Don't Know How to Start? - Asana Sequences for Beginners

There are so many types of yoga to choose from nowadays: Kripalu, Kundalini, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda, Bikram, Vinyasa, etc. - that it merely seems impossible to start and practice the convenient one. Moreover, every contemporary yoga tradition has its own precepts about how to sequence an asana practice. Most sequences are linear, that is one posture follows another in a logical step-by-step direction, moving from less challenging to more challenging and back to less challenging. In other words, a sequence like this opens with simple warm-ups that set a theme for the practice, intensifies to more challenging asanas, slows to cooling asanas and ends with relaxation.

But exist another ways to sequence. Usually each asana in the sequence is performed just once, but you could also perform it two or three times, focusing on different aspects of the pose each time. You can also build the entire sequence around just one asana, returning to it again and again, and use the other poses in the sequence to investigate aspects of the main one.

Here's an example of a typical linear sequence, based on the Iyengar tradition of yoga):

1 - Centering. Begin the practice with either a simple meditation or breathing exercise (in a seated or reclining position) to collect and concentrate your awareness.
2 - Preparation. Perform a few simple exercises (such as hip or groin openers) that warm up the body in preparation for the theme or focus of the practice.
3 - Sun Salute \ Surya Namaskar (3-4 rounds)
4 - Standing postures
5 - Arm balances
6 - Inversions
7 - Abdominal and/or arm strength postures
8 - Backbends
9 - Shoulderstand
10 - Twists and/or forward bends
11 - Corpse Pose \ Savasana

Of course, this practice would take at least 90 minutes to finish. It could probably be too long for the average beginner. A more reasonable length of practice time is about 45 minutes. Here are two more sequences that'll fit for beginners and not only...

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Surya Namaskar -- 3 Rounds (Sun Salutations)
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Dandasana (Staff Pose)
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Upavistha Konasana (Wide Angle Pose)
Navasana (Boat Pose)
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)
Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)
Reclining Twist
Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Advanced Beginners:
Virasana (Hero or Heroine Pose)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations)
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
Ardha Navasana (Half Boat Pose)
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Makrasana (Crocodile Pose)
Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Marichyasana III (Marichi's Pose, Variation III)
Savasana (Corpse Pose)

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M - Terms

Maha: meaning Great.

Mahabharata: One of India's two great ancient epics telling of the great war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas and serving as a repository for many spiritual and moral teachings.

Maharishi: Maha means great, rishi means 'seer', A Great sage. A Great soul.

Maharishi Amrit Kalash : Proprietary name for a traditional herbal formula of MAV for health and longevity.

Maharishi Ayurveda : The complete, consciousness-based system of natural medicine from the Vedic civilization of ancient India.

Majja: One of the seven bodily constituents, mainly the bone marrow and its metabolism.

Malas: Bodily wastes; includes urine, feces, sweat, and others.

Mamsa: One of the seven bodily constituents, mainly muscle and its metabolism.

Manas: The instinctive mind, ruler of motor and sensory organs. The seat of desire, Manas is termed the undisciplined mind. Manas is fraught with contradictions: doubt, faith, lack of faith, shame, desire, fear, steadfastness, lack of steadfastness.

Mandala: A circular geometric design that represents the cosmos and the spirit's journey. It is a tool in the pilgrimage to enlightenment. One of the most famous mandalas appears on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.

Mantra: "Man" means "mind" or thinking, and "tra" means to "release or free". Mantras are sacred sound vibrations, that asist in freeing the mind and to bring clarity, peace and well being. They can be used in rituals, whispered, or chanted. Hindus believe that god, good health, fortune, and victory over enemies can all be attained by chanting the right mantra.

Mantra Yoga: The yogic path utilizing mantras as the primary means of liberation.

Meditation: The emptying of the mind of thoughts, or concentration of the mind on just one thing in order to aid mental or spiritual development, contemplation, or relaxation. Although the practice originated in India, it is common to many religions. Hatha yoga is a form of meditation.

