Tag Archives: ashtanga yoga

Choosing a Qualified Yoga Teacher…

Not at this time and likely not in the near future, will any type of national or international certification program for yoga teachers exist (*see note below for clarification). This is due to the traditional nature of Yoga instruction. Since antiquity, Yoga has been transmitted from teacher to student on a one-to-one basis.  Comparatively recently, and mainly in the West, Yoga has begun to be offered to groups of students in a class format. The more advanced practices of Yoga are still the best when undertaken on a one-to-one basis, and only if you are fortunate enough to find a competent teacher who is willing to instruct you.

Any serious student seeking qualified instruction should avoid any Yoga teacher who views this science as a hobby or someone who reads a few books, takes a couple introductory Yoga courses and then decides to become a Yoga teacher. This can only work if they have spent sufficient time under the constant supervision of their own personal Yoga teacher. This relationship between teacher and student needs to be taken very seriously by both parties and can never be entered into lightly.

There are competent teachers available, but you may just have to search them out. When seeking a competent, qualified Yoga teacher there are certain minimum requirements to look for that they should demand of you as their student. Seven of the most basic ones follow:

1. Daily practice of Yoga asana (postures), breathing, and meditation. To make progress in Yoga a serious commitment to daily practice is necessary. Only when a teacher has this support will they be able to build the solid foundation of experience that is required before they can show others how to achieve that experience. This daily practice is also needed in order to maintain the strength and health necessary for the extraordinary demands of both teaching and learning.

2. Regular and frequent contact with a teacher is necessary simply because it’s impossible for a teacher to work effectively in a vacuum, and no one becomes so advanced in their practice that they do not need the guidance and support of their own teacher.

3. Study of the important Yoga texts; this is one of the five observances that are part of the essential eight "limbs" of Yoga practice (see #4, below). A teacher needs to have an intensive background of study that includes Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita, and other world philosophies that the student must be willing to learn.

4. The practice of ethical behavior which includes the five yamas (meaning "restraints"):

  • Nonviolence
  • Truthfulness
  • Nonstealing
  • Periods of celibacy
  • Nonhoarding

…and the five niyamas (meaning "observances"):

  • Purity
  • Contentment
  • Tolerance
  • Study
  • Remembrance

The yamas and the niyamas are the first two limbs in Patanjali’s system of classical Yoga (called "Ashtanga Yoga"). The remaining six limbs are:

  • Physical exercises (asana)
  • Breathing techniques (pranayama)
  • Withdrawal of the mind from the senses (pratyahara)
  • Concentration (dharana)
  • Meditation (dhyana)
  • Absorption, or ultimate union with the self (samadhi)

*Note: These eight limbs must be developed simultaneously. The ethical guidelines of the yamas and niyamas are a part of Yoga practice not simply for moralistic reasons but because they support and protect the student during the unfolding of personal experience in meditation. A teacher needs this support and protection for the same reasons as well as to help reduce the interference of personal ego in the teaching process. An ethical Yoga teacher conducts classes in a responsible, safe, and aware manner. They will never organize classes that are too large for each student to receive individual attention. They will never push students beyond their limitations. And of grave importance, sexual involvement with students is absolutely prohibited.

5. A healthy vegetarian or vegan (plant-based) diet. Although you do not need to be a vegetarian/vegan to practice Yoga, a Yoga teacher must conform to different and stricter standards. Someone who is taking responsibility for teaching others how to use Yoga meditation techniques must have developed the steadiness and nonviolent attitude that can only be attained through a vegetarian or vegan diet. It goes without saying that a teacher should not smoke or use drugs (other than prescription medication) or misuse alcohol.

6. Training in basic anatomy and the effects of Yoga techniques is very important. A teacher must be able to vary certain techniques according to each student’s ability and know how to coach and advise students with common medical conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, back problems and other disorders. A teacher should also be able to recognize when a student needs professional psychological counseling plus be familiar with community services that are available to help the student.

7. The teacher must have the ability to separate Yoga from religion and to teach their students the same. Yoga is not a religion; it predates Hinduism, as well as all known religious practices, and its techniques have been used throughout the world since before recorded history. Yoga is a systematic science of nonreligious, transcultural techniques which can help the practitioner to develop greater self-knowledge and awareness. The texts of Yoga are not scriptures but rather handbooks (or guidelines) of how to use the techniques safely and what kinds of experiences may possibly be expected.

