Om, or Aum, is the primordial sound of the universe or the vibration of creation. Om is both a sound and a symbol rich in religious meaning and depth. It is said to be both the sound of the creation of the universe, and the sound of silence. It represents both the highest level of divinity and the path to enlightenment. The chanting of this simple mantra can change your thoughts and emotions into a cohesive and graceful pattern. Traditional yoga says that the parts of the mantra Aum have a deep resonance that guides us to our essential natures. The rhythm of the sound works on a subconscious level to permeate the body’s inner rhythms. So whether or not you focus on the intellectual and metaphysical dimensions of Om, the vibration of the mantra can alter the dimensions of your meditation and yoga practice.
Om for Meditation
Patanjali, author of the yoga sutras, writes that chanting "om" while simultaneously contemplating its meaning guides the mind to one-pointed consciousness. This focused state of mind is considered ready for meditation. Author Richard Rosen suggests that chanting "om" may be the easiest way to touch the divine within yourself. Rosen also states that the om mantra actually consists of three letters: Aum. Aum can be chanted while focusing on the vibrations through the body. The resonance of the "a" can be felt in the abdomen, the "u" in the chest and finally the "m" vibrates in the head. By focusing on the physical vibrations in your body while chanting "om," you guide your mind to focus on one thing: the sound of "OM." The sensations in the body guide you through a simple meditation.
Om in yoga practice
Many yoga classes begin with the chanting of the sound of "Om." In this setting, it represents the beginning of the yoga practice and guides the students’ awareness not only to the external practice of yoga, but also the internal experience. When chanted before a yoga class, Om can guide the student to consider the practice as a moving meditation. The Om symbol is a popular icon for many yoga practitioners; the symbol is seen on T-shirts, yoga mats, jewelry, tattoos and various artwork. In Yogic tradition, many yoga teachers begin and end their classes by chanting Om in order to create harmony and unity between the students and teacher. Many believe that chanting Om in class or in private meditation aligns their own vibration with the sacred vibration of the universe, which provides a peaceful, calming effect and puts the practitioner in an peaceful frame of mind for yoga practice.
Revolved Side Angle pose or Parivritta Parsvakonasana comes from the Sanskrit word, Parivritta meaning to turn around, Parsva meaning side and asana meaning pose. Parivritta Parsvakonasana is a side angle twist pose that has many variations. One of the classic variations for Revolved Side Angle Pose is to practice this pose with Anjali Mudra(hands in prayer position near your sternum).
All twisting asanas stimulate detoxification, improve blood circulation and rejuvenate the spine. When you twist your torso you compress your internal organs, cutting off all blood supply. When you release the twist you allow fresh blood to flow to your internal organs. This process cleanses your organs and improves their ability to function.
How to perform Revolved Side Angle Pose
Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Breathe deeply and evenly, calming your mind and focusing on the present moment.
Turn to the right and step your feet wide apart, about 4 to 5 feet. Turn your left foot out 90 degrees. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot. Your pelvis and torso should face the same direction as your toes.
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana is a powerful pose that can shift your yoga practice to a deeper level. It will build focus, detoxify your organs, and develop inner and outer strength. When practicing this pose, remember that the "goal" is not to achieve the full expression the pose, but to be aware of the pose you are currently in; staying focused in the present moment.
Purvottanasana or Upward Plank pose (as many people refer to it), comes from the Sanskrit word Purva meaning east side (anterior portion of the body) and Uttana meaning intense. The direct translation is intense stretching of the east or anterior portion of the body. Although not usually practiced in typical Vinyasa style yoga classes, Purvottanasana is the eighth pose of the Ashtanga primary series, and the third seated pose. It is one of the best postures in the seated primary series for developing hamstring and back bending strength.
This pose is unique in a couple of ways; first, it lengthens the front of your body, from head to toe by lifting your front body away from the floor into a gradual back-bend strengthening your back for other back bends, such as Ustrasana (Camel Pose). Second, it is one of the few poses that takes your arms into deep extension, a movement that is useful preparation for Shoulderstand; another pose that requires similar action at the shoulder joint.
