Ishvarapranidhana– Living in Surrender

Ishvarapranidhana– Living in Surrender

ISHVARAPRANIWHAT?

Patañjali’s eight limbs of Yoga make up a philosophy that includes yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances, the “don’t restrains”). These are interconnected and help us to enjoy virtuous, purposeful, happy, and balanced lives. Ishvarapranidhana is the fifth and last of the niyamas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. According to the Sutras, In the practice of Kriya Yoga Ishvara pranidhana is one of the three main components, svadhyaya (self-study) and tapas (austerity) being the other two. The observance of these three niyamas together helps for the practice to become a schematic discipline. So, what does Ishvarapranidhana mean in Sanskrit? Ishvara is a name of Shiva that means “supreme ruler of the Universe.” It refers to the Absolute. The term regularly comes up throughout the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, where Ishvara is defined as “a special Self.” The One who is unmovable throughout all of life’s currents. Ishvara is the Divine Consciousness. The force in all of life. Pranidhana has about seven definitions: to apply, to put great effort/energy, deep meditation/contemplation, respectful behavior, enunciation of the fruit of actions, accessing, and prayer. It means to totally recognize something and to honour it. Ishvarapranidhana is to surrender yourself and offer what you do to the Divine. When we move through life in a state of surrender and merging with the Divine, we operate primarily from our Highest Self.

Ishvarapranidhana is part of the deep yoga philosophy which is not necessarily related to “on the mat” practice. It actually encompasses the whole concept of Karma Yoga. It is worth mentioning that Ishvarapranidhana has the most varied interpretations out of all the yamas and niyamas and is among the most misunderstood. In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali speaks of Ishvarapranidhana as needed to become one with that greater Being. A very similar concept also comes up in the Yoga Upanishads, specifically the Shandilya Upanishad and the Darshana Upanishad. In these texts, the term Ishvara Pujita is the last of a 10-fold Niyama system. Puja is Sanskrit for worship, so in this context the focus is more on worship than surrender, but ultimately it comes down to the same idea. 

HOW TO LIVE IN SURRENDER

Ishvarapranidhana is all about living in surrender, letting go, and looking beyond our limited sense of self. Life is a spiritual adventure!

Surrender has a connotation of “giving something up.” What is it that we are giving up? It is the notion of the personal self, giving itself up to the Divine Consciousness. Surrendering does not mean no action. There is action involved for sure! You are however not considering yourself as the “doer” of the action, it is rather the Divine Will acting through you … see it from the perspective that we are all like radio antennas with the capacity to channel of the Divine if we tune our stations to that channel. The kind of surrender we are talking about here comes from deep within your heart. It is sincere. To be in a state of surrender is not to be powerless. When you surrender, you open yourself up to something much greater. When you are sincere about your ishvara pranidhana, you serve the Highest Consciousness and it is at the centre of your life.

In spiritual life, we are always on the path, and sometimes we sidetrack. Remembering ishvara pranidhana every single step of the way can help us to maintain a sense of purpose and direction in this funny life.

Some things you can do to help you to observe ishvarapranidhana and live in surrender in your daily life are:

1. Understand what Ishvara refers to and contemplate on what this means for you.
2. Cultivate a devotional attitude
3. Practice Karma Yoga
4. Give up self-limiting beliefs, attachments to things and relationships which have served their purpose in your life, and expectations
5. Make a conscious effort to detach from your ego identity
6. Read the Bhagavad Gita
7. Meditate more – experiences in meditation can help you to get in touch with the timeless divine and realize things through your very own experience such as not being the body/mind, which helps you to identify with Spirit rather than all the temporary layers around it.
8. Stay in extended savasana (corpse pose), this is is a wonderful part of your yoga practice to practice surrender in.

WHY LIVE IN SURRENDER

The human mind can be easily afflicted when not mastered. Much pain and suffering arises from being too much in the head – and the unconstructive thinking patterns, limiting beliefs, obsessions, compulsiveness, etc. that can come with that if we are not aware. Ishvarapranidhana helps you reframe your view of life and your goals. With ishvarapranidhana, we can invest our energy in striving for greater oneness. We let go of our selfish, egocentric ways of looking at life and the world around us. We are more focused on connecting with the whole than we are preoccupied with our ego’s agendas. We function as instruments of the Divine rather than individual actors. We face uncertainty with grace and faith rather than fear. We begin to see the bigger picture and surrender to the Divine Force driving the ever-changing flows of life.

Being in a state of surrender can feel relieving like a warm blanket over you, safely sheltered in the Supreme. Here, it is not a shelter of temporary nature like a home, knowledge and other comforts we shelter. It is rather an eternal, timeless shelter that is unchanging and absolute. It feels really warm and comforting to be divinely guided and cared for! The feeling in my heart that we are not alone and are a part of something so immense is a beautifully overwhelming mystical experience for me.

Living in surrender brings you a profound sense of peace in life. When you have faith in the Divine, you trust the unfolding of events as they are meant to happen. Because of being in that state of surrender, you trust that you will be guided through no matter what life presents you with.

You may have heard this one before: Let go, and let God. Ultimately, what we are letting go of is our limited sense of self! And, what better time than the autumn season to let go of all that no longer serves you, and surrender to the flows of life?

Thank you for tuning in to this monthly insights corner, and particularly this entry as it is for now my last on this platform. I have very much enjoyed sharing yoga wisdoms and insights with you throughout the last two years.

With gratitude, love and surrender – farewell and be well!

Aldona

Pranayama

Pranayama

In this month’s yoga insight, we will be sharing with you an article on pranayama, covering it in context of the Hatha Yoga tradition, how it works, and why it’s fascinating.

The Sanskrit term pranayama means prana = life force, yama = retaining. Pranayama techniques are part of the Hatha Yoga tradition. We see it in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika from the 15th century for example. Pranayama exercises are varied and help you regulate the flow of life force energy throughout your being. The “retaining” comes from literally holding the breath. When we hold in the breath, the discontinuance between the inhalation and the exhalation can calm the cessations of the mind. The more we can extend it, the more we program our being to being in that state, and with practice we can learn how to be peaceful and in a meditative state while holding the breath in for prolonged periods of time (depending on what is best suited to each person) and be more in that yoga state: yoga citta nirodaha.

PRANAYAMA IN HATHA YOGA

According to yoga philosophy, we have five koshas (“bodies”): annamayakosha (physical body), pranamayakosha (energy), manomayakosha (emotional mind), vijñānamayakosha (higher mind) and anandamayakosha (bliss). As you see, pranamayakosha is the second of these. It fills and envelops our physical body. Prana travels through nadis (energetic pathways), the yogis believe there are as many as 72,000 of them!

Every limb of yoga is an aspect of the whole and is interconnected with that whole.
Pranayama is the fourth limb of yoga as listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (which contains eight limbs in total). Throughout the second verse of this text, he addresses the advantages of pranayama practice particularly for concentration without going too deep into the philosophy of prana and its nature. He does address it as a preparatory practice needed to advance through the other limbs of yoga: pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation) and ultimately leading to samadhi (enlightenment).