Hopefully, this article will give you some idea of the qualifications that are generally accepted as important. Get a good solid base in your own practices while under the direction of a qualified teacher, read and study about Yoga practice and philosophy, and build strength, awareness, and health, including the adaption of a vegetarian or vegan diet. If you then would like to advance and become a teacher, remember, teaching is hard work, and if you try to do it without being in top condition physically and mentally, you will do a disservice both to yourself and your students.

*Note on certification: There's a difference between credentialing and certification and although certification has not yet achieved national/international recognition, Rae Indigo runs a highly credited certification school, recognized by the Yoga Alliance among others. Rae teaches 200 & 300 hour Yoga Certification. The focus of her trainings is teaching students to heal using yoga, and to create sequences that are effective for the group or individual being guided.

Rae Indigo is ERYT 500 

Navigating the Roller Coaster of Life

Navigating the Roller Coaster of LifeWho doesn’t sometimes feel like they’re up one day and down the next; whether it’s trying to keep your personal and family life on an even keel, dealing with financial issues in a tough economy or even dealing with the current social/political climate, it often seems like we’re on a wild ride. All of us experience challenges and develop all sorts of worries and concerns in the course of our lives, and in today’s hectic world it may feel like it takes the strength of Hercules to navigate the complexities of our technologically-advanced, humanistic and existentially-struggling culture.

One day everything in our life appears to be going along just fine and then, wham!, some disturbing situation hits you like a ton of bricks, your emotions go up, and simultaneously your intelligence goes down. Perhaps you say or do things you’ll regret and your life gets knocked out of balance. A prolonged sense of uncontrolled emotions can cause a great deal of dysfunction in your relationships, regardless of whether they’re personal or professional. Irrational emotions affect those around us and when we’re all dealing with “high” emotions, it’s like we’re all one big dysfunctional family trying to make our own way. This is when it’s time to step back, so that everyone can connect logically and compassionately again.

There are steps that can be taken to avoid the emotional “teeter-totter” of daily living, including; adapting a healthy diet, starting a regular exercise program and spending time with supportive friends. One very effective method of dealing with emotional and mental stress, anxiety etc. is a consistent yoga and meditation practice. Yoga keeps the body and the nervous system strong and the prana (life force) flowing, while helping you to be more centered, relaxed and able to “roll with the punches.” Meditation allows for quiet reflection, relaxation, plus a clear recognition and understanding of what is truly meaningful. Even during those times when you can’t avoid life’s fluctuations by stepping into a neutral zone, you can still find ways to move smoothly through those periods, maintaining a calm, cool and centered state of being.

Navigating the Roller Coaster of Life

Spend time with supportive friends.

Whether we’re pondering decisions or actually making choices based on life’s situations, we still need to exercise control over ourselves and our reactions. We might be surprised on how much more power we have over our “ride” than the roller coaster analogy allows. Maybe instead of a roller coaster ride, a better metaphor for life is a “journey.” The word “journey” is defined as something that suggests travel or passage from one place to another, and it is inevitable that as we move forward from one day to the next (literally) we are met with challenges of one sort or another. Some of these challenges are quite pleasant and exciting while others are difficult and pose more of a struggle. But all of our challenges are part of the journey – my journey or your journey – nonetheless, we must go through them. It is how we perceive and then handle them which will enable us to choose the paths we take on our journey. It is also very important to remember we have the ability to make decisions each and every day concerning the direction our journey will take.

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500


Is Ashtanga Yoga a Religion?

For those who have never practiced Ashtanga Yoga, you may be wondering about this practice since it was the basis of a recent (July 2013) trial about a school yoga program in Encinitas, CA. California Judge Joe Meyer ruled that a public school district can teach yoga, siding with administrators who argued the practice is a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance and rejecting pleas of parents who said the classes are inherently religious and violate the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

Is Ashtanga Yoga religious? Should it be adapted to a public school curriculum? How is Ashtanga different from any other kind of yoga? For the answers to these questions we need to take a comprehensive look at the history, theory, and physical practice of Ashtanga’s Primary Yoga Series.

Some misconceptions about Ashtanga Yoga that need to be cleared up…

Many people are intimated by Ashtanga Yoga’s reputation as a rigorous, traditional practice, but the fact is that the basics of the practice can be broken down and tailored making it accessible to most anyone despite their age. Most people assume that you have to be athletic, or at least really strong and flexible in order to practice Ashtanga Yoga, but if you have a good certified teacher who can adjust for each individual’s fitness level, they will benefit by starting with as little as five practice minutes a day.

