Maui Yoga Blog

Raja Yoga of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Raja Yoga refers to the ‘Royal Path’ of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is over 2000 years old, and is still one of the most enlightening  and insightful spiritual works of all time, as relevant and inspiring as ever. The word sutra means ‘thread’, and Patanjali weaves together the ‘threads’ of yogic knowledge into a path of our human possibility and potential. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali teach us the path of working with all aspects of our self, and, most importantly, becoming the master of our mind. Hence the term ‘Royal’ – the goal of this path, the practices and the philosophy, is to become the ruler of the vast territory of our mind, and in that way to reduce suffering and live a life of peace and ‘aloha’. 

One of the goals of this holistic and beautiful path is kaivalya, which is described in the 4th chapter of the Yoga sutras as the fruit of living the Raja Yoga, or Eight limbed path. The Sanskrit translation of the word kaivalya is often seen as ‘aloneness’, but a deeper translation refers to the wholeness and freedom of non-duality, of realizing in our being that we are sovereign  in ourselves, free from the conditioning that separates us from our true Self. Kaivlaya is the embodiment of yoga, a state of remembering who we are.

For us modern people, that may seem like a somewhat high aspiration, something not attainable for ordinary yogis. But Patanjali does remind us, in the first chapter of the sutras, 1:21, that for those of us that devote ourselves to regular practice, this goal of freedom is near. It is right here inside us, the gem of our being waiting to be polished by our regular practice, ready to shine as our light and love in the world. 

Yoga Heart

Yoga is a an age old practice of  joining body and mind,  and our attention to this moment.  As my teacher’s teacher, TKS Desikichar said  “Yoga is relationship”.  As we go deeper into the practices of yoga, we can see the quality of those relationships we have with our self, each other, and our world deepens and improves as well.  How is it that yoga does this? The answer is at the heart of the philosophy of yoga.

Yoga teacher training philosophy

Yoga is a lived philosophy, and we must practice it to truly understand it.   The practices help us to gradually shed the conditioned filters that cloud our perception and keep us from remembering our true heart and seeing the world clearly.  As we do our practices, linking our breath to our movement and our attention to our breath, our nervous system calms and our body systems enter a state of coherence, wherein our hearts and minds can align.  It is here in this state that we can see most clearly, and hear the voice of our own inner guidance and wisdom. 

Yoga brings us to the love and the harmony that is our heart’s nature. In our world sometimes we get distracted from that, and it’s easy to forget when we are stressed.  Yoga helps us remember who we are and get better and better at choosing the thoughts, words and actions that are aligned with what is best in us.  Our practice helps us to remember that we are all connected and we can choose each day to truly live from the heart.  Live Aloha!

The Power of Pranayama

Pranayama is the yoga science of extending and building our life force with our breath, and the benefits of regular practice are many.  A conscious breath practice links our mind with our body and directly affects our nervous system, bringing us into the present moment, and calming and relaxing all the systems of our body/mind.

Meditation and pranayama at Baby Beach, Paia

Our nervous system has two poles – the sympathetic nervous system, which signals threat, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals safety and allows relaxation. When the flight/fight side is stuck on, which it often is in our over-stimulated world, we feel stressed and anxious. That constant defensive mode is hard on our body, and distracts us from presence and connection with ourselves and each other. The power of the intentional breath practice, or pranayama, can switch on the relaxation and safety side of the nervous system with deep, slow, conscious focused breath. If we do this practice regularly, it can help us to sooth and re-train our nervous system to be more resilient and begin to default to a place of calm and relaxation. That gives us the benefits of more regulation of our emotions and less reactivity, as well as many other health benefits that come from releasing stress.

Pranayama helps us build the capacity to be fully present and clear, and more tuned into our self and our heart. 

Start by weaving a simple pranayama practice into each day, along with your asana practice, to start a meditation practice, or before you sleep and whenever you feel anxious. Begin with a simple deep breath, through your nostrils if you can, relaxing your belly and allowing your diaphragm to expand. Exhale fully and slowly, without forcing or tensing your breath. Find a smooth rhythm and continue for 3-5 minutes or more.  Done regularly, pranayama can make such a helpful and profound difference for you.

May you cultivate and reap the benefits of this powerful Yoga practice! 

