Fasting is frequently used in yoga practise to facilitate transformation not only on the physical level but also on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Whilst it may not suit everyone, most people who have tried it often experience profound benefits.
Here is a BBC documentary I came across recently made by a british GP who was exploring the benefits of fasting.
Sadly ashtanga and injuries are two words that you often hear together. However this really needn't be the case as there is nothing within the Ashtanga system per se that would lead to injury. I have an advanced practise and have not suffered from any injuries now for years. The key to this is by focussing on breath, bandha and a careful body awareness. I came across this article by Janet Meredith about David Williams I decided to post it below because it clearly sets out David's view on how to practise yoga deeply and safely - and into your nineties!
Do yoga daily!
Does that sound like it takes a great deal of discipline? David Williams thinks not, as he has been practicing the Ashtanga system of yoga daily, with the exception of moon days and Saturdays, since 1973. David is a dedicated practitioner, because he is fascinated by yoga and its many benefits . To him, discipline implies punishment. Upon meeting the very fit and energetic fifty five year old David, the benefits of yoga become readily apparent.
These are just some of the astute observations of David Williams during a four day workshop I attended. Beginning September 30, 2004, my view of yoga was changed forever. The workshop was an almost 180 degree turnaround from my strict alignment based training of the past eleven years. If it hurts, you are doing it wrong, was a principle theme of David's workshop. Based on the number of injured Ashtanga
yogis I have met, perhaps this is a very good rule to follow. He shared with us the Ashtanga system of yoga as it was taught to him by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. It is a bit different than one might experience at a led Ashtanga yoga class in the west where competition plays a large cultural role. When David first ventured to Mysore there were not any led group classes and yoga was only taught individually and passed
along to others in the same manner.
David's fascination with yogis was what led him to India in 1971, for he desperately wanted to learn “the yoga”. Through serendipitous events and some hardship, he eventually met his teacher, Pattabhi Jois. One evening, Manju Jois (Pattabhi's son) was performing a yoga demonstration where David expressed his sincere desire to learn. However, Manju said he was traveling and had no organized classes. He had learned from his father. Manju also told David that his father only taught Brahman men. Upon meeting Pattabhi in the flesh, David's enthusiasm and sincerity were so apparent that he agreed to teach him. David was instructed for four months, learning the first, second, and half of the third series of Ashtanga yoga. When David's visa expired he returned to America and began teaching classes at a yoga and kung fu studio.
Soon thereafter, Pattabhi Jois contacted David wanting to come to America. David arranged what would be considered in today's terminology a "workshop". Each student
contributed enough to pay for Jois and his son, Manju, to come to America. Jois and Manju stayed for four months. During the workshop, David told us the story of Ashtanga yoga and how it came to be taught by Pattabhi Jois in India. It is as follows: Krishnamacharya was the head professor at Maharaja's Sanskrit College in Mysore. He decided he wanted to learn yoga and ventured to Mt. Kailash in Tibet and then Varanasi in search of a yoga master. Daily for eight months, Krishnamacharya would request to meet with the master and daily for eight months, he was refused. One day, his request was honored and after passing a rigorous Sanskrit test, Krishnamacharya was invited to learn yoga. Upon completing his eight years of training, he returned to the Maharaja's Sanskrit College in Mysore.
It was only a short time before fourteen year old Pattahbi Jois became one of Krishnamacharya's students and began to learn the Ashtanga system of yoga. Jois tells that he was basically an apprentice to Krishnamacharya and had to beg to be taught yoga. A few years later, the asthmatic sixteen year old nephew of Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, came to Mysore. Iyengar's family sent him to his uncle to learn yoga only after exhausting all other possibilities of treatment for his lung/breathing disorders. Jois taught the sickly teenager. Later Krishnamacharya decided to retire and move to the coast, leaving Jois in charge of the yoga program. Jois was twenty-three at the time. Jois became a Sanskrit Vidwan (master) aswell as the yogasana teacher at Maharaja's Sanskrit College.
David’ s first focus is on the moolabandha, deep breathing, and continuous one pointed concentration. “If it hurts, back off. If it is one millimeter past a stretch back off. That way no one gets hurt”, mused David. He suggested we use our breath to move ourselves into a posture, rather then pulling or tugging on toes, legs or arms. He also stressed the importance of symmetry. Everyone is stronger, tighter, weaker, etc. on one side. Try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand! “Openings" as so beamingly referred to by some are actually tears and rips, David asked that no one have an "opening" during his workshop!
