• Yogis at Ramadan

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    This month, Ramadan, is one of deep inward reflection for Muslims. For many non-Muslims, the month of Ramadan immediately suggests a time of fasting, hardship, and deprivation. Perhaps for those very reasons, many of my non-Muslim friends are shocked to hear that I maintain my same yoga teaching and practice schedule throughout my observance of Ramadan. They are indeed correct that Ramadan involves fasting — from dawn to sunset, Muslims, myself included, refrain from the intake of food and drink and even abstain from bodily pleasures of intimacy. And they are certainly correct that this is a deprivation and can be a hardship, but the result is a time of deep cleansing and renewal and the effect supports and enhances my yoga practice. My yoga practice is deeper and more spiritual than it is at any other time of the year. Yoga and Ramadan bring out the best in each other and the combination brings out the best in me.

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    “As you are” takes on an even deeper meaning to me during the month of Ramadan, because it is a month stripped bare of distractions. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves from who we are. For many of us, we are not comfortable facing who we truly are, so we distract ourselves with food, alcohol, sex, curated, online personas of ourselves, memories of what we once did, anxieties about what we might one day do. In fact, we have any number of tools at our disposal to keep us from facing the stripped down truth of who we are, as we are, at any particular moment. Yoga provides one framework for accessing our true selves, as we are, by penetrating and examining the five koshas, or sheaths, that overlay our true selves. The observance of Ramadan helps us strip away the distractions and focus on each kosha.

    Annamaya is the physical layer, our flesh and bones. During Ramadan, we fast during daylight hours and make careful choices to hydrate and nourish ourselves during the precious few hours between sundown and dawn, mindful of the delicate balance with our bodies’ countervailing need for sleep. Making the right choices involves a keen understanding of our physical selves, where our body is on that day and in that moment.

    Pranayama is our energetic layer, manifesting through the breath as a symbol of the energy of life. Islam encourages us to find balance in our lives and, during the month of Ramadan, we are asked to fast from the worldly desires that may, at other times, overtake us and throw us out of balance. During this month, we fast from temptations, anger, and aggression. Instead, we prioritize compassion, kindness, giving, and community involvement. This renewed focus cleanses our energetic selves.

    Manomaya is the mind, our means to self-identify, and Vijnanamaya is our intellect and wisdom. During the month of Ramadan, we increase our practices of reflection, contemplation, meditation, devotion, and prayers. Our increased prayer practice forces us out of the daily bustle and drops us into ourselves. This inward focus quiets the noise of our daily lives and connects us deeply with our own spiritual beliefs. Free from that noise, we understand who we are and we grow the intellect and wisdom that supports us on our path.

    Anandamaya is the absolute truth, our true self, as we are, at this moment. These daily practices purify our body, our mind, and our soul. Ultimately, they help us pull back the curtains we wrap around ourselves and face the reality of who we are. It might not be quite who we thought. It might not be an Instagram-perfect reality. It might be something we’ve been avoiding. But finding our true self is important because it links us to God. Believing in God requires you to find yourself and believe in yourself, after all, you are the only version of yourself that He made. To ignore or hide your true self is to ignore God. To change yourself or avoid your true self is to assume that God made a mistake in creating you. He didn’t. We tend to look for things in the wrong places, God included. In Arabic, we say Allah for God, pronounced al-Luh. When we say it over and over, it mimics the sound of our own beating heart. Our own heart is the best place to find our connection to God. 

    So, find your true self and celebrate what you find.  You may not be perfect, but you are as you should be, right now.

    Practice with Ahmed on Omstars

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

    Join live classes with Ahmed on Omstars

  • A Simple Sequence for Gentle Yoga with Kaitlyn

    Set your day up for success with simple stretches in the morning. This simple gentle yoga sequence will guide you through the steps and help set your intention for the rest of the day.

    You’ll need your mat, a quiet space, and blocks or books for this sequence. Start by finding a comfortable seat. Bring your hands palm face down on your knees if you’d like to ground down your energy, or face up if you’d like to receive energy for the day, or one of each if you can’t decide.

    Take a moment to notice your sit bones grounding into the space beneath you, the length of your spine, and the crown of your head reaching toward the sky. Allow your shoulders to relax away from the ears, soften the facial muscles, and relax the space between the eyebrows. Start to bring your awareness to your breath, taking deep inhales, and slowly releasing the breath on an exhalation.

    Focus on your breath, and set an intention for the day.

    Bringing your palms face down on your knees, inhale to press the heart center forward, begin to lift the chin and the gaze, and roll the shoulders away from the ears.