Moksha:Freedom from birth and death liberation from the bondage of worldly action based on detachment and freedom within oneself. The nearest English equivalent is salvation.

MRT: Maharishi Rejuvenation Therapy; traditional cleansing and balancing treatments (panchakarma), specifically prescribed for each individual by a medical doctor trained in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Mudra: Hand movement mainly of the fingers, capable of expressing ideas and emotions. In yoga these sacred hand positions relate to a particular meditation, enhancing the effect of the posture.

Muladhara: The sanskrit name given for the first chakra located at the base of the spine, near the coccyx. It is a major energy center.

Murti: A representation of God or deity that has been sanctified by worship. A murti can be symbolic; a recognizable human figure, as in the image of a saint.

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Life Without Sex or the Practice of Brahmacharya...

I've just read an article about some precepts of Brahmacharya and even though I can imagine life without sex - not my own ;) - different questions still remained unanswered... For instance, how do we square time-honored ascetic traditions like brahmacharya with our modern lives?
As you know, celibacy plays an important role in the yoga tradition-indeed, some would say, a critical one. The father of classical yoga, Patanjali, made brahmacharya one of the five yamas, or ethical precepts in the Yoga Sutra that all aspirants should adhere to. Other yogic texts name abstinence as the surest and speediest way to boost our deepest reserves of vitality and power. But today we live in a radically different world from that of the ancient yogis who spelled out the discipline's original precepts, lived in total renunciation and still were happy...
I'm trying to understand - of course I'm far from enlightenment - how someone can call all life without celibacy " insipid and animal like." For instance, 1985, Adrian Piper stopped having sex. A longtime yoga practitioner, Piper committed herself to the practice of brahmacharya (celibacy), which is touted as an important step along the pathway to enlightenment. Still resolutely committed 17 years later, Piper calls this practice the greatest spiritual gift she's ever been given. "Brahmacharya has changed my perception of myself, of others, of everything," she says. "It's been so interesting to realize how much of my ego-self was bound up with sexuality and sexual desire. And the effect on my sadhana (spiritual practice) has been most profound. I'm not sure I can put it into words. Let's just say there's definitely a good reason why all spiritual traditions recommend celibacy. Sex is great, but no sexual experience-and I've had a lot of them-could even come close to this."
But the thought that yogis shouldn't have sex-or at the very least should rein in their sexual energy-challenges our modern notions about both yoga and sex.Even though much of yoga is based on ascetic precepts that counsel denial, today the practice is often touted for its ability to improve one's sex life, not eradicate it-and some people even seem to view yoga classes as prime pick-up spots. So how can we pick and choose among yoga's practices, adopting those we like and sweeping the trickier ones like brahmacharya under the yoga mat?

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What Is Yoga Nidra?

In Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go through the Dreaming state, and into the Deep Sleep state, yet remain fully awake.
Yoga Nidra brings an incredible calmness, quietness and clarity. Yoga Nidra is one of the deepest of all meditations, leading awareness through many levels of mental process to a state of supreme stillness and insight.

Yoga Nidra means Yogic Sleep. It is a state of conscious Deep Sleep. In Meditation, you remain in the Waking state of consciousness, and gently focus the mind, while allowing thought patterns, emotions, sensations, and images to arise and go on. However, in Yoga Nidra, you leave the Waking state, go past the Dreaming state, and go to Deep Sleep, yet remain awake. While Yoga Nidra is a state that is very relaxing, it is also used by Yogis to purify the Samskaras, the deep impressions that are the driving force behind Karma.

