1. Stand at the top of your mat, arms at your side feet parallel and about 2-4 inches apart. Bring your hands together in the namaste (greeting) position, that is, palms together as in a prayer, centered at the level of your chest. 2. Bring your arms up over your head, palms facing one another, shoulder width apart and open the chest, face palms forward leaning your upper body back, following the sweep of your arms. 3. Bend your knees slightly for support while you bend forward, arms sweeping before you, until you are standing with your body folded, hands on or close to your mat. 4. Place your hands firmly on the mat with your fingers spread for support and facing forward while you bring the right leg all the way behind you, stretched out with the knee and foot on the mat. 5. Lift the right knee off the mat, supporting yourself with your hands, and bring the left leg back so that both feet are on the mat (plank pose). 6. Now, drop your body into the next part of the sequence, placing the knees, chest, and chin on the mat. Your feet and hands are still on the mat, but your belly is not. 7. Now, drop the belly as you lift your chest and head into a cobra pose. 8. From cobra, push your hands and feet into the mat while you lift your mid-body off the mat, achieving the V pose (downward dog shape) 9. Now, bring your right foot between your hands, you are in lunge pose that is a mirror image of the first lunge (#4). 10. Now bring your left foot forward to enter into a standing forward fold pose, just like #3. 11. Now sweep up the arms, head and upper body as you inhale, sweeping your arms and upper body backwards. 12. Return your hands to your sides.
Typically the Surya Namaskar is repeated 12 to 24 times, alternating right and left sides. Other yoga schools practice different styles of this moving sequence, sometimes variations are added, and the sequence includes other postures such as the triangle, upward dog, standing twists, etc. As pictured and described in this booklet, it is the version taught in the Sivananda tradition. When you are no longer challenged by it, add in some of the variations, keeping a flowing sequence.
Uddiyana Bandha (stomach lift)
Uddiyana Bandha strengthens and massages the abdomen, should be performed when the stomach is empty, preferably in the morning before breakfast.
Stand erect and place the feet about one foot apart with the toes pointing straight ahead. Exhale completely, stoop over, bending the knees and place the palms of the hands on your thighs. Hold your breath out, press your chin into the notch at the base of the throat and contract the muscles of the entire abdominal region, pulling them upward and inward. Then, straighten the legs and place the hands on the hips without inhaling or loosening the contraction or taking the chin up. Then soften the abdomen and inhale, without lifting the chin, until inhalation has been completed. Repeat three to six times.
The breathing exercises, known as pranayama, enable the practitioner to gather a great supply of nerve energy. Yogic wisdom teaches that this nerve energy, also called prana or life force, exists in and around all the material manifestations, that the abundance of prana promotes energy and good health while the lack of prana leads to debility and sickness. Breathing exercises help to steady the mind. The breathing practices go hand in hand with the mental concentration and relaxation techniques. You may sit cross-legged or in a chair, with an erect spine, neck and head.
Ujjayi (the complete breath)
Sit in one of the cross-legged postures or firmly on a chair. Exhale and inhale slowly through the nostrils. Allow the area from the navel to the bottom of the ribs to fill with air by relaxing the muscles in that area. Keep the area below the navel firm. Allow the solar plexus area to fill, without purposely protruding the belly outwards. Then expand the lower ribs sideways, backwards and forwards. Then let the breath rise to fill the upper chest as the upper ribs expand sideways, backwards and forwards. The breath is complete at this point. The collarbones do not rise upwards, but are the upper stopping point of the breath. Exhalation is the opposite of inhalation. First the upper ribs are allowed to relax, then the lower ribs, and finally the diaphragm area is contracted.
Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing)
Alternate nostril breathing cleanses and soothes the nerves to prepare the mind and body for the relaxation-concentration techniques. Sit upright and fold the first and second fingers of the right hand toward the hollow of the palm. Leave the third finger, little finger and thumb extended. The tips of the little finger and the third finger rest on the left nostril, just below the nose bone. The tip of the thumb rests on the right nostril just below the nose bone. Exhale and bend the head forward so that the chin rests against the notch at the base of the throat. Then inhale through the right nostril only, by blocking the left nostril with the little and third fingers. Make the inhalation steady and complete, not hurried. Repeat for a period of time, five to ten minutes, alternating nostrils, ending with inhalation through the right nostril. Follow with relaxation in the corpse or with a relaxation/concentration technique.
Kapalabhati (cleansing breath)
This breath ispracticed to cleanse the sinuses and all the air passages in the head. Sit in one of the cross-legged positions or firmly on a chair. Inhale, softening and filling the entire abdominal area from the pubis to the bottom of the lower ribs. Do not allow the inhalation to expand upwards into the chest area. Exhale forcefully through the nose by contracting the abdominal muscles. Inhale, passively and slowly, moving only the abdominal area. Exhale forcefully again, inhale slowly, and repeat the sequence of the cleansing breath with a steady rhythm. Do ten or more repetitions at a time. Each set of ten or more repetitions constitutes one round After each round, do one or more complete breaths. Continue until the first signs of fatigue appear. Follow with the corpse pose or a meditation technique.
The mind has been likened to the ocean. The thoughts are likened to the restless waves. Beneath the surface of the waves lie the vast depths of the ocean, full of myriad creatures, plants, and currents. Likewise, beneath the surface of the mind-thoughts lies the unexplored vastness of the human mind and spirit. With relaxation-concentration techniques we learn to still the thought-waves of the mind. Thus, we are able to become aware of that which has been previously hidden by the restless waves of our thoughts.
Sit in a comfortable position in a dark, draft-free room. Place a candle, with the flame at eye level, in front of you. Gaze fixedly at the candle flame with your attention centered on it for three minutes. Then cup your hands over your opened eyes. In the darkness of your cupped hands you will see the after-image of the flame. Hold this after-image steady in the center of your vision for three minutes. At first, the after-image will dart around. Eventually, you will be able to keep the after-image fixed on one point. With this technique, you are training your mind not to wander, to obey you, and to hold itself on one point.
Concentration on the Breath
Sit quietly with your eyes half closed. Place your attention on the breath as it enters, moves within, and leaves your body. Breathe rhythmically through the nostrils. This technique stills the mind, inducing a state of deep relaxation.
Viewing the Thoughts as Clouds
Sit comfortably and breathe gently. Observe your thoughts as if they were passing clouds. Notice how the thoughts repeat themselves, how a thought begins to gather emotional energy and suck you into identifying with it. Pull your awareness back again, be aware that you are sitting to observe and not get carried away by your thoughts. This powerful exercise can be done any time and becomes easier with practice.
Yoga Ethical Tenets
Yamas and Niyamas (restraints and observances)
Yamas and Niyamas are two of the Eight Limbs of yoga practice. I learned ten yamas and ten niyamas, though some yoga traditions mention only five yamas and five niyamas.
The Yamas, or restraints, are:
Ahimsa - non-violence (do no harm)
Satya - truthfulness
Brahmacharya - moderation in all things, control of the senses, celibacy when single, faithfulness in marriage
Asteya - non-stealing, non-coveting
Kshama - forbearance, forgiveness
Dhriti - fortitude, endurance
Daya - mercy, compassion
Aarjvna - straightforwardness, meekness, honesty
Mithra - moderation in diet
Suchi - purity
The Niyamas, or observances, are:
Tepas - austerity
Santosha - contentment, cheerful bearing
Shraddha - faith
Dana - charitable disposition
Satsanga - good company
Laija - modesty
Ishwara Pranidharna - constant awareness of the Divine Presence
Vrata - observance of vows
Mati - sound mind, development of spiritual will and intellect
Japa - repetition of a holy name (or prayer)
© Copyright Carolyn Relei, 1969, revised 1989, 2007, 2009, 2016 Carolyn Relei, All Rights Reserved