Our 2019 theme, Roots of Yoga, comes from a commitment to link our modern day practices of yoga to their source teachings and teachers – both to show respect and to inspire a deeper understanding of this powerful lineage. This blog will be updated daily. We’ll share kriya (cleansing) practices on Fridays, postures from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika on Saturdays, texts from the yogic tradition on Sundays, Meditations on Mondays, yoga teachers who have influenced the modern study and practice of yoga on Tuesdays, mudras, on Wednesdays, and mantras on Thursdays. Thanks to Claudette Evans for her essential contributions. Tune in each day for your daily snippet.

Day 19: Teachers

Indra Devi 

Indra Devi, a Russian dancer and actress born in 1899, was the first foreign woman accepted as a student by Sri Krishnamachārya. She was charged by her mentor to teach yoga when she moved to China, and then to the United States, where she opened a yoga studio in Hollywood. Devi also taught yoga in Mexico and Argentina, where she died at the age of 102. 

Images: Indra Devi, 1899-2002 

Day 18: Meditation

Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our attention to the present, to keep our mind in moment-to-moment presence. It is a simple practice that can have profound effects, as it can train our brains to be able to be with what is, as opposed to what was, or is to be, or what we want. To practice Mindfulness Meditation, find a place that feels calm and quiet to you and take a comfortable seat. Bring your attention to your breath, and follow as it comes in and out of your body. When your mind wanders (it will!), simply, and kindly, return your attention to the breath. 

Image: Yosemite IV by Natvar Bhavsar, 1980 Bhavsar was born in India, but came to New York in the 1960s, when the city had been firmly established as the capital of the art world. There he met and interacted with many artists, including the well-known Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko. Rothko’s spiritual, abstract paintings have had a long-term effect on Bhavsar, who has continued to make meditative pictures of floating fields of color such as this one for almost forty years. 

Day 17: Scripture

Yoga Sūtra 

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali is a collection of 196 aphorisms about the theory and practice of yoga collated around 300 BCE by the sage Patañjali (note that the word anjali is contained in his name!). The eight limbs of yoga, which include āsana (postures), prānāyāma (breath practices), and dhyāna (meditation), are contained and explained in this text. If you’ve heard that yoga is the reduction or elimination of the fluctutaions of the mind, you’ve been introduced to a Yoga Sūtra (I.2 to be exact). Pick up a translation and discover where many of the teachings of yoga are found. 

Image: Statue of Patañjali practicing dhyana in the Padma-asana at Patanjali Yogpeeth, modern 

Day 16: Asana

Matsyendrāsana (Ardha Matsyendrāsana) 

In the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā, Matsyendra is mentioned as one of the founders of classical hatha yoga. The story goes that after a long period of meditation, Lord Śiva went to a lonely island and explained to his consort Pārvatī the mysteries of Yoga. A fish near the shore overheard their conversation with concentration and remained motionless while he listened to Śiva recount the teachings of yoga. Śiva, realising that the fish had learned Yoga, sprinkled water upon it, and immediately the fish gained divine form and became Matsyendra (Lord of the Fishes), the first student and thereafter spread the knowledge of Yoga. Paripūrna Matsyendrāsana is where the spine is given the maximum lateral twist, Ardha Matsyendrāsana is a milder form of that āsana. 

Begin by sitting on your right heel. If that’s not possible, sit with the right heel on the floor near the left hip. Cross the left leg over the right and place your left foot flat on the floor near the outside of the right knee or thigh, lengthen the spine and draw the left thigh toward the abdomen. Begin the twist from deep down in the abdomen, turn to the left, and lift the spine. Gradually work to bring the right arm and shoulder to the outside of the left knee, and the left knee into the right armpit. If the knee and armpit don’t quite connect, bend the elbow and use the pressure between the outer upper arm and the outside of the left knee to help you move deeper into the twist. If this position is unavailable, hug the knee with the right elbow or hold the knee with the right hand. 

Image: B.K.S. Iyengar in ardha matsyendrāsana 

Day 15: Kriya

Kapalabhati

Our next cleansing practice is kapalabhati, a breath practice which means “skull shining.” Kapalabhati is practiced by forcefully and rhythmically exhaling from the abdomen, out the nostrils. Also called breath of fire, this practice is often followed by a breath retention to seal in the prana, or energy, that it can raise. Start with 24-30 exhalations per round, and increase as you build strength and endurance.

