Photographer Julien Balmer of Visual Spectrum Photography
It may be cliché, I know, but yoga has changed my life.
Somebody recently asked me how and I realized that it is has been a slow and steady process, one which is vast and deep and profound. I struggled for a quick and easy description. It got me thinking....... How has yoga really changed my life...... Or more to the point changed me.
I used to be a wild party girl, chasing the next thrill, the next high, the next hit and the next buzz. One day I finally realized that it was insatiable. There was never enough, it always left you wanting more. More music, more hits, more highs, more booze, more spiffs, more cigarettes, more alcohol, more sex, more rock and more roll, more more more more more. IT was never enough. IT was not satisfying. IT was endless because IT was not IT.
I woke up one morning with a nose bleed and a hangover from hell. I crawled downstairs threw up and then looked at myself in the mirror. There must be more to life than this. There must be more to me than just this.
I turned my back on my party ways, I packed my bags and left my life. I left myself! I jumped ship.
Mhari Scott | Seattle and Portland Wedding Photographer
I had found Ashtanga yoga a year before and it was the first thing I had done in ages that actually made me feel good about myself. It actually made me feel. I had been numbing myself to life for so long that I could barely feel anything anymore.
I chose life. I didn’t want o be numb anymore…..
I immersed myself in the new world I had discovered. I started taking my practice seriously. I devoted time to myself to making myself feel good. I started to take care of myself. Lesson one - if you don't look after yourself then how can u feel good? Inside and out.
I started to observe myself. What did I do, how did I do it.
I beat myself up. I put myself down. I hit myself with a derogatory stick all day everyday.
Lesson two - without observation there will be no change. First we have to recognize our faults before we can start changing them.
I started to taking note when and why I was doing this. I burnt my stick. I made a pact with myself to start being nice to me. If I am not nice to me then how can I expect anyone else to be?
I changed my ways.
Lesson three - by changing the way you do things in your daily life can allow a new person inside of you to grow. I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking. I stopped partying. I went to class. I did my practice. I changed my patterns. I'm not saying it was easy, not at first, but with persistence and continuity; then things will change (Lesson four).
India beckoned. I could hear it calling me. It's funny because when you drink and smoke and alter your state of mind then you begin to lose touch with you intuition. You simply can't hear it as clearly as you can with a clear head. I had lived in a blurry bubble for over 12 years and quite frankly, everything was hazy. As I began to clear my head I began to hear that little voice inside of me. The little voice of the larger me. The more I listened to it, the more it spoke to me. Guiding me, telling me which way to go, which path to take, which decision to make, what was right, what I wanted.
Lesson five - always listen to that little voice for it is the voice of your soul.
I went to India. Choosing life, expansion. Choosing to follow my path.
I learnt how to be on my own agenda. I realized that I had always done everything for everyone else and hardly ever did what I wanted to do for me. Lesson six. Live life for you! Put yourself first.
I learnt how to enjoy my own company, how to be ok with myself. Yoga teaches you to begin to be ok with where u are. Make peace with wherever you are and be content with that. Don't strive after achievements that you have not yet fulfilled or feel frustrated by things that have not yet materialized. Lesson seven. Make peace with exactly where you are today. Not where you were yesterday or where you want to be tomorrow, but where and who you are today.
My practice and experience of India was arduous. It was a hard graft. I had upped my practice from 2-3 times a week to 6 and my practice itself was almost twice as long and the level of demanding-ness had quadrupled. I learnt that once again perseverance leads to achievement. Lesson eight - Without commitment you don't get very far.
I kept going. When things got tough, when I felt like I was never going to get to where I wanted to go. I kept going. I was enjoying the journey and knowing that the journey was the destination I stopped looking forward and began looking at now. Living in the moment. Living each day as it came.
Lets pause there for a moment…..living in the now is a hard practice. It takes years of trying to even get close. But you have to start somewhere, you have to be happy where you are and you have to preserver. I realized how much I cling to the past and how much I try to mentally paint a picture of the future. Again it is extremely heard to let go of these things but you have to just keep on trying. Keep acknowledging what you are doing and keep recognizing that you are doing them. Lesson 9 to live in the now is really hard! Only severe determination and constant effort will get you there.