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Asana (Pt. 2)

One learns that one’s body is the bow, the asana is the arrow, and the target is the soul. – BKS Iyengar

Continuing our series on the three definitive sutras by Patanjali on asana, we turn our attention to sutra 2.47. The previous sutra (2.46) mentions that the yoga posture has or is to be sthira, stillness and stability, and sukham referring to ease, comfort, and openness (see Part 1). While there are many modern yoga texts with pictures and descriptions of yoga poses we begin to see that the Yoga Sutras is more about our relationship to reality via the mind on it’s path to realizing the soul. The three sutras on asana address the mind-body-spirit connection.

2.47 prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam
Perfection in the posture is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and  attention merges with  the infinite.

By relaxing the effort and fixing the mind on the infinite [ananta], asana is perfected.  Ananta, a word meaning “unending” or “infinite,” describes what is timeless, beyond birth, growth, death, and all modifications—a limitless state of joy and contentment. This sweet, natural state of ours, beyond the things of the senses, is embodied by the vast mythological serpent, Ananta, whose coils support the universe and who serves as Vishnu’s couch.   Vishnu rests on this great serpent couch floating in the cosmic ocean between incarnations as an avatar on earth.

​Think of a hip opener like eka pada raja kapotasana,  one legged royal pigeon pose:

-A considerable effort is made 
-The pose is held and maintained
-We have to consciously move beyond the initial resistance from the muscles
-The resistance or “tightness” is connected to the movements in the mind, the thoughts
-We may experience a flood of mental or emotional activity
-Through our perseverance and awareness, a stillness of mind and a state of balance is attained when we witness ourselves and let go 
-The hip begins to open as relaxation in the mind and body happen simultaneously
-All merges in the seat of the soul.

This feeling of oneness is boundless and universal!  

Discussing asana in the philosophy class, we ask the students to begin observing the state of the mind in a pose.  The deeper we get into the practice, the more aware we become of the ability to bring ourselves to a place beyond thought.  We’ve all heard before “don’t think, just do!”   The pose itself offers us a primordial power when we find ourselves nicely aligned in it.  That energy, or shakti, awakens and begins to move freely within us.  A thought  can return and block this flow so we do our best to stay one-pointed and present.  The more we visit this state of yoga, the more established we become in the practice for life!   

Sādhanā – practice, or spiritual practice, a means to accomplish
Ekāgratā – one-pointedness, undisturbed attentiveness
Shakti – power or empowerment, the primordial cosmic energy that represents the dynamic forces that move through the entire universe

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Part 3 of the Yoga Sutras and asana coming up – find out what happens when we perfect the pose…

Chakras

Swirling, expanding and contracting, a column of energetic wheels aligned from the base of our spine to the crown of our head,  the chakras pulse as centers of spiritual power in the human body.

Chakra meditation with Devin Koppel, YTT graduate, Paia, Maui Yoga

Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning wheel, circle, or disc.  The fine network of energetic lines called nadis that run through our body meet at these 7 colorful centers making up a rainbow spectrum.   The Chakras regulate all functions of our body and energy systems.

How can we become more aware of these mysterious power centers within us? The answer may come with the natural state of being that the yoga practice brings us.

Once the mind reaches a point of stillness, we are able to realize these pulsating, light filled spinning wheels.

Because of the infinite nature of our inner being, it’s said that each chakra contains lokas, or worlds, and are inhabited by devatas, or deities.

Here’s some more insight into each chakra, what they represent & govern.

Lotus Mudra with Devin & Tahnee Shim at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, Iao Valley, Maui Yoga. Photo by Ken Fields
anahata chakra

The seventh chakra, sahasrara, floats above the crown of the head. Often referred to as a thousand-petaled lotus, it is said to be the most subtle in the chakra system, and is related to pure consciousness, our connection to Divinity.

ajna chakta third eye

The sixth chakra, ajna, is located at the third eye. It is associated with the color violet or indigo, and with higher knowledge, the subtle aspects of sight, and with intuition. It is associated with the syllable “OM”.

vishuddha throat chakra

The fifth chakra, vishuddha, is located in the throat. It is associated with the color pale blue or turquoise.  Vishuddha means “very pure.”  It is associated with the element “ether,” and is related to your ability to speak truth, express ideas clearly, and be attuned to inner and outer vibrations.  It is associated with the syllable “HAM”.