Tips for Beginners
If you cannot get in the full position, do not worry! At first this position can be difficult, but do not become discouraged. You can practice this pose by leaving your knees bent (as seen in the picture), as if your body was a table with four legs. Once you are in this “table-top” position, slowly begin to lift your hips and pelvis off the floor using the strength of your quadriceps. Remember to keep your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Gradually practice. Hold for a few seconds at a time in Purvottanasana and practice the position in short sessions that will lengthen progressively over time. Remember to breathe in and out through your nose (don’t hold your breath).
Because you bear your body weight on your wrists and hands in the extended position, people with wrist problems, including wrist pains, sprains, strains, and carpel tunnel syndrome, should use caution when practicing this pose. You may should modify your hand position, use a wedge, or lower onto your elbows to do the pose safely. As with any pose that drops your head back into a back-bend (extension), people with neck issues, especially degenerative discs and facet joint arthritis, should consider keeping the chin tucked to your chest when practicing this pose.
If you suffer from any medical condition, seek the advice from your healthcare professional prior to beginning any exercise regimen, including yoga.
Ashtanga yoga can be a challenging and disciplined practice consisting of a series of asanas linked with the breath and performed in a sequence to build a flow between movements during the 60 to 90 minutes it takes from start to finish. The regular practice of Ashtanga yoga builds strength and flexibility and improves posture. Although Ashtanga is a challenging yoga style, beginners must remember it is a slow process. The focus of Ashtanga yoga is internal cleansing, not a workout.
Ashtanga yoga, meaning "eight-limbed yoga," it incorporates the eight paths to spiritual purification that include moral codes, self-purification and study, asanas, breath and sense control, concentration, meditation and mind control. Traditional Ashtanga practice opens and closes with a meditative chant intended for inner healing, prosperity or praise.
At its foundation, Ashtanga yoga focuses on Pranayama breathing, or “victorious breath in Sanskrit, which requires the student to narrow the air passage in the throat in order to control inhalations and exhalations more precisely throughout each move. The premise of controlled breathing is that it expands the lungs to create heat within the body, inspiring a meditative state of mind.
Practicing Ashtanga yoga at home is possible because the primary series of poses do not require a lot of space or special equipment. Each pose is repeated on both sides of the body to promote whole body balance. To begin, start with 5 rounds of Sun Salutation A; the muscles start to warm-up thus avoiding injury and bringing heat to the body. Once you’ve warmed the muscles, continue your Ashtanga home practice with 3 rounds of Sun Salutation B. Always practice according to your fitness level. Work through the posture but don’t force yourself into a position that is painful.
Opening the Hamstrings, Release the Low Back
When you begin moving into your standing poses, pay close attention to stretching the hamstrings , or the muscles that run behind your legs, and opening the low back. Standing Forward Bend calms the nervous system and stimulates blood flow to the brain. Practice Ashtanga yoga primary series gently and often, without strain or forcing yourself into poses you’re not quite ready for. It's okay to bend the knees slightly in the beginning, especially if your hamstrings are tight. Remember, it’s okay to modify when needed.
Ashtanga yoga doesn’t vary in the sequence; the asanas are always the same (Some people think that doing the same sequence of postures every day is too repetitive and they lose interest. Of course everyone is different but, I have found that performing the same sequence everyday enables you to become familiar with the physical movements that you can solely focus on the breathing throughout the practice). For a beginner, teachers advise to gradually build proficiency in each pose, given the physicality involved in the series. As a beginner, it’s best to practice Ashtanga yoga 4-5 days a week before trying the 6 day a week practice. The challenge of Ashtanga yoga is cumulative – as you practice, you will find that your ability to move into more difficult asanas comes from the previous foundation work.
Are you ready to start your Ashtanga yoga journey? Getting started is easy; here's a great video for beginners ranging from 10 minutes to 60 minutes with my teacher, R. Sharath Jois (practitioner and lineage holder of Ashtanga Yoga, in the tradition of K. Pattabhi Jois).
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