Yoga Nidra has been known for thousands of years by the sages and yogis. Of the three states of consciousness of Waking, Dreaming and Deep Sleep, as expounded in the Upanishads, particularly the Mandukya Upanishad, Yoga Nidra refers to the conscious awareness of the Deep Sleep state, referred to as prajna in Mandukya Upanishad. This is the third of the four levels of consciousness of AUM mantra , relating to the state represented by the M of AUM. The four states are Waking, Dreaming, sleep, and turiya, the fourth state. The state of Yoga Nidra, conscious Deep Sleep, is beyond or subtler than the imagery and mental process of the Waking and Dreaming states. As a state of conscious Deep Sleep, Yoga Nidra is a universal principle, and is not the exclusive domain of any more recent teachers or traditions.
It is a universally known feature of Deep Sleep that there are no images in the mind. If there are images, that is theWaking or the Dreaming state, not the Deep Sleep state.Yoga Nidra relates to conscious Deep Sleep.("Nidra" means "Deep Sleep" not "Dreaming") Dreaming and Not-Dreaming are NOT the same thing.

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Twists Again

Try asking some nonyogis what they think happens in a yoga class, and at least one will answer that people get "all twisted up like a pretzel." In fact, we yogis do twist a lot in a well-rounded yoga practice: We twist while sitting, standing, and standing on our heads. Because there is such an intriguing variety of twists, you might guess that twists provide an abundance of benefits. And they do. There are physiological benefits to the circulatory system and internal organs, structural benefits to the musculoskeletal system, and focusing benefits to your consciousness.

Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar describes twists as a "squeeze-and-soak" action: The organs are compressed during a twist, pushing out blood filled with metabolic by-products and toxins. When we release the twist, fresh blood flows in, carrying oxygen and the building blocks for tissue healing. So from the physiological standpoint, twists stimulate circulation and have a cleansing and refreshing effect on the torso organs and associated glands.

While these physiological benefits are undeniably valuable, this column will focus primarily on the functions of and benefits to muscles and joints used in twists. Yoga twists involve the spine, as well as several major joints, including the hips and shoulders. In fact, full range of motion in spinal rotation is essential to many yoga poses. Unfortunately, many people lose full spinal rotation in the course of living a sedentary lifestyle. Some losses can occur if joints fuse due to trauma, surgery, or arthritis, but most range of motion loss comes from the shortening of soft tissues. If you don't lengthen the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (connective tissues) to their full length at least a few times a week, they will gradually shorten and limit the nearby joint's mobility. In the case of twisting, the limitation is usually in soft tissues around the spine, abdomen, rib cage, and hips. If you regularly practice yoga twists, there are some clear benefits to these same joints and soft tissues. Not only do you maintain the normal length and resilience of the soft tissues, but you also help to maintain the health of the discs and facet joints (the small pair of joints on the back of the spine where each two vertebrae overlap).

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L - Terms

Laya: "Dissolution" or "absorption" of the mind.

Laya Yoga: The goal of Laya Yoga is to quiet the conscious mind and give birth to the ecstatic state of Samadhi. Related to Kundalini Yoga, Laya Yoga stimulates the latent power of Kundalini, making it travel from the spine to the head.

Lassi: A drink made of organic plain yogurt blended with water, cardamom powder, organic sugar, and rosewater.

Lotus Position:
Padmasana, or Lotus Pose, named so because the position puts the souls of the feet up, reminiscent of a lotus flower. The prime position for meditation, it is the most renowned of all Hatha Yoga postures.

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Which Type of Yoga is Best for You?

Kripalu, Kundalini, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Sivananda, Bikram... with so many types of yoga to choose from, how do you know which is best for you? What is the difference between one and the other? Which ones are ancient and which have just been invented by the West?
Whether you're looking for a way to cross-train and boost athletic performance — or just want to reintroduce your fingers to your toes — yoga offers something for all. But not every style of yoga is for everyone.

Although most physical forms of yoga practice share similarities, knowing the nuances can help you get started on the right foot, fit your practice to your priorities and physical condition, expand your awareness and make your yoga practice more rewarding.

Which Type of Yoga is Best for You?

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K - Glossary

Kama: Pursuit of desire. Also, the Hindu God of desire.

Kama Sutra: An epic tale of love and desire infused with all the pageantry, passion and vibrant color of 16th century India. An ancient Sanskrit text giving instruction on the art of lovemaking.

