It is cold and flu season in Bali and I unfortunately picked it up. I’m nearing the end of the first week of my cold and I’ve finally started to pull out the big guns. I’ve realized that my normal routine is not quite going to cut it. In addition to ginger, echinacea, and Panadol I’ve been focusing on using neti, mudras and restorative yoga. This week I have been incorporating Varuna Mudra into my practice to clear up the congestion in my sinuses and chest.
I’m typically one to go-go-go, so I have difficulty slowing down. I’ve been practicing more yang style yoga and have gotten myself a bit out of balance, so I’m not surprised that I got the “Bali flu”. It is often when I find myself out of balance or when I stop paying attention that I get ill (which luckily isn’t very often). Usually I catch myself before I get sick and step back, slow down, and take a breather, but not this time. I love teaching restorative yoga because I know how beneficial it is, but I’ve been struggling with my own restorative practice. This week I’ve been trying to dial it back in and refocus on my own wellbeing and self-care.
Well, this article is supposed to be about mudras, so lets bring it back to Varuna Mudra.
To practice Varuna Mudra take the pinky finger of your right hand and bring it to the pad of your right thumb. Then wrap your right thumb over the top of your little finger. Take your left hand and wrap it gently around the right hand and bring your left thumb over the top of the right thumb. Hold this mudra for 30-40 minutes.
Benefits of Varuna Mudra
Varuna mudra is used to combat congestion… physically, emotionally and psychologically. Congestion and excess mucus in the sinus, stomach and lungs is often caused by some type of irritant. I feel like it’s probably safe to say that emotional or psychological congestion can be caused by an irritant too… According to Gertrud Hirschi congestion may also be related to “overstimulated nerves, inner tensions and unrest, triggered by overstraining, being pressed by time, being aggravated or experiencing fear.” Living a perpetually stressed out life makes us more susceptible to colds and mucus congestion.
I also use jala neti when suffering from congestion as well…. once again bringing in that water element of Varuna to fight the build-up of mucus and flush it out! Fighting water with water!
Yogis I have been getting a lot of requests for this vinyasa yoga playlist, so I thought I would share it here with you. Yoga instructors feel free to use this playlist in your classes too. It has a nice peak and then drops back down and chills before savasana.
Anyone else have a favorite workout or yoga playlist? Feel free to share it below. I’m always looking for new inspiration. I love a good, fun energizing playlist, but I’m also drawn to more acoustic, folk music for my gentler yoga classes. I just love music and a good flow!
Lets get right into it. We all suffer. We will continue to suffer and the kleshas are the root cause of our suffering. The kleshas are the obstacles to our spiritual growth and they are tendencies we all have. There are five kleshas and they are all rooted in the first klesha avidya or ignorance.
Within the context of the kleshas ignorance is not the same as being “confused” it is “not seeing clearly”. When we can end avidya the remaining kleshas also drop away; Unfortunately, avidya is the hardest klesha to overcome.
Not familiar with the kleshas? Here we’ll cover the basics of the kleshas and reflective exercises to work with the kleshas.
The First Klesha: Avidya (ignorance; not seeing clearly; incorrect knowledge)
Avidya is the first of the kleshas. Avidya is when we are ignorant of our true nature. Our true nature is the part of you that is always loving, peaceful and unchanging. Avidya is not knowing the way things really are. Of course, we tend to see things from our own limited perspective based on previous experiences.
Avidya shows up in many areas of our lives. It shows up in our relationships, our stories, our prejudices, our desires and fears. According to the Yoga Sutras, ” Avidya is to mistake the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self.
Reflection exercise: Ask yourself, “How does avidya show up in my life?” When have I mistaken the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self? What labels do I give myself? What do I identify with ? How do I compare myself with others? What labels do I use?
The Second Klesha: Asmita (egoism; false identification)
When we forget our true nature we begin to overly identify with I, me and mine. Of course the ego isn’t all bad. Svadharma, our “self nature”, is the positive or “good” ego showing up in our being. Svadharma moves us toward connection instead of alienation. Who we are at our core is unchanging. Our ego typically causes us to see ourselves as separate from others, creates alienation and makes decisions on our behalf without consideration for others. The ego has preferences and aversions.
False identification is confusing the nature of the seer (the true Self or purusha) with the nature of the instrument of perception. Asmita is when we identify with the parts of our body and mind that change and allow these things to define us. Who we are at out core is unchanging. When we identify with the parts of us that change (like job title, age, body, etc.) we set ourselves up for disappointment and suffering. When researching for this article I came across this quote about Asmita in the Yoga Journal.
