Stress Relief with Yoga

We live in a stressful world. As individuals, we're faced with seemingly inexorable march of new technologies, strenuous personal relationships, and the persistent beat of a social drum. As a people, we grapple with a crowding planet, ills and afflictions of all kinds, and a plethora of other challenges, both natural and those created by our own hands.

It's here that feelings of inadequacies, poverty, fear, and worry naturally accumulate, resulting in the feeling of stress. Adverse and challenging situations experienced both in life and mind create emotional strain, affecting out judgement and happiness. Though it sounds grim, it's also quite natural.

Yoga provides a powerful tool in the fight against this stress. By approaching life and its challenges holistically, it helps support the body, the mind, and the extensions of the self in many ways. Yoga is so effective at combating stress, that even many modern medical practitioners recognize and tout the benefit of this historically alternative form of medicine.

Physical Well Being Begets Stress Reduction and Coping

Yoga provides a moderate, yet challenging exercise for your joints, ligaments, and muscles, as well as you sense of balance and posture. Like with any exercise, this means that by practicing yoga your improving the strength and control of these muscles. Yoga tones this muscle mass, improving joint health and flexibility, and increases physical stamina and even strengthens the spine. This is all good news for those seeking a healthy regimen to follow, but yoga does much more than this: we're talking about the brain and nervous system.

First, yoga has shown to stimulate brain activity in an incredible way, increasing both mental ability to take in and manage information. Researchers argued that by performing just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga, participants showed improved "speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and inhibitory control, two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information." What's more, yoga also has shown to modulate stress response systems, decreasing physiological stress related activities – lowering blood pressure, improving heart rate variability, and even increasing your pain tolerance.

This very real internal set of benefits – related to both to the mind and autonomic processes in the body – mean that yoga as an exercise alone can help fight the stress of daily life.

A Calmed Mind

It's important to realize that your physical and mental well beings depend on each other. They operate in nature similarly to the two sides of a coin – both clearly different, but also part of the same system. In the same ways that yoga benefits the body, it also benefits the mind.

Here, a psychological practice outside of the normal asanas of Hatha yoga comes into play (of course, they can be and often are practiced at once!). In yoga, there is an astute focus on specific sets of principles and practices by which a yoga should live by in order to reach his/her enlightenment. These range from small lessons, to specific rules known as Yamas. In each lesson – from the practice of asking yourself what has brought you to your mat, then letting it go before practice, to practice complete non-injury to all beings – yoga encourages one thing most of all: a calm mind. There is an understanding in yoga that argues the loudness of our minds and the distractions of our lives are what prevent us from reaching true enlightenment and understanding. The answers to our questions are already inside of us.

Relieving Stress with Yoga

Yoga has been effective at managing stress for thousands of years, with yogis deriving lessons and understanding from its texts since their writings. Modern science validates the physiological benefits of yoga, from the building of muscles to the literal ability to withstand more pain and stress. Holistically, yoga makes for the perfect complement to any healthy lifestyle, and most of all, it makes for one of the finest tools in the utility belt to beat and manage stress.

4 Tips for Better Meditation

Meditation is the practice of calming the mind, departing from ones of own thoughts and feelings, and inducing a mode of consciousness that provides the basis for new realizations. Despite all the challenges presented by new poses (known as asanas) in a yoga classes, meditating alone is frankly of the one most difficult things to accomplish for a great many people. It requires several things, including the ability to completely let go of the external world. It's an extremely susceptible state we put ourselves in, as it works against our inner animal nature that screams out about any tick, click, or crash in the distance.

With the challenges in mind, let's explore some simply ways to encourage both effective and sustained meditation.

1. Make Your Perfect Space

A large part of meditating is taking yourself out of the place your physical body resides in, but that doesn't mean that space should go unrecognized when preparing to meditate. Setting up a space for meditating can go a long way to help your mind slip into meditation, and keep it relaxed as you sustain the practice. Consider these few points when choosing your perfect space to meditate:

  • Remove yourself from distractions and choose a quite area
  • Choose a space away from where you work, eat, or sleep
  • Provide yourself with a good cushion or ground to sit on
  • Create open space around the body
  • Make sure the temperature is comfortable
  • Provide an ambiance with candles and lighting, but not in a distracting manner

If your space is anything like the above, you should feel relaxed as soon as you enter it. It should have an aura of freedom, openness, and honesty.

