Bandha what?

bandhas

An important component of yoga, the bandhas are primarily meant to serve our yogic practice. They are often misunderstood and so have a certain sense of mystery floating around then, when actually it’s all pretty straightforward, once you know the basics. I’ll try to unpack these guys here a little bit in an attempt to make them more accessible and to take your practice to the next level.

If you have been coming to my and Victoria’s yoga classes, you have probably been using them perhaps without realizing it, as we often cue them in class to guide our students into better alignment and help prevent injuries. Indeed, the physical practice of the bandhas utilizes co-activation of muscles and physical movements that ensure better alignment in postures and protect us from strain and injury.

More importantly, the bandhas, also known as energy locks, serve as valves that control energy, irrigate the channels of energy, and activate, replenish and balance the flow of prana throughout the body. While practicing, we observe energetic patterns beyond our physical form in the energy body.

So how does it work?

When you activate a bandha, the energy flow in a specific part of the body is blocked. When the bandha is released, this allows the energy to flow powerfully through the body and increases pressure. Asana creates bandha and bandha serves the breath and the breath is the vehicle for prana.

There are three classic bandhas: mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha. They can be practiced together or individually during kriya, asana, pranayama, mudra, visualization, and meditation. When practiced together they are called tri-bandha, maha bandha or the fabulously named “Great Lock” (Maha in Sanskrit means ‘great’ or ‘supreme’ and Bandha means a lock – this term is the one used in the yogic texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita and the Siva Samhita). 

The question came up on our recent retreat as to why one would isolate the bandhas – a great question which I’m not sure I know the official answer to, but my understanding is that you would initially just use one or the other of the classic locks, and only at the point that you have mastered it/them would you move on to using all three at once. Does that help? Does anyone have a better answer or explanation?

So, the next time you hear the word bandha bandied about in a yoga class, you will know that it’s an instruction to focus on your internal energy and on harnessing this energy within the body. Start practicing slowly, please ask as many questions as you may have, and please let me know how you find it benefits your practice.

For a detailed breakdown of the three classic locks, you may wish to check out this lovely clear explanation of each.

Source: http://www.intuitiveflow.com

Image: Brenda Medina, http://www.brendayoga.tumblr.com

 

Using Yoga To Get You Through The Festive Season

Arniston arniston3 arniston2I wouldn’t say I’m a Grinch but I’m certainly not one of those people who whole-heartedly embraces Christmas and the whole festive season and feels sad and deflated when it’s over. On the contrary, I have to work hard with myself to stop getting stressed at how much waste the whole season involves –  waste of money, waste of energy, waste of paper and food… and I admit to breathing a long sigh of relief once the 25th is over and everyone and everything seems to start settling down.

I appreciate that the holiday season can be joyful, a time to share what we have with family and friends. However, there’s no doubt that it can also be a stressful time if we allow hectic schedules and commercial pressures to drive us. Which is why this year I persuaded my husband that our family needed to spend 2 weeks at the beach. I found a beautiful house in Arniston and after just a few days we have already settled into a gloriously easy rhythm of breakfast, beach, snooze, pool, more beach, braaing, reading, playing, and of course my precious yoga practice. The main bedroom happens to be huge with a deck overlooking Kassiesbaai and I have practiced under the rising full moon as well as the rising sun. And I have found that my practice has never felt sweeter. I’m sure it’s a combination of the sea air, the turquoise water, the easy routine and especially the fact that there is no shopping mall in sight and certainly no queues, no piped carols being played over a sound system in a mall, no gaudy decorations and no pressure to buy or acquire anything other than the odd piece of snoek or new set of beach bats once the old ones gave up the ghost after a particularly competitive volley between the husband and I (yes, I’m still working on losing my competitive streak).

It’s not all peachy. My in-laws are out visiting from Northern Ireland for 6 weeks. 6 WEEKS. Which is one of the main reasons I begged my husband for us to go away – I love them dearly and am very lucky to have them, but I am a fiercely private person who needs her own space and I figured that if we were in a neutral environment where I wasn’t having to be hostess the entire time, I would also be able to have a bit of a break and have a better chance of remaining marginally pleasant for a longer period of time. Well, that remains to be seen, but at least I’m getting a tan while I’m losing my ability to make small talk.

I’ve been pondering a lot what this time of year means to me. Whilst I consider myself a deeply spiritual person, I am not religious and don’t believe in Jesus Christ which is why I suppose I don’t feel a deep resonance with the whole ‘birth of Christ’ side of things. Sometimes I actually feel like a bit of a fraud that I’m piggy-backing on the Christmas theme even though I haven’t been to church in pretty-much all my life, other than funerals, christenings and weddings. I do, however, feel a huge amount of empathy for my fellow man at this time of year, especially because a number of my nearest and dearest have lost very special loved ones recently and it seems that a lot of folk are battling their own demons at the moment. It’s well documented that depression is one of the most commonly reported and treated illnesses at this time of the year, with people acutely aware of the sense of loneliness and alienation that can be felt when you think that everyone else is having a big family fun time.

