Yoga mudras are symbolic gestures often practiced with the hands and fingers in yoga and meditation. Using a mudra brings another dimension to the yoga practice by facilitating the flow of energy in the subtle body.
There are many types of Mudras designed to bring different benefits, depending on what we specifically need. Each finger represents a different element, they are:
Thumb - fire and universal consciousness.
Index finger - air and individual consciousness.
Middle finger - space and connection.
Ring finger - earth and the body.
Little finger - water and the emotions.
Mudras are one way of creating balance between all of these elements within us.
One of my favourite mudras and a crowd favourite is Gyana mudra, done by bringing the tips of the thumb and index finger together and keeping the other three fingers lightly stretched. This symbolizes the unity of fire and air as well as the unity of universal and individual consciousness. This mudra increases concentration, creativity, and is a gesture of knowledge. Keep the palms facing up for deeper internal insight or facing down to feel more grounded.
Gyana mudra is connected to the root chakra and is used to reduce tension by calming the energetic body. Many yogis use it in meditation to focus and seek more internal guidance.
If you haven’t used mudras in your practice why not give it a try, if nothing else it will lift your sense of extension and grace.
Individual Dharma - laws set for yourself to reach the ultimate
Common Dharma - Laws that set order (for the community, society, family)
The concept of Dharma both individual and common is explored in great depth in the great Sanskrit text the Bhagavad Gita. The central figure of this tale Arjuna is torn between his duty to fight a war and his reluctance to harm his opponents who are his cousins, teachers and friends. The story unfolds on the battlefield as Arjuna discusses his dilemma with Lord Krishna.
The external battle setting of the Bhagavad Gita is a metaphor for the battle that exists in the minds of all human beings. Arjuna represents our small ego self and Krishna represents our wise inner guide, that voice that encourages us to face the challenges of life as a spiritual warrior.
The courage needed to be a warrior means that we need to look beyond our small selves and to contribute to the greater good of our community. To some this may sound like self-sacrifice however it is how we create greater confidence in our abilities and brings us a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. When our actions collectively contribute to something that benefits others, we become aware of our inner power and the universe supports our efforts.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reminds Arjuna that his individual Dharma is to be a warrior and that his duty is not to fight for the sake of fighting but to serve for what is right and just. We all have a personal Dharma which consists of our unique qualities, gifts, talents and abilities. These traits help us to find our life path no matter how small or lofty, and to follow it with the best of our ability, and only then can we be truly fulfilled. When we ignore our individual Dharma or when we are led astray from it by outside influences, we are left feeling that life is pointless. Ignoring our Dharma can lead to physical, emotion and spiritual unease. Krishna reminds Arjuna to remember his own strength and not to allow himself to be discouraged by outside factors.
No one else can tell us what our Dharma is, it comes from within. As yogis we learn to quieten the mind in meditation so that we can hear our inner guide. The Bhagavad Gita warns us against seeking external validation or being led by our minds or our emotions. Once we are clear on what our Dharma is, we need to trust that we will find the right conditions to support us on our path.
“Peace prevails when everyone follows their own Dharma. War erupts when common Dharma is broken”
After the extreme heat of summer and late summer we are now entering the cool autumn season, a time of letting go and making room for the new. In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the metal element. The lung meridian is the Yin aspect of the metal element controlling breath and energy and assisting the heart with circulation of blood. Metal season is the ideal time to nourish ourselves and to strengthen our immune system, it’s also time to draw our energy inwards as we begin to slow down.
The lungs open into the nose and are directly connected to the skin and the sweat glands which are part of our immune system, maintaining homoeostasis in the body. During this time of year we are more likely to experience asthma, allergies, colds, flus and skin-related issues.
The emotion connected with the lungs is sadness, and it is not unusual to feel grief, irritation or resentment. Use your yoga practice to explore these emotions, breathe into them and learn to let them go. From a yogic perspective, there are no ‘bad’ emotions however we want to ensure that emotions move through us, rather than getting stuck in the body. Working with breath exercises (pranayama) teaches us to explore our emotions, to feel them and to release them.
Autumn is an opportunity to strip away what is false, toxic and stale in our lives, and in turn to reveal what is true and valuable for our highest purpose. Life is always changing and it’s helpful for our wellbeing to move with its natural flow. The metal season reminds us to remain flexible and adaptable as we prepare for the challenges of winter. Now is a good time to clear away clutter, finish off projects, cook fresh wholesome meals, breathe in the smells of nature, slow down, do one thing at a time, making sure that we make time for our yoga practice and begin to increase the amount of pranayama and meditation to our practice.
The deeper you breathe, the longer you live. The bigger your lungs, the stronger your heart. Deep breathing expands your lungs and stretches your awareness to the edges of the universe.
Modern science acknowledges what the ancient yogis have always known, that everything in the universe is energy and is in a constant state of vibration. Within the human body, there are seven energy centres, known as chakras which allow energy to flow through our bodies. The ability for this energy to flow unobstructed is essential to your good health and well-being. There are a number of ways to help keep your chakras in balance including yoga, meditation and sound healing.
Yin yoga recognises that dis-ease in the body is characterised by a blockage in the energy channels (meridians) running throughout our bodies in the connective tissue referred to as fascia. Yin yoga uses meridian theory to create a free flow of energy through all our meridians thus creating harmony in the body. On a physical level Yin yoga increases blood flow, boosts the immune system and soothes the nervous system from over-stimulation.
Sound healing is a form of vibrational medicine that works on the same principle through vibration. These vibrations are absorbed by the body to create a sense of peace and relaxation, a clearing of emotional clutter and mind stuff.
Through the gentle targeted movement of Yin yoga and vibrational healing of sound, the body begins to slow down, to relax and to release. Yin yoga and sound healing work together to open the body’s entire energetic system to guide you on a journey of self discovery and inner exploration.
I’m running two retreats this year focussing on this work (end of May and end of October). I would love to share this practice with you, for more information go to: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/chakra-yin-sound-retreat-tickets-55004121809
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