Living Love Yoga

heart

Yoga is an incredible tool for transformation.  Our bodies and minds hold so much stress and tension.  We can consciously ease tension through asana (physical postures) and pranayama (breath work).  Meditation allows us to relax, contemplate, and rejuvenate.  Mantra (syllable, word, or phrase) repetition centers us and can create a shift in consciousness.  Utilize any of these yogic tools once and we feel a difference.  Practice them daily and we transform!  As part of yoga teacher training, we completed a 30-day sadhana of our choice.  It was an amazing experience.  It taught me that even if I am feeling hopeless, lost, or weak, yoga transforms!  A 30-day sadhana utilizes sacred practices to generate vibrant health.  I am honored to share this practice with you – it is simple and incredibly effective!

“Sadhana” translates loosely as “practice.”  We were given six choices of sadhana:  hatha, creative, bhakti, health-regenerating, vira, and shanti.  Each sadhana was designed to allow us to embody a certain “bhava” or feeling state (e.g., peaceful-shanti, energized-vira, loving/devotional-bhakti, etc.).  The idea of sadhana is to transform through living yoga.  By “living yoga,” I mean making certain practices a part of each of the 30 days.  These practices included specific asana, pranayama, meditations, mantras, mudras (hand positions that create various energetic states), and an altar.  We also chose appropriate related texts/artwork to study and contemplate.  I won’t go into details about each type of sadhana, but I’ll use the bhakti sadhana as an example.

Recently, I was feeling a little shut-down/stifled in the heart area – physically and emotionally.  Autumn is a tough time for me – adjusting to the colder weather often results in illness, exhaustion, and depression.  I thought a heart-centered bhakti sadhana would pull me out of my funk.  After the very first heart lotus meditation, I felt a shift.

First, I created a simple altar to reflect the intention of my sadhana.  The altar is near my daily meditation spot in my home.  Set atop a dresser is a small collection of objects that reflect my “ishta devata” – connection to the divine – and the feelings I am trying to cultivate through sadhana.  The altar gives the practice a spiritual dimension – it creates a sacred space and reminds me of what’s truly important.  For example, I have a small shell and a big amethyst I found at the beach on my altar (since the ocean – all of nature, really – is my ishta devata).  You can even create a small portable altar – it can be something as simple as a photograph of a teacher, a stone, a shell, or any small object that brings peace and devotion to mind.

Next, I chose a few meditations to practice throughout the 30 days.  They are all heart-centered, focusing on that physical and energetic space.  I have been practicing either the heart lotus meditation, the inner smile meditation, or the so hum meditation for 20 minutes first thing in the morning and again after work.

I’ve been either listening to or chanting the gayatri mantra for about 10 minutes (during my commute or silently during my lunch break walk).  Chanting “om” either silently or aloud from the heart (actually picturing/feeling that it is emanating from this area) has also kept my focus on that compassionate space.  A Sanskrit mantra isn’t necessary for this practice – choose anything that resonates with you – even one word, “Love,” “Compassion,” or “Peace,” for example, works well.

My asana practice has been focused on heart-opening, so backbends are important.  I’ve been doing Shiva Rea’s “Hridaya Namaskar” three times on each side, either alone or at the beginning of a longer practice.  It begins in a simple standing backbend with hands at the sacrum.  Then you fold forward massaging the backs of the legs on the way down.  You move slowly to a standing split, and then through several low lunges.  Backbends and gentle twisting and stretching of the sides of the body in these lunges makes them heart-focused.  Full prostration adds a devotional aspect.  The sequence continues with upward dog and downward dog, back through more low lunges, and ends up where it began – with a gentle standing backbend.  I’ve been focusing on poses like Dolphin and Wheel as my peak poses.  (Peak poses are typically more challenging and require some warming up first.)  Here are some great poses to practice during a bhakti sadhana.  Work with what resonates with you!

In conjunction with asana and meditation practice, I’ve been doing nadhi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and just bringing awareness to my breath throughout the day.  During nadi shodhana and meditation, I either have one or both hands on my heart, in chin mudra: chin mudra or heart lotus mudra: heartlotus, but mainly I’ve been keeping my hands on my knees, palms up for receptivity.

Aside from specific yogic practices, I have been doing other things to keep myself heart-centered.  If I feel negative thoughts arise I consciously change them, and I am doing things that I love – things that open my heart and allow me to live from there instead of in my head!  Painting, dancing, playing music, being in nature, cooking for myself and my loved ones … these are all things I enjoy and can easily make a part of my daily life.

Through practice, we begin to let go and really get to know ourselves.  We become stronger and more flexible – both physically and mentally.  We begin to notice a greater connectivity with other people and with nature.  We surrender to a greater power, and we recognize that same divinity within ourselves and others.  Yoga helps us navigate life.  Never have I practiced yoga and not felt better after.  We make better choices; we know when and how to react to stressful situations…  Even just committing to a few minutes of daily meditation can make a world of difference in how you perceive and react to events in your life.

I encourage you to try your own sadhana, for 30 days or any period of time!  Feel free to ask me for details regarding any of the other types of sadhana I mentioned, or create your own.  I would love to hear about your experience.  May you live from the heart and enjoy each breath!

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