I find that at this time of year I really do need to protect my yoga practice. The commercial pressure, holiday shopping, family visits, the logistics of planning and traveling, managing food and alcohol consumption, getting enough exercise and down-time whilst remaining a good mum, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend, employee at the same time… it can all get a bit much. And then I get onto my mat and start to breathe and then start moving through (typically) a slow, sweet and gentle practice, and everything falls into perspective again. As corny as it sounds, it’s true!

So I find that the holiday season is a golden opportunity to practice yoga outside of the classroom, actually applying all the skills we have been honing over the year. As Dr. Swami Shankardev says, managing the holiday season is like the exam, the real test of how much we have learned and embodied over the year.

How do we maintain a calm centre in the storm of the holidays?  The first thing to do is to dedicate some quiet time for contemplation and meditation. Just sit still wherever you are, breathing quietly to practice any calming, grounding process. Once you have settled in, why not contemplate what a particular holiday means to you, maybe asking yourself what you really want to get out of this period, and what will best support you and others.As you develop a sense of that meaning, perhaps focus on disentangling commercial pressures from the essence of the holidays. This may be able to help you plan strategies that will make this period meaningful and fulfilling.

It sounds paradoxical but stress can be the biggest issue for a lot of people during the holidays. Stresses come in many forms and it can be helpful to contemplate what yours is likely to be. For me, it’s the fact that there is always someone is my house, in my kitchen, in my garden, just in my space. The fact that there is a lot of chit-chat and I am not very good at that. I need to dig deep to remain calm, adult and hospitable when the revolting teenager in me is jumping up and down and shouting ‘JUST GIVE ME SOME &***%% SPACE!!!!’

During my early morning meditation, I find it helpful to playfully visualize what may lie ahead on any given day. I have also looked back at past holidays and considered what I’d like to do differently – which is why we are having Christmas at the beach this year. To give myself the best possible chance of remaining calm, focused, grounded and friendly, I actually have to contemplate strategies that I can actually apply outside of the practice space. This meditation, then, is mental rehearsal for the actual event. So far, so good.

I have to continuously remind myself that yoga is more than technique; it is a way of being. Breath is the best tool we have to remain conscious and calm; any time is a good time to practice moving and breathing more slowly and consciously. It’s my way of keeping that sulky teenager that lurks within me under control, especially when my children are bickering about who’s got the biggest glass of milk or whose turn it is to pull the plug out of the bath. I’ve taught them to breathe deeply too when they get overwhelmed, so if ever there’s a stressful moment in our house, you’re likely to find me (40), Isla (3) and Daniel (5) all lying on the ground and taking deep, slow breaths as we calm each other and ourselves down. It works, even though it looks funny and my in-laws think I’m a hippy-freak.

If you do plan to keep your practice up whilst you’re away from your usual studio, it’s probably worthwhile being realistic about what’s actually going to be achievable in terms of getting on your mat. When we first got to the coast, I had planned to be up at 6am every morning for 45 minutes asana practice and at least 15 minutes meditation. As it turned out, the first day my kids woke up at 5.30am (at home I have to drag them out of bed at 7.30am or even 8am – but here the excitement was too much) so there went my practice. The second day I just felt too pooped to get out of bed and instead had a glorious lie-in as the sun rose gently over the sea. The third day I got on my mat at 7am and all I did was balasana and halasana, and breathed and let go and allowed myself to just relax. Yes, I did fit in my practice later in the day but it was so lovely to just let go of any plan or goal and to rather do what I always encourage my students to do: listen to your body and your mind, and tune into what you really need from your practice. This morning my practice took place in the comfort of my bed, and it consisted of legs up in the air, the full yogic breath, and then supta baddha konasana as I drifted off to sleep again. Perfect.

I find that my real and ongoing challenge is keeping yoga in my life and mind when I’m off the mat: practicing empathy, non-judgement, equanimity, forgiveness, losing my ego, letting go of any semblance of control and surrendering to what is, without losing the essence of who I am. I also find it helpful to remember that asana, pranayama and meditation practices are not ends in themselves, but means to an end. That end is to develop a greater inner resilience and a more stable mind that can handle the difficulties of life with greater calm and poise.

Even if you don’t practice at all over the next few weeks before our Stellenbosch yoga studio re-opens, don’t feel guilty! Take some time out, do something totally different, have a break! And then when you come back to your yoga practice I’m sure you’ll get back into formal practice with renewed enthusiasm and a clearer direction of what you need to work toward in the New Year.

Higher Yoga (with thanks to Dr. Swami Shankardev)
If you wish to practice some form of higher yoga to nourish your spirit during the holiday season, you may wish to focus on how you can support others less fortunate than yourself. It is an excellent time to practice selfless service and giving. It is a time when we can learn from and support others, especially those going through difficult times.