2. Breath and Stretch

Prior to meditating, it's always wise to fill your body with oxygen through a deep breathing exercise and perform some basic stretches to help providing fluidity in your posture and the activation of your body. Take a few moments to align yourself, come into presence with your body, and feel energy reaching out through body.

3. Japa Mala Beads

Japa mala beads are used in meditation and practicing of mantras to help focus the mind. They come in sets of 27, 54, and 108, and each bead marks a repetition of a mantra (a word, sound, or phrase we think or speak to reinforce a lesson and ultimately direct our minds toward enlightenment).

If you find that focusing the mind is the hardest part of your meditation, consider integrating mala beads and a mantra into your practice. The focus of the mind's eye after 108 repetitions is recognizably different than when you began.

4. Aromatherapy

Our olfactory, or sense of smell, is one of the most sensitive senses. Smells can either make us cringe or deeply relax us. It is in the latter that you can use aromatherapy in meditation – a sort of sensory shortcut to supporting proper and health meditation. While some will say there are specific scents that guarantee relaxation, a big part of smell is one's one sensitivity to it. Consider the smells that make you feel most relaxed, then find yourself an oil diffuser or incense to burn while you meditate. Here are some popular scents for relaxation:

  • Chamomile
  • Bergamot
  • Cedarwood
  • Clary sage
  • Frankincense
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Neroli
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Ylang ylang

Finding Balance in Meditation

Regardless of the strategies you employ to improve your meditation, remember that it begins with a commitment of the self – the only real way you'll be able to train your mind to focus is to train your mind, much in the same way you train your body. Make it a formal, recurring practice. Set aside time each day to clear your mind, focus on a thought or no thought at all, and meditate. In time, you may find that the mala beads, scents, and place begin to matter less in your pursuit of mental solace.

We want to hear from you. What do you do to encourage healthy meditation? Tell us in the comments below!

Holiday Yogi Gift Box

Exclusive Holiday Box

This holiday season, Yogi Surprise put together a limited number of holiday inspired yoga gift boxes! Each box will include 8 full-size yogi centric items selected to sustain your joy and well-being throughout the winter holiday season.

Keep the Holidays Stress Free

The holidays can be a stressful time of the year. There's a general hustle and bustle about, with people flying across the country, battling intense weather, and sitting in long grocery store lines in anticipation of good times with friends and family. Despite the stressful atmosphere, though, it's ultimately a time of real joy and companionship, when one can sit back, relax, and enjoy the people that matter most. Sure, the standard holidays we celebrate in the States might not be the easiest to celebrate as a good yogi, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy them with your loved ones.

Here are a few of our favorite tips to remain stress-free, peaceful, and practicing your yogi ways over the holidays:

1. Practice Acceptance

One of the toughest parts of the holiday can be when things don't go quite as planned. Maybe it's a missing ingredient, a burnt casserole, or an eating time that was much later tan anticipated. Whatever it may be, take time to step back and reflect on the bigger picture. There's no use in getting upset, and in the same way you practice acceptance as a yogi throughout your day, you should practice it here, in the presence of your family. If a loved one seems to be struggling with the same stress, take a moment to relax them and remind them that it isn't what's on the table that's important, but the people around it.

2. Get Your Family Moving

You know how beneficial yoga is to your physical and mental health, but does your family? The holidays are a great time to encourage them to get up and get active, and it's an opportunity for you to share the knowledge and teachings you've gleaned as a yogi. Leading a few simple poses, be it Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Balasana (Child's Pose), or Utkatasana (Chair Pose), is a fun way to do an activity while inspiring an interest for yoga. Be open to their questions, and be mindful of how you lead yourself in front of your "students."

3. Slow Down, Be Present, and Enjoy Some Tea

Most importantly, be sure to spend some time not spending time. Live in the moment, be conscious of your surroundings, and take it all in. If you're home visiting the family, make time to reconnect with friends over tea. If you're having a solitary holiday, use the liberation to let your mind and body rest. Do not fret about what has come to pass or what is ahead – simply be.

