AuthorPoppy Pickles

Why bother learning Sanskrit Pose Names?!

Image Credit: Patrick Hendry via Flickr.

Why do we need to know the Sanskrit names for yoga poses? Why not just call them by their translated name? The Sanskrit terms for poses are often difficult to remember, as well as a mouthful to pronounce.  It can put some students off, as they shy away from the ‘yogic’ side of things and just want to have a good stretch.

However, knowing the Sanskrit words for yoga poses can be a link to the vibrant and living history of yoga, as well as giving students key clues to mastering the pose.

Here’s a lowdown on the ‘amazingness’ of the Sanskrit language and a whole host of reasons why it’s worth putting in the extra effort to get to know (and love) it.

1. A VERY ancient language

Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language, and, apart from the Basque language, every single language spoken in the Indo-European countries today has their origins in Sanskrit. TRUE.

Founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, Dr. David Frawley, says of Sanskrit that “by most conservative accounts it has been used continuously since 1500 BC; by more liberal accounts it was in use before 6000BC”. Arguably, Sanskrit is the earliest of the ancient languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek. The oldest literature in the world, The Vedas, was written in Sanskrit, and is still studied today in the same form as it was written, thousands of years ago.

2. A Beautifully organised language

The Sanskrit alphabet consists of 48 sounds, called ‘varnas’, meaning the ‘colour’ of language.

According to Gabriella Burnel, Sanskrit scholar, and resident YogaLondon expert, these sounds are “systematically structured to take you from the inner to the outer – literally – from the throat to the lips”. Also, amazingly, “even just sounding the vowels (known as ‘swaraah’ meaning self -luminous, shining by oneself) can have a calming and cleansing effect”.

Every word in the language is based on root syllables, which (Gabriella again), “holds within it the essence of the meaning of that word.” So, like modern-day German, words can be formed by linking root syllables together. “Take kr, which is the root of ahamkaara, samskaara, karma. The root ‘kr’ means ‘doing’, therefore you know that all these things involve ‘doing’. The root gives you a sense of the word on a deeper level.”

Sanskrit grammar is incredibly well-organised and apparently, scientists in the NASA space station love the Sanskrit language for its sound and its clear grammatical structure.

There are in fact a whole host of words in use today, such as avatar, candy, cot, crimson, jungle, orange and of course, yoga, which are directly descended from the original Sanskrit.

So, although Sanskrit may sound unfamiliar to Western ears, the language we speak now is directly linked to this ancient language.

3. The stories

Image Credit: Satish Krishnamurthy via Flickr.

Through learning the Sanskrit names of the asanas we practice, we are connecting, across the ages, to the yogis of the past, as well as the myths and legends of the Hindu culture, from which yoga originated.

The beautiful and advanced pose, Hanumanasana, is named after the monkey god, Hanuman. Hanuman was a son of the wind god Vayu, friend and servant of Rama, protagonist of the epic tale, The Ramayana.

The story goes that when the evil demon King Ravana kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita, Rama enlisted the help of Sugriva, King of the monkeys, and his general, Hanuman. Hanuman found Sita and took the news to Rama and his brother Lakshmana, and a great battle with Ravana raged, during which Lakshmana was terribly wounded, and only the juice of a life-giving herb that grew in the Himalayas would save his life. Hanuman duly leapt across the seas in one leap, retrieved the herb, and saved Lakshmana’s life.

The pose, which is the lateral splits, represents the prodigious leap that Hanuman took to save the life of another.

Yoga students practising this pose today can channel their inner monkey god, being brave, selfless and extremely flexible! It is also a reminder that yoga isn’t all about practising for ourselves and our own glory, but should be the cultivation of discipline and self-care, that allows us to give more freely to those in need around us.

4. The heroes

When we do yoga, many of us often feel very far from heroic. We feel distinctly lacking as we struggle to locate our dorsal spines or touch our toes.

But the Sanskrit names of the poses act as a reminder to – in the words of M People – ‘search for the hero inside yourself’, and emulate the heroic qualities of the Hindu heroes and legends.