Here are a few tips for practicing higher yoga so that you can fill your life with peace and joy:

1. Honour yourself, your relations, and the planet by choosing a noble and virtuous intention for the New Year. Practice ahimsa, a yama of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga, which means nonviolence toward yourself and others.

2. Follow your own heart. Learn to listen to yourself, your own higher intuitive inner voice, through meditation practice.

3. Practice contentment (samtosha), which is one of the niyamas of Patanjali. Contemplate just how much you already have and what you really need. Is there some

thing that you think you need in your life to make you happy, and/or do you already have plenty? Cultivate gratitude for all the things you have.

4. Before you indulge, bring consciousness into the moment. For example, before eating, be aware of what you are going to eat and perhaps say a simple prayer or thanks. Prepare to really enjoy what you are about to eat, to take it deep into your tissues so as to fully nourish yourself.

5. Be flexible in body, mind, and spirit. Learn not be constrained by plans but to go more with the flow. There is an old Indian saying: “Man proposes; God disposes.”

With great thanks to Dr. Swami Shankardev for the backbone of this post. Dr. Swami is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, for ten years in India (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world. Contact him at www.bigshakti.com.

Trying to conceive? Already pregnant? Give yourself and your unborn baby the gift of prenatal yoga.

If you are reading this, the chances are good that you are either pregnant (congratulations!), or hoping to be soon. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, starting it when you are pregnant can be one of the best things you could do for yourself and for your baby. When paired with a cardiovascular exercise such as walking, yoga can be an ideal way to stay in shape during your pregnancy. This age-old practice keeps you supple, tones your muscles and improves your balance and circulation, with little, if any, impact on your joints.

Another reason that yoga is beneficial is because it helps you learn to breathe deeply and relax, which will come in handy as you face the physical demands of labour, birth, and motherhood. In fact, one of the first things I will teach you in a pregnancy yoga class at my Stellenbosch yoga studio is how to breathe fully.

Different breathing techniques (pranayama) can help to prime you for labour and childbirth by training you to stay calm when you need it most. When you’re in pain or afraid, your body produces adrenalin and may produce less oxytocin, a hormone that makes labour progress. A regular yoga practice will help you fight the urge to tighten up when you feel pain, and show you how to relax instead.

Medical experts at the Mayo Clinic have even touted prenatal yoga as “a multifaceted approach to exercise that encourages stretching, mental centering and focused breathing.” Along these same lines, according to a report in the April 2009 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, rigorous studies have found scientific proof that yoga helps the body deal with stress by slowing heart and breathing rates and lowering blood pressure –  which can benefit new mums after the baby’s born, too.

The benefits of yoga aren’t limited to your physical well-being. Taking a prenatal yoga class is a great way to meet other pregnant women — to become part of a community of like-minded people who are going through a similar experience. Being in a positive, supportive environment with others like you can give you a regular emotional boost and keep you motivated to continue exercising.

Whether you have been practicing yoga for a while or are a beginner, it is extremely important to seek out a yoga instructor who is specifically trained in prenatal yoga, someone who knows what asana are safe and what to avoid, and how to advise you to modify your practice according to your own pregnancy.  As far as I know, I am the only yoga teacher in Stellenbosch who is qualified to teach pregnancy yoga, having completed my advanced PTT module at Ananda Sanga in 2011.

I kept going with my regular yoga practice with both of my pregnancies but only once I had done a one-on-one prenatal yoga class with Anne Combrinck at Ananda Sanga  where she taught me how to adapt my practice to pregnancy. For those who have never done yoga before, I strongly advise that you attend the prenatal classes that I offer at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch (once you are past 12 weeks), but for those of you that already have a strong practice, you are also welcome to join the regular classes, but be prepared to adapt and modify when we are doing twists, belly work etc. I also offer one-on-one classes  just to show you the basics of how to do this, if that’s what you’d prefer.

“Nicci completed her Yoga Teacher training with distinction, in 2011. She has subsequently gone on to complete a Pregnancy Yoga Teacher training also and is a confident, competent and wonderful Yoga Teacher. ” Anne Combrinck – Principal Educator at Ananda Sanga.

Please contact me for more information and / or class times.

For more information about why prenatal yoga can be so beneficial, read on…

Five excellent reasons to do pregnancy yoga at my yoga studio in Stellenbosch! (Source: Amy Lynch, MindBodyGreen.com).

Looking specifically at a pregnant woman’s body, yoga can specifically work the areas with the most need in a class geared toward pregnant women. Below are some of the most important pains, areas of interest and common pregnancy issues yoga can safely and gently alleviate and improve.

1. The Breath: Breathing is not something we often think about throughout the day. It is a mechanical function of the body. We never really have to remind ourselves to breathe, but we should, especially to prepare our body for the process of labour. Breathing is a very important part of delivering a baby, it helps to relax the body and take your mind from the pain and strain.

2. The Pelvic Floor: The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles that form a bowl attached to the pelvis. This muscle supports the vital reproductive and digestion organs, as well as the baby during pregnancy and plays a vital role in sexual intercourse for both men and women.