    As you exhale, begin to round the spine as you tuck the chin toward the chest and fall back on your seat. Repeat three times.

    Next, bring your chin to your chest, roll the chin along the collar bone rolling right ear to right shoulder, lower the left hand toward the earth or a block, and gently rest your right hand on the side of your head without putting any pressure on it, just allowing the weight of your hand to give you a deeper stretch. Repeat on both sides.

    Inhale and bring your arms overhead, palms can press at the top, or your arms can be separated, and exhale to bring hands through to heart center. Repeat three times.

      

     

    Inhale to reach the arms overhead, and exhale to lower the right hand toward the earth, walk or slide the fingertips away from you, and reach the left arm overhead for a side stretch. Repeat three times on both sides.

    Next, inhale to reach the arms overhead, and exhale to twist towards the right, bringing your right arm behind you like a kickstand, and the left arm in front, bringing your hand either onto the floor or your right thigh. Use the breath as a tool to soften into your twist. Repeat three times on both sides.

    Slowly make your way onto hands and knees into a table top position, allowing your shoulders to stack over the wrists, and your hips to stack over the knees. You can bring a blanket under your knees, or fold your mat for more support for your knees. Inhale as you press the heart center forward lifting the chin and lifting the gaze. Exhale as you round the spine, pressing the ground away from you, tucking the chin towards the chest. Repeat Cat/Cow three times.

         

    Walk the hands slightly forward and begin to lift the sit bones up and back for downward facing dog, keeping the feet hip distance apart. Take a shorter down dog than you usually would, and invite a bend into the knees. Alternate from side to side to bend into the knees, and maybe move the hips from side to side. Do what feels good in your body today. Pause here for a few deep breaths, and bring your focus back to your intention.

    Moving into your Anjaneyasana, or low lunge pose, step your right foot to the top of the mat between the hands. Lower your back knee towards the earth, and square the hips toward the front of the mat. You can place blocks or books under your hands to bring the ground up toward you. Pressing the heart center forward, start to breathe into this space for a moment.

    Start to walk blocks/books back toward your body. Straighten into the front leg, bringing the toes to point up towards the sky. If you’re feeling tight, stay right here, or gently fold over the front leg.

    Now working with the breath, inhale to bend into the knee to walk the blocks/books forward opening through the heart center, and exhale as you walk the hands/blocks back in toward the body and gently fold. Use the breath as a tool and move back and forth three times. Repeat this on the second side.

    Note: if one side feels tighter then the other, don’t judge yourself. Just breathe into wherever you are on each side. If it feels better to pause in either variation, feel free to pause. Do what feels right in your body, today.

      

    Come back into your downward facing dog for a few deep breaths. Slowly bring your knees toward the earth, separating them as wide as you’d like. Bring your big toes to touch, and begin to melt into your child’s pose, bringing your sit bones toward your heels. Bring your forehead to touch the ground, or you can create fists with your hands, and stack your fists and bring your forehead to your fists. Always do what feels comfortable for you in your body.

    Pause here for a few breaths, bringing your awareness back to your breath. Are you breathing deeply? Is your mind wandering? Take a few deep grounding breaths here.

    Slowly make your way back into a comfortable seat. Bring your hands to heart center, bow the chin towards your chest, and take a moment to reflect on the intention that you set at the beginning of your practice. Thank yourself for finding time to come to your mat and practice today, and take this grounding feeling with you throughout the rest of your day.

    Namaste.

    By Kaitlyn Kreitzman

    Kaitlyn started practicing yoga in high school to combat the high demands of school work, sports, and life in New York. It was an on and off practice until college where she really became dedicated to making time on her mat daily. After realizing the amazing benefits of a yoga practice, and watching them become a reality in her life, Kaitlyn wanted to share this practice with others. She received her 200-hour RYT in 2015 from Urban Bliss Yoga In North Carolina. She taught on her college campus and in studios around the area of Fairfield Connecticut. After she graduated with a B.A. in Graphic Design and Illustration, she wanted to expand her knowledge of teaching and received her 500-hour RYT at Simplicity Yoga Studio in Long Island, New York. Kaitlyn now teaches and lives in Northwestern Colorado. She draws her inspiration for her classes from her everyday life. Kaitlyn’s classes focus on alignment, breath work, meditation, and yoga philosophy. She loves to help others take what they learn on the mat and incorporate it into their everyday lives. Kaitlyn works as the Social Media Manager, and Graphic Designer for Omstars. When she’s not teaching or practicing yoga, she enjoys camping, hiking, rock climbing, reading, and painting.

