Yoga and the Modern World

  This article is published in Yoga Today magazine Summer '18 edition.

This article is published in Yoga Today magazine Summer '18 edition.

Alyssa McLeod, Founder and Head Teacher of Supa Soul, explores how the ancient teachings of Yoga beautifully compliment modern life.

 

In the Western world we live busy lives in a constant state of stress. We forget to take care of ourselves as we’ve been programmed to want more, do more, be more. As simple as it sounds, we forget to breathe. In this state we can become disconnected from our needs, missing the nourishment that we require which leads to imbalances in our mind, body and soul. Unfortunately there is some stigma of shame and selfishness in self evaluation and self preservation, despite it being widely known that stress can have a detrimental effect on your physical, mental and emotional health. The body’s response to stress can alter your hormones, blood sugar levels, digestion, brain and immune functioning, respiration and circulation. If stress is not addressed this can stimulate inflammation in the body, making you more susceptible to disease. Therefore your performance, perception and memory is compromised. However, Yoga gives the student a systematic approach to change the shape of emotions; to breathe and ground oneself, so that the body will follow.

 

The ancient yogis comprehended the need for a holistic perspective as they explored and experimented until they found what they understood as Samadhi (bliss, enlightenment). Now that we have the availability of modern science and technology, we are able to foster this mass of ancient knowledge through researching, witnessing and documenting the physiological, anatomical, mental, psychological, emotional, energetic and spiritual benefits of yoga. What we know about the human body today, the ancient yogis could only imagine. The yogis had no evidence of the systems in the body - digestive, respiratory, immune, cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine - nor any research on how they functioned, yet their understanding was so profoundly on the same tangent as we are today. Their description and positioning of the chakras (energy wheels) is in great proximity to the location of each endocrine gland and even their definition of prana as our life force is nothing but exact. In essence, prana is our breath and without breath we do not exist for longer than a few minutes. The simplicity of the system of Yoga profoundly states a wealth of knowledge to guide us through our every moment - whether challenging or joyous -  and the Yoga teachings are just as relevant in the madness of the modern world as they were thousands of years ago.

 

Masses of information are thrown at us daily, causing us to further lose our way from our purpose and truth. In the digital age we are highly connected in a virtual capacity, yet there is a great risk of us becoming physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually disconnected from each other. It’s not healthy for anyone to feel alone, we all crave love and support as human beings. The word ‘yoga’ originates from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means ‘to yoke’ and is often translated as ‘union’. Within Yoga, there is a unity of the student with the teachings, a unity of the student to the other students, and a unity to the Self. By working through the 8 limbs of Yoga we can pull ourselves out from the rubble of modern distractions (the ego) to find balance, strength, trust, clarity, generosity and lightness of self in a holistic capacity - mental, physical, social, environmental, psychological and emotional. To lead to greater happiness and spiritual fulfillment for you and everyone around you. As Yoga Sutra 1.2 by Patañjali states: yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ - ‘Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions’.(1)

 

Alyssa McLeod (RYT-500, Level 1 Registered Yoga Teacher, 30 hour Advanced Assisting) is the Founder and Head Teacher of Supa Soul in Melbourne. Supa Soul offers public, private, school, beach, festival, function and corporate yoga. For info, visit www.supasoul.com.au or @SupaSoulAu on Facebook and Instagram.

 

References

(1) Moksha Academy of Yoga 2014, Introduction to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, p.6

What does 'Upanishad' mean? How do we relate to it?

 Photo credit: http://redzambala.com/sites/default/files/field/image/Narayana-Upanishad.jpg

Photo credit: http://redzambala.com/sites/default/files/field/image/Narayana-Upanishad.jpg

Upa = near, ni = down, shad = to sit. Therefore, the full word - Upanishad - means to sit down near the teacher to study, process and participate in the intentions and objectives of sadhana and Yoga practices.

The way in which we can relate to these qualities lies in the saying, ‘the best teacher resides within you’. That you need to be able to sit within yourself, completely undistracted and willing to do the work without too much action of the mind. The work that needs doing is beyond the physical and mental level: it is a deep, transcendental knowledge. It requires that you are open to the unity of the student and the teacher in order to yield to any state of awareness or truth. There needs to be a willingness to go inward and study the self (Svadhyaya). This is succinctly depicted in the ‘Sahanaa Vavatu’ mantra translation:

May He protect us both. Conveying a spirit of surrender to the Supreme and their earnestness for study.

May He cause us both to enjoy. With the right attitude the study becomes a pleasure.

