Eight Limbs of Yoga: Sixth Limb, Dharana

“Dharana is the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.” Yoga Sutra 3.1

 Dharana translates as “holding steady”, “concentration,” or “single focus.” Once Asana has calmed the body, Pranayama has controlled the breath, and Pratyahara has eliminated outside distractions, then one can pursue the discipline of meditation. A challenge that many of us face, though, is that the mind has inner distractions as well as outside distractions! Even if your boss, your television, and your social calendar are not in front of you, their images can come up easily in your mind.

 It’s like the cliché “Don’t think about pink elephants.” Most people can’t empty their mind of distractions just by saying “I won’t think about distractions,” because that calls the mind to think of different things that might distract us. 

 Have you ever been totally in the zone? When you’re focusing on something – watching a movie, writing a paper, playing a sport – your attention is totally absorbed in that one thing. Dharana is a way of getting into the zone through focus on one thing.

 Imagine you’re training a new puppy. You may want it to learn how to stay in the yard, or to sit and stay still, but can’t expect it to know the commands without training. Likewise, you can’t just pin it down to one place and expect it to stay there without moving. It would be uncomfortable, and focus on wanting to escape. Instead, we might get a leash and attach it to one spot. The puppy has some controlled freedom, and can explore around a certain point, but it won’t run out into the street. Gradually, with proper training and encouragement, it will learn to stay in the yard, or to sit and stay in one spot.   

Dharana is like leashing the mind to a particular thing: a mantra, an image, a sound. This disciplines the mind and teaches it focused meditation, which prepares it for deeper stages of meditation.

 

 

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Eight Limbs of Yoga: Fourth Limb, Pranayama

“The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths.” –BKS Iyengar.

Prana translates as breath or life-force.  Yama means “discipline,” and ayama means “expansion” or “non-restraint.” Pranayama is the practice of mindful breath control. Breathing is often involuntary, and when breath stops, life stops. Methods of measuring, holding, and controlling the breath are taught to purify the body and the mind, removing toxins and distractions.

Practicing pranayama produces tapas, which is the inner cleansing fire. This tapas will purify the nadis, or subtle nerve channels.  As the physical and subtle nerves calm, the mind can meditate and concentrate.

If you’ve been to a yoga class, you probably already know that the ability to breathe deeply and calmly enhances asana – but it also enhances the yamas and niyamas. For instance, consider the yama bramacharya, restraint and responsible behavior. It is easier to keep your temper or avoid panicked decisions when you take a deep breath. Consider the niyama saucha, purity. Healthy food and nutrition supplements can’t give you their full benefit if you aren’t fully oxygenated. Keeping your mind calm will dispel tension, which allows your blood to move freely and oxygenate your body. This allows beneficial nutrients to do their work because they aren’t impeded by stress chemicals or constricted blood vessels.

Yoga Class Etiquette

While there are no rules for yoga, there is a good code of etiquette students follow out of respect for their studio, teachers, fellow students, and personal development. Here are some easy ways to promote harmony in the studio.

Please honor the student-teacher relationship. As your yoga practice matures, you will find what styles appeal most to you. You will also experience different teaching methods from different yoga teachers, and different approaches to seemingly identical postures. Experience these with a beginner’s mind; a simple statement from a different viewpoint may be the key to a posture you’ve been attempting for weeks or months. Allow yourself to be open to these suggestions and approaches, and with that experience decide what’s right for you. Yoga is for everyone, but not every yoga style is suitable for everyone.

Leave your ego at the door; challenge yourself on and off the mat. It doesn’t matter where you think someone else compares to you in your practices: you are all in the same place. You are all on the mat, sharing energy and finding balance. Everyone’s body stretches further on some days than others, or in different poses than others. Accept where your body is at that point in time and move on to the next pose. Advance when your body is ready, not just your ego, is ready.

Please honor and respect other students before and after class with your silence in the studio. Many students use this quiet time to meditate and work on silencing the chatter in their heads. We have seating areas in the hall and front lobby for comfortable chats.

Personal hygiene is an integral part of practicing yoga in a classroom environment. Strong perfumes and body order may be distract others. Take a quick shower before class if you need one. Please ensure that you and your gear are clean. Taking a shower or bath after class refreshes the body and mind.