Practice Happiness this Holiday Season

Above all, remember the real purpose of the holiday season: to be happy. It's not about the gifts, the food, the travel, or even the specific day of the month. Really, it's about taking time to practice the tradition of relieving yourself of stress and allowing yourself to unwind, like you deserve to do. The "Holiday Spirit" as some call it, transcends religious calendar dates, cooking traditions, or anything else for that matter; rather, it can be likened to the same positivity, compassion, and attention to 'oneness' that drives those who practice yoga. Practice happiness, and your season (and indeed your life) will be happy too.

3 Mantras for Joy

A mantra is a sound, phrase, or specific word we practice in repetition. They're help focus the wandering mind in mediation, with their practice often accompanied by 108-bead Japa mala beads. Mantras serve as a tool to help us find progress on our spiritual path, and while it's been noted that no one mantra is superior to another (and one can attain realization by performing any mantra), each mantra carries its own message. From each, you can find new inspiration and joy, while keeping your mind focused on positivity.

1. Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha / The Green Tara Mantra

Tara is a Bodhisattva, an enlightenment being. She's associated with compassion and is known as"Dölma" or "She Who Saves." The Green Tara mantra is meant to overcome fear and anxiety, remove suffering, liberate one from delusions, and ultimately bring happiness. It carries a distinct focus on freeing the self from the confines that impede happiness. Use this mantra to invoke liberation from these confines, and help direct your mind toward joy.

The literal translation is as follows, and listen to it here:

  • Om: Tara's sacred body, speech, and mind.
  • Tare: Liberation from all discontent.
  • Tuttare: Liberation from the eight fears and the external dangers, but also from the internal dangers and delusions.
  • Ture: Liberation from duality; it shows the true cessation of confusion.
  • Soha: The closing term, which means "meaning of the mantra take root in my mind."

2. Sarve bhavantu sukhinah / Sarve santu niramayah / Sarve bhadranl pasyantu / Ma kascit dukhabang bhavet

Centered in this mantra is the love one express for all, everywhere. It's a strong representation of the oneness expressed in yoga, as well as the practice of Ahimsa – the mantra brings people into one group and speaks of a compassion for all unequivocally. Use it to remind yourself of the positivity you can affect on others, and how by doing so, you can bring your own self happiness.

The translation is as follows, and you can listen to it here:

  • Sarve bhavantu sukhinah: Let us all be happy,
  • Sarve santu niramayah: Free from diseases.
  • Sarve bhadranl pasyantu: Let us all align with reality,
  • Ma kascit dukhabang bhavet: let no-one suffer from misery.

3. All happiness depends on courage and work.

Attributed to French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac, this quote can be a powerful mantra to keep yourself thinking about happiness and joy in the right manner. One must not expect happiness to simply present itself without action, thought, or regard by the yogi. Instead, one must work to cultivate it, in the same ways one works on mediation, asanas, and  following one's own path on the road to enlightenment. Remember that it is your faculty that drives your being. Practice courage and diligence always, no matter the outcome, and happiness will reveal itself.

Practicing Happiness with Mantras

When practicing a mantra, speak with intent, belief, and sincerity. Remember that these are meant to the focus the mind, and focus will not be attained with a poor foundation. Find a positive, flowing mantra that speaks to you – one that inspires an honest inner joy. Through the practice of this, you lead yourself closer to higher realizations and ultimately a more positive state of being.

Ashtanga Yoga: The Five Yoga Yamas

Beyond the physical practice of yoga, there is a deeply spiritual and philosophical foundation. While the Bhagavad Gita describes three major types of yoga (Karma, Bhakti, and Jnana Yoga), Patanjali's Yoga Sutras created a robust, codified system of yoga when they were first published, around 400 CE. Among his writing was that which described the eight (ashta) rungs/limbs (anga), a system of yoga that defined the art and science to reach enlightenment. These codes and observances are meant to develop one's attention to discriminative knowledge, and while there are many purposes to practicing yoga, here Patanjali specifically set out to write the map for the road to spiritual liberation. There are certainly benefits found along the way (health, happiness, posture), but ultimately the goal of Ashtanga Yoga is enlightenment – everything else follows.