When it comes to practice on the mat, pranayama can be integrated before and/or after the asana part of the class, but it can also be practiced on its own. It is also practiced as preparation for meditation. You can do pranayama any time of the day and choose from different techniques depending on what affects you would like to get from the practice. For example, nadi shodhana pranayama (the alternate nostril breathing) is great for balancing and calming the whole being, whereas surya bhedana pranayama (the Sun-piercing breath) is for solarizing, activating the system in a more dynamic and uplifting way.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Sometimes events happen in our lives in and by which stagnant energy creates blocks. This can make us feel imbalanced, tired, and confused. There are certain ways in which prana moves through our being, and when there is disharmony, we can apply pranayama techniques to redirect and/or centre the energy through the deep spine in between the ida (main left energetic channel) and pingala (main right energetic channel) and sushumna (main centre energetic channel). By practicing various ways of controlling the breath, sense-withdrawal is cultivated, and the rising of prana (Kundalini Shakti) energy in this case) towards the third eye is said to lead to enlightenment. By learning how to intentionally move and control our breath, we learn how to clear blocks which can often have great healing effects. Pranayama practice increases our vital life force energy and has many amazing benefits physiologically (for example: healthier heart rate, oxygen saturation and balancing of the nervous system); and also, mentally and emotionally as it has a clearing, purifying, balancing and liberating effect.

TYPES

There exist pranayama’s for calming down, for energizing, for balancing, for cooling, for increasing inner heat, for preparing for meditation, and for healing, with some of their benefits often overlapping. Some pranayama’s are for example: Nadi Shodhana (“Alternate Nostril Breathing”), Ujjayi Pranayama (“Victorious Breath”), Surya Bhedana (“Sun-piercing Breath”), Chandra Bhedana (“Moon-piercing Breath”), Bhastrika (“Bellows Breath”), Kapalabhati (“Skull-shining Breath) and Brahmari (“Buzzing as a Bee”).

BENEFITS OF PRANAYAMA

Practicing pranayama Increases and enhances the quantity and quality of prana flowing through your being, and clears your energetic channel, your chakras, your aura – expanding into clearing energy in your surroundings and your life! It makes you feel full of vital energy, healthy, and positively charged. It balances, harmonizes your mind, body, and spirit and connects them. It can intentionally be practiced to heal certain parts of our body which need more life force. And of course, it makes you more aware of your breath. Something your life depends on!

*SOMETHING TO BE MINDFUL OF

It’s a good idea to take up yoga gradually and establish your yoga practice.
Although pranayama’s are safe to practice on your own, it’s good to learn them properly and preferably under the guidance of a yoga instructor who can tell you what you need to know about the pranayama and assist you with the technique, making sure you are then headed in the right direction for building up your home practice.

ON THE NATURE OF PRANA

I love pranayama because it is a powerful practice that brings me into presence and energizes me with pure beautiful life force, literally! It is true that it helps you to learn how to be more aware of the flow of energy through your body, and even direct it and regulate if you start making a stronger practice out of it. You get out of it what you put in!

What makes the nature of Prana a beautiful topic to be written about is its intangibility. Although it can be studied scientifically, the fascination around its original source is one that remains alive among many of us. Some esoteric notions of Prana look at Prana as vibrating consciousness – Shakti dancing around Shiva. If you are interested in studying the philosophy behind this in particular further, I would recommend you read The Doctrine of Vibration by Mark S.G. Dyczkowski (1987), a devoted scholar of Kashmiri Shaivism. However, to truly integrate knowledge in our lives, we need to put it into practice. Only then, when knowledge is wholesomely integrated, does it become wisdom. So, to learn more about prana, to refine your awareness of it and truly know prana: practice lots of pranayama! Close your eyes, feel the effects. Feel the different ways in which it manifests through sensations in your being – feel it as you take a deep, intentional breath in, perhaps a tingling up your spine, or as if there is a soft breeze moving inside you … do not limit your perception, be open to feel how it moves in your unique body, in your personal way. Your relationship with pranic energy is yours, and the better friends you become with it, the more you will also be able to align yourself harmoniously with your surroundings as you will learn to perceive energy better. I hope that by now you feel inspired to get started in becoming more intimate with your pranayama practice!

Thank you for tuning in! We hope this Yoga Insight on Pranayama has inspired you.
If you have any topics you would like to see an article written about, please feel free to send me an e-mail at aldona@saktiishayoga.academy

With Love,
Aldona

Yoga and Personal Development

Yoga and Personal Development

Yoga & Personal Development

People are overall greatly interested in personal growth. It is one of the keywords that gets searched often on the Internet, and there are many different approaches which have been created and developed to fulfil that need. Personal growth and development can happen naturally in a way, but there are things you can do to create a conscious accelerated process. Among these things, is yoga. Other ones are approaches that focus on things like self-inquiry, psychotherapy, coaching etc. These can go hand in hand with yoga too. This article addresses how yoga and personal development go hand in hand, and the role of awareness in that process.

The original aim of yoga was not about the physical body. Yoga means union in Sanskrit, and the point of it was (and ultimately still is) to create union between our being (I, spirit) and the Absolute (Spirit) on all levels. The ancient Yogis of India considered the human physical body to be the soul’s vehicle. The idea of taking good care of it came out of a motivation for wanting to keep it healthy for as long as possible in order for them to grow spiritually (while living in the body).

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the foundation of Hatha Yoga, which is presented as a path towards growth and samadhi (enlightenment). By walking the path of yoga, we increase our manifesting potential of developing on all levels of our being: physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual. This makes it a very holistic form of personal development. If you read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you will notice that only one yoga asana (posture) is mentioned, which is a meditation one. Having said this, we can connect the dots and realize asana is only an aspect of yoga, but not what it’s about at its core.

Practicing yoga makes us connect with our true selves, our true spiritual self, peeling off the layers of our ego and teaching us about parts of us we may not even have been aware of before. We notice we are getting in touch with this part when we start asking questions like “who am I really? and “what is the point of all of this?” A disconnection from this true spiritual self is part of what causes many people to internally suffer and act in disharmonious ways. Yoga practice is known to help many people who suffer from depression and anxiety. While every case is unique and complex, often depression comes from a disconnection from self, and anxiety from a lack of presence with the present moment (i.e., stressing about the past or the future). Often the first step to transformation is having awareness of something (and then being willing to do something about it if it is not serving us). You can consider all the personal developments and improvements that happen with the practice of yoga to be a byproduct of having gained a more refined sense of awareness. Body awareness is something that gets particularly refined through the practice of yoga. When we can be attuned to our bodies, it is easier to keep it healthy, because at the slightest perception of something off balance, we can address it instead of letting it be and allowing it to turn into disease. Hatha Yoga keeps your body toned, flexible and healthy, including glands which are responsible for your hormones, which are in turn responsible for your emotions and not only the way you feel but also for many crucial bodily processes! Hormonal imbalance is the cause of many diseases and practicing yoga increases hormonal balance. Also, because our posture naturally improves with yoga practice, we walk around in healthier alignment that is beneficial for the way our body functions overall and prevents injuries. Moreover, through this refined awareness we are also better able to recognize and work through our emotions, which at times can be heavy and have a negative impact on the body when left unaddressed. In the same way, the power of our thoughts is immense, and yoga helps us to also become more aware of the nature of our thoughts.

