Svadhyaya is one of the five Niyamas, it can be translated as self-study or reflection. Through the process of Savdhyaya we can understand how we are integrating the Yamas and Niyamas into our lives. Whilst many of us make time in our day for meditation, asana and reading, how often do we study ourselves?
To integrate Savdhyaya into my daily life I thought about a task that I struggle with, for me it’s packing my suitcase. This sounds easy for many people perhaps, but for someone who has spent their life with some level of anxiety about packing I wondered if Savdhyaya could give me some insight about why this task tended to trigger anxiety. During the week leading up to my trip I reflected on how I was feeling and using Svadhyaya to trace my feelings back to actions I had taken, looking for root causes and then understanding how these results correlate with my application of the Yamas and Niyamas.
The first lesson I learnt was that I tended to over commit in the days leading up to my trips, trying to see everyone and make an effort to work more as I carried some feeling of guilt about taking time off. This was me not abiding by the first Yama, Ahimsa. By over committing I was doing myself harm, rushing, and spending my days stressed out. The second lesson I was shown though applying Svadhyaya was that by over committing myself prior to a trip I was not expressing the Yama of Satya (truthfulness). I told people I’d love to see them but part of me was stressed and anxious about all the things I still had to do before my trip. As result I felt like I wasn’t fully present and I know a better choice would have been to focus on the task at hand.
There were many other realizations I came to during this exercise of Svadhyaya. None of the insights were surprising to me, but it was refreshing to be able to trace back my actions to find the root of some anxiety. Of course these behaviours are present not only in packing a suitcase but scattered across my life. Embracing Svadhyaya reminded me of all the wonderful positive work I have still to do and the changes to come!
As I approached the day I got to meet my little girl I wanted to share with mama’s to-be how supportive yoga can be for labour, and delivery. Using the many different techniques, and practices that hatha yoga has to offer can be incredibly helpful for couples, and birthing partners to support mama, and baby during the stages of labour. Certain postures, props, hands-on adjustments, breath work, visualization, vocal toning, and meditation can be powerfully effective pain management strategies throughout labour.
Gratitude can’t even describe how I feel when it comes to the amount of support I had in preparation for the labour and delivery of my baby girl. I had the honor of creating a pre-natal yoga series in my community, and participating in pre-natal classes has helped me remain connected, relaxed, and peaceful during the last night months of superhuman changes in my body. Utilizing specific postures during labour will promote a sense of comfort, and ease helping mom and baby work together for delivery. My top poses for labour include:
Cat & Cow You can be on all fours or use a birthing ball if you have sore wrists. Arch and round your spine to the degree that feels good, move as slowly or quickly as you like. Be intuitive, and animalistic with the way you move. Even just swaying your hips from side to side can feel really good. Moving your spine in all directions while on all fours will create a path of least resistance for you and baby during labour.
Rotate Your Hips Whether you are standing, sitting, or being held, rotate your hips in small or large circles. This fluid movement will help you stay loose, relaxed, and open helping you ‘corkscrew’ your baby down and out the birth canal.
Intrinsic equilibrium of the spine is a concept taught by Leslie Kaminoff. Intrinsic can mean, “belonging naturally; essential.” Equilibrium refers to “a state in which opposing forces or actions are balanced so that one is not stronger or greater than the other; a state of emotional balance or calmness.”
Our bodies have a dynamic quality to them, even at rest. Our organs and joints are filled and surrounded by fluids. Our autonomic nervous system allows us to breathe without conscious effort. Energy and systems are always moving, shifting, and adjusting. Our body naturally seeks to find a neutral, relaxed state of being. So within the body, there is an intrinsic equilibrium.
