Mantras and chanting have been an integral part of the practice of yoga since the tradition began thousands of years ago. This practice is a key component of Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion. Chants or mantras are inspiring and evocative for those they resonate with, but they may exclude some yogis of different religions or non-religion. In the spirit of inclusion, here are some traditional chants that don’t necessarily refer to specific deities:
Om shanti shanti shanti
This Sanskrit mantra means “peace,” a uniting idea that aligns with most philosophies, ideologies, and religious beliefs. It may be used as a personal or global intention at the beginning, middle, or end of yoga practice.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
This translates to “may all beings be happy and free.” It is a powerful mantra/chant to perform at the end of practice when we may want clarity, a balanced mind/spirit, and peace upon other beings. One can follow up by setting a concrete intention to go out into the world and share the energy that’s been cultivated our yoga practice.
Om mani padme hum
One of the many interpretations of this chant is “the jewel is in the lotus,” which represents a yogi’s path to enlightenment. Much as one could peel back the hundreds of petals of a lotus flower to reach its center, as we peel away the layers of our identity (job titles, gender, wife, daughter, sister, husband, son, etc.), we discover the jewel within: our true self that has no identity.
Lam vam ram yam ham om
These sounds represent the 7 chakras. There are 7 major energy centers (aka chakras) in the human body. They run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. In Sanskrit, chakra translates into “wheel”. These “wheels” can be thought of as vortexes that both receive & radiate energy. Emotions, physical health, & mental clarity affect how well each chakra can filter energy. This in turn dictates how pure the energy is that’s emitted from different parts of the body.
Lam: Survival (root chakra)
Vam: Pleasure (sacral chakra)
Ram: Self-Esteem (solar plexus chakra)
Yam: Love (heart chakra)
Ham: Communication (throat chakra)
Om: Wisdom and intuition (third eye chakra)
Silence: Enlightenment (crown chakra)
All six seed sounds may be chanted in sequence, or may be chanted repeatedly alone.
The Opening Ashtanga Mantra (which I use in my Ashtanga practice) is a blessing of gratitude offered to the lineage of teachers and their students who have enabled this ancient practice to survive through thousands of years so that we can experience its benefits today. The recitation of this mantra is believed to cleanse the energy of the space we have chosen to practice yoga, as well as preparing the mind, body and emotions for the forthcoming Ashtanga sequence.
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Guru
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence).
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads (as the divine serpent, Ananta)
and who has, as far as his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell (divine sound), a wheel (discus of light or infinite time) and a sword (discrimination).
There is no real implied deity here, but unlike many other chants, this one can be directed to a yogi’s deity of choice. Non-religious yogis may direct this chant to The Universe or even to their own intuition.
Try some of these chants in your next yoga practice. They can serve as a powerful way to bring clarity, focus and attention to the present moment.
There are some days when we all seem to “pop” out of bed and are ready for our morning yoga; that moment when we have a little time to ourselves, flowing and breathing, ready for the day. And then there those days when we’d rather toss the alarm and go back to sleep or sit on the couch and binge watch Netflix all day. We all deserve a break; but the benefits of stepping onto your yoga mat may be more beneficial than you think.
There’s something to be said about having a daily yoga routine. The more we take the time for ourselves, the more likely we are to continue doing what make us feel good. These are good habits to have and keep. If you like the early morning yoga class at your local studio, then make it a habit to get there a few times a week, or if your preference is getting on your mat at home before everyone wakes up, set your alarm and rise early. Set a goal for yourself; once you get a rhythm going, you’ll find it harder and harder to skip class or your home practice, even if you really want to sleep for an extra few minutes or indulge in your morning coffee first.