Here are some differences between most ashtanga classes I have attended and David’s workshop, they are:
David stayed on his mat during practice and led the class by doing the asanas with us, rather than moving about the class. David taught us that if moola bandha is being properly done, the uddiyana is automatically engaged. The gazing point in most forward bending postures is the navel, rather than the toes. This engages the chin lock, as instructed by the Yoga Scriptures. He said that if someone has their chest completely on their thighs and chin between legs, then they can look up and gaze at toes, however this is not appropriate for those who cannot get their head to their knees, and does not give the benefits of the chinlock. Keeping the head down completes the natural curve of the spine and allows for the aid of gravity. David's dialogue does not include many Sanskrit words and he believes that knowing Sanskrit does not make someone a better yogi. The opening and closing chant are not taught because he has found that some students have no desire to invoke Hindu Gods. David teaches from his mat and claims that most people learn better by observing as well as hearing instructions, rather than just listening. He says that savasana is the MOST important part of practice. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Savasana or corpse pose is the time when our body utilizes the prana created by the breath and moola bandha. Prana is life force; prana heals us. Keep the body and the mind still; do not think (because mental energy is more taxing than physical). Our genetic code and DNA know exactly where healing is needed and will automatically send prana to that area. Cover up with lots of blankets to keep the internal heat as long as possible. David suggested that if one is at home, get in bed under the covers! Depending on one's physical limitations, David may ask someone to repeat sun salutation A and sun salutation B three, five or even ten times, then return the next day for more of the same or to add new poses.
When instructing privately, David has time to fully assess each individual, their capabilities, goals, and injuries. During a group class there is not time for that special attention, therefore he does not teach headstand or shoulder stand during first series because he does not want even one person to injure themselves. He also talked about resting on moon days and Saturdays.
Consistency is the key. When Jois taught David in Mysore, there were no vinyasas between right and left sides. This began in California because classes became so popular and crowded that Jois added vinyasas to make certain everyone mastered the basics.
After more than twenty years of exclusively teaching private classes, David has recently
decided to travel and instruct groups in an effort to introduce the original ashtanga system as it was taught to him by Jois. David does not refer to his workshops as teacher trainings; he wants to appeal to everyone and even though someone may be a student with no intention of ever teaching, no one knows the future. One may end up teaching many people or perhaps just a friend. He considers us all potential teachers.
Most yoga in our lives will be practiced alone so we need to make it fun and make it feel good; that is the key to being able to do yoga at age ninety! A minimum of ten
minutes per day. Sun salutations A and B along with the three finishing postures. It sounds easy. The question is ... are you fascinated enough?
I found this article on LiveLeak.com talking about the use of yoga to enhance competitive sports performance.
As a practise yoga will improve strength, flexibility, concentration and wellbeing so it is not surprising that it is finding a place in professional sports. However this article also encourages the spiritual dimensions of yoga to be incorporated into
Ray Lewis, famous American football linebacker from Baltimore Ravens, reportedly told the Chicago (USA) media today: “I’m talking about an hour-and-a-half yoga classes at times. And the crazy part about it is, once you actually get into it a good two or three times, you really miss if you don’t do it. It stretches you that much.”
Lewis, first linebacker to win Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award on the winning Super Bowl team, has been reportedly doing yoga in the offseason for the past two to three years.
Yoga reportedly makes a great complement to athletic training and various types of athletes are
incorporating the practice into their training for bettering sports performance by improving flexibility and functional strength, building muscle energy and stamina, preventing sports injuries, dealing with stress, overcoming back pain, improving breathing and focusing, increasing endurance, etc.
Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, extended invitation to yoga practicing athletes to explore the spiritual dimension of yoga also because actually yoga is a mental and physical discipline by means of which the human-soul (jivatman) unites with universal-soul (parmatman).
Yoga, referred as “a living fossil”, was one of the six systems of orthodox Hindu philosophy, Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said and urged athletes to take a look at the rest of the five
schools also. According to Patanjali, author of the basic text, the Yoga Sutra, who codified yoga after being founded by Yajanavalkya, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical, Rajan Zed added. Famous athletes whose names have been reportedly associated with yoga practice include Eddie George (football), Al Leiter (baseball), Justin Gimelstob (tennis), David Duval (golf), Barry Zito (baseball), Sean Burke (hockey), Diamond Dallas Page (wrestling), Kevin Garnett (basketball), etc.