Even though Ashtanga Yoga is traditional, coming from a spiritual lineage that traces its roots throughout all of India’s historic path, it is not considered dogmatic. Instead this lineage lives in the hearts of students and their teachers and can be adjusted as needed so that the use of yoga as an effective tool is accessible for nearly everyone.

What can be learned from the practice of Ashtanga Yoga?

The practical essence of the spiritual practice of Ashtanga Yoga is that through the use of postures (asana), breathing (pranayama), and prescribed focus points one can gain a direct experience of the inner Self. The asanas are simply tools that help students tap into the limitless nature of their inner being. Ashtanga Yoga practice has the power to open the mind, heal the body, and transform one’s view of the whole world. With a qualified instructor, beginners will find an introduction into the very basics of the world of yoga which will include moral and ethical guidelines, postures, breath-work, sense withdrawal, concentration, and meditation. Well established students will discover additional tools and techniques to help them go deeper into their practice.

Can Ashtanga Yoga be considered religious?

Ashtanga Yoga is inherently spiritual, but not religious, nor can it be considered a religion. As a philosophy yoga is theistic by its very nature; it adheres to the belief that some type of universal (or Divine) force that is larger than the individual “ego-self” is the the underlying truth of all existence. But yoga never claims that this force has to be represented by any particular deity or religion. In fact, the reason yoga is so transformational is because we are led through a series of scientific methods to directly experience the limitless nature of our innermost selves. Once realized, this higher “Self” can never be limited by (or to) any religion, because its very essence is spiritual. Ashtanga Yoga practice illuminates the human spirit in a way that embodies our inherent greatness and limitlessness in a way that cannot be defined by (or confined to) any dogma.

Of related interest, click on: Yoga as Science

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 5: Practice & Non-Attachment, cont.)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – Chapter 1: (Practice & Non-Attachment; Sutras 1.15 – 16)

Yoga Sutra (1.15)drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagyam. Drista means seen or perceived. Anushravika means revealed, heard (from others). Vishaya is objects, subjects or entities. Vitrishnasya is of one who is free from desire or craving. Vashikara means supreme, mastery or total control. Sanjna means awareness, consciousness or knowing. Vairagyam is non-attachment, indifference, dispassion or neutrality.

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 5: Practice & Non-Attachment, cont.)

Translated this means…When the mind loses desire even for objects seen or described in a tradition or in scriptures, it acquires a state of utter (vashikara) desirelessness that is called non-attachment (vairagya). Or in other words: dispassion (or non-attachment) results from a balance in (or mastery of) the consciousness, and when the desire for all things that we see or have heard of is extinguished.

This non-attachment is not suppression nor detachment as these are both pretentious and a case of “doing” something. This non-attachment is instead a “non-doing” sort of thing. It means that your attention does not hold (or grab onto) any impression that appears in the mind in the first place. Non-attachment is cessation! If attachment does occur (whether appealing or aversion), and attention fixes itself on a deep mental impression, the subsequent non-attachment comes from the cessation of mental clinging, not from an act of forcefully prying attention away.

Patanjali further explains that non-attachment (vairagya) applies to progressively deepening levels of our being. While we might begin with our more shallow level attachments, such as the objects and people encountered in daily life, this practice is intended to deepen to include all of the objects or experiences even those we might have only heard about, including the many powers (siddhis) or experiences of the psychic or subtle realm. We gradually come to witness that even these are nothing more than distractions on our journey to Self-realization, and we learn to let them pass by as clouds in the sky.

Yoga Sutra (1.16)tat param purusha khyateh guna vaitrshnyam. Tat is “that.” Param is higher, superior, supreme, transcendent. Purusha means pure consciousness, Self. Khyateh means through knowledge, vision, discernment. Guna represents the elements, prime qualities, constituents or attributes (three gunas of sattvas, rajas and tamas). Vaitrshnyam is that state of freedom from desire or craving (for the gunas)

This sutra can be translated to mean…Indifference to the subtlest elements, constituent principles, or qualities themselves (gunas), achieved through a knowledge of the nature of pure consciousness (purusha), is called supreme non-attachment (paravairagya). Or put another way: The highest state of desirelessness (unsurpassed non-attachment – paravairagya) arises from the experience of the true Self and in this state even the most basic elements of nature lose their power over us.

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 5: Practice & Non-Attachment, cont.)

Supreme non-attachment (paravairagya) to the gunas (the three primal elements that the yogis refer to as the prime constituents of both manifest and unmanifest matter (prakriti) includes non-attachment in relation to not only the gross physical world, but also to the entire subtle, psychic and astral planes, as well as the causal realm out of which they arise.