Improved Physical Health
The physical practice of yoga, or asana as it’s known in Sanskrit, has a lot of physical benefits. Asana practice helps to build strength, flexibility, agility and cardiovascular strength. The mindfulness gained from a regular yoga practice can also help to maintain weight loss and improve the way we view our bodies. Yoga is also a great way to recover from injuries. In addition to repairing injuries, the strengthening and stretching components to a physical practice help us work out the muscles we don’t often use, get into deep tissue, and counteract poor posture, like slumping and hunching. If you’re going to class or if you practice at home, and have an injury, make sure to inform your doctor first to make sure you’re clear to practice yoga. It’s also a good idea to inform your yoga instructor before class so that they can offer any modifications if you need them.
The practice of yoga first began as a form of meditation to help clear the mind and find inner peace. Yogis would sit for long periods of time but all that sitting brought about physical ailments. Over time, poses were added to the practice to improve the health of the seated yogis – poses that would act as a moving meditation, so their mindfulness practice wasn’t disturbed. The focus on the breath during modern practice helps to bring us into the present moment and take us out of our heads. This is why we hear so many teachers speak about stillness, meditation and breathwork, or pranayama, during practice. A lot of poses, especially those in restorative classes, are designed to relax the body and the mind.
Taking Yoga Off the Mat
The more we practice yoga on the mat, the easier it becomes to what we learn out into the world. The principles of yoga, including non-harming, non-stealing, and proper use of energies become ways to live our “regular” lives whether we’re at home, work or school. These practices teach us how to be more patient, kind, and compassionate to others as well as, ourselves. They help us to see the world from a different perspective. With a regular yoga practice the easier it will be to take these lessons and that sense of calm you feel while on your mat into the rest of your life.
Dealing and Coping
A regular yoga practice also helps us to deal with our past problems or issues, things that we have pushed deep down inside of us and have been unwilling to let go of. This is arguably one of the toughest (yet beneficial) parts of a yoga practice. Styles like Yin yoga that offer a deep stretch, helping to release the issues in our tissues; just being in a safe space and loving community, can help some people open up. For others, yoga is a form of recovery, self-exploration and healing. While some people come to their mat for the physical benefits, others arrive to discover their true selves through movement and meditation.
You don’t have to practice yoga every day to reap the amazing benefits of the practice. Start slow, adding another practice during your week or practice a 5 minute meditation while you wait for your tea to cool. Over time, you will develop a routine, a healthy habit, and you’ll notice an overall calm and more peaceful you!
The practice of Yoga has numerous benefits including increased flexibility, strength, and balance. Combined with breathing exercises and meditation it works remarkably well to help promote overall physical and mental well-being. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of yoga it has also been proven as an excellent way to reduce stress, ease panic attacks, lower blood pressure, help alleviate back pain, arthritis pain, depression, mental fog and reduce the risk of many other common health problems.
Practicing yoga (and meditation) together can help switch the mind from a state of turbulence to the bliss of tranquility. The mind doesn’t shut off but it does stop chattering, letting you be in the moment to enjoy it completely. So, practice yoga (and meditation) be happy! 😊
When we explore the layers of the wisdom that comprise the yoga poses we hold, breathe and release, we start to discover symbolism and meaning in every movement. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, your instructor has most likely guided you into poses such as Warrior II (or in Sanskrit Virabhadrasana II). The Sanskrit words vira means “hero”, bhadra means “friend”, and asana meaning “seat or posture”. Not only does this pose offer many amazing benefits, there’s also an interesting story behind the pose.
According to Hindi mythology, Virabhadra, was a fierce warrior who was at the command of Shiva. In the myth, a powerful priest named Daksha refused to accept Shiva, even when Shiva and Sati (Daksha’s youngest daughter) were married. This dislike between Sati’s father and Shiva upset her so greatly that she killed herself. Upset by his wife’s death, myth says that Shiva created the fiercest warrior from a bead of sweat on his forehead. This warrior’s name was Virabhadra, and Shiva set him out to destroy those who had caused the death of his beloved Sati.
