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Transcend with Tree Pose

A tree lives through its roots drawing energy and balance from the unseen tangled web of its life-force. Trees adopt the pace of nature, they are patient, they live long and peacefully, standing tall, standing firm and enduring the harshest of climates and weather systems which Mother Nature expels. A tree embarks on a journey from humble beginnings, a mere and fragile seedling, her strength is cast over a long period of time. We can learn a lot from the nature of our beloved trees, especially when embodying the graceful steady stance of Vrikshasana, tree pose. It is a prevalent pose, whether you are new to Yoga or a longstanding dedicated Yogi. It is a powerful hip opener, balancing and stretching posture combined. Taking a leaf from nature adopt patience with your Vrikshasana. Do not be tempted to mimic others, placing your bent foot high at the detriment of twisting your trunk. Just consider that no tree looks the same and even the same tree will look different against the backdrop of the seasons. It will sway in the wind, it will cascade fruit and leaves, branches may fall. But a tree always remembers her truthful beginnings, her roots. If you remain true to your capabilities you will nurture a strong foundation where you will grow and flourish through your asanas.

Nurture your Vrikshasana, tree pose:

  • Explore your hip opening. Practice Vrikshasana against the wall or on the floor. If both hips don’t touch the surface, make an adjustment to your bent leg until they do. It takes more strength and honesty to lower your leg or rotate your knee inwards. Not only are you remaining true to yourself, you now have awareness to work on hip opening asanas, like half pigeon pose.
  • Your Drishti, focused gaze will have a profound effect on your sense of balance. It can guide awareness inward, centre your focus or generate movement. Find your centre of stillness by guiding your Drishti. How stable is your pose when you focus on a fixed object at eye level, above or below? Explore internal movement when you close your eyes or divert your focus to a moving object such as breezy tree leaves.
  • It is not possible to grow with grace when you experience tension. Surrender and let it go softening your face, push your tongue to the roof or your mouth or better still, crack a smile.
  • Take a moment to practice Ujjayi breathing creating a soft sound at the back of the throat which can sound like a gentle hissing or breeze blowing to settle your mind.
  • The journey to stability and creating a strong foundation begins with the Muladhara, root chakra at the base of the spine, the pelvic floor, and the first three vertebrae. Tuck it in (rolling your hips down) and direct it towards the earth, creating strong core root from this point right to the base of your grounded foot.
  • On each breath that you draw within, grow your upper body, (your “trunk”) from your abdomen elongate each vertebrae and intercostal muscle one by one.
  • Hold your shoulders back to keep your chest and heart open by coming into Namaskar, prayer pose (hands to heart).
  • Grow your tree, raise your arms like branches, open them wide and spread your hands wide like leaves, then allow your limbs to sway and dance with your breathful breeze.

 

Above all remember, that just like the trees, you are beautiful creation of nature. Hark back to your roots and the stability that being grounded can yield. Allow yourself time to grow. Do this and realise your dreams but never stop growing towards the heavens, flourishing and bearing fruit for all to see, taste and savour.


different-asana-types

Different Asana Types - The Science and Art

To help cultivate awareness, relaxation and concentration there are various asana types to stretch, massage and stimulate various organs and energy channels. Each category can help to provide us with a different perspective on life, from a physical, emotional, internal and external point of view, which in keeping with the theme of Yoga will simultaneously support a contradiction or polar opposite to bring about balance and harmony. Whilst there are many different asana types, most of us will be familiar and regularly practice the following five.

Backward bending asanas

Back bending by name, frontal stretch by nature whereby the opening of the heart and chest area enlarges our lung capacity. This increases our intake of oxygen, as well as creating a protective cushion around the thoracic part of our spine, thereby alleviating pressure on the spinal lumbar region, the most commonly injured part of our spine. During backward bending asanas muscles within the coronal (frontal) plane of the body such as the abdominal, groin and femoral area are elongated. Backbends are associated with the past and it is through confronting the past, accepting that it is a part of our identity, that we accept our present state and grow towards our future thereby preparing for the forward journey.