By no means is this the type of yoga everyone should practice, nor should one attempt to argue that it is the best form of yoga. Quite frankly, Ashtanga Yoga is difficult to follow, but in it, you will find great lessons and sources of inspiration and education.

The first part of Eight Limbed Yoga, or Ashtanga Yoga, is Patanjali's Five Yamas. They define the restraints and abstinences by which a yogi should follow in the external world and when interacting with other people: these are the things we should not do. Inherent in the concept is the understanding that relationship with the world around us directly impacts our ability to reach self-realization. The Yoga Yamas are meant to serve as guidelines for nurturing a healthy relationship with the external world. Importantly, remember that the practice of the Yamas should be carried through across all your planes of beings, which includes actions, speech, and thoughts.

The Five Yoga Yamas

1. Ahimsa (Non-Harming) 

"Ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah"

As a Yogi becomes grounded in non-injury, others will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.

Meaning "not to injure" in Sanskrit, Ahimsa deals with non-violence, non-harming, and non-injury to others. Core to the philosophy is the understanding that having a non-harming toward others naturally encourages them to remove hostilities directed at you – creating a circle of positivity.

As an example of this, consider the place where one would meditate, and consider what mediation actually means. When meditating, you must close your ears and you eyes to all the world and its distractions, and for a yogi in the wild, this is dangerous as one is completely vulnerable. If you have quarrels or anger with people, you may have fear of letting go of control, and that fear is one of the hardest things to overcome when meditating. Being non-violent serves as protection from this: peacefulness begets peacefulness. In similar examples, when a yogi is truly peaceful in the wild, a snake or tiger may just pass by the meditating yogi. The yogi will not know the threat is there, but the animals will sense the peacefulness and simply continue on their way. Ahimsa tells us that one should let go of hostile, angry, and injurious feelings, and positivity will follow.

(Note: Many yogis look to Ahimsa as the reason behind practicing a vegetarian diet, and this is why Yogi Surprise is a 100% vegetarian, ethically sourced box.)

2. Satya (Truthfulness)

"Satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam"

As truthfulness is achieved, the results of the Yogi's actions naturally result according to the will of the Yogi.

Many of us are familiar with the idiom "Honesty is the best policy." Satya follows the same line of thought, but in this philosophy, the idiom is extended – not only is honesty a tenet to live by, but by doing so, your actions will naturally encourage ends that are willed by the Yogi.

First, one must realize that every story, whether spoken in the mind or aloud, every statement contains an untruth. For example, when remembering something from years ago – when you begin to truly analyze it – you know that not every detail is available, so while you story may not be completely untrue, it also is inherently riddled with untruth, assumptions, or missing detail.

Here, one begins to realize that truth is not something that is reached through reason or analysis. You will see it rather than think it; you will feet it from the inside. This is the faculty of Budhhi, a faculty that requires you to stop telling stories. By doing so, your actions become pure and you accept them for what they are, whether you've succeed or failed, you are able to recognize the truth. This is the true honesty, when you are able to see your naked self.

(Note: A good yogi must also balance Satya with Ahimsa. Painful truth must be balanced with not lying, a central balancing act of yoga.)

3. Asteya (Non-Theft)

"Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam"

When non-stealing is established, all treasures present themselves and become available to the Yogi.

Asteya follows the same line of thought as the previous Yoga Yamas – by practicing the opposite of a negative tendencies, related positive outcomes are achieved. Here, when practicing non-stealing, a natural flow of both material and non-material benefits come to the Yogi.

This doesn't always directly mean theft in the form of objects. When we arrive late, when we purposely park poorly, or when we misrepresent to a customer, you are practicing theft. Here, you must realize that in the material life, when you experience good or bad luck, it is simply an extension of karma. Sometimes things will go very well, and sometimes things will go very poorly – these lucks are simply your karmic actions from your theft or non-theft. You must be honest in these dealings, and step away from the material pursuit. By doing so, says Patanjali, diamonds will roll in front of you. This doesn't mean that you'll become particularly wealthy, but rather, whatever you need, it will always be there.

