Bringing Spirituality to Class

People find their way to Yoga through many avenues. Some through meditation. Some through breath work. Some through spiritual study. And many, like the student in this account, through a physical asana practice. The posts below describe an experiment to deepen a physical Yoga practice to include more of Pantajali’s eight limbs of Yoga.

Bringing Spirituality to Class: Background and Hypothesis

In the West, most people equate “doing yoga” with asana practice.  However, yoga as a system encompasses much beyond this.   As Patanjali outlines in the Yoga Sutras, the Ashtanga-based system of yoga is comprised of eight limbs, with asana being one.   When combined together, these eight limbs are primarily designed not to enhance physical strength, flexibility and endurance, as many Westerners who “practice yoga” believe, but rather to provide a pathway to spiritual enlightenment by facilitating connection with the divine.

Prior to the teacher training, I like many in the West, experienced yoga primarily through studio-based asana classes.  Because such classes tend to focus on the physical aspects of yoga, and minimize, or many times completely ignore, yoga’s spiritual aspects, I was surprised to learn through the teacher training that “doing yoga” is actually mainly a spiritual venture.  You don’t even have to sweat!

As I have progressed through the Axis training, I have become more and more interested in the idea of teaching yoga to others.  I view the lack of emphasis on spirituality in studio-based classes a potential need in the local yoga community that would be satisfying as teacher to provide, and hopefully also useful to students.  Thus, one of my aspirations as a yoga teacher is find ways to bring the spiritual experience of yoga to people “doing yoga” in studio-type settings.  Similarly, as a yoga student I aspire to find ways to personally experience greater spiritual connectedness when participating in a studio-based yoga class, no matter how much or little the teacher emphasizes this aspect of yoga practice.

Given this, the goal of my experiment was to test the effect of introducing different actions, practices or thoughts during studio classes to see how they impacted my spiritual experience of yoga.

Hypothesis: Some actions, practices or thoughts will enhance my spiritual experience of yoga more than others during studio-based classes.

Bringing Spirituality to Class: Methods

At the beginning of the experiment I brainstormed a list of different activities (see Table below) that I could try in order to enhance the spiritual connectedness I felt during a typical studio-based yoga class. My usual asana class schedule is three times a week (outside of Axis training times), split between Core Power Yoga and Advanced Asana classes at Samadhi. I systematically went through the activities listed in the Table during the asana classes I participated in throughout the weeks of the experiment (including both at Axis training and studio classes). Following each session I journaled about how the various activities affected me spiritually.

Bringing Spirituality to Class: Results

The Table below lists the different activities that were tried during the experiment period and their results.  NE = not effective, SE = somewhat effective, VE = very effective.

 

Table.  Spiritual Activities Tried During the Experiment, and Their Impact

Activity

Where   Tried

Results

Bringing   “prayer hands” to third eye instead of heart

Samadhi

Axis

VE

Devotional   focused practice

Axis

VE

Prone   supplication during practice

Core Power

VE

Doing   asana practice with eyes closed

Core Power

Axis

VE

Using   Anjali mudra during practices as much as possible, even if not cued by   instructor

Samadhi

VE

Meditating   after asana practice

Core Power

SE

Setting an   intention to honor God during practice

Core Power

SE

Picture of   religious icon next to mat during practice

Samadhi

SE

Saying a short   prayer with each down dog hold

Samadhi

NE

Meditating   before asana practice

Core Power

NE

 

Bringing Spirituality to Class: Discussion

Overall I found this to be a very useful experiment as I was able to identify some simple maneuvers that I can take with me into any studio-based class to enhance my spiritual experience.  This experiment also prompted me to think in depth about how I might, as a yoga teacher, incorporate some spiritual practices into my classes, being mindful of creating an environment that is not threatening, and meets people wherever they are spiritually.

Based on this experiment I plan to continue to use Anjali mudra, prayer hands at third eye, and prone supplication throughout asana classes I attend.  It is heartening to know that these three simple actions can increase my spiritual connection in any asana class environment, even during classes that are highly physical (my favorite type!)  In addition, the devotional practice that Brenna introduced was a lovely experience and one I plan to do periodically do on my own. I would love to share a devotional practice similar to what Brenna taught with others.  Thank you for introducing me to it!!!

Pancha Karma Experience

Axis Yoga Teacher Training students have the opportunity to apply their Ayurvedic lessons to their own lives. Many students, like this one, decide to complete the Pancha Karma cleanse to experience its effects on the body, mind and consciousness. While it is not a simple cleanse, students generally have a positive report on their overall experience. This student describes many challenges as well as the benefits ultimately received.

Pancha Karma Experience: Catalyst

My Ayurveda experiment was to go through a Pancha Karma.  I had decided that I needed to do some sort of cleanse to clear out the results of a stressful move and transition, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into with the Pancha Karma.  A very difficult cleanse for me, I went through a lot of ups and downs on a number of levels.  I came out feeling better, though with an awareness that I’m still just on the path and not at the destination.