During pregnancy it is especially important to exercise your pelvic floor muscle as it has to support a greatly increased load at this time. Although pregnancy is not the only factor for a weakened pelvic floor, aging and inactivity can play a role; it can weaken from pregnancy and childbirth. Although not the cause, a weak pelvic floor can be the start of some health problems. That is why it is very important to work with these muscles, especially after childbirth. Like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor can be re-strengthened. The symptoms of a weakened pelvic floor include urinary or stool incontinence, constipation or incomplete bowel or bladder emptying, diminished sexual satisfaction, painful intercourse, inability to reach orgasm, sagging or prolapse of the uterus, bladder, or rectum, and low back or lower abdominal pain.

A strong pelvic floor muscle can enable a woman to carry a baby more comfortably during pregnancy and will help both the mother and baby during labour and delivery. Stimulating blood flow in the pelvic area after childbirth quickens recovery from any stitches or episiotomy. Women who have had Caesareans also need to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles as it is the gravitational pressure of pregnancy that weakens the muscles, not the physical event of birth.

3. The Posture: As the babies and bellies grow and change, so does the centre of gravity. One of the things that allow humans to walk upright is the balance between the lower back muscles and our four abdominal muscles. However, when our abdominals are weak, this can cause our lower back muscles to over compensate and over work, causing pain and strain in the lumbar area. When the belly moves more forward with growth, this stretches the abdominals beyond their original shape, weakening them and this causing lower back pain during pregnancy when none may have ever been experienced before, especially in the third trimester. Although pregnancy is not the time to do major core work, it is recommended to gently work all four abdominals to keep them a little strong. After your baby is born, it is common for women to find some separation has occurred between the right and left side of the abdominals, exercises that bring the belly toward the spine can help bring the abs back to pre-pregnancy shape.

Yoga can also help alleviate the pressure the lower back is under during the shift in gravity. By stretching the upper leg muscles and the lower back, tension will start to release. Partnered with the smart abdominal work, your body will feel less pain as it goes through the journey of pregnancy.

4. The Feet: Surprising to most, the foot actually has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. And although our feet get us around the entire day, we rarely take the time to take care of them, or check how we are using them, especially as that centre of gravity moves over the nine months.

With the shift of the centre of gravity in your body as your pregnancy progresses, this changes our stance and pressure in our feet and joints. The two most common problems become over pronation and oedema. These problems can lead to pain at the heel, arch, or the ball-of-foot. Correct alignment and awareness taught in a yoga class can help to alleviate these problems.

5. The Hips: Prenatal yoga can help bring back flexibility and comfort to the groups of muscles and bone structures in the front and back of the hips. Hormones released during pregnancy soften and relax joints and cartilage between bones in our pelvis to prepare it for child birth. However, getting the muscles ready is good to facilitate an easier birth for mom and baby.

In front, we have our hip flexors, which work to flex, or bend, the hips. This brings our knee and thigh up and in line with our hip joint and toward our chest. Lunges are a great example of the work of the hip flexors. It is imperative to keep these flexible so we can easily open our legs without too much strain for delivery, as well as bend the knees close to the chest to assist with birth. Yoga can also stretch the ligaments in the pelvis, hip and leg areas, all making the positions and pushing in labour easier.

Our muscles are, however, antagonistic, which basically means when one works, the other does the opposite to allow the action. So, in order for the hip flexors to contract, the back of the hips need to relax. This is why it is essential to work the front and back of the hips in stretching, relaxing and strengthening to find balance. Again, low lunges are the perfect way to stretch the hip flexors while contracting them on the other side and the same for the muscles in the back of the hips. However, your yoga teacher can give you many poses for this area of the body.

What else can yoga do?

Research suggests that prenatal yoga can have many benefits for pregnant women and their babies. Studies have suggested that practicing yoga while pregnancy can also improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth.

It can also decrease nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath, and decrease the risk of preterm labour, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby’s growth.

But don’t forget, yoga is also a perfect workout after you have your baby as well. When you feel ready to move, starting out with gentle yoga, simple breathing and stretching is a great way to start your body moving again. As you may have already guessed, or experienced, finding time to practice as a new mum is hard. A good time to start is take 15 minutes while your baby is napping to work with a gentle yoga sequence each day can work miracles for energy and body strength. Also, as your baby feeds, try practicing pranayama, the relaxation from deep belly breathing and action of the muscles helps to speed up the recovery time.

As always, check with your physician before you begin any new exercise practice.  Please feel free to contact me for class times or if you have any questions. I hope to meet you soon!

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s….. Derryn!

I’m delighted to announce that a new instructor is joining my yoga studio in Stellenbosch, starting this week!

Derryn Searle is a beautifully positive person whose smile lights up every room she walks into. Some of her passions are yoga, music and teaching, and she particularly shines when the three are combined in her classes. Derryn trained at Yoga Life in Cape Town and offers a wonderfully energising Vinyasa flow style that will get you moving and a spring into your step, strengthening the body while calming the mind.