Image: Seated Ascetic, Deified King, Agni (The God of Fire), ca. 3rd century, India (Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh)  This rare and enigmatic sculpture is difficult to identify because he has the hairstyle and jewelry of a king or the god Agni but holds the flask of a Brahman ascetic and sits with a strap across his knees like a yogi. Stylistically—especially the way he holds his right hand in abhaya mudra (a gesture of approachability)—this image can be closely related to sculptures found at the site of Kaushambi. His

Day 14: Mantra

So Hum 

Soham or Sohum is a Hindu mantra, meaning “I am That” in Sanskrit. In Vedic philosophy it identifies oneself with the universe or ultimate reality. When used for meditation, “Sohum” acts as a natural mantra to control one’s breathing pattern, to help achieve deep breath, and to gain concentration. 

Sooooo… is the sound of the inhalation. Hummmm… is the sound of the exhalation.

Image: Meditating Buddha with Alms Bowl Enthroned in a Foliated Niche, India ca. late 10th–early 11th century This meditating Buddha with an alms bowl is likely the Amitabha Buddha in the form of one of the medicine Buddhas, such as Bhaisajyaguru. A horned monster face (kirtimukha) with a string of pearls issuing from his jaws provides a protective presence over the meditating Buddha, who is framed by a pearl-bordered nimbus. Foliage and two lotus flowers fill the arch. This architectural relief is a false window antefix from a Pala-period Buddhist monument. 

Day 13: Mudra

Añjali Mudrā

Mudras are seals, or signs that can be made with the hands, or the full body. Añjali is made by pressing the palms of the hands together, often at the heart. Añjali mudrā is often taken at the start and finish of a yoga practice, and often throughout a sequence! Añjali means an offering or a gesture of reverence. 

When you take añjali mudrā, also called prayer position, what is your offering? What are you honoring?

Image: This is a Buddha from the island of Java (Indonesia). The figure is located at Garden-Stoneart in D-08496 Neumark / OT Reuth.

Day 12: Teacher

Krishnamachārya

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamachārya was an Indian yoga teacher and scholar who lived from 1888 to 1998. He is said to be the “father of modern yoga.” He spent his life in the study and teaching of yoga, and was a mentor to many renowned yoga masters in the West: B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, A.G. Mohan, and his own son, T.K.V. Desikachar. He is considered the architect of what is often called vinyasa, the combination of breath and movement, as it creates a smooth transition between poses; the Sanskrit word vinyasa means “to place in a certain way.” The foundation of his teaching principles was to teach to the individual. 

Have you studied with teachers influenced by Krishnamachārya? Read The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar to learn more about yoga from his perspective.

Image: Tirumalai Krishnamachārya, 1888-1989 

Day 11: Meditation 

Mantra Meditation

At its most basic level a mantra is a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word, phonemes, or group of words in Sanskrit believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers (a mantra may or may not have a syntactic structure or literal meaning). Mantra meditation helps to induce an altered state of consciousness. Mantras come in many forms, including melodic phrases with spiritual interpretations such as a human longing for truth, reality, light, immortality, peace, love, knowledge, and action. 

The earliest mantras were composed in Vedic Sanskrit and are at least 3000 years old, although mantras are now used in most spiritual traditions. The word mantra is derived from two Sanskrit words. The first part comes from the word manas, meaning mind, and the second from the word trai, meaning to protect or free from. Therefore, mantra literally means to free one from the mind. 

More than an affirmation, and like a seed planted with the intention of one day growing into a beautiful flower, a mantra can be thought of as a seed for energizing an intention. Much in the same way we can plant a seed in flower bed, we plant mantras in the fertile soil of our practice, and as we tend to the mantra, over time it will bear the fruit of our intention. 

Image: The Attainment of Perfect Knowledge (Siddha) by Mahavira’s Disciple Indrabhuti Gautama: Folio from a Kalpasutra Manuscript,15th century India (Gujarat) The night Mahavira died, his principal disciple reflected on his master’s passing and experienced enlightenment. Indrabhuti is dressed in the white robes of a Svetambara monk, carries a cloth face mask, or mohapatti (to prevent inadvertently swallowing even microscopic life forms), over his right shoulder, has a small broom (for harmlessly brushing away even the smallest insects) at his right 

Day 10: Scriptures

Epic Stories

The Rāmāyaṇa is an ancient Indian epic poem that narrates the struggle of the divine prince Rāma to rescue his wife Sītā from the demon king Rāvana. Along with The Mahābhārata (described as the longest poem ever written at roughly ten times the length of the Odyssey and the Iliad combined), the works comprise what is known as the Itihāsa or History of Hindu scripture. The Mahābhārata is an epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and contains more than 200,000 verses—the 700-verse Bhagavad Gītā makes up chapters 23-40 of book six in the Mahābhārata. 