Top tip: Inhale before practicing back bends and practice lengthening your spine. This offers more protection and will help create space to alleviate unnecessary pressure on vertebrae and spinal discs.

Forward bending asanas

Forward bends use gravity to offer relief from tension and pain. A state of relaxation is encouraged through compression of internal organs during exhalation. Forward bends will massage the abdominal organs whilst stretching the legs muscles and tendons. Most importantly, forward bends help make the back muscles supple and strong, by moving the spine into the “primary curve” position separating each vertebra, improving circulation and stimulating the nerves. When we take a bow we face forward to see the world and surrender to fearlessly face what is and what can be with deep humility.

Top tip: Bend from the hips instead of the waist to achieve a greater range of movement, creating a stronger pressure to induce greater relaxation on the abdomen.

Spinal twisting asanas

Performing at least one spinal twist after forward and backbends in addition towards the end of a Yoga session is a fairly common occurrence. The spinal nerves are stimulated and by twisting from one side we increase flexibility, compressing and stretching our abdominal region to nourish and enhance the flow of oxygen to the abdominal organs such as the stomach, intestines, liver, pancreas and kidneys, promoting health and vitality. On a symbolic emotional and spiritual level, mindful twisting embodies the nubs we can encounter in life. It is through our approach to explore them, loosen and disentangle ourselves with acceptance and control that we create insight and inspiration to overcome distensions in life.

Top tip: The base of your spine has the least range of movement so begin twisting from the base, controlling the range of movement from your abdomen to create a greater range of space. Inhale to elongate your spine before moving deeper into the twist on each exhale.

Inverted asanas

By encouraging the flow of blood to the brain we stimulate neurones to boost mental power and increase concentration including our pituitary gland which is responsible for growth and development. During inversions breathing slows and deepens which intensifies the interchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen and the endocrine system is purified through enriched blood flow. By reversing the way we stand in the world we throw light and a new weightless perspective on our state of being.

Top tip: Master each stage before progressing to the next. Always follow an inverted asana with a resting asana for at least half the duration of time taken to practice the inversion before undertaking the counter-pose.

Balancing asanas

Our mind and bodies are always compensating for a lack of balance for the simple reason that we are rarely ever still. The practice of balancing asanas helps to develop the cerebellum function that coordinates and regulates muscular activity of the body in motion, to improve posture, balance and calm unconscious movement. Our submission to attain balanced steadiness develops concentration. At an emotional level, balancing asanas acknowledge our sense of equilibrium at a given moment, whilst providing the opportunity to conserve energy or achieve peaceful grace in the present moment.

Top tip: To begin with, activate your drishti (focused gaze) on a fixed point at eye, navel or floor level and take comfort that progress can be made quickly with regular dedicated practice.

It is only natural that you may gravitate towards a certain group, wishing to avoid another. It is human nature to want to succeed by sometimes pushing the limits and getting frustrated when expectation is not met. I, for one, love surrendering into forward bends but always face my ego when attempting and falling over in balancing asanas. However I’ve slowly come to appreciate that it is with humbleness that we must accept our current capabilities, we should face our fears and fall occasionally, because this is how we let go. We should forget about what we think we should be doing and how we should be, to create the space to root down, grow and become exactly who we are meant to be.


Natarajasana, Lord of the dance

Natarajasana, Lord Shiva/Lord of the dance pose is a graceful shoulder, hip and heart-opening pose that builds on toning and strengthening the leg muscles. The name derives from the Sanskrit words nata, dancer and raja, king. The combined word Nataraja is one of the many names of the Hindu God Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer.

Symbolising the heart of the creation and destruction of the universe in parallel, in Natarajasana, Shiva, the “destroyer” or “transformer” and sagacious Yogi dances on one leg upon an evil demon. The demon is an emblematic representation of ignorance and by performing this dance on top of ignorance, Shiva rises above all his destructive qualifies to gain emancipation.

