illness, then the recovery process will take much longer. So the very most important thing first in healing yourself is REST.
Here's a thought: So often I have people say to me, “Oh but I can't rest, I have to take care of my family, I have to go back to work, etc…” In my case, I originally thought to myself, “Oh, but I can't rest, I need to explore Budapest!!” We know it may really feel like we have to do those things, however if we go too soon, we're just going to end up sick again or continue to be sick. This applies to injuries as well. And this happens so often to people we know doesn't it? Let’s assume that once in our lives, we ignored the number one principle of getting well, REST. Let’s assume that we went on about our business, forcing our bodies to continue. Did we continue our work or yoga practice or exploring the world at our highest level? Or, did we instead live our life at an inferior level? In other words your performance at work while ill might not have been very good because your head was pounding. Or your way of taking care of your family might not be very good because you find your fever makes you sit more often than standing. So if you think about it, the people you work with, the world around you and your family might appreciate it much more if you rested and then could be fully present in the incredible being that you are, without the illness. Right? So... REST. Selfishness while being selfless ;)
We start the second step now, which is checking in with our body in order to determine the level of physical rest that is needed to heal ourselves. And you do this by becoming aware of the nature of your natural breath. With time, as you develop a familiarity and relationship with your breath, you will learn that this is truly your life force and the one thing that determines how good you feel in your life. Your breath will tell you the story of what’s happening within your mind or body. If you find that you can not breathe easily and smoothly, then your body or mind is still under a lot of stress, and if this the case maybe it’s not time to even do any physical yoga postures yet. Maybe you need to REST completely.
However as you start to feel better, there are certain types of yoga postures that would be helpful depending on what kind of illness you have, and what your constitution is, and your state of balance and imbalance. And those are all the things that can be determined and assisted with through yoga and Ayurveda or through a teacher like myself or Zac Occhiline for example. (If breathing consciously is not something you are familiar with, then I suggest finding a knowledgeable teacher; someone that has good experience working with people recovering from illness. I will suggest here a teacher that I have a deep respect for, Zac Occhiline of 7 Centers Yoga Arts Academy in Sedona, AZ.)
So, to begin for myself today, I started with simply breathing… A place to start with getting to know your breath is to pause now, stop what you are doing, and take 12 nice, slow, conscious, deep breaths. And then at the end of it, just smile to yourself without any judgment. It's a simple practice that puts you in touch with your body and mind... that allows you to consciously check in with your level of physical or mental stress. Whether you found that it was easy and you are ready for a gentle asana practice, or whether you found it difficult to take 12 deep breaths and that you feel more apt to maybe start with six or four or whatever feels appropriate for you and that realize you should probably not begin an asana practice today; either way I bet you feel differently than you did when you first sat down. Remember, that what you're looking for is the ability to just breath smoothly and with a sense of calm... Without force… Very calm, smooth, easy breaths.
I practiced this simple breath check-in before writing this blog, and I realized that despite my clogged up nostrils I can breathe pretty smoothly just sitting here, even if I have to open my mouth. So afterwards I began a simple and gentle hatha practice of poses that I knew would help me with certain ailments I was experiencing. In my case it is basically impossible for me to do any yoga asana at the moment besides deep breathing while in Childs Pose, Marjariasana (Cat/Cow), Downward Dog, and a few heart opening poses that I find a little more difficult to describe with the written word at this time, as well as Lion Pose to ease my sore throat.
And that's okay.
FOOD: What to eat while ill in order to build strength from the inside out
If you’ve been ill your digestive fire, or agni as it’s called in Sanskrit, which is the energy that’s available within you to actually transform and digest your food, is low. Otherwise honestly you would not get ill. The fire would be so strong as to burn out any toxins and illness that tried to invade your body. And so you need to strengthen your agni again and give it an opportunity to rejuvenate. If you think of agni as a fire that fuels the body, you need to feed it a little bit, you need to stoke it, and give it some air in order to gradually strengthen it.
To start, it means that you need to eat foods that are easily digestible. After or while you’re ill, if you’re not eating that’s one thing, but then when it’s time to start eating, it’s best if you have something that is very easy to digest. For example, a soupy basmati rice. You could start it out in a 1-8 or even a 1-12 ratio with water. Meaning one cup of rice to 12 cups of water. Add a little bit of mineral salt, a little turmeric, and a little bit of ginger. You could put a small amount of ghee in there too if you like and overtime additional spices cooked in ghee such as fennel, cumin, and cardamom. This will give you nourishment while you are recovering and it is easy to digest.