I’ll paraphrase Leslie Kaminoff’s astute articulation of the intrinsic equilibrium of the spine. The spine, pelvis and rib cage are knit together in a spring like fashion. If we were to cut the sternum in half, the two sides of the sternum would spring apart. As well, the curvy bones of the rib cage that attach to the sternum would also spring apart. Intrinsic equilibrium is built into the structure. With each breath we take, we are storing and releasing energy within the structure of the rib cage. There is a dynamic, shifting quality to the rib cage with each breath. The same intrinsic equilibrium is found within the structure of the spine. If we were to cut the front (anterior) and back (posterior) of the spine apart, the two columns would spring apart. The anterior column’s job is to keep the discs from collapsing onto the vertebra; to push the vertebra apart from each other. Where the posterior column’s job is to keep the spine together. The strong ligaments between the spinous processes work hard to hold the posterior column together. Two opposing forces are at work: Pull and Push. There is an intrinsic energy in the spine to keep these two opposing forces equally working. The intrinsic equilibrium of the spine is to bring it back to neutral.
What does this intrinsic equilibrium mean to us as yoga teachers? I think it means that our job is to not try and fix or change anyone but instead to create an environment for students to connect to their own intrinsic equilibrium both physically and emotionally. Kaminoff believes this journey begins with our connection to our breath.
Creating new chapters in your life come hand in hand with sensations of worry, fear, and anxiety but when you glide through life connected to passion and inspiration anything is possible.
“The beginning is the most important part of the work”. ~ Plato
How yoga helps to support the new chapters evolve in your life:
The practice of meditation is weaved through yoga on and off the mat. When you take time to meditate you are able to slow down enough to have the opportunity to touch, feel, and process the feelings that come with starting new chapters. It is crucial to get your ego consciousness out of the way as you move forward in creating the chapters of your life. Know that the fleeting emotions are only just temporary, and don’t let them control how you write the chapters.
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting”. ~ Buddha
2. The practice of mindfulness is central to yoga and it keeps you connected to the flow of passion, and inspiration that resides within you. A daily practice of mindfulness will keep you deeply connected to your source and your spirit which will help to slay the ego consciousness that holds you back from creating the chapters of your dreams. When you practice mindfulness you are in the moment, and when you live in the moment you are able to conspire with the universe; this is where the magic lives.
“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” ~ Steve Jobs
3. Asana practice helps one burn of the physical, mental, and emotional attachments that keeps you stuck from propelling forward into new chapters. Use the fire within to burn off any expectations, worry, or anxiety that stands in your way of moving forward and enjoying the ride of personal growth.
How has yoga helped you in the creation of new chapters in your life?
A true yogi warrior leaves behind a legacy far greater than material wealth. The greatest gift that a warrior teacher leaves behind, once he or she passes from the physical realm to the spirit realm, is a gift that should never be taken for granted. The passing of a warrior leads us to light, love, and peace by leaving behind lessons that they have learned along their path here on earth.
“The lost lives of others teach us all to be more in-spirit: to be kinder, to grow in caring and compassion, creating an increased sensitivity to the oneness in the universe. We can translate these heightened sensitivities into behaviour that’s more giving and forgiving, extending assistance and cooperating with each other. You’ll discover a way of following your own instincts to be more in-spirit and less in fear and anger.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
I just recently lost a great friend and a yogi warrior to a long battle with cancer. I am sure we have a known a warrior teacher (or a few) in our lives who have passed on but have left us incredible gifts by offering themselves completely in contributing to the world by serving a cause greater then their own. A legacy left behind from a powerful warrior, like my friend Thomas, creates such amazing momentum of positive collective consciousness. The night before my friend Thomas passed I was grateful to be able to speak to his wife, who is also an inspiring warrior. She passed on my message to him. I told him how thankful I was to have a warrior like him in my life and to see first hand the positive impact he has had on our community by living a life that made a difference to so many.
There is a beautiful passage in the Bhagavad Gita that reminds me of the gifts our strongest, wisest, most spirited teachers have left us with: “The wise, who live free from pleasure and pain, Are worthy of immortality. Not pierced by arrows nor burnt by fire, Affected neither water nor wind, The self is not a physical creature. Not wounded, not burnt, not wetted, not dried. The Self is ever and everywhere, Immovable and everlasting.”
