The Modern Urban Warrior Series – Part 4

This series explores the connection between the Warrior yoga postures and ourselves as modern urban warriors.

Each one of us who lives in a metropolitan city is a modern urban warrior.  Modern lifestyles mean that time has become too short and we keep chasing dreams projected by social media.  This has lead to a reduction in our bearing power – ie the power to withstand when things do not go as one would like.

Part 4: Endurance and Resilience

Warrior4quoteforarticle

The ability to keep going forward even when hard knocks take one two steps back has become increasingly important.  This requires one to be both physically and mentally fit – strengthening the core and channelling mental energy in the right direction rather than letting it dissipate.

 

 

 

Warrior 3 : Virabhadrasana 3

Warrior 3(4) for articleThe qualities of endurance and resilience are illustrated perfectly when doing the Warrior 3 pose.  The pose improves balance, posture, and full-body coordination.  It requires the alignment of physical body and focus of the mind in order to stand on one leg with the arms, back and the extended other leg to remain in a straight horizontal plane.  The intricacies of the pose and how the body and the mind respond to the pose are important observations to make.

Just as it took time to get into the best Warrior 3 on the mat, you know with time and dedication, you can transform the biggest struggles into strengths.  Indeed and just as on the mat, amidst the daily challenges of modern urban living, your inner warrior will rise to the occasion and get you through anything.

 

 

 

The Modern Urban Warrior Series – Part 3

This series explores the connection between the Warrior yoga postures and ourselves as modern urban warriors.

Each one of us who lives in a metropolitan city is a modern urban warrior.  An important quality of such a warrior is humility.

Part 3: Humility

Reverse Warrior quote for article

In a competitive urban environment, it may seem that the only way to get ahead in the rat race is by pushing yourself forward and crushing others.  However, doing this only causes unhappiness and misery.  Instead and to be at peace with oneself, put the needs of others before our own and think of others before yourself.  Perhaps also we need to learn to acknowledge that we may not always be right.

Reverse Warrior : Viparita Virabhadrasana 

We worked on the Reverse Warrior posture to explore humility further.  On one side we reverse-warrior1 for articlereflected on the open palm recalling when we were not so humble in our interaction with other people and the feelings which overcame us then.  On the other side we again reflected on the raised palm recounting occasions when we have been humble and the positive peaceful feelings we were enveloped with then.

So, from a practical off-the-mat perspective, we can practice humility by spending more time listening than talking, giving due credit to others, giving opportunities to others, praising others, seeking advice and admitting when we are wrong, etc.

 

The Modern Urban Warrior Series – Part 2

This series explores the connection between the Warrior yoga postures and ourselves as modern urban warriors.

Each one of us who lives in a metropolitan city is a modern urban warrior.

We continue to explore here the qualities of such a modern urban warrior.

IMG_6267 PICPart 2: Adjustment and Tolerance

The cities are getting more and more crowded and competitive.  We meet many different people all the time.  Despite all our differences, how can we all live together harmoniously and not get overly caught up in the daily grind?  By understanding our differences so as to make adjustments and tolerate these differences.

Warrior 2 : Virabhadrasana 2

The Warrior 2 posture wonderfully demonstrates these qualities.                                                                                          warrior 2 picture for article

The arms are moving away from each other and yet we can remain in posture by focusing  steadfastly into the future along the length of the front arm and without looking back.  And breathing into and tolerating the burn in the biceps. The knee of the bent front leg keeps rolling in and out, constantly adjusting, so as to keep its stability over the heel-ankle.

The yogi is able to hold Warrior 2 for many minutes and it is this very same tolerance and adjustment that helps us deal with modern urban living.

 

The Modern Urban Warrior Series – Part 1

This series explores the connection between the Warrior yoga postures and ourselves as modern urban warriors.

Each one of us who lives in a metropolitan city is a modern urban warrior.

What are the key qualities of such a warrior? This note focuses on some of the qualities of such a modern urban warrior and explores them further in the context the warrior yoga postures.

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Part 1: Strength, skill and courage 

The modern urban warrior needs to be strong both mentally and physically, skilful in their chosen vocation and courageously face the fast pace of life in metropolitan jungle.

 

Warrior 1 : Virabhadrasana 1

The Warrior 1 posture demonstrates these qualities.