4. Brahmacharya (Mindfulness of Higher Reality)

"Brahmacharya pratisthayam virya labhah"

When walking with the awareness of the highest reality is established, a great strength and vitality is gained.

Central to yoga is the attention paid to the divine, absolute truth. Brahmacharya is the practice of walking in the awareness of this. Some argue that this is the practice of celibacy, but that is really an effect of the belief, not the purpose. Specifically, with the withdrawing of the senses and focusing on the higher reality, the sensual pleasures of life become less important – an evolution of your desires. Here, in the same way that drinking or smoking is no longer needed, sexual practice is no longer needed as well.

More important to the focus of this Yama, though, is that reminding oneself of divinity ultimately allows a natural flow of energy that can be used in incredibly positive ways. Remembrance is the cause, and sobriety  is the effect.

5. Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness)

Aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah

When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness with the senses, the knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations arises.

Non-possessiveness isn't always so simple as saying one should have no possessions. While some do indeed operate in the world with nothing but a blanket and water bucket, the rule doesn't necessarily mean one cannot be a home owner, or that one cannot own a vehicle. Rather, this is about detachment from the things in your life: you can have a car, but not necessarily care about it. Parents may understand that they require possessions for their families, but ultimately remember that the objects are not what they care about possessing.

Non-possessiveness is essential for deep mediation. When you have many projects lying around in your mind (projects beings the actions and work required for your possessions), it becomes difficult to calm the mind and find focus. Here, we see that non-possessiveness allows there to be a natural awareness of the breadth of the mind-field. With an empty mind, in the form of a non-possessive one, we have very much the same mental cleanliness that is similar to having a simple home with only the essentials. It feels organized, manageable, and ultimately enables you to reach inner calmness.

A Way to Think About the Yoga Yamas

The Five Yamas are by no means easy to follow, and one should not expect that these are tenets you will automatically be able to adopt or immediately live by. Instead, these Yamas should be remembered when one feels the opposite of what the Yamas describe. That is, when one inevitably feels violent, one must remind themselves of the tenet of Ahimsa. Similarly, when one seeks the possession of a new gadget, one must remind themselves of the tenet of Aparigraha.

Progress is marked not by whether or not a yogi practices all Yamas all the time perfectly, but rather by how easy it becomes to practice the Yamas when confronted with their challenges. What's more, these restraints, which mark the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, are also the natural result of succeeding in Ashtanga Yoga: they are the end as well as the beginning of the practice. Slowly work them into your life, quietly reminding yourself of their lessons when you need them most. Over time, you will find that each become more natural and flowing form your own being. It is here that one finds spiritual growth, and another step taken on the road to enlightenment.

Special thanks to for translations and resources in defining Yamas, as well as to Peter Marchand for his lectures and explanations of the Yoga Yamas. 

5 Poses to Build Core Strength

Through yoga's poses, or asanas, we align our bodies to encourage energy to flow freely throughout the body. As anyone who has begun taking yoga knows, this can require a considerable amount of both strength and concentration, and a big part of this is centered on developing strong core muscles to support control over your body.

On it's face, building out the core is an attractive goal for any fitness aficionado. However, a good yogi will remember that Hatha Yoga is meant to purify the body, improving our physical awareness and ability to control our vessel. It's not about developing an ultra-toned abdominal, but rather about fine tuning the connection of mind and body. Keep that in mind when setting a stronger core as your goal.

Pose 1: Ardha Phalakasana (Low Plank)

About the Pose: Low Plank Pose is ideal for increasing abdominal strength, and it does so by directing your body to lengthen the spine and balance on your forearms and toes. Also builds low back muscles, shoulders and upper arms.

  1. Begin in Bharmanasana (table pose, like a pushup with your knees down). Slowly lower the forearms to the floor, and step both feet back to align yourself in a normal push-up position.
  2. Focus on creating a good foundation in your hands, spreading your fingers apart with the middle finger remaining pointing directly ahead. Press the forearms down onto the floor.
  3. Tuck the tailbone under and align your torso, hips and legs, engaging your abdominal in the process.
  4. Direct the crown of the head forward and with the toes tucked, and then press the heels back to engage in the full stretch.
  5. Hold for 1-4 breathes, and to release, bend the knees and enter Child Pose.