Many books and DVDs on the subject have flooded the market, including Teaching Yoga
to Athletes, Yoga for Athletes, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, Yoga Conditioning
for Athletes, Real Men Do Yoga, The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, Extreme Yoga
DVD for the Warrior Athlete, Yoga for Every Athlete—Secrets of an Olympic Coach,
Power Yoga for Athletes, Cross Training with Yoga—Improve your sport with Yoga,
Warrior Yoga - Yoga for the Martial Athlete, Yoga for Firefighters and Athletes,
Unlocking Athletic Power - Power Vinyasa Yoga Live, Flexibility For Athletes
Yoga & Rowing, Yoga for Cyclists, Yoga for the Athlete, The American Yoga
Association’s Yoga for Sports, etc.
I stumbled across this fascinating article on the internet. As most of you know from Menuhin's introduction in Iyengar's book 'Light on Yoga' the pair worked together for some years. Here is an intimate account of their work together. I am always interested in reading about different people's yoga practises and how they make yoga a part of their lives - to improve their lives. This is now exception, enjoy!
Shortly after independence, Indian Prime Minister Jaraharlal Nehru gave an open invitation to
world's best musicians to tour the newly independent country. In response, Yehudi Menuhin arranged tour India for two months, turning any profit from his concerts over to the Famine Fund for Madras. In 1952, the Menuhins stayed as personal guests of Prime Minster Nehru who shared Yehudi Menuhin’s interest in
yoga. Famously, Nehru made a friendly challenge to Menuhin about his practice and the two were found in headstand as the butler came in to announce dinner. When this story reached the press, “gurus began to queue up wherever [Menuhin] went, each recommended by some prominent patron.” One of these prominent
patrons fetched Iyengar from his home in Poona to visit Menuhin in Bombay.
After warning Iyengar that he only had five minutes in his busy schedule, Iyengar guided Menuhin into
a deep relaxation and awoke not five minutes, but an hour later. At the time Menuhin was suffering from insomnia and this was perhaps the best gift possible. Upon awaking, Menuhin asked Iyengar to demonstrate his art and then enthusiastically requested Iyengar to teach him. During that tour of India he met Ravi Shankar, sitar virtuoso, and eventually persuaded him to perform in the west. Ravi's popularity had significant consequences for both music and vegetarianism in the following decades.
In 1954, Iyengar spent more than six weeks in Gstaad, Switzerland where Menuhin was performing
as Menuhin's personal yoga instructor; this year also included a brief visit to London. This began fifteen years of regular interaction between Iyengar and Menuhin (see photo on the right), Iyengar travelling to Europe to teach Menuhin most summers between 1961-1984 as well as teaching Menuhin whenever he toured
India. During the 1980s Menuhin made jazz recordings with Stephane Grappelli and of Eastern music with the great sitarist Ravi Shankar (see picture of Shankar).
Menuhin's interests outside music were broad. He was known as an environmentalist and practitioner of yoga. He was introduced to yoga in the 1950s and studied with B.K.S. Iyengar, a noted guru. Menuhin's daily regimen included 15 to 20 minutes of standing on his head. He also used yoga to relax before concerts. Menuhin advocated a vegetarian diet and warned of the dangers of eating white rice, white bread, and refined sugar.
Renowned, American born violinist & conductor, Yehudi Menuhin was a vegetarian and committed supporter of many social and environmental causes, with a great interest in Yoga and eastern religion. He
was an anti-pollution activist and vegetarian advocate.
The following extract is by
James Henry Cook, quoted by his daughter Kathleen Keleny in her book:
The First Century of Health
Hurry up and stand still: Why runners need yoga By John Farah, Special to CNN September 4, 2012 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
This is a great piece from CNN written by John Farah about yoga. Enjoy!
(CNN) -- My friend Christine was into yoga long before it went mainstream, and she was good at it.
She attended yoga camps, went on a yearly trek to India and even ritually cleansed her sinuses with warm
saltwater -- literally sucked it up through her nose. She claimed it possessed a healing value and kept her from getting a cold.
That was the '70s. She tried to convince me back then that yoga would be good for me, that it would loosen up my muscles and increase my body's longevity. I wanted nothing to do with it.
Football champs' secret weapon: Yoga "Are you kidding?" I said. "I can't stand still for two minutes, and you want me to do yoga?"
I loved running and playing sports like soccer and volleyball, things that kept me moving all the time. The
idea of stretching didn't really appeal to me. Neither, for that matter, did sucking saltwater into my nose.
Twenty-five years went by, and lo and behold, I found that my body was getting more and more prone to injury, just like Christine predicted.
I figured if I wanted to keep being able to run, I had better learn how to stand still.
"Marathon Man" John Farah The breaking point came six years ago, when I injured my hamstring at the beginning of Grandma's Marathon in Minnesota and ended up walking 21 miles to finish the race in six hours and 14 minutes. Not exactly the kind of record I had been hoping to set.
