Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Three Stages of Kripalu Yoga

A student recently wrote to me and expressed how she hopes that her practice, with time, could become less of an attempt to "do" the asanas, and evolve into more of a "complete meshing" of spiritual inquiry and physical expression. Ultimately, our practice has the ability to become that for each of us--through breath, mindfulness, and movement, 

Kripalu Yoga offers a framework of three stages of practice. They are described here as discrete levels, but actually can happen simultanously. Beginners are typically focused on the first stage, while more advanced yogis can integrate all three.

In stage one, we focus on getting the postures into our body--where to put the feet, what muscles to engage, remembering all the alignment cues. We learn how to deepen the breath and coordinate our breathing with movement.  In this stage, it is more of a willful act on the part of the practitioner--"you do yoga." 

In stage two, we begin to connect with imagery and mental awareness that helps us deepen into the practice. We begin to sense the energetic and emotional benefits of the poses. We practice holding the poses for longer periods of time, and in doing so we begin to connect with the various layers of our being, known as the koshas ( which, in brief, include body, breath, mental/emotional, witness consciousness, and bliss). Sustained holding of poses also can facilitate the releasing of long-held emotional blocks that are stored in the body. In this stage, We practice both willfulness and surrender-- "you do yoga and yoga does you."

In stage 3, our yoga practice becomes a moving meditation. We open ourselves up to the flow of prana and let it move us through the postures. We become an open conduit. The asanas become prayer-in-motion, as Spirit's grace is channeled through us. In this stage, we cultivate a sense of surrender -- "yoga does you."

Like most yoga styles and traditions, Kripalu Yoga integrates classic asanas (postures),  pranayama (breathwork), meditative focus, and deep relaxation. What defines Kripalu Yoga is its emphasis: following the flow of prana (life-force energy), practicing compassionate self-acceptance, developing witness consciousness (observing the activity of the mind without judgment), and taking what is learned “off the mat” and into daily life.  

With Kripalu Yoga, students are invited to bring the fruits of practice-concentration, focus, awareness, compassion, intention, clarity, and inner peace-into all aspects of everyday life. Consistent practice creates thriving and the opportunity for extraordinary living.

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