Chanting is a powerful way to relax the body and open the heart. In yoga when we chant “Om shanti shanti shanti” it is an invocation of peace, we chant this three times to represent peace in body, speech and mind. This mantra calls forth cosmic peace and its purpose is to remove mental distractions and to immerse us in the sensations of the vibrations created in the body from chanting.
Om has no literal translation, it is simply the sound of the universe, the cosmic vibration of all life. Shanti in Sanskrit means peace, also described as calm or bliss. In yoga this is the ultimate state of being that we are moving towards in our practice. Shanti is a state of equanimity, we are not grasping or rejecting anything, we are simply content with what is.
Shanti is an enlightened state of being and takes constant practice to achieve. The nature of our minds is to control, we want to hold on to things, people, situations or to reject them. To experience Shanti we need to learn to surrender, accept, embrace everything that appears on our path with the understanding that all that exists in the material world in impermanent and constantly changing. Learning to flow with the impermanence of life and to surrender is how we get closer to peace of mind and body.
“ yoga is the golden key that unlocks the door to peace, tranquility and joy”- B.K.S Iyengar
We all need a sacred space to go to, a place to pause, slow down and breathe.
You can create your own sacred space with a beautiful home altar to reconnect with your deepest intentions for your practice and your life.
At your private altar you can experience inspiration and gratitude, it is a mirror of the heart that reflects the energies and attributes that you value most.
A home altar also creates a dedicated space for your spiritual practice and serves as a constant reminder to be consistent in your yoga and meditation practice. Making this space beautiful to you will encourage you to spend more time there.
To create a home altar, choose a spot in your home that is quiet and private. It is nice to have a cushion to sit on in front of your altar and to place on it objects which are meaningful to you. This may be photos of loved ones, deities that you find inspiring, fresh flowers, candles, incense or any object that you find inspiring. Let your creativity flow and decorate your altar in any way that feels genuine to you. The more personal and meaningful your intention in creating your altar, the more you will want to be there.
Over time, allow yourself to change things around, swapping old objects with new ones that come to you, add pieces to your altar that are symbolic of your current life and watch it slowly change and unfold organically. You may wish to photograph your altar each time you make a subtle change as a record of your evolution and change it through time.
Your personal altar is a physical manifestation of your inner spiritual landscape, give it love and gratitude and when you sit before it, that energy will be reflected back to you.
Whether you meditate here, practice your asana or simply pause to admire its beauty, know that this is your sacred place that you can return to whenever you need to reconnect to your inner self.
As the sun and the new moon travel through the air sign of Libra, we are reminded of the crucial role that the breath has in circulating prana (life force) throughout the body. Prana is carried throughout our bodies by what is known in yoga tradition as a Vayu (wind).There are fives different Vayus that operate through the body each governing different areas of the body.
Yoga asana (postures) and pranayama (breath control) practice allow us to balance the Vayus to bring harmony, health and vitality to the body and mind.
The five Vayus are:
Being aware of the five Vayus is helpful for yogis to obtain optimum benefits as the movement of prana is the essence of yogic practice. Balancing the Vayus not only promotes physical strength, but also helps yogis move closer to their spiritual aspirations.
The July 2018 lunar eclipse is the longest eclipse this century, lasting 1 hour and 23 minutes. Like a regular full moon only stronger, a lunar eclipse focuses our attention on our emotions, and a clearing away of emotional baggage. This eclipse falls in the sign of Aquarius which leads us to our emotions via the intellectual mental body known as the Manoyama kosha.
In yoga philosophy the body consists of five koshas (sheaths or layers) starting from the gross physical body on the outer and moving inwards toward the cosmic bliss body. The Manomaya kosha (the mind/emotional layer) sits in the middle as the third layer and relates to the way we interpret events through our thoughts and emotions. Our minds are constantly creating narratives which compel us to react through our emotions. Our thoughts and emotions can either be useful or not depending on our ability to train the mind. Yoga is designed to keep the health of the Manomaya Kosha with meditative practices to soothe the nervous system, balance the inner body and remove energy blocks that bind us in obsessive thinking.
When we watch the contents of our thoughts and emotions closely, we can recognise patterns which manifest as repetitive and powerful mental structures which have formed by the beliefs and opinions that we have absorbed throughout our lives from our families, friends and culture. The mind makes a constant commentary about our experiences creating judgments based on the biased perception of our experiences. Getting caught up the mind’s constant commentary keeps us frustrated and unsatisfied. Meditation allows us to view this internal commentator impartially and to question the validity of our internal dialogue. When we bring our consciousness to our thought/emotional patterns we can free ourselves of their power by allowing them to flow through us, thereby freeing us from their strong and insistent grip.