A breathing technique designed to stimulate and energize the body and the brain.

Kapha: The dosha governing all strength, substance, and structure of the body.

Karma: One of the central ideas of Hindu philosophy, Karma is literally action of any kind, including ritual acts. But Karma also includes the concept of cause and effect, the spiritual equivalent of Newton's law that every action has an equal an opposite reaction. Karma itself is the action and bad or good karma refers to past actions.

Karma Yoga: Yoga of service or work.

Kichari: A nourishing, easily digested porridge made of rice and dahl.

Knjee: A nourishing, easily digested rice-water drink.

Kirtan: Mantras that are sung to music. Chanting and singing devotional songs.

Kosa: Literally, "Covering" or "Sheath". There are five sheaths protecting the soul, the deepest reality or "Jiva", and that soul is not affected by the sheaths.

Krishna: An incarnation of God Vishnu, the God-man whose teachings can be found in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bhagavata-Purana.

Religious action designed to purify and cleanse the mind (rites or ceremonies). "Undertaking", "process" or "activity".

Kriya Yoga: Technique of Yoga.

Reduction of the body, whether through purification and weight-loss measures, inadequate nutrition, or poor assimilation.

Kundalini: The body's energy that is found at the base of the spine; symbolized by a coiled female serpent. Kundalini yoga uses breath, sound, and meditation as its major resources - specifically, moving the breath along the spine to stimulate different energy centers.

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Reconnect With Nature

Can burying your friends in the sand be a form of yoga? According to Russell Comstock, a yoga teacher and outdoor adventure educator based in Essex, New York, the answer is "absolutely." At a conference organized by the Green Yoga Association last September, Comstock and his wife, a psychotherapist, led an "Ocean Yoga" day for nearly 25 participants. The group practiced asanas in front of the waves, searched for stones and pebbles to create devotional altars, and buried each other in the sand in Savasana to encourage pratyahara (sense withdrawal). "Yoga on the beach is a wonderful way for people to reconnect with a sense of joy and wonder..", says one of the participants,"It was a total blast!"

But the Comstocks aren't stopping there. They recently established the Metta Earth Institute on a several-hundred-acre farm in New York's Adirondack Mountains. In addition to hatha yoga and meditation classes, the small eco-school will offer sustainable-living programs that teach organic gardening, small-scale farming, permaculture principles, and green building techniques.

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Safe Class

People who struggle with their body image can be ultrasensitive to even well-intentioned comments, and yoga teachers may inadvertently contribute to a stressful atmosphere. "I have seen yoga teachers putting thin students onstage to demonstrate asanas, recommending that students lose weight to achieve a pose, and colluding with students' exercise addiction by allowing noticeably underweight students to take multiple weekly classes," says Santa Monica, California, psychologist Janeen Locker. Instead, teachers need to be mindful of creating an atmosphere that's comfortable and noncompetitive. Here are some suggestions from Locker:

Watch for addiction: If you notice a student, taking many classes a day, who's obsessed with her body and weight, - gently remind her that she should rest before the next class, and that her practice requires not just water but food too.

Ask about injury: Some students push themselves to achieve a pose beyond their bodies' limits. If a student has an injury or limitation, help her adjust the poses to adapt to it.

Encourage an inward focus: Yoga classes aren't immune from competition, but reminding students to focus on their own bodies' subtleties can quiet anxiety.

Demonstrate diversity: If you have students demonstrate various asanas, choose from a variety of different body types, ages, cultures, and ethnicities.

Never comment on a student's body: It's easy enough for students to think, "If I were only thinner or taller or stronger, I'd be better at this pose" without getting reinforcement from the teacher.

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Dizziness - How To Prevent This?

The dizziness that comes with deep breathing is usually caused by breathing out carbon dioxide faster than the body produces it. This makes the blood less acidic, which apparently causes a chemical alteration in nerve function that makes you feel light-headed. The cure is to breathe more slowly and/or less deeply.