Take, for instance, the warrior Virabhadra, the namesake of the poses Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3. The three warrior poses are named after him and as we hold the poses and strengthen our feeble legs, we should think of him and emulate his mighty prowess.

Again, there is a story that comes with the poses. Virabhadra (vira, meaning ‘hero’ and bhadra meaning ‘friend’) was the warrior of the god and yogi Shiva. When Shiva’s wife, Sati, died due to the cruelty of her father Darksha at a party, Shiva sends Virabhadra to avenge her death.

  • Virabhadrasana 1 represents the warrior appearing before Darksha by breaking through the ground, rising from the earth, brandishing a sword in both hands.
  • Virabhadrasana 2 represents the moment that he spots his target from across the room.
  • Virabhadrasana 3 symbolises the slaughtering of the guests at Darksha’s party, before beheading Darksha himself.

This rather bloodthirsty tale is also a symbolic one, as Shiva represents the higher self, Sati represents the heart and Darksha is the ego. So when we are teetering in Virabhadrasana 3, focusing like mad on balancing, we are really slaughtering our ego at the request of our higher self. All in a humble yoga practice…

5. The clues to yoga poses

Image Credit: The Yoga People via Flickr.

Some of the names of the yogasanas (yoga + asanas) are literal in meaning.  In this case, it is still worth studying the full name of the pose in order to gain valuable insight into the key elements of the pose.

Take Utthita Parshvakonasana, literally ‘extended side angle pose’.  Broken down into its component parts the utthita means ‘extended’, parshva means ‘side’, kona means ‘angle’ and ‘asana’ is pose. There are many aspects to the pose as every part of the body is engaged, so  the bent leg knee needs to be in line with the ankle, the back leg foot needs to press down to engage the thigh and so on. But the most important thing is that the side of the body is extended at an angle, i.e., in one continuous line from the little toe edge of the back foot, all the way to the fingertips of the top arm.

6. It’s fun!

The Sanskrit names are also fun and funny. One of the most important poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana means ‘downward facing dog’. This is a reminder that we need to have fun while doing yoga, emulating the natural bending and stretching of our pet dogs. A personal favourite, Pavana Muktasana, means ‘wind-relieving pose’. And it really works.

To conclude…

It’s not easy getting your head round the Sanskrit names of the poses, as I found out when I had to learn them all (very quickly) during my yoga teacher training course. But once you know them, they become an extra dimension of the pose, adding character and depth to the physical pose, and linking back, through the mists of time, to the very first yogis, who observed the spirit of each pose and named them, for us.

Gabriella Burnel perfectly explains her infectious love of Sanskrit below:

” The same feeling I get when visiting a sacred site like Stonehenge, walking through a forest of ancient trees, entering a church or a temple. That feeling of sanctity, magnificence and comfort – that’s what I feel when in the company of Sanskrit.”

Yoga with Friends – make this your New Year’s Resolution

Image Credit: Antonika Chanel via Unsplash.

This January, why not make your New Year’s resolution to hit the mat every day a whole lot more fun by doing your yoga practice with a friend? Get more out of your yoga practice AND spend quality time with your best buddies.

We all start the year with good intentions, determined to shift the holiday toxins and power into a fresh start. But then the reality of our busy lives, our laziness – or both – kicks in and those good intentions begin to fall by the wayside.

This is where doing yoga with a friend can help. If you commit to practising with a friend, even once a month, you create a buddy system that keeps you accountable, as well as giving you the motivation you need to keep your own practice going in the meantime.

There’s another reason why we think you should pair up with a friend to do yoga this year. Building friendships results in an increased sense of well-being and is good, if not essential, for your mental health. Research has shown that building and maintaining long-lasting friendships leads to a happier and longer life. A study in Southern Australia showed that good friends extend your lifespan, possibly because friends can encourage healthier habits, such as giving up smoking or drinking and – here’s the relevant bit for us – encouraging us to do exercise, such as YOGA.

Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash.

Friends also can help us cope with depression, grief, and fend off loneliness in old age, write the authors. Margaret Gibbs, PhD, professor emeritus at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a clinical psychologist, says, “There’s lots of research indicating that social support is important to health and happiness at any age”.