May we both exert together. Spiritual study ought not be a drudgery. It is about putting in your best effort.

May our study become brilliant. Revealing the brilliance of the Supreme Self.

May we not hate each other. This knowledge is difficult to comprehend, which can lead to controversy and arguments. This line is cautioning against such a contingency, being humble and refraining from egoistic, dogmatic assertions. Suspending one’s judgement.

 

References

Swami J. 2016. Upanishads. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.swamij.com/upanishads.htm. [Accessed 15 November 2016].

Asana to Avoid for Common Injuries

 Image credit: http://yogadork.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/imposing-yoga.jpg

Image credit: http://yogadork.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/imposing-yoga.jpg

Rotator Cuff injuries

  • Vasisthasana - weight bearing in the arms will only worsen the already weakened shoulder joint.

  • Ardha Bhekasana - an intense stretch for the shoulder which may compromise the joint.

  • Any pose with arms overhead and in line with ears may be very difficult to achieve post injury due to tightness, but can be worked up to depending on the condition.

 

Sciatica/Lumbar spine injuries

  • Padangusthasana - the weight of the upper body and the head can place too much pressure on the lumbar spine, especially if the pelvis is pulling in the opposite direction to the spine.

  • Agnistambhasana - many people come into this pose way before they are ready to. If the student is very tight in the hips then the external rotation in fire log pose can further aggravate the sciatic nerve.

  • Any really intense backbends like Urdhva Dhanurasana place far too much pressure on the lower spine.

 

Soft tissue injuries (muscles, ligaments and/or tendons)

  • Garudasana - for an ankle sprain the ligaments will have been stretched beyond capacity therefore making this pose too unstable and risky for the student.

  • Malasana - even healthy students will find their knee ‘pops’ upon squatting into this pose if they don’t raise their heels off of the ground. There is too much pressure on the knees - holding the body weight in full flexion - for anyone with a knee injury. Offer Utkata Konasana or Malasana against a wall.

  • Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon) - too risky for any student with knee injuries if they can’t support their weight in the upright position. In the folded position, if not performed properly, they will be stretching the knee and not the hip. This will only lead to further damage of ligaments and weaken muscles surrounding the knee.

 

Prolapsed disc

  • Savasana - without support from bolsters, blankets and cushions this pose can be very uncomfortable.

  • Parsvottanasana - too much pressure on the disks with all the weight of the upper body hanging forward. Especially a problem if the hamstrings are tight, causing the pelvis and spine to pull in opposite directions.

  • Backbends like Dhanurasana can impinge on the discs further.

 

Neck Injuries

  • Sarvangasana - even though the weight is meant to be distributed across the shoulders, there is still too much weight in the neck.

  • Sasangasana - the slightest wrong move in this pose puts the student at risk of recurring injury.

  • Ustrasana - the neck is totally unsupported in this pose as the head is just thrown back.

 

SIJ Injuries

  • Virabhadrasana 1 - you’re basically asking the pelvis to misalign in this pose by wrenching one side of the pelvis backward, increasing vulnerability to further injury.

  • Vrksasana - engages external rotation of the raised leg, which is not recommended for SIJ injury.

  • Janu Sirsasana - involves twisting, abducting and forward bending, all known to aggravate SIJ pain.

 

By Alyssa McLeod

 

References

Understanding our Sacroiliac Joint – Ekhart Yoga. 2016. Understanding our Sacroiliac Joint – Ekhart Yoga. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/understanding-our-sacroiliac-joint. [Accessed 19 October 2016].


Yoga Journal. 2016. Protect Your Yoga Students' Sacroiliac Joints | Yoga Teaching Methods. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/teach/protect-the-sacroiliac-joints/. [Accessed 19 October 2016].

6 Yoga Practices to Support the Immune System

 Photo credit: https://i0.wp.com/shantiyogi.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/yoga-ayurvedapic.jpeg?fit=1200%2C833&ssl=1

Photo credit: https://i0.wp.com/shantiyogi.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/yoga-ayurvedapic.jpeg?fit=1200%2C833&ssl=1

  • Pranayama - builds strength in the lungs to maximise oxygen intake to the blood and therefore optimizing the functioning of the internal organs and glands responsible for immunity. Diaphragmatic breathing, used in yoga, also assists in moving lymph back to the heart for removal of waste and toxins.

  • Inversions - by inverting the body we allow gravity to pull the lymph fluid back to the heart to remove any waste. The lymphatic system doesn't have a pumping mechanism like the cardiovascular system (aka. The heart), so inverting greatly assists in moving lymph fluid from the lower half of the body.