This asana signifies the amalgamation of the individual and universal soul. The dance of life can bear rhythmic crescendos and diminuendos; it can be upbeat and fluid in contemporary movement or still in timeless classical beauty. Beneath the metaphor the aspiration remains the same, one of unlimited growth through stillness.

Most of us appreciate that in our quest for equilibrium in both asana practice and indeed life, we must do on one side the same as we do on the other: honour the left and right, feminine and masculine, sun and moon, good and bad. Naturally we will all have a stronger side, however it is our weaker side and indeed the asanas which we don’t favour as much in our practice, that we need the most and perhaps should pay special homage to. For this reason you are invited to begin performing Natarajasana on your not so favourable side. Be encouraged to rise then fall again and again, as it is only in the face of destruction and danger that we uncover the deepest depth of our being and new life. By pushing ourselves to the face of adversity and back, we identify our true self and surpass the realm of what our physical self perceives as possible.

Explore your qualities of graceful, heart-opening dynamic movement and journey through our Yogi Surprise sequence which celebrates life and honours our Natarajasana, Lord of the dance within.


The Meaning of Hatha Yoga

Hatha begins with asana practice, physical poses to enhance and relax our body, align our skin, muscles and bones. In particular, it stimulates our nervous system and internal organs. It brings awareness to our nadi, energy channels and our spine to open up our body.

As the last and second equinox of the year looms, when the northern and southern hemispheres  equally radiate sunlight and moonlight, both day and night are present for the same length of time. Two opposites will appear in balance, an emblematic occurrence which illuminates the meaning of Hatha Yoga.

Hatha is a Sanskirt word of two parts: 'Ha' for sun and 'tha' meaning moon. Characteristics related with the sun are passion, masculinity and strength, while moon qualities are freshness, femininity and surrender. Together (sun, moon, male and female) contain physical qualities of hot and cold, firm and fluid. It is in our physical bodies that we strive to cultivate a balance of strength and flexibility, learning to balance our effort and surrender in each pose through breath and mind control. The knowledge Hatha expresses is that both sun and moon energy exists within us all. Hatha is a unification of 2 opposites to illuminate all existence into totality and create balanced harmony from within.

Balance is one of the most desired things we crave for in our lives; a balanced diet, balanced bank account, balanced work/life commitments. When I am balanced I am content, I am grounded, present and I am still. When I am off balance I can be destructive, but my experience has taught me that such moments of extremities must exist. It is such a contrast exploring a spectrum of polar opposites, yet I wonder how it can be any other way. How can we realise equilibrium without firstly discovering how to fall or how to rise? This is true when living life and in Yoga asana practice. Through our experiences we are given a choice, to remain ignorant or return to the path of grace with newfound wisdom and knowledge in our hearts. Actually it’s pretty awe-inspiring when you recognise the interconnection that exists between EVERYTHING.

Could this be why so many divergent variations of Hatha Asana Yoga exist today? Bikram, Iyengar, Astanga! The list is growing and evolving all the time and this is a hugely comforting thought. There is a style for everybody, with guidelines sure, but I would boldly advocate that there isn’t a right or wrong way, just your way. Ultimately any form of movement or contemplative stillness is good because it harnesses and creates energy. As Yogis, you have the power to strike that balance, find what feels good, bad or just right, this is the essence of Yog.

Hatha Yoga bridges the gap between the ancient sages and modern practice yet it is so much more than a physical exercise which we tend to associate in the west. Hatha Yoga integrates the classic Yoga path consisting of asanas (postures), shatkriya (purification rituals), mudras (gestures), pranayama (breathing) and dyana (meditation). It is the first root of all modern day Yoga asana variations and deeply embedded with the eight-limb path to attain Samadhi, enlightenment.


The Power of a Focused Gaze, Drishti

How many times have you been distracted on your Yoga mat because of that scabby nail, buzzing fly, or caught yourself staring into space not taking action and how many times have you established a connection with a person after getting that feeling of being watched then lost your balance? Based on our emotional, physical and mental state, eyes allow us to see all or nothing depending on whether we are actively or inactively gazing. So, where are we directing our energy?