Paravairagya comes after Self-realization and is described in these sutras as where non-attachment ultimately leads, that is, once you have the tool of samadhi and direct experience of the Self.

*Part 1 can be viewed by clicking on: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 1 – Yoga Defined)

*Part 2, here: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 2: Un-coloring Your Thoughts)

*Part 3, here: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 3: Un-coloring Your Thoughts – Cont.)

*Part 4, here: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 4: Practice & Non-Attachment)

*Of related interest… The Three Gunas

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 4: Practice & Non-Attachment)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – Chapter 1: (Practice & Non-Attachment; Sutras 1.12 thru 1.14)

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 4: Practice & Non-Attachment)Practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) are the two foundational principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests. Through the cultivation of these two principles, all other Yoga practices evolve and eventually mastery over the mind field (chitta) occurs, and allows the realization of the true Self (Atman).

Regular practice keeps you headed in the right direction, while non-attachment provides you with a means to continue your inner journey without getting sidetracked by the pains and pleasures encountered along the way.

Abhyasa and Vairagya go hand-in-hand as companion practices, and they are the tools for mastering (nirodhah) the many levels (fluctuations) of the mind, thus allowing the experience of the true Self.

In order to properly practice and cultivate non-attachment, it is necessary to become consistently better at discriminating between which actions, utterances, and thoughts take you toward the goal of union, and those which tend to separate and divide. Developing this increasing discrimination is both a foundation practice and a subtle tool for advancing the inner journey.

Practice means having an attitude of persistent effort to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. Non-attachment involves learning to let go of the many attachments, aversions, fears, and false identities that are clouding the true Self.

Yoga Sutra (1.12)abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah. Abhyasa means practice (also cheerfulness). Vairagyabhyam is non-attachment, indifference (or dispassion). Tat means this (of those). Nirodhah in this context, means control, regulation, restraint or mastery.

Translated this sutra means these thought patterns are controlled via a balance between cheerful practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).

Yoga Sutra (1.13)tatra sthitau yatnah abhyasa. Tatra means “of these two” (abhyasa and vairagya). Sthitau represents stability, consistence and undisturbed calmness. Yatnah is effort, persistent exertion or sustained struggle. Abhyasa means with (repeated) practice.

This sutra can be translated as: Practice (abhyasa) involves applying the chosen effort, and doing the actions necessary to bring a stable and tranquil state (sthitau). In other words – It means resolutely and consistently adhering to one’s practice of yoga until stable and undisturbed calmness is attained.

A note on Sthitau as a stable form of tranquility: This stability is more than just a matter of regaining your peace of mind when it has been lost, it is taking the extra steps when planning your life to support meditation; no only when meditating formally (like sitting meditation) but also when in “the marketplace.”

Yoga Sutra (1.14)sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih. Sa means the same, that (practice). Tu is but or in any case. Dirga Kaka (Dirgha = long. Kala = time). Nairantarya is continuous; uninterrupted. Satkāra means seriousness; care. Adara is respect; consideration for others. Asevito (from asevita) means practiced, followed or continued. Drdha means sound, well founded. Bhumiḥ (from bhumi) basis, foundation or earth.

Put together all these words mean: When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation. In other words – Success can definitely be achieved through a sound and continuous practice over an extended period of time, when carried out in a serious and thoughtful manner.

Because consistency is such an important part of practice, choose a practice to which you commit yourself. Rather than be overenthusiastic when establishing your practice and taking on more than you have time (or energy) for, it is better to start by choosing a level of practice that you know you can maintain without a break. As your lifestyle changes to give you more time for meditation you can increase your time to include a session of longer duration.

Next in this series, Part 5 (Practice and non-attachment, cont.), Yoga Sutras 1.15 – 16.

*Part 1 can be viewed by clicking on: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 1 – Yoga Defined)

*Part 2, here: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 2: Un-coloring Your Thoughts)

*Part 3, here: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 3: Un-coloring Your Thoughts – Cont.)

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 2: Un-coloring Your Thoughts)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – Chapter 1: (Un-coloring Your Thoughts; Sutra 1.5)

Part 1 (*link below) in this series ended with the forth Yoga Sutra (1.4) – vritti sarupyam itaratra, which says: “At other times, when one is not in self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, thereby taking on the identity of those thought patterns.”

