This is an excerpt from Colleen Saidman Yee’s book, Yoga For Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom.
Yoga For Life is broken down into 14 chapters, each featuring a personal narrative from the author and a yoga sequence that relates to personal lessons discussed in the text. The following excerpt and beginning asanas are from the chapter on Truth.
Yoga Sequence: Practicing Truthfulness
At Jivamukti [Yoga Studio, NYC], we investigated the practice of satya, the yoga precept (or yama) of truthfulness. We start with small steps, becoming conscious of the little lies we tell almost without knowing. A small secret or lie can have great power. Lying about my age for so long was like carrying a weight on my chest. A lie is never isolated; you need more lies to cover up the intial one. The energy requried to hold up the mask of untruth is exhausting and it alienates us from ourselves.
Yoga breaks through our lies and defenses with the intense heat of practice. Asanas create an internal combustion that affects us physically, psychologically, and emotionally. This purification is called tapas, which is translated as “heat,” “glow,” “discipline,” or “austerity.” Tapas burns impurities that impede us and keep us separate from the divine. Shedding the layers of false self requires dedication to your practice. The dedication isn’t only the effort you bring to a particular pose—it’s also the consistency of getting on your mat, of telling one less lie, of letting go of one more bit of anger or resentment every day. Dharma talks and yoga scriptures introduce a different kind of fire, one that tests your beliefs. Philosophical friction creates heat. Yoga says the liberated self is buried within us. I love the analogy of the musk deer that roots around for a beautiful smell that is bedeviling it—never realizing that the smell is its own.
This is heat-building vinyasa practice that is intended to burn impunities. I’ve built on the template of the first Jivamukti class I taught seventeen years ago. I began with the mantra of the classic Buddhist teaching, Prajna paramita, the Heart Sutra: Gate gate para gate para sam gate bodhi swaha. The translation is, “Gone, gone, way gone, beyond gone, awake, so be it.” I talked about how in yoga we work to get beyond our stories, our constructed identities, our likes and dislikes, until we arrive at the pure state of yoga, which is truth.
Shining Skull Breath (kapalabhati) with Reverse Tabletop variation. Sit in Easy Pose (sukhasana), take 3 normal breaths, and then inhale to a comfortable level and begin sharp, rapid exhalations by pumping the belly. Keep your exhales active, your inhales passive, and the breath audible in the nostrils, not the throat. After 16 pumpings, drop your chin toward your chest and take 3 smooth breaths with a relaxed belly (a). Inhale, lift your head, and begin another cycle of kapalabhati. Then lean back on your hands and lift your hips halfway to Reverse Tabletop (b). Change the cross of your shins and lower into Easy Pose for 2 more rounds.
This exercise heats the body and cleans the cobwebs out of your head. Now move onto your hands and knees.
As you inhale, tilt your pelvis into a backbend, lifting your head to look forward and up into Cow Pose (a); then exhale and hunch your back, pressing your tailbone toward the floor and dipping your head to look at your belly in Cat Pose (b). Repeat 5 times. Cat-Cow is a perfect preparation for Sun Salutations, since they are composed of alternating back- and forward bends. From Cow Pose, lift your hips to Bent-Knee Downward-Facing Dog (c). Pedal your legs 4 times, then walk your feet between your hands. Bend and straighten your legs 4 times. Look forward, put your hands on your hips, and come to stand in Mountain Pose.