Nadav Spiegelman

Ashtanga Yoga

Gregor Maehle
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Sense withdrawal means to accept the fact that external stimuli can never truly fulfill us.
One of the greatest traps in physical yoga is to get identified with postures and preoccupied with the body. One thinks, “Now I am sitting in Padmasana. This is yoga!” One couldn’t be more wrong. To perceive the awareness that witnesses sitting in Padmasana — that is yoga.
On a hot day, focus on the cooling quality of the breath.
In Ashtanga Yoga, movement is never done during kumbhaka (breath retention).
To be emotional means to react to a present situation according to a past conditioning. For example, if I am rejected in a certain situation that is new to me, I will feel hurt. If I find myself in a similar situation again, I will become emotional even before any new hurt has been inflicted. I will emote “hurt” before I actually feel it. An emotion is a conserved feeling that arises because the original feeling has left a subconscious imprint in the mind. Patanjali calls this imprint samskara. The theory that being emotional is being more authentic is flawed, since an emotional person is as much in the past as a person who is constantly “in his or her head.”
[Nadav’s note: Interesting but theres emotipn than trauma]
Drishti is also a practice of concentration (dharana), the sixth of Patanjali’s limbs of yoga. If we practice in a distracted way, we may find ourselves listening to the birds outside and gazing around the room. To perform all of the prescribed actions — bandha, ujjayi, drishti, and finding proper alignment — the mind needs to be fully concentrated; otherwise one of the elements will miss out. In this way the practice provides us with constant feedback about whether we are in dharana. In time dharana will lead to meditation (dhyana).
The core idea of Vinyasa Yoga is to shift emphasis from posture to breath and therefore to realize that postures, like all forms, are impermanent.
Through vinyasa the postures are linked to form a mala. A mala is commonly used to count mantras during mantra meditation, whereas in Vinyasa Yoga every asana becomes a bead on this mala of yoga postures. In this way the practice becomes a movement meditation.
Like the entire creation, the names of the asanas can be divided into four groups: lifeless forms, animal forms, human forms, and divine forms. Asanas such as Trikonasana (Triangle Posture) and Navasana (Boat Posture), representing lifeless forms, occur predominantly in the Primary Series. The Intermediate or Second Series is dominated by postures named after animals, for example Shalabasana (Locust Posture), Kapotasana (Pigeon Posture), and Krounchasana (Heron Posture). The human race is represented by asanas dedicated to the ancient rishis. Examples are Marichyasana (Posture of the Rishi Marichi), Bharadvajasana (Posture of the Rishi Bharadvaja), and Durvasasana (Posture of the Rishi Durvasa). Asanas named after divine forms — such as Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Posture), Hanumanasana (Posture of Lord Hanuman), and Skandasana (Posture Dedicated to Lord Kartikeya) — occur, like those dedicated to rishis, mainly in the Advanced A or Third Series.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice is a movement meditation. The goal is that every breath taken becomes a conscious one. The set sequence, the consistent flow, the internal holding of the bandhas, the drishti, and listening to the sound of the Ujjayi pranayama are all techniques designed to withdraw the senses. This facilitates focused concentration so that meditation becomes possible. Absence of the Ujjayi sound, shallow breathing, and fidgeting usually indicate that the mind has taken over and focus has been lost.
It can be advisable to practice full vinyasa for some time to improve strength and stamina, for example after recovery from disease or to speed up metabolism. The full-vinyasa approach has an intensified flushing effect and can stimulate a sluggish liver. Although full vinyasa is more work, it also allows time for the practitioner “to come up for air” so to speak, and may actually de-intensify a practice. It certainly does eventually repay the energy expended. However, as a long-term practice it may be difficult to sustain.
Surya Namaskara A is usually repeated five times, but more can be done on cold days, less in extreme heat — until the body feels awake and balanced.
The neck should always move as an extension of the spine, as indeed it is. The gaze lifts at the same pace as the lift of the arms. When the palms meet we are gazing up to the thumbs. The movement of the arms, the shifting of the gaze, and the movement of the breath should all be perfectly synchronized. This needs to be deeply understood, as it applies to the whole of the practice.
Do Surya Namaskara B until you start to perspire. Five rounds should be sufficient under average conditions, three in the tropics, and up to ten in colder regions.
Hyperextension of the knee can often be observed in Trikonasana, students with low muscle tension being especially predisposed to it. Lifting the knee away from the floor and isometrically engaging the hamstrings counteracts this tendency. The engaging of the hamstrings can be achieved by attempting to draw or swipe the front foot over the floor toward the back foot. The foot will of course not move because it carries weight, but the muscles used to perform the action — the hamstrings — will engage. This important action needs to be performed in all postures where the front leg is straight.
K. Pattabhi Jois refers to this posture as “Taking Rest.” Yogic literature, however, refers to it as Shavasana (corpse posture) or Mritasana (death posture). According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “Lying down on the ground, like a corpse, is called Shavasana. It removes fatigue and gives rest to the mind.”22 The Gheranda Samhita agrees: “Lying flat on the ground like a corpse is called Mritasana. This posture destroys fatigue, and quiets the agitations of the mind.”
After practice, the body needs time to cool and settle. To jump up immediately and commence our daily pursuits can make one agitated and nervous.