Lesson 10 - you are enough. Don't listen to other people's opinions of what you are capable of. If you want to do something. Just do it. Don't ask others people's advice. Listen to that voice inside of you. Don't listen to your fears of inadequacy. Don't let other people stop you from pursuing your dreams.
A 'friend' told me that I was not ready for my teacher training, he had not been with me in India. He had not seen what I had out into my practice. He had no right to tell me what he thought I was capable of. I ignored his advice and I did it anyway. I was good enough. I started to believe in myself.
Lesson 11 - don't give up!
On returning from my travels things went down hill. My world fell apart. My vision of how life was going to be was so very far from how it actually was. I was lonely. I was in a new place. My creature comforts where stripped away. I fell. I got very close to giving up, for the first time in my life I danced with death. I fought depression. I struggled through. I took on all my weaknesses. I cleared out all my dirty corners. I did a big spring clean of me.
When things got really bad I asked for help. (Lesson 12 always ask for help when you need it). I'm not very good at asking for help. I don't like to be a burden. Ironically I help other people endlessly, yet I can not ask for the anything in return.
I asked for help. I got out of my hole. I reconnected.
Lesson 13. Everything you need is within you. Don't ever forget that.
Lesson 14 - dream big.
Life is about following our dreams. About making them happen. Nothing is outside of our grasp. You really can do anything if you set your mind to it. Follow the things that excite you. Make decisions based on what feels right. If you can't find an answer then you are probably just messing with the wrong question! I was stuck between two options that I could not decide between until I realized that neither of them were what I wanted to do. I did a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff and she said to me 'come to Maui'. As she said it something inside of me lit up. I could go to Maui. I could go and spend a few months practicing second series with Nancy Gilgoff!! I could do that. Suddenly I got hit with the ' I can't afford it / what about my job / what would I do when I got back' thoughts. I decided to bin those and live in the moment. Right now it was the only thing that really excited me. It got my chi flowing. It made me sparkle. It made me feel alive! I was going to make it happen. I was going to live the dream.
Lesson 15 - choose life. Every day you will be more. Every moment you are getting closer to your dreams. Every second you are changing and growing. Every day you can be a new you. Every thought can be the birth of a new dream.
Who knows where you will be in six months, six weeks, six days or even six minutes from now.
So that is how yoga has changed my life. It has taught me so very much about myself, about how I live and how I can live. Yoga is not about the physical stuff. It is a tool to help you begin to see yourself. Imagine you have a mirror to see yourself in, well practicing yoga helps you to clean that mirror…. For the purpose of seeing yourself more clearly.
When you can see yourself, you can change yourself.
This is how yoga helped me to transform.
Laura Grace www.ashtangayogadeva.com
Every time you bring your folded hands to your forehead at the close of a yoga practice, you’re getting in touch with Ajna (or Agnya), your Sixth Chakra. Also known as the Brow Chakra, Ajna is located at a point between and just above your physical eyes—which is why it’s called the Third Eye. Its Sanskrit name means “perception center” or “command center” and, in that role, it is considered “the seat of the soul.” So, while your physical eyes see the material world, Ajna helps you look into deeper realms: intuition, clairvoyance, imagination, creativity and visualization.
As with all things yogic, the Sixth Chakra’s energy is not focused just on observing. All of the information and experiences you bring in through your Third Eye influences your thinking and understanding—whether you are open-minded or prejudiced; positive or negative, hyper-aware of all that’s around you or unobservant.
Clearing this energy vortex helps you to stop relying on only what you can see with your eyes. It invites you to become more sensitive to other ways of looking at things. That might mean taking some time to assess the meaning of a vivid dream or paying attention to that inner voice that tells you to call a friend you haven’t spoken with for a while. It opens the gateway of creativity. So, maybe you’ll finally pick up that guitar and sing, take your easel to the park or write the novel that’s been churning in your mind for years. Balancing the Sixth Chakra also leads you into the higher realms, allowing you to connect with universal truths.