Enjoying the transitory parts of our bodies is part of the beauty and richness of life. They are an important part of who you are, but they are not all that you are.
Reflection Exercise: Reflect on a time you felt like your most authentic and true self. How did it feel? Continue to cultivate gentleness and patience with yourself as you connect deeper to your true Self.
The Third Klesha: Raga (attachment)
Raga is the third of the kleshas. Raga is also one of the easier kleshas for us to “wrap our mind around”. We are inherently attached to pleasure. We have our favorite yoga poses, our favorite restaurants and favorite people. An example of Raga I heard in class the other day goes something like this: Say you have your favorite restaurant, you go there every week and you order the same thing each time. It hits the spot. It’s perfect and you couldn’t imagine ordering anything else. And then one night you go to this restaurant, you order your favorite meal and it doesn’t come out as you expect. I’m sure you can relate. What happens? How do you feel? Let down, disappointed, frustrated, maybe even angry? This is raga showing it’s ugly head.
When our ego is bruised or perhaps even inflated…. that is a strong attachment to our desires and attachment to our desires causes us pain and suffering. I read this statement on Yoganonymous, “When something brings us pleasure our brains want to repeat that experience and on some basic level we expect the things (and people) that give us a moment’s pleasure to make us happy.” We are looking for pleasure outside of ourselves and relying on our external world to fulfill this desire… unfortunately the fulfillment, the “buzz” from these external things doesn’t last. We rationalize our desires and often don’t even question them.
Raga isn’t letting go of the things we like, it is letting go of the expectations around them.
Reflection exercise: Take a moment to reflect on either your day or your week and notice where raga showed up. Perhaps even write it down. Did you rationalize it? Did it bring you pleasure or disappointment?
The Fourth Klesha: Dvesa (aversion)
Dvesa, or aversion, is the fourth klesha. When we allow ourselves to be controlled by strong desires we develop strong aversions when those desires or not fulfilled.
Let’s try another plausible real life example. You go to your normal Saturday morning yoga class with your favorite vinyasa teacher. You show up and someone else is in your spot. Grrr. You put your mat down (or *gasp* you ask them to move out of “your” spot) and begin your pre-class rituals. It’s 8:55am and you realize that your favorite teacher is nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later a sub walks in and this sub’s voice really gets under your skin. Then she puts on her music and it’s SHIT! WTF! The universe must be conspiring. Now you’re pissed. You’re not in your spot. Your favorite teacher isn’t there. And that music…OMG! You see that downhill spiral? Now you’ve got your panties in a bunch and have moved into alienation, me vs. you. You likely won’t be open enough to receive this teacher’s message/teachings.
Your ego has attached to all that is changing. You’ve developed some pretty intense attachments and aversions and now they’ve caused you pain and suffering.
Reflection Exercise: Reflect on a time when you were in a challenging situation. Perhaps a situation where you expected one thing to happen and it didn’t. How did it feel? What was your response? With what you know now… how could you have responded differently? Could you have looked at it as a gift? As an opportunity for growth.
The Fifth Klesha: Abhinivesa (fear of death)
Abhinivesa, or fear of death, is the fifth klesha. Abhinivesa is clinging to bodily life and once again it stems from avidya, not seeing clearly. Abhinivesa is confusing the temporal with eternal. We naturally don’t like change, especially when we don’t know what’s next. We experience pain and suffering when we realize that we lack the ability to control life. Death is a natural process and to fear it over life creates only more fear and more suffering.
How do we counteract the fear of death? We accept that everything in this material world changes. We can choose to live in a manner that is aligned with our highest values.
Reflection exercise: Ask yourself “what is truly important?What is truly worth my time and effort?” Knowing that your time and energy is limited how would you like to change your life? Would you shift your perspective or attitude? How would you live your life?
So you want to backbend deeper? I’m with you. I don’t have a naturally “bendy” back, so I have to work pretty consistently to keep my backbends good and healthy. In this post I will share with you my tips to deepen your backbend safely. In this blog post I will focus on urdhva dhanurasana or wheel pose, which is a traditional back-bending pose that shows up in most level 2+ vinyasa yoga classes.
Just remember it’s not all about the flexibility of your back. You must open up the entire front side of your body to deepen your backbends and then my friend you must practice patience and ahimsa. Don’t force yourself into a posture before your body is ready for it. If you experience any pain at all you must come out of the posture, check your alignment and then perhaps come back into the posture or choose a gentler version. Maybe you just practice restorative postures for a bit and slowly add in more strength building backbends and then begin to deepen the backbend safely.