  • Surya Namaskar A & B - builds agni (digestive fire) and tapas (heat) to kill off any ‘bad’ bacteria in the body. Both Surya Namaskar series require movement of almost every part of the body, therefore contracting lots of different muscles and facilitating movement of lymph fluid.

  • Yoga Nidra - allows the student to enter a deep state of relaxation where the body can rest, digest and repair. Shifting the body away from the SNS response where the immune system is not prioritised. Yoga Nidra lets the body move into a healing state.

  • Twists - BKS Iyengar's ‘squeeze and soak’ theory means that we are able to wring toxins out of the organs and bodily systems by twisting the torso. All of the nerve plexuses along the spine become free and this allows the digestive, endocrine, immune and lymphatic systems to rebalance upon release of the twist.

  • Restorative poses - providing rest and relaxation restores and boosts the immune system by giving our body and mind the space to naturally recharge in the PSNS state. Allowing at least 8 minutes in Savasana is essential to absorb the entire yoga practice and let go.

 

References

Yoga Basics. 2016. 8 Ways to Boost Your Immune System with Yoga • Yoga Basics. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.yogabasics.com/connect/yoga-blog/8-ways-to-boost-your-immune-system-with-yoga/. [Accessed 24 October 2016].


DOYOUYOGA.COM. 2016. Yoga For Immunity - How To Fight Off Illness With Yoga. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.doyouyoga.com/yoga-for-immunity-how-to-fight-off-illness-with-yoga/. [Accessed 24 October 2016].

Forward Bends Versus Backbends

 Photo credit: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8d/26/b6/8d26b630cd48777b30785dad83624047.jpg

Photo credit: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8d/26/b6/8d26b630cd48777b30785dad83624047.jpg

FORWARD BENDS

  • Increases flexibility in the back of the legs (hamstrings), hips, shoulders and spine
  • Balances the nervous system (to PSNS) and calms the mind
  • Improves digestion and elimination by stimulating the liver, digestive organs and kidneys
  • Possible to stretch the lower back by placing a bend in the knees
  • Good preparation for meditation
  • Can be therapeutic for hypertension, insomnia, anxiety, menstruation and mild depression
  • Activates the PSNS response to rebalance the body into homeostasis (regulating hormones for reproduction, metabolism, immunity and digestion)
  • Allows introspection, patience and Svadhyaya (self study)
  • Increases circulation to the pelvic area to assist with infertility, impotence and lack of sexual drive
  • Cools the body

BACKBENDS

  • Requires that the spine is very warm and mobilised in many different directions before attempting a backbend
  • Your backbends will benefit from open hips, chest and shoulders
  • Requires a solid foundation
  • Core needs to be switched on (uddiyana and mula bandha), shoulder blades drawn together and length in the cervical spine (jalandhara bandha)
  • Best to be neutralised by a twist or Adho Mukha Svanasana
  • Invigorating
  • Strengthens the legs, arms and back muscles
  • Opens the chest and hip flexors where we store a lot of tension and emotion
  • Increases awareness and mobility of the spine
  • Improves posture
  • Builds courage by opening Anahata chakra

 

By Alyssa McLeod

 

References

All About Backbends – Ekhart Yoga. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/all-about-backbends. [Accessed 25 November 2016].

The Lowdown on Utkata Konasana - Goddess Pose

  Also known as Horse pose, Fiery Angle pose or Victory squat.

Also known as Horse pose, Fiery Angle pose or Victory squat.

Holistic benefits

  • Heats the body.

  • Tones the core.

  • Increases circulation.

  • Creates a grounding sensation.

  • Encourages good posture by elongating the spine.

  • Improves respiration.

  • Massages the abdominal organs.

  • Stretches the hips, groin, chest and abductor muscles.

  • Strengthens the shoulders, arms, upper back, core muscles, glutes, adductors and quadriceps.

  • ‘It’s postures like this that really do evoke a sense of being proud of the strength your body has and loving the skin you’re in right now – research into body language even shows that wide-stance, open positions like this do literally increase a sense of confidence and self-worth.’(1)

  • All standing asana are great for flat feet and support the internal organs such as the kidneys, adrenal glands, digestive organs, liver, pancreas, spleen, and more!

  • A weight bearing pose to increase osteoblast & osteoclast production.

  • Builds proprioception by using the eyes, ears and muscle memory.

  • Training the Globus Pallidus, a part of brain that fires and remembers different movements. The more movements your brain can remember, the more likely you are to prevent falls.

Therapeutic applications

  • Increases strength and flexibility in the hips before childbirth.