Working with yogic asanas and lifestyle changes that enhance Ajna’s functioning has benefits on every level. Learning to focus on clear, positive thoughts makes it easier to concentrate. You see what’s important, so the clutter goes off of your to-do list. Working at being more intuitive also heightens your awareness of what other people are experiencing. It’s hard to be angry at the mother or father who cuts you off in the grocery line when you take the time to really look at their situation—whether it’s that their child has runny nose or whether the parent is still dressed in office wear at 10 p.m. Starting to use your Third Eye also gives you vital self-knowledge. Meditating on the Sixth Chakra can guide you through important decisions on your direction in life or direct your perception to a higher plane.
Opening Ajna takes time, but few journeys have as many exciting twists and turns. Here are a few pointers for starting on the path.
The basics: Ajna, the Sixth Chakra, is located in the forehead or “third eye” area. It controls creativity, vision, intuition and imagination. Self-perception and identity are also affected by the balance of this Chakra.
Its presiding deities: Shakti Hakini, Krishna,
Its element: Light
Its colors: Indigo or blue/violet
Its symbol: Star of David
Its sense: Intuition
Its aromas: Mint, vanilla and jasmine
Its gemstones: Quartz, lapis lazuli, sapphire, and sodalites
Its sounds: Musical note: A; Bija sound: Om; Mantra/sound: Ksham/So
Its metal: Silver
Number of petals: Two
Physical associations: Carotids, eyes and temples
Imbalances: Physical: blindness, brain tumors, deafness, depression, headaches, eye problems, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, learning disabilities, panic, seizures, spinal dysfunctions and strokes. Emotional: discipline, emotional intelligence, fear of truth, flightiness, judgment, passive aggression, concept of reality, and confusion.
(Child’s Pose) Benefits: Focusing into your body in this pose can help rebalance a sixth chakra that’s overwhelmed by too much sensory input.
How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees. Slowly lower your tailbone toward your feet (use a blanket or folded mat if your buttocks don’t touch your heels) and lay your torso on your thighs, arms extended in front of you. Remain in the pose for one minute or longer.
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) Benefits: This pose opens the Sixth Chakra.
How to do it: Lie on your back. Lift both legs at once until you feel your hips come off the floor. Place your hands close together on the back of your hips. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly place your hands by your sides and release your back to floor.
Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend) Benefits: Bending forward puts pressure on the third eye area, which stimulates the Sixth Chakra.
How to do it: Begin in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Place your palms on the floor or blocks to the side of your feet. On an inhale, press into your palms to lift your torso. Lift your chest forward and up, arching your back. Remain in the pose for a few breaths.
Meditation. The color of the Sixth Chakra is indigo, so you can visualize that as you meditate. Begin sitting in a quiet place (or even walking if you prefer moving meditation). Focus on indigo light filtering through your body. If you wish, you can repeat the chakra’s seed mantra, Om.
Nourish it. Because of its associations with indigo, dark foods like blueberries and grapes or red wine will stimulate the Sixth Chakra.
Keeping this Chakra in harmony helps you connect with the world around you as well as inside of you. As well as controlling what you see, it also helps you filter out preconceived notions and judgments about yourself and others. So, focus on learning to look at what’s in front of you, without unneeded context.
Yoga and the Chakras
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga Pose Library
There are seven chakras, or energy centers, in the body that become blocked by longheld tension and low self-esteem. But practicing poses that correspond to each chakra can release these blocks and clear the path to higher consciousness.
The chakra system provides a theoretical base for fine-tuning our yoga practice to suit our unique personality and circumstances. Traditionally, Indians saw the body as containing seven main chakras, arranged vertically from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Chakra is the Sanskrit word for wheel, and these "wheels" were thought of as spinning vortexes of energy.
Each chakra is associated with particular functions within the body and with specific life issues and the way we handle them, both inside ourselves and in our interactions with the world.