This mythical story shows our human responses to emotions. We often overlook emotions like anger, jealousy, and bitterness in spiritual pursuits like yoga. Being a yogi isn’t about being blissful or “Zen” every single day. Practicing yoga means being able to deal with life’s ups and downs. Along with the extraordinary range of emotions we exhibit, we also have the capacity for reflection. So when our life battles seem beyond our control, we possess the most important tools of the “spiritual warrior”, compassion and forgiveness.
Caution: Do not practice Warrior II if you have hip, knee, or shoulder injury, or if you are experiencing diarrhea or high blood pressure. Those with neck injuries should not turn their head to face the front hand (modify the pose as seen in the picture). Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
The physical and psychological benefits of yoga for stress management has been increasing. With regular practice of yoga it can help decrease stress and tension, increase strength, balance and flexibility, lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels. It also produces strong emotional benefits due to the emphasis on breathing and the interconnection of mind, body and spirit. Frequent practice of yoga for stress management encourages better sleep, helps individuals to not focus on things beyond their control and how to live in the present. It makes a stressful event a lot easier to handle, whether it's family or work. While most people have the notion that you have to be flexible in order to do yoga, the truth is, anyone will benefit from yoga regardless of age.
There are many different styles of yoga to suit your preference. It's not about doing yoga better or worse than the others, it's about how you feel in your body and how relaxed you can allow yourself to become. Yoga is considered as a deeply personal practice and no two people can or should hold a pose in exactly the same manner. A person has to work at his or her own level of flexibility, one that is challenging but not overwhelming. If you don't feel good with what the instructor is telling you to do, don't do it. Your body will warn you if you are about to get hurt. It is important that you listen to your body, push the limits gently, but don't let yourself be overcome by ego. Allow your body to guide you and be your friend.
The “goal” of yoga is to synchronize the breath and movement. It is important when to inhale and exhale as you work through poses. Breathing only through your nose keeps heat in the body and keeps the mind focused. Concentrating on your breath is the key to yoga for stress management, as it helps you let go of external thoughts and anxiety. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on your breath. Feel how it goes down your nose and into your body. It helps you let go of the worrying thoughts. As you end each yoga session, simply lie on your back with both arms at your side with eyes closed and breathing deeply. This final pose (Corpse Pose or Savasana) is designed for deep relaxation.
Keep in mind that yoga is a slow process. Forget about expectations. Let go of competition and judgment. As yoga brings you into the present moment, you will experience joy not only in the physical movement and mental benefits but in spending time in the now.
Feeling stressed out? Try these yoga poses during the holiday season or anytime you need a break!
*This article was originally published by Jill Paschal at Lexiyoga.
Marichyasana is named after the sage Marichi. The word Marichi literally means a ray of light. In Hindu mythology, Marichi was the son of Brahma and chief of the Maruts (also called vayu or wind-gods). He’s one of the seven (sometimes 10 or 12) sages (rishis) or lords of creation (prajapatis), who intuitively "see" and determine the divine law of the universe (dharma).
Benefits: Twists are important asanas for spinal health; they keep the spine flexible and bring fresh blood supply to the spinal nerves. Twisting also has an effect on the abdominals, alternately stretching and contracting as you twist one way and then the other. Spinal twisting enhances prana flow all around the abdomen, nourishing the pancreas, kidneys, stomach, small intestines, liver, and gall bladder while compressing and squeezing out excess flatulence that becomes trapped and uncomfortable in the body. Twisting should take place in the thoracic spine (where the ribs attach to the spine).
How to: Starting with your legs straight in front of you, bend your right knee so it’s flat on the floor close to your body. Sitting tall, place your right hand behind you to support you. As you exhale, twist to bring your left elbow across your body so it hooks on the outside of your right knee. If your elbow doesn’t reach, you can bring your arm across your shin and grasp your thigh with your left hand. Remember to keep pressing your right foot down into the earth, and sit tall with your spine straight and shoulders down. Stay here for five deep breaths then repeat other side (Sometimes breathing is difficult in twisting postures because the abdomen is compressed, as your flexibility increases and your abdomen twists clear of your thigh the breath will come easier).