anahata heart chakra

The fourth chakra, anahata, is located at the heart center. It is associated with the color green, and its name references an “unstruck chord”, or unbeaten. It is represented by a lotus flower with twelve petals. The seed sound is “YAM”.  It is associated with the element air.

manipura chakra solar plexus

The third chakra, manipura, is located in the solar plexus/navel area. It is associated with the color yellow and the syllable “RAM”. It is often translated as “city of jewels.” This chakra is associated with fire and the power of transformation.

svadhishthana sacral chakra

The second chakra, svadhishthana, is located in the sacral area. It is associated with the color vermillion or orange, and the sound “VAM”.  It is connected with the sense of taste, and with reproduction.

muladhara root chakra

The base chakra, muladhara, is also called the root chakra, and is located just above the pelvic floor. It is associated with the sense of smell, and represents earthly grounding  The color is red, and the seed syllable is “LAM”.

When practicing asana, each posture has an affect on the chakras to help bring about balance and the ability to fully use your intuition, imagination, wisdom, knowledge, and inner powers.  One example is sirshasana, or headstand, which stimulates the sahasrara chakra at the crown of your head to enhance clarity of vision, intuition, and your connection to Divinity. 

How can we go about our lives with an awareness of our energetic bodies and their functions?  The yoga practice offers many methods to balance, activate, or visualize the chakras,   One way is by simply chanting the bija mantra, sanskrit for seed, associated with each chakra.  The bija mantras are one-syllable sounds that, when said aloud, activate the energy of the chakras in order to purify & balance the mind & body. Try it!  Repeat the mantra below visualizing each chakra starting with the base or root chakra, the muladhara, working your way up to the crown chakra.  The a is pronounced with an ah sound:

LAM

VAM

RAM

YAM

HAM

OM

a moment of silence…

get a rhythm going & repeat as many times as you like!

Meditation at Baldwin Beach, Maui Yoga

The 7 major chakras also interact with our body through the endocrine system (a seven gland system) which is one of the body’s main control mechanisms. The endocrine system produces the hormones that stimulate or inhibit physiological processes.  How does a change in our consciousness does affect our physical body? 

Crown chakra (Sahasrara, color violet): pineal gland – spirituality and divine awareness.

Third eye chakra(Ajna, color indigo): between eyebrows, pituitary gland, intuition.

Throat chakra(Vishuddhi, color blue): throat area, thyroid, communication and self-expression.

Heart chakra (Anahata, color green): heart area, thymus, compassion, love, and healing.

Solar plexus chakra (Manipura, color yellow): navel area, pancreas, self will, self esteem, courage, and personal power.

Sacral chakra (Svadhisthana, color orange): genital area, ovaries, creativity, emotion and sensuality.

Root chakra (Muladhara, color red): base of the spine, gonads, safety and survival, sense of belonging.

The heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there, and roam.

– Bhagawan Nityananda 

Abhyasa and Vairagya: Effort and Release

In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes two aspects of personal practice that will help us progress on our path of yoga – important qualities to understand for our practice on and off the mat.

The first is abhyasa, which is often described as sustained, consistent commitment to practice over time.  It is the effort it takes to repeatedly come back to the present moment, again and again. Distractions of all kinds abound in our world, so of course our attention is pulled away from the moment all the time. In yoga, it is the effort and subtle discipline to gently bring the mind back to present that matters. Here and now, this breath, this moment, is where it is all going on… where the truth of right action and calm may be found.  When we come back to now, it is then possible to relax our tension and breath into whatever is going on in body, mind and heart and attend to it with love.

Practicing arm balancing poses with Nadia Toraman

Vairagya is the aspect of practice, the complement to abhyasa,  and literally means ‘not getting stirred up’.  Sometimes it is translated as detachment or letting go. The essence of it is the practice of not reacting to your perceptions, letting things arise in our mind and experience without a knee-jerk reaction based on our conditioning from the past. Vairagya is allowing life to unfold fresh and new in each moment without telling the same stories about it again and again.

In the asana practice, think of a pose you have put forth considerable effort to get into over time. Suddenly you’re in the pose and the effort is balanced with a sense of letting go, release, surrender, or even floating. This is the essence of the practice, achieving a perfect balance of abhyasa and vairagya.