I had gone through a lot of stress and change over the past year and my body had been craving a clean up from the abuses that stress had put on it.  I put my house on the market last spring and decided to move east to be closer to family.  Selling my house, downsizing, and preparing to move out of my community with a full Massage Therapy practice in two locations and a part time job coaching gymnastics was quite a bit to shove into a couple of months.  Looking back on it, I can’t even remember what I was regularly eating during that point in time as it was so hectic.  I wanted to cut out the junk intake and nourish my body so that it could recover.  I was also having some aches pains in my lower right abdominal area.  I had a major injury there several years ago and while I know that the psoas was certainly affected by it, I have been unsure if the ileocecal valve had been as well.  The dull ache has been an additional source of stress.  One of my instructors at the massage school I attended is a Naturopathic Doctor and Applied Kinesiologist, he had recommended doing a cleanse cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, and any crunchy or sharp foods like seeds, nuts, etc. to allow the valve to fully heal up and see if that was really the source of the problem.  I had never done a cleanse before and I felt like being assigned one was probably the push that I needed to go ahead and get started with it.  I wanted to do a general cleanse, the way that translated was that I should do a full Pancha Karma.

Pancha Karma Experience: Challenges

The Pancha Karma is a very regimented cleanse.  The first several days were spent eating to my dosha, which in my case meant eating a pitta pacifying diet.  Just coming off the heat of the summer, I felt like this was probably a good thing to tone down a bit.  Along with this, the following rules to keep the diet clean were given, saying no to: sugar, gluten, dairy, meat, and any processed foods (including anything in a package or can).  That alone was pretty difficult for me, not to mention that I really enjoy my morning coffee ritual.  As if this wasn’t already difficult, considering which grains, vegetables, and fruits were ok within the restrictive diet added a whole other element.

After the restricted pitta diet other practices came in such as the intake of ghee, self massage, sweating, and eating kitchari.  Every morning for 5 days the day started with a shot of warmed ghee.  This was so hard to choke down, and even harder to burp up throughout the day.  Learning that I should do asanas before I took the ghee helped me to feel a little better through the day, I learned this for the last couple of days and it would’ve been really helpful to know right away just to keep feelings of being sick down a bit and motivation up a bit.  The self massage was a beautiful way to nurture myself and give some love back to the body.  The sweating was difficult with the ghee trying to make its way back up.  The kitchari, ahhhh the kitchari, sometimes it tasted good but mainly I was so tired of eating it that I don’t think I was getting close to the amount of necessary calories.

Pancha Karma Experience: Adherence

How strict was I in this cleanse?  I always followed the restriction rules and avoided anything processed, and I had a vegan diet free of coffee and sugar.  There were a few meals that I branched out and had just vegetables or quinoa and vegetables, as there were a number of times I didn’t have access to my home or cooking kitchari.  I drank chai in the mornings that I know had some caffeine in it.  I missed an abhyanga and sweat, and I didn’t take the herbal teas I was supposed to during it, though I did substitute by making some of my own infusions/decoctions from the herbs that I had.  Overall, I stuck pretty close to the cleanse and would be happy to not eat any kitchari for a long, long time.

Pancha Karma Experience: Reflections

Looking back on this experiment, I’m not sure that I would do it again though I’m glad that I went through it.  I noticed a lot of things while going through this process.  I felt like the ghee really got gunked up in my arteries.  I noticed that when I flossed and some blood came out it was reddish/orange in color with a yellow oily substance surrounding it.  I have never noticed this at any point of my life, year or season, and while the reason given was that  I had too much pitta, I really feel that I just had too much ghee in my circulatory system, especially since overall I was feeling a calming of pitta during that time.  I felt my areas of chronic injury really get aching again.  Luckily I knew to recognize it as a healing crisis and I could tell that it was my body’s way of releasing parts of the injury and my body’s way of retracing it to let it go, though it was fairly painful.  The dull ache was gone in my abdomen and was replaced with a distinct muscular pain in the psoas area.  Though after getting massage work on it, I’m still unsure if it’s a problem with one or both areas.  I had substantial headaches every day, which I’m guessing could have been my withdrawal of sugar, coffee, or who knows what other food item.  My balance was almost non-existent towards the end of the cleanse, I felt malnourished, and really tired.

My emotions were a bit on a roller coaster.  I went out to eat breakfast because I was staying at a lower elevation over the weekend so that I didn’t have to do some much driving.  I ordered oatmeal at a vegan restaurant and they brought me ground up nuts and seeds.  I ate part of it so that I would have something in my stomach but felt like sobbing because I let myself down on the nuts and seeds end.  The sorrow that I felt over eating nuts, was not one that I’m accustomed to.  I had some mornings where I woke up glowing, and some afternoons where I was tired and cranky.  I spent a lot of time alone for a few reasons, one being that I just moved here and don’t know that many people, though a big realization was that doing something like this can be very isolating.  Most social situations were out since I didn’t know if I had the willpower to turn down anything that wasn’t kitchari, water, or herbal tea.  I started going around to social things at the end just to have some company, though it still felt socially awkward to deny people when they would kindly offer me something to eat or drink.