Drishti literally translates to focused gaze in Sanskirt and our drishti is a fundamental source to help us foster awareness, meditation and intention. It relates Patanjali’s legendary eight-Limbs of Yoga in particular the fifth limb of, pratyahara which is the application of sense withdrawal, additionally it also relates to the sixth limb dharana, concentration and mastery of our senses. Our ability to concentrate is invaluable as it guides us to our true self, whereas distraction leads us from it.

In asana practice we are taught to direct our Drishti to one of 9 points, for instance in Matsyasana, fish pose, we gaze towards the Ajna, third eye Chakra. But rather than narrate where your Drishti should follow, here are a few tips to help you transcend in your practice with your Drishti guiding you or you guiding your Drishti.

Ideas to guide your Drishti:

  • Look down and you will go down, sink deeper, move faster in a flow, but don’t fall over, or do fall, because it’s just as important
  • Look up to infinity, see where you are going and the create space to go and grow, opening up your heart as you transcend
  • Look straight ahead, keeping your spine straight and helping bring equilibrium in balancing poses. Glare at a fixed object or moving object and test your concentration and ability to withdrawal on your visionary sense to focus on what you need to
  • Navigate your gaze as you move through your asanas, allowing your body to follow your gaze and you may get there faster with a flowing grace at a breathe easy pace
  • Close your eyes to invert your vision and consciousness within to amplify the sensations in your body and really listen to it sing or cry
  • Reduce your spectrum of vision to limit surrounding distraction
  • Don’t look so hard, soften your gaze so you can direct your energy to other elements of practice

They say the eyes are windows to the soul, which I think is true with an addition: a window offers 2 views from the inside out and the outside in. It’s an entrance to connect to all that is currently present, in stillness or movement, a visual means of first contact in advance of other palpable senses. What a person sees is their perception of the world, their awareness, or conceivably their reflection of themselves based on their reaction. As Yogis we devote our concentration and Drishti to seeking an inner and outer truth looking for Divinity which is everywhere, thus seeing the world for what is really is, Divine.


embrace all of life through the 4 paths of yoga||Karma Yoga - action|||

The Four Paths of Yoga

We are all beautifully unique individuals, yet we all share a commonality in the sense that we live in our body and minds which are governed by our emotions and energy.  As distinctive souls, we all operate at different levels which is why there are Four Margas, four paths of Yoga. It is these four paths which represent each aspect of our lives (body, mind, emotion, and energy) and it is through living that we will invoke at least one aspect, if not more on whatever path we choose to take in life.

 


Karma Yoga - actionKarma Yoga - action

In truth, no-one can escape this path, however, when it is practiced with open mindfulness it transcends to Karma Yoga, the path of physical action and selfless service.

"Karma Yoga is the selfless devotion of all inner as well as the outer activities as a Sacrifice to the Lord of all works, offered to the eternal as Master of all the soul's energies and austerities."
- Bhagavad Gita

4-paths-of-yoga-devotionBhakti Yoga – devotion

We all experience emotions of love, compassion and devotion at various points in our life’s journey. When done in the context of seeking the Devine, this is called Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit a water, I will accept it.”
- Bhagavad Gita


4-paths-of-yoga-KNOWLEDGEJnana Yoga - knowledge

Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. The revision of inward reflection, honest self-observation and learning naturally occurs within us all, it is how we grow and evolve.

“O Partha, when a man gives up all varieties of desire for sense gratification, which arise from mental concoction, and when his mind, thus purified, finds satisfaction in the self alone, then he is said to be in pure transcendental consciousness.”
- Bhagavad Gita

4-paths-of-yoga-balanceRaja Yoga

Raja Yoga deals with all aspects Yoga to unite and bring a balanced blissful harmony thus achieving Samadhi, self-realisation. Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, or the physical asana practice.