When we commit to this aspect of practice, confusion and judgment fall away, revealing the sweet equanimity that is the fruit of practice. This makes room for the love and light that is you to shine through!

Why do a 300 Hour Teacher Training?

As yoga educators and practitioners, we know our practice is as dynamic and changing as we are. Everyday we learn something new and encounter challenges in our life and in our practice and everyday we have an opportunity to apply the wisdom of yoga to help us grow and evolve.  

Our yoga path is a life path, and along the way we count on the support and experience of teachers and mentors that we trust to guide us and help illuminate and encourage our unique voice and creative gifts.  The best teacher is a good student, and your commitment to staying open to learning and growing insures that your practice and teaching stay fresh and inspiring. 

In our 300 Hour Training, we build on the foundational skills and knowledge of the 200 Hour Training, deepening and expanding  personal practice, teaching skills and philosophical understanding. 

The balance of personal mentoring attention and class and lecture time offers the opportunity to explore the particular areas of your interest. Subjects covered include development of skills in working one on one with students in your teaching practice, as well as a deep exploration of  yoga psychology and philosophy through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  

The fascinating and important contemporary research in neuroscience is fast becoming the language of body-mind practices and spirituality. In our class work we include these modern insights and science-based understandings to shed light on how yoga works in the body and mind. This knowledge makes yoga education accessible and relevant to so many people in our world ! There has never been more opportunity for yoga professionals to thrive and expand their work. Join us for our 300 Hour Training and expand the possibilities of service and fulfillment in your personal and professional life. 

Why take a yoga teacher training?

Some things that may cross your mind when asked about a teacher training:

I never plan to teach…

Don’t you have to be flexible to do yoga…

Yoga is only for spiritual people…

Nine months ago if I had been asked if I would take a teacher training I would have said all of those and then some! As cliched as it may sound, I didn’t find teacher training, teacher training found me.

After going through my own personal and spiritual awakening, I came to the conclusion that there had to be more to life than working for a corporation helping build someone else’s dream. During my awakening process (that is still, and will always be taking place) I made the transition from an extremely unhealthy and disheartening lifestyle, to one of vitality, wellbeing, and an overall zest for life. I was able to make this transition by beginning to look inward, and no longer relying on external factors to find peace.

During the transition I lost 70 plus pounds in 7 months, regained control of my life, and restored my inner hope. I was able to all of this through nutrition, daily exercise, and you guessed it…YOGA! Yoga absolutely transformed my life. Through yoga, I have been able to remember who I truly am, connect with my higher self, and fulfill my divine purpose in life.

In February of 2019, after making it an affirmation to lead a life of selfless service, I made plans to leave my job and move to beautiful mother Maui for the next phase of this awe inspiring life. On March, 19th, 2019, I hopped on a one way flight to Maui to begin my endeavor of becoming a yoga instructor.

Upon my arrival to Maui, I knew that I would be taking a yoga teacher training, I just did not know where. My second week on island I took a class at Maui Yoga Shala, and instantly resonated with the space. Immediately after class I signed up for the April 2019 Hawaii yoga teacher training.

During the 3 weeks of teacher training, I endured some of the rawest and most challenging emotions that that I have ever encountered. With the support of the Shala’s staff and teachers, as well as my fellow classmates I was able to overcome and conquer some heavy roadblocks and obstacles. Jai Ganesha!.

The teacher training program at Maui Yoga Shala is a full immersion program, that truly prepares and enables you for the next step as a yoga instructor. I truly enjoyed the morning philosophy, mantra, and chanting sessions with Chelsea & Shakta. I also enjoyed experiencing the variety of teaching styles from the array of instructors that the Shala has to offer.

Jennifer provided the perfect amount of tender, loving, support throughout the entire 3 weeks, while we dove into anatomy and pranayama breathing techniques. Nadia took us deep through our asana practice and the study of anatomy, really preparing us for sequencing and guiding classes.

On April, 27th, 2019, my classmates and I completed our 3 weeks of intensive training, and I could not have been more proud. I was given the great opportunity to begin guiding my own classes at the Shala right away, and am beyond grateful for that opportunity.

Looking back, I am very fortunate to have been able to share this experience with my classmates, and the staff & teachers at the Shala. Even if you never plan on teaching or guiding classes, yoga teacher training is a powerful, and life changing experience.