16 August 2018

The Inner Fire: core activation

                                Related image                                             

What is the Inner Fire?

I can image many different answers to this. Some might say, or suggest:
  • it's the heart-fire
  • it's the fire from mooladhara (base) chakra
  • it's manipura (navel) chakra
  • it's the element of fire
Let us look at these all:

                               :Image result for satyananda anahata chakra
The heart-fire

I can actually imagine someone thinking that there is a heart-fire. There is such an amazing warmth which spreads forth through our entire being, from the heart chakra. Actually, it also emanates from the physical heart, too. In both cases, this is Love. It transforms how we are feeling, in the moment. It makes us more of whom we are meant to be.

I totally understand that this could be referred to as the heart-fire. I truly do. But, I would not say that there is a fire there. And, I've never "seen" nor experienced, a heart-fire.

I would, however, tell you that there is a solitary flame, inside the Heart Space (Hridayakasha).  It looks like a still candle flame. The heart chakra, and the spiritual heart (they are different from each other), both reside in this space.

I was told that this flame is the flame of the Soul. And I've never actually bothered to investigate this claim. But, I will tell you that it does bring us closer to our Essence, of the person whom we are who traverses the realms of the heavens and of the earth. It is golden, and completely still. And, whereas fire is hot, this flame is not. But, it does create a warmth.

The fire of the base chakra

Contrary to popular opinion, I can honestly tell you that:
  • the awakening of mooladhara (base) chakra
  • the awakening of kundalini
  • and the ascent of kundalini energy
  • and the ascent of the kundalini snake
can all be separate. That is how it was, for me. Firstly mooladhara chakra awoke. I didn't really know what it was nor understand what had happened. But I did know that I was never again the same person that I was before the event.

Is there a fire there? Um. Yes, there is. That fire has to do with the energy of kundalini. But, and this is important: the chakra can wake up first, long before the fire reveals itself, and even longer before our kundalini energy wakes up. Kundalini, when it is getting ready to move, when it awakes, it roars like a mighty fire. It's deafening. A large square opens, a thundering roar of fire leaps out of the square. It is immense. But still, the energy of kundalini has not yet exploded into being.

There is a yellow square in the centre of the base chakra. It holds this fire down, inside, and whilst it does, this square may be like a thick, steel, grey colour. And extremely strong. A person may also experience molten lava flowing, when they are close their eyes.

But when that majestic kundalini energy is released: it is like an atomic bomb going off inside of oneself. And it is released as energy, not fire. But there is more to come after that, before Ma Kundalini, the exquisitely beautiful, feminine, white snake, ascends to the crown, inside the head. 

                                      Image result for satyananda manipura chakra                 
The fire of manipura chakra

A big secret: the fire that I have just described, is to do with mooladhara (base) chakra. But it requires the energy of the awakened navel/manipura chakra to release the energy behind the fire; which is kundalini energy.

However, there is a fire at manipura; the fire of the sun. And this sun is to do with energy. For, no matter what you have been told, or read, this chakra brings us the knowledge of energy in it's different forms.

The fire that we get in our belly, is more to do with our heated emotions. And, there is also, of course, the digestive fire. Neither are the fire of Manipura chakra.

The fire element

In yoga, the elements are called tattwas. There is an experience whereby a space is awakened, and within that particular space is where the tattwas reside. And, of course, there is a fire element.

The fire element has nothing to do with any of the strange notions which abound. The tattwas are three dimensional, they are not appearing as being a flat picture, as the chakras do for quite some time.

And, this has nothing to do with the Inner Fire, it's something else. However, because the fire element sits starting at hip level up to the armpits, covering the chest, it could be thought to be a fire of the heart. But, I don't believe that is.

And what does this all have to do with core activation?

Well, when our core is activated, with spiritual energy, it is a totally different situation for having "great abs". In fact, it has nothing to do with the body-beautiful. The energy is from Manipura chakra, and it must be an awakened chakra to have this effect.