Combining the emotional and physical benefits of friendship with the well-being-enhancing yoga and meditation is a sure-fire shortcut to a brilliant 2018. International, bestselling author Dr. John Douillard explains, “According to Ayurveda, meditation disarms this protective nervous system by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is the body’s repairing nervous system. This enhances self-awareness of the painful area on both a physical, mental, and even emotional level. Once the body has become fully aware of the painful area as a problem, the body’s natural pharmacy can kick in and help resolve the pain.”

So, what are you waiting for? Make a date with a trusted yoga friend and share a restoring yoga practice, while relaxing safe in the knowledge that your New Year’s resolutions are in the bag.

Read more at MindBodyGreen and The Huffington Post

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London’s top 10 FREE Yoga Classes

It’s a new year and time for a fresh start! One of your New Year’s resolutions may well be to try out a new yoga class in this brilliant city of ours and there are no shortage of them. You can choose from hot yoga, yin yoga, vinyasa flow, iyengar yoga and many others besides. But sometimes it’s hard to justify shelling out yet more money on this yoga obsession of yours, so here at YogaLondon, we’ve come up with the solution…

Tucked away in various shops, community centres and studios throughout the city, are wonderful places offering completely FREE yoga classes to those in the know. We’ve put together TEN of the best free yoga classes in the city – so, just because you’re strapped for cash – you don’t have to be deprived of your weekly yoga fix.

Our Pick of Free Yoga Classes

 

1. Iyengar Yoga Institute

Set in the tranquil setting of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Maida Vale, are FREE taster classes on offer to those who’d like to try Iyengar yoga. Held throughout the year, their aim is to give new students a chance to try out yoga in a friendly setting with other people at the same level. No previous experience is necessary. It’s also open to those students who are more familiar with other yoga methods.

All equipment is provided, and shoes are left in the racks by the entrance. Sign up here to book the next free class.

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2. East London Community Well Being

Run by the charity St. Margaret’s House, Yoganest is a project promoting wellbeing and engaging with the local community in Bethnal Green through the provision of low-cost and free yoga classes.  While you’re there you could also take advantage of all the other wonderful things going on, such as a rolling calendar of cultural events and an on-site vegan cafe. This unique charity provides spaces for residents to eat, shop, learn, create, and enjoy a diverse cultural program.

One of the varied programme of yoga lessons on offer at St Margaret’s House is a completely FREE Friday evening flow class. Suitable for all levels, this class combines breath and movement, strengthening and stretching both body and mind. Find more details here.

3. Oval Yoga

Run by the charismatic Alonso from Rio, Oval Yoga offers a free taster class  to anyone interested, on the proviso that there is space in the class. He teaches regular weekly mixed-ability Hatha Yoga classes in Kennington Oval, Stockwell,

Image credit Barry Silver via Flickr.

Brixton, Vauxhall and adjacent South London neighbourhoods.

Choose from two regular evening classes or opt for an atmostpheric candlelit class on a Sunday evening if you feel like trying something a little bit different!

4.’OurParks’

Although you might be thinking ‘Now is not the time of year that I want to be doing yoga in a PARK’ – fear not! OurParks not only organises activities in London’s many green areas, but also in community spaces. And even better, the classes are completely FREE. OurParks was created to make it easy and free for you to get fit, which sounds like an excellent idea to us. Their site is easy to use, colour-coded to give you an idea of how intense the classes are, and gives an up to date list of all the classes coming up.

If you’re feeling hardcore, and in need of fresh air, you can pick Outdoor Yoga in London Fields, or opt for (the slightly cosier) Flow Yoga at Leyton Sixth Form College, to name just a couple of choices. You need to register on the site first, and then book a place – for more info you can watch a handy booking guide here.

And to see a list of classes and get going, book here.

5. LightCentre Moorgate

The Light Centre in Moorgate is a health and wellbeing centre offering over sixty different classes weekly, from mindfulness to Pilates-Reformer classes as well as a variety of different health therapies. A haven of relaxation in the midst of the city, one of the things we love most about this centre is that you can try it out totally free of charge.

