June 2008 – Q&A


Are there techniques or strategies to stay present?  (Donna M.)
You are here now—you are present even if you don’t think you are!  Actually there are many books and meditation techniques written on this—most of them in my opinion, although containing good information—are not that useful.  In actuality it is not that difficult.  When you catch yourself being too wrapped up in drama that is going through your head (that most likely will never happen), just bring your attention back to where you are/who you’re with/what you’re doing.  The more you do this the more you will be “present”, and the more you disconnect from the stressful situations your mind makes up the less stress you will have in your life.  You will not be able to stop your thinking mind from interfering, just learn to ignore it and don’t believe everything you think!

How to not let people/situations upset you or stress you out? (Maria S.)
Have no expectations! If you are buying a house do not expect the mortgage broker to be helpful or caring! Just remember though to be kind and patient, and compassionate in return, most often our own feelings and attitudes are bounced back onto us, so if you send out good vibes you are more likely to receive good vibes. Also in dealing with people who seem to want to hurt you or insult/intimidate you, I learned a little slogan: “hurt people hurt people”, and I have taken it a step further; uncaring people are most likely uncared for . . . intimidating people have been intimidated . . . as I said earlier if you respond to those people with love and compassion most likely they will respond better to you.

Here are some questions as you requested… (Michael P.)
1. During Surya Namaskar B, do you bring your foot up on the exhale or inhale?

From upward dog, you exhale to downward dog and while still exhaling step your foot forward, begin the next inhale as you sweep your arms from the floor to overhead. It is important to keep your breath deep and long—if your breath is too short you will not have enough time to go from upward dog to a lunge in half a breath! Also it is important to not ‘scrooch’ around with your feet during the transitional downward dogs-this is the place where many people have a harder time keeping the rhythm, only the downdog that we hold for 5 breaths do we move our feet to ground our heels.

2. What is the correct posture and breathing while sitting at the beginning of class?
The same as for meditation: Spine erect, but relaxed, shoulders over hips, slight tuck of tailbone while we lift and broaden collar bones, keep ribs pulled together, abdomen soft, back of the neck long and ears over shoulders. There are options for your hand position, you can do the typical jnana mudra (thumb and forefinger touching with backs of hands or palms on knees), or you can turn both palms upward laying your laying your hands in your lap with your non dominant hand on top lining up your knuckles and tips of thumbs touching. The breath moves more in our abdomen as we are softer with the bandhas during a meditative pose and our breath is quiet during meditation, no ujjayi, but still rhythmic and full paying attention to the breathing process.

3. What is the easiest way to remember all the Sanskrit asana names?
Learn just one or two at a time, each time you do the pose say the Sanskrit name either to yourself or out load. At Manju Jois’s workshops he makes as a group say the Sanskrit name of each pose as we are entering into it. Also, when you talk of the pose with other people don’t use the English names just learn the Sanskrit names and always use the Sanskrit.

4. What are the eight limbs of yoga and how can you practice them in your daily life?
This will be next month’s topic! This is too big to discuss this month.

What is “closing”?
An Ashtanga class is broken down to 4 sections

    • Sun Salutes
    • Standing Poses
    • Primary, Secondary, or Advanced Series
    • Closing

After a while of practice and after you learn the closing sequence, you should always end your practice with closing, even if you are not doing a full practice.  Closing begins with the full back bend “Urdhva Dhanurasana” done 3x, then moves into a shoulderstand series, 2 counter poses, headstand, and the 3 closing lotus flowers.
Inversions are considered the King and Queen of yoga poses, improving blood circulation, reversing pressure on the spine, and positively affecting our breathing process.  For more info on inversions go to (topic of month archives, 11/07):  https://www.befitbodymind.org/yfocus_november07.shtml

I have a question for you… I think I asked this when I first started teaching and now after David Williams workshops, I’ve been thinking about it again. What is the purpose of adjustments? I love them, but still think that they can keep you in your thinking mind during practice. There feels like an underlying current that the adjustments are to help you reach “perfection” in the pose getting you deeper or more aligned, which seems contradictory to the yogic philosophy. (Holly K.)
Being adjusted does not mean you are not already perfectly in the pose 😉 Adjustments can help our body feel where it can go, sometimes we lose neuromuscular communication between mind and muscle and we literally can not figure out how to put our body a certain way. Adjustments help your body reconnect neuromuscular-ly and figure out how to do what it can already do, and also, adjustments help break through scar tissue that restricts movements.

