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Anuloma viloma Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

By the light of the silvery moon…

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Something big and special is in our midst, according to the world’s astronomers and astrologers. You might even have seen one of the many online articles about it – ‘it’ being the November 2016 Supermoon. This full moon, we’re told, will be one of the best for a long time to come due to its proximity to the earth.

For Ashtanga yoga practitioners, a full moon will always be worth observing. New moons, too. Ashtangis practising in the traditional way (as taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois) consider moon days as holidays. Guruji, as the tradition’s founding father was affectionately known by his students, told his students that when the earth, sun and moon are all in a straight line in space, universal energy is much stronger, and the possibility of injury is greater – hence, asana practice should be avoided.

The Jois family has a strong background in Vedic astrology, which should be taken into consideration when we speak about the importance of the phase of the moon to Ashtanga yoga. It’s worth noting, too, that Guruji himself was born on a full moon, giving him the ability to “bring consciousness to bear on the hidden dimensions of life”, according to one astrology website. Why not find out what phase of the moon you were born in?

Subtle energetic body

Subtle energy in motion

But it’s not just in the Ashtanga yoga world, where we find respect for the phase of the moon, and encouragement to slow down and adapt our practice. Hatha yoga, which we can consider as the umbrella term for all forms of physical yoga practice, including Ashtanga vinyasa, is all about balancing heightened and subdued energy – whether these are brought about by the phase of the moon, or the time of the year.

What goes up…

According to Satyananda Saraswati, author of the popular contemporary text on Hatha yoga, ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’, during the full moon cycle, pranic energy (prana vayu) is dominant. This pranic energy is upward moving – through the spine and towards the head. When this happens, we tend to experience an increase of internal fluid, physical energy and mental activity.

During the new Moon cycle, apranic energy (apana vayu) is said to be dominant. Apranic energy is downward moving – towards the base of the spine – making this period one of elimination and reduction. People will often notice a loss of internal fluid, dry, stiff muscles and joints, decreased physical and mental energy, and a sense of lethargy and moodiness.

The ebb and flow of nature

Western science is pretty much on board with the idea that the phase of the moon can affect our energy levels. We know that our bodies are made of 70% water, and that this makes us vulnerable to the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, much like our oceans and seas. The science doesn’t end there, either, with yogic notions of energy and the movement of energy corresponding with Western medicine’s understanding of the nervous system.

The energetic body

PTY full moon blog anuloma viloma

Anuloma Viloma balances energy

In yoga, we have the concept of nadis, which are believed to carry this life force known as ‘prana’ (in Sanskrit) or ‘qi’ in Chinese-based systems. We can think of nadis as invisible veins running throughout the body. The most important ‘vein’ is the shushumna nadi, which corresponds with the spine and is the vessel for awakened Kundalini energy – energy which rises and leads to enlightenment!

Two other significant nadis are the Ida and Pingala nadis – and these are often compared to the two hemispheres of the brain; Ida reflecting the left side, and Pingala the right. Prana (active energy) circulates inside Pingala, while apana (passive energy) flows through Ida. For optimum health and spiritual wellbeing, Hatha yoga tells us we must ensure that these energies work in harmony with each other.

The physical body

The autonomic nervous system (which we can sum up as ‘all the things our bodies do without our conscious involvement’ – a beating heart or a perspiring forehead, for example), is comprised of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic system prepares the body for ‘fight or flight’ during stressful situations, by raising the heart rate, releasing adrenalin and firing up the muscles. The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, operates during normal situations and is there for responsible for things like digestion and the conservation of energy.

If we’re constantly stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, be it with activity, stressful situations, or a full moon, we’re at risk of activating the parasympathetic nervous system so much so, that it becomes the norm. And as a result, so too does high blood pressure, inability to sleep, and a damaging expenditure of energy. Conversely, if we’re only ever in a state of rest, we will never get anything done! And so it is that we must find a balance between the two.

Yoga for a full moon

In Ashtanga yoga, many practitioners will gladly take a day off during a full moon, such as the one on November 14th – and understandably so, since they do generally commit themselves to six early morning practices a week! Many others will adapt their practice, often taking their lead from a ‘moon sequence’ devised by world-renowned Ashtangi, Matthew Sweeney (see video, below).

In our classes this week, we will observe the Supermoon and bring about energetic balance by focusing on twists, and along with postures which give us a sense of being grounded – tethered and resistant to the unbalancing, upward pull of the full moon. We’ll also utilise Anuloma Viloma and spend time in Tratak meditation – a way of focusing the mind, whilst honouring the light in our Selves and the light of the sun, reflected on the surface of the full moon.

Working with the Autumn equinox

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As the children fall back into their academic rhythm, as you pack away your shorts and vests for another 6 months or so, and as the last roses of Summer drop their petals in response to the dip in temperature and the lessening of light, we reach the Autumn equinox – that moment in the year when light and dark are of equal measure, and when we find ourselves on the precipice of change.

Pranayama for the Autumn Equinox

Pranayama for the Autumn Equinox

It’s a time that can be very exciting – who doesn’t enjoy the prospect of a nice new pair of tights, a crackling fire, or a stomp through crunchy leaves?! But it can also be unsettling – after the heat and romance of Summer, a cold, dark winter isn’t always such a cheery prospect. But we can overcome this feeling – and indeed, capitalise on the time of the year – by mimicking nature, by finding the same balance of light and dark in ourselves.

Finding balance through yoga

Yogis love balance, whether it comes in the form of a stable posture, an even breathing pattern (anuloma viloma is particularly helpful for establishing balance), or the avoidance of excess – the ability to make choices that serve the Self, and not the ego. Yoga teaches us to find a balance between effort and rest, elimination and assimilation, yang and yin. And in this way, yoga gives us tools for maintaining energetic and emotional balance in our lives.

