Archive | General Yoga Info

How To Deal With Illness & Fatigue

The Yoga Sutras compiled by Patanjali, are aphorisms that represent the essence of yoga knowledge and experience. The statements are succinct (averaging six words) and provide guidance on the benefits, philosophy and practice of yoga. For more about the Sutras, click here.

What are the nine obstacles in yoga?
Nine obstacles or distractions are outlined: illness, fatigue, doubt, carelessness, laziness, attachment, delusion, the failure to achieve samadhi and the failure to achieve samadhi. (Chapter 1:30) . Even 2500 years after Patanjali first assembled the Yoga Sutras, these obstacles can still veer yogis off their path.

Note that Samadhi means “settled mind,” which is said to bring very deep rest to the entire body. In this issue of nilambu notes, I examine the first two – illness (vyadhi) and fatigue (styana).

What does yoga say about illness?
Illness or sickness that disturbs the physical balance is the first distraction, because in yoga, the body is the key mechanism. If the car breaks down, the trip stops. The root of the Sanskrit word, vyadhi, means to “stand apart” or “be scattered” (Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, p.157).

So illness is said to break apart and alienate a person, a life. The primacy of the physical health indicates how, in yoga, the body is integral to and important for the mind. Mental development and that settled state of mind will be harder to achieve, though not impossible, when the body is ill.

What does yoga say about fatigue and apathy?
Styana is variously translated as fatigue, apathy, languor or lethargy. The root means “to grow dense.” (Ibid, p. 158). A yogi who is fatigued or apathetic enjoys no enthusiasm and forms no aspirations.

BKS Iyengar notes that in this state,

mind and intellect become dull due to inactivity…water in a ditch stagnates and nothing good can flourish in it. (Light on Yoga, p. 25)

My current yoga teacher speaks of the “walking dead” – people who are listless and unaware and unable to concentrate.

So what are we to do about these obstacles?
They impede obviously – but the Sanskrit term for these “obstacles” actually means “interval.” That is, illness and apathy create a break or a gap and thereby distract from the goal. The gap can be bridged. The Sutras continue,

Such distractions make the body restless, the breathing coarse, the mind agitated. They result in suffering. But they can be eliminated if the mind is repeatedly brought to a single focus. (Chapter 1:31-32).

Notably, the sutras do not deny or belittle these challenges. They exist. The sutras acknowledge the pain they can cause and note yoga requires an even more diligent focus when these obstacles are encountered.

So the answer to distractions?
Focus. Not a stunning aphorism, but one worth remembering. Important to me is that yoga recognizes these difficulties. And the etymologies of the words resonate and illuminate fresh perspectives on difficulties that can arise to hinder us.

These obstacles are not huge boulders, too weighty to move, that stop us dead in our track. Nor are they locked gates on our route that we ignore by going around another way. These obstacles are potholes in our path. And so we continue on our chosen way with heightened care and concentration – watching out for the potholes and gaps to bridge.

That’s the message of the Yoga Sutras.

Guided Yoga Nidra by Local Yoga Teacher

Last month, I discussed yoga nidra. Robin Carnes, whose CD is reviewed below, reminded me of the purpose of doing yoga nidra:

While relaxation is a worthy outcome in and of itself, the true purpose of yoga nidra, as with all forms of yoga, is to help us access the actual experience, not just the concept, of our Oneness with all creation. It helps dissolve our separateness and experience our connectedness.

Well put and captured in both of the guided yoga nidras reviewed below. Robin also brought to my attention a short, helpful piece on yoga nidra from a recent issue of Yoga Journal. To read, click here.

Yoga Nidra by Robin Carnes A short introduction outlines the purpose and practice of yoga nidra. Ms. Carnes teaches at a local DC area studio, Willow Street Yoga Center, in Takoma Park.

In her introduction, she captures the state of being in yoga nidra as a “hovering between sense consciousness and sleep consciousness.” Two guided yoga nidras follow.

