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Organs of Action in Iyengar Yoga

The hands and feet are the organs of action in the body. In Sanskrit this is called - Karma Indriya. The action in the feet has a direct effect on the alignment of the spine and body and it also influences how we breath. Refining the action in the feet brings clarity towards an experience in the stretch of the whole abdomen in all the standing postures. If the right action occurs, and the pose is done correctly all imbalances start to dissipate.  In order for this technique to work effectively it is vital that the stretching of the toes is done in conjunction with the pressing down of the centre of the heel. The entire sole of the foot is felt through stretching the toes up and this action makes the centre of the heel more accessible.

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Hanging Sirsana & the Earth Element

The connection to the earth is felt through the feet when standing upright.  Hanging upside down in Sirsasana inverts the foundation to be felt on the head, but only if the head is able to rest and connect to something for support. When free hanging without support under the head - full relaxation cannot occur because there is no earth quality. Earth quality is stability and stillness.

For a student who is new to hanging, free hanging is important to ensure that the spine can fully extend and become as straight and unrestricted as possible. Only once a student has reached a certain level of awareness and there are no serious issues in the neck or spine, can they be taught how to use head support. If the instruction is too premature, it will only fill a student’s head with too much information, over complicate things and potentially do more damage than good. A student may push the head down and squash the neck, which is the complete opposite intention of the pose.  The art of resting the head with support is therefore only taught on the Intensive Yoga Courses or Therapy Yoga Courses.

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Doing and Non-doing the 2 Universal Forces of the Sun and Moon

“The asanas of Hatha Yoga practices are there to bring about balance between SUN (action) and MOON (reflection) energy, so that blockages are removed and universal life force, is able to flow freely.” Sharat Arora

Our goal in life is not to become perfect, our goal in life is to become whole. In Hatha yoga there are two components to make up this whole, both equal in their importance.  Many schools of Yoga only focus on the SUN: action component of the above logical equation. The art of non-doing, MOON,  is just as integral in order to find true peace, experience harmony and balance in mind and body. For many people, the art of doing is the easy part. The art of non-doing, and quiet time for reflection is the real challenge. It’s far more difficult and sometimes even scary to go within and be with one’s nature so instead we turn back outside for distraction, towards doing, and the whole vicious cycle starts again.

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Yoga is not a Religion, but a Lifestyle Choice….

Yoga is so much more than an everyday ‘practice’. It is more that a way of living, it encompasses all of life itself. Yoga is an inward process designed to build and increase our awareness on every level. Yoga is essentially the cultivation of attention and self awareness. What we attend to and the attitude with which we attend to things greatly influence how we experience ourselves on a moment to moment basis in the world. The more we ‘practice’ yoga holistically the more mindful we become.

Yoga is logical and can actually be experienced and felt inside the physical body via feeling healthy and spacious. When someone is healthy, in a state of ease and balance in their own physical body, there is symmetry, the organs and muscles function optimally, and they have a certain ‘glow’ about them. There is comfort and harmony felt by that individual. Natural breathing and everyday living becomes effortless. This can actually be seen and felt and maintained through the practice of yoga asana and pranayama. The connection to the known, the physical sensations and breath of the body can be tangibly felt by every human being. Our state of mind is directly linked to how we breath, which can be proven medically. When the breath is calm, so too is the mind. The use of asana and meditation practice encourage the body to be vibrantly alive and in live in a state of mental peace and stillness. By maintaining the youth and integrity of the spine, a ‘yogi’ can have a calendar age of 60+ but, be living with the spine of a 16 year old. Yoga is about increasing one’s awareness of the self, not as an individual physical being, but as part of the greater universal whole. It’s about union with body, mind and energy and creation as a whole. On the physical level, Yoga can be proved and explained through medical jargon and scientific logic, based on fact.

