Saturday, 26 July 2014

Pose of the Week: Warrior II

I am due to be assessed on my teaching in September and had to choose seven main asanas. 
The first pose I chose was Warrior II. In a past life I was a journalist, a writer - and I love stories. 
There are three Warrior poses with a fascinating story of love, hate, rage, violence, sadness, wrath, compassion and forgiveness.
It begins with the marriage between Lord Shiva and his bride Sati.
 According to ancient texts, Sati’s father, the powerful King Daksha did not approve of their union. 
 Shiva was free spirit who loved to meditate and was the opposite of King Daksha who thrived on rules and regulations and was a preserver of traditional society.
 After they were married, Sati left to live with Lord Shiva in the Pleasure City, Bhoga, on Mount Kailash. 
Enraged by their union, King Daksha decided to hold a huge event known as a Yagna (a ritual sacrifice) to which he invited all heavenly creations, deities and dignitaries… with the exception of Shiva and Sati.
 Sati was enraged at the snub and decided that she would go to the Yagna alone and confront her father. 
Shiva, however, refused to go choosing instead to remain alone and meditate. Unfortunately, when Sati arrived the guests looked on and laughed at Sati as her father sniggered and mocked her new husband saying that he was a despicable character and asked if Shiva was also known as “the Lord of the Beasts”.  
Sati was so angry at her father that she decided that she would sever all ties with him which also included the earthly body which he had given his daughter.
 The story goes that Sati then sat down on the floor, went into a meditative trance and, by way of yogic exercises, began to increase her inner fire until such a point that she burst into flames and died.
 Shiva soon heard the news of his wife’s violent death and  became so enraged at his loss that he tore off his clothes and ripped out his jatars (his dreadlocks). 
Legend has it that Shiva then picked up one of his jatars from the floor and threw it down to the earth to create “Virabhadra” (Vira meaning hero and Bhadra meaning friend).
 Shiva then directed his warrior demon, Virabhadra, to go to the Yagna and kill everyone, behead King Daksha and drink his blood. 
 According to the ancient texts, Virabhadra entered the Yagna by thrusting his way up from deep underground with his sword held over his head in both hands – a feat re-enacted in the pose, Warrior 1.
Next, Virabhadra made his presence known by standing with his sword poised and ready to strike - Warrior II.
Finally, Virabhadra lidted his sword into the air, as instructed by Shiva and severed the head of King Daksha.
Shiva arrived at the Yagna and absorbed Virabhadra back into his body.
Seeing the death and destruction left behind, Shiva was no longer angry but filled with sadness.
Shiva then saught the headless body of the King and gave him a new head, one of a goat before bringing him back to life.
Daksha bowed to Shiva and called him the kind and benevolent one.
Shiva then picked up the remains of his wife's body and left to live in solitude. 
This story is symbolic and can be viewed as Shiva (Virabhadrasana) representing the higher self doing battle with the arrogant ego (Daksha) in the name of love and the heart (Sati). 
 In this pose we are not celebrating a warrior who caused a scene of destruction and carnage. 
Instead, in this posture, we acknowledge our own spiritual warriors who every day do battle with our own egos and avidya (self-ignorance) which is the ultimate source of all our suffering.

To practice WarriorII
Stand up straight in mountain, step feet three to four feet wide apart.
Raise arms parallel to floor, palms down. 
Turn right foot in to right, left foot out to left 90 degrees. 
 Align left heel with right heel. 
  Bend left knee over left ankle. 
Stretch arms parallel to floor. 
Turn head to left, look over fingers.  
Hold for five breaths.
Reverse feet and hold for a further five breaths.

The pose strengthens the legs and encourages a calm and steady mind.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Happy Baby Pose

My former colleague brought her baby grandson into work last week.
Wary at first, his large blue eyes took in all the sights and sounds of his new environment, but as the time passed his body relaxed and he became more comfortable with the myriad of adoring gazes.
His face lit up, he smiled, chuckled and then the happy little fellow grabbed his feet.
With no training he was practising the perfect, Ananda Balasana or Happy Baby Pose.
Thankfully, it's not just babies that can enjoy the benefits of this restorative pose.

If you want to give it a try, lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest.
Reach down and grab the outsides of your feet.
If you can't reach your feet, grab a strap or belt and drape it across the balls of the feet.
Make sure your ankles are lined up directly over your knees.

Lengthen your neck and release the lower back.
Stay as long as you feel comfortable, whether it's five or 25 breaths.
Just lie back and enjoy the view.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Salute To The Sun

Today was a beautiful day and I just couldn't resist dragging my mat out into the garden for my daily practice.
There is something so special about performing the Sun Salutation series under an early morning sun.
And nothing quite beats the final relaxation in Savasana with the gentle caress of sunlight on the skin.
Today's practice was an abridged version of the Ashtanga Primary Series.
Many of the asanas in this first series seem far beyond my capabilities but what keeps me coming back to this style of practice are the words of the man who created the Ashtanga Primary series, the late Shri K Pattabhi Jois:
"Practice and all is coming."

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Welcome to Blue Skies Yoga

Although I still see myself as being at the start of my yoga journey with so much to learn, it all began in 1991.

Pregnant with my first child and used to regular exercise (I met my husband in a gym), I wanted to find an activity to accommodate, challenge but soothe my rapidly expanding body. Enter yoga. I picked a book off the shelf at WH Smith – no Amazon in those days – and found myself drawn to the ante-natal section of The Book of Yoga by the Sivananda Centre.  There was a fully illustrated guide to a complete yoga session for pregnant women and I was hooked.
I practised the routine most days and despite it being my first pregnancy, Samuel James made his appearance into the world on the day he was due, after a relatively painfree birth.  The early days of motherhood left little time for exercise ,but time and again I would return to the book for a gentle workout before resuming my gym routine.

The book came out again in 1995, 1997 and 1999 when I became pregnant for a second, third and fourth time and between births I would attend the sporadic classes at my local gym. Over the years running began to take over and after completing a couple of marathons and several half-marathons I became plagued with injuries as I hit my 40s.
However, it wasn’t a physical awakening that brought me back to yoga but, rather a mental or spiritual awakening. Last winter I was in a supermarket car park and ended up having a slanging match with a woman over a parking space. When I got home I was full of righteous indignation until my 16-year-old daughter (who was with me at the time) gave me a strange look and said:

“You need to calm down mum. That was embarrassing.”

She was right. I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I could blame the stress of work and the frantic pace of life with four children but that would be the easy way out. I needed to take control of myself and calm down. The only thing I knew that had a chance of working was yoga. And so I retrieved my well-thumbed 20-year-old book from the shelf and started to practise. And practise. I found a few yoga classes to try out and I began to practise every day at home. Sometimes for just 5 minutes, other times for up to 90 minutes a day. After 48 years on this planet I have to say nothing comes closer to giving me a sense of peace and calm than yoga. And the physical benefits are great too. I am more flexible than I was in my 20s, I can stand on my head for five minutes at a time and I sleep like a baby.
The next step of my journey is to share those benefits with as many people as I can. Which is why I am now training to become a yoga teacher.

Wherever this next part of my journey takes me I will be able to take the lessons of the last 20 years with me: breathe,  stay focused and practise being patient.