There is a technique for it, however, I am not at all interested in putting this on the internet. At this stage.

But, the first ever, spiritual core activation (I love this - "spiritual core activation" could be one of my "sayings" - or not), I learnt in my first ever yoga class, early 1970s. By a western Swami, who was not part of an ashram corporation. He called it Agni Sara Kriya. Now, Satyananda devotees might well proclaim that I have the technique for the name, wrong. But, no.
  • Agni means fire
  • Sara has several meanings, one of which is motion
  • Kriya means an action. Spiritually, a kriya is part of a group of deeply spiritual and advanced, yoga techniques

How to start the spiritual core activation process

Stand, feet about shoulder width apart, hands on thighs, knees bent. Exhale, hold the breath out, push down hard onto your thighs as you lift your abdomen into the abdominal cavity which starts beneath your ribs. Then push your abs out and back in, fairly fast, several times. Then release, breathe in and out.

This is a flying upward technique. Your abdominals fly upwards, then back to normal. All with the breath held out. Two to three times each morning, first thing after going to the loo, is enough.

What does it do?
  • It pulls our abdominal and reproductive organs back into place. It did this for me. 
  • Because of it's dynamic affect on the navel area, it stimulates our pranic, or life-force, sheath.
  • It comes under the umbrella of shat karmas which are the cleansing techniques of Hatha Yoga. 

11 August 2018

Core activation

                                        Image result for fire in the belly

What is our core ?

Our core refers to the abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and some in our back, which hold in our abdominal organs and support our spine.

What does core activation do, in modern yoga?

Strengthening the muscles of our core, gives us (according to modern yoga):
  • good posture
  • by making us strong in our core, we become emotionally strong. This is untrue. I know many people, myself included, who are very emotionally strong and stable, yet do not have "abs". Plus I also know some people who have strong "abs" who are not emotionally strong.
  • we can activate our 3rd chakra, Manipura chakra. I also do not agree with this, it is another ridiculous modern yoga supposition. In fact, I find this downright silly.
  • gives us great abdominal muscles. Which of course is good, too.

How do we do modern core activation?

In western yoga terminology, particularly with modern vinyasa, the idea is to activate the core muscles with lifts and contractions in yoga practice, especially whilst holding a pose. This was popularised, as far as I know, by Shiva Rea, who had been a longtime Ashtanga yoga devotee, some years ago. Plus she was part of a group who combined Ashtanga, Desikacharya and Iyengar's teaching to create modern Vinyasa Yoga, and Power Yoga. Shiva has done a lot for yoga, and I have only heard good things about her.  Her core activation method bears a strong resemblance to Ashtanga Yoga's "bandhas". With a Pilates twist. This is how you do it:
  • drop your tailbone. This creates a minor tummy tuck and the very lowest of the abdominal muscles contract a bit
  • draw your navel to the spine
  • contract your lower ribs inwards
This gives amazing abdominal muscles. Wow factor. 

Baptiste Power Yoga, another modern method, does something similar:
  • contract and lift the muscles which you use to stop having a pee (also known as kegels when women do them)
  • draw your navel in and up the midline of your body
These two together "create contraction, stability, core strength, and heat". The heat, of course, being somewhat of a 'thing' in modern yoga, for purifying the body. Which is good.

Another modern system which has also been around for a while, uses very dynamic and strong Vinyasa, has a Pilates "zip up" movement of the abdomen. This is a slight movement, and it can also create a modified bandha, or lock, tightening, of the pelvic floor.

I learnt this some years ago for doing vinyasa. It was quite doable.

And yet another method, which I learnt maybe 15 years ago, by an Iyengar and anatomy and physiology teacher (and I don't know if it's part of Iyengar yoga), is to draw your side abdominals in towards your navel, and also up the centre line of your body, plus draw your hip bones in towards each other.

How do we use core activation in yoga?