  • Balancing a Career and a Yoga Practice

    “I wish I had enough time for yoga.” How many times have you heard those words, or said them yourself?

    Something that I get asked about on a regular basis is how I’m able to keep the balance between a demanding career and a dedicated yoga practice. These questions come from both people that I work with, and people that I practice with. I am a medical doctor, specializing in obstetrics & gynaecology (OB/GYN), and my Ashtanga practice has me learning Intermediate Series. One thing that often prevents people from dedicating themselves to a daily practice is the perceived impossibility of fitting it into their already-crammed schedule. Certainly, before I started practicing yoga, I wondered how people had time for work, physical activities, volunteering, and socializing. These super-human individuals seemed to have more hours in the day than the rest of us mere mortals. I added yoga to my life over three years ago, from a previously sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle. Having seen both sides of the coin, I can tell you that it’s not possible to invent more hours in the day. That said, it is completely possible to manage a busy career and a demanding practice.

    As the yoga practice took hold in my mind and soul, what had been a weekly exercise became a daily practice. This process evolved over the course of about a year. I noticed that the more time I committed to yoga, the less time I devoted to other things. This natural evolution in my priorities is something that is ongoing. Going out for a big night isn’t something that interests me much anymore. Neither does staying up to date on the latest episode of Queer Eye. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these things. Rather, I moved them down my list of priorities so far that they rarely happen anymore. Other things became more important: yoga, work, and a small circle of loved ones. One of the benefits of starting a physical practice from a place of inactivity is the abundance of new energy that comes along with it. So, while you might not be able create more hours in the day, you might be able to do more in the hours that are given to us. Prior to committing to a daily practice, I would often feel sluggish after work. Now, I look forward to getting on the mat, be it at home or in the shala.

    Along with working long hours, I also work unusual, irregular hours. This is something that I have learned to embrace. I get to be quite creative in my practice schedule. An Ashtanga practice lends itself well to this sort of flexibility of schedule. Did I really just say that, about the style of yoga most known for its disciplined structure? In a word, yes. However, I am forced to veer away from what tradition dictates, which is early-morning practice, 6 days a week. Evening practice suits me better, and is more sustainable for me. I often swap around moon days, which are meant to be days of rest, for other days to accommodate my schedule. Most importantly, I have a sequence that I can do anytime and anywhere, and there is power in that. If I’m in work until 9 pm, I can come home and do as much of my practice as I’m able for. If I’m doing one of my 24-hour-long, in-hospital shifts, I might get a chance to do a Surya Namaskar or two in the on-call room. Working a night shift? Get on the mat at home or in the shala in the morning.

    In addition to learning to be flexible with the times that I practice, I’ve expanded my definition of what practice is. Working in my career, I am regularly expected to be awake (and functioning!) for 24 hours in a go. This usually involves long hours standing, and doing physical work on my feet. These things naturally take a toll on my body. Some days my body is only able for the Surya Namaskar and the finishing postures. Other days, a full-power, long practice is what I need. Most days, it’s somewhere in between. In my early days of practicing Ashtanga, I would beat myself up if I didn’t have the capacity for a full practice everyday. I pushed and pushed, often to the point of injury. My type-A personality and need to achieve were something I had to confront on the mat. Learning to accept my limitations, and accept where I am any given day, has brought me a lot of peace. There will always be ebbs and flows of busy times at work and softer practices, to balance with less busy times and more energetic practices. It’s all practice!

    I’ve talked a lot about the physical practices of yoga, but that’s not all there is to yoga. Within the 8 limbs of yoga, we also have codes of conduct and personal disciplines, the yamas and niyamas. Applying these ethical guidelines to our day-to-day life is another important way of practicing yoga. I also like to think of my work as a form of karma yoga. That is, good work, done unselfishly, to benefit another, is a form of prayer. While I’ve written mostly on navigating the often-negative impact that a busy career can have on a yoga practice, there is a lot to be said for the impact that the practice has on career. In yoga practice, we are continuously being confronted by difficult situations, and are asked to sit with them. This brings up our stuff, whatever that may be. This can have manifold benefits. By unpacking our own demons, and challenging our habitual patterns of thinking, it’s natural to become more compassionate towards others. That pose that challenges us immensely might bring up anger, frustration, or sadness. We can now see that when someone at works acts in an unpleasant manner, they are really reacting to something within themselves. In knowing that, it is easier to address the negative behavior, and forgive the person. This way of thinking has changed the way I interact with colleagues and patients alike, for the better.

