this system has
often been perceived and practiced in a linear form, it is understood
in Kripalu Yoga as holistic. The very name astha (eight) anga
(limbs), denotes that these are not eight steps to be practiced one at
a time in a linear way. Just as each limb of our body is complementary
to all the other limbs of the body, serving the body as a whole, each
limb of Ashtanga Yoga can be practiced holistically to serve the
ultimate purpose of the practice of yoga: the experience of unity in
which the individual soul and cosmic soul merge.
places the eight
limbs of Ashtanga yoga within the context of three stages of practice:
1. willful practice, 2. a combination of will and surrender, and 3.
surrender. These practices occur holistically. In other words, although
your practice may focus on one stage, such as willful practice, it will
naturally contain elements of the other two stages.
ONE: WILLFUL PRACTICE
In Stage One, you learn
precise attention to the alignment and details of each posture. You
also learn how to breathe deeply, coordinating breath with movement.
The conscious use of
exclusively focused for internal awakening rather than external
achievement. The training of will combined with consciousness is a
preparation for moving toward the surrender of will. Any activity
motivated by fear, guilt, or the need to seek approval is not willful
in this sense. The act of will emerges from Source (inner knowing). It
serves Source and is dedicated to the development of Source.
Keeping your attention
on correct alignment and detail does not mean seeking perfection in the
posture. It means practicing the safest form of the posture, for your
body, in order to prevent injury and maximize the beneficial effects.
Beneficial effects come not from maximum strength or flexibility, but
from correct form.
The press point method is a
technique which aids in attuning to your body, assuring correct
physical alignment and maximum stretch in a safe and supported way. By
using press points you allow your body to go to its natural limit in a
relaxed way without forcing. Imagine you are holding a piece of string
with one end of the string in each hand. To create a straight line,
simply press the ends of the string in opposite directions. Press
points work the same way. In order to bring a body part into correct
alignment, simply press the ends in opposite directions. For instance,
if you want straighten your spine in a sitting position, press your
sitz bones (ischial tuberosities) downward and the crown of the head
upward. Some other frequently used press points are the soles of the
feet, the pubic bone, the front of the hip-bones (ASIS or anterior
superior iliac spine), the side of each hip (greater trochanter) and
the tail-bone (coccyx). In order to bring awareness to a press point, a
teacher or assistant may press their hand into a non-invasive press
point. To activate the press point, simply press back.
Even though you want to
the physiological impact by being totally focused on the details and
appropriate alignment of the body in each posture, do it consciously,
not forcefully. Willful practice is not intrusive. It's not violent. It
does not induce struggle or fight with the body. The body is approached
respectfully as it is. By treating the body lovingly and consciously,
you can cross your physical, mental, and emotional boundaries without a
"fight or flight" reaction.
Accept the limitations
present in your body. Your inner journey begins from where you are.
Self-acceptance removes disturbing thoughts and emotions caused by
self-criticism, comparison, competition, etc. It creates relaxation in
the mind, which in turn creates relaxation in the body. Accepting
yourself also means accepting resistances, fears, and insecurities that
may show up during your practice. Maintain your total focus on
performing the posture consciously, to the best of your ability, in the
most relaxed way.
and life-force control)
Prana, life energy, is a
natural, healing force that carries out all the life-giving,
involuntary functions of the body. Prana mimics the mind and emotions.
When the mind is disturbed, prana is disturbed. When the mind is
confused and scattered, prana is confused and scattered. When the mind
is indecisive, prana is indecisive. When the mind is focused, prana is
Breathing is the most
for accessing and balancing prana. By coordinating breath with
movement, the pranic effects of the postures are activated and
enhanced. For instance, if you inhale when moving into a
backward-bending posture, the expansion of the abdomen, rib-cage and
chest will be enhanced, the spine will be supported, and the effects of
the posture will be more profound. Your body receives more prana. If
you exhale when bending forward, thus contracting the abdomen, rib-cage
and chest, the emptying of the lungs and internal massage of the
abdomen will be more complete. Your body releases more toxins and is
then able to absorb more prana. By breathing with, rather than against
the natural expansion and contraction of your movements, prana begins
to come into harmony and balance within your body.
The conscious use of
induces greater sensitivity, deeper relaxation, and greater awareness.
When you have reached your limit in a posture and are at the edge
between comfort and discomfort, there is a tendency to hold your
breath. This is an indication that you are holding stress. In order to
release the stress, you must consciously relax, and the most important
element that represents conscious relaxation is the breath moving
freely in and out.
There are times during
of asana when holding the breath (kumbhaka) is appropriate.
However, when you find yourself holding your breath because of the
strain you are experiencing, just relax and breathe freely, deeply, and
STAGE TWO: WILL
Once you have learned to
posture consciously, regardless of your flexibility, you are ready to
move to the second phase, balancing the polarities of will and
surrender. In this stage of practice, you continue to integrate all the
guidelines of the first stage, but progressively prolong the holding of
the posture. Stage Two teaches you how to withdraw your outgoing,
scattered attention and focus it inward (pratyahara), anchoring it in
the bodily sensations (dharana/concentration). This enables you to
penetrate into the deeper layers of stress where you may encounter
undigested mental and emotional traumas of the past.
(internalizing the outgoing energy)
The slowing down of the movement into and out
of the posture plays a very significant role in introducing the new
element of internal focus into the practice of yoga postures. It
allows you to enter into the subtlety of the experience, and recognize
the subtle urges and sensations present in your body. It provides a
space for you to deepen your connection with your body.