Holding the breath during asana practice is not a good idea. Asanas require free circulation of the blood and plenty of oxygen to the muscles and organs. Holding the breath lowers oxygen levels. Although it raises carbon dioxide levels, it can increase pressure in the chest so much that it is difficult for blood to return from the body to the heart. Too little blood goes in, so the heart pumps too little blood out. Dizziness may result when blood pressure sensors in the heart, upper chest, and neck detect too little blood volume within the heart, or too little pressure being pumped up toward the head.

Similarly, standing up suddenly from Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) can cause so much blood to flow downhill into the legs and abdomen that too little blood fills the heart. Normally, reflexes quickly compensate for this by raising the heart rate and constricting blood vessels to raise pressure. However, if the reflexes are too sluggish, pressure will fall in the heart, chest, neck, and head, and you will feel dizzy.

To prevent this, do three things when coming out of Uttanasana. (1) Contract the calf and thigh muscles strongly to squeeze blood from leg veins toward the heart. Start this action before you start to come up and continue it while coming up and after you are upright. (2) Come up slowly to give reflexes time to respond. (3) Inhale while coming up. This lowers pressure in the chest, thereby helping blood flow into the heart.

The breathing pattern you describe probably contributes to your dizziness in backbends, but excess back bending of the neck might also cause this. Blood flows to your brain by four arteries: two carotid arteries in your frontal neck and two vertebral arteries that are threaded through holes in the vertebrae of the neck. Extreme back bending of the neck might theoretically constrict the vertebral arteries. If this occurred, and the carotid arteries were unable to compensate for any reason (for example, if they suffered from narrowing, or stenosis), you would experience reduced blood flow to your head. You can often avoid excess bending of the neck in backbends by learning to lift your chest more, so you bend more from the uppermost part of your back instead of your neck.

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I-J Terms

Indra: Vedic God of being or life.

Ishvara: Ishvara literally means "Lord of the Universe". It is used to refer to a god who is seen as the personalization of the Creator Brahman.

Iyengar Yoga: This is probably the best known and widely practiced system of Hatha Yoga today. Iyengar is unique for its use of props such as cushions, straps, blankets and blocks to assist in doing the postures.

Jainism: Non-orthodox form of Vedic/Aryan teaching, emphasizing non-violence.

Japa: Reciting sacred texts, practiced verbally and mentally.

Jiva: Life. The individual soul; at one with the universal soul.

Jiva-mukta: Spiritual liberation. A combination of Jiva "life," and mukta "liberation." meaning to be spiritually liberated, while still living in a mortal body.

Jiva-mukti: A person who lives in the flesh, but has found spiritual freedom. A Yoga practice that is intellectual and physically rigorous.

Jnana Yoga:
The yoga of wisdom; the path to liberation based on wisdom, through the ability to distinguish between the Real and the unreal, and rejecting what is unreal.

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Om - the only mantra you'll ever need...

Mantras, sacred chants, come in all shapes and sizes. They can be composed of sentences, single words, or even single syllables; they can be perfectly intelligible or completely mystifying (at least to the uninitiated).
Single-syllable mantras, known as bija (seed) mantras, are the easiest to remember and recite; they're also the most powerful. It's believed that, just as a tiny seed contains a majestic tree, each bija contains vast amounts of spiritual wisdom and creative force. One of the oldest and most widely known of these seeds is om.
Om is the "primordial seed" of the universe - this whole world, says one ancient text, "is nothing but om."
Yogis often meditate on the four "measures," or parts, of om. Though commonly spelled om, the mantra actually consists of three letters, a, u, and m. (In Sanskrit, whenever an initial a is followed by a u, they coalesce into a long o sound.) Each of these three parts has numerous metaphysical associations, which themselves serve as meditative seeds. For example, a (pronounced "ah") represents our waking state, which is also the subjective consciousness of the outer world; u (pronounced "ooh") is the dreaming state, or the consciousness of our inner world of thoughts, dreams, memories, and so on; and m is the dreamless state of deep sleep and the experience of ultimate unity.

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