Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Yoga Helps You Change Your Habits

By Jenny Ní Ruiséil, 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate

The relationship between our mind, our energy and our actions has always been an area of particular interest to me. It wasn’t until I read about the samskaras in T.K.V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga during my yoga teacher training that I found the explanation for something that for so long I’d failed to fully understand.

What Are Samskaras?

The Sanskrit term refers to the conditioning of the mind to act or direct itself in a certain way on a regular basis. It also refers to those paths or patterns along which these thoughts or behaviors travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific understanding model of how our thoughts and behaviors, whether positive or negative, become more deeply engrained in neural pathways in our brain with each repetition. The meaning of samskara is reflected in the very word itself, with “sam” meaning “well thought out” or “to accomplish” while “kara” means “the action undertaken.”

We must first practice awareness and understanding of self before we can change self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognizing our tendencies and bringing awareness to behaviors that are not desired or that go against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, or our life force, where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done. Awareness is the first step toward achieving this balance.

Encouraging new behavioral patterns and discarding old ones enlists the use of purusha, the all-seeing force of energy within us; a higher consciousness which witnesses our actions from a distance and observes possibilities and potential directions without engaging. Purusha’s powers of observation are best when the mind is clear, and as such it’s vital that we obtain clarity before attempting to redirect or encourage samskaras along an alternate route.  

Why Yoga?

It’s through yoga that we cultivate the mental ability to become aware of and change our samskaras. Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to repeatedly redirect itself away from the harmful patterns to which it’s accustomed. Yoga also helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice of yoga to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. Yoga literally helps create the space necessary to form pathways out of negative cycles.

We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. Where the mind goes, energy follows. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until they become habitual. When this is done continually and with conviction, we call it a samskara.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Vayus And Your Yoga Practice

Image Copyright: Payless Images

By Stephanie Given, Zuna Yoga 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate

“To change something we must alter the energy which creates it.” —David Frawley, author of Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization

When I first began to practice yoga, what motivated me to come back for more was the happy-go-lucky, full-of-energy, floating-out-of-the-room feeling I experienced after each class. I would literally count down the hours until I could get my next yoga fix.

As my practice deepened, that same yogi stoned feeling was no longer present after every class and I couldn’t understand why. Sometimes it seemed like a switch was flicked partway through class and I would leave feeling angry, sad, or depleted. I struggled to comprehend how yoga could make me feel this way and I’d usually tell myself that it was because the pace was too fast or too slow, that I was off balance, that the music was wrong, or that the person next to me was too close or too smelly or breathing too loudly.

Of course it was none of these! I learned during yoga teacher training that how we feel at the end of class is largely a function of the sequencing of the class. The structure and focus of a class will elicit different emotions depending on which vayus are being activated. The word “vayu” translates to “wind,” commonly referred to as currents or functions, and in the yogic tradition there are five separate vayus which govern all activities, from the overt to the subtle, throughout the body. This includes everything from nerve impulses to physical and mental digestion.

Although the vayus work together as a whole, each vayu also administers to its own specific body parts and functions. During the physical practice of yoga, ideally you’re igniting all five vayus, or energy sources, including prana, apana, udana, samana and vyana.  When a class is heavily focused on a single type of pose that ignites a particular vayu, such as twists or forwards folds, or when certain vayu-stimulating postures are held for a lengthy amount of time, emotions or memories will begin to arise. When all vayus are balanced and working to their fullest potential, optimal health is created and we’re motivated to achieve our true and higher purpose in life.

Prana vayu is translated as “forward moving air” and is the vital energy that moves inwards towards the center of the body. Prana vayu governs everything that we take in from our environment, including food, water, air, and sensory stimuli, and it increases energy and motivation. Back bending postures create an explosion of prana energy. If you’re starting your day with a morning yoga practice, it’s not a bad idea to hold bow pose (dhanurasana) or bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana) for a few extra breaths.