Her confident voice calms and comforts. As you set your resolve (your sankalpa) for your yoga nidra, she encourages you to conjure an image that captures your intention – something or some way of being you wish to bring to fruition in your life.

Then, as traditional she guides your awareness around your body in several layers – sometimes specific small parts of the body (each finger), other times larger areas (whole leg). She directs you to be aware of the surface of your body (the skin in specific areas), channel your breath, wash colors through your body or conjure images of landscapes (tree, mountain, cloud) or objects (rose, ball, tunnel).

New to me, Ms. Carnes brought an “awareness of sensation” and suggested I feel my body first heavy then light, cold then hot.

The second nidra at 42 minutes is slightly longer the first (27 minutes), but both are excellent and authentic.

Judith Lasater once said to me,

that you don’t do restorative yoga, it does you

Robin Carnes said the same of yoga nidra “you don’t do it, it does you.” And when yoga nidra is done doing you, you free great! This rewarding CD is $15. To purchase, contact Robin Carnes at
rdcarnes@starpower.net or 301-587-1835.

Yoga Nidra – A Restful State of Being

Yoga Nidra. What does it mean?

Well, the answer to that has varied over the centuries. It’s often translated as yoga sleep, but sleep is understood very differently in yoga.

Patanjali wrote of sleep in the 10th Sutra of Chapter One –

Sleep is the mental activity that has as its content the sense of nothingness. – trans. by Alistair Shearer

Sleep is the turning of thought abstracted from existence. – trans. by Barbara Stoler Miller

So in yoga, sleep is not the absence of consciousness. It’s just a different stage of consciousness. In the earlier centuries of yoga, yoga nidra even was considered the highest form of consciousness, the closest to God. In this altered conscious state, one experiences continuous awareness of the self and a merging or even engrossing with God’s consciousness.

But today, yoga nidra most often refers to a state of deep relaxation in which the senses are aware of external stimuli but do not in any way react, even in the mind.

How does one get to that state of relaxation? Here are some steps:

  1. Put your body in a comfortable physical position. Typically, this pose is corpse pose or savasana – you lie on your back, palms up. You can support your neck and head and put a cushion behind the knees. Just be sure you’re comfortable.
  2. Set an intention – this could be to let go of an irritation, to forgive someone who wronged you, to make this deep relaxation effective – whatever you’d like.
  3. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Slowly try to match the length of the inhalation to the exhalation. As you exhale, try to image the carbon dioxide, the waste, that your body naturally exhales.
  4. Survey your body – think in your mind of each body part, right side and left side separately. You can be as specific as thinking of each toe. The more precise you are the better. As you think of each body part, concentrate on relaxing that part. Do all of this in quickly. Don’t linger in any place of the body.
  5. When the survey is complete, think of the whole body, supported by the floor. (hopefully by now, you’ll have a slight sensation of floating)
  6. Think of your intention.
  7. You can repeat the body survey or simply focus on your breath. You can stay in this for 10 minutes or 60. You should feel calm, a calm abiding. You are aware of sounds, the floor touching you, smells. But you don’t react to them, either actually or even in your mind. You may even fall into a different state of consciousness (sleep).
  8. Come out gently.

You can do yoga nidra on your own. Admittedly, it’s easier to have someone with a kind and gentle voice to guide you in, through your body survey and back out.

I’ve actually transferred some of Shiva Rae’s yoga nidras onto my Ipod and sometimes go into yoga nidra to help me transition into night or during the day when I need deep rest. (See review of her Yoga Nectar CD next month, but if you want to check out her web site, click here. www.shivarea.com).

I also really relish doing it. I come out feeling refreshed and renewed. Nectar, indeed.

For general background on Patanjali click here and the Yoga Sutras, click here.

Meditation Articles

I recommend two articles available online.

Here Comes the Sun by Richard Rosen
Richard Rosen, the author of THE book on yoga breath (The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama), wrote a delightful and enlightening article on the sun salutation for Yoga Journal. As the sun returns to us, this first week of spring seems an especially appropriate time to remind ourselves about the origin of this basic yoga sequence called Surya Namaskar. Surya – sun; namas – salute (same root as namaste which means literally “I salute you.”)