I figured if I wanted to keep being able to run, I had better learn how to stand still.
Fortunately, I learned that there are different flavors of yoga. I tried Iyengar Yoga at first, and I can definitely see the appeal -- it's a slower, more meditative practice, good for feeling centered and grounded. But Iyengar also uses a lot of props, and I didn't like that kind of interruption. It made it harder for me to get into a rhythm.
Then one day I was working out at my gym when I noticed a class doing a very different kind of yoga -- power
yoga, or Ashtanga. No props, no time wasted, and the people were in constant motion. Granted, it was a more
"sedentary" motion, if you will -- a series of poses like Downward Facing Dog and Warrior and Triangle -- but they switched from one to the other so fast it felt like a real workout. In fact, the only thing I didn't like about Ashtanga was that the pace really wore me out. Turns out that the 30-something yoga students were in better shape than the Marathon Man. Over time, I've improved -- and not just physically. Sure, my muscles feel looser than they have in years, and I'm avoiding injuries as I grow older. My teacher, Janice, even tells me that my poses are improving. There's more than that, though. Call it a cliche, but yoga really does feed your soul as much as it does your body. I've learned that as much as I love being active and on the go, it really is necessary to take time out of each day to slow down, to forget about your computer, your smartphone and all those e-mails, to take some time away from your kids and your job and your responsibilities.
To stop moving and focus simply on staying put. Now, does that mean I'll start inhaling saltwater sometime soon? My sinuses are doing just fine without it, thanks. But yoga has become a valuable part of my life, and it can do good things for you too!
Other related links
Why you really should get 'Fit By
Yoga: Tap into the many health
This article was originally published in The Oakland Press.
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We always start Ashtanga practise with Sun Salutations and what a perfect way to start! They can be viewed as the foundation of the whole series that comes after them, a microcosm or short hand form of the whole practise that follows. They give us the perfect place to learn the relationship between breath and movement, inhaling with all the upward movements and exhaling in downward movements. It is here that students get the chance to learn about focus, concentration and breath awareness.
Because of the above, even after fews and years of practise sun salutations never become easy and they remain a work in progress, something that can constantly be refined and deepened. In terms of movement they contain most of the elements yoga practise; the deep forward bend, back bend, hip opening, and arm balance. In fact probably the most challenging of all arm balances in Ashtanga yoga resides hidden away in the sun salutation.
Here is a short video of one Russel Case doing doing them brilliantly (but when you do yours don't arch your back so much when you lift your arms) - sun salutations.
This article is about the difficulties of daily Ashtanga Yoga Mysore practise. It attempts to show how after years of practise and getting closer and closer to the practise we periodically seek respite and refuge away from it and its intensity. It aims to show that we mustn’t underestimate how difficult any daily spiritual practise is and how the urge and temptation to move away from it is strong and can take many guises allowing us to fall into any number of ‘traps’ along the way. Sometimes our reaction to this can then be to try and undermine the practise and show how it is deeply flawed in some way rather than reflect honestly on ourselves.
The alignment trap
This is a common trap usually showing itself after a few years of regular practise. Sometimes we become disheartened because we feel that we haven’t progressed in our practise as much as we think we should have and as a result we feel stuck. This may also coincide with the occurrence of a few injuries. As a result of this we can then decide that this is due to not knowing enough about alignment and that this is something that is desperately missing from the Ashtanga practise. At this point Ashtangis will do their research and end up in the classes of popular Iyengar yoga teachers such as Alaric, who will expose them to the Iyengar method of detailed and precise alignment. This I feel is based on a misunderstanding and is actually an attempt to move away from the ashtanga practise which has all of a started to become a little too uncomfortable due to some of the reasons mentioned above. Our ambitions have become frustrated or we are feeling disappointed because the practise hasn’t taken us to where we want to go.
I feel what is really going on is not a wish to learn about alignment but a wish for distraction in what is happening in our own Ashtanga practise, perhaps a wish for distraction for the lack of ‘progress; or the injuries that keep occurring. During my ten years of Ashtanga practise I have studied most other forms of yoga, motivated by a passion for yoga and a genuine curiosity for other approaches. I have never been motivated by a sense of something missing from my own practise however. I remember one time turning up to an Iyengar class and seeing a fellow Ashtangi there. On the way out she said to me ‘its great isn’t it, we can finally find out what is going on’. By this she meant that at last someone is telling us what we should be doing in the postures. I’m afraid this gave me the impression that she was looking externally for a connection with her own body and was taking time out from her Ashtanga practise looking for this connection. The only place I believe that this connection can be found is within the intimacy of your own honest daily practise, whether this is Ashtanga, Iyengar or sitting meditation. Distracting yourself from practise by flitting around looking for things, is just that - a distraction.