  • Can help to relieve menstrual cramps.

  • Relieves stress.

  • Balances and integrates opposing forces – will and surrender, strength and softness, activity and receptivity – which can inspire growth toward wholeness in your entire being.(2)

  • Stimulates the release and regulation of dopamine, which is responsible for movement.

  • Helps to open the hips, shoulders and groin.

Props

Stand with your back against a wall for a gentle variation. This is helpful is balance is an issue.

If your heels can’t touch the ground place a folded blanket or yoga mat underneath them.

Variations

  1. Parivrtta Utkata Konasana, Revolved Goddess Pose

  2. Supported, reclined Goddess pose for prenatal yoga

Variations for Beginners

  • Hands at heart centre in Anjali mudra (prayer position), especially if there are any shoulder injuries

  • Half squat, do not widen your legs beyond your limit

  • Hands on hips or palms resting on thighs

  • Place a chair in front of you and rest your hands on top of the chair for stability

  • Sit on a chair as though you’re fully in the pose and rise from this position

  • Cactus arms (optional: own choice of mudra)

Variations for Advanced

  • Squat and open the hips to capacity

  • Arms extended by your side with palms facing up and a slight bend in the elbows

  • Garudasana arms

  • Arms overhead, hands separated, palms facing each other, fingers active, shoulders down

  • Arms overhead, hands in prayer position

  • Lift one heel off the mat at a time and hold or pulse. Another option to lift both heels and either hold or pulse to build more heat.

Contraindications

  • People with hypertension should avoid placing the hands overhead as it increases blood pressure.

  • Not suitable for people with hip, knee, ankle or shoulder injuries.

Alignment focus points, and why

  • Knees stacked over ankles and pointed in the same direction as the toes to protect the joint. Externally rotate the inner thighs so the knees remain in line with the toes.

  • Drawing up through the arches of the feet. Blades and toes pressing into the mat. Pada bandha switched on to ground the student, activate the thigh muscles and Mula bandha.

  • Mula and Uddiyana bandha also switched on to protect the lower back, stabilise the hips and draw the prana upwards.

  • Soften the jaw and the shoulders. These areas are likely to build tension.

  • Keep the spine long by drawing your crown to the sky (Jalandhara bandha on to lengthen the cervical spine and encourage the natural curve), lengthen through the sides of your torso and rise from the pelvis rather than sitting in the pelvis.

  • Draw the tailbone down to the Earth to avoid compressing the lumbar spine.

  • Ribs tucked in to lengthen the thoracic spine.

  • Drishti (gaze) is at the horizon or above to promote self esteem.

  • Shoulders relaxed away from the ears, but engaged.

  • Fingertips rising if the arms are overhead.

  • Garudasana arms are great for tight shoulders.

Energy anatomy

  • Goddess pose lengthens the spine to unite the upper and lower energy centres of the body. With this it also encourages deep breathing and promotes the flow of prana up through Sushumna.

  • Heat builds (agni) to burn off samskaras and past karmas (actions)

  • Helps to embrace the sacredness of femininity: In Goddess pose we can ‘celebrate the divine feminine through the forms of Shakti… the cosmic feminine force, the creative, dynamic power of Pure Consciousness that complements Shiva, the cosmic masculine principle of Pure Consciousness.’(3)

  • Instills feelings of empowerment and strength

 

By Alyssa McLeod

 

References

Gaia. 2016. Goddess Pose - Utkata Konasana | Gaia - My Yoga. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.gaia.com/pose/goddess-pose-utkata-konasana. [Accessed 05 September 2016].

Gaia. 2016. Revolved Goddess Pose - Parivrtta Utkata Konasana | Gaia - My Yoga. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.gaia.com/pose/revolved-goddess-pose-parivrtta-utkata-konasana. [Accessed 05 September 2016].

Utkata Konasana - The Goddess Pose | Yogic Way Of Life. 2016. Utkata Konasana - The Goddess Pose | Yogic Way Of Life. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.yogicwayoflife.com/utkata-konasana-the-goddess-pose/. [Accessed 05 September 2016].

Yoga Tree Pose of the Month: Goddess Pose - Yoga Tree. 2016. Yoga Tree Pose of the Month: Goddess Pose - Yoga Tree. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.yogatreesf.com/pose-of-the-month-goddess-pose/. [Accessed 05 September 2016].

MERMAID YOGA: Goddess Pose Variation (Utkata Konasana) - The Mermaid Society. [ONLINE] Available at: http://themermaidsociety.com.au/mermaid-yoga-goddess-pose-variation-utkata-konasana/. [Accessed 05 September 2016].

