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The Complete Yoga Poses
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Table of Contents
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For the peaceful resolution
From the illusionary nature of dualistic existence,
I ground myself before the lotus feet of the gurus,
Who remind me that the light I search for is within me
Bringing stillness to the whirling of the cascading ego mind
I behold the awakened joy of my own Soul
Realizing the truth of pure radiance
That we are in fact the same
To the self-awakened gurus of the past, present, and future,
Daniel Lacerda, Mr. Yoga
A MESSAGE FROM MR. YOGA
The ultimate goal of yoga is self-realization. You do not need to go to the mountaintop to find it or pay a teacher to show you the way. There are currencies that we exchange with one another that are much more valuable than money: kindness, selflessness, being one part of the greater good. Nor do you need to look outside yourself. If you have an open mind, a sincere desire to learn and to apply that knowledge on a daily basis, and the commitment to follow through on what you've begun, you can achieve self-realization.
Self-realization is the knowledge that we sentient beings are interconnected and that what we think, say, and do affects those around us. Burdened by the pressures and demands that exist outside of ourselves—of our jobs, bills, desire for status and for material possessions—we forget this. Self-realization is the ability to achieve freedom from these demands and to know that true happiness comes from fulfilling our own potential and from lifting up those around us without the thought of self-gain. Dedicating yourself to the regular practice of yoga can help bring you back to this place.
Yoga is, indeed, an excellent form of exercise that carries with it many immediate and long-term physical benefits from improved flexibility to stronger muscles and bones. However, yoga is not just about moving through the poses. Mindfulness plays an essential part in any dedicated yoga practice. If performed properly, yoga quiets the mind of all distracting thoughts from the outside world (chittavritti, meaning mind chatter), bringing you to a place of peace within. In turn, being mindful of your thoughts will allow you to be mindful of, and truly connected with, your body, thus completing the cycle of mental and physical health that will allow you to enjoy all the wonderful things that life has to offer.
For the past eleven years, I have dedicated my life to yoga, teaching an average of twenty-five classes seven days a week. I have done this to make a difference in the lives of my students. Now it's my pleasure to share this passion and dedication with you.
A HISTORY OF YOGA
Most of us know yoga as a set of poses performed in a gym or yoga studio setting. The majority of yoga styles practiced today were invented in the last quarter of the 20th century and are either a far cry from yoga's roots or have no authentic lineage.
If we really want to examine the roots of yoga, we need to go back to the Harrapan culture, dating back 3,500 years, when yoga was a meditative practice. According to some, around 1500 BCE, Harrapan culture was diminished due to Aryan invasion. Barbarians from Normandy introduced the caste system and enforced a set of religious rituals that involved blood sacrifice practices. Along with these religious practices came sacred scriptures called the Vedas, a large body of spiritual texts originating in India. The word "yoga" was first mentioned in the oldest of the Vedas, Rig Veda. It referred to the concept of discipline.
Fast forward to 800 BCE. The Upanishads, a collection of texts that contain some of the earliest concepts of Hinduism, prescribed the method of achieving enlightenment by studying under a teacher and dedicating one's life to a yoga practice. The Upanishads outlined two paths to enlightenment: Karma Yoga (selfless dedication to the service of others) and Jnana Yoga (intense study of spiritual writings). Around the 3rd century BCE, the Maitrayaniya Upanishad prescribed a six-step process to enlightenment, which included mastering pranayama (breath control), pratyaharia (sense withdrawal), dhyana (meditation), dharana (one-pointed concentration), tarka (self-reflection), and samadhi (absolute absorption) in order to unite the Atman (individual's spirit) and Brahman (universal spirit or source of creation). The sacred syllable om appeared in this particular Upanishad as a symbol of union between mind and breath.
At around the same time that Maitrayaniya Upanishad was introduced, Bhagavad Gita gained prominence. This scripture combined and mythological tales that later made their way into a celebrated collection of tales, Mahabharata. Three methods of devotion were outlined in Bhagavad Gita: Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga (devotion).
Compiled around 400 CE by Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras introduced the eight-fold path to yoga practice, which is considered to be the classical yoga manual and the foundation of many of today's yoga practices, particularly Ashtanga Yoga. We will hear more about this eight-fold path in The Eight Limbs of Yoga (here), which include yama (self-restraint) niyama (self-purification by self-restraint and discipline), asana (seat or posture), pranayama (control of breath), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (one-pointed concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (total absorption).
Around the 4th century CE, Tantra Yoga emerged. This new form of yoga celebrated the physical body as a vehicle to enlightenment. The philosophy behind Tantra Yoga can be summarized by the idea of uniting all the dualities within a human body (e.g., male and female; good and evil), which gave Tantra a very sexual reputation. This is, however, a common misunderstanding, since Tantra practices extend far beyond sexuality.