I am talking about strong abdominals here, with core activation. Before all of the above became popular, I would have said that core activation is something else, so I'll go into this in another post.

These contractions, lifts, zip-ups, are generally used in dynamic yoga, which we could call Power Yoga, or Vinyasa. The two are actually a bit different. So, it's moving yoga, based on the Ashtanga Sun Salutation moves, with warriors, triangles, and other vigorous moves, plus some floor poses at the end.

Very vigorous, whether one is doing slow or faster breathing. As this is all based on Ashtanga "bandhas", or locks, the ideal is to use the core activation throughout the whole class, or practice. This is a tall order, and, as I've already said:

I do think that the zip-up method of core activation is easiest to maintain for a vinyasa type class.
(Without adding pelvic floor lifts)

                                                   Image result for navasana yoga anatomy

                                         Image result for navasana yoga anatomy
                               (any version of navasana is perfect for adding extra core activation)

What you can do, instead, is to do core activation in various poses, whilst you are holding them. Such as mountain/down dog, warriors, triangles, plank variations, standing balance poses, boat pose (as in a seated V shape). This will amplify the effects of the pose, and with any pose which can stress the abdomen. To start with, just do 1 pose at a time, until you or your students are used to it. After all, with warrior 2, for example, by the time you've got all the minute aspects sorted, to then add the bits and pieces for core activation, is overkill.

It is always better for your students if you can teach in increments, whether it's on the physical or on the spiritual level, so that they are always progressing.

Start with a wee zip-up as though pulling on tight jeans. Over time, as they are used to it, add the pelvic lift. If you are going to be adding it. Whilst a pose is being held. I wouldn't do this myself, and there is a reason why. To hold too much attention to the pelvic floor quivering away, or tightening, throughout the class, is going to create a sexuality that is not what yoga is about.

But, hey, that's just me.

Drawing the abdominals in and up, plus the hip bones towards each other, is easy and excellent for floor abdominal work.

Or, if you would like to use Shiva Rea's core activation: start with dropping the tailbone, which is brilliant, as it also relaxes the lower back. An absolute must in warriors if anyone has a dodgy back. The next step to add, over time, is to draw the navel to the spine on the exhale. Then learn how to maintain that. The final step of course being the slight drawing in of the lower ribs. Again, if these steps are done only whilst holding specific poses, it's all doable.

The thing is, what is a specific pose for? Going back to warriors and planks, they are about strengthening. So to add core activation in these poses fits in with what the pose is about. And even helps to hold the pose. So that's great.

But a bridge pose? Many people would say that it's for strength too, and, yes it is, but it's not only what the bridge is about. It's also for deep breathing, and especially for our glands. In particular, the thyroid, but also our reproductive system, pancreas, abdominal organs and solar plexus. So, again this is just me, I would not do core activation here. I would not do anything to minimise the amazing work of this pose.

So, it helps to have some asana intelligence if you are going to incorporate modern aspects which have been mainstreamed, some over 20 years ago. I don't think that you need to add them, but if you do, be aware of what you are doing and why.  Choose one method and stick with it. Doing one type of core activation in some poses, and another type in other poses... really? That's messy.

                     Create a consistency of what and how you teach in your classes.

3 August 2018

Ethics for the yoga teacher

                                  Related image

My first experience of lack of yoga ethics...

When I taught  my first ever class, a long time ago a furor erupted behind my back, and my teacher rang me to tell me what was happening and who was behind it. Amazing. I was flabbergasted, and horrified.

A charismatic woman who had been grooming me to be her pupil was behind it. Apparently, the largest yoga organisation of the time (early 1970s), had not been asked for their approval, and it seemed that, well, they didn't want me there. And really, who did I think I was?

This was not the last bit of skullduggery in the yoga scene, for me, here in Auckland, New Zealand. Mean things just kept happening, and I just kept going, doing my bit, until I just didn't want to handle it anymore.