With ‘Breakfast Club’ classes to suit the early-riser, 75-minute Vinyasa Flow classes and weekly beginners’ classes, all levels and all schedules are welcome. We love that you can grab a rejuvenating snack after your class here too – a green juice for the road or a fruit pot to devour (smugly) at your desk. Sign up for your free class here.

See Also: The 12 Best Snacks to Have on Hand in 2016

6. Sweaty Betty

Putting a new meaning to the phrase, ‘working out in Sweaty Betty’, the free yoga classes here can be booked in advance and taught by certified experts. The only catch is that you have to sign up to become a member but don’t we all have five minutes to spare for 60-minutes of free fitness?

We suggest you’re quick though as the word has gotten out about the Sweaty little secret and classes tend to get booked up quite quickly. Find out whether your nearest store could become your newest workout venue here.

7. Lululemon

You may have spent copious amounts of time during your yoga-practicing-years browsing the shelves and rails of this popular sports clothing store but have you ever thought about pushing aside the ‘End of Season Sale’ rack and stretching out on the floor? Well why not try it — with a weekly, completely complimentary, in-store yoga class!

Guided by expert local teachers, all over London, you’ll be able to unfurl your mat in the midst of your chosen store and spend 60-minutes stretching and relaxing. LuluLemon put great emphasis on creating a community outside of a simple shopping experience and aside from free yoga classes you can also get involved with festivals and retreats. Never believed you’d be able to leave a LuluLemon store having not spent a penny? Well believe it! Sign up here.

8. Essence of Good Health

Image Courtesy The Cosmpolitan via Flickr.

With a real belief that no one should be exempt from the benefits of yoga, Essence of Good Health Yoga has been providing free hatha yoga classes for over 15 years. A real mixture of levels attend these two-hour classes and a sense of community and care is present throughout.

A gentle warm up and an hour of asanas is followed by half an hour of pranayama and guided relaxation to ensure that you leave feeling as good as possible. A bootcamp for the body and mind (in the gentlest sense) can be expected, along with a warm welcome and loads of attention — there is usually more than one teacher to make sure that everyone gets the help and guidance they need.

As the classes are run free of charge, donations are welcome and most who attend give around £2 to help fund this worthwhile project. They are held once a week on a Monday in Croydon from 7-9pm at: The Archbishop Lanfranc School Mitcham Road Croydon Surrey CR9 3AS.

9. London Buddhist Centre

Not strictly free, but by donation (which is still very cheap!) the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green runs classes on Monday and Friday lunchtimes and early evenings throughout the week. Classes are drop in and mats are provided.

10. Stress Project Yoga Holloway

Not exactly free either, but practically free, as classes at the Holloway Community Centre cost only £2 per lesson, which we think you’ll agree is amazing value.

Holloway Neighbourhood Group is a local charity working in the London Borough of Islington. Their aim is to offer local people the chance to live fulfilled lives as part of the community. In 1995 they established the Stress Project  – providing therapeutic and social support to people living with mental health probems and stress related illness. This includes their low-cost yoga classes, held every Wednesday, 12.30 to 1.30pm at the Old Fire Station Community Centre.

84 Mayton Street, N7 6QT,  020 7607 9794

 

Harry and Meghan – On being a Yoga Couple

The benefits of Couples Yoga According to Meghan Markle

Image Credit: Bridget Flohe via Unsplash.

Everyone is Harry and Meghan obsessed these days, whether they want to be or not! And with good reason, they’re young, attractive, royal AND getting married. What’s not to like? Even more exciting for yoga fans is that, according to ‘inside sources’, Meghan Markle has been teaching her fiancé some yoga poses to help him de-stress – making them into a ‘yoga couple’.

While we don’t have evidence of the couple practising yoga together, it’s no secret that Meghan is devoted to her yoga practice. Her mother, Doria Ragland, is an LA-based yoga teacher, who started to teach her daughter yoga from the tender age of 7 and, as she says, the ‘practice is in my blood’.