Notify your teacher of all special conditions and or injuries – we want to know and we want to help. Poses have variations for a reason: pushing yourself doesn’t mean injuring yourself. Listen to your body, challenge when you can and rest when you need it. Never force yourself into any posture. As you practice your asanas, respect your body for that day. Take your time and build your practice slowly. You are responsible for letting your teacher know if you are feeling any pain or discomfort in a pose

Please stay in the yoga room once class begins. It is fine to leave class to go to the bathroom: no one needs to ask the teacher’s permission. When necessary, please exit during a period of rest or between postures, to minimize distraction for your fellow yogis.

Your final relaxation is an important part of your practice. If you must leave class early, still take some time to relax in Savasana before you leave. Please notify your instructor before class so they know you’re not ill or or injured. After completing the practice of asanas, allowing 10-15 minutes for Savasana will refresh and invigorate you.

When in doubt, if you approach the situation with honesty, respect, and an open mind, you’re already successful in your practice for the day.

For New Students

Not sure what to expect for your first Tribalance hot yoga class? Here’s some information for you to get ready!

BODY

Mat
We recommend using a yoga mat. It will be cushion underneath you and keep your sweat off the floor. You can fold it if you want more padding underneath your neck or knees for some poses. We’ll lend you one for your first class, and afterward you can rent one $2.

Towels
Most students lay a towel over their mat. This absorbs sweat so you don’t stick to or slip on your yoga mat. This also provides additional cushion if you feel you need it for some poses. You may want a hand towel or washcloth to blot your face during class (blot: resist the urge to scrub. You’re sweating out toxins, and you don’t want to rub them back into your skin). You will probably want another towel for a post-class shower. That shower will wash away those toxins you’ve sweated, help your body temperature recalibrate to the world outside the class, and invigorate you even more.

Strap or Block
It doesn’t matter how far you can reach or bend if your body is collapsed or misaligned. Often, a strap or block will help you do a pose in proper alignment. No one gets a medal for doing a pose without them. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to use them or what they are for: our instructors do. We have plenty available for class, free of charge. An instructor will bring one to you and show you how to use it properly when they see you struggle and think it will help you. As long as you align the right way, you will still get the full benefit of the pose.

Attire
Bring something to wear during class that allows you a full range of motion. The room will be warm so dress appropriately. We also recommend a full change of clothes (including underwear) to wear after class, because you will sweat through everything you wear during class. You may want a rubber band or hair clip to keep your hair out of your face. If you wear glasses, they might steam up during class, which can be distracting for you. You may want to wear contacts if you have them, or forgo them for 90 minutes if it won’t give you a headache.

Plastic Bag
Many students bring a plastic bag to carry their damp clothes and towels home.

Hydration
Drink plenty of water during your day before class. You will feel much better during class than you would if you drank soda all day. Many students have a bottle of water to sip between poses, which we encourage. It’s best to arrive hydrated and drink water to maintain that balance than to arrive dehydrated and struggle to catch up during class.

Discomfort
You may feel a little nauseous or dizzy at some points during your first class. Your body is making a significant adjustment from the world outside. It’s okay if you need to take a break, sit or lie down, and breathe quietly. The biggest accomplishment of your first class is staying in the room for the entire class. If you need to leave the room for a few moments, there’s no need to ask the instructor for permission. Just leave quietly between poses so you don’t distract the other students. If you feel pain during any poses, wave at your instructor to ask for help. Please notify your instructor about any injuries before class. They’ll want to know. They can show you modified poses so you can get the full benefits of the pose without unnecessary strain.

Lockers
We do have a locker room where you can leave your personal items. You can bring a lock for the locker door. If the weather is wet or snowy, we request that you remove your shoes before stepping into the locker rooms, so that no one slips in dirty puddles.

MIND

Self-consciousness
It’s okay if you are a little nervous before your first class. Acknowledge your nervousness and let it go. We dim the lights during class for a few reasons. One, that makes it easier to be internal and focus on your own postures. Second, to eliminate negative self-consciousness. There’s no need to worry about others judging you. Most of them can’t see you, and those who can aren’t looking. The class is mentally and physically challenging, so everyone is devoting their full attention to their own work. Turn your energy from self-consciousness to self-awareness: notice your breath and alignment.

Focus
Once you set foot into the room, leave the outside world behind you. Your boss isn’t going to run in and drop a stack of paperwork on you, so don’t let your job stress follow you in; likewise for any other life stressors. The different environment, warm and dim and quiet, makes it easier to tell your mind that you are in a completely different zone. Many students arrive a few minutes early to relax, breathe, and get into the yoga mindset. Once class starts, the poses and the breath will require your full attention: there won’t be room in your mind for anything else. It’s liberating. Enjoy it.