What this means for the studio at Yoga With Nicci is that there are more classes on offer, and you will be able to choose between two different instructors/styles. Try us both out to see what resonates better with you! Or just pick and choose, depending on your schedule.

Contact me for more info about the new class schedule, fees etc.

And in her own words, here is what led our radiant new instructor to yoga:

Derryn Searle – What led me to yoga

When I look back on my life, discovering yoga has been the most natural progression for me. My journey as a young adult began with my passion for ballet and music as I was growing up, which culminated in my studying music at university and becoming a musician and teacher. After having taught music for many years in Durban, I arrived in Stellenbosch 8 years ago with new ideas and dreams of opening my own décor store, Cocoon. This was a wonderfully creative and busy time in my life learning how to run a business along with being a mother, and getting to know people in Stellenbosch.

At the same time, I started practising yoga in Stellenbosch first with Johan Kotze  and Ina Gerber who introduced me to Iyengar Yoga, and later for many years with Adele George. I fell in love with yoga and the wonderful sense of well-being and calmness that I felt after every class, and soon it became very much part of my daily life. Practising yoga has transformed my life, cultivating strength, stillness and endurance in my body, steadiness and calmness in my mind, and a wonderful lightness of being!

My regular practice of yoga brought me to the realization that I wanted to teach yoga and train as a yoga teacher, which made perfect sense as I have always loved teaching.

Earlier this year I completed my YTT 200 Hr Teacher’s Training with Yogalife in Cape Town. Trained by Marley Vigdorth from Denver U.S.A. and Dave Porter, owner of Yogalife, we were trained to teach Vinyasa Flow Yoga which is a steady flowing sequence of connected yoga postures linked with the breath. This is an exhilarating yet calming yoga, usually accompanied by beautiful and inspiring music, and appeals to all ages. It helps focus the mind, improves posture and alignment, builds strength, stamina and flexibility, and releases stress, bringing balance and healing in our lives. On and off the mat, yoga feeds body and soul.

I am so looking forward to joining Nicci and teaching yoga with her in her beautiful studio in Stellenbosch. Hope to see you there!

Spring has sprung and there is a buzz in the air….

…and it’s not just the bees humming about all the gorgeous jasmine that has suddenly come into bloom or even an extended Brahmari pranayama session. No, there is a buzz around my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch that is getting louder and louder, in the most exciting manner possible! Let me explain…

I’ve been conspicuously absent from my blogging over the last while, and it’s because I’ve had the incredible fortune and privilege to become involved in a non-profit called TRADE-MARK (www.trade-mark.co.za) that a former colleague from my WWF days (World Wide Fund for Nature, not the wrestling crew) – Josh had the idea a number of years back and has recently got some funding to set up a website and get things really moving forward, and we are currently in the process of waiting to hear from DG Murray Trust as to whether a proposal for funding that we lodged with them, will come through. It’s an agonising wait, especially because it is going to determine whether or not I will be getting paid a salary! I will be the first paid member of staff and so it’s a really big deal to all of us. More about TRADE-MARK in a bit…

Anyway, I’ve committed a set number of hours a week to Josh and TRADE-MARK, and what with that, the usual time pressures that come with having two small children and also trying to keep up with my regular yoga classes that I teach in Stellenbosch, there’s not been much time left over for blogging. I love every one of my three ‘jobs’ (as mentioned above) but I really have been feeling increasingly that something needs to give. I wasn’t quite sure how or when or what it would look like, but I did know that I wanted to keep up with all three of them – a real juggling act, and one in which I didn’t want to drop any of the balls. So I started putting it out there (as the cliche goes) – the fact that I was very open to any form of help, support, helping to share the commitments or to take a bit of pressure off.

And wow, did the Universe listen! Literally, in the last few days, things have been falling into place in the most wonderful way possible. I can’t go into too much detail now as I’m still finalising things, but there are going to be some very exciting developments coming to Yoga With Nicci in the next while. I will keep you all posted – watch this space!

TRADE-MARK

Just a bit more about this phenomenal non-profit, as promised: TRADE-MARK is a non-profit organisation (registered as a Trust) that connects the best tradespeople – tilers, pavers, painters, carpenters – in the townships in the Helderberg basin with those who require their services. We have a rigorous selection process and a performance monitoring system that ensures both accountability and the highest quality service.

The idea was conceived by Joshua Cox in 2007.  Simon, a friend from the township of Diepsloot (an expert tiler/paver) was struggling to secure regular work. By providing Simon with business cards and a written reference, he was suddenly able to secure contracts of up to R30 000. It became clear that with added credibility and a few marketing resources, high-quality tradesmen from the townships were able to secure significantly more business.
There are many skilled tradespeople, just like Simon, living in the townships in South Africa. Marketing opportunities for these individuals are basically non-existent because of the lack of resources. Most of these tradespeople are sub-contracted to do work, intermittently. Others advertise their services on cardboard placards, or compete with numerous other tradespeople on the roadside for casual work. Some tradesmen, against all odds, have managed to secure jobs directly with customers and have established their own businesses, sub-contracting and finding their own work through word of mouth, handing out flyers, or advertising on Gumtree.
We hand-pick the best of these tradesmen: individuals with initiative and drive, who communicate well, and already have experience in dealing with customers but are not able to market themselves sufficiently to secure ongoing work.
Our vision is a South Africa in which people’s quality of life is determined more by hard work, diligence and integrity than the economic situation they are born into, that these qualities are recognised and rewarded and not masked by people’s preconceptions, that members of our society lead by example and play an active role in bettering this country, and that the gap between the rich and poor is continually being narrowed.
Our mission is to handpick highly skilled and diligent tradesmen (painters, pavers, tillers and carpenters) who live in townships around Somerset West, invest in them as leaders and role models in their communities (through additional skills training, create marketing opportunities for them to grow their individual businesses, and to encourage South Africans to become proactive in improving our country by offering them attractive choices to spend their money in the communities most in need.
Check out the website http://www.trade-mark.co.za to see how easy and straightforward it is to post a job. Just a few clicks and you’re there, and you will then be contacted by a skilled, vetted tradesman who will give you a free quote. Once the price is agreed, there is a simple contract to be signed by both parties, and after the job is done, you will be able to give feedback which we will share with the tradesman in question. Our tradesmen are top-notch guys who communicate well, run their own ‘businesses’ and who know that their reputati0n in what is going to take them forward in life.
It’s a brilliant concept, especially in this day and age where everyone is complaining about the lack of employment in South Africa, but it seems that not very much is being done about it. I have met some of the guys already, and look forward to meeting them all in time, and they are inspirational in terms of how they have risen about their circumstances and are achieving such success. This is not by any stretch of the imagination a bleeding heart charity, trying to give handouts – we are a middle man to help these entrepreneurs market themselves a bit better and to just get a little bit of a boost. We actively dis-incentivise them to become reliant on us to keep providing them with jobs – to avoid us being solely reliant on donor funding and also to empower the tradesmen, we charge them a 10% fee of whatever they quote for a job, but this is only for the first job – anything they get off the back of that first job is all theirs. Such is the calibre of our guys that we have had them insisting on giving us the 10% even for jobs that they got off the back of subsequent jobs (for example, Johannes from Sir Lowry’s Pass Village who did such a great job of painting a house that the guy’s neighbour asked him to do his own- Johannes was so appreciative of our initial lead that he insisted we take the 10%. We had to argue hard but we did it and he kept the full fee!)
We have got through the first two steps of the application process, and hopefully it’s just a matter of time before we get the good news that we’ve got the funding and we can really run with this. I am absolutely confident that it’s going to happen, because the way that things have been working out with my yoga studio just seem to be clearing the way for me to continue doing something that I love so much (teaching yoga in beautiful Stellenbosch) whilst also being able to really add value to TRADE-MARK, and still having the flexibility to be present and engaged with my little ones. Even as I write that, I can’t believe how beautifully things are lining up. Eternally grateful.

Breathe – an extended yoga class with Leli and Nicci in Stanford

Imagine – A peaceful setting, overlooking Fynbos and mountains. Joy and stillness. Intense yoga practice, quiet breath-work, relaxation. Unwind and relax. And have fun, tea and muffins afterwards.
Breathe! – In Yoga philosophy breath is the physical manifestation of the vital energy that gives you the ability to live and function in the world. This vital energy is called prana, it flows through every part of your body. Join us for a morning of Yoga where the poses we will do are chosen to assist and enhance this energy. We will also introduce you to some Pranayama (breathing) exercises which will help you to make more efficient use of your prana.
We invite you to invigorate your body, soothe your soul and discover a deeper and more profound notion of your Self. What yoga seeks is union: a union between the body and mind, a union between friends and enemies, right and wrong, hot and cold and light and dark. Helping two forces, forces that at first appear so different, to form a harmonious connection. This is yoga.
Book: Leli 0823500253 info@lelihoch.co.za Nicci 078 563 8152 nicci@yogawithnicci.co.za
R150 pp
Directions to Stanford Valley Guest Farm:
from Stanford take R326 for 10km, farm is signposted, on right side.
Map: www.stanfordvalley.co.za

Beautifully explained: The Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

For anyone who has wondered about what the ‘Eightfold path’ is all about, and what on earth the Yoga Sutras of the sage Patanjali were talking about, this is a superb article that sums it all up.

The Eight Limbs , The Core of Yoga by William J.D. Doran

The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between body, mind and spirit. Its objective is to assist the practitioner in using the breath and body to foster an awareness of ourselves as individualized beings intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. In short it is about making balance and creating equanimity so as to live in peace, good health and harmony with the greater whole.