As you feel more comfortable with digesting that, then you could have the soup become more thicker, in other words you would drop that ratio down to 1 to 6 and then 1 to 4, which is going to make the soup fairly thick. Next, if your body is digesting that pretty easily, then gradually add split mung beans to your rice in order to provide yourself with some additional protein. Protein is harder to digest so take your time recovering. Check in with your body often. Notice if you feel very tired after eating or if you feel more energetic for example. Avoid eating raw food while you are ill because such things as cold salad or other raw vegetables are really difficult to digest.
Since I lack the above ingredients at the moment here in Budapest, Hungary (I am hungry grrr)... I am living off Oatmeal, vegetable soup, Tulsi Tea with honey and Chocolate. Yeah... Chocolate. It builds my Ojas!
Our Spiritual Fire: Assisting our recovery with positive energy
When you're recovering from illness, including heartache, it’s easy to let your whole notion of a spiritual life go out the window… trust me, I know. For example, it’s been awhile since you heard from me right? As a human I've experienced heartache and loss in all forms recently and I admit that I kind of tossed my spirituality out the window for a moment. But like I stated before, there was something about this illness experience that I subconsciously kind of liked… and you know what it was? It brought me back to myself in a spiritual way. I knew, from my experiences of being ill in the past, that if I made a conscious effort to become better, through yoga and Ayurveda then I would be better. So as you can see, I’m digging into my yoga and Ayurveda tool box for the first time in a long time and sharing it with you. It’s kind of nice.
Back to spirituality. Many people in this world use prayer to tap into their spirituality. Others use mantra. Some people yoga. Nature. Fishing. :) Everyone seems to have an option available to them that they have discovered on their own or which was introduced to them during their upbringing. You can each use these tools like prayer, mantra, or moments of inward contemplation, etc... to help assist you while you work on your own self healing.
In my opinion, everything can be a form of spiritual yoga in it’s own way. Asana. Mantra. Breathing. Writing. However, it’s important that all these tools, options to you per say, have an air of positivity surrounding them while you are ill or in general. For example, if you are going to read or be exposed to anything while you are ill, it’s best that it’s not of a negative nature like violent articles or news programs. Rather that you might read a spiritual passage, or anything that helps you feel good about your life.
Today, I started with an easily digestible meal followed by rest. Then I began my breath work. Once I determined that my breath was actually pretty smooth and that I felt strong enough to add physical asana to my healing program, I followed up with 15 minutes of a gentle and easy asana practice. Next I added a dose of purposeful spirituality if you will by adding 10 minutes of seated meditation with the mantra So Hum.
You could start with 1-3 minutes of meditation if it's new for you and trust me, any amount of time would be plenty. Use mantra if you like. Prayer. Breath awareness. Nothing... it doesn't matter. Set a timer, use a wall to sit up against, ensure your spine is as upright as possible and that your head is positioned directly on top of your shoulders, the crown of which effortlessly reaches for the sky.
Having a straight spine like this allows the energy of your body to move freely… This energy concept might feel odd if you're new at meditation, and that’s okay, just work with the breath by imagining that each inhale brings in the strength of the universe into your being and that each exhale is a release of your illness… Imagine that healing energy spreading through your physical body and within the energetic bubble that surrounds your body... emanating like the rays of the sun going within and without.
Acceptance & Letting Go - Everything is temporary & our body is a temple that deserves love
When we are ill, it’s almost like a reminder that we are so much more than our body. It might feel like “Oh I feel terrible and I'd really like to just be done with the illness and it be out of here.” But when the body is ill its a great opportunity to remember who we are as spirit… to honor ourselves and our body in the future... and to remember that we have this incredible power within us to heal ourselves… and if we allow that awareness to shine through us then the physical body will follow suit and it will come right back to its very best place of balance.
I got sick. It doesn't mean I'm a horrible person or that karmically I deserved it. For me at the moment it means that I haven't been digesting my experiences as well as they deserve. I probably haven't been as fully present as a trip like the one I'm on deserves because I haven't digested or really completely dealt with the losses I've incurred over the last year. It happens. Sure I'm sick with a cold or something, but at least I got to sit here and write to you. At least upon contemplation I was reminded that I had this super light-weight tool box of things to help me get better, all by myself. At least I had an excuse to rest my aching feet and back after back-packing through almost all of Europe over the past three months, non-stop. My current illness was a sign to stop running, to breathe, to come back to my mat and simply be happy that I am here now. Being. Breathing. Alive and open hearted once again. And that's pretty cool.
Oh, and since being sick meant I had to stay inside all day and rest and not explore this beautiful city... I was still blessed with this really great view outside my window just now.
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