These Mahākāvya or Great Compositions, composed around 400 BCE, are examples of the epic verse form that prevailed at the time celebrating the great heroes of the day, and had an important influence on later Sanskrit poetry and Hindu life and culture, presenting the teachings of ancient Hindu sages in narrative allegory, interspersing philosophical and ethical elements. 

Which one should you read first? Definitely the Rāmāyana, because the Mahābhārata is soooo long. Good luck!

Day 9: Asana

Simhāsana 

Practice the anti-aging pose, simhāsana: press the heels on both sides of the seam of the perineum, in such a way that the left heel touches the right side and the right heel touches the left side of it. Place the hands on the thighs, and stretch the fingers like the claws of a lion. Inhale deeply through the nose. Then simultaneously open your mouth wide and stretch your tongue out, curling its tip down toward the chin, open your eyes wide, contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct “ha” sound. 

This photo is of yoga legend B.K.S. Iyengar from his book Light on Yoga, an essential resource for the dedicated modern yogi. Iyengar, who passed away in 2014, has been called the Lion of Yoga.

Image: B.K.S. Iyengar in simhasana 

Day 8: Kriya

Jala-neti  

Kriyas are cleansing practices. Jala-neti Kriya is a practice from the Indian science of Ayurveda that irrigates the nasal and sinus passages with purified water and salt and/or baking soda. It’s quite soothing once you get the hang of it! Neti is best done daily and can help ward off illness, reduce symptoms of allergy, and create a more sattvic (peaceful) state for yoga and meditation. 

Image: Acala, 12th century, Tibet Acala is an esoteric deity whose role is to remove obstacles to enlightenment. He is also named in tantric texts as the protector of the rites associated with Manjushri. The Kriya Tantra, associated with the invocation of Acala, was popularized by both Atisha (982–1054), the founder of the Kadampa school, and Lobpon Sonam Tsemo (1142–1182) of the Sakya school. 

Day 7: Mantra

Om, a word of solemn affirmation and respectful assent that is translated as “yes, verily, so be it” in the The Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary. The most basic mantra is Om. In the Vedas, as well as in Hinduism, it is known as the “pranava mantra,” the source of all mantras. The philosophy behind this is the premise that before existence and beyond existence is only One reality, often called Brahma, and the first manifestation of Brahma was expressed as Om. For this reason, Om is considered as a foundational idea and reminder, and often precedes and follows sacred prayers in classical yoga tradition. Dr. Lorin Roche, author of The Radiance Sutras, a new version of the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra, interprets Om as “the primordial shout” or “the roar of joy that sets the universe in motion.” Om is the eternally resonating soundtrack of the universe. Its endless waves ripple with the rhythms of creation.

Image: Maharana Jagat Singh Hawks for Cranes by Shiva and Dayal, dated 1744, Western India, Rajasthan, Udaipur 

This spectacular panoramic vista of the Mewar landscape depicts a royal hunting party in a series of consecutive vignettes, creating a continuous narrative. 

Day 6: Mudrā

Jñāna Mudrā 

Jñāna Mudrā is the gesture of knowledge and is often used during meditation practice. The index finger, symbolizing the individual self, or inner reality, meets the thumb, representing the Supreme Reality. Their connection (either at tip or base of thumb) means the union of the supreme and inner reality, and helps to direct the flow of energy inward (rather than out of your finger tips!). Try it next time you sit to practice concentration or meditation, and see if the closed circuit of your finger and thumb helps you to feel more focused. 

Image: Buddha Expounding the Dharma, late 8th century, Sri Lanka     The quintessential icon of early Buddhist Sri Lanka is the Buddha gesturing vitarka-mudra, imparting his dharma to all. Seated in a meditative yogic posture, he wears the monk’s uttarasanga, an untailored length of cloth drawn tautly around the body, with his right shoulder exposed in the southern manner of Buddhism. 

Day 5: Teacher

Vivekānanda 

“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.” – Swami Vivekānanda  “Sisters and brothers of America!” These words began Swami Vivekānanda’s speech at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions and set off a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd of 7000 people. Vivekānanda, an Indian Hindu monk from a wealthy family, was integral to bringing yoga to the West as well as reviving Hinduism in India.