In an interview with Canada’s Best Health magazine in 2015, Meghan revealed that ‘there are so many benefits that come with the practice of yoga…increased flexibility and muscle strength, greater happiness, increased mental focus, a greater ability to relax, decreased anxiety and better sleep.’

So, as she realises the benefits of her yoga practice, it’s only natural that she would want to share it with her royal husband-to-be.

Couples Yoga

Image Credit: Ruslan Zh via Unsplash.

So why would you practice yoga together as a couple and what are the benefits?

The fact is that having any past-time in common is healthy for couples. It gives them a way to spend time together that doesn’t involve the daily round of chores, errands and responsibilities that comes with living together.

Although yoga is traditionally an individual discipline, allowing you to get in touch with your inner self, it can also work with a partner. Yoga is a wonderful thing to do together as it both keeps you fit and allows you to deepen your relationship.

If you practice yoga and your partner doesn’t, then perhaps you could find time this Christmas to introduce a gentle introductory session, framing it as a way to enjoy time together, rather than a way of forcing them to get into it just because you are.

There are plenty of basic yoga poses which work well practised in pairs, such as sitting with feet pressed together in staff pose, or sat back to back in cross-legged pose. Starting with the basics will encourage your partner to try more, rather than putting them off with too much, too soon.

A Way to De-Stress

In the busy lives that we lead, making time to do yoga together is a way of having quality time as a couple.

According to psychotherapist and yoga teacher, Julia Lehrman, it also encourages us to do all the things that make us stronger as a couple, such as listening to each other, engaging in physical touch and lifting each other up – both psychologically and physically!

According to those ‘inside sources’ at the palace, Meghan ‘has been helping Harry learn a few basic moves and experiment with some positions.’

This sounds like a great thing for Meghan to do with Harry, as they prepare to come together as man and wife, they are coming together through yoga too – after all, yoga does mean ‘union’. And as Julia Lehrman says, ‘Aim to create more unity rather than separateness.’

Couples Yoga – Dos and Don’ts

Image Credit: Aziz Acharki via Unsplash.

However, as lovely as it is to be a yoga couple there are a few handy guidelines to stick to in order to avoid adding conflict to the relationship.

DOS

  1. Do – Find a time that suits both of you, when there aren’t too many distractions or external pressures. This may be harder for couples with children, but that’s what grandparents are for, right?
  2. Do – Be encouraging and supportive and come up with a practice that suits both of you. So, if your partner has never done yoga before it might be a bit adventurous to throw some acro-yoga into the mix.
  3. Do – take turns to look at each other in harder poses and give constructive feedback to improve each other’s poses.

DON’TS

  1. Don’t – make the practice a stressful affair by trying to cram it in when there really isn’t time. This will end up with it being a source of stress rather than a way to spend quality time together.
  2. Don’t – get too competitive. A little competition isn’t always a bad thing as it can push us out of the comfort zone that we can get into when we practice on our own. However, making your other half feel inadequate as you float into bridge pose isn’t the aim.
  3. Don’t – get too critical. While it’s useful to give constructive feedback, especially in poses where you can’t see your own body, such as headstand, it’s important to find a balance between positive and negative.

Couples Yoga Workshops

Finally, if you really think that doing couples yoga at home really wouldn’t work, or you’re not sure where to start, why not give your other half the gift of a couples yoga workshop for Christmas?

There are a whole range of workshops and lessons out there, from acro-yoga, which involves a huge amount of trust and a certain amount of experience, to pregnancy partner yoga, which is a way to bond as a couple in preparation for the birth of a child.

That way, you solve what to get them for Christmas, as well as getting to do yoga together, just like Harry and Meghan.

Nigella Lawson’s ‘SECRET’ weight loss

Between 2010 and 2017, celebrity chef and eponymous domestic goddess Nigella Lawson, has gone from a ‘voluptuous’ size 16 to a ‘svelte’ size 12. These are not my words, but the words of lifestyle magazines and tabloids, who have endlessly focused on the way that women in the public eye, like Nigella, look.

Image Credit: rawpixel.com via Unsplash.

It’s a trend that seems unlikely to change, but Nigella has credited one particular form of exercise for her ‘miraculous’ weight loss – that’s right, yoga.

