The name comes from the Sanskrit words chatur meaning “four”, anga meaning “limb”, danda meaning “staff” (refers to the spine, the central “staff” or support of the body), and asana meaning “posture” or “seat”. Here are pictures showing utthitha (extended) chatturanga dandasana and chatturanga dandasana:
As you can see, four limbs really are supporting the staff of the spine! In one of the pictures, you can see that we have body-painted a teacher so that we can demonstrate more about the anatomical structure of the pose. You can learn more too – see below for details.
Right now is the time when teacher trainees earn our respect the most, at the half-way point of the program. They’ve already learned a great deal: they can plan and hold safe classes, and they can discuss Yoga and anatomy in ways they never anticipated. But most of all they understand how little we all really know, and that’s a sobering realisation.
Training is also difficult because our relationship to practice changes. Yoga was always there for us in the past: the one refuge from all that modern-day madness was the little temple of the Yoga mat. But now in Yoga and Hot Yoga classes, we find ourselves analysing the sequence, checking our alignment – sometimes with self-criticism – and assessing how the teacher is delivering the practice. Naturally, people ask: “Will I ever get MY Yoga back again?”
The short answer is: Yes, you will, and it’ll happen with a new richness of knowledge and depth of understanding about what you’re doing. There’ll be a feeling of new magic in your practice once you integrate your course experiences. But first, something equally magical but very different has to happen. It’s a kind of re-birth, and like all beautiful birth events, it comes with its measure of difficulty.
Each morning, my three-year-old son and I squeeze some citrus fruits for our morning drinks. He has an orange and usually a couple of satsumas as well. I have a lemon and a lime. I cut them in half and we smell the different fruits. For the orange, he says “Yum!”. For the lemon and lime, he says “Yuk!”. Then we put them down and look at the segmented patterns in each, how they all have lots of pockets of juice built around the pith inside. I like doing this, because it shows him that things can be the same, but different. I think that’s a great way for little ones to realise that people can also be treated with the same respect, even though they’re different.
Each cell in your body is individually alive. When you put them all together, the resulting form is also alive. “You” and the sum of all your cells live your life of work, family and friends. Nothing you do is directly what your individual cells do, yet they stay alive and so do you.
If we generalise that thinking, then all the plants and animals on the planet together might also add up to make a much bigger organism. The Earth itself might be alive, literally a planetary life form of its own. It certainly sounds plausible.
Where does the reasoning end? Well, if there’s life on other planets then – perhaps – all life everywhere adds up to a universe which is itself a form of life. What I’m getting to is that it’s at least plausible that a consciousness far greater than the human mind exists. Quite how it came to be…I don’t know. I’ve presented one idea, but that’s just an idea. Anyway, the point at which this greater consciousness (if it’s there at all) connects to its human counterpart is sahasrara.
It’s worth starting with a (very paraphrased) Hindu story called the Samudra manthan. I really am paraphrasing here, but in essence, gods and demons collectively wanted to find an elixir of immortality. How a common goal can unite different groups… They combined their power and unearthed it – but in the process, also released a toxin so deadly that it could destroy the whole world. This is beginning to sound more and more like modern economics! They were at a loss what to do with this terrible stuff, until Shiva stepped in. He took the poison, and drank it. He didn’t swallow it, and it remains there suspended in his throat for Vishuddhi chakra to purify and transmute. It’s said to have turned his throat blue, which is why he is often depicted blue and associates the colour blue with Vishuddhi.
Vishuddhi translates to something along the lines of special purity. To me, it’s a reminder that it’s good to be comfortable with truth. Being able to tolerate truth really does purify difficult situations – if all players in the scene really can work with the truth of the matter. To be comfortable with truth would be to be happy giving, receiving and dealing with it – even when it’s something we would rather avoid. Again, the parallels with contemporary world situations are startling.
Anahata means sound produced without touching parts together. An unplayed musical instrument is capable of producing any melody. Anahata is a reference to the pure potential that is the force behind any creative act. Love is seen as the most creative thing of all, because it limits negativity and destruction.
We do creative things out of desire. It’s not always out of love. What’s the difference, and what’s the relationship between love and desire? The difference is that doing something out of love is doing it for the benefit of all. Recognising interdependence is an Anahata experience. For instance, with 7 billion or so people alive now, it’s no longer possible to treat the natural world as a set of resources. It’s becoming essential to participate in the life-supporting processes of the Earth, instead of just assuming they function regardless of what we do.
But desire is the access point. Through practice, we create the space to be with desires, rather than act them out. We get to understand our motives and the issues (real or imagined) that we’re trying to address. Acting out the desire is just one response: pausing for a moment means we might find a different response, such as a root-cause fix. In other words, we get beneath the wants to the real needs, we get from the mind’s desire to the heart’s desire.
Ultimately, love is usually the heart’s desire, and the actions borne out of love usually lead to the greater good.
People say that love is vulnerable. I tend to feel that love is courageous. It’s even possible that love doesn’t give a damn about anything except love! So, we can’t talk about love without talking about fear. Fear is the opposite of love in a lot of ways, because love includes and embraces, whereas fear excludes and repels.
I wanted to write a little about what how Hot Yoga – and of course Yogafurie – has impacted my life. Things have changed so much for me in less than ten years, and if I’m honest, I’m really looking forward to the next ten. If they’re anything like as exciting then I really won’t have time to get old…
Let me start by – really quickly – talking about how I got into Yoga and, more specifically, Hot Yoga. At school, I wanted to become a PE teacher. However, I was blessed with a family at a young age. When it came to Uni, I really thought it would be better to study IT and engineering. I thought I’d have more money that way – anyone that has a family knows that money is quite a pressure.
I enjoyed IT generally. It was technically interesting, and I met some great people. But my heart was never in it. I was interested in movement really, and this came out as a love of martial arts which I studied and taught. But then I took a very nasty knee injury in a Judo class. I could no longer practice: all I could do after that was swim and practise Yoga.
Buddhist philosophy is intensely practical – in a very physical way. This blog tries to explain how you can use your Yogafurie Hot Yoga practice to deepen your understanding of Buddhist ideas.
Invitation for free thinking
The Kalama Sutta relates a discussion between the Buddha and the peoples of a district in the north east of India. In it, the Buddha encourages people to think for themselves in a reasonable way. What follows is not a translation, because most translations use a sort of Biblical language. I’ve presented a contemporary reading.
There is fear of death because there is a part of us that dies. It’s very important for living things to die – because then their compounds are available for re-use by other living beings. Gardeners create compost heaps to exploit this – as things rot, they release their raw material which is then available for new life. People say that death is inevitable: in fact, life is inevitable. No matter how many things die and rot away, more springs up. Our minds exist to manage our lives, so our minds are uncomfortable with the idea that life must end. When the body dies, so does the mind.
Yoga texts suggest there is a part of us that doesn’t die. They go on to say that we mis-identify, and assume that our mind is our life: that because it dies, then all is over. And, of course, all is over for that individual. But the part that lives on is in all people, and is the same in all people. Its presence is required for the physical process we call life to occur. When it leaves, that process ends.
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