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You need to have skill to be able to position the knee above heel-ankle and not let it roll in nor out. You need strength to lift the arms above the head as you’re working against gravity. You need to keep the chest open and have the strength to ‘take’ the metaphorical arrows. These arrows may be those fired by the world eg harsh words said to you; or internally created, eg anger, frustration.

The warrior remains calm and collected whilst holding the Warrior 1 pose.  So must we in our daily routines show these qualities, recalling how we are able to show the same qualities on the mat.

Noble Quality – Forgiveness

~:~ To err is human; to forgive, divine ~:~ by Alexander Pope

Forgiveness

As we come towards the end of the year, it is our chance to reflect on 2015 and what happened within our sphere. Usually we tend to gloss on the nice things and quickly brush off the memories of the not so nice things. But these memories do come back and prick us when we least expect or want. And so perhaps it is better to deal with these unhappy memories now rather than let them simmer and brew within the sub-conscious self and carry the pain, hurt, anger and misery not only on our shoulders but into the New Year as well.

The noble quality of Forgiveness is a unique way of drawing a line on the past. To the extent that people have spoken harshly to us, caused us anger and pain, take this opportunity to forgive them. By the same token, where we have caused unhappiness to others (which incidentally also made us miserable), then we should gather the strength and ask them to forgive us.

Where possible one should try to go physically to the person to seek forgiveness and/or to forgive. However, if this is not possible, then forgiveness can be sought and given in the mind.

Practice of Asanas & Mudras

IMG_0270The twisting postures in our Asana practice are not only wonderful for massaging the digestive system, liver and spleen and so helping remove any undigested material from the body but emotional cleansers too – but they also wring out the negative emotions stored within.  Taking a bind with the hands deepens the twists.

Here the bound Ardha Matsyendrasana (half Lord of the Fish) which energises the spine and stimulates the digestive fire is shown.

 

Mudras are mainly hand gestures which are used to stimulate different parts of the body involved with breathing and to affect the flow of Prana (the life-force) in the body.  In performance of Varada Mudra, the right hand is pointed downward and the palm is turned to the front. The left hand is placed on the lap or thigh. The palm of both the hands should be completely exposed to the onlooker – the palms are open and empty. The five extended fingers in this mudra symbolize generosity, morality, patience, effort and meditative concentration.budhha in varada mudra

Benefits of Varada Mudra

  • Varada Mudra is beneficially linked to the virtue of forgiveness, the open right palm signifies our generousness to forgive the world
  • This Mudra also helps one to control mind
  • It enables one to practice meditation with complete focus
  • It enhances one’s mental state of serenity and harmony
  • This Mudra is capable of reducing anxiety and tension from an individual’s mind when it is practiced regularly

 

And so as we approach Christmas, we end with these beautiful words of forgiveness from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

Noble Qualities – Being Disciplined; Accompanied by Patience and Perseverance

PNS and Pattabhi Jois Photo

 

~:~ practice, practice, and all is coming ~:~ so often softly spoken by our beloved Guruji Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009)

 

 

Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana (or Chaturanga for short) – the four limbed staff pose – embodies in physical form the noble quality of Discipline. It is a challenging pose that requires the co-ordination of many muscles and direct focus to do it correctly.

Therefore, during the Asana practice, there is a strikingly unusual tendency to rush through it leading to the creation of for example the half chaturanga- half up-dog posture; the mat belly flop; etc. Not doing Chaturanga correctly can lead the head of the shoulder rounding forward and stress in the shoulder joint; strain in the lower back; etc.

Hence, it is very important to follow the right technique to get into Chaturanga.

blog36-1Start from plank:

  • Hands under elbows
  • Elbows under shoulders
  • Abdominals and low ribs pulled in; core engaged
  • Thighs pushing up
  • Heels pushing back
  • Neck long
  • Hug all your muscles into the midline of the body
  • Roll way forward on your toes – even more than you think you should. (This ensures you will lower down with your arms in a 90° angle.)
  • Now begin to lower down until your arms form a 90° angle and stop just at that point. Your hands will be near your lower ribs (not under the shoulders). Do not go any lower.
  • Use a block to help you become aware of how low to go

Do this while keeping the following in mind:

  • Keep your core engaged just as in plank—abdominals and ribs really pulled in
  • Hug your elbows into the sides of your body
  • Keep the tops of your shoulders pulled back away from your ears and pointing straight forward, not drooping forwards and down.
  • Keep the chest broad and open up the collar bones to make a big smile

Indeed it does take regular and consistent practice to perfect the Chaturanga but once the technique is set in the memory of the cells, it stays with you.