Pose 2: Eka Pada Navasana (One Leg Boat)

About the Pose: Centered both on the abdominal and improving balance and concentration, the One Leg Boat is an excellent way to improve your core strength while working on maintain control and steadiness of the body. It will also engage the upper thighs and legs,

  1. Begin in a seated position, perhaps using a blanket beneath the bottom for comfort if the mat isn't enough.
  2. First, extend the right leg forward, followed by bending the left foot inward to the right thigh (both legs are still on the floor at this point)
  3. In parallel with floor, inhale the arms over the extended right leg. Palms should face each other.
  4. Slowly lean back and with an inhale, lift the right leg up, pressing out through the heel. Your Dhristi (yogic gaze) should land on the big toe of your foot.
  5. Notice your shoulders: are they relaxed? If not, draw them away from the ear and toward the spine to lift and open your chest.
  6. Hold for 3-6 steady breaths, and maintain the lift in your chest. Release with a slow exhale as you bring the leg down to the floor and let the arms down.
  7. Repeat on the left side.

Pose 3: Paripurna Navasana (Upward Boat)

About the Pose: You'll notice an immediate similarity in appearance to our One Leg Boat pose. Also similar is the focus on the abdomen and building of balance, but this also helps lengthen and straighten the back.

  1. While seated and your legs extended forward, begin by bending the knees and placing your feet flat on your mat.
  2. Provide a foundation for yourself by placing your hands just behind your hips, pointing forward, with your elbows bent away from you.
  3. Slowly lean back to life the heels an inch or two from the mat. Open the cheat by bringing your shoulder blades together,
  4. Begin to straighten the legs with extending out through the heels as the focus. Bring your legs up as high as you're comfortable with.
  5. Release your arms, keeping them parallel to the floor with the palms facing down. Keep the chest open.
  6. Hold for 3-6 steady breaths, and maintain the lift in your chest. Release with a slow exhale as you bring your legs down to the floor and let the arms down.

Pose 4: Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)

About the Pose: A challenging pose for beginners, Warrior 3 strengthens the ankles and legs, abdomen, improves balance and posture, and even works the shoulders and muscles of the back.

  1. Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Exhale and fold forward to Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold).
  2. Next, slowly exhale as you step your left foot back into high lunge positions. Maintain a right angle with your right knee. Be sure your midline of your torso is aligned with the midline of your right thigh – this will serve as a foundational point in maintain the balance of the pose
  3. Slowly lift your arms to your right knee while lifting your torso.
  4. Still in lunge, lift your arms and hands, keeping them parallel to the floor and in sync with each other. Palms should be facing each other.
  5. Next, while maintain straightness in your right leg, begin to lift your left leg up from lunge position, and bring it mostly parallel to your arms with the top of your foot facing the ground.
  6. Hold position for about 3-5 breathes, and release by exhaling back into the lunge and bringing your hand down to the floor on either side of the right food. Exhale and bring your left foot forward.
  7. Repeat

Pose 5: Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)

About the Pose: With a distinct focus on the arms, wrist, and abdomen, the Four Limbed Staff Pose is a great way to build your core and improve dexterity and balance when using your hands as a foundation.

  1. Begin in Uttanasana (which is where we started with Warrior 3!)
  2. Jump your feet back and align yourself in a push-up position.
  3. Like with Low Plank, focus on creating a good foundation in your hands. Spread your fingers apart with the middle finger pointing forward, pressing into the palms and straightening the arms.
  4. Tuck the tailbone under, aligning your torso, hips and legs, and press the crown of the head forward and extending the heels back.
  5. Exhale and begin to slowly lower down to the floor, holding your straightened body just a few inches from your mat.
  6. Hold position for 2-4 breathes, and release by pushing up to plank pose or exhaling down to the floor.
  7. Press the crown of the head forward and with the toes tucked, press the heels back.