Apana vayu translates to “air that moves away” and moves energy downwards and outwards. It helps eliminate anything that is no longer needed by the body, including mental and physical toxins. It also governs the reproductive organs. Poses that ignite apana vayu also support your immune system and keep you grounded. Forward folds, such as pyramid pose (parsvottanasana) and seated forward bend (paschimottanasana), stimulate apana vayu. It may be better to end your day rather than begin it with a forward folding practice as an overly grounding practice can make a person feel depleted of energy.
Udana vayu translates to “upward moving air” and opens energy channels in the throat and neck to allow self-expression and speech. It helps to provide positive mental energy, determination and strength. Have something on your mind that you want to express? Light up udana by welcoming more poses into your practice that direct energy to the head and throat, such as shoulder stand (sarvangasana), wheel (urdhva dhanurasna), or headstand (sirsasana).
Samana vayu translates to “balancing air” and moves in a turning motion from the navel to the heart. Samana vayu is ignited in twists such as revolved half-moon pose (parivrtta ardha chandrasana), revolved side angle pose (parivrtta parsvakonasana) or a seated twist (marichyasana III). It aids digestion, whether physical or emotional, and gives us balance, concentration and discrimination. A practice heavily focused on twists can lead to deep introspection. It can also be quite provocative and cleansing.
The final vayu is vyana vayu, which translates to “outward moving air” and moves from the center of the body out to the periphery. It governs the circulation of everything, from food in the body to thoughts in the mind. It gives us coordination, mental balance and concentration and provides us the energy to move forward into whatever we want to set as intentions for our hearts and minds. Standing and balance poses, such as mountain pose (tadasana), tree pose (vriksasana) and warrior two (virabhadrasana II), activate vyana.
Learning about each individual vayu helped me realize that I have far more control over my mental and physical state following yoga than I’d realized. There are many ways yoga opens and mends the many layers inside myself. Although I can’t control the sequencing in an instructed yoga class, I can create my own at-home practice to include what I feel I’m lacking or need on any particular day. Some days I need to ground myself. Some days I need to fly. I can now recognize that the beauty of yoga doesn't lie solely in that happy-go-lucky feeling.

Monday, January 2, 2017

What I Learned in Yoga Teacher Training

By Stephanie Given, Zuna Yoga 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate
Upon telling friends, family, and acquaintances that I was traveling halfway across the world to take an intensive yoga teacher training in Cambodia, their reactions inevitably felt like a game of 20 questions. How long have you been practicing yoga? Why do you have to go so far to get your teacher training? What are you going to do with this? Will you teach? Will you open your own studio? How are you going to make any money? How much is this costing you?
My response was not exactly concise. "I’ve been practicing on and off since 2008.” “I’m not sure if I will start teaching right away…or at all.” “My cousin said that Cambodia was her favorite place she has traveled to, and I really want to emerge myself into the training…” “If I teach I will need to start with small community classes first…” “It’s not about the money.” “I don’t think I will open my own studio, but it would be amazing to own my own studio.” “I don’t even know if I’m going to teach…’’ My questionner and I would get lost in this spiraling circle of uncertainty and the new game would be who could change the subject first.
Deep down, I didn’t have a simple answer, even for myself. I had a lot of difficulty communicating that I wanted this mostly for myself—to better myself and to explore more deeply who I am. Yoga had changed my life. It had profoundly helped my mental and physical stress levels, relieving tension from my muscles and my mind. And who can deny the freakishly amazing "yogi stoned" feeling you get after a good class? But more importantly, through my yoga practice, my demons surfaced and finally forced me to face them.
And I wanted to dig deeper.
I didn't understand exactly how or why this had happened until I was in yoga teacher training. Most of my previous understanding of yoga had been confined to one tiny aspect of yoga—the asanas or yoga postures, which comprise the third limb of Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga. I had no idea there was so much more to yoga. It was like my childhood best friend had been living seven mysterious and separate lives! How could I have been this passionate about something and have such little knowledge? I know that I am not alone in my past belief that for a class to be "good,” it meant that I left sweaty. After every day of yoga teacher training, I would fall asleep amazed at how much there was to learn.