The mind can be our best friend, or our worst enemy. It is all relative. We learn in yoga that the mind is a tool, that we are not the mind. The mind is a part of us, and when we are not enslaved by its tricky ways of the ego, we can navigate through life in more constructive ways that serve both our spiritual evolution as well as the greater good. When we get to know our mind and emotions better, we begin to understand some of the driving forces behind our actions better. We can adapt our behavior for the better. The meditative aspect of yoga teaches us to still the mind. A healthy mind, just like a healthy body, requires relaxation. We all know stress is not good for you and it is considered the modern worlds #1 disease and it for a large part stems from a lack of relaxation. Yoga helps us to deal with and diminish stress in more constructive ways.

The philosophical aspect of yoga teaches us life values that help us live healthier, happier, more balanced and purposeful lives. When you look at the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (don’t restraints) we can see how they are like a wonderful interconnected formula for holistic personal development which is at the same time very much considering others in the process. It is a system that is whole and all inclusive, not a competitive ego trip (although it’s easy to fall into one of those, yoga teachers are not immune to this human characteristic). Why not practice yoga when it gifts you with so many things that make your life better by increasing mindfulness, helping you to connect with your true self and disidentify with the ego?

Let’s make a fun little list (which could definitely be made much longer!) of all the levels on which yoga cultivates your personal development. Physically, yoga increases your flexibility, muscle strength & tone, your respiration, vitality and energy. You become more athletic. It improves your circulatory health and metabolism and balances your hormone levels. Energetically, blocks are removed, you get more energy (prana = life force), you learn to explore energy and develop a refined awareness of it. Emotionally, you become more balanced as you learn to recognize and navigate through your emotions and also hormonal balance leads to emotional balance. Mentally, you become calmer, more peaceful and you gain awareness of the way your mind works. Overall, you are more relaxed, less stressful/anxious, more aware, and more connected. Spiritually, you learn to connect with your true self, and to disidentify with other ego parts of you – which are a part of the whole of your being but not WHO you are in ESSENCE (an infinite being!).

Now that we have roughly covered the ways in which yoga practice helps you to be healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally, let’s look at another aspect that yoga can bring to your life in a way that will help you in your path of personal development—the social aspect. Practising yoga can be done alone or in groups. Both have benefits. When you practice on your own, you practice time to connect with self, work on your discipline, feel your own energies and so forth. When you practice in groups, often it is in a setting of a yoga community or studio, where you meet others you can often connect with at a different level. It is an opportunity to meet like-minded people, and relate about things you may have up until that point you were all alone in. You can support each other in the sangha (spiritual community).

Is yoga suited for everybody? Yes and no. Yes, there are many different types of yoga and usually after some time of exploration people find something that suits them. No, some types of yoga are not suited for all, for example an advanced Ashtanga Yoga class might not be the best idea for someone to participate in who is recovering from severe injuries. If you are not interested in yoga, this doesn’t make you a bad person and it does not mean you are not interested in personal development. Yoga is not the only way to personally develop. However if you are here reading this, you probably are interested in yoga and you know that we as Saktiisha Yoga Academy do what we do because we believe that yoga is the best path to personal development J

Yoga is not about asana, yoga teaches how to live life with purpose. With yoga, we go from imbalance, weakness and stiffness to balance, strength, flexibility and stability. With yoga you empower yourself, learn to be patient and make wiser choices in life. Life becomes more meaningful. Yoga is something to make a lifelong practice out of. Yoga is both the means and the ends. There may be no end to personal growth, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t walk the path just because we don’t see its exact end point! The effort you invest in yoga is proportional to what you get out of it, like anything in life. The awesome thing about it is that nowadays there is so much yoga available, that all you need is you acting on your willingness to get started!

Excited? Check out the Saktiisha Yoga Academy trajectory you can follow under the trainings section on our website, and find there a complete path towards your personal development.

Thank you for tuning in, and until next time friends!

Namaste,
Aldona

Ahimsa

Ahimsa

Ahimsa stands for “non-violence” or “absence of injury” in Sanskrit. It is the first of the yamas (self-restraints) in Yoga from Patanjali’s Sutras, in which you find the foundations of yoga (made up by the eight limbs of yoga). With it being the very first yama, it is the foundation of all the other yamas and actually of our whole practice because it is rooted in love – the interconnectedness of all beings and things – union – which is ultimately the meaning of yoga. You can consider ahimsa a universal observance ahimsa in which the point is to always have the intention to be mindful of doing no harm in words, actions or thought.  

The no harm principle is found in other spiritual traditions. For example, it is found in the famous golden rule in the Old Testament (from the Bible): Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31). It is a fundamental virtue in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Moreover, there have been inspirational figures throughout history who promoted the principle of non-violence. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. with his leading peaceful American civil rights movement to counterfeit oppression, and Mahatma Gandhi, who said “nonviolence is our greatest walk of life.” Gandhi believed that the path of non-violence can lead us to Divine Truth. Among the great yogis in history, Swami Vivekananda particularly emphasized the value of honouring ahimsa.  

For self-protection, sometimes aggression is necessary among creatures. When it comes to humans, they also sometimes bring violence (himsa). Suffering among people is often related to violence. Humans do not need to live like animals, humans can take care of each other (even some animals do this). It can be a big effort to move from animal tendencies o human ones, because selfishness is biologically deeply rooted within our nature. However, humans are divine. We have a great instrument: an intelligent mind with which we can consciously choose to not do harm, and to be loving instead. To honour ahimsa is one of humanity’s greatest duties (dharma). 

 Just like all the other yamas & niyamas, ahimsa is something that we can practice on and off the mat. Ahimsa begins with yourself (health, diet, thoughts), and it can be made simple, by starting off by setting an intention (sankalpa) to be loving in all thoughts, words, and actions throughout the day. Because these are the things that can cause harm when utilized in destructive ways. The Vedas even express the difference in ways of causing harm: kayaka (“of the hand,” referring to physical doings), vācaka (“expressive,” referring to words), and manasika (“of the mind,” referring to thoughts). Science comes in there where skeptics might doubt the power of thoughts. Negative thoughts create stress, which makes your body secrete cortisol, weakening your immune system. On the other hand, positive thoughts create happiness, and the secretion of dopamine – the feel-good hormone. 