Here’s a sample – The outer sun, they (ancient yogis) asserted, is in reality a token of our own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).

It might seem strange to us that the yogis place the seat of wisdom in the heart, which we typically associate with our emotions, and not the brain. But in yoga, the brain is actually symbolized by the moon, which reflects the sun’s light but generates none of its own. This kind of knowledge is worthwhile for dealing with mundane affairs, and is even necessary to a certain extent for the lower stages of spiritual practice. But in the end, the brain is inherently limited in what it can know and is prone to what Patanjali calls misconception (viparyaya) or false knowledge of the self.

To read the full article, click here. http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/928_1.cfm

The Complete Package: Meditation and Yoga by Cyndi Lee
This piece originally appeared in the July 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun. Written by my former teacher and mentor in New York City, Cyndi Lee includes this vivid episode about a frightening accident as a spark for why one practices yoga and the variety of benefits. What she describes here echoes my own experience with yoga, though I’ve never been dumped unexpectedly into the rapids of a river. She sets forth her ideas about how yoga can be meditation in movement and how to approach your physical practice with a sense of curiosity rather than judgments measured against goals. She’s a wise yogini, and I encourage you to read the full article here. http://www.purifymind.com/CompletePackage.html

All About Sun Salutation

Here Comes the Sun by Richard Rosen is a delightful and enlightening article, chock full of information and instruction regarding the sun salutation. Richard Rosen is the author of THE book on yoga breath: The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama.

As the sun returns to us, this first week of spring seems an especially appropriate time to remind ourselves about the origin of this basic yoga sequence called Surya Namaskar. Surya – sun; namas – salute (same root as namaste which means literally “I salute you.”)

Here’s a sample –

The outer sun, they (ancient yogis) asserted, is in reality a token of our
own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is
the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the
domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).

It might seem strange to us that the yogis place the seat of wisdom in
the heart, which we typically associate with our emotions, and not the brain.
But in yoga, the brain is actually symbolized by the moon, which reflects the
sun’s light but generates none of its own. This kind of knowledge is worthwhile
for dealing with mundane affairs, and is even necessary to a certain extent for
the lower stages of spiritual practice. But in the end, the brain is inherently
limited in what it can know and is prone to what Patanjali calls misconception
(viparyaya) or false knowledge of the self.

To read the full article, click here.

Why Both Meditation and Yoga?

I recommend to you this essay, The Complete Package: Meditation and Yoga by Cyndi Lee, which originally appeared in the July 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun. If you’re not aware, Shambhala Sun is a magazine on Buddhism, culture, meditation and life.

Written by my former teacher and mentor in New York City, Cyndi Lee includes this vivid episode about a frightening accident as a spark for why one practices yoga and the variety of benefits. What she describes here echoes my own experience with yoga, though I’ve never been dumped unexpectedly into the rapids of a river.

She sets forth her ideas about how yoga can be meditation in movement and how to approach your physical practice with a sense of curiosity rather than judgments measured against goals.

She’s a wise yogini, and I encourage you to read the full article here.

Confused By All the Types of Yoga?

What are they? What do they entail? Click here.

Also available at the link above are answers to these questions:

  • What is yoga?
  • What’s with all the types of yoga?
  • What is a yoga path?
  • What is hatha yoga?
  • What is the traditional literature of yoga?
  • What is teh Bhagavad Gita?
  • What is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika?
  • What are the Yoga Sutras?
  • What is the difference between Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras?
  • What are the Upanishads?
  • Who was Patanjali?
  • Is yoga a religion?
  • What is the best way to relax?
  • Why and how to meditate?
  • What are the 8 limbs of yoga?
  • What are the 9 obstacles in yoga?
  • What are some quick tips on how to meditate?
  • How do you give yourself a hot oil massage?