If you are new to Yoga Hertford you probably have a lot of questions like; what is yoga? Or what are the different types of Yoga? These types of open questions are a useful device because it means we keep an open mind as we practice, that’s super important.
But one of the least frequently asked questions is around the development of ones practice and the differences between beginners and advanced practitioners. Perhaps this is because most people assume that advanced Yogis are those that do the most contorted, twisted poses. This post will seek to answer some of the most commonly asked questions as well as put to bed a coupe of myths around what is advanced Yoga.
What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga is a type of Asana (postural) Yoga where practitioners hold static postures as to oppose flowing from one posture into an other. The name comes from Sanskrit meaning Sun and Moon, this is an extended metaphor for the balancing of opposing energies such as up and down, inhale and exhale or movement and stillness.
Hatha Yoga originated in India, around five thousand years ago however, the earliest historical reference to Hatha Yoga that that I know of is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika which was written in the fifteenth century.
More about the stylistic nuances of Hatha Yoga
All Asana based /postural Yoga focuses on slowing the momentum of a restless mind through awareness of breath, Hatha Yoga is no different. One of the differences of Hatha Yoga from the other types of Yoga is a continual interplay between activity and pause. Typically; a posture will be arrived at by going through a step by step process that seeks to heighten our body awareness, once we arrive at the posture it is held and the gaze turned inward.
Once we are ready to come out of the posture we will return to a position of relaxation. Examples of this are Tadasana, Balasana or Shivasana.
How long should a pose be held for?
That depends on several major factors. When we are starting out an Asana can be held for 3 to 5 breaths. The primary concern is to engage with the breath and to use the breath to relax and thereby deepen our sense of immersion into a pose. By monitoring and following the breath, especially the pauses between inhale and exhale; our senses begin to undergo a development of sensitivity.
As we sharpen our faculties through dedicated practice we incrementally reach a point where we become keenly aware of our musculature and we notice the importance of where our eyes land. One may become aware of a relationship between where we look and what our mind becomes interested in. Simultaneously we begin to realise that there is an inward path upon which we can turn our senses. In Yoga this is called Dhristi – put simply it means ‘gaze.’
We may notice that whist we are looking outwards we are also looking inward at ourselves. As our practice develops greater emphasis can be placed on where internally we choose to focus. This is the point at which Yoga and the mystic meet. The self held in non-judgemental awareness.
What other differences are there between beginners and more advanced practitioners?
The obvious answer might be that more advanced practitioners will attempt more challenging postures. This may well be true as we grow more confident in our bodies and we get stronger. It is natural for someone to want to explore where their body can go.
In my view a more experienced Yogi will not always change their Asana practice outwardly.
The first step will be a change in their breath. The breath will become slower and deeper, there will be more consistency when active and passive. It will also take a certain tonal quality. This type of breathing will make a sound, like waves of the sea, or some describe it as ‘Darth Vader breath’ – this is Ujjayi breathing.
Another internal signal of a more advanced practice is the use of internal muscles, or clenches these are called Bandhas. There are 3 main Bandhas.
The first is the Perineum, Mula Band, here we draw up the pelvic floor. The send is Uddiyana Band, this is situated in the lower abdominal region, between the pubic bone and the navel. Here we draw inward on an exhale. The third bandha is in the throat and is called into action by drawing the chin toward the clavicle at the base of the throat. This is Jalandhara Bhand.
If this post has whetted your appetite to try yoga or to explore how you can deepen your practice then why not drop into one of my Wednesday or Friday evening Yoga classes in Hertford.
By Sunil Kalsi