Yoga Energetics for Athletes - Introduction

Many say that yoga has gained such wide-spread popularity in America in main part because it is viewed as another way to keep our bodies fit.  This is a perfectly fine reason to do yoga. The practice of yoga does an amazing job of strengthening the entire body. The arms get strong in balancing poses - the stomach gets strong in headstand, plank pose and vastisana - the legs and hips gain strength when we enter in to warrior poses - and most everyone who has done a sun salutation has felt their heart-rate rise. In this way yoga IS the perfect workout. 

Yoga Energetics for Athletes - The Gunas

The Sunrise and Sunset of the Gunas 

The gunas - Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva - are mental/spiritual constitutions. They are intertwined forces of the mind that continue to move. Once a state is entered into, it usually lasts for a period of time, depending on the heaviness of the guna. Our goal is to continue to reduce Tamas and Rajas until our mind achieves a state of Sattva.

Each person has one guna that predominates in their personality, but there is usually one guna that prevails in their everyday life at a given time. The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve a purely Sattvic state. For most of us, we will move from guna to guna as we grow spiritually and mentally. It is useful for our purposes to understand the Gunas so that we know how to support our self in our yoga practice in order to enhance our athletic performance. First let's understand the gunas and later we will explore how they incorporate into our three sequences. Having a framework for describing which state you might be in, can assist you in deciding which practice is best for you at that moment. 

Helpful hint: Sometimes we are drawn to practices that enhance our dominant guna instead of to ones that will help balance us out. 

The Gunas:

Tamas is the base constitution that is heaviest in density and hence is the most difficult to transition out of. It is considered sluggish, negative energy that is unreceptive to growth. It enjoys being where it is and does not want to move - also known as intertia. This might manifest itself in feeling physically unable to go do a workout, mentally negative and emotional during a game, or it might prevent you from learning from a situation and trying something new based off of a new understanding. However, it is important to understand the importance of this state as well. Being the destructive force that it is, it has the ability to honor emotions and negativity that arise. It also is a very steady and consistent force that brings loyalty. In addition it allows us to feel embodiment - if we are too in our head or too energetic - Tamas helps you slow down and get grounded. 

Rajas is an active, stimulating and positive force. It is the life force that brings us vitality and the ability to keep moving from one thing to the next. If the daytime were sattva and the night were tamas, the rajas is the sunset and the sunrise - the energy that allows the transition between the two states to happen. What's important to know about Rajas is that it provides us with the desire to achieve. It is very goal-focused energy and has the ability to stimulate the enthusiasm of a group and spark action in a person and in a team to go the extra mile for the win. The downside of rajas is that it can sometimes create action for action's sake. Have you ever found yourself running back and forth on the court or on the field, eager to do enhance the game, and despite all of the effort you are putting in you find that you really aren't getting anything done. Often, if we become over rajasic we may need the steadiness of tamas or the clarity of sattva to help direct the energy of rajas. It's also important to tune in to whether you have a rajasic personality. There are times where we are prone to wanting to do the most vigorous workout possible, but in the goal of staying balanced it would be better to calm the mind instead. Enjoy the process and give yourself permission to slow down. Honor that what we are doing is going to lead us somewhere and we don't have to always be looking it straight in the eye. 

Sattva is a balancing and harmonizing force that develops the ability to be in tune with your own divine nature. As mentioned before, it represents the light of the day.  As divinity and truth arise, those who develop sattvic qualities must take care to use them with knowledge, skill and detachment. In sports, sattva is a type of knowledge that most athletes can understand well. It is that moment that with no thought or effort required you perform a move that even surprises you. You are so in tune with your inner and outer world that things are happening with a type of divine intelligence. This divine intelligence need not raise the idea of god in your head, more importantly it's a knowledge source that you are tapping into that provides you with the effortless decision-making abilities that are the result of a clear mind. In sports terms this might be considered "the zone" or the result of years of physical conditioning and thus automatic responses. If you wish to develop this state you will choose the sattvic practice provided in this book.

References: 

     Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-healing and Self-Realization, David Frawley

     Sri Yoga Teacher Training 2013, Lecture and Manual


Read the Entire Series:

Introduction

The Candle: Ojas, Tejas, Prana

The Sunrise and the Sunset of  the Gunas

Sequence 1: Balancing

Sequence 2: Ease in Effort

Sequence 3: Awareness

 

Yoga Energetics for Athletes - The Vital Essences

The Candle: Ojas, Tejas, Prana

Many athletes have mastered the physical ability to bring intensity to a sport. But what if there is something to be gained by making sure that you are also filling up your reservoir of energy so that you have something to draw upon when vigorous action is necessary? What if we were able to understand when it was time to stoke the fire within a little brighter? Or, maybe we are looking to grow our abilities and integrate our experiences. This is where our Ojas, Tejas and Prana come in. 