1. Warm Up The Entire Body
This might seem like a no brainer, but seriously if you want deep backbends you must warm up the entire body, not just your back. Stretching and strengthening are of equal importance. The following postures are all excellent warm up postures; combine them with a few rounds of sun salutations and you have a complete practice to deepen your backbend safely.
2. Get Specific. Let’s Talk Postures.
When preparing for deep backbends you must consider what parts of your body will be involved; for example, in wheel pose the wrists, shoulders, back, hips/hip flexors, quads and glutes all need to be warmed up and stretched out. Core activation is also key. Using wheel pose as our example lets begin with the wrists and work our way down the body with a full body sequence to open up our front body, so we can backbend safely.
weight bearing wrist stretches from a table top pose
Shoulders (Start gentle)
melting heart (anahatasana),
downward facing dog at the wall
prone pectoral stretch.
Downward facing dog and dolphin pose
Add binds to your standing postures.
Interlace the hands behind your hips in warrior 1, practice humble warrior,
eagle arms in warrior 3
prasarita padotanasana c (wide leg forward fold with hands clasped behind hips)
Side body stretches
Upward Facing Dog
Locust Pose (perhaps add a bind)
Bridge pose with the hands bound.
Add backbends to your standing postures (anjaneyasana, crescent lunge, warrior 1). It’s important to strengthen and stretch!
You don’t need to do a ton of core, just enough to activate the muscles and get them to turn on.
3. Proper Alignment
In wheel pose the hands are shoulder width distance (slightly wider is okay too), wrists are parallel to the short edge of your yoga mat, middle fingers are parallel to one another and the fingertips point back toward your heels.
Feet are hips width distance and PARALLEL to one another. Don’t turn the feet out or take them wider.
In all backbends you want to think of wrapping the upper thighs in toward one another.
In wheel pose think of lengthening your tailbone toward the wall behind you. This will keep you from compressing the lumbar spine. In Locust Pose, Cobra Pose, Upward Facing Dog, and Bow Pose you will also want to lengthen the tailbone toward the wall behind you. And in Camel Pose think of lengthening your tailbone down toward the floor.
Don’t let the heart drop. Always lift through the heart. Once again this will help keep you from taking the entire backbend in your lumbar spine.
Gently draw your lower abdomen in. Once again, keeping your core engaged will help protect your lower back.
4. Active and restorative backbends.
You need to practice both active and restorative backbends, so grab your block, bolster, yoga wheel… or whatever else you’ve got. It’s important to allow your body to relax into passive backbends too. Restorative and yin style backbends stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).If you can stimulate the PNS (relaxation response) in your active backbends you’ll be golden when it’s time to do drop backs and inverted backbends.
5. Bodywork and Myofascial Release to Backbend Safely
Yes, I said it. Get yourself regular massages. Between massages I use tennis balls, or if you’re hard core or a glutton for punishment you can use lacrosse balls, to release tension in the fascia and connective tissue. Myofascial release will help create space within your entire body. Look for a roll and release class or marma point therapy class at your local yoga studio.
Lets see your backbends yogis! Tag me on Instagram @ambuja_yoga or Facebook @ambujayoga
And as always feel free to shoot me a message if you have any more questions.
Ushas mudra is the mudra for new beginnings, alertness and the second chakra, swadisthana, at the sacrum. The second chakra is our center of sexuality and creativity. In Sanskrit, Ushas means “break of the day” or “origin of good things” hence the mudra being used for new beginnings.
To Practice Ushas Mudra
Ushas mudra can be practiced first thing in the morning to help wake the body. It is the perfect practice when you have those three “snooze button” kind of mornings. To practice ushas mudra as a female interlace your fingers placing your right thumb between the index finger and thumb of your left hand. Your left thumb gentle presses into the thumb of the right hand. Males practice ushas mudra with the fingers interlaced and the right thumb resting on top of the left thumb.
Here is my favorite way to practice the mudra: maintaining the mudra take your hands back behind your head and let the head rest heavy in the palms of the hands, then stretch the elbows out to the side. With elbows pressing back into your pillow or bed begin to deepen your breath, perhaps arch your back slightly. Take a few rounds of deep breath here and then (still maintaining the mudra) stretch your arms overhead and turn the palms away from you. Stretch the body as long as you can and point out through your toes. Take some ankle circles. Take a few rounds of breath here and when you feel energized and alert make your way out of bed.
Ushas Mudra Benefits
According to Gertrud Hirschi, “This mudra concentrates the sexual energy of our second chakra and directs it into the energy centers above it.” Ushas mudra improves mental alertness, balances our hormones and concentrates sexual energy.
Affirmation for Ushas:
I am enthusiastic about life. I enjoy life’s pleasures.