Create a Yoga Deck for Learing Sanskrit

A yoga deck with old business cards. It’s a classic memorization technique with a “green” twist. Don’t toss that stack of old business cards, re-use them to enhance your memory of yoga postures.

yoga-cards 001

To make the deck, gather all your outdated business cards, and all the old ones from your plumber, realtor, and webmaster, just sitting at the bottom of your desk drawer not serving any purpose. Write the Sanskrit term on the blank side (or the side with less writing) and the definition on the other side. Presto! You’ve given yourself a study tool, custom made for your practice.

yoga-cards 002

CREATING a yoga deck will help deepen your appreciation of the meanings behind the names of the asanas, and USING it will help you keep new Sanskrit terms clear in your mind. That’s right, expand the list of asanas to also include terms you will hear in Hatha classas, such as:

  • Prasarita – expanded, or outstretched limbs
  • Utthita – extended
  • Parsva – side or flank
  • Upavistha- seated or sitting
  • Kona – angle
  • Eka – single
  • Dwi – two
  • Tan – stretch
  • Sarva – whole
  • Anga – body
  • Salamba – supported
  • Ardha – half
  • Paravritta – revolved
  • Viparita – inverted

The two-fold yoga deck consisting of asana names and common Sanskrit terms will be valuable in two ways: learning for yourself through researching and compiling a list of dozens of Sanskrit words; and secondly, ease of access to keep all the variations strait. You can carry the cards with you and pull them out anywhere. These little self-tests are remarkably effective for both learning and retention.

TIP: On each card in the yoga deck you can include a few descriptive words about the asana on the side of the card with the definition, as well as a note about variations.

3 Examples:

  1. On the back of your card for Vrsasana write Tree, and “standing pose, one foot”.
  2. On the back of your card for Sarvangasana write Shoulderstand, and “use a bolster for supporting shoulders”.
  3. On the back of your card for Trikonasana write Triangle, and “may be revolved (paravrita)”.
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Rishikesh Yoga Series for Daily Headstands

Please be sure to warm up before all exercise. This is an ADVANCED YOGA SERIES. Practice with mindfulness, the series is meant for students already doing yoga daily.

The following set of asanas is referred to as the Rishikesh Series in the very good manual, Yoga Self Taught by Andre Lysebeth (1971). It is an ideal way to begin your day and end your evening. “Subject to the most precise ruling, each pose completes or accentuates the previous one”. Do them in order, and feel refreshed after only 30 minutes of enjoyable yoga, including the Cobra, Seated Twist and Headstand. It was taught by Swami Sivananda at his ashram in Rishikesh, on the Ganges River.

We begin with an inverted posture, Sarvangasana, the Shoulderstand. This will get the blood pumping.

The Halasana, the Plough, increases compression on the neck and stretches the spinal column. Here we massage the stomach and release the blocked ribs.

Bow - Dhanurasana

In the counter posture, Matsyanasana, the Fish pose, the cervicals of the neck are squeezed instead of stretched, ultimately leading to better thoracic breathing.

From the sitting position, in the Paschimottanasana, or Forward Bend, we complete the plough by bending the spinal column without compressing the nape of the neck.

paschimottanasana

Paschimottanasana

Paschimottanasana

Bolster knees for increased support

Down onto the stomach, we find the Bhujanasana, Cobra pose, to be the third dynamic pose in a row. There is both the compressing of the stomach and the stretching of it. Elongate the neck for better release of the whole spine.

Shalabhasana, the Locust, complements cobra by contracting the lower portion of the torso. Keep the glutes relaxed.

Next is another back bend. Dhanurasana, the Bow pose, which eccentuates the previous stretches to the dorsal muscles. Be sure the big toes point together.

Rising up to sitting, from here we move into the ever important twist. Ardha-Matsyendrasana corrects any intensification of spinal curvatures that may result from successive bending.

Onward to the Sirsasana, or Headstand, crown-jewel of yoga postures.