    I’ve also learned to extend this kindness and compassion, and what is essentially ahimsa, to myself too. Being more in tune with the body and mind has made me realize how badly I was – and often still am – abusing both in the name of work. Inadequate sleep, poor diet, less than ideal posture, negative self talk. All these things can easily happen when we put career first. However, the yoga practice continuously brings my awareness back to these habits, and challenges me to change them. Through the yoga practice, we become more resilient, and able to recover from failures. How many times have we failed on that difficult posture, only to try again tomorrow? Difficult situations arise in my line of work frequently, and being resilient is essential. Being present, empathetic, and kind in stressful situations are skills that can be learned. Being able to not become attached to the situation is often more difficult, but yoga helps us practice that. My way of approaching the yoga practice won’t work for everyone or every job. They are simply the things that I have learned over time. Hopefully something I’ve shared can help someone out there struggling to find time for the mat.

    Namaste.

    By Alison DeMaio

    Alison is a medical doctor, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology in one of Ireland’s leading maternity hospitals. Originally from the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences in 2007. The following year she moved to Dublin where she completed a graduate medical degree at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In her early years of working as a  doctor, Alison experienced a great deal of back pain and stress.  Yoga became a deeply transformative tool in both her physical and emotional healing. Alison is committed to her daily Ashtanga Mysore practice, despite the demands of a busy job. She has been fortunate to practice with some world-renowned teachers, and she is currently learning the Ashtanga Intermediate Series in the traditional method. Keep in touch with Alison (@ashtangi_ali) on Instagram.

     

  • Plank Pose: Where the Body Goes the Mind Will Follow

    If you’re looking for a quick strengthening, full body workout then these two poses give a lot of bang for their buck. Although Plank Pose and Upward Plank are two obvious core strengthening poses, when practiced with the correct alignment they work pretty much every muscle in your body. Apart from the physical benefits, I like to think that both of these poses also help to bring stability and strength on an emotional and spiritual level. Where the body goes the mind will follow.  Plank Pose and Upward Plank will help to increase focus, stamina, and endurance. I also feel that these poses help to develop the understanding that the muscles of the body or, different aspects of yourself, need to work together in unison in order to create that strength and stability.

     

    Plank Pose:

     

    Have the feet hip width apart, and the hands shoulder width apart, with the wrists aligned directly under the shoulders. Your focus is on keeping the body in one straight line. Draw the lower belly back towards the spine, pull the kneecaps up to keep the legs engaged, and plug the arms into the shoulder joint by rotating the eyes of the elbows forward. Imagine pushing the mat away with your hands as you keep the shoulders broad, and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Gaze forward, and think about keeping the shoulders, hips and heels in line with each other.

     

     

    Upward Plank Pose:

     

    Have the feet together, with the base of the big toes touching, and the hands shoulder width apart, with the fingers pointing towards the toes. Again, imagine pressing the mat away firmly with the hands and feet. Aim to keep the wrists under the shoulders. Focus on lifting the hips, and imagine the whole of the back of the body extending and engaging to create a slight backbend. Open and lift the chest, as you internally rotate the thighs by pressing into the base of the big toes. Engage the core by pulling the belly button back towards the spine, and gaze toward the space between the eyebrows.

    By Laura Large

    I am an Ashtanga Yoga Practitioner and Teacher based near Marlborough, Wiltshire with a real love and passion for the practice. I also own and manage a Wellbeing Centre where I work as a licensed Acupuncturist, which really helps me to understand the energetics of the asanas and how they affect the physical, mental and emotional bodies. My classes are strong, energetic and fun.  Ashtanga Yoga is an amazing practice for developing some serious strength and flexibility in body and mind. Outside of my daily Ashtanga Vinyasa practice I love playing creatively with poses and exploring hybrid postures and different variations – Arm balances are a real favourite of mine! You can find me on Instagram where I host yoga challenges and share tips and tutorials at @omniyogagirl

    Check out more pose tutorials on Omstars

  • Easing in to Chaturanga Dandasana

    In our last post we focused on the hip abductors and adductors and how they can be used to stabilize the pelvis and synergize flexing the hips in forward bends. In this post we zoom out and look at a technique that can be learned with Chaturanga Dandasana and then transported to other poses to improve benefits and safety. I call this technique “ease in, ease out” and it relates to how one approaches the end point of a pose.

    Figure 1

    For this cue, I take a yoga block and place it at the level of my sternum, then lower down to lightly touch it from plank position. I then straighten my arms to return to plank. The image that body weight practitioners use for this is “kissing the baby” because one touches the block as gently as kissing a baby on the forehead. Working in this manner teaches muscle control and sensitivity.

    Figure 2

    Those who avoid full Chaturanga due to weakness of the muscles involved can develop the strength for the full pose by starting at a wall as shown in figure 2. Here instead of the chest touching the block, bend the arms to lower towards the wall and gently touch the forehead, hold for a moment and then straighten the arms. Work in this manner until you can comfortably do ten repetitions. As strength builds, transition to a plank with the knees on the mat, lowering down to touch the block as in the final version. (Figure 3).

    Figure 3

    Visualizing the muscles involved is a powerful adjunct to this technique. Use a mental image of the triceps, pectoralis major and serratus anterior muscles engaging to stabilize the arms, shoulders and chest as shown in figure 4. The triceps straightens the elbows and is a secondary stabilizer of the shoulder joint. The pectoralis major draws the upper arm towards the midline (adduction) and helps to expand the chest (when the shoulders are held in place). The serratus anterior extends from the upper nine ribs to inner (anterior) medial surface of the scapula. It acts in concert with the rhomboids to stabilize the shoulder blades and thus preventing “winging” of the scapula in this pose. (Figure 4).

    Take a moment to review our post on “co-activating the glutes and abs in Chaturanga” and integrate these muscles into this technique. Also, feel free to browse through the Yoga Mat Companion series. The illustrations in these books are designed to aid in visualizing the muscles in action in a variety of poses.  Slowing the movement as one approaches the endpoint of the pose also sets up a cadence or rhythm, especially when working with a Vinyasa Flow based practice. It can be applied to any pose and also to inhalation and exhalation, thus smoothing the breath. It also aids to protect the joints, which have smooth curved surfaces that adapt best to gradual transitions during movement.

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 4 – Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions”.

     

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 4 – Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions”.

    Check in next week for Part Three of this series on preventative strategies for lower back strains in yoga. Also, be sure to visit us on Facebook for your free Chakra poster and e-book.

    Namaste’

    By Ray & Chris of The Daily Bandha

    Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga.

    Chris Macivor is a 3D Graphic Dessigner and illustrator who has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years.

    This article was originally posted on www.dailybandha.com. If you would like more practice with Chaturanga Dandasana, check out the tutorials below on Omstars.com.

    Adrian Molina’s Chaturanga Tutorial on Omstars

    Laruga Glaser’s Chaturanga Tutorial on Omstars

  • How to do Marichyasana B

    Marichyasana B of the Ashtanga Primary Series is one of what I call “Birthday Cake Poses”. It involves specific ingredients that must be added in the proper order, at the appropriate time, for the recipe to work. The process is essential to honor the intention of the posture.

    The first ingredient is the lotus posture. Without lotus, it is really just a version of Marichyasana A. So take your time with your lotus position, finding release in the hip, checking in with the knee, bringing that foot high across the other leg, heel positioned within the line of the pubic bone and belly button. Once you have a workable lotus – perfection is not required, just something that is not painful and gives you space to work the other leg – lean back into the hands so that you can draw the second leg up, heel to sit bone. This moment may reveal some resistance in the hip, acknowledge that and navigate a path through it. If the hip is not too intense, rock your weight forward and diagonally toward the lotus leg. Eventually you want to feel secure in this foundation, the thigh of the lotus leg and the foot of the other side, that sit bone lifted. This is the baking phase of our recipe. Settle into your foundation, sit with ease. If you are still holding on to the planet to avoid falling back, then work here for a while. Next take a forward fold over you lap, reaching around for the bind just as in Marichyasana A, first arm around the upright knee, the other tossed behind the back. Got the bind? Frosting! Lastly, enjoy your dessert, finishing with a deep fold, forehead or chin to the floor. Breathe.

    If you rush this posture, you may end up with some distorted version with no integrity. Step by step process draws your awareness to places of resistance and thus places to work. When the full expression is reached it will feel like it makes sense, you will feel ready for it. No hurry! And always honor injuries, especially in the knees. It is certainly acceptable, even encouraged, to modify the lotus during a time of injury.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

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  • Why Yoga

    Why do you practice yoga? A yogi is a seeker of the truth. Intention sets the tone for what kind of journey you‘ll have along the path of yoga. Align yourself with the deeper dimension of yoga, practice with a sincere heart, and cultivate an attitude of devotion. Set your intention to know the deepest, most subtle, truth about yourself and about the universe because this is the goal of yoga from time immemorial.

