The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana. In Ashtanga yoga, asana is grouped into six series. "The Primary Series [Yoga Chikitsa] detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series [Nadi Shodhana] purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series A, B, C, and D [Sthira Bhaga] integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility. Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further" (Pace). Without an earnest effort and reverence towards the practice of yama and niyama, however, the practice of asana is of little benefit.
There are 6 series or sequences of postures in the ashtanga yoga system. The primary, or first series, which is known as yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy)，is designed to heal, detoxify, and align the body and mind, particularly the spine. The sequencing of postures is a science, set up so that each asana provides a necessary foundation for what follows. We always begin with the sun salutations and standing postures to generate heat and connect with the breath. The first half of the primary series (which begins after the standing postures) is mostly forward bends, working the hamstrings, hips, and back. The middle section focuses on flexibility and the third part combines more flexibility with strength postures. The finishing postures are the same regardless of what series you are practicing. They are restorative postures designed for cooling down, balancing out the body, and integrating the effects of the practice. This is the vinyasa system, a breathing/moving system. Each pose flows into the next using breathing and the bandhas (locks).
What do you hope people take with them into their daily practice? What does the yoga community need to do to take the practice of yoga to the next level?
A：I would hope that people take from their daily practice a taste and enthusiasm for mindfulness which can be experienced as a brighter flame of intelligence that allows one to work more subtly and precisely with sensations, feelings, and thoughts as they arise. Also I would hope that all of us could be a little more curious about the roots of the yoga tradition, the variety of its expressions, its philosophies, languages, art, and its various beliefs. In other words, I would encourage us all to remember to come back again and again to an open-minded application of the attention of samadhi to everything in the whole world.
Practicing with mindfulness in this way can help us to take the practice to the next level because it requires that we act compassionately toward both ourselves and all others. This can remove the obstacle of hiding within a communal narcissism and can open the door to self-reflection and the ability to truly experience the interconnectedness of all things that is reflected through the practice.
What does it mean to you to be a yogi in the modern world?
A：The definition of a yogi that I most like is this: “A yogi is one who leaves a place just a little nicer than when they arrived!” I like this statement for its simplicity and down-to-earth recognition of yoga being something that benefits not only the one practicing it but also the world around them. We may hear someone refer to another person or themselves as a yogi. But what is this statement based upon? One may practice asanas beautifully or know many Sanskrit texts or do much chanting, but those things in and of themselves do not equate to being a yogi.
The act of practicing or following a path of regulation requires discipline, but that is only part of the formula. The sadhana, or our preferred practice system or method that we perform, is really nothing more than a gardener tilling the soil to create a fertile plot of earth. The more we practice the more fertile we become, but it does not mean that we are spiritual or a yogi. It just means we are fertile. The choices we make next are the seeds that we plant in this fertile ground. If we choose to plant an ego there, it will grow even larger than the average person’s due to our fertility. Practice itself does not determine whether one is a yogi or not. It is what that person does with the positive energy they gained from their dedication that will determine their maturity of understanding. When one applies the benefits they have gained in a positive manner, then the aforementioned definition comes to fruition and the world around them is benefitted.
I would say that some of the greatest yogis I know are very unassuming. Maybe no one else in their family does yoga. They rise early and do their practice and then get their kids to school or take care of their other responsibilities with a grace, peace, and power without grandeur. They do not wear their “yoginess” on their sleeve. They simply let their life speak for itself. There may be many faces of a yogi. Some are more visible than others, but the result is always the same. By their presence we all benefit. If we wish to ask ourselves if we are a yogi, I think the question could be this one: “Is the world a better place by our presence in it?”
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