A Focus On the Core

Remember that your core is a dynamic center of your body. Strengthening it will improve both your ability to master these poses as well as many others. Most importantly, when focusing on your abdominal workout in order to improve your flow, remember that the goals don't always align with traditional fitness goal (like a toned 6-pack). Instead, you're looking for a heightened sense of physical awareness of the body more than an aesthetically pleasing abdominal.

What poses do you practice to help build your core? Are you struggling with any of the above? Tell us in the comments below!

Understanding the Chakras

Are you stuck in an unhealthy cycle in your life? Learn what chakras are and how they help you create healthy patterns for a more balanced lifestyle.

What are Chakras

Along with the earliest records of the origin of yoga is also the earliest mention of the term “chakra.” If you have practiced yoga for any period of time, you have probably heard the term “chakra” mentioned at some point. If you have wondered what exactly chakras are and how they can connect you to a deeper level of consciousness, it is worth it to explore them.

The word “chakra” is a Sanskrit word meaning “wheel” or “disc.” The chakras are often called “the wheels of life.” They represent the points within us where the physical body, of natural and tangible meets the spiritual soul, of thought and emotion. Chakras are wheels of energy that spin, attracting or reflecting outside energies. They send out energy from our being as well as receive energy from our environment. Through this process, chakras program our mental and physical patterns in our body which dictate how we behave.

The Power of Chakras

It is vital to understand that there is energy within us that we send out to the world as well as energy that we receive. This process is an exchange that requires our attention because much of what we generate dictates what we will receive. Based on our interaction with the world, chakras tend to adapt and repeat, thus creating the cause and effect, also known as the law of attraction or “karma.” These patterns can be healthy, but sometimes they keep us in a cycle that isn't conducive to a healthy, full life. The wonderful thing about chakras is that we have the ability to turn the wheels of negative energies the other way and generate beautiful planes of energy that attract life and prosperity.

There are said to be many chakras within our body, but there are 7 that we most commonly associate with:

  • Chakra One: Physically located at the base of our spine, it is connected with our human survival and its element is the earth.
  • Chakra Two: Physically located in the lower abdomen, it is connected with our sexuality, and its element is water.
  • Chakra Three: Physically located in the upper abdomen or solar plexus, it is connected with self-esteem, power, and will. Its element is fire and its color is yellow.
  • Chakra Four: Physically located at the sternum, it is connected with our heart, and love. Its element is air and its color is green.
  • Chakra Five: Physically located in the throat, it is connected with creativity and communication. Its element is sound and its color is blue.
  • Chakra Six: Physically located in the center of the forehead it is connected with intuition, imagination, and intellect. Its element is light and its color is indigo.
  • Chakra Seven: Physically located at the top of the head, it is connected with enlightenment, knowledge, and higher power. It’s element is thought and its color is violet.

Align Yourself with your Chakras

Understanding ChakrasTake a moment to think about each one of the chakras and where they are located on your body. Then take time to meditate on each of the elements as well as what they spiritually represent within you. The goal is to start at the bottom and work your way up, but don’t rush. Slowly feel the wheels of energy turning within you. It may take time to meditate on each one in order to connect with what it means for you and how it is represented in your life.

Meditating on the chakras combined with yoga poses for that area of the body will bring you to a heightened state of consciousness. It will make you more aware of the cycles in your life and which ones need healing. Then you will be able to create healthy patterns that generate peace, happiness and well-being.

The Yogi Dictionary: 21 Essential Words and Phrases

If you're like me, the first few yoga classes seemed to have be about learning poses, and half learning the lexicon of the practice. Terms like asana (pose), bhuja (arm or shoulder), and daya (compassion for all creatures) seem to fly around, and while everyone else nods attentively, you're stuck wishing you brought a translator.