Twists are a great way to wring out the internal organs, however, if you feel any pain in your knees, sit on a yoga block or bolster or move out of the pose. Also, pregnant women should always use caution or avoid twists altogether
Going to a yoga class at a studio can definitely get you in a calm mood, but sometimes a class just isn't possible. Fortunately, you can always practice yoga at home as long as you have the proper precautions in place. If you're not going to a yoga class, it's no excuse for skipping a yoga practice altogether. You can easily set up your home to get the same benefits of going to a yoga studio.
Home vs. Class
While you might not get the benefit of a trained yoga instructor at home, you can still practice yoga on your own. Some of the differences include the lack of a yoga teacher to walk you through the technique and posture of a given pose, as well as some of the mood-setting atmosphere benefits you get at a studio, like darker lighting, quiet and more space to stretch. However, there's nothing stopping you from getting the same benefits you get at a studio through home practice; self-led yoga practice is better than none at all.
There are some great benefits to practicing yoga at home, especially when it comes to the convenience of unrolling your mat in your home for a quick session. It's cheaper and quicker than going to a studio, even if you miss out on having a teacher walk you through each pose. And, since you're in control of the time, style of yoga, mood and atmosphere of your home, you can tailor each to your own specific needs and preferences.
Setting the Mood
One way to make a home practice more beneficial is to set the mood more like the quiet, peaceful setting of a yoga studio. Dimming the lights, using soft music and eliminating distractions can go a long way in setting aside special time to practice. If your phone is ringing, TV blaring and kids are interrupting you, you might not get in the right frame of mind for calming, beneficial yoga. Seek a space in your home that is quiet and gives you enough room to move freely.
Practicing on your own at home is great as long as you have a solid foundation and knowledge of the poses you practice. Trying a new pose at home can be difficult without a teacher to ensure you have correct posture and alignment. If you do want to try something new, try some online yoga or an app that you can use on your tablet or mobile phone; not only do you get instruction, but also a wide variety of teachers and teaching styles. Remember when you practice self-led poses you know how to execute properly to ensure you stay safe in your home practice.
Want more tips on creating a daily home practice? Check out my previous article on how to make yoga a daily routine.
Yoga is a mind-body practice, a moving meditation, it involves an piece of spiritual awakening and self-understanding that goes beyond the physical activity on the yoga mat. Setting an intention can bring your yoga practice to a deeper level. An intention can guide your practice as you stretch through increasingly challenging asanas (poses). An intention can also help direct your actions and decisions off the yoga mat to help you make more sound decisions, feel calmer and have an overall peace of mind.
Often in a yoga class an instructor will invite students to silently set an intention for their practice. Even if you practice at home on your own, you can still take a moment to set your focus during practice, as well as in your life. An intention can be a simple word you dedicate your practice to that represents a value you'd like to bring into your life. For example, love, trust, openness, compassion, truth or tenderness. Powerful intentions directly address feelings you'd like to modify. Feeling weak? Set strength as your intention. Feeling unsure? Go with belief.
To be fully effective, intentions are not a once-uttered wonder. During your practice, perhaps during your most challenging pose (Wheel or Shoulderstand) remember that intention, whether it be strength or belief in your abilities, and allow it to guide you through the posture. In the same way, when you are having difficult times in life, once your intention is set you'll be able to use it when you need it; to guide your decisions and actions and base them on your values. Intentions can keep you grounded so that you can connect with your true self, no matter what comes your way.
Intention vs. Goal
What really sets an intention apart from a goal is how an intention comes from a place of presence while a goal is a future plan of the mind. An intention represents your authenticity in the current moment and stays with you for as long as you need it. A goal, however, you have to use your mind to create images of what you want your future state of being to look like, which may or may not be a reflection of your authentic self/truth. While you may work hard to achieve certain goals, achieving them won’t necessarily keep you content or satisfied for very long afterward if you didn’t set an intention first.