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.”
- Bhagavad Gita

In our physical asana Yoga practice we sometimes find ourselves gravitating with more poised grace towards some asanas more than others. Thus the same is true for the four paths of Yoga. They work well in harmony, yet are designed to complement alignments for individuals with unique predispositions. It is through distinguishing our unique qualities that we can amplify our Yoga path and unearth our purpose and discover self-realisation. 

“The truth is one, paths are many.”
- Mahatma Gandhi


The Truth Behind the Roots of Yoga

Yoga can be mistakenly associated with Hinduism, whilst the 2 bare origins rooted in India, it is important to separate this thread of perception. Religions seek to adhere to a belief structure on how to lead a life in worship of God or the Devine. Yoga is an ancient artful science steeped in rich philosophy that seeks to unearth our deepest nature through experiencing our own divinity or true-self.

The Vedas, which translate to “knowledge” or “wisdom” is a collection of four ancient sacred Sanskirt scriptures; the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. These four original Vedas are considered sacred revelations of the rishis, ancient seers. Consisting of thousands of mantras and hymns and tens of thousands more versus, premeditated to bring decree and prosperity to the devotees who chant them. Furthermore, the Vedas denotes sacrificial and ritual instructions as well as containing guidance on how to lead a better life.

It was the oldest of these Vedas, the Rigveda where the word Yoga and its root, yuj first appeared. The origination of the Vedas is believed to have stemmed from the Arya people who settled in the Indus Valley (what we now call India) between 1,800 and 1,500 B.C.E.

It was during the dusk of Vedic period, believed to be somewhere around 600 and 550 B.C.E that the Upanishads appeared. The word Upanishad, literally means “sitting near” and it is thought that the deeper spiritual inquest of the Upanishads, who would sit near a teacher to glean knowledge led to the evolutionary path of Yoga.

The Upanishads is also a collection of philosophical utterances, referred to as the Vedanta and shapes the path to self-realization and self-knowledge. It was during or slightly after this time that the legendary sage (or perhaps sages) Patanjali compiled The Yoga Sutras. These Sutras are a list of 196 aphorisms which join together yoga material throughout the ages in a systemized and concise manner which can easily be committed to memory. Designed to help a yogi to transcend the word Sutra is compiled of 2 parts, su denoting “thread” and tra signifying “to transcend”.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era and it is widely considered the foundations of Classical Yoga philosophy which we now know today.

The grace of Yoga lies in a philosophy which is open to interpretation and malleable for anyone from any culture, any age and background with a desire to better and improve one’s self.  Some may briefly walk the path, for others it is a life-long journey. It seems the many variations of Yoga which exist today, are a supporting testimony that Yoga really is for everyone. Yoga has grown with our society, it has evolved and the great thing about Yoga is that regardless of where you are in your personal journey, the path has been well trodden before. You need not walk it alone, the Yogi community is one of unification, support and infinite wisdom.


5 Day, 4 Night Hot Spring Retreat in Northern California

Hot springs are shown to do incredible things to the body. Thousands of people flock to hot springs around the world, every day, for these healing and empowering properties. This September, we're sending one lucky Yogi Surprise member on a 5 day, 4 night wellness retreat at Wilbur Hot Springs, a natural hot springs in Northern California, renown for it's healing and restoring springs.

5 Day, 4 Night Hot Spring Retreat in Northern California

Wilbur Hot Springs is unlike any other hot springs in the area. The springs are sheltered by a Japanese onsen-style “Fluminarium." In this style, the water is channeled into three long flumes, with differing average temperatures  (98, 105 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit). The remarkably hot and soothing spring water flows continuously through the flumes as you soak in silence.

Outside the flumes, there's a spring-fed swimming pool, an outdoor hot mineral flume, as well as a dry sauna. The grounds of Wilbur are centered around a nearby creek, encompassing the springs in the sounds of running water, birds chirping, and rustling of wildlife. Nighttime offer amazing views of starry skies, providing the an incredible atmosphere of deep reflection and relaxation.