Some reasons why I left the yoga scene

What didn't I want to handle? Many things. But to be discreet, the following will suffice:

I belonged to the "authority" for the tutors in the gym scene, so there had to be gym training each year for this, plus a tidy fee. Just for teaching yoga in gyms. Plus first aid training, and I did feel that first aid was good. I still do. I had decided to stop teaching in gyms, so I was quite happy (after much worrying, to be honest), to let the gym training go.

Then the illustrious Yoga Alliance. I was one of it's first members in New Zealand. I wrote three yoga teacher training courses which received acclaim, at the time, from Yoga Alliance. The problem for me with them became when I wanted to renew my annual subscription, and pay even more money, and of course you do have to do upskilling, only with people of whom they approve. Guess what? I would have had to go to upskill with teachers whom I had trained, or sign up and become a pupil on someone else's teacher training course. All people with less experience and knowledge than myself. This was beyond ridiculous. And not only pay for the annual subscription but fork out lots of money. So, I dropped this, too.

I might add that someone else took all the credit for the courses which I had written. Non-stealing is one of the basic foundations of yoga, so this was extremely unyogic.

I also had a teacher training certificate with the large international yoga organisation which I had been involved with for many years of my life. Well, the main Ashram in Australia has folded, where the teaching was being done, due to being exposed with very bad skullduggery, and a decree came at one stage from India, that the teacher certificates from the Australian ashram, were no longer valid.

More non-stealing should have been observed here regarding money and ethics, because those darn courses cost people a few thousand dollars.

So, in a heartbeat, I dropped these three organisational ties. This was a few years ago.

More reasons for dropping out of the yoga scene

But, there were other reasons. and it now seems that I was not alone in my disquiet with the entire yoga scene. But, at the time I did think that I was the only person who was not liking what they were seeing. (silly me) And, all of these other reasons, they are still continuing. These reasons are all to do with fame and fortune.

Which is not what spirituality is about. The most spiritual person whom I know, is also the most unselfish, and has the least money. And one of the least known people. This person leaves the yoga people for dead, so to speak.

How could this be? Well there is a secret, which many will know, and the charisma-fame-fortune people, will not. What is it? It completely has to do with oneself.

The problem with charisma

When one "brands" oneself, promotes oneself as The Expert without all of the necessary knowledge in whatever field that they are 'being" expert in, is that sooner or later, people start realising that  person is not whom they said that they were.

It's really easy to talk authoritatively. But it doesn't always signify real knowledge.

A really easy example, is being a chakra "authority" without having had real chakra experience. Or promoting The Party Line on various things, so to speak. Or, doing a seminar once then rushing off to use the words of the seminar, as your own. Some of my "don't get me started" issues.

Not a good look. People really don't like this. Some get conned, but many don't.

When we are spouting "knowledge" and "ethics" to all and sundry, we are not allowing others to grow. Strangely, nor does the person who is loudly proclaiming "truths".

So, to put it in a more spiritual connotation: we are taking away the mana, the personal power of others, by not allowing them to grow and blossom within their inner power. By not allowing them to find their own way, make their own mistakes, have their own epiphanies, learn and practice their own truths.

And, when we impose upon others' growth, we are making them feel less of a person than they actually are. The first yoga thing to practice is non-violence, and in this instance, it is most certainly not being practiced.

We are, after all, only yoga teachers, whether or not we have a title, such as Swami. We are not the spiritual police.

The Secret

When we impede on others' mana, on others' growth, we may appear to have increased mana, we may even believe that we have it. But, this is not personal power. It is very delusional.

Personal power has a lot to do with cause and effect, with being able to be an honest and decent person. And it grows, within. With each spiritual growth, and this too, is internal, our mana increases. Our spiritual power increases. In increments, as we also evolve in increments.

Our mana is our own business

And our own mana, our own personal power, it becomes stifled, when we are stifled. This truly is something that I have seen over and over. And when I too, was towing The Party Line: my own mana, it just was so dulled. To be honest, it just kept receding into the ether.