SPIRIT

Emotional Triggers
The body stores stress, so some poses may trigger feelings of anxiety or sadness. Don’t panic. It’s normal. Allow those feelings to occur – no one is looking or judging. Notice them and let them go. It is fine and healthy to reflect and process through them after class. The practice of yoga will help you have peace in body and mind, and to transcend pain and stress.

Belief
There is room for all faiths and all beliefs in the yoga classroom. Keep yours close to your heart and allow its full benefit to bring you peace. If you don’t follow a faith, there’s room for that too; you can still feel calm, peaceful, and connected to your breath. No one is going to cram their point of view down your throat. Yoga is about union, not separation. The Dalai Lama says: “If you have faith or not, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have a warm heart.” Bring an open mind to class and you will have the full benefit in mind and spirit.

Meditation
For many students, class becomes a 90-minute meditation. Don’t worry if you’ve never meditated before. It’s a total focus, a deep concentration and mindfulness. You’re relaxed and “in the zone.” Not only can you sweat out the physical toxins from your body, you can release any toxic feelings or connections. Let the physical lightness you feel after class be a spiritual lightness too. It doesn’t matter what religion or faith you practice, nor does it matter if you don’t. The yoga practice can blend and transcend. Accept the lightness as you feel it. Let go of any pain or stress in class, and let it keep that distance from you when you leave.

Student Perspective: Staying with Your Breath

Lately, when I set intention for the class, I have committed to staying with my breath. By “lately” I mean “for the past six months or so.” I did my first yoga pose over 20 years ago, and I’ve been doing different styles of hot yoga for three years, so you’d think I’d have the hang of breathing, right?

Hot yoga is different, though. People tend to breathe shallowly or hold their breath when they are tense; I’m practically the poster child. I’d gotten so used to hearing “breathe” in yoga classes that it became white noise and I didn’t attach significance to it anymore. For years, I did hot yoga after eight to ten hours at my desk job, which meant that I arrived at the studio feeling physically and psychologically like a punching bag. I was already in the habit of clenching my teeth and holding my breath when I was struggling, and I held on to that old habit.

One of my instructors said, “If you’re exhaling that hard at the end of the pose, you’ve been holding your breath.” I thought of that again when I noticed that poses were easier if the instructor gave directions like “Inhale, reach up, and as you exhale, fold forward.”

I set the intention at the beginning of each class to stay with my breath through each pose – to inhale and exhale as deeply and mindfully as I can. I set the intention to return my attention to my breath if I am struggling. It took several months to get to the point where, when I am struggling to hold the pose, I think of my breath instead of how my muscles are burning or how much I want to let the pose go. It makes an enormous difference.

You see, your body wants breath more than it wants the pose. Your mind wants the pose because it knows the benefits. You need to give your body breath, or your body will give up the pose. When your instructor says “breathe through it,” do so. First, it will stop you from thinking that you don’t want to hold the pose anymore. You will be present instead of just waiting for the pose to end – and just waiting will make it seem longer. Lastly, it will give your body and muscles the oxygen to succeed in the pose rather than just hurt or collapse.

This will also create the very useful reflex of breathing deeply in stressful situations. On several occasions in the past six months, another person has said something that I perceived as insulting. My instinct is to draw myself up to about seven feet tall and say something caustic. Straightening up and speaking both require a deep inhale, though, and which pulls me from irritation into mindfulness. My ego desperately wanted the gratification of making the other person feel bad! However, I understood what the Buddha meant when he said anger is like picking up a hot coal to burn another person. You burn yourself first. The deep breath connects me to my inner calm, and I can let the perceived insult go instead of letting someone else steal my peace.

A good connection to my breath strengthens me on and off the mat. Maybe someday I won’t feel the sting of an insult or the burn in the muscles, but there’s good reason yoga is a practice. I’m not holding my breath.

~Nikki~

Ahimsa: A Strong and Quiet Practice

Ahimsa is the first branch of Yama, which is the first limb of Yoga – which suggests that lack of ahimsa weakens the foundation. If yoga means union, and the goal of practice is to achieve mind-body-spirit union, then violence prevents this harmony. Yoga writer Doma Djenab stated that “The essence of ahimsa is non-violence of our own heart. The violence we inflict on each other is only the outward manifestation of the war raging inside ourselves and it is only by stopping the war within that we can stop the war without.”

