Getting Started - Mokshanam Yoga

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Unrolling the Yoga Mat
yoga is a practice, not just a pose
Knowing where to start a yoga practice can seem overwhelming or possibly intimidating, but assuredly anyone can establish a practice with some help and encouragement along the way. Inquiring is the first step and from there, coming to class is an important second that can prove just as difficult as the first. From the mat, guidance will be given based on the ability of each practitioner with direction towards the development of the Yogastha method. Modifications, along with adjustments and assists, are an integral part of this teaching method and to safely advance in the practice. Additionally, modifications allow for varying levels of experience to practice as a group. Equally, private one-on-one lessons allow for more catered instruction and questioning that can greatly benefit a new practitioner. Regardless, it is encouraged for all levels of practitioners to utilize private lessons as a means for detailed instruction that would otherwise not be addressed in the flow of a class. The best advice for establishing a disciplined practice is committing to attend one class per week. From this baseline, confidence can be built upon with a healthy trajectory.  
"Practice, practice, all is coming." is the encouraging mantra Pattabhi Jois would offer to students in the development of trusting their practice.  There are three aspects to consider when progressing in the practice. Establishing the yoga pose is a journey in and of itself.  This is where modifications are helpful but can't be mistaken as the end of the journey in developing the posture, regardless of the time it takes to develop.  Along the way of establishing a yoga pose, it is equally important to develop the vinyasa sequence. Each pose or combination of poses is organized into a sequence where the movement into and of the pose is counted by a designated number of inhales and exhales.  With knowledge of the pose and the sequence, turning the emphasis to building endurance is an evolving capacity that is built into the development of each practice from what started with unrolling the mat for the first time.  All three aspects are developed individually while equally tied seamlessly together.
Striving comes in the shape of the desire to continuously apply effort towards one's fullest potential. Yoga often gets taught in a way to "just let go" as though to negate any exertion at all. Yet the natural application and release found in the organ of the heart is the very pulse of our life. If we are only taught to let go in contrast to the hustle and bustle of everyday living, then our willful participation with life is being forfeited. Through the development of the yoga practice, one discovers their understanding of where strength and softening are necessary. No one starts with both and everyone has something to develop. The asanas reveal their reflection to every yogi as a personal experience of understanding themselves to this balance. But remember balance can only be known by that which is stable. The true nectar of yoga is revealed through the unchanging and abiding as the witness to fluctuation. Motivation for this stiving can be challenging and where group classes bring forth communitive energy that offers an upliftment when one feels low and a contribution when feeling light. Inspiration can also come from those who have proven transformation on the path, as well as a humble recognition of one's personal transformation and the trajectory of what's possible. And to always keep the practice healing. flows where attention goes...
The ujjayi breath (meaning "towards victory") is an audible breath used to regulate the prana (energy) within the body. It begins first with an engagement of the pelvic floor muscles (mula bandha) and then lifting these muscles upwards as the breath draws in. The mouth should remain closed as the breath flows in and back out through the nostrils. Remember, ujjayi breathing is an audible breath, which means the practitioner and teacher should both hear the inhale and the exhale throughout the length of practice. This sound is created by a restriction in the back of the throat and is the same restriction caused when whispering or fogging up a mirror, except with the lips closed. Because of this restriction in the back of the throat, the breath is heated and spreads warmth through the body from the inside out (opposed to outside in when external heat is used such as in "hot yoga".) Each series of Yogastha emphasis the opportunity to tune into this breath from a still seat at the beginning of each practice. The ujjayi breath requires a tremendous amount of focus to maintain throughout the length of practice so continuously returning to the sound of one's breath will build this capacity. Lastly, if the ujjayi breath can no longer be maintained in a posture then its benefits have been forfeited. Modifying the posture to where the ujjayi breath can be maintained will allow the opportunity for the breath to guide the practitioner further into the depths of the posture safely.
There are three essential bandhas emphasized in the Yogastha Sadhana method.  Bandha means "lock" and these locks are used during the asana practice as a means to direct physical energy, as well as subtle energy, through the body.  With focused practice, the capacity to handle and direct one's life force energy (power) through the body is the means to healing both physically and energetically while safely developing advancing postures.

Mula bandha is known as the "root lock" because it is crucial in the asana practice, just as the roots of a tree are crucial to supporting the trunk and branches.  The culmination of muscles making up the pelvic floor, including those of elimination, is the physical engagement of mula bandha.  Lifting these muscles starts with the perineum and is directed upwards through the midline of the body.  Holding engagement of these muscles takes a tremendous amount of awareness and is why queuing serves as a reminder to bring attention back to this engagement.  While proper mula bandha engagement can be difficult to relate with in the early development of one's yoga practice, it is important to emphasize the continuous refinement and understanding of mula bandha comes through the development of practice.

Uddiyana bandha translates as "upward lock" and works with mula bandha to move prana (energy) from the root, upwards.  That is up the midline of the body towards the crown of the head.  This engagement of the lower abdominal wall pulling towards the spin, along with the accompanied pelvic floor engagement, supports the lower back in providing health and safety while advancing in the practice.  The inward draw of uddiyana bandha occurs naturally with the exhale in support of the lifting diaphragm.  With attention brought through the mindful breathing pattern of ujjayi, the lower abdominal wall can be strengthened and held, even on the inhale.  From a seated position this technique can be better understood by observing the low abdomen movement while breathing ujjayi.  As each breath lengthens, focus on the expansion of the ribcage in all directions with the inhale while holding the abdominal wall contracted.  On the next exhale, notice if the low abdomen can pull back a little further than before and then repeat with an inhale breath just into the lungs.  When attention is dropped, simply bring it back on the next breath.  

Jalandhara bandha, or the "chin lock", is engaged by using the muscles in the front of the kneck to tuck the chin down towards the top of the sternum.  It is automatically engaged in some postures such as salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulder stand) or halasana (plow) where there is a strong flexion of the cervical spine.  With the upliftment of energy from mula bandha and uddiyana bandha, jalandhara bandha caps, or contains prana (energy) within the body.  There are many health benefits associated with the containment of one's energy within the body and a sense of charging up if you will.

All three bandhas are crucial to safely advance in the asana practice.  With regular and continuous practice,  individual understanding of the proper engagement of each bandha comes.  Engaging any of the bandhas with the same vigor as one would white-knuckle the steering wheel of a car is not the proper engagement.  Likewise, no grip at all would prevent the ability to steer the car at all.  The intelligence of the proper engagement is understood within and is revealed as a lightness when handling the weight of the body.  Reminders qued in class simply serves as means of returning to these fundamentals over and over again.  
The drishti translates as the body point where one’s eye gaze is to be held steadily upon while in the posture. By focusing the attention on a single point the mind can become settled from the pull of vrities, known as fluctuations of the mind's making. Keeping the eyes focused on one’s own body while practicing asana should remain the target and direction of energy in each pose. The ujjai breath should not be affected due to the drishti and should also be maintained while advancing into and out of the postures with bandha engagement.
Sweaty... Steady... Sattvic...
"Whenever the ego is involved, security will merely be about pacifying the fears of the ego.  
When liberation is involved, security is about transcending the fears of the ego."
- Todd Geiser
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