What is Yoga? – Julia’s final Exam during ISHTA Yoga Teacher Training

YOGA
Union. Union of body and soul. Union of male and female. Union of positive and negative. Union of sun and moon. Union in Love. The biggest illusion is that we are separate. We are all one. We all came from love; we all are love in our innocent state of nature. We – our souls – are having a human experience to learn what love is. The world programmed us differently. The universe send us to experience fear, the opposite of love. Our purpose on earth is to find our way back to love and to help others on the way.
The world is in desperate need for more kindness. Yoga is a centuries old method to return to our inner true self, to the love within. In our essence we are love. Yoga does not use fear but joy to reveal who we are and what we are capable of.

In our western world we mainly think that yoga is all about crazy postures, bringing our leg behind our head and standing head over for hours. Common prejudices are, that it is aerobics for ladies only etc. Yoga is a path and we can practice it everywhere, any time in any age with or without any gender on and of the mat. Pantajali one of the fathers of yoga describes yoga as a method to our inner self in 8 steps. Our innerself can only be when the mind is quite.

He established 10 qualities of goodness which we should apply as good as we can to ourselves and others day in day out. Those guidelines are called Yamas and Niyamas.
The next one is what is commonly understood to be yoga: Hatha. It is active meditation. We silence the mind while using ancient body postures to get into our body. Those postures are called asanas. And the importance here is not to use the body to get into the posture, but to use the posture to get into our bodies (physical as well as our energy bodies). Besides the active meditation the postures also provide strengthening and stretching of our body, so we can sit still and without pain in meditation.
Pranayama is also a form of meditation. Focusing on the controlled moving of our prana, energy and breath. The quietness of the mind and the rhythm of our breath are interconnected. When we can control our breath we can control our mind. The last 4 steps of Pantajali’s method can be summarized in meditation. Whereas we slip from one into the other in the progress. First Pratyahara the control of the senses. Besides actively withdrawing one of our senses e. g. closing our eyes in meditation, it can also mean the withdrawal from attachment to external objects. Our senses are the base of cravings.
After Pratyhara follows Dharana, focus or concentration of the mind on one point of awareness, commonly referred to the actual act of meditation. Meditation can be defined as the uninterrupted focus on the subject of the meditation.
Dhyana refers to worship in meditation. The one pointed awareness here has the intention to reveal the universal truth which lies within us. Freeing us from the illusional world we live in. All fear vanishes and we come back to our natural state of bliss. In the final step Samadhi we become the divine. We are in the Universe and the Universe is within us. Commonly this state is referred to enlightenment. The body and senses are in rest. One goes beyond consciousness.

Following the steps with intention will dramatically improve ones health and wellbeing; mentally, physically and emotionally. Understanding that yoga is a path to happiness and not a workout session is crucial. Nevertheless, we all have our individual paths which should be supported. Someone might come to a class to loose weight and along the way feels/realizes that yoga is so much more. Guiding as a silent example is key, the realization has to come from within.

Even on the mat we can practice the other 8 limbs. Steady the mind while holding a pose – Dharana. Accept your limitations – Santosha (Contetment, one of the Niyamas). Test your honesty, are you willing to work with clear alignment or do you just want to look good in the pose – Satya (Truthfullness, one of the Yamas). Not practicing with pain, or practicing in competition – Ahimsa (non-violence, one of the Yamas). Closing your eyes and bring the attention into the body and moment – Pratyhara. Just to name a few. There is nothing wrong if we just go to a class to stretch, but we can give it so much more if we practice with intention. Choosing to invest our time in the human experience to go deeper instead of staying on the surface, our programmed minds. We are limitless, we are happiness and love. We just need to break the boundaries to be free again.

Pantajali’s limbs are part of Raja Yoga. Raja, king, is the royal method and mainly uses meditation as the path to bliss.
But also the other 3 methods can guide you there. There is Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion and divine love. Karma Yoga, the yoga of action. The action is offered to the divine.; not expecting a certain outcome or anything in return.
Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge. The freedom of limitations is the discovery of our true wisdom which lies within us. To know that means to be free.
Expectations are the universe’s way to make fun of us.
Be free of judgment, everyone is on their individual path to return to love.
We are union, we are all one, we are love. We are Yoga.

Yoga for Swimmers

Yoga seated twist
Yoga for swimmers

Yoga seated twist to the right

Did you know that yoga can also improve your swimming performance?

In crawl style swimming you will highly benefit from a mobile thoracic spine (roughly the area of your spine starting at the end of the neck and ending just underneath your rip cage). Turning your torso efficiently will result in great strokes. There are many different spinal twists that can help you to mobilize and strengthen this part of the spine. One simple one we would like to introduce to you today you can see on the picture. Also a great warm up 😉

How to do it: Sit up right with a straight spine. If cross-legged sitting is not for you, sit back on your heals instead. Bring your shoulders up, back and down. Arms into cactus, your elbows in one line with your shoulders. Leave the shoulders relaxed and down and activate your hands too (remember, there are no lazy parts in yoga 😉 ) Inhale, open your chest and bring your shoulder blades together. Exhale twist around your midline to the right. Try to leave the spine in the centre and feel how your upper upper body is performing the twist. Inhale back to the centre. Exhale, twist to the left. Continue a few rounds.

Photos by Oliver Förstner Yoga Photos

Equal breathing (Sama Vritti Pranayama) for stress reduction

Let’s refer to pranayama simply as breath control. There are different techniques. One easy one to get started is equal breath pranayama. As the name says, your aim is to equalize the length of your inhale and the length of your exhale. It is known to reduce stress and anxiety.

Sama Vritti Pranayama
Sama Vritti Pranayama

How to do it:
Sit comfortably with a straight spine and a little curve in your lower back, to uplift your rips and have a lot of space in your upper body to breath deep. Close the eyes and just observe your natural breath for a moment. After a few breath start counting to four with your inhale. Take a short pause to feel the lunges filled with oxygen, then start the exhale with the same length: a count of four. Pause. And start again. The count of four is a suggestion. If you feel it is too long, start with three until your comfortable with this breathing exercise. If you feel four is too short take five. Try to find the number you can breathe easy but deep and feel no stress to reach a certain number, the most important part about this exercise is to make the in- and exhale the same length and relax while you do it. Follow this pattern a few minutes. Then let go of the control and feel in to your natural breath again before you gently blink your eyes open. Congratulations you just practiced sama vritti pranayama.

Photo by Oliver Förstner <3