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Yoga & Meditation

Yoga is Meditation and Meditation is Yoga. These two paths are intimately linked and one can even say that they are the same. Nowadays many people perceive Yoga to be a physical stretching practice, separate from Meditation. This division creates more duality and misunderstanding to the truth and the authenticity to The Laws of Nature.  Yoga is all about wholesomeness, oneness, union and non-duality.  The mind and the body are so intimately connected that ultimately there is no difference and they are telling us identical stories. Being the more visible aspect of our inner workings, the body often speaks more eloquently than the mind can speak for itself. When the body is aligned, calm and still, so too is the mind and vice versa. The body is a projection of the being - it does not lie.

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Alignment, Foundations & Props

“Goal of Liberation, Goal of Freedom.” Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora

Practicing asana with the correct foundation and alignment allows students to progress safely and to advance on a path towards balance and freedom at a quicker pace. If your roots are crooked then misalignment occurs and injury on a physical level as well as imbalance on a mental and energetic level can happen. The importance of having ‘active feet’, having aligned foundations, symmetry in the pelvis and making sure that the spine operates at 90 degrees to the earth, which is the natural gravitational force of the spine (earth connection), are all vital ingredients in the asana practice. When there is awareness, space, stability and alignment in these areas, one can achieve harmony and union in all places of the body and experience stillness in the mind.

It is wonderful to use props. We use props constantly in the modern world that we live in to make life more comfortable and easy. It is not going backwards, it's actually leaping forwards. The cushions, use of chairs or stools, blankets, blocks, belts, all help to gain balance and comfort faster. Instead of walking on the journey, you take a vehicle and arrive quicker. The various props are a vehicle to get to the destination faster. What is our destination when we do the postures? Balance and Harmony. It's only worth doing the poses if the goal and intention is balance and harmony. Otherwise it’s called gymnastics. Yes, it may work on the body because the asana moves all the muscles and flow of blood, but it doesn’t go beyond that. It doesn’t even go beyond to any mental transformation.

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How To Have A Healthy Mental State Through Yoga Practice

Your mental state leads you into the actions that you make: and the actions you make affect your mental state. There are people whose mental state requires self-assurance. There are people whose mental state makes actions with a goal in mind and when they do not achieve that goal they give up. Your mental state is a totality of all the things that happened to you in the past.  How you move in life and how many challenges you experience in life affects this state of mind and this is visible in the physical being. An individual’s walk indicates their mental tendencies and how they might interact in a given situation. From this, as practitioners of Yoga we can make a holistic diagnosis. For a Yoga teacher, diagnosing a body in motion will reveal much more about the mind than the diagnosis of a static body.

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How Do You Know Whether You Are Feeling A ‘Good’ Pain Or A ‘Bad’ Pain In Your Yoga Practice?

In Yoga poses like Supta Virasana, Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) and Halasana the arms can go numb because the circulation is restricted. Imagine a dam; when the gates of the dam are closed the flow of water is cut off from its direct path and is distributed in different directions. The same is true in poses such as these. The blood flow to your arms is constricted and the blood is diverted to other parts of the body. When the arms come back down they are flushed with fresh blood. This is a process that happens in many of the Asanas; blood flow is constricted in an area so that it can be flushed with fresh blood upon release. How we interact with the sensations that come with these processes though, can dramatically transform our experience. It seems obvious that if we say ‘my arms are numb, it feels horrible’ then our experience of the Yoga pose will be certainly be horrible. How then do we distinguish between?

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What is intuition?

Intuition is a faculty which all of us have. What most of us do not know is the difference between intuition and guessing. This is what we have to build up and practise. Intuition is a faculty. Any faculty that I have needs to be recognized, until we recognize it, it is not there. How are you going to recognize intuition? It is there within you and in every single person.

To nurture your intuition you need to enhance your presence:
In my daily life I live in my mind, everything that arises in my mind I start to interact with it and I take it for truth. I have to recognize that this is my mind and I do so by being present. As soon as I want something I am no longer present, I am in movement pursuing my desires and like this I get sucked in. Unless I am able to recognize the mind and to know that I am in its power, intuition is not present and I  am in the hold of the mind.

