Yoga has been used to mean union, union between body, mind, and heart. It is a philosophy and a lifestyle, which is meant to bring the practitioner vibrant health by way of physical postures, breathing, detoxification, and internal awareness.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a system of yoga that combines physical postures (asana), and movements synchronized with your breath (vinyasa). Moving your body in rhythm with your breath has a calming effect. We also use gaze points (drishti) to help keep our focus and not divert our attention, and developing an internal muscular support, known as bandhas that offer support to our organs and circulatory system.
There are three series in ashtanga yoga; Primary Series, Second or Intermediate Series, and the Advanced Series. They cover a broad spectrum of postures, combinations of postures, and linking movements. Importance is given to the breathing and moving sychronization in all the series, the breath is the most important element to place your awareness in. Progression through the series is not based on the ability of your body to perform postures, progression is based on consistency of your practice, familiarity of the pose and your body in the pose, or therapeutic needs.
The practice of primary series (known as Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy) is designed to cleanse and purify the entire body — specifically the organs. Each posture has specific benefits. By synchronizing breath and movement we build internal heat which purifies the body by releasing toxins so organs can operate optimally, as well as releasing beneficial minerals and hormones into our blood stream.
Second Series is known as Nadi Shodhana and means nerve cleansing. Second series counterbalances the forward bending of primary series with backward bending, deeper forward bending and some inversions. In second or intermediate series we purify the nervous system. Most people will benefit greatly from only learning Primary and Second series, only those who want a very advanced yoga practice need to learn more.
The advanced series are known as Sthira Bhaga which means constant divinity; this series is only for those who want to adopt a full on yogic lifestyle. In the advanced series you build strength—both in body and mind. Primary series healed and detoxified the body, second series purified the nervous system, with third series the body is ready for strength— kind of like giving the car some gumption!
What is CoCreation Asthanga Yoga?
It honors you over a system.
CoCreation ashtanga yoga means there are no rules, there is no guru.
CoCreation Ashtanga Yoga means we offer guidance and suggestions and share our experiences, and ask you how that feels in your body, in your life today. We co-create and build your practice together, you are an important part of the process and what feels right to you is incorporated into your practice.
In the past to practice ashtanga, you were told you have to “follow the series” and do it this way, as it turns out individualizing your practice is more beneficial. You can modify a series, add therapeutic postures, shorten a series, and even “look different” in a posture! You can skip postures that do not serve you, do intermediate series before you drop back, and you don’t even need to do a six day per week practice. Though consistency is important — it does not have to be that rigid.
What is one of the most important reason we do yoga? Ultimately it comes down to our nervous systems. The ancients in many cultures (India, China, Peru/Amazon, etc.) all realized one of the most important aspects of our health is in our nervous systems — Not being in the stress response. This is a primary benefit of mind body medicine and exercises — to relax our nervous system so we can be Parasympathetic Dominant.
Parasympathetic dominant means that our rest, digest, and heal side of our nervous system is stronger than our Sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the stress response. So if we are stressed out by something, we can deal with the situation (hopefully quickly!) and then our Parasympathetic nervous system is strong enough to over-ride the sympathetic nervous system and stop the stress response, so we can relax and get back to digesting and regenerating.
We can not heal, digest, or even think clearly when we have stress hormones in our body.
Sadly most yoga being taught today puts one in a stress response! From group classes that are too long and intense, to people worrying about their performance, to remembering the correct vinyasa count, to a “system” being held as the gold standard over someone’s own knowledge or intuition about their body and what it needs.
On top of all that, once a person gets into a form of yoga … over-training seems to loom close by. If you practice ashtanga yoga “as recommended” most will start to experience the effects of overtraining within a few years.
Advice given by the powers of many systems of yoga mostly benefit the people making the advice … more so than they benefit the people the advice is being given to. For example having to practice six days per week … might get more paying people in your door each morning … Or telling someone they have to practice early morning (less overhead) while we now know due to discovering our Clock Gene that some people will do better on a later schedule.
I would like to change that in this industry. Let’s develop an ethical way of teaching yoga that includes the person and where they are in their life.
After spending over 20 years deep in the asthanga practice worldwide —I will say the practice has served me well; what has not served me well is the advice of the establishment of ashtanga yoga and the people who who are making the “rules”. These are some of my lessons:
Individualize your Ashtanga practice, it’s ok. There is more than one way to do this practice. Its not a combination lock, its a recommended framework offer suggestions of where to start and how to progress — you have to do a little work to figure out what works for you. There is no magic bullet.