Very talented Ashtanga teachers have also fallen into this trap, feeling something is lacking in their teaching and turning to Iyengar yoga, thinking the hole can be filled with learning about alignment. Again this is looking outside for something that can only come from the inside. I think this probably stems from blocks and obstacles that we are personally and subtly experiencing in our own practise. I know that when I turn to other sources of inspiration for my Ashtanga teaching, this is normally because something in my own practise is feeling a little uncomfortable or something is not quite right with my own practise. Ashtanga yoga, like any other yoga takes you closer and closer to yourself, a move away from your daily practise is an attempt to move away from yourself and a distraction from what you are feeling. it’s a way of diluting and avoiding the intensity.
The injury trap
I will make a distinction between two types of injury. The first injury is caused by tears to connective tissues. These sorts of injuries are caused by insensitivity to what your body is telling you during practise and ambition. It is not uncommon for practitioners to become ambitious with their practise and start pulling and wrenching themselves into postures that their bodies are clearly not ready for. The result is obvious. After a few such injuries they may move away from Ashtanga yoga completely and become ‘anti Ashtanga’ All of a sudden the practise is too driven, too physical and not spiritual enough. There is little acknowledgement of their own input in this.
The other type of injury if we can call it that, is psychosomatic pain. Practitioners may experience searing and debilitating pain during their practise. This can be caused by external stressors and worries but manifests itself in the yoga practise. It may manifest in the practise due to a greater sensitivity and insight into things and issues rising to the surface, brought about by the practise. In this case practitioners will commonly seek the help of osteopaths and physiotherapists who have basically opened consulting rooms in every yoga studio. These professionals rarely have any experience of practising yoga and will usually pinpoint the pain the practitioners are experiencing on some sort of structural abnormality that they have identified during examination. The result is that the practitioner is advised to modify their practise, either reducing practise sessions or modifying what happens during a session. The bottom line is that the practitioner is then moving away from the practise and diluting it, this time in the name of injury and pain as opposed to alignment. The idea of certain movements being contraindicated for a the practitioners body type then become ingrained and lead to a conditioned pain response that can continue for years or even become permanent.
Again the experience of viewing oneself on the mat daily has become too intense or reached an uncomfortable place and the welcome distraction now comes from injury/pain with the blessing of the healthcare practitioner.
The vinyasa flow trap
‘I like to play’ is often something you hear from ex ashtangis who move over to vinyasa flow classes. Here students are not allowed to get bored because the classes and routines are all varied from one class to the next and there is also music playing to keep practitioners entertained. Also the classes generally take place at any time of the day so the need to get up early is also done away with. I suppose this one speaks for itself. If someone is not ready for vigorous daily yoga practise than vinyasa flow is an attractive option. It probably has many of the physical and psychological benefits of Ashtanga and does lead to good health and fitness as well. You only have to see students coming out of these classes to know how much pleasure they got from doing them.
The ‘I’m being good to myself trap’
‘I have a life’ is something you often hear when Ashtangis have backed away somewhat from the practise and they proudly tell you that they went to bed at 2am after downing ten pints with their boyfriends. Similarly when they have been ‘lying in’.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that Ashtanga yoga is hard, it’s a hard practise but it is no more challenging than every other genuine spiritual practise, be it sitting meditation or Iyengar. All require a real genuine passion for the truth and an ability to look at ones self. It is due to this difficulty and intensity that we start searching for distractions and reasons not to practise. It is not because the practise is injuring us, or because there is no alignment in the practise, it is because of us and the difficulty we have with being with ourselves in such an honest, open and intense way.
The point of this piece of writing was not to sound like an Ashtanga Nazi and I think it is perfectly natural and appropriate to back away from practise but we need to be aware of this and why we are doing this. I took months off from my practise a couple of years ago, and I really needed to do this, at first I blamed the practise but it soon started to become clear that it was other factors in my life that were coming into play, things that I needed to address myself. I suppose at the end of the day daily practise, whatever it may happen to be isn’t for everybody and I suppose judging by the numbers its for very few.
Hi there, I am a dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher, practising Ashtanga now for over 12 years. I am also very interested in and practise meditation and different healing systems from energy healing such as Reiki to traditional western methods such as hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. I am currently now running my own hypnotherapy practise which you can read about on www.hypnotherapywellbeing.co.uk