As the days shorten, it’s common to find our energy levels dipping. When this happens, it’s easy to reach for seemingly easy solutions – we might simply increase our coffee consumption, for example. But that only chafes against nature’s cycles. We know, really, that we’d benefit a lot more by taking a nap or going to bed an hour earlier. And we know this because it’s what our inner wisdom tells us. Our job, then, is to listen to the wisdom inside – to hear her when she tells us to slow down, speed up, resist, or pursue.

How to hear…

recogniding the light within with anjali mudra

Anjali (‘salutation’) Mudra

According to Hindu tradition, along with many other cultures, that innate wisdom comes from the heart – and each sun salutation we do is a reminder of this. The sun is a symbol of consciousness and self-illumination, and by putting our hands in prayer position front of our hearts (anjali mudra) at the beginning and end of each sun salutation, we acknowledge that the sun, or the light, resides in all of us.

Each time we practise yoga, we have an opportunity to connect with our inner light and receive its wisdom; our bodies, our minds and our choices become further refined in the laboratory that is our yoga mat. With asana, we can nourish or strengthen weary limbs. With pranayama, we can soothe an aggravated nervous system. And with the awareness of our needs that comes with these physical practices, we can learn how to meet the pressures of life – and the Autumn equinox – with equanimity.

Want to walk the path together? Join us for our next Yoga Ninja workshop on September 24th!

Finding balance with the Spring equinox

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The wisdom of the Spring Equinox…

There are few things in life one can be sure of, but we find constancy in the celestial bodies; every year, we move through periods of time when the days are longer than the nights and vice versa, and every year, we arrive at two points in the calendar when there is an equal amount of light and dark. We are currently standing at one of these points: the Spring equinox.

spring equinox

Tolasana – scale pose

The Spring equinox, or Vernal equinox as it is also known, marks the moment when the plane of the Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the sun.

Nature has a habit of establishing balance – a habit our yoga practice can help us to emulate. Indeed, if we break down the word hatha, as in hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, which prepares the mind and body for the practice of meditation), we get the Sanskrit words ‘ha’ and ‘tha’, which can be translated as ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ (or light and dark).

3 good reasons why humans need balance

  1. Enlightenment!

We find a very encouraging answer to this question in one of the most well-known contemporary texts on yoga, ‘Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha’ (written by Swami Satyananda Saraswati and published by the Bihar School in India):

“The main object of hatha yoga is to create balance between the interacting activities and processes of the pranic [energetic] and mental forces. Once this has been achieved, the impulses generated give a call of awakening to sushumna nadi, the central pathway in the spine, through which the kundalini shakti rises to sahasrara chakra, thereby illumining the higher centres of human consciousness.”  (pg 11, 1996 edition)

Wow!

  1. Physical wellbeing

spring equinox

Inhale and open…

Even without the promise of higher consciousness, yoga gives us reason to mirror the state of balance that comes with the Spring equinox. In a passage we can perhaps relate more easily to our day-to-day lives, the same text explains that the balancing practices of yoga (postures and breathwork) can help us maintain a healthy body and avoid fluctuations in our energy levels.

The sun salutations alone show us how yoga is fundamentally a practice of balance. We inhale and lift the arms, opening the body in the process. And then we exhale and fold forward, closing ourselves up again. We inhale as we step back with one leg and lift (open) the chest, and exhale as we step into plank and lower ourselves towards the ground. We open and we close, expand and reduce, inhale and exhale…

Anuloma Viloma, also known as Nadi Shondana pranayama, is a particularly helpful breathing technique for promoting evenness in both the mind and body. It can also provide a wonderfully cooling counterbalance to an asana practice which is designed to increase heat and strength in the body. Click here for full instructions on how to perform Anuloma Viloma.

  1. Mental stability

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer us further motivation to align ourselves with the Spring equinox, with the concept of Brahmacharya (the fourth of the five Yamas), which is widely understood to mean ‘moderation of the senses’. By learning to manage the way we respond to our sensory desires and aversions – by gaining control over them, by consciously choosing to indulge them or not– we are able to maintain a state of equanimity.

This is useful on a practical level because in life, there are ups and downs, some more pronounced than others. We can’t control all of these events, but by practising Brahmacharya, we develop the ability to choose how we respond to them. By becoming aware of our habits and tendencies, we can also see where our excesses are causing energetic and emotional imbalance – and alter our actions and habits accordingly.

One particularly effective exercise is to try giving up something with which you associate your happiness (eg. coffee, chocolate, Facebook, buying clothes, watching telly) – a challenge we set our yoga students every year, to coincide with Lent (you can read more about this in the previous Peacock Tree Yoga blog.

Vastu-samye citta-bhedat tayor vibhaktah panthah

I received a wonderful teaching at a Jiva Mukti class recently, which offers us yet another way of understanding objects and the way we see and feel about them. The chant written above tells us that each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.

Everything in moderation (even moderation itself!)

As anyone who’s tried it will know, giving up any of the pleasures of the sensory world, even if only for one week, is no mean feat – it’s easy to fall off the moderation wagon. This is all part of the exercise, since the experience serves to heighten our awareness of how we relate to things (“That chocolate bar will make me happy…”) and how our choices regarding them affect our mental and physical wellbeing (“…but now that pleasurable sugary moment has passed, I feel nothing but a dip in my energy levels”).

As long as we remain mindful of our choices – of how we respond to the objects and events that are happening around us – we can be ‘masterly’ in our behaviour.  And if we can master the art of equanimity – a state of being that’s given definition in Rudyard Kipling’s wonderful poem, If – we can stay calm and remain peaceful, come light or dark.