This art of right living was perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, approximately 200 AD. This sacred text describes the inner workings of the mind and provides an eight-step blueprint for controlling its restlessness so as to enjoying lasting peace.

The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice. Upon practicing all eight limbs of the path it becomes self-evident that no one element is elevated over another in a hierarchical order. Each is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine. Because we are all uniquely individual a person can emphasize one branch and then move on to another as they round out their understanding.

In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

Yama : Universal morality

Niyama : Personal observances

Asanas : Body postures

Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana

Pratyahara : Control of the senses

Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness

Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine

Samadhi : Union with the Divine

The first two limbs that Patanjali describes are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. These can also be looked at as universal morality and personal observances. Yamas and niyamas are the suggestions given on how we should deal with people around us and our attitude toward ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves.

The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.”

Rather than a list of dos and don’ts, “they tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.” They are as follows:

I. Yamas (Universal Morality)

1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things The word ahimsa literally mean not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.

2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.

3. Asteya – Non-stealing Steya means “to steal”; asteya is the opposite-to take nothing that does not belong to us. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner. The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes fostering a consciousness of how we ask for others’ time for inconsiderate behavior demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing.

4. Brahmacharya – Sense control Brahmacharya is used mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.

5. Aparigraha – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future.v Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants. The Yoga Sutra describes what happens when these five behaviors outlined above become part of a person’s daily life. Thus, the yamas are the moral virtues which, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society.

II. Niyama (Personal Observances) Niyama means “rules” or “laws.” These are the rules prescribed for personal observance. Like the yamas, the five niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. They represent far more than an attitude. Compared with the yamas, the niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves as we create a code for living soulfully

1. Sauca – Purity The first niyama is sauca, meaning purity and cleanliness. Sauca has both an inner and an outer aspect. Outer cleanliness simply means keeping ourselves clean. Inner cleanliness has as much to do with the healthy, free functioning of our bodily organs as with the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas or pranayama are essential means for attending to this inner sauca. Asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. “But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.”

2. Santosa – Contentment Another niyama is santosa, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties for life becomes a process of growth through all kinds of circumstances. We should accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment ‘to accept what happens’. It means being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.

3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy Tapas refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. Behind the notion of tapas lies the idea we can direct our energy to enthusiastically engage life and achieve our ultimate goal of creating union with the Divine. Tapas helps us burn up all the desires that stand in our way of this goal. Another form of tapas is paying attention to what we eat. Attention to body posture, attention to eating habits, attention to breathing patterns – these are all tapas.

4. Svadhyaya – Self study The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.

5. Isvarapranidhana – Celebration of the Spiritual Isvarapranidhana means “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” It is the contemplation on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to god and god’s will. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we set aside some time each day to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our lives.

III. Asanas (Body postures) Asana is the practice of physical postures. It is the most commonly known aspect of yoga for those unfamiliar with the other seven limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. The practice of moving the body into postures has widespread benefits; of these the most underlying are improved health, strength, balance and flexibility. On a deeper level the practice of asana, which means “staying” or “abiding” in Sanskrit, is used as a tool to calm the mind and move into the inner essence of being. The challenge of poses offers the practitioner the opportunity to explore and control all aspects of their emotions, concentration, intent, faith, and unity between the physical and the ethereal body. Indeed, using asanas to challenge and open the physical body acts as a binding agent to bring one in harmony with all the unseen elements of their being, the forces that shape our lives through our responses to the physical world. Asana then becomes a way of exploring our mental attitudes and strengthening our will as we learn to release and move into the state of grace that comes from creating balance between our material world and spiritual experience. As one practices asana it fosters a quieting of the mind, thus it becomes both a preparation for meditation and a meditation sufficient in and of itself. Releasing to the flow and inner strength that one develops brings about a profound grounding spirituality in the body. The physicality of the yoga postures becomes a vehicle to expand the consciousness that pervades our every aspect of our body. The key to fostering this expansion of awareness and consciousness begins with the control of breath, the fourth limb – Pranayama. Patanjali suggests that the asana and the pranayama practices will bring about the desired state of health; the control of breath and bodily posture will harmonize the flow of energy in the organism, thus creating a fertile field for the evolution of the spirit. “This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself. … This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.” To this B.K.S. Iyengar adds: “The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body. The yogi does not look heaven-ward to find God for he know that He is within.”

IV. Pranayama (Breath Control) Pranayama is the measuring, control, and directing of the breath. Pranayama controls the energy (prana) within the organism, in order to restore and maintain health and to promote evolution. When the in-flowing breath is neutralized or joined with the out-flowing breath, then perfect relaxation and balance of body activities are realized. In yoga, we are concerned with balancing the flows of vital forces, then directing them inward to the chakra system and upward to the crown chakra. Pranayama, or breathing technique, is very important in yoga. It goes hand in hand with the asana or pose. In the Yoga Sutra, the practices of pranayama and asana are considered to be the highest form of purification and self discipline for the mind and the body, respectively. The practices produce the actual physical sensation of heat, called tapas, or the inner fire of purification. It is taught that this heat is part of the process of purifying the nadis, or subtle nerve channels of the body. This allows a more healthful state to be experienced and allows the mind to become more calm. As the yogi follows the proper rhythmic patterns of slow deep breathing “the patterns strengthen the respiratory system, soothe the nervous system and reduce craving. As desires and cravings diminish, the mind is set free and becomes a fit vehicle for concentration.”