To meditate is to relax the body and turn our total awareness inwards, noticing our thoughts, watching them closely as they emerge with compassion, understanding and kindness. We allow ourselves to sit with our thoughts and emotions, noticing where they lead us and how they change, and allowing them to flow through us rather than blocking, suppressing or running off with them. It is only by bringing consciousness to our thought and emotional patterns that we are able to let them go.
“Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah”(PYS1.2)- Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
The Full Moon is in Sagittarius is gifting us with visionary energy and the impetus to pursue personal goals and deep desires. It drives us to deepen our knowledge in areas that nurture our hearts and souls.
In yoga we use our asana practice to create space in the body for expansion, self reflection and deep insight. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offers us a roadmap as a guide to explore Yoga philosophy which ultimately allows us to discover our inner guru.
Svadhyaya is the practice of self-study that connects us to our inner guru. It requires us to deepen our knowledge, understanding and connection to yoga by becoming familiar with the sutras, and more importantly to apply them in our daily lives. Living the sutras opens our awareness to the things that harm us and those which serve us.
According to Patanjali, the purpose of yoga is to stabilize the fluctuations of the mind. We use our physical body with asana practice to steer us toward that goal together with Svadhyaya to acquire wisdom. These practices lead to self awareness and the development of more trust in our own abilities. The way in which we practise yoga is reflective of the way we practise life and Svadhyaya requires us to take those teachings off the mat and into the world.
The Full Moon wants us to find a system that helps us expand. Svadhyaya requires that we view ourselves honestly without judgement or criticism, and leads us to personal insights which we may not have previously acknowledged. Through this process we cultivate a deeper understanding of how to live yoga out in the world and we are empowered to begin to make real changes to our lives.
"Study thy self, discover the divine" (PYS II.44)
The full moon in Scorpio brings our attention to our inner complexities, intangibles, and mysteries, and asks us to explore our deep feelings in connection to others. The Scorpio energy is intense and doesn’t shy away from investigating the unpleasant dark side of our nature. It is also a beautiful sensitive energy which connects us to our deepest desires and passions. By allowing ourselves to explore our greater depths with love and honesty, we are given the opportunity to release the darkness and to let the brightness shine through.
Scorpio energy is powerful, it makes us focus on stagnant emotions that need to shift. This gives us the space to let go of any pent-up resentment, sorrow or trauma which can negatively affect our physical and mental wellbeing.
Transformation from the darkness to the light can come about through a deep experiential understanding of our turbulent emotions. When we take the time to investigate our emotional body in an open and honest way we can explore the underlying psychological source of our feelings. This is not an exercise in analysis but an exercise in experiencing the felt sensation of our emotions in our body, specifically at the heart centre.
Meditation is an effective technique which allows us to relax and increases our ability to concentrate and focus. With focus we can explore the sensations felt in the body without attaching a story or judgement to them. This allows us to defuse the obsessive nature of the thinking that we habitually attach to our feelings. By remaining the conscious witness of our emotions, we can allow our feelings to flow through us without holding on to self-destructive addictive states of mind.
Meditating on our deep emotions in an honest and kind way gives us the possibility of releasing toxic feelings and to transform them. In turn, we can free ourselves of the emotional baggage that can drag us down. Attaching ourselves to past wounds only prevents us from being truly present which is the only place where we can experience love and fulfillment.
The full moon in Scorpio is the perfect time to sit in deep meditation and release ourselves from any poisonous thoughts hindering our reconnection to others with love so that we can return to a place of peace and emotional wellbeing.
“When you become good at the art of letting sufferings go, then you'll come to realize what you were dragging around with you. And for that, no one else other than you was responsible.” - Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
The sun is currently travelling through Taurus, the stable, patient, practical and hard-working bull. This is a welcome slowing down from dynamic Aries and brings more steadiness to our daily lives. Taurean energy is what’s needed when we need some stability in our lives and it supports us to get in touch with the parts of ourselves that enjoy things to be practical, plentiful and pleasurable.
For our asana practice this translates as cultivating empowerment by pressing into the earth and opening our hearts. We are asked to channel the qualities of the slow and steady bull, finding our grounding and alignment and slowly, steadily building our postures with patience, love and authenticity. Taurus helps us to find contentment and ease in our practice.
Taurus rules the throat in the body so it calls on us to focus our energies at the visuddha chakra to create spaciousness around the throat and neck, through which profound spiritual truths can flow. Vishuddha (throat chakra) governs self-expression and our ability to communicate effectively. When the throat chakra is balanced we are confident and able to express ourselves to others clearly and effectively.
One of the easiest ways to balance visuddha is by chanting, the seed mantra for this energy centre is ‘hum’. Some of the most widely used Yoga asanas that activate visuddha are Matsyasana (fish), Makarasana (crocodile), Ashtangasana (eight-limbed pose), Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), Simhasana (lion’s pose), Sasangasana (rabbit), and Halasana (Plow).