Ojas, Tejas and Prana are considered to be counterparts to the three doshas - Vata, Pitta and Kapha. What are doshas? Doshas are part of the Indian healing system of Ayurveda. As the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda states, the doshas are constitutions, which everyone is born with. The doshas represent physical and mental qualities of a person and they create awareness of our potential imbalances. If we know the areas that we are most prone to become imbalanced in, then we can take herbs, stay away from certain foods and give preference to certain physical activities to ensure that we stay in balance and maintain our health. The subtle counterparts to these doshas - as I was saying - are prana, tejas, and ojas. 

Considered the three vital essences, we are able to tap into these forces to create vitality: health, well-being and creativity. 

For our purposes here, by understanding these three essences, we can better tune in to which of the three practices is best for us at different times and why. 

Ojas is primal vigor. It is the subtle energy of water. Building on this vital essence creates a reservoir that sustains physical and mental endurance. We develop increased peace, confidence and patience when we invest in building up our ojas. When we wish to build ojas we must calm our nervous system. We can do this in part by shutting ourselves off to sensory stimulation. Another way to build Ojas is to focus on love and devotion. 

Tejas is inner radiance. It is what governs our ability to take in our world through our senses and integrate that into our body and mind. When Tejas is cultivated it increases courage, fearlessness and insight. 

Prana is considered the primal life force that supports enthusiasm, creativity, adaptability and joy. Prana gives us the energy to make changes. To build prana it is beneficial to enjoy nature. You can nurture this energy through expansive meditations that focus on space.

If you visualize a candle, the ojas is the oil for our candle. It gives us the ability to sustain a flame and the endurance to maintain it. Tejas is the flame that radiates heat.  The prana is the oxygen, the electricity that sparked the candle and made it  ignite.

This metaphor allows us to see the interrelationship of these three vital essences. The goal of these three energies is to increase them. When we do, we ultimately support renewal and transformation on all levels of our being. However, it is important to ensure that you increase them at the same rate so that they are all in equilibrium. 

You may begin to see how each of these essences relates to finding the yoga practice that is right for you. Have you just performed in a championship game and your body-mind needs some nourishment? Then do an Ojas building practice. Have you been needing a little more enthusiasm and energy to think on your feet? Then choose to cultivate more prana. And, if you are trying to grow as an athlete and cultivate more calmness under pressure, I suggest doing a tejas building practice. Later on, when we describe each of the three yoga sequences in this practice for athletes there will be a mention of which vital essence is being built up in the sequence. Choose which one is right for you. 

References: 

     Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-healing and Self-Realization, David Frawley

     Sri Yoga Teacher Training 2013, Lecture and Manual

Read the Entire Series:

Introduction

The Candle: Ojas, Tejas, Prana

The Sunrise and the Sunset of  the Gunas

Sequence 1: Balancing

Sequence 2: Ease in Effort

Sequence 3: Awareness

 

 

Yoga Energetics for Athletes - Sequence 1: Balancing

Practice 1: Balance 

 In our bodies we need to find balance in sports. A balanced body improves our basketball shot or our soccer kick, it allows us to hold our position a little longer in bouldering. In addition to physical balance, we are also in need of an internal steadiness. When you are out on the field or in the court and you have someone playing defense against you - it's those times that it's useful to have a steady center. From this place we can think of our next pass. We can also view balance as accepting that both of those things are happening at once. Someone is trying to push you off your game, while you are needing to stay on your game. There are opposing forces that happen on the court and in life and it useful to know that despite them both existing you can find an equalibrium in these opposing forces. That we can smooth this entire interplay out. 

This Practice Will Build Ojas and Embrace Tamas 

Do this practice ...

     if you are looking to steady the mind and body.

     if you are looking to gain physical balance.

     if you are in need of grounding. 

LISTEN and PRACTICE:

Yoga Energetics for Athletes - Sequence 2: Effortlessness

 Practice 2: Vitality - Ease in Motion - Backbend - laterals

The purpose of this sequence is cultivate a vitality, a fire that supports inner courage and fearlessness. Rajas is a state of mind that gets us out there on the field and brings us energy and enthusiasm for our sport. However, if rajas is not directed intelligently we can become active for active's sake. Running that court or field - constantly moving without the ability to slow down - whether its our mind or our body - this not often productive. If you choose to create energy through this particular yoga sequence it's important to make sure that your ojas tank is filled - that you have had enough sleep and have taken good care of your body. When you are ready to bring the energy, you want to ensure that you have the fuel to support you. 

Another important element of this practice is cultivating a lightness within our effort. When we are increasing our energy we create heat in our body, but can we simultaneously stay spacious? What is lightness and spaciousness? Pay attention to the body and see if you can create more efficiency. 

An additional way to create ease in this practice is to lighten-upour mind-space. Can we be less judgmental by not being so forceful with ourselves? What if we become ok with not attaining the perfect yoga pose or not completing the practice exactly as we hoped. Perhaps our body wants us to take that child's pose during the sequence and maybe we should. It is this lightness and ease that will assist us in most efficiently moving through space. Float and flow with effort and ease (think Michael Jordan). 

Do this practice ...

     if your Ojas tank is full.

     if you need to build energy.  

     if you are looking to find ease and effortlessness.

Listen and Practice: