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Ashtanga yoga: Sophisticated Path To Self-Discovery

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Practicing yoga for more than 7 years, I suddenly decided to try a new direction, which I previously stubbornly avoided due to its rigid nature. Yes, I’m talking about Ashtanga yoga. According to the philosophy of this school, yoga should not be adapted to the weakness and imperfection of the practitioner, but on the contrary, the practitioner should develop himself to meet the ideals of yoga.

Not that I enjoy penance or work at the limit of my possibilities. But it just seemed very attractive to me to achieve the results promised by this practice: the ideal body shape, flexibility and strength, peace of mind, and most importantly, the ability to control your attention, which I really miss sometimes.

So, hearing about the severity of the method, I decided to get the most detailed information. As an expert, I chose my yoga teacher and Scripture scholar. Perhaps what I was able to learn during our conversation will be useful to someone else for the successful start of the Ashtanga yoga practice.

What is Ashtanga yoga?

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Ashtanga yoga is a special practice formed in the course of Hatha yoga. If classical yoga gives priority to breathing exercises, development of flexibility and relaxation, then Ashtanga yoga forms the strength of spirit and body. To achieve the main goal, – Samadhi (full equilibrium, spiritual perfection), – one will need to pass eight difficult stages.

If you think that the practice of Ashtanga yoga does not require any serious effort, then you are wrong! Not everyone is able to go all the way. It requires not only physical endurance but also the willingness to abide by decent rules of life, to radically change your world.

Many people find it difficult to overcome the first stages of the Ashtanga yoga Path. But you can certainly be sure that having achieved success in Ashtanga yoga, physical and spiritual self-improvement, you will not be able to abandon this practice. After all, this is more than just a hobby. This is a very special lifestyle.

Ashtanga yoga is an eight-step path to the ultimate Goal – Samadhi (the highest spiritual perfection). Although the ultimate goal is to achieve spiritual harmony, Ashtanga yoga is very attentive to physical perfection, since the bodily shell and the mental spirit are inextricably connected.

This practice is great for those who have a strong body and mind, eager for achievements. People who want to take refuge in their own spiritual world from external problems often resort to the practice of Ashtanga yoga.

Eight stages (steps) of Ashtanga yoga

In Sanskrit, the word “Ashtanga” means “eight steps”.

Young man practicing yoga image

Each of the eight steps of Ashtanga yoga are not easy in their own way. The first two of them, perhaps, are the most important, because they teach human psycho-hygienic rules of life. If there is not enough desire and willpower to make them your way of life, moving on to the next stages is simply meaningless. In other words, if you realize that you are not ready to change yourself spiritually, you should understand that Ashtanga yoga is not for you.

It is very important to have a general understanding of the eight steps before you start practicing Ashtanga yoga. These steps are a guide to how to act in order to live a full, long, and happy life and approach spiritual perfection.

The first stage: YAMA

Yama is a set of ethical norms that teach us to communicate with others in the right way. To be brief, it means one thing: treat people the way you want them to treat you.

There are five Yamas:

  1. Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
  2. Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint.
  5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.

Second stage: NIYAMA

The step of forming the self-discipline and uplifting spirituality. This step involves regular visits to temples, meditative practices, a study of nature, thinking, and walks.

Five Niyamas are:

  1. Śaucha (शौच): purity, clearness of mind, speech, and body.
  2. Santosha (सन्तोष): contentment, acceptance of others, and of one’s circumstances as they are, optimism for self.
  3. Tapas (तपस): austerity, self-discipline, persistent meditation, perseverance.
  4. Svādhyāya (स्वाध्याय): a study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches, and actions.
  5. Īśvarapraṇidhāna (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality), attunement to the supreme consciousness.

Third stage: ASANA

yoga asana image

Asana means ‘posture’ or ‘pose’. So by saying ‘asanas’ we mean body poses. Yoga practitioners know that our physical bodies are temples for our souls. Body care is one of the most important stages on the path to spiritual growth and enlightenment. By performing certain asanas, a person learns concentration and self-discipline.

Fourth stage: PRANAYAMA

Pranayama is the ability to control your breath. It is a set and a system of special techniques that make it possible to establish a relationship between breath, mind, and emotions. Literally, pranayama translates as ‘extension of the prana’ or ‘breath control”. Pranayama practice allows you to rejuvenate the entire body and prolong your lifespan. We can practice pranayama as a separate type of yoga technique, or use it as a component of the complex of yoga practice.

