Yoga Beyond Asana

One of our regulars shares a particular moment; when she realised the dimension of yoga beyond asana (movement and set poses).  We share her personal story because this is one of the hardest myths about yoga to dismantle in the West.

“There are 8 limbs to Yoga, you know” the Yoga teacher kindly reminded me at the end of the lesson.

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I had just waited for everyone to leave at the end of the class.  I approached her with my concern that the movement I can muster now can hardly be called yoga – in my mind.  The doctor diagnosed degenerative osteoarthritis at the left hip.  After a decade from that diagnosis, I can’t sit crossed legged, or hold a Warrior I pose, or Crescent Moon pose, the list goes on.

But the Yoga teacher was having none of it.  She went on to say that, contrary to Western trends, yoga has at its heart the intention of liberating us from pain and restriction.  Our practice is meant to deliver us to a place where we can meditate freely and deeply.

“There is pranayama, for example, becoming conscious of breath”.

She wasn’t suggesting even for a minute that I would not do asana practice any longer.  She was helping me into taking ownership of where I can guide my own practice towards.  I was clearer on what aspects I can focus on, where I can find challenges and limitations I can learn from.


you can do so much with your breath, remember?

Yoga goes beyond asana as we understand it.  Maybe that is closer to my experience now. Yoga for me is a field where I can find what works for me, right now in the modern world, with my unique needs and requirements.

I have been practising yoga at English Yoga Berlin in Kreuzberg since April 2018.  I now understand the importance of focusing on directing the breath and becoming conscious of spinal movement.  It’s clear to me that yoga is not about trying to reproduce the asana’s picture in your favourite yoga book. Yoga can be  so much more! And I look forward to diving deeper to learn more about what that is.

English Yoga Berlin offers classes in Kreuzberg in Hatha style and Vinyasa style, private yoga sessions, different packages of yoga for the workplacecontact us with your queries if you have any, happy unfolding whatever you do.

The Shatkarma: Yogic Cleansing Methods


Yoga is more than just yoga poses. In the classical tradition there are eight aspects of yoga, of which the first are cleansing processes: methods to remove toxins and sluggishness from the body’s organs. In sanskrit, this branch of yoga is called Shatkarma (Shat = six and Karma = processes) and, as its name implies, they are six in number. In anticipation of our Spring Cleaning Workshop, we bring you a brief description of each of the Shatkarma.


1) Neti: Jala Neti, the process of rinsing the nose with salt water, is very popular today. It is widely recommended by doctors, and you can find Neti pots in most large pharmacies and grocery stores. Another variation, Sutra Neti, uses a waxed string for the same purpose.

2) Dhauti: This is the collective name of several methods used to cleanse the entire gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Some of these techniques also cleanse the respiratory system and remove bacteria from the eyes, nose and ears. One of the most important of these methods is Shankhaprakshalana, the intestinal cleanse.

3) Nauli: A powerful practice  where one massages all the internal organs, stimulating the digestion, balancing the endocrine system, increasing enenergy and activating the body’s natural detoxifying mechanisms.

4) Basti: A technique for washing and strenghtening the colon. It removes excess bacteria, stool and gas from the lower intestines.

5) Kapalbhati: This is both a Shatkarma and a Pranayama (breathing technique). Kapal means Cranium or Forehead and Bhati means Light or Splendour. Kapalbhati is translated as “Frontal Brain Cleaning” and is a technique for invigorating the whole brain. This is achieved through a physiological connection between the breath and the cerebrospinal fluid.

6) Trataka: Steadily gazing on one point. It relieves eye ailments, making the eyes clear and bright. It also improves a whole range of physiological and mental functions. Used in the treatment of insomnia, depression and anxiety, Trataka improves the memory and concentration. In our classes, we practice Trataka on a candle flame, but virtually anything can be used as the object of concentration.

The Shatkarma are simple enough to practice, and there is a wealth of information on the internet, both in English and in German, but most of these practices should definitely not be attempted without the guidance of a qualified teacher. We at English Yoga Berlin have been teaching these methods at regular two-day workshops where you can learn the most important methods from each group.

Eight Steps of Classical Yoga Part 2


strengthen your ability to concentrate at english yoga berlin

The different parts of the practice of yoga are indeed dynamic. As we discussed in Eight Steps of Classical Yoga Part 1, your yoga practice can adjust to your needs and your experience level. Each part is at your disposal whenever you need to manage your health, deal with some aspect of your daily-life, overcome some limitation, or go deeper in working with yourself. The following are steps 5-8 of a classical yoga practice.


Step 5: Develop a calmer attitude towards your outer and inner environments.

How can we become independent from mental disturbances? How can we learn to achieve a more tolerant outlook towards ourselves and others? How can we learn to accept that which we cannot change? Through Pratyahara, you discover that there are actual things you can do, systematic practices that offer you the possibility to act from your own center, even in adverse conditions. Based on a precise knowledge of how the mind works, these methods teach us to work with the mind, rather than fight it.


Step 6: Learn to return to the relaxed state throughout your daily life.

To be relaxed is not simply to be momentarily free from conscious worry. True relaxation requires something more than just flopping on a sofa and listening to chill-out music. It is a measurable state that has a profound healing and reinvigorating effect. The practice of Yoga Nidra, opens a door into deep states of relaxation that will benefit you long after you do it. And, perhaps more importantly, this guided method trains you to let go of tensions at will, whenever you need to, in the midst of daily activity.


Step 7: Strengthen your ability to concentrate.