Inner disquiet, then, disrupts practice. This is intuitive when we consider pushing too hard; for instance, you could tear a muscle if you don’t listen to your body’s warning signs. This can be rooted in harmful thoughts like “You should be better than you are” or “You’re no good if you can’t do this.”

When Gabriel taught at TriBalance in October, he mentioned that pushing yourself too hard violates ahimsa, but that not living up to your potential also does violence to your practice. How could we violate ahimsa in not pushing?

There is a wonderful Indian legend that illustrates ahimsa. An enormous serpent once terrorized a village, biting and menacing the citizens. The villagers asked a wise yogi to talk to the serpent, so he taught it about ahimsa. A year later, he came across the serpent and was shocked at its appearance. The once magnificent beast was bruised, shabby, and pitifully thin. “What happened to you?” the yogi asked.

“No one fears me anymore,” the serpent said. “People kick me and throw rocks at me.”

The yogi shook his head. “I never told you not to hiss,” he said.

Yoga is a journey, a process of unfolding. Every journey requires a little healthy aggression. When you’re ready to take the next step and don’t, then you’re stopping the journey. Complete passivity isn’t growth; rather, it’s like withholding light from a plant.

This applies to inner growth too, which can require confronting dark thoughts or painful memories. Djeneb states that “When we allow ourselves to fully experience the hate and pain within us without cringing, violence, hatred and pain will disappear and open doors to new understandings and liveliness.” It can be harder to take an unflinching and nonjudgmental look at your soul than it is to do a strenuous physical posture. Asana is the third limb – so asana without ahimsa is just doing empty poses.

Author Amey Mathews reminds us that ahimsa is a practice, and it’s okay – even inevitable – to falter at times. “Just as some days we have immense amounts of energy and attention for our asana practice, and other days we are lazier or distracted, these same processes will be reflected in our practice of ahimsa. The yamas are steadfast in their instruction, however, clearly implying that we are each capable of refining our finest qualities and disciplining our more base impulses.”

Student Perspective: Setting an Intention

I like to get to the yoga studio early, so I can rest in Savasana and ground myself. I find that the more centered I am before class, the better the class is for me.  If I rush in and barely hit the mat before the instructor says “Everyone please stand up,” then I spend half the class chasing the mindset, and I feel less accomplished when class is over. I like to lay out my mat and towel, get my block and water and things in order, and set an intention for the class.

 I close my eyes, do some deep breathing, and focus on opening each Chakra, which I find helpful in bringing my attention to my body’s core and the mind-body connection. Counting down, muscle relaxation exercises, or focusing on your breath may work better for you. What’s most important is that it brings your attention to yourself and away from any stressors. It doesn’t have to be perfect – you’re not doing it wrong if other thoughts crop up. Acknowledge them and return your attention to your breath, counting, etc. It will get easier with time.

 After a few moments, I think about my intention for class that day. Think about why you’re there, and think about something specific you can do to increase your feelings of determination and accomplishment.

If your goal is strength or weight loss, you may set an intention to stay as deep in each pose as you can.

 Another is to take at least one pose up to the next level – maybe decide to work a bind at every opportunity, even if you can only hold it for a few seconds, gradually increasing your strength and balance.

Yet another is to decide to hold every pose until the instructor moves to the next one – ease up a little, or modify if you need to, but jump back in to the pose if you fall out, and stay there until they actually end the pose. It’s harder than you think!

 At the end of class, in final Savasana, think of the intention you set at the beginning of class. Did you stick with it? If not, what got in the way? Were you beating yourself up too much? Holding your breath? Letting go of that obstacle is a good intention for your next class.

 You can set more than one intention as long as you don’t overwhelm yourself. If you are new to the practice of asanas, you could burn yourself out quickly by demanding too much of your body. You might decide to stay in each pose as long as possible and breathe mindfully – and breathing will help you hold the pose longer, so they tie in to each other.

 Often I set an intention to surrender to each pose because I want to feel better. Tribalance Yoga is meditation in motion, and the poses don’t allow room for me to dwell on my day or worry about tomorrow. Beating myself up for falling out of the last pose, or worrying about when Half Moon will come up, will just lessen the benefits of the pose I am in now. At the end of class, I check in on the intention I had set – do I feel better? I may have had some physical limitations that day, and I may have wobbled and fallen out of many poses, but if I feel better, then I had a fantastic class.

~Nikki~