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Ashtanga's moving meditation.

Ashtanga yoga is a moving meditation; a healing art that brings balance to the body, mind and spirit. It links familiar Hatha yoga poses with Vinyasa. Vinyasa is a combination of breath and movement that results in a dynamic, rejuvenating practice. Ashtanga is unique because it is a predetermined sequence of poses. This allows the brain to memorize the postures, resulting in a sort of yogic dance, where only motion and the sound of breath occupy the mind.

The first of six series is called the Primary Series. Otherwise known as Yoga Chikitsa (yoga therapy) its purpose is to cleanse the body of toxins and realign the musculoskeletal system. Yoga chikitsa clears the mind and dispels physical pain, which allows the body's own consciousness to awaken. This expanded awareness naturally results in ashtanga becoming a way of life rather than a mere practice. Ashtanga yoga inherently balances the chakra system. The chakras, (a Sanskrit term for "wheel") are centers along our body that receive, assimilate and transmit life force energy. When our chakras are blocked, our harmonious connection is disrupted. Emotional imbalances and physical illnesses may result. When on the mat, what appear to be physical obstacles are often repressed emotional wounds. Tight hips open up with sighs of relief when a person acknowledges an old pain they. have been carrying. The chakra associated with the hips begins to move more into balance, helping the person face and clear spiritual stagnations that have created pain. Each pose prepares the yogi for the next, by opening the body to more flexibility or strength and preparing the student on an energetic level as the chakras align. Ashtanga begins with mantra or chanting of Sanskrit healing tones in an eloquent gesture of gratitude to the forefathers of yoga. It is also a request for clarity and true insight. Similar to saying grace before eating a meal, mantra brings a focused awareness to the nourishment about to be received.

Following the mantra are two versions of the Sun Salutations, or Surya Namaskara A and B. We begin with breath; lightly constrict the throat so that a beautiful sound resonates deeply in and out of the nose. This is called Ujjayi Pranayama, victorious breath. We then lift and engage the muscles located at the perineum and belly. These are the locks, or bandhas. An internal heat ignites and grows as the sound of the breath aids the practitioner in quieting the wandering mind. Sun Salutations are the foundation of the practice. They relax the body by warming the muscles while serving a deeper purpose of connecting the spirit to both the earth and sky.

Sun Salutations are followed by the standing poses. These connect us to the earth through the feet and root chakra (situated at the base of the spine). Giving us stability and strength, standing poses allow us to feel secure in ourselves and solid in our lives. The root chakra, Muladhara, is where we manifest our visions into reality, Without a proper foundation and solid ground, we are unfocused and unable to make our dreams come true.

Following the standing poses are the seated postures, forward-folding at the center of the sacral or second chakra. The second chakra, Svadhisthana, is connected to the womb, and is the seat of passion and change. When the second chakra is blocked, we may overindulge in our search for pleasure; causing pain and false desire. The forward folds help to release these blocks while calming the nerves and nurturing the self. We may then feel our value and can experience life's true pleasures.

The third chakra, Manipura, is situated at the solar plexus, where the nerve ganglion is concentrated at the digestive system. It is the seat of will and power, our internal fire. This chakra is balanced by poses that twist the body at the navel. Clearing out old digestive matter and "feeding the fire," they allow not only food, but also life experiences to be assimilated and digested. After the twists are poses that draw back the shoulders and open up the heart center. Anahata, the fourth chakra, allows us to feel peace and unconditional love. When this chakra is out of balance one may feel disconnected from others, alone, sad or envious. Visuddha, the fifth chakra, is associated with the throat. It is where we communicate our truth and express creativity. If blocked, our willpower surrenders into patterns of abuse and addictions. In Ashtanga, we embrace this chakra when beginning the finishing sequence. The poses actually fold at the neck, increasing energy and awareness to the throat center. The sixth chakra, Ajna and seventh, Sahasrara, are located at the pineal and pituitary glands (the brow and crown of the head). When out of balance or blocked, we are disillusioned, becoming critical and depressed. The inversions and final poses of the sequence bring clarity to the subtle body, gifting us with discernment, intuition and true bliss.

Every Ashtanga session ends in Sivasana, the corpse pose. This signifies a "death" to what has just been released, resting the student for a new approach to life, without attachments to the old.

This powerful style of yoga not only balances and heals the subtle energies of the body but also creates an internal heat that cleanses the organs and detoxifies the cells and tissues. The Ujjayi breath, the inner fire, and the vinyasas that link the poses together are hallmarks of Ashtanga. Although originally designed for men, both sexes are drawn to the psycho-spiritual and physical benefits of Ashtanga's profound yoga therapy.


Chakra Oracle, A. Wauters

Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith

Ashtanga Yoga Manual, Mary Kay West

Surya Namaskara A

Begin at the front of your mat, feet parallel, standing tall with your hands at your sides. As you breathe in, lift the arms above the head, looking upwards until the palms meet. As you breathe out, fold forward, releasing all of the air out of your lungs. Breathe in and lift the heart, looking to the front and flattening the back. As you breathe out, place both palms flat on the mat and step or jump back into a Plank Pose. continuing to exhale as you lower down to your belly. Breathe in and lift the chest into Cobra or Upward Facing Dog, then as you breathe out push away from the mat into Downward Facing Dog. Hold this pose for five breaths, relaxing the forehead and muscles around the eyes. After the fifth breath, bend the knees as you inhale and step, walk or jump back to your hands, exhaling once more in a forward fold. Breathing in, lift the arms back above the head, looking up at the palms touching, and as you breathe. out, relax the arms by your sides.

Brooke Sullivan, BA is a certified herbalist, yogini, healer and dancer. She offers wellness consultations using yoga, diet and herbal therapies at the new Viriditas Healing Center and Apothecary in Asheville. or 828-280-3744.
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Title Annotation:breathe in
Author:Sullivan, Brooke
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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