Hatha Yoga was introduced in the 10th century CE. It combined the physicality and conscious intent of using bodily postures, or asana practice, and pranayama breath control for the goal of self-realization.
In 14th century CE, the Yoga Upanishads were introduced. One of these sacred texts, Tejo Bindu Upanishad, added seven more important parts of yoga practice on top of Patanjali's eight. They were as follows: mula bandha (root lock), balance, undisturbed vision, tyaga (abandonment), mauua (quiet), desha (space), and kala (time).
It was not until the 20th century that yoga gained any kind of popularity in Western Europe and North America. Swami Sivananda Saraswati was one of the first yogis to travel outside of India to spread the teachings of yoga to the West. He established yoga centers in North America at the time Swami Satchidananda also delivered an opening speech at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. However, T. Krishnamacharya is arguably the father of the yoga practice with which Westerners are familiar today. In the 1930s, he began teaching his students the Mysore vigorous sequences of yoga poses that emphasize strength and athletic ability. Students were only allowed to learn the next and more challenging pose after they had grasped the previous one. His three most prominent and influential students are Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar, and Indra Devi. Pattabhi Jois established Ashtanga yoga. It is one of the most popular types of yoga practiced in the West. Iyengar became successful by creating his own sequences of yoga poses, which were characterized by a focus on the alignment of the body and the use of various props. Indra Devi is considered the first famous yogini (female yoga master). Krishnamacharya also educated his son Desikachar in yoga. An engineer by training, Desikachar saw great value in studying yoga only when he was already a college graduate. Desikachar developed Vinyoga, which is a more therapeutic and less intense approach to physical practice, as compared to Ashtanga.
The 21st century presents us with an endless variety of yoga "styles" or "brands," such as Bikram Yoga, Power Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and countless more. It is important to be open-minded, try as many styles and approaches as possible, and figure out what gives you the best results in terms of achieving both your physical and spiritual goals. There is no wrong way to achieve self-realization. Just make sure you are mindful, patient, practical, and consistent in your practice.
A Note on the Naming of Poses:
One of the ways that the distance from yoga's roots expresses itself in Western culture is in the naming of the poses. "Seated forward bend," "eagle pose," and "dolphin pose," for example, are all imprecise translations of the original Sanskrit name. Garudasana, for example, is widely known as eagle pose, but traditionally this pose was named in dedication to Garuda, who is a Hindu deity, portrayed as half-man and half-eagle. He is the charioteer of Lord Vishnu, who is part of the Holy Trinity in Hinduism. Knowing this history adds a whole new dimension to our understanding of the significance, philosophical depth, and essence of the pose, and can in turn enrich our practice.
The poses throughout this book are identified by both their English and Sanskrit names. The English name is a direct translation of the Sanskrit, which sometimes differs from the more common Western name, also provided in the notes. For a literal translation of each part of the Sanskrit name, you may consult the glossary at the back of the book. The intention is to provide you with as much information about the name of the pose and its history as possible, so no matter what style of yoga you practice, you will have the most complete understanding of the names of the poses.
THE EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA
The Yoga Sutras, also known as The Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) of Raja (King) Yoga, was the first fully developed and recorded system of yoga. Created by Patanjali around 400 CE, this system influences much of the yoga that is practiced today. Although most of the sutras were originally focused on mindfulness, the yoga practiced in the West today seems to focus more on the body. Somewhere along the way, it seems, we began to practice the movement of yoga in isolation from its original philosophies.
For those interested in truly integrating the mindfulness of yoga with its movement, I recommend that you read The Eight Limbs of Yoga in its entirety and digest it very slowly. Take time to reflect on it piece by piece so you can implement it into both your practice and your daily life. Wisdom is in the doing. The following, however, is a useful summary of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, which will introduce you to the basic concepts of the philosophy. A deep understanding of yoga philosophy and history will greatly enhance the benefits of your practice and put you on the path to mindfulness and self-realization.
There is a wonderful lesson in Buddhism that applies here:
Once, a very old king went to see an old hermit who lived in a bird's nest in the top of a tree. He asked the hermit, "What is the most important Buddhist teaching?" The hermit answered, "Do no evil, do only good. Purify your heart." The king expected to hear a long and detailed explanation. He protested, "Even a five-year-old child can understand that!" "Yes," replied the wise sage, "but even an eighty-year-old man cannot do it."
Your biggest obstacle to self-realization is you. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, "The mind is restless and hard to control, but it can be trained by constant practice (abhyasa) and freedom from desire (vairagya). A man who cannot control his mind will find it difficult to attain this divine communion; but the self-controlled man can attain it if he tries hard and directs his energy by the right means."
Pantanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga will help you form the necessary groundwork to get on the right track, but you must decide to confront your problems at their roots. Reading and intellectualizing is not enough. If you want to reap the full benefits of the yoga experience, implement the Eight Limbs into every aspect of your life. You must live it, breathe it, and engage this planet and its inhabitants with the lessons below.
The first and second limbs, Yama and Niyama, form your foundation. Here, awareness and realization is established. Yama and Niyama lay the footing for everything to come. A serious student should be mindful of every limb, as each of these limbs need constant reflection. As you commit yourself to their study and practice, your depth of understanding for each limb will get deeper over time. In our world that perpetuates instant gratification, many people will take shortcuts and go straight to the yoga poses. Others will go straight to meditation and neglect physical health. I highly recommend starting with Pantanjali's first two limbs. Your practice will be at its deepest and most fulfilling if the first two limbs are practiced at a high level. If the first two limbs are not practiced at a proficient level, the rest of the limbs will be performed at a more superficial and less effective level.
FIRST LIMB Yama (Self-Restraint)
The focus of the first limb is on being an ethical and moral person, and on improving your relationship with the outer world. These values are as important today as they were centuries ago. The Yamas, as they are referred to, are not meant to be a moral straitjacket, but instead are meant to help develop a greater awareness of one's place in the world. It is not a coincidence that this is the first limb of the practice. When taking steps to transform our inner world, our outer world becomes a total reflection of this effort. There are five Yamas:
- Ahimsa: Non-violence
Replace harmful thoughts, speech, and actions with that of loving kindness toward yourself and others.
- Satya: Truth to be expressed in thought, word, and action
Be honest in your thoughts, words, and actions toward yourself and others.
- Asteya: Non-stealing and non-covetousness
Curb desires for things that are not your own. Share the beauty of your thoughts, speech, actions, and material belongings to uplift others instead of stealing and hoarding them for yourself.
- Brahmacharya: Abstinence from sexual intercourse when not married, practicing monogamy and not having sexual thoughts about another person who is not your spouse
It is believed that a life built on celibacy and spiritual studies done by free will increases energy and zest for life. Celibacy may sound like an unrealistic goal today, but it may help to remember that brahmacharya is also about monogamy. When brahmacharya is fully realized in marriage, the sex lives of both partners improve because the level of trust and devotion deepens their connection. It is important that the sexual activity is an expression based on the highest level of mutual respect, love, selflessness, and wisdom.
- Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness or non-greediness
Replace the habit of hoarding with sharing. Do not take without giving back. If you want something, work for it. This builds appreciation for what you have. This will help minimize the insatiable desire to constantly consume. An appetite that is not wisely disciplined leads to personal ill health, financial debt or poor credit, and destruction of the planet's natural resources. The Greek god Apollo's motto, "Nothing in excess. All things in moderation," is a great way to describe aparigraha.
SECOND LIMB Niyama (Self-Purification by Self-Restraint and Discipline)
The second limb helps refine your spiritual path. Discipline and self-restraint lead to a more orderly and productive life. From the perspective of ancient yoga texts, life is extremely short and we need to make the most of it while we can. This limb gives us guidance. There are five Niyamas:
- Shaucha: Purity of body and mind
When you develop shaucha (cleanliness), unwholesome thoughts that lead to foul speech and a sick body are cleared. Purity starts with your mind. Speech and action follow. So, the second limb directs you to make a habit of consuming both food and mental stimuli that support well-being for yourself and the environment (humanity and the planet). This will allow destructive habits (hatred, greed, and delusion) to dissolve.
- Santosha: Contentment with what one has
When you achieve santosha (contentment), bonds to the material world are broken and authentic peace and happiness are established within. A lack of contentment is often based on a distorted perception of what one has versus what others have. You advance on the path to self-realization when you can be content with your lot, whether you sit on a throne of dirt or gold.
- Tapas: Self-discipline, sometimes associated with austerity, and being able to conquer the body and mind through mental control
Tapas literally means "heat" or "glow." This refers to a burning desire to accomplish one's goal despite what obstacles may appear. The commitment to achieving a goal, no matter how challenging it becomes, builds character. However, note that the highest level of tapas is to complete one's goal without a selfish motivation. When tapas is attained, laziness is overcome and willpower is developed for future use.
- Svadhyaya: Self-study that leads to introspection and a greater awakening of the soul and the source of creation; traditionally studied through Vedic scriptures
Svadhyaya (self-study) leads to a greater awakening of your true potential, the root of one's place in this world and how to live in harmony with the Earth and all its inhabitants.