Day 4: Meditation

Sanyama 

In the Yoga Sūtra-s, Sanyama is the practice of meditation by which yoga is achieved through the combination of dhāranā, fixing one’s field of awareness on a location; dhyāna, sustained continuous focus on that location; and samādhi, complete absorption in the location without effort. The key to sanyama practice is holding the selected location of focus in the mind continuously, through intensive description, while embracing with the full power of the senses the feeling of its location, qualities, movement, rhythm and sensation. The progression moves through five tiers from the gross to most subtle, occuring not only within the stages, but also within the sequence of elements, i.e. water to air to space. This progression is described in Sutra 3.44: sthūla-svarūpa-sūksmanvayārthvattva-sanyamād bhūta-jayah. Translation: By sanyama on their physical state and its essential nature, subtle state, impact (in transforming citta) and their existing for a purpose, the seer achieves mastery of the elements.

>> Click here to enjoy a recording of the Sanyama Meditation from Claudette Evans, the 8 Limbs Education Coordinator.

Image: Portrait of a Sufi, 17th century, attributed to India, Deccan, probably BijapurThe primitive fur, the alms bowl, the flute, and the trance-like meditative state identify this figure as a dervish, or a sufi, a Muslim mystic who has renounced the material aspects of existence. The sense of abstract patterning in the fur and in the man’s crossed limbs, combined with the distinctive palette featuring pink and sky blue, suggest an origin in the Deccan, possibly Bijapur. The invocation at the lower left, “Oh Prophet of the House of Hashim from thee comes help,” referring to the prophet Muhammad, is in Persian.

Day 3: Scripture

“May the truth protect me in all ways.”—from the Rig Veda

The Vedas, four books that comprise the foundation of our modern yoga teachings, are collection of rituals and hymns that offer a means of joining the material world with the invisible world of the spirit. They date from as early as 1700 BCE and are some of the oldest sacred texts; they are the foundation of Hinduism and led to the creation of yoga. The word Veda means knowledge. Its root “vid” can be defined as to know, to discover, to look upon, to exist, to reason, and to understand— you may recognize it in veritas, vision, and vida. The main Veda is the Rig Veda, which contains the knowledge of the rites and rituals to offer praise to the gods of fire, the sun, water, wind, speech and dozens of others. The Vedas attempted to reveal the fabric of existence, and a Vedic yogi who had success in practice was graced with vision, the ability to see the complex matrix of reality.

Image: Rattle in the Form of a Crouching Grotesque Yaksha (Male Nature Spirit), 1st Century BCE 

Day 2: Asana/posture

Siddhāsana: The Sanskrit word siddha means “perfect” or “adept.” In Yoga, an adept isn’t just a skillful practitioner, but an accomplished master who has worked to attain inner freedom. Siddhāsana, known as the chief of all the asanas, is considered the opener of the door of salvation. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika suggests that of all yoga postures, siddhāsana should always be practiced, because it cleanses the impurities of 72,000 of the body’s nadis or energy channels. The HYP also explains that by contemplating on oneself, eating sparingly, and practicing siddhāsana for 12 years, the Yogi obtains success. Simple as that! But seriously, many yoga masters prefer siddhāsana over lotus pose for seated meditation. If your knees can handle deep flexion, this may become the perfect posture for your practice.

Here’s how it’s done: Ensure a comfortable seated position by using a cushion or as many blankets as needed to bring your knees to the same height as your hips. Bend the left knee and press the left heel firmly against the perineum (the space between the anus and the genitals). Bend the right knee, and place the right heel directly in line with the left heel and the little toe side of the right foot between the left thigh and calf.

Image: Jain Svetambara Tirthankara in Meditation, first half of the 11th century, India (Gujarat or Rajasthan) At the heart of daily Jain religious observance is the veneration of the image of the jina, the conceptual basis of which is the pan-Indian ideal of the yogic ascetic. This ancient practice, celebrated in the Vedas (the most ancient Hindu texts), equates the acquisition of spiritual wisdom with the pursuit of advanced forms of meditation and withdrawal from material comforts.

Day 1: Kriya

Stop! Śaucha time: Clean up your practice space. It’s a fresh month and a fresh commitment to your practice. Start your 28 Day journey by cleaning out a place to practice in your home, even if that’s just a place to sit on a chair and take deep breaths. Śaucha—one of the Niyamas (personal observances), the second limb of yoga—means purity and cleanliness.⠀

Image: Krishna Revels with the Gopis, page from a Dispersed Gita Govinda. 1630-40⠀

On February 7, 2017, The Met made all images of public-domain works in its collection available under Creative Commons Zero (CC0). Most of the images in this calendar are from that generous offer; enjoy!⠀

Posted by: 8 Limbs Yoga Centers

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