There is an aspect of mana which we get from being Someone within a yoga system. And there are many yoga systems out there! But this is not the mana which comes from within. And I do know, from personal experience, that this mana, this power, this energy, can disappear in an instant!

What else can we do instead?

Ah.... one of the secrets of spirituality.

All spiritual systems have guidelines for living a better, more spiritual life based on ethics. We can be ethical, and follow the guidelines set out, handed down through time.

And, even better, we can ignore the latest "take" on these ethics and work out our own understandings of them.

What we think, feel, know and understand of these guideline/ethics will change if we are sincere. And, as they change, we deepen in our understandings. A really good teacher will want the best for anyone whom they are teaching. They will want them to evolve, in their own way, in their own time. Which is what is supposed to happen in life, anyway.

Without us imposing.

27 July 2018

Intention? or focus?

                                  Image result for yoga meditation   


This was The Latest Thing, a few years ago. Known as Sankalpa by a large yoga organisation. Teachers everywhere, took it, and ran with it. Made it seriously Special. Teachers here, there, and everywhere could create something deep and meaningful, by making intention a special aspect of their classes.

Originally it was part of the above-mentioned yoga organisation's technique of yoga nidra. The idea being that the mind was receptive as it slipped from wakefulness into sleep, or from deep sleep back to wakefulness. For this is when  that little window of opportunity when one's mental barriers are  down, and a resolve, intention, vow, sankalpa, whatever you want to call it, could take fruition, from being implanted during those brief moments.

I no longer teach like this. Frankly, the whole sankalpa thing, it irritated some of my very savvy clients. They were already doing great things with their lives, they didn't want to do sankalpa. Looking back, I now feel that it wasn't too good to use it. Now I feel that it's too much like self hypnosis.

And, now, sankalpa, intention, is mainstream. Well established. But, used differently. It is usually done to start a class.

Now, to start a class, you could use sankalpa in a number of ways:
  • select a crystal
  • choose a tarot or similar card
  • get read a virtue
  • get read something like one of Patanjali's Sutras
  • or just start the class with an intention

This intention could be for a myriad of reasons:
  • focus on the breath
  • focus on your abs in some form or another
  • be aware of your body
  • just be aware
  • and so on

What is the benefit of intention?

There is a benefit. It brings our entire being into a one-pointed aspect. When we can be relaxed within an intention, we can learn much about ourselves, especially if we are doing something as seemingly mundane as watching the breath, in class, from beginning to end. In this instance, a person will feel quite energized in some cases. If it's a class with very soft ujjayi (whispering breath) throughout, one will become meditative.

If you are observing the body throughout the class, you may discover many things about yourself. How your body fits into the poses. What suits you best. Your stamina, your tension, aches and pains, and much more.

Intention, or focus?

And, importantly, when we have something to focus on, it is less tiring than daydreaming. I do this focus differently than using intention at the start of a class.  Depending on whom I'm teaching, and when.

I frequently start a class with a visualisation. Nothing fancy. But always meaningful. I don't make up stories or anything like that. Mainly because I find that sort of thing rather silly. I use special symbols for the people, the time of day, the season.... a myriad of reasons.

I give a focus throughout the class. And not always the same focus throughout the whole class. Occasionally, it's breathing in a certain way. Or chakra awareness. Sometimes it's bits and pieces of a posture whilst everyone is doing it.

Yoga teachers can have a focus, too

I want people to feel good when they have finished. And I also want whatever focus I am using, to have a purpose, be meaningful. I don't want to indoctrinate anyone regarding words like sankalpa, intention. It's all too charismatic for me. I walked away from all of that nonsense years ago. And became a better teacher for it.

And that is a great focus: make it about your students, and about you doing your best for them.