- Ishvara pranidhana: The surrender to God
When you accept that all things come from a higher power, pride and egocentric behavior are turned into humility and devotion. This strengthens your practice of all the limbs leading up to samadhi (the eighth limb).
Asana and Pranayama are the third and fourth limbs, and they relate to health and longevity, which allow us more time to achieve the ultimate goal of yoga, Self-Realization or Enlightenment. The third and fourth limbs are important, as they prepare the body for meditation, which will be the key to calming your mind and discovering your true potential.
THIRD LIMB Asana (Seat or Posture)
Here is a question: If Gandhi is one of the greatest yogis of our time, does that mean he can touch his toes or bring his foot behind his head? The answer is that it doesn't matter. Gandhi's ability to perform the asanas had very little to do with what he contributed to the world as a great yogi. The same applies to you. The practice of asanas is as much about training the mind as it is the body. How you approach your asana practice is often a reflection of how you approach life. Do you keep a sense of peace and calm when a challenge presents itself? Do you break down the impossible into smaller tasks, making the whole possible through commitment to and reflection on each of the parts? Do you overcome self-perceived limitations on your own or do you accept support from others?
Your practice of yoga poses should be characterized by two components: steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha). Concentrating on the sound of your breath (ujjayi, the most commonly practiced breathing technique in yoga, see here), can provide the steadiness. If you lose your breath, it is most likely because you are pushing too hard; ease off the pose and let the pose cater to the breath.
There is no such thing as a perfect pose; let the poses come like the steps of a dance. Just like in dance, when we focus too much on the mechanics, we let go of the ability to enjoy the music. While the mechanics of alignment are important to prevent injury, never forget the final goal. Feel the music of life flow through you as you do each pose and your body will learn the moves naturally. There are more than enough postures to keep you busy for the rest of your life, so allow yourself to let go of ambition and enjoy the journey. Incorporating a combination of forward bends, backbends, twists, and inversions in your yoga session is optimal for health.
Remember, too, that asanas help prepare the mind and body for meditation, relieving tension and protecting the body from disturbances by purifying the nervous system.
FOURTH LIMB Pranayama (Control of Breath)
The English word "spirit" comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning "breath."
The breath and the mind are interconnected. Deep, rhythmic, and fluid breathing will energize yet calm the mind and body. Rapid, irregular, and strained breathing produces a chaotic and disturbed mind. A calm mind will give you the mental space to make better decisions and a life in which you take control instead of feeling like a victim of circumstances.
Breathing properly is fundamental to our very existence. Your brain feeds on oxygenated blood, which is supplied with every inhalation. If you are unable to draw oxygen into your body, you will become brain dead after a few minutes. On the other hand, proper exhaling helps expel carbon dioxide. If your ability to exhale were impaired, you would most likely die due to the toxic buildup of carbon dioxide and poison. Stress tends to negatively affect breathing patterns, which contributes to a chain of effects that cause wear and tear on both your body's nervous and immune systems. In fact, 90 percent of illness is stress-related and, for this reason, attention to breathing properly is, indeed, a matter of life and death.
FIFTH LIMB Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal)
Our perception of reality is predominantly influenced by our sensory experience—what we see, feel, hear, touch, and taste. Pratyahara refers to the withdrawal of the senses from external objects and our modern-day need for constant gratification from sensory stimuli. Our minds are constantly being pulled outward to evaluate all the information the senses bring in. Evaluation involves categorizing what has been perceived; often, we hold on to what we believe is desirable, push away what we believe is undesirable, and ignore what we believe to be neutral. Pratyahara gives our minds a moment to rest and teaches us to be free of the grasping and clinging to the things we enjoy and avoiding the undesirable.
When you throw a pebble into a pond, your reflection becomes distorted by the resulting ripples. Your mind works in very much the same way: Every thought creates a ripple that distorts the ability to see your true self clearly. Constantly disrupted by these ripples, you begin to believe that the distorted reflection is who you really are. Practicing pratyahara calms the mind, allowing you to see yourself clearly.
SIXTH LIMB Dharana (One-Pointed Concentration)
Asanas, pranayamas, and pratyahara help prepare us for meditation.
When the mind moves from experiencing random scattered thoughts to single one-pointed concentration, it can then find complete absorption in the present moment. By practicing one-pointed concentration, we clear the mind of all distracting thoughts. This can be achieved by focusing on your breath, counting, reciting mantras, or observing a candle flame or an image. Because we are constantly entangled in reliving past memories or living in anticipation of what is to come, it is very seldom that we live in the present moment. It is even less common to be mindful of the present moment with a calm and focused mind. However, this is crucial when trying to achieve self-realization. The power is in the now!
SEVENTH LIMB Dhyana (Meditation)
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- Dec 1, 2015
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- Black Dog & Leventhal