Ahimsa manifests in all the layers of your life: yourself, your relationships, your community, humanity and the planet There is an inner knowing (like in satyam – the second yama: truthfulness) that guides the observance of ahimsa. We know in our hearts when our intention is loving, and when it is not. Ahimsa and satyam go hand in hand. When we do not honour ahimsa we move away from truth. When we are aligned with truth, there is love and unity, there is a deeper relationship with ourselves and the world around us – harmonious relationships   

OBSERVING AHIMSA IN DAILY LIFE 

There are so many ways you can practice ahimsa. Ahimsa goes as far as you are willing to take it, there are no limits when it comes to how much you can love. Here is a list of 15 ways to observe ahimsa in daily life:  

  1. Read about ahimsa (in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and other yoga texts)  
  2. Don’t hurt yourself trying to push yourself into a posture when practicing yoga on the mat. 
  3. Do not force anything in your yoga practice, or in any other areas of your life. 
  4. Be mindful of your language – change ‘have to’s and ‘shoulds’ with ‘want to’s and ‘would like, do not gossip, compliment others more, mind your tone of voice, be honest but not intentionally offensive. Note the ways in which your self-talk is full of criticism. The simple act of becoming aware if it goes a long way.
  5. Listen more (it’s a way of expressing love).
  6. Be kind to your body (live a healthy life by eating a healthy diet, practicing mindful eating, getting regular sleep and exercise, take care of yourself on all levels! 
  7. Be sure to find a balance in your diet and lifestyle: on the one hand, we want to avoid harming others; however, if not consuming something presents a harm to yourself, then it is important to consider a balanced approach in which you can eat a healthy diet which provides you with the nutrients you need in accordance to your dosha/typology/specific health requirements while causing the least possible harm to other beings in the process – you can aim to find the middle way, for example by opting for vegan meals a few times a week if it is not good for your health to go on a full vegan diet). Nourish yourself!
  8. Live consciously, practice awareness, recognize non-loving thoughts. 
  9. Respect Mother Earth and care for the ecosystem. Be mindful pf what you consume, the products you buy (fair trade and organic products can be expensive and difficult to afford if you are on a budget. You could consider making choices here: for example: opting to purchase some organic items, like eggs or diary. Instead of buying ALL your make-up and toiletries from an organic brand, you could be more frugal about using the products you have and treating yourself to one organic item next time you need to replace one that finished). Stay creative!  
  10. Be kind, everyone has challenges in their lives which you may not know of. 
  11. Resolve conflicts peacefully. Learn to control your anger, be aware of your emotions and learn how to manage and channel them  
  12. Be gentle, and patient with yourself as well as others. Honour the process.  
  13. Meditate (even if only 10 minutes a day), and connect to your inner wisdom.
  14. Practice forgiveness, hold no resentment.
  15. Leave things / return things in a nicer state than you found them in or was given to you.  

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF TO CHECK YOUR AHIMSA 

  • How can I be kinder to my body? 
  • What is the nature of my self-talk? Sometimes we talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to our friends.  
  • How can I be kinder to others? 
  • How aware am I of kind of energy I send to others? 
  • Is the music I listen to positive and inspiring, or is it negative and hateful? 
  • What kind of TV shows and movies do I watch? Are they spiritually inspiring, or are they violent? 
  • How aware am I of the products I buy (are they fair-trade? Where are they produced?)
    In what ways do I create drama, and how can I replace this by creating peace instead?  
  • How can I make things better? 
  • How are your actions beneficial to the world, and not only yourself? 
  • What does it take for you to extend the love in your heart to all beings? 
  • How can I become a peaceful, calming energy to those around me? 

A WORK IN PROGRESS

In conclusion, there are a few things to remember when it comes to observing ahimsa. First of all, it is a work in progress! Be kind to yourself, make it a lifetime project. Changing habits takes time, patience and perseverance. Remember also the power of intention. 

 

It’s easy to practice ahimsa when things are going well. When things get hard, when life hits you with an unexpected slap in the face, when a stranger is rude to you in the supermarket, when a partner is unfaithful, when someone cuts you off in traffic – can you still remember ahimsa? 

 

It is when things get challenging that the practice truly begins. Great growth can potentially happen in these moments when you choose to be aware of your actions and choose to respond to situations consciously instead of impulsively react. This means that when something “happens” that triggers a part of you, you take a few moments of awareness and observe your inner reactions and consider the ways in which you can act from your Higher Self and respond rather than react.  

Ahimsa manifests in all the layers of your life: yourself, your relationships, your community, humanity and the planet. To practice ahimsa is to remove all violence from our mind, body, and spirit. It is all about compassion, love, acceptance, kindness, and having an open heart. Pay attention to the subtleties of how you can make it manifest in daily life! Ahimsa serves our spiritual awakening because it also helps us to identify with what we are. It is a path towards unconditional love. To observe ahimsa is to extend to others the love we have within our hearts Ultimately, it comes from the love in your heart – the love that you ARE.  

Thank you for tuning in to our saktiisha bimonthly articles of inspiration. May the power of loving awareness always be with you! 

Aldona 

 

Embracing the Seasons Series – Summer Joy

Embracing the Seasons Series – Summer Joy

There is something special about June 21st. This day marks the Summer solstice and is thereby the year’s longest day in Northern countries of the world. From a yogic point of view, the Summer solstice denotes the transition to dakshinayana (a Sanskrit term for the six-month period between Summer solstice and Winter solstice). This day is known as a special time of the year in which sadhanas (spiritual practices) receive extra support from Mother Earth. It is also International Yoga Day, which aims to raise awareness worldwide of the benefits Yoga. On June 21st, large Yoga events around the world are open and free to everybody. This year, Father’s Day also falls on June 21st. To top it off, there is a New Moon and a solar eclipse on this day. So much happening in just this one day! Now, having mentioned the extra special things about this day, this article is going to be focused on embracing the summer season from a yogic perspective. You will learn about specific yoga practices you can do, gain some insights from an Ayurvedic perspective, including changes you can bring to your diet during the warmer summer days, and also get some tips about things and activities you can consider implementing in your lifestyle. 

As the seasons change at a macrocosmic level, our being also goes through the seasons at a microcosmic level. Our bodies adapt naturally. As above, so below. Still, there are things we can do to attune our microcosm to the macrocosm in order to bring harmonious balance.

SUMMER YOGA PRACTICE 

Asana 

In the summer season, it is ideal to do slower, calming practices, as well as practices that support your body’s self-regulation processes. With the days getting hotter, consider practicing gentle yoga flows with deep breathing, and yin yoga practices which you can really sink into and relax. Some yin yoga poses you can consider practicing in the summer are for example: anahatasana (the melting heart pose), lying down twists and shoulder stretches, and tadpole pose with twist. Because of the contemplative nature of yin yoga, the practice will give you an opportunity for introspection and surrendering your heart into full presence. 

