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What is Yoga?
Yoga means “union”, derived from the Sanskrit root “yui” which means “to yoke” or “to join”. Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices that originated in India during the Vedic period, around 1500 BC and developed during the Sramana (aesthetic seeker) movement around 600 BC.
There are many different Yoga paths to “union”, but the one most popular in the West today is “Hatha” Yoga, which involves physical exercises to cultivate vitality of body and clarity of mind. All physical Yoga styles from Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa to Bikram, Forrest, Jivamukti and Synergy are forms of Hatha Yoga. Ha means “sun” and Tha means “moon”. Yoga therefore is “the union of sun and moon”, the union of opposites, the union of masculine and feminine, strength and flexibility, and so on. Yoga inspires balance, integration and oneness.
The benefits of physical Yoga exercises include increased strength and flexibility and relaxation, but the main physiological purpose of Hatha Yoga is to improve circulation of energy, vital substances and information through the body. Hatha Yoga stimulates circulation by creating regions of differential pressure throughout the body so that energy flows from regions of high pressure to regions of low pressure.
In a more philosophical sense, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, compiled around 400 – 250 BC, the ultimate purpose of Yoga is the union of individual consciousness (prakriti) with universal consciousness (purusha), ultimately reflected in a blissful state of being called “samadhi”. In Sutra 1.2 Patanjali shares with us the core secret of how to move towards this ultimate feeling of integration: “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. So all the physical Yoga practices we do are aimed at this sacred goal, to find such vitality in the body, that we spontaneously drop into a state of mind that is clear, calm and in harmony with life.
"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds... Your mind transcends its limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be"
Vinyasa Yoga
“Vinyasa” is derived from the Sanskrit term “nyasa”, which means “to place” and the prefix “vi”, which means “in a special way”. We see Vinyasa in nature all around us, as night flows into day, day flows into night, following the cycle of the sun and the moon, the transition of the seasons, the rise and fall of the ocean tides, like our breath flowing from inhalation to exhalation, from exhalation to inhalation. In sync with the rhythms of life, our actions and creations harmoniously flow, from the composition of notes in a musical piece to the brushstrokes of a painting or every foot placed in front of the other while walking up a mountain, everything we do with meditative awareness is in sacred sequence.
It is this sequential flow that we weave into our Yoga practice as we link one Yoga posture to the next, with our breath and mindful movement.
Indian Yoga Guru Krishnamacharya, introduced the modern world to this ancient aesthetic approach to Yoga and life. His teaching of the Vinyasa method, continued by his students BKS Iyengar and Patthabhi Jois, included the assessment of the needs of his students, followed by the proper sequence of movement, form and alignment, to create safety and balance within their Yoga practice.
The idea of Vinyasa is beautifully expressed by one of the most accomplished Ashtanga Yoga teachers in the West, Eddie Stern, who wrote a foreword for Pattabhi Jois’s book called Yoga Mala. “Mala is a Sanskrit term that means ‘garland’. In India there are many different kinds of malas. There are japamalas, made up of sacred beads strung on a thread which are used in prayer for counting and keeping focused on the repetition of a mantra. There are also pushpamalas, which are garlands of vivid flowers, smelling of jasmine and other scents, that are strung in the form of wreaths and offered in worship to deities in homes and temples. Guruji here offers us another kind of mala, which is ancient in tradition, as sacred as a prayer, and as fragrant as flowers. His mala is a garland of Yoga, in which each Vinyasa (mindful movement) is like a sacred bead to be counted and focused on, and each Asana (posture) is like a fragrant flower strung on the thread of the breath.
Just as a japamala adorns the neck and a pushpamala adorns the gods, so too does this garland of Yoga, when diligently practiced, adorn our entire being with peace, health, radiance and ultimately self-knowledge.”
See video to the side for a demo of Vinyasa Yoga.
Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa Yoga demo by Melanie de Villiers to the sound of Masto by Betelgeize & Geju.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Through our breath we have the mysterious ability to balance the energy flow in our bodies and our minds. The ancient Yogis identified the subtle breath as “prana” or life force and our consciousness as “chitta”, which flow through energy channels called “nadis”, awakening various energy vortexes called “chakras” all over the body.
It is believed that we have 72000 nadis in our subtle body that correspond to our 72000 nerve pathways. These nadis are like energy rivers that sustain our subtle and physical existence.nbsp;
Along the central channel or spine, there are 3 main nadis and 7 main chakras. The ancient Yogis understood, what modern science has now proved to be true, that in order to find harmony in our energy flow, we can practice alternate nostril breathing, which will bring balance to our bodies and our minds.
In Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or "alternate nostril" breathing, we inspire balance between the right and left brain, between our parasympathetic nervous system and our sympathetic nervous system, between the energy of relaxation and the energy of action.nbsp;
The ida nadi, which runs along the left side of the body and is connected to the left nostril and right brain function, is an energy channel that cools us, makes us more emotional, receptive and nurturing, but if it is overactive and not balanced it can lead to depression and lethargy. The ida nadi is associated with the feminine and moon energy.
The pingala nadi, which runs along the right side of the body and is connected to the right nostril and left brain function, is an energy channel that heats us, makes us more rational, motivated and determined, but if it is overactive and not balanced it can lead to aggression and anger. The pingala nadi is associated with the masculine and sun energy.
Through Nadi Shodhana Pranayama we bring the ida and pingala nadis into balance, which allows us to open the spacious energy flow at the central channel of our body, called the shushumna nadi. This nadi runs along the spine and controls the energy flow through the 7 spinal chakras, which are placed like lotus flowers along it.
When the sushumna nadi is not awakened, the energy flows through the ida and pingala nadis alternately, swapping many times throughout the day, more active in one and then more active in the other to try create balance.nbsp;
When our energy flow is balanced, when prana flows equally through the ida and pingala nadis, then the kundalini (our primordial potential) awakens and prana enters the shusumna nadi. This brings the subtle body into function and takes us into a state of higher consciousness. The key to the health of our subtle body lies in balancing the flow of energy through the ida and pingala nadis through pranayama.
See video to the side for an introduction to Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Introduction to Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, a Yoga breathing technique that inspires balance between Ida and Pingala nadis (subtle energy channels), creating harmony between the feminine and masculine aspects of ourselves, and the moon and sun energies inside us.

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