Then we have the whole touch benefit, touching is nourishment to our emotions just like food is nourishment to our body. Sometimes I “adjust” someone just because I notice or feel they may need that connection . . . and that works vice versa too, sometimes I am teaching a tough class and assist a student who comes regularly who I know well because I need the touch!

Here’s another one. Am I to understand that you are to apply bandhas constantly during the entire primary and secondary series practice? (Michael P.)
Yes, you do work toward keeping the bandhas fairly constant throughout your entire practice and most of the day! They are subtle but constant requiring just a little effort, the bandhas are actually more mental effort than physical effort.

In some of the seated poses is it more important to have knee or leg to chest contact or be more fully into the pose. I guess what I’m asking is as you progress through a pose (and not getting it yet fully) what should you concentrate on? (Carl S.)
It actually depends on the person and the pose, but in most cases you want to get forward in the pose to get the benefit of the heel pressing into the abdomen—the internal cleansing is the main purpose of the poses. For example if you do Mari B with your leg in half lotus it is actually more important to lean forward and get your heel pressing into your abdomen than to work on binding and not lean forward into the pose.

When following a led class and I am exhaling when you cue to inhale hop forward, should I cut off my breath to stay with your cue or finish my exhale and then inhale hop forward? (Carl S.)
It is best to stay with your breath, so in some instances you may be half a breath behind the lead, however you should not be ahead of the cue. Also, sometimes in Chaturanga I wait for most of the class to get together, if you get into Chaturanga quickly (this is good), keep breathing but wait for the inhale to up dog cue to move forward with the class.

Should you do practice when menstruating? (Sara)
During menstruation (and the day prior) your uterus is a heavier and tender, inverting during this time could put additional strain on some of the ligaments that support the uterus. Also the energy flow is downward during this time and yogic philosophy says that inverting could interfere with that downward energy flow. Not only are shoulderstand and headstand inversions, but also down dog and standing forward bends are partial inversions! Also during the first few days of menstruation your body is tired and needs rest. If you feel like you need a stretch it is a nice time to do a restorative practice. I have handouts of a recommended “menstruation practice”, just ask if you are interested. Usually by day 4 or 5 you can start back with ½ primary (depending on your blood flow), and resume your normal practice schedule the next day.

When doing self practice, sometimes I feel like I want “rush” through the poses (even though I am holding the pose for 5 deep breaths), any suggestions on how to deal with this “impatience”? (Maegan)
(I can totally relate to this question being that I self practice 5 out of 6 of my practices each week!) When I am noticing myself wanting to rush through the poses what helps me the most is coming back to my breath, putting my attention on the quality of my breath takes my mind off wanting to rush, and paying attention to stay with my breath as I transition between the poses helps to keep the thinking mind at bay. Also, when in a led class and feeling like you want to move ahead of the cue it is helpful to switch from counting how many breaths to counting the length of your inhale and exhale-this takes you away from realizing you may be holding a pose for longer than 5 breaths!

Our mind is impatient, and wants to move onto the next duty at hand to “get it done”, when you notice this coming up in your practice, just remind yourself to “STOP” and enjoy this practice!

What is the historical relationship between Tantra and Yoga? For that matter, what is Tantra anyway? I’ve heard two things: one, it’s embracing whatever is taboo so that you can transcend it (like, rubbing ashes of dead people on yourself, having too much sex, etc . . .), and two, a kind of mystical meditation practice. But I also read that the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ is somehow connected to Tantric philosophy. Is that true? (Chrissy)
Tantra and Yoga are basically the same thing!  Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means union and Tantra is a philosophy based on union or union of opposites; male/female being our primary union, but including; above with below, sun with moon, night with day, body with mind.   I have heard that Tantra and Hinduism used to be one and the same; however the Tantrics and the Hindus split; Tantrics honor the feminine, Hinduism has that male dichotomy—man rules belief.  Tantric yoga has been squelched due to the fear of “feminine power” and quite frankly the Tantrics were embarrassed at their use of sexual energy amidst the Hindu and Vedantic orthodoxy.

Tantric Yoga like any other belief or religion has been manipulated to lead you to believe you need to do something to get better, or there is some higher person or power out there you need to learn from or attain.  These methods are usually developed over time to “control” the masses based on fear.  This is just not necessary!   We already are spiritual beings and perfect!  However there is much to learn from Tantric yoga (or any religion)—but to learn it we must unhook it from some of the cultural ideas that have been imposed on it.