Shirshasana
The series starts and ends with inverted postures. Upon descending from the headstand, lean onto your thumbs, which are placed at the Third Eye… hooked into the brow ridge, and let the full weight of your head be supported.

When the asanas have been completed engage the Uddiyana Bhanda, abdominal squeeze, followed by a advanced breathing (such as the Nadi Shodhana). Culminate with sitting meditation.

Ardha Padmasana

Goddess Kuan Yin in a half lotus.

Take at least 5 minutes for end relaxation, or Savasana. Scan your body for tension. Release with gratitude.

The asanas of the Rishikesh Series are:

  1. Sarvangasana
  2. Halasana
  3. Matsyasana
  4. Paschimottanasana
  5. Bhujangasana
  6. Shalabhasana
  7. Dhanurasana
  8. Ardha-matsyendrasana
  9. Sirsasana
  10. Uddiyana Bhanda
  11. Breathing Meditation
  12. Savasana

OM OM OM

Tadasana – Mountain Pose

Tada means “mountain” in Sanskrit. In this asana we stand in stillness, feet shoulder width apart pointing directly in front (which may seem awkward at first) and our weight is evenly distributed throughout the entire body. Our arms are at the sides and the spine is erect, as energy rises out the top of the head. Let the knees be soft…

In this posture we take time to ask ourselves questions, and to find insight. How does it feel to stand still, within and without? Where do I stand? Who is standing? What does “mountain” mean to me? Ascending? Descending? Where is the path?

This pose is a great antidote to a hectic schedule and frazzled nerves. It can be done anywhere and no one will ever know you are doing yoga! Stand in Tadasana and become familiar with your Original Self… again.

How to protect yourself in purvottanasana

Intense stretch to the east, purvottanasana, is an advanced yoga pose but can be done by beginners with some modifications.

It’s worth becoming familiar with this asana, due to thyroid healing effects and heart opening benefits, so, take a deep breath and sit down in dandasana, the staff pose, close your eyes, and prepare for the coming movement. Begin by visualizing the front part of your body as the direction east, the place of the rising sun, and new beginnings. For this reason it is an ideal pose to do in the morning as you contemplate rebirth and the possibilities that lay ahead in your day…

Slide your hands, fingers slightly forward, about a foot behind your buttocks and on the next inhale lift your entire body into a table position. Caution. Protect your neck by keeping it level with the floor, or even better, slightly tilted upwards as you gaze down the length of your torso.

Purvottanasana

Purvottanasana – Intense Stretch to the East

Adjust your feet to take the pressure off your knees. Stay in this position, especially as a beginner, only as long as is comfortable for you. Simply come to the edge of your comfort level and breathe into it. It’s not a competition. Be kind to yourself and keep breathing into your belly, ribs, and upper chest.

If you want to complete the full pose then one leg at a time, stretch out until you look like a plank. Always remember to protect your neck in any yoga asana. The best way to do this is to listen to your body and notice any rising tension that feels uncomfortable. If this occurs gently tilt the chin toward the chest and continue observing and listening to your body.

Perhaps this full extension is too much for your tight shoulders. If this is the case find a couch or sturdy chair on a non slip surface and rest your hands on it to complete the pose.
By regularly practicing purvottanasana, the shoulders will become more limber, but to avoid undue stiffness, don’t rush it. To quote Jerry Garcia, his ashes resting peacefully in the Ganges, “all good things in all good time”.

Reflection:
The sun shines its rays equally on all beings and things. It shares warmth and light unconditionally and dispels darkness without judgment. How can you benefit from this example of equanimity?

Each of the 7 main chakras has its own balancing chant

Seed syllables are one word chants in the language of yoga: Sanskrit. Each of our 7 main Chakras has a seed syllable associated with it, except for the Crown Chakra – it is the energy point of silence, also called Sacred Pause.

The Sanskrit word for chanting can be loosely translated as mantra. The following list for each chakra, if incorporated into a daily mantra practice, can help yogins balance their energy fields.