Grounding poses which are literally close to the ground are ideal, as the earth provides a cooling energy and stability. An example of such poses are: paschimottanasana (the seated forward fold), child’s pose (balasana), and kurmasana (turtle pose, which is a semi wide-legged forward fold). 

Twists help to purify and flush out excess heat and tension from the entire abdominal area.  

Twists such as ardha matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist) and reverse warrior poses or lunges with twists are great for cleansing the liver, keeping the digestive system healthy and the spine flexible – all particularly helpful if you have gone out partying 😉   

Backbends are great for opening up the entire area after possibly being physically in a more inverted, crunched in the previous colder months of the year. Ustrasana (camel pose) is also great for opening up the chest and shoulders, and it also helps to regulate body temperature, along with bhujangasana (cobra pose) and matsyasana (fish pose). Chakrasana is a strong backbend will send a shot of energy through your entire being, and open your heart, readying you up for a great day out. Also. gomukhasana (cow face pose) is a shoulder opening pose which helps to increase your lung capacity and also open up the chest.  

Inversions calm the mind and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates calm feelings. Inversions such as sarvangasana (shoulder stand) vrischikasana (scorpion pose), and sirsasana (headstand) will challenge you into a new perspective and vitalize your body.

And remember always of course, about savasana in your garden, at the park, or the beach 😉  

Pranamaya  

Sitali pranayama (the cooling breath) is particularly cooling, as reflected in its name. This is because the air (and prana, life force) is cooled down by the tongue through the technique employed in the practice. To practice this breathing exercise, you stick your tongue out and curl it in a semi tube-like form. Then, inhale slowly through the mouth keeping the tongue curled, and exhale through the nose.  

In Yoga, the left side of the body is yin (passive, feminine, cold), and the right side of the body is yang (active, masculine, warm). Since in the summer the energy gets hot, we want to balance it out by engaging in cooling practices. Since the left nostril corresponds to the left, cooling side (and the left subtle energetic channel called ida nadi) breathing through this can decrease inner heat and be refreshing. Basically, to practice this, you close off the right nostril and breathe in and out through the left nostril for a count of 5-20 breaths. Chandra Bhedana pranayama (“the moon passing through” breath) is another breathing exercise which also activates ida nadi, and is more balanced than the one previously described. To practice it, inhale through your left nostril and exhale through the right one. You can do this for a few minutes. Start slow and gentle!  

Sitkarin pranayama (the sipping or hissing breath) has similar effects to that of sitali pranayama. The effects are different in that it is not as cooling as sitali and the effects are deeper on your subtle body. To practice this breathing exercise, instead of curling the tongue, you let it float in your mouth, having the teeth lightly touch, so that when you  inhale through the mouth you create a hissing sound. Exhale through the nose.

Meditation 

Also, with so much happening in the summer – family get togethers, parties, and other adventures, remember to meditate regularly to stay centered and connected to that peaceful place in your heart throughout it all. 

SUMMER & AYURVEDA 

The summer season corresponds to pitta (fire) dosha in Ayurveda (the other two being vata and kapha), because it is driven by the energy of the Sun, which is strongest in the summer.  Pitta is characterized by heat and dryness, and it is responsible for your digestion and metabolism. When the temperatures rise, pitta can aggravate. Examples of how this is commonly manifested are: heartburn, ulcers, indigestion, skin rashes, sunburns, dehydration, hot-tempered attitudes, frustration and irritation. So, we want to balance this out by bringing in more cooling, calming energy, realizing that the aggravated pitta creates not only physical imbalance, but can also mentally and emotionally make us “fired up.” How to do this? Besides bringing adaptations to our yoga practice, we can implement changes into our diet and seasonal lifestyle.

In regards to your diet, it is recommended to eat lots of watery fruits and vegetables such as watermelons, melons, cucumbers, and fresh raw salads filled with leafy greens. To stay hydrated, consider drinking coconut water, aloe vera drinks, or electrolyte-filled water. Cooling and refreshing teas are a good idea, however it is best to avoid drinking ice-cold drinks as they disturb your digestion. Also, herbs that decrease pitta like mint, coriander, fennel, and cilantro, are some which you could consider making teas with, or adding to your salads. Three additional cooling elements to add are: cleansing bitters such as asparagus, kale, and rocket (which make the heart and small intestine stronger, as well as purify and cool your blood), astringents (which have a toning function and support the absorption of fluids), and healthy, natural sweets such as fruits (which balance the fire in your digestion). Have a big breakfast to energize you for the day, and keep dinner small and light. Avoid hot, spicy foods which are likely to aggravate your digestive fire. It is also best to avoid alcohol, vinegar, and fried foods. The main idea to follow is to eat light, easily digestible water-rich foods to keep you hydrated and cool.   

LIFESTYLE & ACTIVITY 

Although many people feel called to work out intensely to “get that beach body,” it is best to exercise in a way that you do not overhear and deplete yourself. If you are a runner, choose to run in the cooler times of the day such as the early morning. To avoid overheating and sunburns, it’s best to not overexpose yourself to the Sun between 10AM and 2PM. In terms of clothing, wearing organic and cooling materials such as cotton, silk, and hemp will help keep your body cool – think: “breathable” clothing. Because the nighttime is cooler, during the summer it is all right for your wellbeing to go to bed after 11 pm, and if you can, sleep with the windows open. Using a natural moisturizer on your skin before you go to bed and in the morning to keep your skin hydrated. Overall, make sure to stay hydrated, and slow down. 

 Essential oils carry a certain energy, and during the summer season, rose oils can be your best friend because they are very soothing. You could consider using a rose massage oil, and include self-care massage sessions (abhyanga) to your routine, as massages will have a very calming effect on your whole being. Other sweet-smelling oils like jasmine, lavender, chamomile, and honeysuckle help to relax and balance pitta. Coconut and sunflower oils will also serve the purpose if it’s what’s available for you.  

There’s more you can do. You can listen to gentle ambient music which feels soothing to your soul. You can also listen to or chant mantras. You can also spend quality time in nature, particularly near water (beach, river, canal, creek, lake etc.). Relax, and take it all in: the sound of the breeze, birds, or the crashing of the ocean waves on the shores, the pastel-coloured sky during sunset, and the cooling feel of the late-evening summer breeze.  

EMBRACING SUMMER JOY 

Remember that the key to balance is moderation. Summer is typically a holiday season meant for having fun, relaxing, and enjoying yourself. It can work against us to get too fired up, so remember to stay cool – not only physically, keep also your mind, emotions, and spirit cool! Knowing that the intensity of the hot summer season can trigger our moods and make us short-tempered, easily dehydrated, and fired up, in this post I hope to have served you this summer by sharing a myriad of ways in which you can stay cool, healthy, balanced and joyful this summer. The summer solstice is a transition into the remainder of the year, with the Sun shining its light upon it, reminding us of the eternal light within our very selves. So let us remember, and celebrate this light within our hearts!  

Thank you for tuning in, and may you all have a beautiful summer season.   