Tantra honors the feminine; it believes that if you keep the woman happy man too will be happy and nurtured.  There are many ways to do this; sex being one of the avenues (the one most talked about anyway!)—but not the only avenue.   The man is there for a woman as strength, but he is also receptive vehicle for her own movement, woman is receptive and nurturing to man.  In a day to day life the man is there for the woman in the same way, if the woman are cared for and comfortable as the nurturers, then the children will be happy and cared for as well as the men.

TANTRIC SEX IS NOT ABOUT MANIPULATING THE SEXUAL EXPERIECE as most of us have heard about, this implies there is some problem with how we are relating to our loved one, sex in love, sex for connection to your mate is wonderful and all of us can experience it without a “system” to follow.  All you need to do to practice Tantric yoga is to honor your mate, to make their experience pleasurable and in doing so it will increase your pleasure.

Other ways we can practice Tantric Yoga is right here on our mat, when we start to breathe we merge our body movement with our breath—this is tantra, we merge our inhale with the exhale, and the greatest merge of all being the realization that we are already merged with “God” or “universal love” or that which we seek.  No more seeking is necessary!

Repetition and the Ashtanga Practice, what is the purpose of repetition?
Repetition does not entertain, it teaches! The repetition of the series of Ashtanga yoga helps to take us deeper into the practice. When you are constantly changing the flow of poses you spend more time on the physical level learning the asana, after a while of practicing the same set of poses you develop your muscle memory and you do not have to put so much effort into the poses, this allows you energy to focus on your breath! If you feel “bored” with your practice I suggest you go deeper with it, get into the more subtle elements like staying with your breath and maintaining your bandhas. Also it is nice to see how you change in the poses, the pose remains the same yet you change within the pose 🙂 When you do anything long enough you get “good” at it, so keep coming back!

What are the series of the Ashtanga practice and how do you progress through them?
There are a total of 5 series in Ashtanga yoga (well the new method now has 6 series, in the new method they broke 3rd series into two series because it is the most difficult series), since I teach as Nancy I am learning and teaching the old method of 5 series:

Primary Series – is about building strength and the habit of practice.  It is also about detoxing your body and organs and healing any nagging issues.  It is called yoga chikitsa which means yoga therapy.

Second Series – known as Nadi Shodhana or nerve cleansing begins to work on the nervous system with back bending and counter balances the forward bending of primary series.  Many people think they need to master primary series (not that we will ever ‘master’ any of the series!) to move onto second series, this is just not true!  Second series is a counter balance to primary and should be started within 6mos to 1 year of a regular practice.  Second series also works your leg behind your head posture deepening the forward bend, putting your leg behind your head is actually good for the heart/lung system, the kidneys, and the spinal cord.  Second series finishes up with some arm balances and head stands that prepare you for third series.

Third Series – known as Sthira Bhaga or steady strength is about building strength in the body.  We should be practicing primary and secondary for about 5 or 6 years before starting third.  Primary series gets the body healthy, secondary series gets the nervous system healthy now the body is ready for strength!  Thirds series will make you strong, it has many arm balancing postures and alternates between deep forward bending (leg behind head) and deep back bending postures.

Fourth Series – Fourth Series aka Advanced B – Now the practice slows down a little.  This series involves some challenging postures mixed with easier postures mixed with meditative postures.

The Rishi Series – The final series is the Rishi Series, a Rishi is one who knows.  At this point in our lives we have been practicing for over 20 years and our body knows what it needs.  In the Rishi series you choose 10 poses and hold each one for 50 breaths, headstand is always one of the postures.

Other ways to reduce oil usage?
There are many other ways than just using less fuel in your cars and for heating/ac that we can reduce our oil usage. First of all plastic is made from oil! Use less plastics! Polyesters are made from plastic—we are literally wearing plastic! Try to buy 100% cotton or wool and silk blends of materials. Do you know that most plant fertilizer is made from oil? Instead of plant fertilizers I make compost tea and use that to fertilize my plants (put some compost in a bucket, collect rainwater and let it sit for a few days. Then use that water to water your plants.)