Those gross and subtle thought patterns (vrittis) referred to in (1.4) fall into five types, that block the realization of the true Self, of which some are colored (klishta) and
others are uncolored (aklishta). The five varieties of thought patterns to witness are:The Teachings of Yoga (Part 2: Un-coloring Your Thoughts)

  1. 1. Knowing correctly (pramana)
  2. 2. Incorrect knowing (viparyaya)
  3. 3. Fantasy or imagination (vikalpa)
  4. 4. The void-ness that is deep sleep (nidra)
  5. 5. Recollection or memory (smriti)

The Yogi learns to witness these five kinds of interfering thoughts with non-attachment, discriminating between these five, and to cultivating the first type of thought, which is knowing correctly, and there are three ways of gaining correct knowledge (pramana):

1. Perception
2. Inference
3. Testimony or verbal communication from others who have knowledge.

Incorrect knowledge (viparyaya) or fantasy or imagination (vikalpa) are both made up of thought patterns that may have verbal expression and knowledge, but for which there is no real object or basis in existence. Dreamless sleep (nidra) is the subtle thought pattern which has absence or non-existance as its object. Recollection or memory (smriti) is mental modification of a previous impression.

Now on to the sutras…

Yoga Sutra (1.5)vrittayah pancatayah klishta aklishta. Vrittayah means “the vrittis are;” pancatayah means fivefold (and designates two kinds), panch means five;  klishta comes from the root klish (to cause trouble colored, painful, afflicted, impure); aklishta, the root “a” means without or in the absence of, therefore is the opposite of klishta, being uncolored, not painful, not afflicted, pure or absent of the coloring called klishta.

So the sutra basically says; “Those gross and subtle thought patterns (vrittis) fall into five types or varieties, some of which are colored (klishta) and others that are uncolored (aklishta).” Those that are colored (klishta) have to do with ignorance, ego-self, attachments, aversions, and fears. The simple witnessing of whether thought patterns are colored or not colored is an extremely useful part of the process of purifying, balancing, stabilizing and calming the mind so that meditation can deepen.

, and we may come to experience our true “Self” (Atman). The joys of deeper meditation come through uncoloring these mental obstacles (hindrances) that veil the true Self. This uncoloring process is an extremely important concept, and is further dealt with in chapter 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is such an important concept that it is virtually impossible to properly practice Yoga without understanding it.

Thoughts that are colored (klishta) move away from enlightenment and result in bondage, whereas uncolored thoughts (akleshta) move towards enlightenment, resulting in freedom.

Further commentary on this sutra (1.5):

To observe the coloring of our thought patterns is one of the most useful practices of Yoga, and can be done throughout the day. This meditation in action, or mindfulness, can be of tremendous value in clearing the clouded mind, so that during your seated meditation time, that practice can go much deeper.

Witnessing the coloring of thoughts means that whenever a thought and its accompanying emotion arises, you simply identify it as, “This is colored,” or “This is not colored.” Similarly, when confronted with whether some decision or action is useful or not also brings great control over your of minds habits. Again, it is witnessing, and distinguishing between, “This is useful,” or “This is not useful.”

Stay tuned, this series will continue with: Part 3 (Un-coloring Your Thoughts, cont.) beginning with Yoga Sutra (1.6)

*Part 1 can be viewed by clicking on: The Teachings of Yoga (Part 1 – Yoga Defined)

Of related interest, click on: The Problem of Thoughts & Yoga’s Solution

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

The Teachings of Yoga (Part 1 – Yoga Defined)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – Chapter 1: Defining – What is Yoga? (Concentration/Samadhi Pada; Yoga Sutras 1.1 thru 1.4)

The first Yoga Sutra (1.1)Atha yoga anushasanam. Atha is a most auspicious word. It is generally translated from the Sanskrit as “now.” Its purpose is to call our attention to the fact that a teaching of great importance is about to be given, right now, in this present moment, not “once upon a time” or in the past, or even some time in the future. Yoga is from the root yuj, meaning union; literally to “yoke,” which means to join together or to integrate. Anu is used as a prefix and it denotes after, or following tradition; implying being subsequent to something else, in this case, the students prior preparation. Shasanam is from the root word shas, which means “to instruct.”

“Now begins the scientific discipline of yoga.” In just a few simple words, Patanjali, the father of yoga, is subtly telling you that it’s about being present. But it also implies that without your preparation and full commitment, you won’t succeed. So in essence this introductory sutra suggests that after our many actions in life, including whatever preparatory practices we might have performed, now, we are finally ready to pursue the depths of self-exploration and the discovery of the true “Self” (Atman); our eternal and true identity.