First, don't fret. Speaking or understanding Sanskrit arguably isn't required to effectively practice yoga (although, like with any language, there's a special meaning hidden in many words, so it's a bit more of a must-know when studying the philosophy behind yoga). Over time, you'll pick up on the sayings and begin to recognize patterns in the etymology. But if you're a good yogi and want to get a jump on it (and of course you are!), here's a quick list of some of the most common Sanskrit terms you'll hear in your practice:

21 Common Yoga Terms

  1. Akasha: The first of the five material elements that our universe is composed of, the ether. This is the basis and essence of all things, the fundamental building block of our world. Its main characteristic is sound, called Shabda, which is why yogis use certainly vocalizations to find balance during the practice (see "Om" below).
  2. Asana: Asana means 'manner of sitting' or 'pose' and is often placed at the end of a specific pose's name, like adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) and chaturanga dandasana (four limbed staff).
  3. Avidya (vs Prajna): Avidya and Prajna are two sides of the same coin. On one side is Avidya, spiritual ignorance and the root cause of suffering. It is here that many find themselves seeking yoga, to relieve that sense of anguish and to find balance. Prajna is the opposite, meaning wisdom and spiritual liberation of the yogi. Centering yourself is prajna is one of the main goals of yoga.
  4. Bhagavad Gita: A founding text for yoga. The 700-verse scripture covers some of the most basic questions of the universe, yoga's place, and how to understand life, death, and the flow of energy.
  5. Bikram: A traditionally 90-minute, 26 posture heated yoga session.  
  6. Bindu: Often understood as 'point' or 'dot,' the bindi is worn on the forehead. Bindu refers more directly to the idea of the 'seed' – a source of creativity and inspiration.
  7. Brahma: The creator of the universe and the being of which all humankind descended from.
  8. Buddha: Meaning 'awakened' or enlightened one who has found inner freedom. Also used as a honorific title.
  9. Chakra: Literally meaning 'wheel of the wagon,' Chakras are swirling points of energy in the body. There are 7 common chakras, though the body is filled with them.
  10. Dhriti: Often referred to as 'steadfastness,' this is the ability to overcome fear, non-perseverance, and indecision.
  11. Drishti: One's yogic gazing or concentrated attention. While your early learnings will focus on positioning the body, you'll soon learn that where you direct your gaze plays a large part in mastering an asana and meditation. This will be one of the key directions your yoga teachers mentor you with during classes.
  12. Doshas: The three governing elements of the body's constitution, including vata (wind), pitta (bile and digestion), and kapha (bodily fluid).
  13. Guru: A spiritual teacher - "he who is heavy."
  14. Hatha Yoga: The form of yoga centered in poses (in contrast to Mantra, Karma, and Bhkati yoga). This is the physical practice of yoga performed in yoga studios.
  15. Mudra: Hand and whole body gestures. For example. when in meditation, touching the tips of the thumb and index finger while resting your wrists on your knees.
  16. Om (or Aum): A mantra and mystical sound of yoga. Sometimes referred to as praṇava. In some classes, especially those with a focus on mantra yoga, you'll perform the om sound with the rest of the classes at the begin, end, and several times throughout. 
  17. Patanjali: A Sanskrit proper name of which several works are attributed to, namely the 196 Indian sūtras.
  18. Pranayama: Controlled breathing and breath in yoga. Understanding and mastering pranayama is as important as mastering the physical demands of asanas and directive cues of dhristi.
  19. Savasana: Recognize anything about this one? Asana is at the end. Savasana is also known as corpse pose and is a relaxing pose traditionally reserved for the end of your practice. When you hear this word, get ready to lay down and center yourself.
  20. Ujjayi: Sometimes called ocean breath, hissing breath, or victorious breath. It's a type of pranayama where the capacity of the lungs is fully expanded and the chest puffed out. Often occupancies vinyasa
  21. Vinyasa: A slightly polysemic word (which means it has many meanings). In the context of yoga, vinyasa refers to a dynamic, flowing form of yoga, characterized by 'breath controlled movement' where the body and breath are as one. In other words, it's synchronicity of our pranayama and asanas.

Master Your Yoga Speak

21 Essential Yoga TermsThe best way to begin to internalize these definitions is found in the same methods used for learning a new language – emersion. Devote yourself to reading yoga texts, listening to lectures, and paying special attention to the words used by your teacher during sessions. As you encounter them more and more, they'll become less archaic and more familiar.

Have you found any special way to keep these definitions in mind or keep track of new terms encountered? Tell us in the comments below!