You know the Bob Marley song with the lines 'Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind'? He recognized it, we all do. We need to recognize when we are absent and thus practise yoga to bring us back to presence. It puts our mind on hold while we are concentrating on our feet, on our breath. What an amazing thing! I manage to reduce the power of my mind. The power that the mind has over me, I make it a little less. The moment I become unaware, I am again lost.

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Everyday Spend Some Time In Peace

When I have a problem, it is an indication of misalignment. All disease it doesn’t matter which one, arthritis, cancer, all disease arises because of bad alignment. Alignment is on many levels; mental alignment or misalignment causes tension in the body. I’m not talking about physical imbalance. I’m talking about mental imbalance. In life when I wake up in the morning if I’m not positive this is going to cause misalignment in the whole day. For this reason it’s not possible to learn yoga just working on the body. One has to understand what mental misalignment is. We have to understand why misalignment happens. It’s caused by all the things that I really desire in my life, when I desire something I really want to go and get it and so that wanting, that craving causes tension. It is caused by ego, either feeling great or for that matter lack of ego, feeling like a mouse. All our desires, all the things that I don’t like, and all my fears cause stress and this causes misalignment.

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To Find Peace, First We Must Purify

Peace is like a cup that is washed, cleaned, and ready to use. The washing and the cleaning is not a very pleasant activity. If you look carefully, what does it mean, the washing and cleaning? It means you put some soap, scrub, take out the dirt or whatever is left of your food then you rinse it till the soap is gone. It’s not pleasant always, because what happens? If it’s big dirt it goes and clog the sink, blocks the pipes, when it gets blocked then there’s trouble because now you can’t wash any more. It’s trouble for you and for everyone. That cleaning process we call purification. To find peace first we must purify.

Purification is going to happen for everyone on this course. And sometimes there are some very heavy things that are going to go down the drain and clog it up and that will mean trouble. That trouble may come out as anger. When you’re angry the first person to blame is the teacher. The teacher is always in the firing range. How will it happen? You’ll start thinking ‘the teacher is wrong, is like this and that’ your mind starts to work. Or someone else is disturbing you and you blame that person. All these kind of things come up when purification is taking place. The dirt goes and gets stuck somewhere on someone else. This is inevitable.

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Skin Discoloration

A smooth, uniform skin tone is desirable to all. However, many people will sometimes undergo unusual changes in their skin, which can be displeasing to the eyes and may also bring down the person’s emotional confidence and positivity. Skin discoloration and hyper pigmentation are the most commonly experienced problems today due to the depleted ozone layer and harmful UV radiations of the sun and also some other factors, which are mentioned ahead.

There are several patterns in which skin discoloration occurs:

  1. On the face:  This type of discoloration occurs commonly around the lips, chin and forehead.
  2. Excessively dark circles around the eyes.
  3. Outbreak of spots and freckles all over the body.
  4. Butterfly pattern patch on the nose and cheeks. (Mostly occurs during pregnancy due to low haemoglobin levels and hormonal imbalance.
  5. Bluish or purple spots also known as “purpura” – These bluish purple dark spots occurs due to the lack of oxygen in the blood. The underlying cause can be some chronic disease like pneumonia, cardiovascular diseases or asthma.
  6. Colouring pigments of the skin gets affected during menopausal phase because of the huge hormonal shift.
  7. Forehead and arms tanning- This is a kind of discoloration which is something externally caused due to the over exposure of sun or excessive sitting in close contact with CFL light bulbs using mercury, as they emit UV rays and may cause photo-dermatitis.