Another way to look at intention in the setting of yoga practice is to ask yourself why you practice daily. What were you hoping to achieve? If you answer these questions with an open mind and heart, you will find your intention. When you begin to understand what you are seeking from your yoga practice, you can see how to direct energies and actions. Your intentions may change over time as you grow. Take the time to listen, and you will always discover your intention.
There are many opportunities in our everyday lives where we can add more yoga. Yoga is not just the physical practice on the mat, but it’s also who we are off the mat too! Here are 10 ways to incorporate the mental practice of yoga in your life:
1. Practice deep breathing when you’re on the train, stuck in traffic in your car, or doctor’s office. Place your hand on your lower stomach so you can connect deeper to your own breath and body, close your eyes and take deep breaths through the nose and into the belly. Breathe deeply.
2. Meditate on a plane, train or bus while travelling.
3. Practice peace, compassion and love; not only towards others, but to yourself as well. You can't be a loving, happy, healthy person if you don’t love yourself first. Be compassionate towards yourself even when you can’t quite accomplish that hard yoga pose (yet), practice one that feels right for your body and modify when needed!
4. When standing in line at the grocery store think of three things that you're grateful for. Express gratitude (whether verbally or mentally) before eating. Allow this to become a habit; it will help you cultivate gratitude in your life.
5. Practice Utthanasana (Standing Forward Fold) when you feel stressed. Utthanasana calms anxiety and brings more oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
6. Practice Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall pose) after exercise, work, or after sitting for extended periods. This pose has many benefits including regulating blood flow, calming anxiety, relieving head and back aches; just to name a few.
7. Eat for health, not for weight loss. Nourishing our bodies with healthy, wholesome food is essential for wellness and vitality. Incorporate more plant-based food in your diet like beans, lentils, nuts and grains. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables along with healthy fats.
8. Counterbalance your daily activities. For example, do a chest opener after spending time on a computer, writing, or driving; most of our daily routines involve slumped shoulders and rounding of the back. Open your chest by practicing back-bends daily.
9. Practice inversions every day. Inversions are great for your health! Remember you don’t have to do fancy inversions like handstands, you can practice something as simple as Legs Up the Wall pose or even Child’s pose after a long day.
10. Be in the moment: turn off your phone, computer, or television and be open to the present moment. Spend some time (maybe a day) completely unplugged from the electronic world.
Yin Yoga is a non-heated, slow-paced style of yoga in which asanas (postures), are held for longer times (sometimes for 5-10 minutes). This spiritual, meditative style of yoga is beneficial for recovery after injury, pain management and enhancing the mind-body connection. While more active yang styles, such as vinyasa yoga, focus on movement with the breath, strengthening and toning, yin is the opposite. Yin yoga targets the deep connective tissues, known as the fascia, within the body. This meditative style helps regulate energy flow throughout the body.
Yin Yoga Poses
Most yin poses are seated or reclined postures. You follow a more meditative approach to release tension from the fascia. Meditation is an important component to this style of yoga. You might initially struggle with sitting still and working through feelings and sensations that come up during each posture. Cultivating a meditative mindset is important for finding spiritual stillness, harmony and balance. Yin teaches you to truly sit still and listen to your body. Often it can be difficult to find moments of stillness and surrender. In yin practice, it is the perfect time to come into one's own body and mind, accept what is, and simply learn to be. This spiritual practice is important for working through not only physical limitations, but also past emotional ordeals.
Benefits of Yin Yoga
Benefits of a non-heated yin practice include: regulating energy levels in the body; calming and balancing the mind and body; increasing mobility, especially in the joints and hips; lower stress levels; and faster recovery from injury. Releasing tension from the fascia not only for movement, stamina and flexibility, but also achieving greater relaxation. Once you get into a regular practice, you can sit still longer for meditation and find the practice of meditating more rewarding and calming.
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