Fifth stage: PRATYAHARA

‘Pratyahara’ means ‘gaining mastery over external influences’.

The purpose of this stage is to achieve a state of the distraction of the senses from the surrounding reality and the circulation of the gaze and consciousness inside of you. In other words, pratyahara is the ability to concentrate and not be distracted by various external stimuli. This step gives you the vision of the internal systems, understanding what can stop your personal and inner growth.

Sixth stage: DHARANA

Singing bowl yoga image

Dharana means ‘concentration’ or ‘single focus’. By concentrating and abstracting, we get distracted from external ‘noise’.  This is how we can calm down our minds, which distracts us from knowing more than we are able to understand. It helps us to see the limitless of our possibilities. At this stage, there is a skill to slow down the thought process by focusing on sound, image, energy, or body.

Seventh stage: DHYANA

Dhyana means ‘contemplation, reflection’ and ‘profound, abstract meditation’. This is the stage of the full development of the properties of meditation and concentration. Conscious inhibition of thought processes allows to calm the mind, to feel serenity, not to give rise to new thoughts. To reach this stage, you need endurance and strength. For achieving this, you have to put in a lot of effort and time.

Eighth stage: SAMADHI

Tantric meditation image

Samadhi is a state of intense concentration that can be achieved through meditation. This is a state of bliss and understanding. At this stage, you extend the boundaries of your Self. You start feeling the connection between the divine origin and all living things, unity with nature and the world.

Samadhi is the highest stage of meditation, in which a person experiences oneness with the universe. In samadhi, the mind becomes still. You become totally aware of the present moment.

The Bottom Line

According to the general opinion of the gurus of this type of yoga: no yoga should adapt to the limited opportunities and weaknesses of students, but on the contrary – a person must improve himself to achieve the ideals of yoga. Those who practice Ashtanga yoga, pass the path of spiritual and physical perfection, allowing to make a person healthy and happy.

I hope you’re as inspired to start the Ashtanga yoga class as I am! I’m wishing you a wonderful practice! Namaste!

Katya Ki is the Founder of SOLANCHA Magazine, a Metaphysical Expert, a Reiki Master, and Human Rights Attorney. She has been studying Eastern metaphysics, cosmology, and esotericism for almost 20 years now. And she's still discovering new knowledge, which is hidden in ancient teachings. During her pilgrimage to the monastery of Saint Catherine in Egypt, she discovered the SOLANCHA System. This is how the SOLANCHA journey started!

Yoga

Jnana Mudra: a Powerful Technique For Activating Your Crown Chakra

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Jnana mudra is one of the most widely used mudras in meditation practices, in Buddhism, yoga, and even in the martial arts of the East. The Buddha’s hand performing the Jnana mudra at the heart level is a symbol of openness to the whole universe. Being a gesture of openness to new things, this mudra also symbolizes the true knowledge of existence.

In this article, we will share with you what Jnana mudra is, what its benefits are, and how to practice it.

What Is Mudra?

Mudra‘ can be translated as ‘gesture’. Hence mudras are symbolic gestures practiced with the hands and fingers.

Connecting the fingers in certain combinations, we can activate the meridians and direct energy throughout the body. Different positions of the fingers have the ability to close or clear the energy channels. In addition, performing this or that mudra, we affect the biologically active points of the palms and fingers.

Mudras help us to correct the direction of energy in the body, to control prana, and to improve the psycho-emotional state. Also, with their help, we can eliminate problems in the body and in the mind by pressing on particular acupuncture points.

What Is Jnana Mudra?

Jnana Mudra Practice Image

Jnana mudra is a yogic hand gesture that represents wisdom and knowledge. In Sanskrit, jnana means “wisdom” or “knowledge” and mudra means “gesture.” It is a hasta mudra, which means it is performed using the hands.

Connecting the fingers in certain combinations, we can activate the energy meridians and direct energy throughout the body, restore the flow of energy and eliminate “breakdowns” in diseased organs thus improve our health.

Different positions of the fingers have the ability to close or clear the energy channels. In addition, performing mudras, we affect the biologically active points of the palms and fingers.

When practicing Jnana mudra, we connect the thumb and index finger. The thumb symbolizes Brahman, or universal consciousness, whereas the index finger symbolizes Jivatma or the individual self. Therefore, the connection of the thumb and index finger represents the union of the supreme and inner realities. And the three extended fingers represent the three gunas that must be overcome: sattva (middle finger), rajas (ring finger), and tamas (little finger).

Each of the fingers has symbolic significance:

The index finger is associated with knowledge, wisdom, and self-confidence. It is connected to our life force.

The thumb is responsible for our ego, will, and logic. Also, this finger is associated with wisdom, mind, and awareness.

Also, it is important to know that each finger is associated with one of the 5 elements. Thumb represents the Fire element (Agni). The index finger is associated with the energy of the Air element (Vayu). Thus, Jnana mudra can be used to balance the elements of Fire and Air within the body. When we reach the balance between the Fire and Air elements within our bodies, we are able to still our mind, concentrate, and practice deep meditation.

Fingers Corresponding to the 5 Elements image

Also, the connection of the index finger and thumb allows prana to circulate freely inward, rather than dissipating outwards. By directing prana inward, we can sit in meditation for longer periods of time.

Jnana Mudra Benefits

On the subtle plane, the practice of Jnana mudra activates the Crown chakra (Sahasrara), whereas on the physical plan it helps you to harmonize biological rhythm, normalize blood pressure; eliminates anxiety and anxiety. Moreover, the regular practice of this mudra provides the following benefits:

  • helps to cope with depression and fatigue;
  • improves memory;
  • stimulates mental function;
  • helps to relieve insomnia;
  • boosts creativity;
  • develops intuition;
  • restores peace of mind;
  • enhances the connection with the Higher self;
  • lifts dull energy;
  • brightens mood.

How to Perform?

Although this mudra can be practiced in any yoga asana, it is most commonly used in a stable seated position such as easy pose or lotus pose. In Kundalini Yoga, this mudra is usually practiced with the hands resting on the knees and the elbows straight.

what is jnana mudra image
To practice Jnana mudra, follow these simple steps:
  1. Tuck your index finger under the tip of the thumb to form a circle.
  2. Extend the remaining three fingers.
  3. Rest the back of the hands on the thighs or knees, with palms facing upward.

Another variation of this mudra is to touch the tip of the index finger and thumb together, thereby forming a full circle.

When practicing this mudra, make sure your body is alert but relaxed, with little to no strain in the arms or extended fingers.

For maximum benefits, practice this mudra during your meditations for at least 15 minutes, 2-3 times per day.

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Yoga

Shanmukhi Mudra: a Simple Stress Relief Technique

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Shanmukhi Mudra is a simple and effective way to calm your mind, relieve stress, and restore your nervous system.

With regular practice of this beautiful mudra, it is possible even to improve vision and hearing. It also promotes the development of internal concentration and the ability to detach from external stimuli and objects of the surrounding world.

In this article, we will share with you what Shanmukhi mudra is, what its benefits are, and how to properly practice it.

What Is Mudra?

Mudra‘ can be translated as ‘gesture’. Hence mudras are symbolic gestures practiced with the hands and fingers.

Connecting the fingers in certain combinations, we can activate the meridians and direct energy throughout the body. Different positions of the fingers have the ability to close or clear the energy channels. In addition, performing this or that mudra, we affect the biologically active points of the palms and fingers.

Mudras help us to correct the direction of energy in the body, to control prana, and to improve the psycho-emotional state. Also, with their help, we can eliminate problems in the body and in the mind by pressing on particular acupuncture points.

What Is Shanmukhi Mudra?

Shanmukhi mudra is a yogic hand gesture that represents closing the six gates of perception – the two eyes, two ears, nose, and mouth. In Sanskrit, Shan means “six”; Mukhi means “face” or “gate”; and mudra, means “gesture”. Thus, Shanmukhi mudra means the ‘six-gated mudra’.

The purpose of the Shanmukhi Mudra is to symbolically shut the mind from the five senses so the mind can maintain an inward focus and get ready for meditation.

The Shanmukhi mudra practice helps the practitioner look within himself to find the very source of his being.

When all the senses turn inward and the breathing becomes harmonious, the mind calms down. As a result, you feel inner peace and now you are able to hear the voice of the Divine Self within you.

The Shanmukhi mudra practice helps you to free yourself from the domination of the senses and find the strength to take your desires, instincts, and emotions under control.