By studying Patanjali's writings, my eyes were not only opened to the wondrous amount of knowledge contained in yoga, but my perspective of how yoga can be incorporated into daily life forever changed. The first two limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra beautifully explain how lessons on the mat can change your outlook on life. The first limb, the Yamas), consists of our ethics, including our attitudes and behaviors towards others. The second limb, the Niyamas, is more intimate and personal. It addresses the attitudes and behaviors we have toward ourselves. Neither the yamas nor the niyamas can be practiced per se, but we can practice the third limb, which is asana, and the fourth limb, pranayama, or breathwork. Together, they make us aware of who we are, where we stand in life, and how we categorize the world around us. This begins with identifying our negative tendencies and accepting that we can change and move forward toward our true self.

It’s a whole new world of yoga that I have entered. By taking the knowledge that I have learned and incorporating it into my daily life, I am one step closer to my true self. And I am able to spread my love and knowledge to every being around me. If anyone in your life is questioning you for thinking of or beginning yoga teacher training, I suggest that the only answer you need to give them is, "How can I not?"

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Off the Mat with Anthony

Get to know Anthony, RYT500 & Zuna Yoga assistant trainer

Describe yourself in one word. 

What is your spirit animal?
The Bull Ant. Where I grew up there is a particular ant, the Bull Ant, which I remember being fascinated by as a kid. They are so animated, and seem to be ready to take on any creature regardless of its size. When I come across a lone Bull Ant hiking, I swear just as I’m about to step over it, it’s staring at me preparing for battle. ‘Ant’ is also the shortened form of my name which I've always preferred, and I like to think I embody ant-like characteristics such as strength, hard work and being a team member.  

What is your astrological sign?

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
I am a Bonsai enthusiast. It’s a bit hard to pursue the hobby as I'm often away from home, but there is a lovely couple (Mum & Dad) to whom I have entrusted keeping them watered and fertilised. I get so excited when I see new growth on my planties and love taking my time shaping these living art forms.
What do you love about Bali? 
The plant life. From the jungles, the beautiful gardens with awesome trees you find in temples; to even the interesting looking plants that sprout from the footpaths. This place is so fertile and lush compared to where I’m from, and vegetation seems to grow out of everything. I love exploring quiet, winding roads on the scooter and seeing cool trees with their huge roots grasping the road’s edge and vine-covered limbs towering above.   

What's your favorite place to eat in Ubud? 
The Elephant, with their awesome chili jam.

What are your three top travel tips? 
Get up early, don’t waste the day.
Avoid planning lots of different activities for a single day. It’s hard to enjoy things when you’re looking at the clock.
Always carry water.

What book are you reading right now? 
Wuthering Heights.

Three songs on your playlist right now? 
I don’t do the digitals but the last three records I bought were Dr. Dre ‘2001’, Alicia Keys ‘Songs in A Minor’ and Al Green’s Greatest Hits; which is on green coloured vinyl!  

One thing you're really good at: 

One thing you're epically bad at: 
Winking. I’m facially uncoordinated.

What do you do for fun? 
Singing, dancing and being merry with loved ones.

What's your biggest pet peeve? 

How did you make your first dollar? 
Child labour. I would pull a specific weed from our paddock, and Dad paid me one dollar for every wheelbarrow I filled.

What are the three qualities that got you where you are today?
Hard work, honesty, and a sense of humour. 

What's your favorite thing about being a yoga teacher?  
The people you meet. It's amazing how people from totally different walks of life can come together and beautifully share the practice of yoga.

What's your biggest challenge as a yoga teacher?  
Not spreading yourself too thin. Saving time for yourself and your own practice.

What are you working on in your own practice? 
The breath. Always working on a deeper, longer, more masterful expression of my most essential function.

What's your favorite yoga pose, and why?
Ustrasana. Give me nine full breaths in camel and I’m glowing.

What's your favorite quote?
‘Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens’ ~Jimi Hendrix

What advice would you give to your younger self? 
Life’s simple, not easy. Find your purpose in life, and never give up.  

Anthony is based in Perth and is assisting Zuna Yoga's 200 hour and 300 hour Bali yoga teacher trainings. Learn more about our staff here!