Namaste, 

Aldona 

 

 

 

Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga

YIN YOGA

There are many types of Yoga. The four main ones are: Jnana, Karma, Bhakti & Hatha Yoga. Many forms of yoga fall under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. Yin Yoga is one of them, and this blog entry is dedicated to it.

WHAT IS YIN YOGA?
To understand, first of all the concept of yin & yang needs to be addressed. Yin means dark and negative, while yang means light and positive. Yin & Yang is symbolized in a multitude of physical manifestations. Yin qualities are typically: feminine, black, dark, north, water, passive, moon, earth, cold, even numbers, estrogen, sleep, valleys, soft, shakti. Yang qualities are typically: masculine, white, light, south, fire, active, Sun, heaven, warm, odd numbers, testosterone, wakefulness, mountains, hard, shakti. The list could go on for both, as in fact, everything in physical manifestation can be attributed to having either a yin or a yang dominant quality. Some examples of Yin & Yang that give a better idea of the principles of Yin as receptive and Yang as active: winter & summer, female & male sexual union, student-teacher relationship etc. While yin & yang seem to oppose each other, Taoism teaches us that they are actually complementary and interdependent. Yin and yang are relative to each other, Where one ends, the other begins.

One of the main purposes of Hatha (ha =Sun, tha= moon) Yoga is to bring balance to the yin & yang aspects of our being so that our energies may center. Yin practices nourish the restorative aspects of our being (while Yang ones stimulate dynamism). Yin Yoga is a gentle, restorative type of yoga which was developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. It is a branch of Hatha Yoga that particularly focuses on the yin aspect of our being. Yin Yoga combines the knowledge of Hatha Yoga with Chinese Medicine’s meridians, Taoist philosophy and Buddhist meditation techniques. According to Taoism (ancient Chinese philosophy), Qi (life energy) runs through our bodies. This is in line with yoga philosophy, according to which prana (life force) runs through nadis, which are a concept comparable (and in some cases equal) to that of the meridians in Chinese medicine. Through the opening that happens as a result of Yin Yoga practices, more life energy flows freely through our being as blockages are released.

There are more or less twenty classical poses plus variations in Yin Yoga. Often, the Yin Yoga postures focus on parts of the body which enclose a joint: hips, pelvis and lower spine. During Yin Yoga practices, instead of moving the body intensely (as is the case in more yang practices such as for example Ashtanga Yoga), you really take your time in each posture, and also in the way you transition from one posture to the next. Postures are not so physically demanding and are typically held for 3-5 minutes (while in more yang types of yoga practices you hold the pose for 3-5 breaths) with a softer engagement of the muscles. It is a much slower practice in which poses are held for a longer time in a relaxed way, working on the body’s deep connective tissues and joints. It is very favourable for your organs, immune system, muscles and joints. It has a passive and restorative style that is pleasant and meditative.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
This gentler approach to strengthening and lengthening does not target our muscles, instead, it targets connective tissue, which is one of the four types of tissue in our body. Connective tissue functions as a web that binds different parts of our body: it holds our organs in place and connects our bones and muscles. They are for example: deep fascia, ligaments, bones, and joints. Joints are easily injured, and Yin Yoga helps to keep them healthy. It helps to stretch tissues that tend to get bound up. The connective tissues slowly and gently unwind. It increases your joints’ range of movement in a passive way, produces more synovial fluid (which has the purpose of reducing friction between cartilage of synovial joints during movement) for the spine and joint capsules and decompresses the spine, creating more space between your vertebra. In the practice, it is necessary for muscles surrounding the connective tissue to relax in order for the stretch to occur. It creates lasting structural change in your body, and you improve the flexibility. You let the pressure sink in, and your body opens up, while honouring your body’s limitations at any given time. By concentrating the mind and releasing tension, you can really go deep in this practice. Paul Grilley says: “you will find more freedom in tight spots.” Practicing Yin Yoga is a great way to prepare your body for meditation because of the way it opens up parts of your body which may otherwise be rather stiff and cause discomfort when sitting in meditation postures for extended periods of time.

PRINCIPLES OF YIN YOGA
Sarah Powers (as mentioned earlier, together with Paul Grilley co-founder of Yin Yoga), defines three principles of Yin Yoga:

1. Finding your edge: you are not pushing or forcing your body into any specific shape or trying to make the most intense version of a pose possible. From an intensity scale 1-10 (with 10 being maximum sensations, and 1 standing for no feeling), you would want to be at a 4 or 5. There is just enough discomfort that you create a change in your body, but not enough to strain your body. So, you don’t push yourself to the limit. Instead, you purposefully choose to find your edge, just before your limit. Pain is not the edge! The key is to find your edge respectfully, really attuning to and listening to your body. Also remembering that your edge might be different every day, as other factors are influential to it (for example: how hydrated you are, how well rested you are, the weather etc.).

2. Being still: you don’t fidget or move once you are in a pose. Props can be very useful to support this practice – bolsters, pillows, straps to support you staying in the pose without moving at all, in a relaxed way. This is a great way to train for meditation. Most yin yoga poses are done lying down, on the ground, using props. The focus on surrender, using gravity as a friend (where more active types of yoga challenge gravity instead)

3. Holding the pose: Overall the poses can be held anywhere ranging from 1-10 min, sometimes even longer depending on the pose, your level of practice, and the aim of the particular practice. At saktiisha, it is usually somewhere between 3-5 minutes.

Another way to look at the practice of Yin Yoga in three parts, is to look at the levels it targets: physical, energetic, and emotional/mental. Physically, it targets connective tissues, joints, and bones. Energetically, it fosters harmony through free flow of life energy through your subtle body. Emotionally and mentally, it prepares you for meditation as it helps you to cultivate introspection and inner stillness.

BENEFITS OF YIN YOGA
-Keeps the joints healthy
-Creates balance and harmony
-Releases stress & tension
-Increases flexibility
-Cultivates receptivity
-Builds perseverance
-Cultivates self-love
-Helps to relax, surrender, and let go
-Supports preparation for meditation
-Releases stored/suppressed emotions
-Increases free flow of energy and improves circulation
-Increases mind and body awareness (overall mindfulness)
-Rejuvenates: working on the deep connective tissues makes our bodies less dense and tight as we get older.
-Activates the parasympathetic nervous system (and this benefits many involuntary bodily functions)
-Supports healing: because of its restorative nature, it can be beneficial for those suffering from or recovering from certain injuries or chronic conditions

YIN YOGA AT A DEEPER LEVEL
The practice of Yin Yoga brings unity and balance, especially for those who live very active (yang) lives. Modern society is very much on the go, with its high demands of performance and sensory overstimulation in so many places. When our yin is activated, we become more relaxed and receptive. When we are relaxed, we are healthier. We all know that stress is not healthy – in fact it has been called the biggest disease of the West, as too much stress inevitably leads to illness. Being receptive makes us more connected to our environment, and also serves conscious relationships (of whatever form – family, friends, colleagues, “strangers”), because it helps us to attune to what the other is feeling. When we are able to connect to others at this level, relationships become more balanced and meaningful (opposed to us selfishly only attuned to our own feelings and needs).

