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).
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.
Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world. The oldest form of Sanskrit is Vedic Sanskrit that dates back to the 2nd millennium BCE. Known as “the mother of all languages,” Sanskrit is a classical language of the Indian subcontinent and one of the 22 official languages in India. Sanskrit can also be therapeutic. Pronouncing Sanskrit words involve the hard and soft palate, and the reverberating sounds create inner vibrations that are said to affect the central nervous system and the flow of prana. There are several ways to learn the names of yoga poses in Sanskrit. Here are a few ways to learn:
How to learn Sanskrit
Learn some of the basics before coming to class. There are several words repeated throughout the yoga class that you can easily understand. The word "asana" means yoga pose, so you'll hear the word asana placed after every pose. The beginning of a pose name usually relates to a natural feature, animal or person. For example, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana translates to Upward Facing Dog Pose. Other popular Sanskrit words that are used often are "adho" for downward, "hasta" for hand, "pada" for foot and "supta" for lying down or supine. Learning these Sanskrit words you'll know what poses you’re doing next.
Attend yoga classes where the classes are taught using Sanskrit pose names. It's very rare that a yoga class would be taught completely in Sanskrit, so you'll still have alignment cues in your native language. Ashtanga yoga for example, is a style of yoga that traditionally uses Sanskrit pose names. Talk to a yoga teacher prior to class to ask about whether you can expect to hear Sanskrit in the class.
Enroll in a class to learn Sanskrit or speak with a yoga teacher who can help with correct pronunciation. Each traditional yoga pose has a mythical story attached to it that explains the name of the pose and the spiritual connections. Learning the stories behind the poses helps to give background on the Sanskrit names.
Consciously think of or even say the Sanskrit name aloud when you transition into that pose. For example, every time you are in Mountain Pose, think or say to yourself “Tadasana.”
Take advantage of numerous websites and apps that offer quizzes to test your knowledge of Sanskrit. If you don’t want to use the internet or apps, you could make yourself a set of flashcards to help you memorize the poses.
Kemetic Yoga is an ancient African form of yoga based on the culture of ancient Egypt, then known as Kemet. Kemetic Yoga utilizes movement and mythology from one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, particularly the national story, the Asarian resurrection. Yoga has been practiced since ancient times in different cultures and countries. Yoga didn't originate in Egypt, however, it has been practiced there for an estimated 10,000 years.
The benefits of Kemetic yoga start with breathing. Because so much concentration is focused on breathing, lung capacity and physical endurance improve. When deepening your breathing, you are prompting a relaxation response, which eases stress and calms you, also benefiting your ability to concentrate and putting you into a positive, happy frame of mind. Yoga has also been shown to have positive effects on heart health, asthma, arthritis, back pain and insomnia.
While traditional yoga poses are practiced in Kemetic yoga, the primary focus is on meditation and breath control. Kemetic yoga integrates these two elements with yoga poses, but breaks the poses down so that the body is in continuous movement, flowing seamlessly through several stages of one movement before going on to the next (similar to Vinyasa style). Breathing is coordinated with the movements to intensify energy circulation.
In Kemetic Yoga there are a series of 28 postures and 5 phases to move into the Divine Company of the gods and goddess of ancient Egypt. Each god or goddess is understood as field of energy or cosmic principle in which to align oneself. Traditional yoga poses are typically used in Kemetic yoga and have been found depicted in ancient Egyptian artwork and spiritual texts. In a typical Kemetic Yoga class, your physical and energetic bodies symbolize the Soul's journey on earth. Among the poses used in Kemetic Yoga are Tree pose, Sphinx pose, Bow Pose and Camel pose to name a few. The Pose of Immortality appears on a chair that belonged to King Tut, a significant example of the symbology of not only the pose but Kemetic yoga as a whole practice.
Want to practice this style of yoga? Check out this video for beginners: youtu.be/Z2IJEIaBG8k
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.
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