 

Footnotes

(1) https://emmanewlynyoga.com/2015/01/01/practice-utkata-konasana-fiery-angle-pose-goddess-pose-horse-stance-why-new-year-new-you-is-stopping-us-from-loving-the-body-were-in-right-now/

(2) & (3) http://www.yogatreesf.com/pose-of-the-month-goddess-pose/

A 45 Minute Class Plan to Boost Immunity

Warm up

  • Sukhasana (Easy pose) - lateral, twist and fold
  • Marjaryasana/Bitilasana (Cat/Cow)
  • Utthita Balasana (Child's pose)
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)


Surya Namaskar A x3 - increases circulation of lymph fluid by contracting the major muscle groups in the legs. The lymphatic system doesn't have a pumping mechanism like the heart so it relies on surrounding muscle contractions.

Surya Namaskar B x3 - builds heat in the body to kill bacteria

Standing poses

  • Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2) - once again, muscle contractions aid flow of lymph
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle pose) - compresses the lymph nodes in the groin to flush toxins


Standing balancing poses

  • Natarajasana (Dancer's pose) - opens the chest to facilitate breathing, therefore assisting flow of lymph on every inhale and exhale (lymph moves with the breath)
  • Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Toe pose) - stretches the muscles around the lymph nodes in the groin


Standing forward bends

  • Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Bend) - heart higher than head = calming = Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) dominance = the body's time to rest, digest and repair
  • Parivrtta Prasarita Padottanasana (Revolved Wide Legged Forward Bend) - uses the ‘squeeze and soak’ principle to wring the toxins out of the internal organs like a wet towel. Upon release, fresh, oxygenated blood is delivered to the organs


Backbends

  • Salamba Bhujangasana (Supported Baby Cobra) and/or Salabhasana (Locust pose) - compresses the sternum (breastbone) against the thymus, therefore stimulating the thymus, which is responsible for growth and maturation of our T-cells


Twists

  • Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes pose) and/or Parsva Balasana (Revolved Child's pose) - stimulates digestion (60% of our immunity is in gut)


Seated forward bends

  • Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee pose) and/or Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) - also digestion stimulators. Compresses the ascending and descending colon for removal of waste


Inversions

  • Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) - aids flow of lymph from legs to heart, therefore helping remove waste from the bloodstream
  • Matsyasana (Fish pose, as counterbalance to Shoulderstand) - also compresses thymus, the endocrine gland responsible for immunity


Savasana - 10 mins of downtime to relax, restore and repair

 

 

Why Do We Chant?

 Photo credit: http://www.wisdom.srisriravishankar.org/significance-chanting-mantra-108-times/

Photo credit: http://www.wisdom.srisriravishankar.org/significance-chanting-mantra-108-times/

Chanting invocations allow sound vibrations to dissolve any superfluous thoughts of the mind and penetrate every cell in your body with the rich, wisdom of the ancient yogis. Different mantras or chants are created for varying purposes but they all carry a rhythm of consciousness. Each vibration of a chant is beyond the mind’s comprehension, therefore allowing the student to enter a deeper state of meditation.

Chanting or mantra are mostly spoken in Sanskrit. The translation of ‘Sanskrit’ meaning ‘refined’ or ‘sanctified’, therefore signifying this ancient and sacred language’s intended purpose. Sanskrit is a highly ceremonial, artistic and scientific language that was designed so that each letter consisted of a sound relating to each one of our chakras (or energy centres of the body). The power of these sounds connecting to the chakras means that chanting in Sanskrit has the capacity to activate these energy centres to open, soothe, purify and energise. Chanting is carried out through sound and sound is a vibration - as is everything in the universe, contributing to our connectivity and oneness. These vibrations - and rhythmic intent and pronunciation of Sanskrit - have the ability to calm the mind like meditation and we know that when the mind is calm the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) response of ‘rest and digest’ is stimulated. So, the nervous system is slowed when the mind is calm, then the body relaxes and displays the following physiological responses: a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration; the endocrine system regulates and releases hormones responsible for metabolism, reproduction, sleep cycles, growth and mood; brainwaves shift in alpha or even theta during deep relaxation; oxygen-rich blood returns to all organs for nourishment.

 

By Alyssa McLeod

 

References

Moksha Academy of Yoga, 2014, The Upanishads & The Vedas, p.1-10

The Art of Living. 2013. The Secret of Mantra Chanting. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.artofliving.org/secret-mantra-chanting. [Accessed 14 November 2016].