In two separate interviews with Good Housekeeping magazine, in 2015 and 2017, she was repeatedly asked about how she had lost weight. She replied that it is her yoga practice that has helped to keep her in shape, but Nigella also kept trying to steer the conversation away from how she looked and what she weighed, instead responding about how doing yoga has made her ‘feel’.

In 2015 she told the magazine, “It’s certainly true my weight went up – that happens in life sometimes”.

But, she said, “I have never been on a diet to try to lose weight. I feel like I haven’t lost weight, but I’m possibly in better shape. I am doing a rather slow form of yoga now called Iyengar.”

She emphasised this again to the magazine when she said, “As you get on in life, you value feeling well as opposed to looking well. Yoga certainly makes you feel great, and you want to carry on feeling great. I just do a bit in a very slow way. Sometimes, lying down!”

Feeling well, not just looking well

Nigella has hit the nail on the head with her response that she values ‘feeling well as opposed to looking well.’ It’s taken some time, but I’ve now come to the same conclusion as Nigella, as well as some other stars, such as Kate Winslet.

In a recent Graham Norton show, Kate revealed that she hadn’t weighed herself for twelve years and it was ‘much better for the mood’ not to know.

But how many of us can put our hands up and honestly say we started yoga to ‘connect with our inner calm’ or some other mindful reason? Probably not many. Most of us, myself included, started going to yoga as part of a personal campaign to ditch the flab and tone up. Many of us, inspired by the endless pictures of insta-yogis looking ‘abs’-olutely fabulous on a beach makes us think that if we do yoga, we too could look like that.

It’s only once we commit to yoga that the true motivation for sticking to the discipline reveals itself: internal well-being.

Feel Happy, Look Happy

Image Credit: Jon Tyson via Unsplash.

The truth is that real beauty and health come from the inside first. Beauty radiates out of every pore of someone who is content. B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of Iyengar yoga – the style of yoga that Nigella has said that she practises, says:

A great boon of yoga, even for relative beginners, is the happiness it brings, a state of self-reliant contentment.

He doesn’t say, that a great boon of yoga is that you will ‘lose those extra pounds’, or ‘look svelte for your selfie‘. The fact is that if we stop looking for happiness by changing the way we look, we find happiness by changing the way we feel.

In 2017, the same questions on weight loss came up, and Nigella answered,

I do yoga three times a week,’ she said. ‘I have to do something I enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.” Again, she stressed her commitment to her yoga practice, and the way that it makes her feel – NOT the way it helped her look.

Yoga DOES help with Weight Loss

The fact is that most forms of yoga are an excellent way to keep fit and burn off extraneous calories. But yoga helps your physical health in many ways, not just through the strenuous physical effort involved.

In an article for LiveScience, Beth A. Lewis, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Kinesiology in Minneapolis, states that ‘yoga can increase one’s mindfulness and the way one relates to their body. So, individuals will become more aware of what they are eating and make better food choices.’

Through yoga the mind and body become more in tune, which often leads the student of yoga to adjust their lifestyle. Personally, I have completely given up drinking any caffeinated drinks due to the effect it was having on my body. I ignored the symptoms for years, but after taking up yoga, I found that I became hyper-aware of the negative physical and mental effects.

Lose Stress first, the rest will follow

Image Credit: Mike Pellinni via Unsplash.

The fact is, when we are out of balance emotionally and mentally, the body will also be out of balance. Our attitude to yoga should be that we should address the internal imbalance first, and the rest will follow.

Beth A. Lewis again:

“Additionally, many individuals eat more when they are feeling stressed and yoga can help combat stress, which can influence one’s energy intake.”

In the high-octane, busy modern world that we live in, there are more and more ways that we can get stressed. We can stress about our jobs, about our relationships, our children and the way we look. But stress only adds to the unhealthy cocktail that leads to weight gain and long-term to disease.

As B. K. S. Iyengar says,

‘the essence of yoga is not about external display but internal cultivation.’

If we cultivate our inner balance, the external display looks after itself. Just like Nigella.

 

Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.