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Hatha yoga Archives - Peacock Tree Yoga

By the light of the… Super Pink Moon!

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The first full moon of Spring has arrived, along with the blossoms, buds and birdsong that typify this time of awakening. The 2020 ‘Pink Moon’ (named after the colour of the ‘phlox sublata’ wildflowers which bloom in eastern North America at this time) is also a ‘supermoon’, which means it looks bigger and brighter than usual. So what does it all mean for you and your yoga practice?

For Ashtanga yoga practitioners (hello, Monday night students!), a full moon will always be worth observing – New moons, too. Ashtangis consider moon days as holidays, or days when they need to reduce the intensity of their practice, because it is said 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.

Curious to know what phase of the moon you were born in?

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, 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…

Subtle energetic body

Subtle energy in motion

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 – 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 ‘chandra krama’, or 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.

Back to School?

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Even as adults, we never quite shake off the rhythm of the academic year. September brings a sense of newness – it feels as though the time is right for going ‘back to school’, whether that means taking a course, developing a new hobby, or joining a club of some sort. This is one reason why the Peacock Tree Yoga beginners course is so popular each September. But we know that going ‘back to school’ can be a nerve-wracking experience, so here’s a reassuring lowdown on what you will – and won’t! – encounter at ‘yoga school’…

Pack up yer pencils!

Well, for a start, you won’t be needing a new pencil tin to etch your name into with a compass. Nor will you be required to cover your books with posters of your favourite pop group. In a yoga class, it’s less about pens and rubbers and more about mats and eye pillows (we’ll provide you with these items in your free trial class). We don’t give out grades either; no-one is ever judged on their ability. We only want to help you to reach your highest potential – whatever that may be – and to live a joyful life in a healthy body, free of stress and suffering.

Go back to school with Peacock Tree Yoga!

At Peacock Tree Yoga, we aim to help you reach your goals.

Back to school fears…

However, we completely understand that for many people, joining a new yoga class can be as terrifying as starting primary school at the tender age of four. But we want you to feel confident about going ‘back to school’ this September – because, like these Peacock Tree Yoga students, we know what a positive impact yoga can have on people’s lives! So, with that in mind, we thought we’d unravel a few myths and misunderstandings about yoga.

Already convinced about the benefits of yoga? Then register now for your free trial class!

There’s a rumour going around…

  1. Yoga is for bendy, slim, young people. WRONG: Yoga is for everyone – and every body. You don’t start off being bendy – that comes with time, along with strength and focus. You might become slimmer – many people find that they do, with a regular yoga practice. You can become younger with yoga too – one of our favourite testimonials is “First time I’ve touched my toes in 35 years”!
  2. Yoga is a religion. WRONG: Yoga complements religion beautifully – and when we say religion, we mean any religion. Yes, yoga is integral to the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, which adopted it, but it is, in fact, a science – of the Self. Yoga gives us techniques for uniting mind, body and spirit – including asana (postures), breathing and meditation – to help us achieve optimum wellbeing and experience the ‘oneness’ of everything!
  3. Yoga isn’t challenging enough for sporty people. WRONG: Yoga can be incredibly challenging – especially for sporty people! Have you ever tried stretching a muscle that’s more familiar with being in a state of contraction?! Or using muscles you didn’t even know you had? Well it’s high time you did, especially if you want to enhance your sports performance!
  4. Yoga is about following rules. WRONG: Yoga shows us how to use our own wisdom to make the best of ourselves and the situations in which we find ourselves. Having said that, we do ask our students to observe some Yoga Etiquette!
  5. Yoga is expensive. WRONG: Yoga is cheap when you consider the cost of having a bad back, a sport injury, or a stressful life – all of which can be alleviated or avoided with yoga. Or when you compare the cost of a class to the cost of that takeaway coffee you buy each morning, the bottle of fizz you put in the fridge for Friday night, or any other indulgence… Indulge your mind and body instead – or as well, if you must!
  6. Yoga is boring. WRONG: A good yoga class leaves you feeling invigorated, relaxed, determined, focused and, yes, happy! And at Peacock Tree Yoga, we occasionally take it further – celebrating the likes of Hallowe’en, Bonfire night and Christmas by practising in costume!

So now you know the truth…

Are you feeling a bit more confident about going back to school? Are you ready to make a commitment to your physical and mental wellbeing, and discovering new ways of coping with everything life throws at you? Then head over to our Yoga Essentials page for a complete break-down of what you can expect from our twelve-week course, and to find out how you can register for your FREE trial class.

Still don’t believe it’s for you? Then watch at this time lapse film we made in one of our Yoga Essentials (beginners) classes – what’s not to love?! Hope to see you soon!

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.