Wilbur Mineral Water

The package includes:

  • Accommodations for 4 nights at Wilbur Hot Springs
  • Cozy private cabin
  • 2 massage sessions
  • Complimentary weekend yoga classes
  • This retreat is booked between April-October, 2016

Wilbur-Hot-Springs

 Learn How to Win this Retreat >


September's Theme: Rooting to Transcend

The word Yoga beholds various connotations. Ultimately it is derived from the Sanskrit root yuk meaning to control, to unite or yoke. Yogis walk many Yoga paths yet ultimately, these paths all lead to the same destination. Yoga is an inward journey, expressed outwardly through practice to remember our true nature and connect with our deepest divine selves.

Once more, let’s look to Mother Nature for inspiration: a tree, perhaps one of the most commonly used metaphors and visuals in Yoga (and for noble cause). A tree's life support lies hidden beneath the earth. When the struggle of her being is tested she can retreat to her humble beginnings. Her roots provide nutrients, they are sheltered from autumn's bluster and winter's frost. It is only when the heated light of spring has called to her and the kiss of summer has loved her, that a tree bears her fruit for all to see.

 

Our roots are our life stories

Since the dawn of time, we have pursued spiritual quests to transcend above human consciousness. Our hearts beat with a deep longing to connect with something deep inside to find a sense of belonging and meaning.  By understanding and accepting your roots, you can grow your sense of self, yielding strength to go through life with a sense of meaning. Even those whose carry little knowledge of their roots or experienced a troubled beginning will continue living. Let’s not forget that storms make roots run deep and it is by exhuming these roots that problems are unearthed and tended to. The choice to connect with your roots is ultimately yours. Needless to say you wouldn’t be exactly where you are right now without them.

Roots define us, even in their darkest earthy depths, they provide nourishment, warmth and offer the prospect of growth.

 

Roots provide grounding

Roots are an organic aspect of life. A magnificent tree cannot grow towards the sun without a strong foundation. In the practice of Yoga asana, one needs a solid base in order to root down and grow. How you cultivate your foundation is the key to creating a sagacious stable asana where you can simply be there and be still in your space. This is why “Rooting to Transcend” is a fairly common expression in Yoga classes. Off the Yoga mat, a strong sense of grounding can stem into all aspects of life; setting intentions, starting anew, making simple and large decisions. The art of mindfulness is about creating a sense of grounding and basing your actions on a firmly rooted belief. Before any decision, if you take time to ground yourself and connect with your core you will be able to see the wood through the trees and the right outcome will arise.

The value of being grounded will grow your sense of direction on this earthly journey. It will turn the wheel of your Muladhara, root chakra and provide a sense of balance and creative energy.

 

Roots are connections

Although the expanding roots of tree lay hidden beneath the soil you know they are there, for her trunk grows tall and her leaves unfold and flutter. When the right moment arises she flourishes to bear delicious fruit. This is only so, because her roots are many and sturdy. Just as the trees, sun and moon belong to the universe, so do you. It exists within you and the principle that one thing leads to another, whether it is clear to you or not, is a comforting notion.

We are all connected, attracted by energy and from time to time, the small things grow into bigger things to change the fortunes of our lives.

[tweetable alt=""]“I'm planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots.”
- Andrea Koehle Jones[/tweetable]

To celebrate the theme of the month, The Yogi Surprise team are going root deep unearthing the kernels of Yoga. Keep your Drishti, focused gaze on new journal entries and social posts on the roots of Yoga and our latest Yoga Sequence; Rooting Down.

Join us on Instagram to participate in our September yoga challenge on becoming rooted, inspired from Tao, verse 26:

The heavy is the root of the light.

The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day

without leaving her home.

However splendid the views

he stays serenely in herself.

He stays poised and centred

in the midst of all activities.

Why should the Master be amused

at the foolishness of the world?

If you let yourself be blown to and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.

Tao, verse 26

 


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transend through the roots of yoga