    The yogis of ancient times in India were human beings like you and me. They were on a quest to directly experience the truth about who we are and why we are here and how this crazy thing called life works. The answers they found are the methodology of yoga that we continue to practice today. We cannot divorce yoga from its spiritual roots. In fact, I think the whole reason so many people are drawn to yoga is that in an age of spiritual vacuousness, rampant materialism and cut-throat capitalism, we have reached a kind of inner boiling point.

    So many people are hurting and wounded in their bodies and in their hearts and mind. So many people desperately want to scream, but instead, stand silently in shock. So many people show up to the safe and sacred space of yoga to discover the unfelt parts of their own bodies, to finally heal, to learn how to listen and ultimately to directly and personally experience the highest and ultimate truth, the truth that sets you free.

    If you haven’t asked yourself why you practice, ask. Dig below the surface for the hidden answers and you will find your true self.

    I practice because practice is prayer, a holy space of worship where I lay down all my heart and all my soul to the temple of the Eternal. I practice because in the quiet space between breath and body, I am free, immersed in the Infinite, replenished, restored. I practice because the simple purity of the seeker’s path keeps me real, humble and raw, it breaks my heart open so that love shines through just that little bit more and makes my world a more peaceful place, one breath at a time.

    Why do you practice?

    By Kino MacGregor

    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned yoga teacher, the youngest ever teacher to be certified in Ashtanga Yoga by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, author of several yoga books, and the founder of OMstars.com

    Practice Yoga With Kino On OMstars

    Try Meditation With Kino On OMstars

  • The Tristhana Training Ground: Breath, Gaze and Pose in Ashtanga Yoga

    Life feels like it’s been going through a slow-motion upheaval for some months now. Relationships tumbled out of the place I thought they belonged. Teaching opportunities I hadn’t even imagined pushed themselves to forefront. The political vibe of the world has felt erratic and powerful social justice movements have shaken me. The landscape of my life has been changed radically. Amid all this disturbance I have remained dedicated and devoted to my practice, thanks to the 3 stabilizers at its core.

    The Tristhana Method teaches us how to concentrate our attention using the breath, the gaze and both the outward (and deep internal) posture of the body. In Ashtanga yoga we always begin by lifting the arms over the head, drawing our navel in and up. This combination of internal and external movement shapes the pose through outward alignment and the inward bandha. We pair this alignment with a deep inhalation that matches up precisely to the duration of the arms rising. As the palms press together overhead, the drishti (gazing point) becomes fixed on the thumbs.

    This first vinyasa (a term signifying the matching of any one breath movement with any one body movement) of our practice sets us up to expand the mind/body/breath complex in new and intriguing ways. A slow rhythmic breath has a powerful effect on the nervous system. It’s a fact of our biology that as we exhale the heart rate decreases. So we breathe with sound, giving the breath texture, something we can hold on to and extend. The sound is like that of fogging a mirror, but through the nose. This breath control leads to a greater awareness of the inner spaces of the body. We see how the breath creates an openness where calm, dispassionate self-exploration is possible. There is a play of aliveness here that’s suitable for working to balance effort and ease.

    We settle into a gentle coercion around the breathing. We imbue it with just the right meter (even on inhale and exhale) and feeling tone (not too quiet, but not too forced).  When the dynamics of the breath are correct they fuel the practice with a sensation of harmonious propulsion.

    This vinyasa method of linking each movement with an inhale or an exhale allows us to make transitions with fluidity and drives us into the second stabilizer- the posture itself. In Sanskrit we call the pose Asana. Its made up of two parts, the external shape and the subtler internal engagement. The outward appearance of the pose is created by alignment via the measured arrangement of limbs, torso, pelvis, head, toes and fingers. The internal engagement is created by bandha, subtle physical and energetic controls centered deep in the body.

    If the breath gave the inner spaces shape, the then bandha gives them a sense of mass and makes them movable. Uddiyana Bandha feels a bit like drawing the low belly in and up. Moola Bandha activates the pelvic floor. Imagine you have to pee really bad, and there’s a line for the bathroom. Those muscles you squeeze to hold it are the ones you should contract for Moola Bandha. When these two work together they have the effect of suctioning the outer body in. Like a corset, they pull the more external body tissues towards the center, slimming the waist. In this way, the gravity of your core increases and the mass of your body is more easily controlled, pivots more freely around this newly awakened energetic center.