Shh for # 7. Purple = Sahasrara – Crown, “Thousand petaled lotus”
AUM for #6. Indigo = Anja – Third Eye, intuition
HAM for #5. Turquoise = Vishuddha – Throat, our will
YAM for #4. Green = Anahata – Heart, understanding
RAM for #3. Yellow = Manipura – Solar Plexus, “full of rays”
VAM for #2. Orange = Svadhisthana – Belly, finding one’s own place
LAM for #1. Red = Muladhara – Tailbone, “energy from the Earth supporting me”

Use the breath to help bring forward your heart and soul in each uttered seed syllable. Breathing deeply into the belly – let your diaphragm rise and fall naturally, not constricted by tight stomach muscles. Let your whole belly be loose for your mantra practice, and beyond…

The Benefits of Supports and Counter Posing in Paschimottanasana

The Hatha yoga pose Sitting-forward Bend, or Paschimottanasana, need not illicit a groan of displeasure from the class when it is given by the teacher.

The groans come from the fact that, although it is a simple pose,  it challenges students with tight hamstrings (which is most people). However, it can be done with supports to make it more enjoyable.

A folded mat or thin pillow under the tailbone, plus, a rolled up blanket or bolster cushion under the knees, make good supports for Sitting-forward Bend.

Keep the spine erect, allowing the energy summoned while doing the pose to move out the top of the head. Flex the feet so the toes are pointing toward the ceiling, or if this feels too tight at first, the toes can point toward the wall. In micro movements, straighten the spine and lean forward from the hips. Stage by stage bring your face toward your knees, but try not to curl the neck and spine. Only go as far as feels right to you, creating a circuit is all that matters and this can be achieved by touching the toes or knees with the fingers.

Supports are not intended to be an easy way out. They were first brought into popularity by the great yogi Iyengar, who still teaches in India, as a way for anyone, irregardless of the condition of his or her body, to achieve correct posture. To achieve correct posture in yoga means the ability to truly to let go of tension and doubt, a precursor to the ability to relax/expand the entire consciousness.

The image behind the Sanskrit word Paschimottanasana is of the setting sun (Intense Stretch to the West). Use the visualization of the sun lowering on the horizon to guide your movements, and ask yourself as you fold toward the front part of your legs, “how can I enter my inner self more comfortably?”.

Ask yourself, Where is my peace?

Most poses work only certain muscles groups and joints, and so it is a good idea to include a counter pose, or equalizing stretch, at the end of each of the main asanas in your session. This practice brings more completion to movements. It keeps the energy moving in a circle as opposed to moving in one direction only.  If you have ever taken a yoga class you will be familiar with a similar concept to this – as teachers have surely taught you from the beginning to “do one side and then the other”. It’s all karma really:

Every action has an opposite and equal reaction

All students can benefit from adding counter poses to their routines. An excellent counter pose for Paschimottanasa is Purvotanasana.

Translated, Purvotanasana means Intense Stretch to the East, and can also be referred to as  Reversed Chatturanga (push-up). Come out of Paschimottanasana by grounding your hands into the mat in a position that is comfortable on your wrists, and rise up through the chest, lifting the buttocks, using your heels for support. Tuck in your tailbone, and protect your neck. The neck can be held straight if letting it lay backwards is too advanced. The ultimate neck protection for beginners is to tuck the chin to the chest.

If this heel-to-floor variation of Purvotanasana is too much, point the toes down so the feet are laying as flat as possible on the mat.

Either foot position is fine. Keep breathing and go back and forth between Paschimottanasana and Purvotanasana once you become more adept at both poses. The image behind Purvotanasana is of the rising sun. While in the asana ask yourself… What is the source of my divine light? Flowing movements will increase the heart rate, so be sure to cool down slowly after finishing any sequence of moves.

Take time when you are through to quietly observe while sipping some water:

  • increased circulation
  • feelings of exhilaration
  • loosened shoulders
  • draining tension
  • deeper breathing

 

The Headstand – Sirsasana

The Headstand is called Sirsasana in Sanskrit. “Sirs” means head and “asana” means brings together in eternal cosmic vibration.