The ancient sage Vyasa (organizer of the Vedas) elaborates on this sutra, naming five states of mind, of which the one-pointed state of mind (ekagra) is the desired state of mind for the actual practice of Yoga and is a prerequisite to meditation; it is also the primary skill for samadhi. These five states of mind range from the severely troubled mind through “ekagra” and finally lead to the most desired state of the completely mastered mind.

These five states are:The Teachings of Yoga (Part 1 – Yoga Defined)

1.      Kshipta/disturbed

2.      Mudha/dull

3.      Vikshipta/distracted

4.      Ekagra/one-pointed

5.      Nirodhah/mastered

The first two may be qualified by today’s mental health practitioners as mental illness. The third is common but undesirable, and the last two are the most desirable. The Nirodhah state of mind is the desired state of mind for the realization of the true Self. It is extremely useful to be mindful of the five states of mind, so as to better understand their relationship to this most desired state of mind.

The second Yoga Sutra (1.2)Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha. Chitta, is derived from the root Chit, “To be conscious” and is the consciousness of the mind-field (mind “stuff”). Vritti is the activities, fluctuations, modifications, or various forms assumed by the mind-field. Nirodhah is control, regulation, mastery, stilling, quieting, and/or setting aside of Chitta Vritti.

A good interpretation of this sutra is; “Yoga is the control of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.”

The third Yoga Sutra (1.3)tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam. Tada means “at that time.” Drashtuh is from the root drsh, which means “to see” (the soul or witness). Svarupe is from the roots sva “own” and rupa “form” and means in its own nature (or essence). Avasthanam is from the root the root stha which means “to stand” or “resting place.”

This sutra can be understood as; “Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.”

The forth Yoga Sutra (1.4)vritti sarupyam itaratra. Vritti is the activities, fluctuations, modifications, or various forms assumed by the mind-field. Sarupyam, the root sa means “with”, and rupa means “form” suggesting similarity, identification of form or nature, conformity. Itaratra means elsewhere, at other times or when (the seer is) not in that state of self-realization.

So this sutra means; “At other times, when one is not in self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, thereby taking on the identity of those thought patterns.”

Coming next, Part 2: Un-coloring Your Thoughts (Yoga Sutras 1.5 thru 1.11)

Yoga Sutras 1.5-1.6: Witnessing 5 kinds of thoughts that are either colored or not-colored

Yoga Sutra 1.7: Three ways to obtain correct knowledge

Yoga Sutras 1.8-1.11: Incorrect knowledge, imagination, sleep, memory

Of related interest, click on: The Wisdom of Patanjali &

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Advaita Vedanta

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

Using Bandhas to “Lock-In” Your Life-Force

Prana (Life-Force or Energy) flows through us continually, keeping us alive. It is this flow of Prana, which regulates the functions of our body and mind. However, when this flow or pattern becomes irregular it routinely leads to various physical and mental ailments and tensions.

Our Prana, or Life-Force is much like water; it has to constantly flow through our body in order to provide a sufficient energy supply to each of our cells. Sometimes, because of our stressful lifestyle or negative thinking, this flow becomes inhibited or disturbed. When this happens, certain parts of our body get too much energy while other parts don’t get enough. The Prana may not be reaching to some places, or there may be a stagnation of the energy at one place or another. This imbalance then can lead to headaches, backaches, constipation, sexual disorders, stomach problems or any of a host of other disorders depending on type or severity of the imbalance.

Most yoga students and practitioners are familiar with Pranayama, but it is not quite so common that they recognize that Bandha is another yogic practice that is also effective when it comes to regulating this life force.

Bandha in Sanskrit is defined as “to bind, to lock or to tighten.” In actual Bandha practice, the breath is intentionally directed to a particular area of the body and then “locked” or concentrated there. The body is tightened, retaining the energy in that part for some time. This binding or locking of Life Force has numerous benefits. The bandhas help you regulate and control all your internal systems; hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive, eliminative and more.  They also balance the adrenal system, relieving stress, lethargy and tension.

Bandhas assist in massaging of the internal organs and removal of stagnant blood. Besides that, the practice of Bandhas regulates the nervous system, slows the aging process, increases overall vitality and accelerates to spiritual development.

Additionally, Bandhas help to release “psychic knots.” Psychic knots are like whirlpools of energy that are entangled like a knot in certain areas of our body, these can occur as a result of a current life experience, or archetypal (karmic) residues (samskaras) developed over a lifetime. These knots restrict and/or prevent the natural flow of energy, leading to the imbalances mentioned above.

