As a peaceful warrior, I would choose when, where and how I would behave.
With that commitment, I began to live the life of a warrior.
~Dan Millman

Monday, January 26, 2009

Who me, headstrong? How about you?

Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition.

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.

The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

Well after a full year or so of practicing yoga, I was a little surprised to find that the practice varies greatly depending on your choice of studio, mentor and system. So these last couple of years I have gone on an exploration out of the physical and into the mental/emotional.

I often find that the new moon days are the days that I want to get everything done. Make up for the things that didn't get done last week and get a jump start on those things coming up. A good sign that I could use some time to find the quiet within.

Following the moon cycles makes perfect sense. Many things in nature do. So taking a break, which was not always in my schedule became one of the most challenging 'poses' for me. The practice of Asthanga Yoga is quite involved and requires a discipline that can present challenges. Yoga is not just about the physical, this is only one of 8 pieces of the puzzle. Many religions talk of similar principles in their language and while I do not believe that yoga is a religion, I do find that it can support your beliefs and ground you in those foundational precepts, whatever your religion is.

Ashtanga yoga literally means "eight-limbed yoga," as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Asana [posture]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [sense control]
Dharana [concentration]
Dhyana [meditation]
Samadhi [contemplation]

The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices.

"The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing" ("Ashtanga Yoga"). Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated from the heat of vinyasa then carries the impurities out of the body. Through the use of vinyasa, the body becomes healthy, light and strong.

Tristhana refers to the union of "three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other"

Yoga is a fascinating practice and when brought along side the rough and tumble that we have created for ourselves it can be a beautiful source of restoration and revitalization. Observing the cycles of nature and closing the door to the schedule and the chaos, finding a day for renewal can bring a welcome balance into your life.

In breath and balance. ~j

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