Engaging in conscious,
and deep relaxation allows you to sense where the mind jumps in, so
that you can consciously return to your awareness of the internal
experiences. The moment you begin to move slowly, you will encounter
new sensations in your body.
|Keep your mind
fully absorbed in the
sensations that are present at any given moment, whether you are at the
entry level of the posture, holding, releasing, or transitioning
between two postures. Maintain an unbroken stream of attention,
acknowledging and flowing with the changing emotions that accompany the
movements of the body. That unbroken stream of attention to the bodily
sensations spontaneously and effortlessly focuses the wandering mind
and develops intimacy between body, mind and emotions.
Increased benefits come
increased concentration. Therefore, anchoring your attention to the
sensations in the area of the body that is the primary focus of the
posture greatly enhances and multiplies its benefits. For example, the
throat is usually thought of as the physical focus of the
Shoulderstand, and as attention if focused there, healing energy will
be focused there as well. But practitioners must identify this point of
focus by bringing their attention to the area where the sensation is
the strongest, rather than according to a pre-conceived concept of
where the point of focus "should" be.
with pain and
In the face of intense
labeled as "pain," unconscious fears and resistances may emerge.
Initially it is important to trust the fear and back off. Even if you
are perfectly safe, the belief that you are in danger veils reality,
and that, in and of itself, can lead to injury. Once you have eased
away from intense sensation, and the feeling of safety is
reestablished, move back toward the edge and gently test your limits.
Now you can simply witness, or objectively observe your experience,
moving beyond the habitual, unconscious tendency toward fight or flight.
Once you have crossed the
invisible boundaries of fear and emotion, you will know when you have
come to your real physiological edge. At this point the body gives a
clear signal that says, "Enough." With regular practice, you will know,
from within, just how much you are able to release your psychological
and emotional blocks and relax into the experience. Each time you
perform the posture, you learn how to cross the mental and emotional
boundaries while respecting the real physical boundary of your body,
which may change from day to day. Therefore, nobody can really tell you
when you should stop. It is for you to discover in the practice of
being aware of your own body.
After you release, a
stillness before moving again allows you to actually feel the urge to
move rather than moving habitually or according to the dictates of the
mind. Then, allowing your body to move spontaneously in response to
internal urges becomes deeply relaxing and highly balancing. These
movements release a flood of pent-up energy and wash away deep-seated
tensions and toxins.
metaphor for life
When you come to your
point during the prolonged holding of a posture, you encounter your
self-perceived limitations, and to learn to consciously respect them,
accept them and/or transcend them. As you cross those boundaries in the
formal practice of Kripalu Yoga, you also learn how to encounter the
fears and emotional reactions that appear daily in your interactions.
At such times, life puts
you into an
uncomfortable or painful psychic posture that you may feel like running
from, or aggressively blasting your way through. For example, when you
are in an interaction with another person and you feel hurt, abused,
unrecognized, criticized, or insulted, you're automatically thrown into
that psychic posture. That's the time when it's important for you to
use the lessons you have learned on your yoga mat.
experience stored in
the unconscious body/mind is like a smoldering fire—one that was
smothered, and not burned fully. The smoke it creates can make it
difficult for you to breathe and see. The perpetual irritation of life,
however, is therapeutic. Again and again, it reveals suppressed
experiences so that you may encounter them more consciously, and
experience them fully so that the fire of reality may purify and
To allow that to happen,
you need to
move from thinking to feeling, encountering the moment energetically,
just as you do in the prolonged holding of the more formal practice of
postures. When you learn to apply non-judgmental awareness in your
daily life situations, you'll be able to go through a painful
experience in a creative and productive way. The awareness increases
your capacity to handle stressful situations and emotional encounters.
The experience that you would ordinarily resist becomes a new opening—a
TO THE WISDOM OF THE BODY
Stage Three is the final
of Kripalu Yoga. During this stage, all rules and restrictions that
have been willfully practiced in the earlier stages are set aside.
Instead, the postures are allowed to emerge spontaneously, guided by
the wisdom of the body. These may be traditional postures or even
postures that you have never seen before in any yoga book. Do not
suppress them if they occur, for prana is far wiser than any book and
knows exactly what the body needs at that particular moment. Done in
this way, yoga postures have a totally new dimension. They have become
a form of "Meditation in Motion", a prayer without words.
The focus of attention at
stage is to allow the inner wisdom of prana to move the
body—uninhibited, unobstructed, and unmanipulated in any way by the
mind. At this stage, everything that has been learned from books,
traditions, techniques, and authorities about formal yoga postures and
breathing exercises has to be dropped. From this point on, you must
learn to focus on only one authority: inner guidance.
(interaction or meditation)
Once the link between mind
body has been established through concentrated focus on sensation, the
mind continues its communication with and investigation of the body
through an effortless, harmonious, and balanced flow of postures,
precisely choreographed by the body's natural urges. As the interactive
process of one-pointed investigation continues, the mind becomes
increasingly involved in the bodily sensations, and ascends to a higher
state where it sees what it has not previously seen, it knows what it
has not previously known. The experience becomes meditative, giving a
timeless quality to the movement. As you smoothly flow from one posture
to another, guided by the prompting of your inner bodily urges, you
progressively experience a deepening feeling of peace and stillness. In
spite of the body's movements, the inner stillness grows progressively
until you become absorbed in the inner music of movements created by
the harmony of body, mind, and prana.
In the Hatha Yoga
it is said, “As salt dissolves in water, so the mind dissolves into the
soul and becomes one with it." At this moment there is total clarity
and knowing. This state is known as samadhi , and the
definition of yoga is related to this state. Movement after movement
arises without any mental effort or forethought. A force greater and
wiser than your waking mind comes through you, and in those moments you
are fully alive, acting in total response to the urges that arise from
within your body. All other thoughts, feelings, mental entities,
distractions or perceptions -- including the feeling of "I" --
temporarily dissolve and you become totally absorbed. You see clearly
and understand as never before. You have a sense of profound discovery.
You are in an experience of ecstatic communion with God.