At a deeper level, the practice of Yin Yoga is a safe way to practice surrender and letting go. It helps us to release the need to control. Energetically, you get a sense of wellbeing from the sense of relaxed openness. It helps us to learn to use our mind and breath to manage discomfort in a conscious way – a valuable skill that will greatly serve us (and others!) off the mat. Yin Yoga gives you the space to turn inward, increasing your level of mindfulness, and allowing emotions you may have been supressing to finally emerge! The nature of the practice supports you to witness them without getting too caught up in the story.

Practicing Yin Yoga will have an overall positive effect on your health and wellbeing. One of the greatest gifts it will offer you, besides all the benefits already mentioned – is the opportunity it presents you to slow down and connect to Self. You can choose to practice Yin Yoga on its own, or also as a way to balance more vigorous practices (ashtanga, hatha flow, vinyasa, etc.). You can follow Yin Yoga classes with us at saktiisha. Keep your eyes peeled on the schedule, sometimes there is also a Yin Yoga teacher training offered, which is a great opportunity to deepen your practice.

Thank you for tuning in. I hope this blog provides you with the insights you were looking to learn about Yin Yoga, and that it serves you!

With Love,
Aldona

Tapas

Tapas



Tapas is Sanskrit for austerity or discipline, and it is the third of Patanjali’s Niyamas. The niyamas are moral codes that encourage positive behavior. Tapas is all about perseverance, and burning enthousiasm. When we look at the etymology of this Sanskrit term, it comes from the verb ‘tap,’ meaning ‘to burn’, giving a feel of a passionate, fiery discipline. I call it an umff. You can train your willpower like you would train a muscle. If the words discipline and willpower make you cringe, some extra practice on the navel (manipura) chakra can help you to create a more harmonious resonance with these concepts. There are so many other things you can do, which I will share in this blog.

The essential aspect to the “methodology” of the practice of tapas is that you decide to do X action for X amount of time, and that you stick to it and do not break it – no matter what (unless it’s a life or death situation of course!). And if you do, the next day you double it up, meaning you do double the practice. For example: you could take a tapas to practice trikonasana (the triangle pose) every day for one week for 5 minutes at a time. The idea is also that you begin with something realistic, so that you set yourself up for success. It is interesting to note (speaking from personal experience) that once you set a tapas, you will be challenged! For example, you set a tapas to fast every Thursday for a month, and you get invited to a birthday party on one of those Thursdays. You can still go to the party, and have a good time, yet not eating and honouring your commitment to your tapas! It is important to stick to your tapas and resist the temptation. I read somewhere once that temptation is the Universe’s compassionate way of letting you go through the consequences of an action in your mind without actually having to go through them in real life and I found that really inspiring! Excuse me for not recalling where I read that – it was about a year ago, and it really stuck with me. Sticking to your tapas will greatly increase your willpower.

In spirituality, the practice of tapas boosts and speeds up the process of spiritual evolution. It’s one a challenge in spirituality for many, yet it is something that can most certainly be overcome through willpower, commitment, and devotion to the intention. Practicing tapas together with a group of fellow yogis and/or yoginis can be very valuable, as the supporting energy of the group makes a huge difference. The motivation factor is multiplied and it’s also a very beautiful way to connect with other yogis in a different way.

What is a great way to cultivate inner fire?

The answer is: TAPAS! We are not talking about the delicious snacks from Spain! There are two types of inner fire: there is kamagni, which is generated by stress, and yogagni, which is generated through the practice of yoga—pranayama and postures. The latter one is the one we want to call in, especially in times where a healthy inner fire is needed to stay healthy and stay focus on our purpose regardless of the circumstances.

WAYS TO STRENGTHEN YOUR OBSERVANCE & PRACTICE OF TAPAS:
*Feel free to add to the list if you get the idea!

1. Practice asanas, pranayamas, meditation that work on manipura chakra.For example: uddiyana bandha (the abdominal lock), nabhyasana (the boat pose) , mayurasana (the peacock pose), simhasana (lion pose), and bhastrika (the breath of fire).

2. Intermittent fasting: fast one day a week (either sunrise to sunset, or for 24 hours. It is also moreover known to be purifying and great for your health.

3. Seek advise: ask one of our yoga teachers to advise you on how you can set up a useful tapas in your home practice.

4. Just do it: Take a “useless” (but harmless!) tapas for the sake of tapas. This means that you are not necessarily doing a Yoga technique, it can be something like emptying a box of matches and putting them back in the box. It sounds simple. But try it, and some of you will see how much resistance will come up, you might be surprised! The point of the exercise is to strengthen your willpower.

5. Call in Tripura Bhairavi: For the slightly more mystically inclined yogis among you, she is the fifth off the 10 Mahavidyas, which is Sanskrit for “the Great Knowing Ones/Knowledges, also known as Goddesses in part of the Tantric Yoga Philosophy which focuses on the worship of Shakti/the Divine Feminine. Tripura Bhairavi is the Goddess of spiritual action, effort, inner fire, and tapas. Meditating with her will help you to cultivate the spiritual energy of inner fire that flows through the practice of tapas. If you are interested learning more about the 10 Mahavidyas, I would highly recommend you read Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas Paperback by David Kinsley (1997), and Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses (Spiritual Secrets of Ayurveda) by Dr. David Frawley (1994). These two books are great!

6. Align your words with your actions
Have the willpower to follow through with what you say you will do. Whether you make an agreement with yourself or with someone else, the commitment is just as important!

IMPROVING YOUR LIFE THROUGH TAPAS
You can improve your relationship with any area of your life through the practice of tapas. For example, if you would like to improve your relationship to time (although a very abstract concept in and of itself!), you could take a tapas (consecrated spiritual effort) related to that – such as committing to wake up every single day at the same time, no matter what, or to do meditations with the energy of Kali (the first of the 10 Mahavidyas). If you would like to improve your relationship with food, try fasting one day of the week (fasting is known to have amazing healing benefits anyway so you would be doing yourself a wholesome favour! If you have any ailments, do consult with your doctor or physician first before going on any fast that is longer than a day; and just to add: do your research, I am only sharing an idea here!). Again, sometimes it’s also a good idea to ask for some advice, especially if you are in doubt.

Your commitment to the sadhana (spiritual practice) is personal. You can really go deep if you want and are doing it with aspiration. The outcome is not always 100% quite like you may have wanted or expected, but it is always exactly what you need.

Discipline, willpower, and perseverance will get you far in life. It’s what makes the difference between the dreamers and the achievers. Embrace the stop-complaining-and-just-do-it-mentality. Empower yourself. To take a tapas is to consecrate a spiritual effort. Stop waiting around for a miracle to happen and start taking some action!