You can individualize Ashtanga Yoga. If someone tells you that you need to do “all the vinyasas” to continue through your practice, I would practice elsewhere. If someone tells you that you can not continue through a series because you did not preform an asana correctly — I would leave the room and never return. These are power situations and are taking the power away from the individual who is coming to heal — we are not paying a teacher to give them a power trip. Remember the person that pays you is your “boss” so to speak, who is paying who here?! The student is the boss.
If you are uncomfortable in a pose, or feel a practice is too long or hard; soften it, shorten it, change the way you are doing the posture or change the posture. This requires a qualified teacher. A teacher that has studied the body — not just the musculoskeletal system as most yoga teachers, but also the physiology of the body, and the emotions of the person in front of them — and most importantly how to communicate this knowledge in a loving, inquisitive, and gentle way.
A teacher that can not teach outside of a system is NOT a qualified teacher — all they know is a memorized system instead of how to individualize to the person in front of them and what that person needs.
In herbal medicine, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines, and other similar alternative medicines you are taught to treat the individual not the disease. Same for yoga. Design yoga practices for the individual in front of you.
Consent! Not just with sex, with adjustments & assists too!
In my classes I always ask the person if they want an assist — and I make sure the assist feels good — is very light but supportive of what they want. If a teacher pushes a hard assist on you or does not give you an option to not get the assist I would move on. It is only a matter of time before injury is likely to occur.
Establishment: If the establishment does not do the practices they are recommending, I would be cautious.
In ashtanga this has been common over the years … The “teachers” who promote long hard intense practices rarely practice this way themselves.
Parampara = family business not a lineage or line of knowledge that is being passed on, supposedly. As it turns out, it is simply a way of keeping the “business” in the family.
Be cautious with anyone who touts they are a lineage holder. This is again a power statement and most likely a person who will try to abuse power.
What does all these rules have to do with yoga and what yoga means? According to the texts that were written in yoga by “rishis” the purpose of yoga is union or yoking up to a higher universal understanding or power. What do all these rules and practices have to do with a higher understanding? Not much. The hatha yoga pradipika tells us to use yoga practices to raise our “kundalini”, this to me better explains why we do yoga practices.
What is raising your kundalini?
Most yoga texts describe kundalini rising as some dormant magical energy (the kundalini) that is coiled up sleeping at the base of your spine in your “first chakra” … Yoga exercises, breathing, and meditation awaken this energy or awareness. As it rises it goes up our spine piercing our “chakras” we magically become “enlightened”. So What is Kundalini, what is a “chakra”? Many people explain chakras as “energy centers that are situated along our spine and head, that are not tangible and you can not see on an x-Ray. I beg to differ … Chakras are tangible; each chakra coordinates with a major nerve plexus in the body. Each chakra or part of our nervous system deals with different aspects of being human.
Kundalini, well that one is a bit harder to explain — an energy in the body perhaps . . . Enlightened . . . not so hard to explain. Please read on.
So how does doing yoga poses equal what yoga means — Union. Uniting ourselves with a higher universal power … Yoga exercises can do this?
Morality – and raising your Kundalini
I like how Jiddhu Krishnamurti (an Indian philosopher) described it:
The real yoga which is to lead a highly moral life (not morality according to circumstances or culture) — True ethical activity; not to hurt, clear thinking, acting morally, right amount of sleep and food, doing the right thing.
(Or as one of my favorite Buddhist sayings say: Just do the next Right thing!
The other point I feel this is making . . . the highest good for all involved . . .). Not just what is good for ourself, but everyone effected by what we do and think . . . Highly moral for every being effected “not morality according to circumstances or culture”!
On kundalini rising . . . If you get the right amount of sleep and food, and exercise …. You have more energy … you are not dulled by disease, feeling sluggish from bad food; you are less likely to be in a bad mood attitude, if you move your body and eat fresh foods … This increased energy makes you feel better and be happier and more caring with others — this is your kundalini rising!
The physical asanas are exercise for a healthy body, for discipline — discipline is necessary in our life, we do sometimes have to do things we just don’t feel like doing . . . and in our modern life exercise is more needed — in the old days our lifestyle naturally had more exercise built into — not today.