There are three basic Bandhas: 

1.    Mula Bandha,

2.    Uddiyana Bandha,

3.    Jhalandara Bandha.

When these three Bandhas are engaged simultaneously, it is called Maha Bandha, the great lock.

The Mula Bandha is perhaps the easiest to start with due to the fact that it’s the most familiar to us. The contraction of Mula Bandha on the deepest physical level is similar to the Kegel exercises used to correct urinary incontinence and strengthen the pelvic floor and vaginal walls after childbirth. To find the Mula Bandha, practice beginning to urinate and then interrupting the flow by stopping the urination.

Mula Bandha (aka, Anal Lock)

·         Sit comfortably in Vajrasana or Padmasana (cross legged) with knees touching the floor.

·         Place the palms of your hands on your knees.

·         Concentrate on the Muladhara Chakra (Root center).

·         Inhale deeply, completely filling your lungs.

·         Hold your breath while contracting the muscles of your perineum area by drawing them upwards.

·         Hold the Bandha for as long as comfortable, feeling the tightening of your muscles.

·         Release contraction and exhale slowly.

·         Repeat this 10 times and may be increased to 30.

As with all yoga practice, when practicing Bandhas one should also keep their awareness at peak levels. Continue listening to your body during the practice and stop at the first sign of pain or discomfort. Combining awareness, patience and practice will lead to exceptional benefits and blissful results.

*A cautionary note: Pregnant women, people suffering from high blood pressure, peptic and duodenal ulcers or heart ailments should not practice Bandhas without first consulting with a trusted health care professional.

Of related interest, click on: The Importance of the Feet & Pada Bandha in Yoga

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500.

Break the Stranglehold of Thought!

Can you become the master of thought?

Thought can become the master of us all, and as we all probably already assume, a good thought can be a good master and a bad thought can be a bad master. Good thoughts uplift us, making our mood brighter, and making us feel like we’re “on top of the world.” Bad thoughts on the other hand, can be compared to a backpack filled with rocks, slowing us down at every stage of our journey, often overcoming us with lethargy, disinterest or even violence and aggression. Hostile thoughts are especially destructive; even if we “hold them in” they tend to “eat us up” by draining our energy and vitality.

It seems as if every moment we’re alive we are continuously guided by our thoughts. Even when we’re sleeping; a good thought (as in a dream) can bring a smile to our lips, while a bad one can make us break into a cold sweat. So as long as our thoughts are our master, our mind is endlessly enslaved by them. This then would imply that even good thoughts are not really good as long as they are our master.

One of life’s hard realities is that a master/slave relationship will always result in the exploitation of the slave. This practical reality applies to all aspects of life and our relationship with our thoughts is no exception. As long as “thought” remains our master, it will continue to exploit our mind and through our mind we are exploited.

This can be quite humorous, but actually it is in fact humbling to realize that we are nothing more than a product of our thoughts; our actions, behaviors, and all that we are is just a consequence of the dominance that “thought” has upon us.

We become the vehicle and allow thought to be our driver. Now suppose this driver is having a bad hair day and decides to take their anger out on our vehicle (us). As the thought transforms from good to bad, our vehicle starts to get shaky, and all the jolting around causes it to experience excessive (and destructive) wear and tear.

My, oh my, if only that good thought had remained good, why did it have to turn bad? So, as you can see, what is a good thought today can become bad tomorrow, and it seems to do that totally by its own whimsical nature, without “you” even having a say in the matter. Now just imagine what our entire life would be like if it is continually dictated by our thoughts. We do what we do (action or inaction), in the hope that it will stimulate our thoughts (in other words, please our master), who in turn, will then gratify our senses. But we only hope for the best, when in fact, we have no control on how our master interprets what we do (or don’t do).

This begs the question; can we really enjoy the beauty of life, as slaves, without any control? If we look closely we’ll see that none of us even knows what this “beauty of life” really is, and honestly, these words will remain hollow as long as we continue to be slaves.

Time to Turn the Tables – “Role Reversal”

Now, consider what would happen if the role was reversed; if you could become the master and change the content and nature of your thoughts like you use the remote for your TV. What if you could be “genuinely” rejoicing from within, by simply willing it so, even in the face of the worst adversity! What if you could somehow “disconnect” your thoughts from the situation at hand and manipulate them to produce feelings of being totally free and blissful – in other words, you become the master of your thoughts, rather than the other way around?