    Bandha brings a sense of lightness. As these deep muscles that were previously unused step up and take on responsibility for some of the body weight, our posture becomes steady and still. To the observer there may appear to be and effortless grace about the practitioner.

    Perhaps the most easily understood of these three tools is the drishti, or gazing point. If the breath and bandha have worked together to cultivate an expansion of the mind/body awareness, then the gaze has the effect of locking it all in place. When we reach the arms over the head in Utkatasana and hold for 5 long breaths, the arms naturally become fatigued. But if the gaze is focused on the thumbs and unwavering, there is a psychic push. Under the strength of the gaze the background blurs out and the fingertips reach up further than you thought possible.

    This three-pronged approach is the proven heart of the Ashtanga Yoga Method. When practiced daily and for a long time, it seems to increase sensitivity, provide clarity and perspective.

    Presidents come and go. Lovers become friends. We wake up to important social truths with a start. Change is always coming, sometimes more quickly than were prepared for. But these moments are prime opportunities for carrying our practice off the mat. When our pulse quickens at the thought of a border wall, take a deep breath and remember that the next President might pull it down. The sight of our old lover with his new one is a cue to focus our eyes and hearts somewhere else. When you’ve heard ‘me too’ just one too many times, or see another black life disregarded and your heart wants to burst? That’s the moment bring the posture of your behavior into alignment with your core conviction.

    The three stabilizers teach us to move in ways that are healing and mindful, to turn our senses inward on the mat. Many Ashtangi’s are finding, as we move through the world of distraction and disturbance, that same self-sure steadiness is coming up. Harmony. Grace. Focus. We’re connecting with a voice of knowing that leads us more adeptly than before. Tristhana has been a training ground.

    By Joseph Armstrong

  • Shine Bright with us at OMstars 

    If you’ve spent any significant time practicing yoga, you’ve probably experienced the tremendous benefits that the practice has on your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. When your inner light is feeling dull, or muted, diving into the yoga practice is usually the best remedy. And the more you practice, the brighter that light inside of you begins to shine.

    At the heart of every sentient being is the light of spirit. Called Puruṣa in Sanskrit, it means that each of us has the potential to shine like a star with the luminosity of the spirit within us. You could even say that yogis shine like the stars that they really are. Tapas, literally translated as heat or fire, purifies the body and mind by kindling the inner light. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra 2.43 states that after many years of disciplined practice the body glows with an inner light.

    While we all know that practicing yoga comes with a host of mental, physical and spiritual benefits, but did you know that when you practice with us on OMStars — the Yoga Network — you can explore all the aspects of the yoga practice? There are classes and course to keep you inspired and practicing daily, and we encourage accountability with our incentive system that’s designed to reward you for time spent immersing yourself into the yogi life via OMstars.com.

    Here’s how it works:

    We track all practice hours accumulated with us online which allow to you earn points.
    For every moment that you spend practicing, meditating and immersing yourself in practice and study focused content, you earn points. The points you earn determine your “level” as an OMstars practitioner. The more time you spend taking in content from our yoga channel, the more points you earn, and the higher your level becomes.

    Point levels are named after the order of brightness in a star system, going from Gamma, to Delta, to Beta, and finally to Alpha. The more practice hours you put in, the brighter you shine – both symbolically and physiologically.

    We know that our point system can’t track every hour you’ve been practicing so we don’t judge. Once you collect your points you can redeem them in the shop or donate them to charity. You can literally practice yoga and change your world!

    So the next time you feel your shine is starting to dull, dive into your practice with our yoga channel. We hope that our content makes you feel inspired to keep practicing yoga every day, and that you’ll choose to make OMstars.com your go to online yoga platform for all things yoga related!

    by Alex Wilson

  • Ashtanga Yoga IS Hard—A Beginner’s Guide to How to Practice

    There is no easy way to say this but the reality is that Ashtanga Yoga is in fact really hard. The longer you practice the more you forget what a marathon the Primary Series really is. For total yoga newbies this can seem utterly intimidating and defeating. While I’ve dedicated ample resources into making the Ashtanga Yoga method approachable, even the most basic and modified version of this traditional practice is still quite challenging. It takes on average 90 minutes to complete the Full Primary Series – longer than the most yoga or fitness classes. The traditional method also asks you to practice six days a week, which is an often daunting task. There are then lifestyle and diet changes that are recommended for more committed Ashtangis, including following a plant-based diet and practicing early in the morning. Ashtanga Yoga isn’t for everyone. And yet, perhaps it is.

