Yoga for the Bones

The skeletal system of the human body makes up 206 moveable bones in an adult designed to support movement of the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue and organs. The bones of the spine, of which there are 24 moveable vertebrae plus the tailbone (sacrum made of 5 bones fused together by age 30) and the cranial bones (fuse by age 2), are designed to protect the nervous system; the spinal cord and spinal nerves which animate and coordinate every function of the human body.


Our bones are made up of a hard shell on the outside, but the inside of the bones are spongy, porous, living tissue that is constantly making red blood cells and rebuilding itself. Bones also store minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. Important vitamins to take for bone health include Vitamin D 1,000 IU per day and magnesium 220mg/day for women and 330mg/day for men. It is not recommended to take calcium supplements as excess calcium can be deposited in arteries and lead to narrowing of blood vessels or can lead to blood clots.


As humans age, bone density tends to decrease and it’s well known that weight bearing exercise, such as yoga, is important for bone health to increase density. It’s good to have a variation of weight bearing exercise such as walking, weight lifting, and yoga. However, the importance of yoga in keeping the joints and spine flexible should not be underestimated. As a person ages, when they stop bringing the joints through all the ranges of motion regularly, the tissues will harden and tighten. Eventually there will be a decrease in both strength and mobility, leading to more pain, injuries, and a lower quality of life. A regular yoga practice throughout life will help keep the tissues flexible, the nervous system adaptable, increase the life force energy in the body, as well as increase bone density and joint mobility.









* Photo Credit: Mikail Nilov

Meditations on man’s best friend

Yoga is littered with all sorts of dog memes inspired by asanas named after man’s best friend  – puppy pose, downward- and upward facing dog being the obvious ones. I suspect that the yoga gurus who named these asanas probably lived in close proximity to dogs and might even have gone through their practice of asanas, pranayama of meditation with furry companions by their sides.


It’s widely accepted – and proven – that our pets have a positive impact on our emotional well-being. Being with them triggers off mood boosting hormones, reduces stress levels, calms our minds and also helps us to recalibrate ourselves to be more in the present. These therapeutic mind-body benefits are similarly espoused across the yoga sutras and the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.


While not a pet parent, I adore animals and am happy to dog sit for friends from time to time. Most recently my sister had her two dogs over as she was renovating her home and wanted them to be in a safe place. At that time, I had just started to commit towards daily pranayama and meditation, and wanted to observe whether Yoyo and Gemmi could complement my practice and/or reinforce its therapeutic effects. 

Wi are the guruji
  • Pranayama with your pet

My daily pranayama practice includes Nadi shodana and Kapalabhati in the morning, and Nadi shodana or Anulom villom in the evening. These would be one of the first and last things I would do when I wake up or go to bed. Often the dogs would be in my room, at times sound asleep.

I noticed that listening to the ebb and fall of their rhythmic breathing actually allowed me to focus better on my own breath. Without this, my mind seemed very prone to wander/ wonder such that I would often lose count of the number of rounds, or whether my exhale was longer than my inhale.

I also noticed that while playing the six-second Om track helped me to stay focused, it seemed to work better when I was with others (dogs or humans). Being on my own, with or without the Om track, was less effective at helping me focus, compared with being in the group pranayama or hearing the dogs breathe. A table of factors could look somewhat like this:

Presence of others

Sensory stimuli

Number of rounds of alternate nostril breathing (out of 10 rounds) where I could maintain my focus on breath count and length of inhale/ exhale/ holds

Group class

Om track


Group class




Om track









Om track





With or without any external stimuli, being alone somehow caused my mind to wander more during pranayama. Just like how I much prefer practicing yoga asanas in a class with others, sensing the rhythm of communal breathing, especially that of the dogs, seemed the most effective way for me to tune into my own breath.

  • Being in the present

Bonding with your pet has been linked to lower levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, while boosting the level of feel good hormones like oxytocin, prolactin and even dopamine. Research has pinned this down to the ability of our pets to divert our thoughts away from the worries or concerns of the future or past, and bringing us back into the present.


One of the dogs, Yoyo, has a disarming way of walking into my room while I’m in the midst of a virtual meeting, sit by my desk and look up at me. I have to admit that I find that utterly charming and each time that happens, a little bit of stress seems to melt away. While work life does entail forward planning and projections of the future, we allow “vrittis” such as thoughts of “what ifs” or a past experience to affect our moods and current focus. That short moment bonding with your dog during work could help refocus attentions on simply being in and appreciating the present.


Almost all forms of pranayama are effective at lowering cortisol levels, while breath retention such as Murcha or stimulating forms of pranayama like Kapalabati and Bhastrika can sharpen your edge and focus. But unless it is in your habit to practice different forms of pranayama throughout the day for specific needs like improving focus (remember, I was just starting my pranayama discipline), having your dog come in for no reason but just to look at you seems to be a more delightful way to get that mid-day pick-me-up.

  • Walking meditation

Besides yoga, I can’t think of any other activity that is just as versatile as walking. It costs nothing, calms your mind, and can be done by almost anyone. Walking, like yoga, also allows you to enter into a meditative state where you start bringing your attention to the movement of walking itself and the feeling it creates, leaving aside all other thoughts and distractions.


Walking the dogs, however, was hardly a meditative experience for me. I had to be sure they were out of harms way with bicycles wheezing by. There was poop to pick up, interactions with other dogs and humans to manage, or an exciting scent they had just picked up which would break the momentum of the walk.


I thought to combine my evening walks by bringing the dogs to a nearby park and sitting in silent meditation. With the dogs to keep an eye on, this was practically impossible.