The main point here is that can this be done? This relationship between slave and master can be altered? That is exactly what the science of yoga and the practice of meditation will achieve. And this is according to the great masters and the ancient scriptures.

As you explore the meditation process and begin to discover its secrets, you will start seeing situations with a new perspective, more as a “witness” than a victim. You will start feeling the control slowly flowing back into you when you establish your practice with a true spiritual purpose. Issues that would normally irritate you become surprisingly fewer in number; while an aura of peace starts to descend over you. You can start “switching off” disturbing situations and the thoughts that produce and/or accompany them with an ease that you never had (or realized) in the past.

This should certainly be reason enough to embark on the path of yoga and meditation without the need to “achieve” or “attain” any other goal?

The Siddhis – What Are They & How Should We View Them?

Siddhis are the development of super natural powers by a student or aspirant of yoga when they reach the initial level or stage of samadhi called samprajnata samadhi (aka savikalpa samadhi). In this state, we are not fully immersed in the Universal (or Divine) Self. We are connected to it only from the outside and are not “one” with it. So, there is a sense of duality; “I and Universal Self”. It is at this stage that siddhis develop (or arise). There is the common yogic concept of the Ashta Siddhi (eight major siddhis). These are:

1. Anima : reducing one’s body even to the size of an atom

2. Mahima : expanding one’s body to an infinitely large size

3. Garima : becoming infinitely heavy

4. Laghima : becoming almost weightless

5. Prapti : having unrestricted access to all places

6. Prakamya: realizing whatever one desires

7. Isitva: possessing absolute lordship

8. Vasitva: the power to subjugate all.

The Siddhis – What Are They & How Shoud We View Them?

Although Patañjali mentions the occurrence (and recognition) of 64 minor siddhis and 8 major siddhis (above) in the third chapter of his Yoga Sutras, he is very particular about warning the aspirant not to seek or be distracted by them. These siddhis become great obstacles to evolving spiritually. Patañjali warns that siddhis are not the aim or purpose of yoga practice. They are to be seen as signs that our sadhana is progressing toward the goal of unity (the ultimate goal of yoga). Siddhis are likely to tempt the aspirant, student or practitioner by powers and pride of one’s own achievements. But Patanjali says that the aspirant may be tempted even by the gods (who are jealous of mankind) to prevent him/her from reaching their goal. Steadfastness is the only way and no one should even develop any ego-sense that they are beyond such temptations. States similar to Samādhi can also be gained by various other means (like drugs) but they too are not to be pursued.

The attraction to these spiritual powers or siddhis is a common among spiritual seekers. It is an obstacle that causes us to divert from our path, thus stalling our progress towards Self-Realisation. It is rooted in our egotistic desire for fame and recognition. Because we do not yet have these powers, we can easily assume that those who have them are more advanced spiritually, even though they may be as much a slave to their past conditioning, negative thoughts and emotions as we are.

Even some of the most highly evolved spiritual beings like Swami Rama were not spared from this common desire.

I will close this article with the following story…

In his book, ‘Living with the Himalayan Masters’, Swami Rama told a story that he once met a swami who could shoot fire from his mouth for several feet. Swami Rama thought to himself that this man must definitely be more spiritually advanced that his master. Even the fire-thrower swami said to him, “You are wasting your time and energy staying with your master. Follow me and I will give you some real wisdom. I will show you how to produce fire”.

Swami Rama then went to his Master and told him, “I have found someone more advanced than you, I have decided to become his disciple.”

The Master replied, “I am delighted. Go ahead, I want you to be happy. What does he do?”

Swami Rama told him and his Master requested to meet this fire-thrower swami.

They walked for two days to meet this swami. When they arrived, Swami Rama was shocked to see the fire-thrower swami bowing down to his Master.

Swami Rama asked his Master, “Do you know him?”

His Master explained, “Of course. He left our monastery some time ago. Now I know where he has been hiding.

At his Master’s request, Swami Rama asked the fire-thrower swami how long it took him to develop this ability. He proudly replied that it took him twenty years of practice to master this unique ability.

Swami Rama’s Master then said to him, “A match will produce fire in a second; if you wish to spend twenty years to produce fire from your mouth, you are a fool. My child, that is not wisdom.”

As Krishnamurti once said; “all these powers are like candles in the sun; they are like candle light when the brilliant sun is shining.”

Of related interest, click on: The Wisdom of Patanjali &

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Advaita Vedanta

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500