Factors responsible for skin discoloration and hyper- pigmentation:

  1. Endocrine Glands  - Due to impaired functions of endocrine glands, the hormones in the body get imbalanced, due to which the production of colouring pigment called Melanin is compromised. Imbalance caused to this pigment sometimes leads to the deposition of dead cells on the skin surface, which ultimately causes darkening of complexion.
    Melanin is a pigment, which imparts colour to the skin and is a form of black brown protein.
    The higher the level of melanin, the darker will be the complexion of a person.
  2. Sun exposure - Over exposure of sun leads to skin burn, rashes or skin tan, which either causes redness of the skin or dark brown skin tone of certain exposed body parts. Skin tan however, repairs quickly compared to skin burn.
  3. Nutritional deficiencies - A pale complexion of a person may be indicative of lack of skin pigments, resulting from various vitamin deficiencies .The main vitamin deficiencies that are connoted  with the skin discoloration and hyper pigmentation are:
    -    Iron deficiency, calcium deficiency.
    -    Vitamin A deficiency: which causes thickening and drying of the skin making it dark.
    -    Vitamin E and vitamin C : Both vitamins helps in maintaining the healthy epithelial layer of the skin and also Ascorbic acid helps in the collagen production, thereby, preventing patchy and spotty discoloration of the skin.

    For a speedy recovery from skin discoloration, some simple tips could be followed:
    1-    Application of sunscreen lotions on the exposed areas of body even when staying indoors, as many places have CFL lights fitted.
    2-    To prevent hyper pigmentation of skin, intake of Vitamin C in the form of citrus fruits or dispersible tablets can be consumed.
    3-    Applying of mashed potato paste (raw) on the darkened portions of the skin helps in restoring the normal and rather much bright complexion as the potato contains natural bleaching agent. Hence, it’s a wonderful ingredient to be used under eyes for lightening the dark circles.
    4-    Oats, lemon and honey pack is another natural thing to improve the lost lustre of the skin and helps in exfoliation of the dead skin cells as well.
    5-    Drinking up rose water decoction, by soaking fresh rose petals in a water jug overnight in refrigerator and consuming the same next day helps in keeping the dryness of skin at bay and also brings the natural glow on the skin.
    6-    Iron and vitamin rich vegetables and fruits should be consumed like spinach, lotus stem, apple, pomegranate, beetroot, papaya, guava, strawberries, celery stalks and leaves, mango are quite a few food items which are very skin friendly and help to promote a good skin complexion.
    7-    Kumkumadi tailyam is an Ayurvedic oil which is very beneficial in promoting the radiance and good complexion to the skin.  Massaging it twice a week on the face or over the affected body part could be of great help to subside the discoloration or hyper pigmentation.

Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Dr.Shruti Bhardwaj

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Discipline with eating

To really experience Yoga and silence is not easy and it requires discipline. I hope they’ll make great food on this Intensive course but restrain your-selves. Did you know that humans can survive on a few grains? Therefore, eat, talk and interact with each other but in a disciplined manner. Eating in a disciplined manner firstly means eating with awareness.

Being aware, being patient, chewing your food, you will notice that you eat less. You can reduce your weight in one month by chewing the food till it becomes liquid, and only then swallowing it. When you chew your food the digestion begins in the mouth and so you give less work to your body and then because you give less work to your body it has more energy to do other things that are healing. What is healing? Healing is the process of eradicating what we suffer from.

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What is a distraction? It can be something as subtle as a neighbour making coffee. You can smell it and at once it puts certain motion within the head, the brain, which feeds information to the mind that’s waiting to be told what to do. Then the mind takes it on, the mind is a genie and it can manifest anything that it wants. And then suddenly you’re caught up in that. That is a distraction, you being caught up through a simple process of smelling something, hearing something, seeing something. As if we did not already have enough going on in our head.