Shanmukhi Mudra Benefits

There are lots of amazing benefits the practice of Shanmukhi mudra can provide. Here are some of them:

  • Balances internal and external awareness;
  • Enhances focus and introspection;
  • Calms the mind and nervous system;
  • Clears energy blocks, giving room for easy flow of prana;
  • Relaxes and rejuvenates the eyes and facial muscles;
  • Creates a state of pratyahara;
  • Ensures the smooth functioning of the facial nerves;
  • Reduces anxiety;
  • Helps to deepen the meditation practice;
  • Alleviates vertigo problems and brings a calming effect to the head;
  • Helps to remove negative thoughts and worries;
  • Promotes clear thinking;
  • Helps Kundalini awakening.

For maximum benefit, this mudra should be accompanied by pranayama or bandhas (energetic locks). Shanmukhi mudra is commonly practiced with brahmari pranayama, also known as Humming Bee Breath. In this pranayama, the mudra enables the practitioner to focus on the inner vibration created by the humming breath.

How to Perform?

Shanmukhi mudra is usually performed in a stable, seated meditation posture such as padmasana (Lotus Pose) or sukhasana (Easy Pose).

To practice Shanmukhi mudra, follow these simple steps:

  1. Sit in the Lotus Pose or Easy Pose. Straighten the spine and align the position of the head.
  2. Bring your palms up to your face. Raise your elbows to shoulder level and place your thumbs in the ear canal, muffling external sounds.
    If you feel pain, place your fingers on the tragus of the auricle (small protrusions at the base of the auricle) and press them against the ear canal.
  3. Close your eyelids and rise your eyeballs up. Place your index and middle fingers on your eyelids so that the first two phalanges completely cover the eyeball area. Do not press on the cornea. Use your middle fingers to point your eyelids down, and use your index fingers to lift the upper parts of your eyelids up. Gently press on the outer and inner corners of the eyes.
  4. The pressure on the ears and eyes should be equal.
  5. Use your ring fingers to apply pressure evenly to your right and left nostrils. This will narrow the nasal passages, which will promote slow, deep, even, rhythmic, subtle breathing.

Practice the mudra for five to ten minutes.

The Bottom Line

As a result of turning all the senses inwards and concentrating on deep and slow breathing, the mind becomes calm. When performing this mudra, it’s common to experience:

  • a distinct sound in the ears;
  • the appearance of flashes of light and various images on the internal “screen”;
  • vibrations, thrusts, tingling, heat, or other sensations inside the body.

All these feelings are quite normal.

 

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Spirituality

Exploring Saucha: The Purity Of Mind, Speech, and Body

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Saucha is the first Niyama of yoga, mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It can be translated as ‘purity’, ‘cleanliness’, and ‘clearness’. Saucha focuses on the purity of mind, speech, and body.

In this article, I will share with you how you can keep your mind, speech, and body pure, and how you can apply this Niyama to your daily life.

Saucha on Physical Level

When we talk about cleanliness at the body level, we mean not only the physical body but also everything that surrounds us physically: clothing, premises, personal belongings, work desk, etc.

The matter is to a certain extent a reflection of our inner state. For example, people who are not able to get rid of old things tend to live in the past.

If you look closely at the living space of any person, you can quite accurately determine what he is interested in, what his preferences are, what he lives by.

It often happens that a person’s worldview has changed but the external component – the house he lives in – still has the style, interior design objects, etc. that has a strong reflection of his old views. This contradiction of the internal and external can slow down his personal evolution and spiritual development. Therefore, it is important to monitor the correspondence of the external to the internal.

This can also happen in a reverse way. If you start changing the external component in correspondence to your future goal, your internal world will adjust to it. This is one of the main benefits of Feng Shui and Vastu – to help us create harmony and peace through external space.

Therefore, it’s good to start Saucha practice by decluttering, cleaning, and organizing your house. The cleanliness of your home will help you to develop the purity of your body and mind.

Purity of the Physical Body

detox woman image

According to Bhagavad Gita (Book 17), the purity of the body comes from the cleanliness of the body as well as from what one eats and drinks. 

Thus, the purity of the physical body includes not only external purity but also the purity of internal organs and tissues. The yogic texts pay a lot of attention to this aspect. In order to get acquainted with this topic in more detail, we need to refer to the Shatkarmas.