Life

So it is with life experiences.

In this era of having everything available on tap, it may seem old-fashioned to wait for success, reward, dreams to be fulfilled. And it may sound even more ludicrous that you would have to go through difficulties, challenges and pain to get it. And yet this remains the case. So learning from our Chaturanga experience, by persevering patiently in a disciplined fashion, this should also lead us to achieving our objectives in life.

 

As John Quincy Adams – the sixth President of the USA is attributed to have said – “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

Noble Qualities – Being Generous

~:~ You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give ~:~

attributed to Sir Winston Churchill

But whenever we give – be it our time, effort or money – there remains that nagging calculating voice at the back of the head which unconsciously or consciously is asking what and when will you get something back in return.  So how can we be truly generous – able to give without the expectation of receipt so as to be able to practice the highest form of generosity – unconditional love?

Why are we not able to give freely without the expectation of getting back?

It is a loaded question and perhaps inherently unanswerable.

So many writers have focused on how to make us give freely. Often, they have turned to two particular Yamas – ethical rules to be observed – as coded by Patanjali:

Asteya – non-stealing of another’s belongings, time, money, energy, attention, etc. This Yama reminds us to take only what is freely given and to be generous in our giving

Aparigraha – non-acquisitiveness.  This Yama reminds us of letting go of what we don’t need eg excess belongings, food, etc, becoming non-attached.  Importantly it is about letting go, even of expectations of what should or will be ‘given in return’.

We can also answer this question by taking guidance from our Asana practice. In order to be able to be truly generous we need to give from the heart. In order to give from the heart, you need to “be” the posture.

Traingle MeeraFor example, practicing Triangle posture – we become not only one but at least three triangles – refer to the illustration.  So we are with the body, mind and spirit in that moment – doing, feeling and being triangles – rather than analyzing what should a triangle be, why not a square, etc etc.  Thus, by being truly (from the body, mind and spirit) generous we are able to contain the nagging voice searching for that return receipt.

 

Practice from the heart

Abiding by Asteya and Aparigraha and being in and becoming heart-opening Asanas, it becomes easier to lose attachment to things.  Instead sharing and being generous become progressively positive practices.

Noble Qualities – Being Fearless, Being Courageous

~.~ I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear ~.~  Nelson Mandela  

The posture of fear

When we are scared, physically we cower and round our shoulders to protect the most vulnerable part of the body – the heart. The muscles in the body tighten and lock up and you look away from where danger is. Breathing becomes shallower and faster. The natural physical and emotional reaction is to curl up and hide away until the situation disappears.  

The posture of courage  

Courage too has a posture.

A lifted chest, relaxed shoulders and shoulder blades drawn down the back, strong legs and arms, stable torso, focus. This physical composure allows us to breathe more deeply and this reverses the emotions of anxiety and fear.

Figure 1: Virabhadrasana 2
Figure 1: Virabhadrasana 2

The warrior posture – Virabhadrasana – illustrates courage perfectly. Virabhadrasana is composed of:

  •  ~ vira – vigorous, warrior, courageous
  •  ~ bhadra – good, auspicious
  •  ~ asana – posture

The pose is named after Virabhadra, a powerful mythical hero created from lock of hair torn from the head of Shiva, the god of destruction.  Shiva’s ‘destructive’ power symbolises the courageous breaking down of the ego personality and letting the divine light shine through.

Figure 2: Urdhva Dhanurasana
Figure 2: Urdhva Dhanurasana

Backbends such as cobra, bridge and wheel poses also open up the chest and the upper body and stimulate the heart chakra.  Backbends are invigorating and strengthening.

Moving into backbends forces us to open up and expose ourselves.  That requires being fearless and being courageous.

Backbends allow us to open up more fully off the mat in our interactions with the material world.

Figure 3: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Figure 3: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Examining the postures of courage

The postures of courage require a solid foundation. Depending on the pose, press firmly into the mat through the hands and/or the feet. Keep the legs and arms strong. Engage the core so that it supports your back by pulling  the lower abdominals in and up and the tailbone pointing down. Release the shoulders down your back and work the shoulder blades in towards each other. Keep the collar bone wide. Keep the neck long, chin slightly tucked and no weight should be felt in the neck. Maintain the natural curve of the spine.