Many people have already experienced that concentration is something that can be trained. After you have released tensions and become more calm and clear, concentration will be easier. But yoga also offers specific methods that enable us to strengthen this ability and to become concentrated whenever we need to be. Through the practice of intense concentration (Tratak), you learn that concentration involves no strain or effort, but that it is a relaxed state in which your attention remains easily fixed on an inner or outer object of your choice.


Step 8: Increase your awareness and get closer to yourself.

To be aware and present is to experience life fully. This becomes possible through your work with meditation. There are as many meditation methods as there are temperaments, and they are available for any degree of experience or personal preference. Many traditions use the breath or the body as meditation objects, others employ elaborate rituals to occupy the mind. One meditation technique doesn’t need to exclude another, but can be complementary to it. Through persistent practice, you become conscious of what hinders you, you become more fully yourself.


The only way to truly discover the methods of yoga, and their effects, is through their regular practice. Yoga touches you deeply, but it does so without rush. It follows the natural processes of your body and mind, so that all change is harmonious. By small measures, your practice prompts you to continue to use these methods according to your own situation and the way you live. Our yoga classes in Berlin are taught with the understanding that your exploration should always continue at our own personal pace.

Eight Steps of Classical Yoga: Part 1

Yoga is a system made up of several interconnected parts. These independent elements are related to and influenced by each other. You can use each component on its own, but, when you combine them in the right way, they help each other and their effect is vastly increased. We offer several types of yoga in Berlin including Hatha Yoga, Vinyassa Yoga and Classical Yoga.

Classical yoga consists of eight parts, also called limbs or branches. Each branch contains different methods and techniques that prepare you to take better advantage of the other parts; at the same time, each limb is a whole unto itself, working on a specific aspect of our being. We like to see each of these parts as a step towards being a healthier, happier, and more integrated person.

Step 1: Remove impurities and bring balance to your body.

Shatkarma, the yogic cleansing methods, provide a practical solution to the pollution of modern life. While each of these practices works on specific systems and organs – e.g. nose rinsing (Neti) for the respiratory system, intestinal cleansing (Shankaprashalana) for the digestive system – their effect is expressed in the whole body, both in obvious and subtle ways.


The science of yoga considers all the layers of your being.


Step 2: Become more supple and fit, while methodically touching your body’s organs.

Asana, the physical poses of yoga, work much deeper than at the mere muscular level; their effect in the body goes further than just making it strong and flexible. Among many other benefits, these poses massage the glands and the internal organs, stimulate the spine and the central nervous system, and positively affect the movement of fluids in the body.

Step 3: Harmonize your breath, and remove finer tensions.

Why work on the breath? Well, breathing is probably the most important thing we do. Anybody who has received a fright, experienced an intense situation or has been in love knows that there is a strong link between the breath and the mind. This link continues to the body. Pranayama, the yogic breathing exercises, offers tools for using the breath as a bridge between grosser and finer layers of our being. After practising exercises like Nadi Shodana for a long period of time, you may get a better understanding of the subtler aspects of your self.

Step 4: Restore your energy levels.

To hold tension, for example, in the shoulders, requires effort from the body. When we remove tensions through yoga, we gain access to that previously lost energy. In order for this energy to be experienced and directed in a harmonious way, we use Bandha and Mudra, special physical contractions and gestures that touch the endocrine system and other important areas of the body. They influence our state of mind and level of activity, while bringing consciousness and energy to the different parts of our self.

Check out our next blog which will outline steps 5-8 of classical yoga practice.

Yamas and Niyamas, Part 1

In Patanjali´s classical texts about yoga, he outlines eight parts of a yogic practice. These parts can also be referred to as “limbs”. The most widely known limb of yoga is Asana practice– the practice of physical postures. In our Berlin Yoga Classes, we understand the value of going beyond the physical. This series is therefore dedicated to 2 other limbs of Patanjali´s eight-fold path: Yamas and Niyamas.

knowledge growing out of the yoga sutraYamas and Niyamas are the first two steps of yoga that Patanjali discusses in the Yoga Sutra. They are ethical, behavioral and spiritual guidelines for living. There is a lot of room for interpretation with the Yamas and Niyamas–because of basic translation issues (some concepts are very tricky to twist into English!). Because these guidelines are designed for yogis to personally interrogate, observe and experience in the context of their own lives, they aren´t considered ´rules´. These concepts are given to students of yoga to contemplate and potentially incorporate into their everyday lives.

Ahimsa is the first Yama, and it is most commonly translated as ´non-violence´. This is what Gandhi used to drive the British out of India. It´s also what we use in yoga, when we decide not to push beyond our limits. Ahimsa is about kindness, compassion and strength. It recognizes an ancient spiritual law that is echoed in many traditions- that violence leads to more violence- and proposes that we, as yogis, begin to halt that cycle by stopping it within ourselves.

What does non-violence mean to you? Where do you already practice it in your life? Where could you be a little kinder to yourself?

Personal Yoga Practice

Personal Yoga Practice

Satya is the second Yama, and it means ´truth´. Satya urges us to be honest with  ourselves, and with others. In asana, we practice Satya when we listen to our body and, again, respect its limits. Maybe that backbend looks terrific, but if it doesn´t feel good, Satya guides us to come out of it and rest with awareness in child´s pose. Less glamorous, maybe, but more honest and, in the end, better for you! It also means being honest in our relationships with others- saying ´yes´ only when we really mean it, and saying ´no´, with kindness, when that is the truth. Satya is challenging, because the truth is sometimes hard to hear and even harder to say.

What do you think about honesty? Are you ever dishonest with yourself, and do you understand why?