So, whatever comes up from our head comes up because there is external stimulation. You take away external stimulation and it’s possible to have less distraction. For example, a hospital, not that hospitals are good but I’m giving an example. Normally a patient is not allowed to go out of hospital, so we provided that kind of environment here, you cannot go out and there are no external distraction so that, and this is important, so that we actually experience the sense of peace or experience silence. When we go into the sutras of Patanjali we will see that that’s what yoga is all about – minimising distractions equals yoga practice. For this reason we built the ashram for the Intensive courses, so that people can come and stay and be discharged only after three weeks of the Intensive. For this reason we told you to inform all your friends, your relatives that you are not available, you are offline. And for this reason we take your phones, laptops and books

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Change is the law of nature

‘This too shall pass’
        -Persian proverb

Change happens. Just as the seasons turn, the moon waxes and wanes, the tides come in and out, creatures live and die, and so must everything in life change. Even the deserts, even the seas, even the mountains will change. Change is the only thing of which we can be sure. Over the years our bodies will change with age, but also daily there will be changes and also in our emotions, mental state and importantly our awareness. This is why we practise every day, so that we might observe this phenomenon of nature in ourselves. We use our yoga practice as the constant by which we can measure the ephemeral nature of the human condition.

This is why it is so important to keep a regular practice, especially of the standing poses because they are the poses in which we are most grounded and so most able to measure change. As the mother of all standing poses, Tadasana is like the litmus test for our daily practice. Through correct and conscious practise of this pose we are able to tune into our present state, noticing the fluctuations that occur daily, even each minute, and coming back to our centre. Yoga practice is our anchor in the seas of change, keeping us stable and afloat.

People will tend to resist change, seeing it as a loss of the comfort of the past and fearing the coming of an unknown future. Yoga practice supports us through the bigger changes, helping us to balance life’s bigger challenges and losses and preparing us for whatever may come.

Through Yoga practice we regulate our bodies and our lives through the practising of certain asanas and sequences according to our needs. It also helps us to learn to embrace change, especially in the relaxation poses and through pranayama practice. In these practices we learn how to breathe, to locate tension with every inhalation and to let go of it with every exhalation. We exhale and let go, exhale and let go of physical, emotional and mental tension or stress. There is a moment at the end of every exhalation when we are completely empty of breath and it is there we reside with our awareness as we inhale. Inhalations happen, they are not intentional; we let them happen and stay with our awareness in the emptiness. This emptiness represents the present moment. We let go of the past and stay present and let the future happen. Like this we are prepared for the change by keeping our awareness in the present moment.

Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Maria Chandler


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Can I practise Yoga and Still Drink Coffee?

Drinking coffee seems at odds with yoga practice, as per the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre (HIYC) method, as it is very clearly a stimulant that affects our energy levels, metabolism, moods and digestion - all things we work to stabilise through our practice. To explore the question of whether we can drink coffee and practice yoga it is worth considering the effects of coffee as described in Ayurveda. Drinking coffee increases Vata and also Pitta in our bodies. If you are of a Vata constitution you may find coffee immensely stimulating to the mind, it may give you a boost, a sensation of being full of energy but flighty, unable to concentrate, hyperactive, you may suffer heart palpitations, rapid eye movement or a pulsing sense in the hands and body. If you are of a Pitta constitution you may become hot, sweaty, hungry, impatient, go to the toilet more frequently and even smell like coffee after drinking. If you are vata-pitta you will experience a veritable rollercoaster of any or all of these effects. If you are of a Kapha constitution you will experience fewer negative effects and are less likely to suffer from drinking a cup of coffee as your natural grounded nature will balance the caffeine, in fact it can help to galvanise your energy levels and encourage bowel movement. However it would still not be recommended for before yoga practice because of the over stimulating effects of the caffeine on the nervous system. Yoga and Ayurveda are about balance, between the Ha and Tha energies, in our bodies and in our lives. We do not wish to exacerbate existing imbalances but rather to even them out to find equilibrium. As we have seen, dependent on your constitution drinking coffee disrupts the balance, thus it should not be taken mindlessly with consideration for its potential effects.

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Hatha Yoga Asanas

Hatha Yoga Asanas - Is Yoga About Physical Postures?
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – The Obstacles on the Yoga Path

Most of the people start doing yoga with a physical practice which is called asana (posture). In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, a book 2500 years old, all that was related to yoga is compiled in 196 sutras. What a quiet unbalanced fact that nowadays 99% of the yoga practice is only physical and only 1% of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are talking about Asanas!