Who has been a warrior in your life and how has the lessons they shared been everlasting even after their passing?
You’ve probably heard the term, self-soothing. Most of us will associate it with the stage in a child’s life when the parent begins to let the child figure out how to soothe themselves when little things go wrong, rather than running to comfort them immediately.
We develop self-soothing skills at a very young age and most of us will employ them with regularity into our adult lives. However, some of us may be more adept at using them than others. Those who are not as skilled at self-soothing may look to parents, siblings or friends for this type of comforting all the way into adulthood. Others who do not learn effective methods of self-soothing may turn to substance abuse – whether acutely or chronically – to soothe themselves. And, interestingly, even those of us who are effective self-soothers might only use our self-soothing skills until we get into a romantic relationship, when we suddenly become dependent on our partner to soothe us, rather than comforting ourselves like we always had before.
Whether we are using substances to self-soothe or looking to loved ones to offer that comfort, it’s not hard to see that depending on external factors for our internal peace of mind and calmness of heart has some serious pitfalls. So, let’s look at some self-soothing practices that will not only help us cope during difficult times but will also allow us to reclaim a sense of autonomy, self-sufficiency and resilience.
Yoga and meditation offer us many practices for self-soothing. When stresses begin to mount, one of the most effective antidotes is a few minutes of stillness to focus on our breath.
Here’s a simple exercise: Lie or sit down and place one hand on your belly and one on your heart. Allow the breath to slow down gradually and then gently fill the torso with breath (through the nose) from bottom to top; let the breath empty from top to bottom.
Next time you need comforting, try a self-soothing breathing practice. It’s empowering to know we can manage our difficult emotions on our own. It reduces dependency and expectation in our relationships and allows us to deeply appreciate those times when someone comes to our rescue.
Try these self-soothing breathing practices intended for kids; because we’re all little kids inside, right?
What is your inner guru? As you may have guessed, your inner guru is your own wisdom, accessed by turning inwards. The wisdom of the inner guru comes to us in many ways. Perhaps you mention to a friend that you’ve been grappling with a decision and soon after you say this, the answer becomes clear. Maybe you are a creative type and your ideas seem to pop-up out of nowhere. If you are a parent, partner or business owner, perhaps your inner guru shines through most brightly when you suddenly discover new ways to meet the needs of all who depend on you.
The inner guru is evident when you find yourself making decisions with greater and greater ease – and everything works out. Or, things don’t work out but you don’t get very upset about it. As we become wiser with the help of our inner guru, not only do we feel more clear about which direction is the best one for us but we meet the less-than-perfect situations in life with more patience and grace.
Ayurveda grew out of the desire to contact the wisdom of the inner guru. It was developed by people like you and I who wanted answers to the most difficult questions we face in life: who am I? How should I live? How can I find meaning and fulfillment? After thousands of years of inquiry and experimentation, this body of knowledge has been made available to us. Ayurveda offers a host of practices for reconnecting with our inner guru.
The first step in rediscovering the voice within is detoxifying the body — gently and safely. Ayurveda proposes that toxins in our bodies prevent the free and clear flow of biological intelligence. When our body doesn’t function properly we experience indigestion, restlessness, indecision, fatigue, emotional turbulence and other physical and psychological discomforts that prevent clear thinking. So, Ayurveda says that we must, first, optimize digestion, which allows detoxification to happen naturally. We can alter our diet, exercise routine or daily regimen; take herbs, meditate or do yoga. Ayurveda meets you where you’re atand says, “What are you willing to change right now? Let’s make a plan that is realistic for you,”.