OK, and finally the “big” question… Our bodily noises in class!!! Anytime I go from having my legs overhead back to normal, I have what I call “vaginal farts” (please know that I’m laughing AND blushing as I write this!). Do I have weak bandhas? am I biologically deformed? Doing the posture wrong??? Help! It’s so incredibly embarrassing — and I am NOT easily embarrassed…. so, any light that you can shed on this would be great, especially if I can do something to help with this issue!
I have to tell you I get this question frequently, we all have experienced it! First it is most likely to happen the day or two prior to menstruating (or after childbirth due to weak/overstretched pelvic floor muscles) because your uterus is heavier so when you invert air is drawn into the body and as you lower down the air comes out. If you do mula bandha or a kegel before you invert and hold the kegel while inverted (it is actually very good for you to do that) it will help greatly. The other time it sometimes happens is after sex, sex sometimes puts air in the uterus and a posture such as Marichyasana B or D will push it out. Not much you can do about that one since first of all it is good to get the air out, and second of all loving sex being done to connect with your partner is a good thing 😉

What does the BeFit logo mean or signify? (Cindy)
The Sun
“The sun is the soul of the world” Rg Veda 1.115.1
There is a microcosm (our body) that mirrors the macrocosm (the universe).  In our body, the sun is our heart/soul while the moon is the brain; the brain reflects what is in our hearts, just as the moon reflects the sun’s light.
In Hinduism, Surya, the Sun God is the bestow-er of health, both mental and physical.
In the Vedas is a mantra to the sun god asking:
To bestow upon us the good fortune of having only good thoughts, of hearing and speaking only good words, and of attaining a sound and strong body, so that we may live a long life and, one day, achieve yoga (Oneness).

This mantra goes on to ask for stillness of mind, powers of concentration, the ability to think profound thoughts and to be unwavering at all times, and the capacity to maintain a perfect equilibrium between body and mind.

While practicing Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutes) you are asked to remember this mantra in the back of your mind, making the practice of Surya Namaskar Dhyana (meditation) and not just asana.

OMThe very first vibration which became sound was the sound of OM.  Creation itself was set in motion by the vibration of OM (hence in science the “big bang theory”).   The vibration produced by chanting Om in the physical universe corresponds to the original vibration that first arose at the time of creation, thus representing we are all “one”.  We have all come from the same nothingness that became creation.
The sound of Om is also called Pranava, meaning that it sustains life and runs through Prana or breath.
The Vibrations of chanting OM clear maya (illusion/delusion) from our minds and tunes our inner being (hearts) into the frequency of Love.

Lotus Flower
The lotus flower grows in mud and muck and thus is symbolic as it rises above the muck in its life and blooms beautifully, despite the obstacles.  In yogic lore, the lotus is a metaphor for how all past experiences, especially negative ones, can be used as fertile soil for blooming into a more awakened being, capable of giving graciously and profoundly to others.

What’s with the chanting? Is it specific to Ashtanga or do other styles of yoga incorporate chanting into their practice? (Holly)
The vibrations in the body produced by chanting are what bring about the benefits. Chanting (vibration) is used as another method to move energy in the body, in Ashtanga as we get into our 70’s we actually do less asana and chant more, using the chanting to move the energy instead of asana. Actually other forms of yoga chant even more, like Kundalini and Kripalu, the asanas are less energetic so they are using chanting to move energy.

Also the vibrations of chanting help to remove blocked energy in the body. In viniyoga sometimes an OM or Shri is pronounced with the exhale helping to move stuck energy upward from the muladhara chakra to agni where it can be burned off.

Chanting OM moves energy from base to crown, the “O” starts at the base of our body and the “M” softens from the crown to base (OM is pronounced in the ration of three “O” to one “M” then followed by silence). Chanting after asana is thought to have the most profound effect-the asana has already loosened blocked areas and gotten energy moving making it easier for the vibrations to work with the more subtle energy movement of yoga-the movement of prana or energy from ida and pingala (two secondary nadis-male and female nadis that end at our nostrils) into the one main sushumna nadi (our spine) uniting and balancing the opposing energies of our body. A person using sound in this way, to link mind and voice to the whole body is better able to communicate their feelings to others and to feel confidence in life.

On a softer side the opening Ashtanga chant is performed to remind us of the lineage and the many teachers of yoga and to be thankful to them, reminding us this practice is larger than “ourself” and keeping us in the attitude of gratitude.

The closing chant is a well wish for mankind, sending out good vibes 🙂

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