Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Meaning of Om

It is said that the first vibrations that made sound in the creation of the universe was 'om'. Om, a simple word comprised of three primary sounds, 'a', 'u', 'm', is an incredibly complex meaning and diverse usage. Om in Hinduism is a sacred syllable that represents the Brahman, or the omnipotent energy of the universe. The sanskrit character for om (pictured right) represents the three states in which om represents and brings into symbiotic harmony. The large lower curve to the left of the character symbolizes the waking state-'jagat'-one of complete consciousness and awareness of the world around you. The smaller upper curve to the left of the character symbolizes a state of deep sleep-'sushupti'-in which one's mind is vacant of thought and want. The large curve in the lower right hand-side of the character represents a dreamlike state-'swapna'-in which one turns powers of observation inwards in meditation and realization of self. The dot separated from the rest of the character by a semicircle represents a state-'turiya'-in which the three separate states are united. In yoga, Om represents the unity of mind, body, and spirit. The resonance of the sounds and vibrations created when chanting 'om' engage different parts of the body in a central focus and serve to clear the mind of any distractions. In this way, we can fully surrender to a 'divine light' within us and focus our energies in a positive and productive way when moving through the asana.

Introducing Parivrtta Trikonasana

Parivrtta = Revolved
Trikon = Three-Angle
Asana = Pose

Parivrtta Trikonasana, or Revolved Triangle Pose is a pose that strengthens the ankles, legs and hip flexors and stretches and lengthens the legs, hip flexors and spine. It also opens the thoracic cavity to improve breathing and circulation. Parivrtta Trikonasana is a rotated modification of the basic Trikonasana, and thus I will go over the steps to go into Trikonasana and then the steps to go into the modification.

1. Stand in Tadasana. Root down into the earth, spread toes and find balance. Bring hands to the center and simultaneously jump both hands and feet about 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart in a wide-stance. Reach your arms to the side, palms down.

2. Turn your right foot out at a 90˚angle, and if necessary, turn your left foot in at a comfortable increment as well. Make sure the heels of your feet are aligned in the same plane on your mat.

3. Lengthen your torso, and bend at the waist, taking your right arm towards your right foot. Stretch the left shoulder back and relax both down into the back and breathe as you feel your heart center melt and your torso and chest open towards the side of your mat. Take your left hand on your left hip.

4. Stack your left arm on top of your right, reaching upwards towards the ceiling. Your shoulders should be aligned in the same plane and retracted back into the spine. If you are stable, turn and look up at your left hand.

5. Exhale and press the soles of your feet into the ground to rise up. Repeat the process for the other leg!

TIPS for completing the asana correctly : Don't forget Tadasana! Find the same balance in this wide-stance as in Tadasana; keep both legs strong and straight and engaged; retract the quadriceps back into the bone. If you have trouble balancing at any point, you should press both your toe mounds into the ground and re-spread your toes before continuing onto the next step. Your shoulders should not be tense, but relaxed and pressed down and into your spine and your arms should be actively engaged! Remember to engage the bandhas for stability and remember to breathe!

Steps 1 & 2 of Trikonasana are the foundation for this modification. The following steps are how to get into Parivrtta Trikonasana.

3. Square your hips with the front of the mat, pivoting to the right. Make sure your left hip is in the same plane as your right, both facing straight forward, your hands on your hips. (this is reminiscent of the preparation for Warrior I) Make sure both your legs are strong and straight, quadriceps drawn up into the thigh.

4. On an exhalation, first stretch, then rotate your torso further to the right, making sure to keep your left hip grounded as your left arm touches down on the inside or outside of your right foot.

5. Finally, stack your right arm on top of your left, reaching upwards towards the ceiling. Your shoulders should be aligned in the same plane and retracted back into the center of the spine. Use this to open your thoracic cavity and relax your heart center. If you are stable, turn and look up at your right hand.

TIPS for completing the asana correctly: This asana follows the same principles as Trikonasana. The emphasis on opening the chest and perpetuating Tadasana remains the same. Press through the back heel--this is an asana that requires good balance--do not shift all your weight to the front of your body. Make sure you do not arch your back, but keep it firm and straight and square your hips towards the front of the mat. Remember to breathe and engage the bandhas!,,

I was surprised to find that Parivrtta Trikonasana had many therapeutic applications. The action of opening the heart center also opens the thoracic cavity, making the process of breathing easier. Therefore, it will benefit those with mild asthma or other breathing problems like bronchitis. It also promotes circulation along the pelvic and abdominal regions, helping with mild digestive problems or constipation. Also because of this asana's relative ease and accessibility, it becomes easy to perform on a daily basis in order to stretch your spine and relieve back pain.,,

Because I have much trouble with balance, I found this asana to be incredibly challenging at first. Also, my shoulders have always been a source of tension for me, as I am a swimmer, and therefore I had to exercise awareness when I reached my right hand upwards and be mindful of releasing all the tension that was there. However, the longer I stayed in the asana, the easier it felt. The previous tension I had in my left hamstring had released, and I found I was able to rotate further, getting a good stretch in my obliques as well. Spreading my toes as well as engaging my bandhas and really focusing on the sound of my breaths allowed me to maintain the posture with relative ease.