V. Pratyahara (Control of the Senses) Pratyahara means drawing back or retreat. The word ahara means “nourishment”; pratyahara translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from attachment to external objects. It can then be seen as the practice of non-attachment to sensorial distractions as we constantly return to the path of self realization and achievement of internal peace. It means our senses stop living off the things that stimulate; the senses no longer depend on these stimulants and are not fed by them any more. In pratyahara we sever this link between mind and senses, and the senses withdraw. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, the result is restraint or pratyahara. Now that the vital forces are flowing back to the Source within, one can concentrate without being distracted by externals or the temptation to cognize externals. Pratyahara occurs almost automatically when we meditate because we are so absorbed in the object of meditation. Precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it; it is not happening the other way around. No longer functioning in their usual manner, the senses become extraordinarily sharp. Under normal circumstances the senses become our masters rather than being our servants. The senses entice us to develop cravings for all sorts of things. In pratyahara the opposite occurs: when we have to eat we eat, but not because we have a craving for food. In pratyahara we try to put the senses in their proper place, but not cut them out of our actions entirely. Much of our emotional imbalance are our own creation. A person who is influenced by outside events and sensations can never achieve the inner peace and tranquility. This is because he or she will waste much mental and physical energy in trying to suppress unwanted sensations and to heighten other sensations. This will eventually result in a physical or mental imbalance, and will, in most instances, result in illness. Patanjali says that the above process is at the root of human unhappiness and uneasiness. When people seek out yoga, hoping to find that inner peace which is so evasive, they find that it was theirs all along. In a sense, yoga is nothing more than a process which enables us to stop and look at the processes of our own minds; only in this way can we understand the nature of happiness and unhappiness, and thus transcend them both.

VI. Dharana (Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness) Dharana means “immovable concentration of the mind”. The essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in one direction. “When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka (seeker) reaches the sixth stage, dharana. Here he is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in which he is completely engrossed. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption.”xiii In dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of going out in many different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection can create the right conditions, and the focus on this one point that we have chosen becomes more intense. We encourage one particular activity of the mind and, the more intense it becomes, the more the other activities of the mind fall away. The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon some stable entity. The particular object selected has nothing to do with the general purpose, which is to stop the mind from wandering -through memories, dreams, or reflective thought-by deliberately holding it single-mindedly upon some apparently static object. B.K.S. Iyengar states that the objective is to achieve the mental state where the mind, intellect, and ego are “all restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service. Here there is no feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.”  When the mind has become purified by yoga practices, it becomes able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now we can unleash the great potential for inner healing.

VII. Dhyana (Devotion , Meditation on the Divine) Dhyana means worship, or profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with the intention of knowing the truth about it. The concept holds that when one focuses their mind in concentration on an object the mind is transformed into the shape of the object. Hence, when one focuses on the divine they become more reflective of it and they know their true nature. “His body, breath, senses, mind, reason and ego are all integrated in the object of his contemplation – the Universal Spirit.”xv During dhyana, the consciousness is further unified by combining clear insights into distinctions between objects and between the subtle layers of perception. “We learn to differentiate between the mind of the perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects perceived, between words, their meanings, and ideas, and between all the levels of evolution of nature.” As we fine-tune our concentration and become more aware of the nature of reality we perceive that the world is unreal. “The only reality is the universal self, or God, which is veiled by Maya (the illusory power). As the veils are lifted, the mind becomes clearer. Unhappiness and fear – even the fear of death – vanishes. This state of freedom, or Moksha, is the goal of Yoga. It can be reached by constant enquiry into the nature of things.” Meditation becomes our tool to see things clearly and perceive reality beyond the illusions that cloud our mind.

VIII. Samadhi (Union with the Divine) The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged. Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the “I” and “mine” of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy. The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. For this reason the Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana, because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow. These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality.

Sources: HolisticOnLine http://www.holisticonline.com/Yoga/hol_yoga_home.htm Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, by Donna Farhi Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga Mind & Body, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center The Essence of Yoga, Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Bernard Bouanchaud Notes: Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, by Donna Farhi, page 7. Donna Farhi, page 9. Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, page 34. Farhi, page 11. Iyengar, page 35. Iyengar, page 36. Farhi, page 15. Farhi, page 17. HolisticOnLine Iyengar, page 41. Iyengar, page 44. HolisticOnLine Iyengar, page 48 Iyengar, page 49 Iyengar, page 51 HolisticOnLine Yoga Mind & Body, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, page 154 HolisticOnLine