Be careful not to compress the lower back or neck or put too much pressure on the knees when getting in, staying and coming out of these postures.

Work on building up these postures patiently and only going as far as is comfortable for you every time you practice.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”  We work this phrase on the mat during our yoga practice and carry that experience and application off the mat too.

Noble Quality – Equanimity and Balance

~.~ The practices of Yoga will help you maintain equanimity in all situations by teaching you to become transparent, able to allow both joy and sorrow to flow through you without destroying your peace of mind ~.~  Sharon Gannon & David Life, 2002

What is equanimity?

The aim of yoga asanas (postures) is to develop the noble quality of equanimity in us. Equanimity refers to maintaining a calm composure with poise, irrespective of what the external situation is. In simple terms, whether we have won a million pound lottery or our business has failed, our inner state remains calm – neither do we become overexcited and leaping with joy and hysterics in the former situation nor are we dejected and dispirited in the latter situation. Of course, we celebrate our win and take positive steps to salvage our business, but do so remaining in the state of equanimity within. Hence, the peace of mind is not disturbed by either external situation.

Achieving such equanimity and balanced mind requires practice as the usual tendency is for emotions to overwhelm us so we lose ourselves in the situation and are not able to see further than that. Instead with a calm mind, various situations can be clearly defined, analysed and solutions worked out.

Balancing postures

The balancing asanas at the physical level lead on to cultivate such equanimity in the mind. Whether it is standing on one leg as in tree pose or using the arms to hold your body weight in head stand, strengthening the legs and arms provides a strong foundation for setting up our balancing postures.

Focusing on the legs as the foundation for balancing poses, a New York yoga teacher Nikki Costello recommends setting the intention of creating a firm, grounded base from your feet up into your legs and hips. “The legs hold you up. They take you where you want to go,” Costello says. “When you focus on the legs, you go back to the source of your power and strength.”

PS treet pose sunsetLet’s take the example of the tree pose. You come into tree pose by bending your right knee and holding your ankle with the right hand. Turn the knee to the right and place the sole of the right foot high against the inner left thigh. The standing left leg takes the weight of the body. Keep it as straight as possible by lifting the knee cap and activating the quadriceps. Press the right heel strongly into the inner left thigh, thus securing the legs and firming your foundation. Keep the gaze focused on a fixed point a metre or so in front of the left foot. Reach the arms up and open the palms, lengthen the trunk, dropping the shoulders down. Keep the breath flowing.

The longer we can stay in the tree pose balance – without falling over – shows that the mind is becoming quieter, disciplined and calmer; going on to then be in that state of equanimity even when we are not holding tree pose.

Let us practice our balancing postures so that we can always be in a calm and peaceful state of mind as elaborated by Sri Sathya Sai Baba “Let the wave of memory, the storm of desire, the fire of emotion pass through without affecting your equanimity”.

Spring Forth with Yoga

 

IMG_2510It’s often thought that yoga is a few stretches to make us feel good. But to a regular practitioner yoga offers that and much more. Yoga consists of certain spiritual, mental and physical disciplines which originated from ancient India. Yoga has become very popular in the West and London is no exception. Three Jewels Yoga teach yoga in London and their classes provide a modern yet authentic experience of this ancient science.

The season of spring is traditionally the season of revitalisation and growth. As the life-giving power of the sun strengthens in spring, animals and birds wake up from hibernation, trees fill up with leaves and flowers blossom. As spring unfolds, the days get longer and the winter’s chill is replaced with warmer fresher air.

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Daffodils, bluebells & tulips – Spring is here…

The life-giving power of the sun is greatly respected in yoga. In yoga class, gratitude is shown to the sun by practising the sun salutation (sūryanamaskār). Many yoga postures are named after the shapes of things that they resemble, including plants and animals for example the tree posture (vṛkṣanasa) and lotus posture (padmāsana). Getting into these yoga postures is a reminder of the natural world and we develop awareness of our relationship with other life forms. Similarly, focusing on the breath during the yoga practice teaches us of our connection to each other through the breath.

The yoga postures also have more subtle significance. For instance, the tree posture teaches us to find balance even on windy days. So when we are faced with challenges in life we can remain calm and balanced yet flexible, just like a tree, and not get blown away by the challenges. Practising yoga regularly helps us to become calmer, happier and more alive.

As we enter the spring season and watch nature coming to life, come to experience a fresh, revitalising outlook to life and leave with a spring in your step!  See you in class.