There are many yoga poses that can correct chakra imbalances, bringing us back to our body and the earth and helping us experience safety, security, and stillness.
Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra), Centered at the perineum and the base of the spine, this energy vortex is involved in tending to our survival needs, establishing a healthy sense of groundedness, taking good basic care of the body, and purging the body of wastes. The associated body parts include the base of the spine, the legs, feet, and the large intestine.
Yoga Posture:Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Benefits: Release and the root chakra to balance, frees energy flow in pelvic area, increases vitality in digestive organs, quiets the mind, stretches inner thighs and opens groins
The second chakra is called Svadisthana, which translates as "one's own place or base." This chakra helps allow for emotional and sensual movement in our life, opening to pleasure, and learning how to "go with the flow." Associated with the hips, sacrum, lower back, genitals, womb, bladder, and kidneys, this chakra is involved with sensuality, sexuality, emotions, intimacy, and desire.
Yoga Posture: Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Benefits: Stretches the ankles, hips and thighs, shoulders, armpits and triceps, and chest. Balances second chakra.
Located in the area of the solar plexus, navel, and the digestive system, the fiery third chakra is called Manipura, the “lustrous gem.” Associated with the color yellow, this chakra is involved in self-esteem, warrior energy, and the power of transformation; it also governs digestion and metabolism. This chakra is also the place of our deep belly laughter, warmth, ease, and the vitality we receive from performing selfless service.
Yoga Posture: DHANAURASANA or THE BOW
Benefits: Increases strength and flexibility along the entire length of the spine. Balances thrid chakra.
The fourth chakra, the heart chakra(Anahata Chakra),rests in the center of the chakra system, at the core of our spirit. Its physical location is the heart, upper chest, and upper back. The fourth is the balance point, integrating the world of matter (the lower three chakras) with the world of spirit (the upper three chakras). Through the heart chakra, we open to and connect with harmony and peace.
Yoga Posture: Cobra Pose Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Benefits: Opens the chest, allowing deeper breathing. Helps to balance the heart chakra.
The throat chakra, Visuddha, is associated with the color turquoise blue and with the elements sound and ether, the field of subtle vibrations ancient Indians believed pervaded the universe. Located in the neck, throat, jaw, and mouth, the Visuddha chakra resonates with our inner truth and helps us find a personal way to convey our voice to the outside world.
Yoga Posture: Camel Pose - Ustrasana
Benefits: Stretches the front of the body including the chest, abdomen, and quadriceps. Improves spinal flexibility.
Imaginative abilities—visualizing the past, creating positive pictures of the future, and fantasizing—are all aspects of Ajna ChakraAjna Chakra (3rd eye Chakra), whose Sanskrit name means both "the perception center" and "the command center." Associated with the element light and the color indigo blue, the sixth chakra is located between and just above the physical eyes, creating the spiritual third eye. While our two eyes see the material world, our sixth chakra sees beyond the physical. This vision includes clairvoyance, telepathy, intuition, dreaming, imagination, and visualization.
Meditation: Sit upright, holding the neck and head like a solider at attention. Take 5 deep breaths. This sends oxygen into your bloodstream and relaxes you. Look at the third eye area, in the middle of your forehead and just above your eyebrows. You will rest your hands in a comfortable position such as upon your knees. Remain as still as you possibly can. Inhale deeply while beginning to chant in a steady, slow soft voice the OM manta, pronounced AUM. For an entire exhalation the one single chant of OM (AUM) is sounded
Benefits: Guidance and inspiration, enhancement of awareness, improvement of health and well being
The seventh chakra is located at the crown of the head and serves as the crown of the chakra system, symbolizing the highest state of enlightenment and facilitating our spiritual development. The seventh chakra is like a halo atop the head. In art, Christ is often depicted with a golden light surrounding his head, and the Buddha shown with a lofty projection on the top of his head. In both cases, these images represent the awakened spirituality of the Sahasrara Chakra.
Special Thanks to Barbara Kaplan Herring for their consise chakra information.