May the inner fire in all of us continue to harmoniously burn, keeping us pure, and keeping us moving peacefully through it all!

With Love,
Aldona

Shakti – Same Essence, Different Forms

Shakti – Same Essence, Different Forms

Spiritual practice is a continuous discovery, a journey, a yearning for the Divine. This blog post is in the honour of Shakti who represents the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, there where Shiva represents Divine Consciousness. The woman and her mystery is a theme that pervades the heart of many cultures. She is the source of all life, of pleasure, and transcendence. The Mother Goddess Shakti is ever-present in everything that lives. The mystery lies in life itself. The Divine flow of Shakti tingles down through all of us as our Shiva consciousness observes.

WHO IS SHAKTI?

You may already be familiar with the concept of Shiva and Shakti. Or perhaps you have freshly stumbled upon it now. So, what’s that all about? Simply put, Shiva represents Pure Consciousness and Shakti the Manifestation of Divine Perfection, which together make up the Universe. Shakti is always dancing around Shiva. Without each other, they cannot exist. Men represent the Shiva aspect and women the Shakti aspect although both have a shiva (yang, “vertical”) and shakti (yin, “horizontal”) aspects. In Tantra Yoga, there are two main branches: Shaivism (worship of Shiva) and Shaktism (worship of Shakti). Shiva-focused spiritual practices concentrate transcending the mind to the higher levels of consciousness through meditations and living ascetic lives of detachment. Shakti-focused practices concentrate more on enjoying the gifts of life with presence and awareness, thereby inviting the force of Shakti can bring the practitioner to liberation, self- realization, and union – in other words, samadhi (enlightenment).

The word shakti origins from the verb sak, meaning “the power to produce an effect, capability, efficiency or potency.” Translating from Sanskrit to English, Shakti means “the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire Universe.” In some interpretations, the word means not a goddess, but a force (Rajmani. 1998:5).

SHAKTI IN THE SCRIPTURES

While exploring the concept of Shakti in various literatures, I found that the earliest clear statement using the word Shakti to describe her relationship to the Absolute is found in the Svetasvatara Upanisad: “Sakti is said to be vividha, manifold; jnana, knowledge; bala, power; and kriya, the capacity to act; these are characteristic to her.” The list here below pertains to ancient Hindu scriptures, which can be very inspiring and insightful when studying the beautiful and vast tradition of yoga.

The word and concept further appear in Pancaratra Agama (300 BC and 600 – 850 BC, to give you an idea of how old these are!), Vyakarana Agama, Mimamsa Vedanta and Kavya Sastraa, Vedas, Upanisads, Puranas (*Markandeya, Brahmanda, Brahmavaivarta, Narada, Devibhagavata & Kalika) and other Indian Philosophical Literature. Particular texts that deal with the concept of Shakti are the Netra Tantra, Svacchanda Tantra, Malinivijaya Varttika, Nityasodasikarnava, and Yogini Hridaya. I am not saying that they all interpret Shakti coherently in relation to each other (because they don’t). Some of the most coherent discussions on the topic can be found in the Saundaryalahari, a Sanskrit book in which the beauty of Parvati is praised in 103 shlokas (verses).

Another term for shakti is prakrti (manifestation of the Universe). In the Kavya Sastra (Indian poetics) the term is used as “the unique potential to the seed of the essence of a poet.” (Rajmani. 1998) Devotees recite stotras (hymns of praise) in her honor. In Pauranic Tantric texts, she personifies and praises devotees or punishes demons.

There is also a lot of contemporary literature you can find about Shakti. In the book “Shakti, The Power of Tantra,” Tigunait lists some of the difficulties revolving around the definition of Shakti: the historical & literary boundaries are not well defined, the relationship between the main branches of Tantric literature is not well understood, there is a lack of thematic and comparative studies available, there is no criteria defined as to which characteristics make a text Sakta (pertaining to Shakti), and there is no easy access to the secret oral interpretation (1998:3). These traditionally secret teachings are at least more accessible here. As to make the universal structure complete, Shakti is always accompanied by a Shiva. In Hinduism, she is the power that underlies the male principle. She is his consort, he is hers. For example, Parvati as the wife of Shiva, or as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. Shakti is never independent of Shiva. The weapons and symbols she holds correspond to her Shiva. She is the power of the Absolute Reality and of Shiva in his many forms: Brahma, Visnu, Shiva, Indra, Agni, Varuna, Yama, Rudra. She may be beautiful and compassionate like Tara, or appear terrifying as represented by Kali. In Thailand, throughout the Yoga courses at Agama, we learn that certain manifestations of Shiva & Shakti correspond to a particular chakra, or energy center.

The Mimamsakas (analysts of the vedas) say that although fire produces heat, under the influence of specific mantras the fire stops producing heat while the fire remains. Then there must be something in the fire which makes it blaze: Shakti.

SISTERHOOD

A pattern of competition and fear can easily emerge among women. Embracing and embodying Shakti is a beautiful way to transcend these patterns. For a woman to see herself in the eyes of every other woman can be such an elevated and evolved way of moving through life bringing many blessings along with it, as it’s a powerful reminder of something greater we all share. Things like Shakti groups and women’s circles reinforce the power of Shakti. Something magical happens when women join forces. There is a mysterious power that comes alive when a group of women with a shared vision unite. We can all help retransform unfavourable relationship patterns among women by cultivating sisterhood, lifting each other up, and engaging in practices that honour Shakti – The Divine Feminine.

RELATING TO SHAKTI IN DAILY LIFE

The dynamic presence of Shakti can be continuously felt throughout all of daily life. It is important to be in the here and now, fully present, in the flow, allowing whatever comes to just arrive and pass through. To create space to connect at a deeper level. There are many ways of learning alone, or with each other. It is very empowering as a woman to experience sisterhood, and at the same time a lot of empowerment can come from times of solitude. The more empowered a woman is, the more she can be seen and adored. And Shakti wants to be seen!

Transcendent, she is indescribable, unimaginable. The Universe is born from her and dissolves back into her eventually. She is in everything that lives, yet she is not the life itself- or is she? The work with Shakti; trying to be fully present with all states of being within and around; aware, attentive but still in the flow and using this power, this intensity as a stepping stone to go beyond.”

I personally love the way Shakti shines through in my movements—be it through dance, moving through nature (something so simple as a walk through the forest can be really quite ecstatic!), or a gentle tingle up my spine – a feeling like Kundalini Shakti is saying hi, and slowly awakening. I tend to start dancing at the sound of music (it works like a reflex), letting the unpremeditated movement freely come through. I have been getting to know Shakti a little better as she moves through me and at the same time couldn’t have done so without the Shiva consciousness (it’s within us all) there to witness it.

The mystery of Shakti could very well be responsible for the evolution of the entire Universe. Shakti is unreal and at the same time present in everything that exists in this reality. Shakti manifests in infinite ways; same essence, different forms.

Thank you for tuning in, and until next time!

With Love,

Aldona

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