Use this posture to open and expand your thinking

Before beginning the Headstand a student should first begin with the Downward dog and Hanging forward bend. These are called inversions because they place your head below your heart. Inverted yoga positions increase blood flow to the head and send healing energy from the earth throughout the upper torso. Practice these positions until you feel strong in them, and in general, notice an increase in focus and alertness.

At the onset, learn to go into the Headstand gently. Start by lifting one leg up a wall in the Downward dog. Then do both sides. As shoulder strength increases  begin walking your hands toward the wall, while keeping a keen eye that:

  • your left and right sides are balanced
  • your sacrum is a bridge of protection
  • your elbows aren’t locked or stiff
  • your weight is evenly distributed
  • your head is free
  • your spine is extended, not constricted anywhere

Use your biceps/triceps to lift the body. Once you have increased strength and confidence, practice the Downward dog on your elbows, treating the posture like push ups, adding: legs lifted up the wall – one at a time.

At this point in learning the Headstand it is recommended that one take a class with a teacher, in order to ascertain the exact method for the Headstand. It also gives students an opportunity to do it for the first time with assistance. They call Headstands “Kings of Asana” for a reason, as this pose it formidable, and yes, a great source of power.

Directions for the Headstand

Interlace your fingers, placing one little finger tucked under, so it is protected. Keep wrists perpendicular.

Place your interlaced hands on the floor. Keep elbows narrower than shoulders, because they naturally slip out.

Do the Down dog on your elbows, and place the top of your head on the floor between your hands. Make sure the C-curve of the cervical spine is protected.

Lift off from the floor to the wall, keeping your buttock away from the wall. Balance your weight on your elbows, and maintain your alignment. Don’t drop onto one side or the other. Watch your linear and lateral positioning.

Stay in the Headstand for short periods at first, working up in duration incrementally.

Descend slowly from the position, and rise up to an erect position one vertebra at a time. It’s best not to stay in Childs pose –  as resting your head directly on the mat can block prana (energy flow).

As you move from kneeling to upright breathe into your 3 main upper torso energy centres:

  1. Sahasrara, the Crown cakra
  2. Vishuddha, the Throat cakra
  3. Anahata, the Heart cakra

Tips for the Headstand

  • If you feel compression in any part of your body come out of the Headstand.
  • Place weight in even distribution between your head and your forearms.
  • Make micro-adjustments so the top of your head rests on the mat comfortably.
  • Direct your increased energy. Visualize where it needs to move.

Spine Stretches – Yoga Routine

  1. Savasana with 3 Part Yoga Breath
  2. Pavana Mukta – Wind Free
  3. Jathara Parivrtti – Twist
  4. Full body outstretch
  5. Cakravakasana – Cat/Cow
  6. Balasana – Child pose

    Balasana

    Balasana

  7. Setu Bandha – Little bridge
  8. Sitting – knees pulled to chest
  9. Halasana – Plough pose
  10. Partner poses: half stretch; Virabhadrasana (warrior) 2; Vrkasana (tree pose)
  11. Bhujangasana – Cobra pose
  12. Salabhasana – Locust pose (one leg at a time)
  13. Dhanurasana – Bow pose
  14. Ardha Matsyendrasana – Sitting twist
  15. Paschimottanasana – Sitting forward bend
  16. Savasana – Corpse pose
  17. End relaxation – sample meditation “Imagine yourself floating on a cloud, stretched out long, without the force of gravity to constrict your spine. Breathe into the space between your vertibra, allow them to be free, and with this increase in freedom, let your mind be free as well. Play with the freedom… let the whole weight of your existence go. Allow all tension to drain from your body, mind and soul… breathe. Let your breath free you.”

Mantra for Sun Salutation Series

The Yogi of Yogis, T. Krishnamacharya, includes the following long mantra among his teachings. It was actually written in 1934, along with the popular Sun Salutation series, as part of “gymnastics” (or warm ups)  for Indian wrestlers.