I want to expound on kundalini rising energy and leading a highly moral life; This means we get rid of “our agendas”, no longer do we want to operate looking for what is best for ourselves only — it’s not just about me or you. We want to operate in a way that what we do — even our vocation — is the highest good for all effected. And truly moral, not morality according to culture or circumstances takes into effect societies that put women down, this is not moral. Or if you steal because you are poor or hungry — it is still not moral.
Here I will try to put in tangible terms what it is like when our “kundalini begins to rise”:
- The first chakra deals with our family (sense of belonging to a community), our home (food water shelter). As we learn to accept the predicaments we were born into and love our family members even though they may be radically different than us (or me radically different from them!), this would be higher minded … For example if your yoga makes your family uncomfortable you don’t need to talk them about it or push it on them. If you choose to be vegetarian and your family is not, do not expect them to have vegetarian food for you at family gatherings. And if we live modestly, a comfortable home without being wasteful or indulgent, this does not waste our resources. These may be signs your kundalini has pierced your first chakra …
- Second chakra energy is relationship energy and vocation energy. Signs of kundalini rising through your second chakra may be things like caring for your partner — feeling true affection for one another. Also, signs of kundalini energy in your second chakra might be choosing a vocation that gives back to humanity, not just choosing a vocation to make yourself some money. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, ideally we get a job based on our strengths and skills, and hopefully something we enjoy as well that helps our community and/or world. Then pray to God we can earn a comfortable living from it! There is a balance with money; too little and you are struggling with no time for Spiritual pursuit . . . and too much comes with another whole lot of issues . . . We do want to be comfortable, this is good. And yes we do need to earn money, but keep it in perspective. It is not what makes life happy or fulfilling.
- Third chakra energy is the core of our personality. Our ego is housed here. Kundalini piercing the third chakra might take the form of something along the lines of giving up the “ego”. This gets a lot of attention when starting on the yogic path — the absence of ego. This might include things like not talking about yourself so much, not always trying to get attention, not trying to pretend you are so important or your job is so important … Not putting your self worth in how well you can do yoga postures …. Is a good sign your kundalini has made it to your third chakra.
- Fourth chakra kundalini rising is all about love. Unconditional love. For example, give love even if you don’t get it in return. Respond with love in all your dealings and doings.
- Fifth chakra kundalini rising is something like giving up your will, letting the universe guide you — have faith you will either be given solid ground to stand on or wings to fly … and then roll with it. Also the fifth chakra governs what goes in our mouth and what comes out. Eat smart and Speak kindly. I like how satya or truth is described … Speak the truth, but don’t hurt. Very difficult.
- Sixth chakra piercing may give us clear visions and clear thinking. Realizing the big picture, not getting caught up in the little details. Easier able to operate in a meditative state most of our day. There is something important to point out here: The yogic textbooks (Kundalini Tantra by Bihar School of Yoga) states that it is important to open your 6th chakra first when you start to work with your kundalini rising . . . then go base to crown with your ‘openings’. “If our kundalini starts rising before we open our 6th chakra it will rock the stability of the practitioner; one may experience physical, mental, and/or emotional shocks. The awakening of the 6th (ajna) chakra brings a great degree of detachment, which allows one to withstand the lower chakra awakenings without excessive shock. One is able to observe chakra experiences with the attitude of a witness.” How do you open your 6th chakra? Meditation would be a great start.
- And the kundalini reaching the 7th chakra; the 1000 petal-ed lotus flower on the crown of our head where we connect with our spirituality … Wow … I guess when that happens you go sit by the River all day ….
What this is saying is the practices of yoga get us healthy, help us get grounded in family and community, give us self esteem and strength, help us respond with love, have faith in what the universe throws at us, and develop the ability to see the big picture in life. When these fall into place we are able to follow a higher path of understanding and serving our communities.
I like how Dr. Kelly Brogan, Functional Medicine Doctor and Kundalini Yoga Teacher, used the pyramid to describe this process:
First we must get our home, health, and family stable, then we need to feel safe, have a job and connection to people and community, then we need to love ourselves and respect other. After all this is in place we are ready to work on our spiritual journey, the rising of our consciousness. The practices of yoga are aligned with this principle, get the body and mind healthy then you can see the bigger picture and operate in a way that all you do is the highest good for everyone effected in any of your thoughts, words, and actions.