    Not only have I practiced and taught this traditional method for over 20 years, but I believe that it can be made accessible to all. I’ve created this Beginner’s Guide to Ashtanga Yoga for exactly this purpose. It is my hope that students of yoga who are keen to try the Ashtanga Yoga method read this first and follow these guidelines. Ideally, every student leaves the practice with a feeling of inspiration and faith. Consider this a map passed on by a trekker who has been on the mountain for many years.

    1. Expect to Fail— In the Ashtanga Yoga method nothing is meant to be easy on your first try. This is part of the lesson of the practice. Instead of making the practice easy, the method asks you to make your mind strong. If you accept your failure and learn to love yourself anyway, you’re practicing a valuable life skill. You should feel somewhat overwhelmed in the midst of your first Ashtanga Yoga practice. It gets better after many years!

    2. Start Small and Build Up Incrementally— Don’t bite off more than you can chew. While it may be tempting to jump into the Full Primary Series, as a newbie to Ashtanga Yoga, I’d recommend that you start off with just the Sun Salutations. If you’re watching a video of the Full Primary Series to inspire you to practice, just follow along for the first bit and then watch as much as you want. Then when you’re ready to close, skip ahead to the final closing poses to complete your practice. Once you get established in the basics of the Sun Salutations you can move on to include the Standing Poses and then the Seated Poses, until you’ve built up the whole Primary Series.

    3. Focus on the Breath, Not the Pose—The real magic of the practice happens through the channel of the breath. Deep breathing with sound is the link that ties the conscious and the subconscious mind together. When you delve into the Ashtanga Yoga method, the poses are merely an opportunity for you to breathe. Once you re-calibrate your attention towards the breath, it no longer matters what poses you’re doing or not doing.

    4. Watch the Tutorials—If you ever feel overwhelmed by a pose, you’re not alone. Watch tutorials from a qualified teacher that you respect to guide you into healthy anatomical and alignment principles. Learning how to think through the technique of the asana helps you understand how to work. It can change a feeling of helplessness to a feeling of hopefulness.

    5. Feel Your Body—The real purpose of yoga is to feel your body. The poses are never meant to be goals in an of themselves. In fact you never really master a pose. Instead, when you practice, the real intention is to bring awareness into every cell of your whole body. Once the body is literally filled with the infinite light of your own consciousness you will wake up to the truth of who you are. This transcendental body awareness can happen in any pose, so no need to try and do all the advanced poses.

    6. Don’t Play the Comparison Game— More poses don’t make you a better yogi. Having more poses isn’t like accumulating chips on your shoulder. The inner work is what it’s all about. While almost all yogis struggle with the poses, the struggle is meant to be a teacher. Wherever you meet your challenge is where your yoga begins. If someone needs a more “advanced” pose to find their edge, then that’s their edge. If you find your edge in the first breath of the practice consider yourself lucky. You don’t need to go in search of more extreme poses in order to generate one of the deepest benefits of yoga—compassion, which means suffering with. It is not success in yoga that connects us, but our struggle. The more you find yourself caught in a difficult pose, the more your heart will open.

    7. Study—Supplement your daily asana practice with some reading. Pick up the key texts of the Ashtanga Yoga method and learn more about how the practice works. Once you understand the deeper elements and intentions of the practice, it will be easier to understand how it works.

    8.  Surrender to the Process— While you might feel like you want to have more poses than just the Sun Salutations and do something interesting and more fun, if you learn to accept where you are and surrender to the journey you will get a benefit that’s better than any pose—peace. Inner peace happens as a shift in your heart that happens when you realize you don’t have anything to prove and you’re happy to work and be exactly where you are.

    9. Don’t Push or Force, Just Be—While it may be tempting to grab your limbs and force them into the shapes of the asana, your body will suffer. Cultivate a peaceful attitude towards your body and never force or push yourself. Practice being with your body in a space of loving-kindness. When you feel the urge to force or push, let it go.

    10. Never Give Up—If you feel overwhelmed by doubt, watch an inspirational video to motivate yourself. Get on your mat even for five minutes a day six days a week. Congratulate yourself for every small step forward you take. Decide that you will not give up, especially when it feels daunting and overwhelming.

    By Kino MacGregor


    Kino MacGregor is a world renowned Ashtanga Yoga teacher, the author of several yoga inspired books, including The Yogi Assignment, and founder of OmStars.com. Practice the Ashtanga Yoga Full Primary Series online with Kino to get started on your journey today.

    Practice Ashtanga Yoga With Kino On OmStars