Taking an asana vacation was not something I had ever considered before. I love my daily practice and feel that is the best way to start my day. As I planned my adventure through Europe I had every intention of getting on my mat each day. I imagined myself waking up, taking my mat onto the balcony of my hotel and moving my body. Here is what really happened. I woke up exhausted from the day before, slightly upset that I had slept in, missed my asana practice, decided I must be a bad yogi, and then began a day of fabulous sightseeing mixed with a moderate amount of guilt. That was until I began my official asana vacation. After five days of guilt I decided to let go of my rigid plan for myself and to actively live the other parts of my practice instead, the parts that maybe get left as an afterthought to the physical side of practice.
An asana vacation for me is intentional time away from my mat to actively live the other limbs of yoga. This can be fantastic rest for the body, and an asana vacation can also provide some deep insight about how the other limbs of yoga are being integrated into your life.
As I began my asana vacation I noticed was that I was more reactive in my interactions with people. Whereas normally my physical practice offered me some space for contemplation and mindfulness, during this asana vacation it became necessary to intentionally take that time, to breathe a little deeper moment to moment and create that same space through breath. I find asana practice a wonderful tool to keep my anxiety in check, and without that time on my mat I noticed that I was taking moments in my day to breathe deeply and stretch my body when I could feel my anxiety rising.
This asana vacation provided me some deep insight into why I get on my mat each day, and to see if I could find those same benefits though moment to moment mindfulness and knowledge. What I found was that there were moments where I was already living my yoga off the mat, as well as areas to work on. On the whole my asana vacation reenforced my dedication to this incredible practice.
Have you ever taken an intentional or unintentional asana vacation?
Travel Yoga is, in my experience, the least convenient, yet one of the most important types of yoga. Travel yoga is, simply, the yoga we make the time for while travelling. It’s easy when we’re away from home to forget about the daily practices that make our lives richer because there are so many new experiences capturing our attention. But travel yoga is an essential practice to take with us particularly because it is our daily yoga practice that allows us to be truly present with all our new experiences.
While travelling Europe to teach yoga and play music, I quickly realized that I was becoming disconnected from myself. With all the stimulation of new environments and social interaction (as a performer and yoga teacher), I had my attention turned outward for much of every day.
There was the tightness and soreness in my body from a heavy backpack and guitar, long bus, plane and train rides and sleeping in different beds every night. Then there was the constant, subtle feeling of upheaval, having to navigate new cities (and their subway systems, train networks and airports) and speaking different languages! As such, it was very easy (and sometimes necessary) to forget myself for a little while when travelling. But this is why travel yoga is an essential practice.
Thanks to travel yoga I recovered a feeling of comfort in my body, clarity in my mind and connection to my heart. And it is these qualities that allow us to truly appreciate the myriad opportunities that travel affords.
Spending time with family can offer us a ripe opportunity to practice yoga off the mat. I recently spent a weekend with some of my family members and I was fascinated by the patterns and dynamics of relationship that unfolded.
My go-to role in the family is the middle path – I try not to choose sides or ruffle any feathers. I try to go along with the flow and avoid any family drama. I’ve noticed a shift in my role within my family during the recent past. It’s as if all my years of practicing yoga are finally seeping in on a deeper layer.
I’m more aware of Ahimsa and Satya as complementary practices when communicating with my family. I do my best to speak my truth without hurting anyone’s feelings. I do my best to practice being kind when my visceral response is so much more reactive! I remember Ahimsa to myself when I get caught up in unfolding drama and do my best to keep an open heart to all family members; remembering that we are all fallible humans who carry our own stories of fear, pain and suffering.
I practice Santosha, the Niyama of contentment and appreciate the familial time together with all of its laughable pitfalls. I have deep gratitude for the presence of my ageing parents who seem to get feistier in their late 80’s. I acknowledge my yoga practice for bringing me to a place where I can witness the dynamics of my parents relationship to each other and to their children, from a curious view point. I can stand back and see where so many of my own patterns evolved from. As a middle child, now in my 50’s,
I am much better at finding the balance of giving and receiving (the practice of Asteya) without feeling drained or unappreciated. I expect that spending time with them will always bring up stuff for me to chew on. How about you?