The main practice is actually at the mental level!!! Controlling the movement of the body and the breath is one step but the control of the mind, Citta, is a step forward. In the second sutra of the First Chapter, Patanjali talks about “Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodha”. Citta Vrttis are the disturbances of the Mind/Consciousness and Nirodha means the eradication of it.

What are the disturbances and how to eradicate it? The answer is a step on the path of liberation.

When you go inside, you start to understand very clearly what starts to make all the disturbances. Disturbances create suffering and come from a fivefold source: Avidya, Asmita, Raaga, Dvesa and Abhinivesa.

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Knowing the Menopausal Phase

There are many hormonal issues related to women entering their late 40’s. Many symptoms which have been associated with the hormonal imbalance are hot flushes, mood swings, lack of sound sleep, constant fatigue, depression, low sex drive, forgetfulness, weight gain, frequent urine infections and erratic eating pattern. Menopause is one of a fearsome issue for lots of women, as it’s a phase when women’s system stop ovulating. This doesn’t mean that female body stop producing hormones at all. Like adrenal glands continue producing androgens, though, it’s rate drops down. Hormonal fluctuation effects the brain chemistry. The two major and most potent chemical signals among the women’s hormones are estrogen and progesterone. They have certain influence on the neuro transmitters, which also effect the mood.  Menopause can also emerge as a premature menopause below the age of 40. This type of menopause mostly occurs in females who smoke heavily, are chronic drug dependent or live at high altitudes. Another type of menopause is the surgical one - where the ovaries are removed surgically. However, in Ayurveda, menopause is not considered as a disease but as a transitional imbalance. It is a fairly natural process, from the pitta stage of life to the vata stage of life. So, it can be dealt happily looking behind at the colourful and more developed phases of life; from puberty to reproductive phase to a relieved, ovarian stress free phase; where there is no more shedding of the uterus during mentruation and we step onto a new path ahead and become more self-aware, exploring ways to attain spiritual contentment and discovering the inner peace. See your life at large! In Ayurveda, the menopausal symptoms are mostly seen vata (air) dominant in nature. Vata dominance is linked with aging as well. However, all the three doshas gets imbalanced during menopause. Hence, pitta (fire) associated symptoms and kapha (water) associated symptoms may also be experienced.

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The Art of Practice

Sadhana Padah / The Chapter on Practice – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Patanjali, the great yogi, covered all the subject of Yoga in only 196 sentences divided into 4 chapters.
The second chapter is called Sadhana Padah. Sadhana is the practice and the one doing it, the practitioner is a sadhak.
How the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali help the sadhak? Patanjali gives us the path, the direction where the practice should lead to. When you practice, you need to know how you are going to feel. Being guided, you won’t get stuck in some mind set which you think is a very high state of consciousness.

In another chapter, he describes what are the powers that may come on your path and finally what is the goal. He is also warning you not to fall in pit holes, being attached to any kind of power. If for example you get the power of attracting money, without strong will and a good guidance, you can overuse it and get lost on the path to realization.

What are the powers, what is the final goal are not what matters for us as yet. The way to practice is what is really important to understand. He talks about the one pointedness of the mind. Keeping our mind thus our practice is focused in one direction. This is the only way to progress and achieve any result.

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The Art of Differentiation

Addressing Yoga Student’s Needs: The Art of Differentiation
Yoga Teachers Training Program at the HIYC

You may have had the experience of being a teacher of twenty-five or more students. Possibly you have this experience daily. If so, you have likely encountered the difficulty of meeting all the students’ individual needs. No matter the subject matter taught, the needs of students differ. Students of all ages have varying attention spans, differences in how quickly they grasp certain content or in the method through which they learn best (visually, audibly, experientially, etc.). Students also have different personalities depending on their genes and life experiences or upbringing. All these factors influence how successful they will be in learning and how successful the teacher will be in teaching the students effectively.

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