Visuddha is the energy vortex that harmonizes our ability to express ourselves and communicate with others. It is the chakra of musicians, artists, writers, poets, or any artist who uses sound and vibration as their medium. When visuddha is open we connect to our imagination and flow through the river of creativity with ease.
The most important lesson to take away from visuddha is learning to express ourselves freely and authentically.
“Our body is an instrument played by divine breath. It is our job to keep the instrument well tuned and to listen to the voice of truth moving through us” - Anodea Judith
As the Sun travels through the warrior Aries it is pushing us to be more assertive and to get things done. Our impulses now may lead us to start new projects, to shrug off negative self-talk and to go for gold. Aries is energetic, competitive and motivated. We can use this energy to bring us closer to our aspirations and goals. This is an excellent time to begin new and bold projects. The challenge is to stay disciplined, to persevere and to stay on course keeping our higher purpose in sight.
An effective way to cultivate the confidence and courage needed to action new and challenging projects is to embody vira rasa in our asana practice. Vira in sanskrit means hero and rasa is the essence of human emotion. Vira energy stimulates our inner fire, concentration and potential, it allows us to explore our inner power and dignity.
Evoking vira rasa on the mat helps us to get in touch with our inner warrior and gives us the confidence to step outside our comfort zone. The vira rasa is awakened in poses that involve alignment, strength and flexibility. We use this in Vinyasa flow with sequencing that focuses on concentration, sustains power through alignment and challenges our potential strength and stability. Asanas which most strongly awaken our vira rasa include Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3 (warrior poses), Virasana (hero pose), all arm balances and standing balances.
“The willingness to practice at all is a form of bravery. Practice courage in these small ways on the mat and it will be there for you when you need it most” - Marianne Elliott
The full Moon in Virgo energy brings our attention into the physical body and gives us the impetus to revisit our diet and lifestyle. This is a good time to detox and to reboot our system for the new season ahead. Physically Virgo relates to the stomach, intestines, nerves and the reproductive system.
In yoga twisting is known to be cleansing and one of the best asanas used to release toxins by squeezing the internal digestive organs. This leaves us feeling clean, clear, and refreshed. Massaging the abdominal organs, including the liver and kidneys encourages healthy digestion and elimination. Twisting also tones our abdominal muscles and gives us good posture which helps to protect our lower back.
On a mental level twisting has a great balancing effect. When we feel restless or agitated twists can settle us down. When we feel uptight or 'wound up', a long spinal twist followed by a deep release as we uncoil the body can also help us to unwind the mind. When we twist we are literally turning our torso around itself, this quickly brings our attention to how the body feels, whether the stomach is bloated, the breath constricted, or the muscles stiff. Deep twists insist that we observe what is present, whether difficult or sweet, and from that awareness we have a clear choice to create change or to make peace with the sensations in the body. Twisting also gives us an energetic lift when we are feeling tired or lethargic.
The Virgo full moon energy teaches us to care for and to love our body by treating it with care. When our body is flexible and strong we are more productive and we are better able to experience the world with joy. To care for our body we are asked to give it loving attention by feeding it healthy food, getting plenty of sleep, walking in nature and practicing yoga on a regular basis.
“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way” - Cybele Tomlinson
The Sun is now diving into the deep unconscious waves of watery Pisces. Under this influence we can access our inner mystic, poet and dreamer. Pisces loves to connect to the deep inner self to cultivate empathy and compassion. The Piscean creative flow encourages us to dream and to connect to our deep inner bliss body.
This is a good time to slow down, to let go, to let flow, to trust and to have faith. Pisces gives us permission to daydream and to reflect. We may feel the desire to indulge and go on a retreat, leaving our daily routines behind, swim in ours oceans, rivers and lakes to soak up nature’s healing energy. Imagine yourself as a mystical mermaid, wild, free and adventurous. Delve into the world of magic and imagination remembering your inner power of creativity.
The mythical mermaid archetype delves in the deep waters of the imagination and embodies self-love and self-empowerment. On the yoga mat she asks us to integrate creative spontaneous movement and to focus on the emotional quality of everything we experience. Tantra yoga refers to this as rasa which translates as the energetic essence of human emotion. Rasa is in everything and remains the invisible substance that gives life its meaning.
During asana practice we can apply three fundamental rasas: vira (courage), shanti (peace) and sringara (love). When these rasas are cultivated, the thinking mind quietens and pure feeling pulses through our body. This transformational state of awareness is a type of communion between ourselves and that which surrounds us and we are left feeling united with our current experience. Incorporating rasa to our practice allows us to move with grace and fluidity. It moves us away from the analytical thinking mind towards the heart centre of creativity and imagination.
“Always be yourself unless you can be a mermaid, then always be a mermaid”