Lessons from the Mat: Use Yoga for a Flat Tummy & Tone Your Abs with Warrior IIIArticle posted in: Fitness
By: Eliza Darling
In the previous Lessons from the Mat article, I lightly covered “yamas,” which are the five moral restraints that together comprise the first of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. This article will discuss Niyamas (social observances), the second limb that complements the first. Where the yamas can simply be described as ethical codes of conduct by which the practicing yogi lives, the niyamas extend to the environment of the body, mind and soul.
Niyamas: Social Observances
Saucha (purification) was incorporated when ancient yogis discovered that impurities in both the external environment and the internal body adversely affect our ability to reach spiritual freedom and inner wisdom. The first niyama asks that we cleanse our minds of destructive thoughts and actions, our bodies of toxic foods and drinks, and our environment of impure furnishings and ways of transportation.
Samtosha (contentment) is not yearning for what we do not have, longing for a life we do not live or coveting the possessions of others. It asks us to accept and appreciate the bounty in our own life and to celebrate that abundance through the lenses of gratitude. Through contentment (not to be confused with complacency), the yogi is able be liberated from the unnecessary suffering of always wanting things to be different than they are, and thus is able to live a life of gratitude and joy.
Tapas (heat) is the yogic practice of intense self-discipline, in which the yogi does something she or he doesn’t want to do because it will have a positive impact on her or his life. When our will conflicts with the desire of our mind, it creates an internal “fire” that burns the mental and physical impurities. In asana yoga, we build heat by holding poses, and even when the mind cries to exit the pose, our will to stay steady and strong allows us to create and experience an intense heat or fire within.
Svadhyaya (self-study) is the tool that gives us the ability to see our true divine nature through the practice of meditation. When we contemplate our life’s lessons as a witness or observer, we are able to objectively see blessings and solve problems, as well as cultivate peaceful and calm energies. The objective observation acts as a mirror to more clearly see our conscious and unconscious motives, actions and desires.
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion) is the dedication of one’s practice to a higher power. This niyama melds two common aspects of yoga within it: The devotion to something greater than the self and selfless action of karma yoga. To attain the goals of yoga, Patanjali says the yogi must let go of the egocentric nature and the constant identification with one’s self. To achieve this, we must use the benefits we receive from the practice and the practice itself as an offering to a higher power. When we offer our practice it becomes a living, breathing, sacred devotion, rather than an activity that we DO.
The yamas and niymas are the solid foundation from which the yogi can journey into the deeper stages of yoga through focus, self-discipline and success. Practicing the first two limbs is a process to be followed with ease, one step at a time. As with the application of the physical poses of yoga, the foundational limbs should be practiced with compassion and without attachment to perfection.
POSE OF THE WEEK: VIRABHASANA III (WARRIOR III)
Virabhadrasana III is a balancing pose that requires the practitioner to rely on the strength of the foundational standing leg, but also on the light steadiness of the upper body.
- Can strengthen the ankles and legs
- Helps stretch the shoulders and muscles of the upper back
- Helps tones the abdomen
- Helps improve balance and posture
HOW TO DO IT:
- Begin in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) on the right side.
- Turn the gaze to an unmoving point on the floor slightly in front of your mat
- Lean the weight into the front foot.
- Lift the back (left) leg up and straighten standing leg.
- Press the weight into the standing foot and firm the standing leg, moving the front of the thigh back.
- Flex the foot of the extended leg and activate the quadriceps and the hamstrings.
- Spiral the left inner thigh toward the ceiling to lower the left hip in line with the right.
- Lengthen the tailbone toward the extended heel.
- Draw the frontal ribs in and engage the lower abdominals.
- With the arms extended forward (and biceps beside the ears), ease the shoulders down the back.
- Hold anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute.
- Return to Virabhadrasana I and switch sides
TIPS & MODIFICATIONS:
- Keep the gaze fixed to experience more stable balance.
- To ease tension in the neck and shoulders, modify with the hands together in front of the heart, or arms parallel to the torso.
- Bend the standing leg to maintain squared hips as needed.
- Use blocks to help steady the balance if you feel wobbly. Place a block under each shoulder and extend the arms down resting the fingertips on the blocks.
*Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.