It’s also a great way to stay warm on a cold Canadian afternoon!

backbend

Uttanasana – back bend

adho mukha

Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha

The asanas of the Sun Salutation series are:

Namaste
The Mountain
Back-bend
Standing Forward Bend
Forward Lunge
Downward-facing Dog
~ Cobra pose ~
Downward-facing Dog
Forward Lunge… on the opposite side
Standing Forward Bend
Back-bend
The Mountain
Namaste

The series is called Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, and loosely translated means “sun” and “bow”. Reverence for the sun as divine is the feeling behind the mantra, and the request… Please remove the darkness from my clouded mind.

As we move through round after round of Sun Salutations, we utter the words of worship as a meditation on breath and body. Both become like rivers, with rhythms of their own and revelations on the shore.

Surya Namaskar

Let us arise
Stretch our minds, our spirits and our physical beings

As we sweep our arms up and forward
We honour the earth, the heavens and all of life that is nourished by the breath cycle

As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth
We stretch thought the atmosphere once more reaching for the sky

As we bring our hands together in Namaste
We gather the space of the heavens back into our heart and breath

Acknowledging that our bodies form
The centre point between heaven and earth

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Krishnamacharya (T.K.) is credited with bringing the Hatha limb of yoga back into the forefront of practice. His flow yoga sequences are still used, and are often referred to as viniyoga. Sun Salutations are a well known example of viniyoga.

T.K. was such a potent force as a teacher that  he inspired his son to abandon his engineering career to follow his father.  T.K.V Desikachar went on to become a well loved teacher in his own right.

Both are authors. Desikachar’s 1995 The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, has become a staple for many yoga students, and T.K. achieved great scholarship in various darshanas of orthodox Hindu philosophy.

Energy Sweeps: a step by step guide

We all function within a field of energy that gives our bodies and minds cohesion. This field is also referred to as an aura, and when it gets out of whack, or stagnant, a person may suffer from a host of ailments, mild to serious.

In North America, we aren’t taught about our energy fields, except in the original Star Wars trilogy, so knowing where to begin to “adjust our settings” can be daunting. The Energy Sweep sequence can be helpful. Start by standing in Tadasana, Mountain pose.  Feel the ground beneath your feet, feel the length of your spine. Allow the energy to flow out the top of your head, all the way from your feet upwards.

Energy Sweeps

  1. Sense your energy. Let it lift your arms out to the side of your body.
  2. Open your shoulders, but relax them.
  3. Inhale and exhale at a steady even pace, finding your own rhythm,
  4. Wiggle your finger tips, let the energy flow out them.
  5. Feel your body as a vehicle of movement. Begin to gently rotate your upper torso.
  6. Increase the rotations and lift the opposite heel (from the side you are rotating to) up off the floor. The toe stay grounded in a widened stance.
  7. (Lifting the heel protects the lower back as you sweep from side to side.)
  8. As you begin to warm up, raise the arms, still extended – up up up so they are reaching for the sky, still sweeping side to side.
  9. Play with your energy field like a little kid, move for the sake of moving.
  10. After a few sweeps side to side with arms extended overhead, begin to lower the arms again, fully extended to the sides, remaining in a widened stance, and gently fold downward.
  11. Keep your pelvis tucked – tilted forward, to protect your lower back.
  12. Hold the arms out as you sweep from side to side, lowering the upper torso – down down down to the point of hanging in Standing Forward Bend.
  13. Let the tension drain out of your body…
  14. Breathe into your muscles, relax…
  15. On the inhale, begin to swing your arms again from side to side.
  16. Start the ascent to a standing posture and then repeat the whole sequence again.
  17. Go up and down at whatever pace feels right to you.
  18. Repeat the sequence a few times.

The Energy Sweep sequence can be just the right vinyasa to increase awareness in moments of fatigue, to get the heart going for increased circulation to the extremities, and loosen tense muscles. All of these can help stabilize the energy field, leading to a clearer head and heart.