18 July 2018

Dealing With Exhaustion

                                    Image result for bhairavi mudra images
                                      (bhairavi mudra -  internalising version)

I often think that people probably think that yoga teachers have different lives, than they actually do. I only ever knew of one who had a family, a large house which she was mostly responsible for, a partner, taught many excellent classes a week, did all of the advertising, book-work etc, for her yoga business, and managed a daily practice.

Whew! She was unique, for sure. I really admired her.

I find that daily practice is one of the most difficult things for many yoga teachers, to fit into their life. I certainly constantly experienced this, too. Why does this happen?
  • Exhaustion. Driving around a city taking classes all over the place, to groups of people with differing needs, is tiring. One is constantly 'giving out', which most yoga teachers do. Because they care about people.
  • Taking morning classes, then maybe a mid-morning one, then an evening one or two, leaves very little structured time to fit in some time to do a small practice.
  • The biggest obstacle for yoga teachers, I feel, is simply trying to practice too much yoga each day. 
Hints For Dealing With Exhaustion

One of the ways that I dealt with the chronic exhaustion and stress from trying to fit too much in, in order to make a (humble) living, was to arrive at a venue at least 10 minutes early, and park my car around the corner. I'd push my seat back, drop the back of my seat, close my eyes, let myself go limp, and do a hasta (hand) mudra (gesture), for five to ten minutes. Bhairavi mudra, with the left hand on top of the right. Thumb tips touching.

It was nothing sort of miraculous, as I would become instantly energised, yet completely relaxed. It was my little secret for coping with a massive teaching load.

You can even sit in this position, with your eyes open, whilst your class ambles into the room. It will revive you. And everyone will feel great and inspired that you are so relaxed.

Learning to relax whilst you are teaching, is definitely one of the 'tricks of the trade'. Being calm. Slow down your breathing: it will slow down your brain waves, and make you calmer. Smile: it will also make you feel less tired.

When I was teaching a lot of yoga, I really needed some quiet time. Basically, I would get over hearing the sound of my own voice, and just not want to speak. These periods of being quieter, will also revive and calm you.

Having to talk so much with teaching, especially teaching long week-end workshops, taught me a lot about not expending too much energy when I didn't have to! As a method for being able to be a good teacher. The first Swami - Guru whom I ever met, Dr Swami Gitananda, said that too much unnecessary talking, depletes one's prana. Weakens our life-force. I learnt this decades ago, and have followed this advice most of my life.

But I can offer some tips for being able to talk for hours on end, whilst teaching:
  • Talk clearly, and a bit slower.
  • Learn how to give verbal instruction for each pose, without non-stop chattering.
  • Talk to the back of the room. This is projecting your voice.
  • Drop the tone of your voice. A slightly deeper voice is easier to project.
  • Have the sensation of your voice as though it is coming up from your navel area (manipura chakra). This will give a strong energy to your voice.
  • Manipura is the gateway to our prana sheath, which provides life-force to our whole being, so we are connecting our voice to our life-force. 
Demonstrating Poses

I know that some yoga teachers do the postures with their students. And this is great, if you are not holding the poses too long. Personally, I prefer to watch people practising, as I like to be able to see who can do what, so that I can modify poses to the overall group.

But, it's not very self-nurturing for some yoga teachers to always do the poses with the class. I always found it exhausting, but you may not. I know that in some gyms, people can expect the teacher to do the whole class with them.

Again, learning how to teach without demonstrating is vital. If you are teaching a class when your throat is sore, you feel unwell, or your ankle is swollen, you will soon find this out! These are the times when it really helps if you can use less words. For example:

                Warriors and Triangles: "push your feet down and apart" 

                                     Image result for warrior 2 pose

This automatically takes the pressure off the knees, and makes the back leg have more of a supporting role, giving your students standing stability. It also means you won't have to add extra about ankle and/or knee locks, lifting kneecaps, pressure on outside edge of the back foot... etc

I am sure that you also have many tips: feel free to share them.