The Shatkarmas are a set of Hatha yoga purification techniques that are used for the preparation of the physical body for the main work of yoga towards moksha. These practices, outlined by Svatmarama in the Haṭha Yoga Pradipiks as kriya, are:

  • Neti – a nasal wash;
  • Dhauti – the cleansing of the whole digestive tract;
  • Nauli –  a self-administered abdominal massage, using only the muscles of the abdominal wall;
  • Basti – colonic irrigation;
  • Kapalabhati – also called the breath of fire – is a steady repetition of forceful exhalations followed by slightly slower inhalations.
  • Trataka – gazing at a fixed point such as a black spot or a candle flame.[.

In addition, asanas and pranayamas are also excellent tools in keeping the body clean. And, of course, the food should be healthy and sattvic.

Saucha on Speech Level

Satya Yama Image

According to Bhagavad Gita, purity of speech comes from being truthful and through the use of words that are not injurious, hurtful, or distressing to others or self. 

The purity of speech also includes the absence of profanity, abstinence from meaningless words, having a pleasant intonation, and the absence of excessive emotionality.

Pure speech is calm, full of meaning, pleasant, and understandable to anyone.

Oddly enough, but the practice of long silence (one day or more) is actually a very good tool for improving your speech. It’s due to the fact that when we are silent for a long time, we see that most situations do not require our comments, much is clear without words. Reading spiritual books and sacred texts aloud also contributes to the purification of speech.

Also, it’s very important to learn to recognize the cascade of negative emotions that prompt you to twist reality. Once you have understood and processed those emotions, your thoughts, speech, and actions can be realigned with the truth and inner wisdom. Outwardly, refrain from telling lies and speak with kindness, compassion, and clarity.

There is a beautiful Sufi saying:

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true?
At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?
At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?”

Saucha on Mind Level

mindful meditation image

According to Bhagavad Gita (Book 17), purity of thoughts comes from reflection, peace of mind, silence, calmness, gentleness, and purity of being.

Through the practice of mental purity, one attains the ability to be cheerful, to be one-pointed, to control the senses, and to see the self. Hence, it is clear that mental purity means refraining from negative, low-vibrational thoughts associated with toxic emotions such as anger, lust, condemnation, greed, etc. In addition, mental purity includes mindfulness.

You may well be familiar with the phrase ‘where attention goes, energy flows’, and this is one of the keys to unlocking the sometimes seemingly big door that stands between us and realization.

Thus, to practice mental purity, we need to occupy our own mind before it is diverted in an undesirable direction. Mantras are a great tool for this purpose. By focusing on the mantra, you’re directing your mind towards the Divine. No matter what kind of negativity is around, you can repeat the mantra to yourself in any place and at any time. Also, meditation with concentration is an excellent way to become more mindful.

Asana, Mantra, Mudra

Each Niyama has asana, mudra, and mantra that help you to accept and practice a niyama more effectively. Try practicing this asana, mudra, or mantra while thinking about Saucha.

saucha niyama image

Asana

The asana associated with Saucha is Legs Up the Wall or Viparita Karani:

  1. Sit on the floor and wiggle your seat as close as possible to the base of the wall.
  2. From there lie on your back and swing your legs up onto the wall with your feet toward the ceiling. The knees should be soft with zero tension in your hamstrings. 
  3. Your legs will align directly above your hips. Your legs should feel weightless, your back relaxed, and maintaining the natural curves of the spine.

Stay here for 5-8 breaths or as long as necessary to relax, restore and cleanse the mind from distracting thoughts and toxic emotions.

This asana facilitates the drainage of the lymphatic system and helps purify the body while boosting your immune system.

Mantra

The mantra associated with Saucha is Om Aim Hridayam Namaha.

Chant this beautiful mantra 108 times to focus on bringing awareness to, and then building heat to burn through, whatever blocks you from recognizing your true, unchanging, authentic, whole, Self.

Mudra

The mudra associated with Saucha is Tattva mudra

To perform this mudra, spin your palms open toward the ceiling and place your thumbs against your palms resting your thumb pads on the knuckle pad of your ring finger. Let your four fingers rest softly together.

This mudra symbolizes the true nature of our Self and helps us to realize that our authentic essence is unchanging, that we are, in our fundamental selves, pure and whole. 

The Bottom Line

It is through purification that a person is transformed, both on the gross and subtle levels. Saucha practice makes the aura lighter and brighter. When your energy body starts vibrating on a higher level, the world around you starts vibrating in resonance with you.

Following Saucha, makes it easier to follow the rest of the vows, accelerates progress on the yoga path, and generally has a positive effect on the life of not only the practitioner himself but also his environment.

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