Note to self: Leave the dogs at home, or just forget about taking a walking meditation with them.




The basics of mastery

(No) Thanks to social media, everyone and their yoga buddy seems bent on nailing some fanciful asana or its variations.

“I’m working towards xx arm balance/ inversion/ funky something etc”.

Today’s Power flow, Vinyasa and other themed classes are often planned around a peak pose, feeding the desire to glam up for the gram with a post-class snap. Goal-oriented types say that this gives them something to work towards and keeps them motivated to practice.

While planning a class around peak poses provides guidance and structure, by adopting the same mindset in our practice we could be missing the forest for the trees. Long, repeated holds of adho mukha svanasana, chaturanga dandasana, or ardha hanumanasana may not win you any Insta-likes, but with endurance and consistent efforts (tapasah), new energies are awaken as the physical body and senses become perfected.

Do not despise the days of humble beginnings

I stumbled into yoga in 2016 when a persuasive sales consultant (now a friend) convinced me that the unlimited yoga package the studio was offering was the best deal in town. She wasn’t wrong (otherwise we wouldn’t still be friends, right?); and in fact on hindsight, this was perhaps one of my most life changing investments I ever made of my time and money.

To get the most bang out of my buck, I went for as many classes as I had the time and energy for. Although I was moderately active even before yoga, years of poor postural habits and hidden imbalances were immediately revealed in the most basic of yoga asanas. For the first two years, my yoga schedule (and fluctuating mind) looked somewhat like this:

Hatha Beginners (Where’s child’s pose?)

Gentle yoga (Errrmmm…you call bada konasana uttasana gentle..?)

Therapy (This is a core class in disguise…)

Stretch (The struggle is real)

Yin (The ultimate passive-aggressive…looks like I’m doing nothing but….&*%$#)

Hips and spine (Who in their right mind came up with these twists and revolved asanas??)

And of course, everyone’s favourite CORE class (slow burn, even slower counting…Navasana again??!!)

Vinyasa? Ashtanga? Hatha Intermediate ?

I wouldn’t go anywhere near those classes with a barge pole.

Tapas: Austerities transform impurities

Slowly but surely, my physical body began to change. I started noticing my back aches going away, the feeling of standing taller, breathing better and just gaining new strength. I also found better focus and better sleep. Ailments like constipation and irregular menstrual cycles took care of themselves. Practice, and all is coming.

After more than two years of practice averaging 7-8 hrs a week, I decided to move out of my comfort zone. I didn’t think much wanting to progress then, but I remember that it didn’t take long for me to find bakasana, various other arm balances and just leveling up my practice. In fact, it took me far longer working on my hamstrings in any forward fold, finding stillness in a 5 second navasana hold, or to appreciate the gentle and therapeutic effects of bada konasana uttanasana.

2.47 Prayatna Saithilya Ananta Sumapathibhyam

By relaxing effort and fixing the mind on the infinite [asana is perfected]

The basics of mastery is simply to master the basics.

Writing Meditation

Writing Sri Rama Jayam is known as Likitha Japam- Writing Meditation. Writing the same word over and over again sounds a lot like old school punishment when I was a kid. But I’m informed by articles that I find on the Internet that it can give one a sense of surrender to inner conscience and peace. So I decided to try it out since I have not picked up a pen and paper for a long long time (and also because I have ran out of blog post ideas).

I understand that there is some deeper meaning and purpose of these holy words, but since this is not my religion, I decided to practice this writing meditation with a different word instead: DELTAWHISKIE (click for video)… pardon my ugly handwriting…

Besides feeling peace and focus, I also felt my fingers hurting from the 3 hours of writing…


Knock knock. Who’s there really?

“Study thy self, discover the divine.” – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, 2.44.

In the 8 limbs of yoga, Pantanjali asks that we trust our true nature is what we are seeking for. The Sanskrit term, Svadhyaya, translates to “self-study”; “Sva” means “own” or “self”, and “adhyaya” means “learning” or “studying”.  Look within, study your Self (not just yourself, but your Self; this goes beyond the superficial), and you will be revealed.

In everyday language, we speak about our ‘self’ unproblematically like: ‘I’ had kaya toast for breakfast, ’I’ went for yoga, ‘I’ am zen and easy going, ‘I’ practiced Savasana, ‘I’ want to pass the 200YTT, etc. All of which implies the ‘self’ as a singular being with different attributes and capabilities. From a Svadhyaya POV/explanation, the ‘Self’ dives deeper, it is the subject of our experiences, an inner agent making all conscious decisions and actions, a collection of opinions, desires, aspirations and emotions. This ‘self’ that defines ‘me’ (or ‘you’) is the part of myself (or ‘yourself’) that Svadhyaya encourages us to seek.

Once you are familiar with and know your ‘Self’, Samadhi (super-conscious state) comes more easily. Despite being placed in situations that would normally affect oneself (before deep introspection), as long as you know your ‘Self’, you will be unshaken or rather, unaffected by the stimulus in your surroundings.

As esoteric sounding as it may be, Svadhyaya is observed and can be practiced in simple mindful notions such as:

  1. Meditation
    Practice open meditation (e.g. being aware of everything that is happening around you without responding) or concentrative meditation, if you would prefer (e.g. staring at a dot with a circle in the periphery as taught by Master Ram in our 200YTT). Free your mind from distractions of your surroundings. 
  2. Studying the scriptures
    The teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and the Upanishads offer a multitude of wisdom and perhaps, provide insight into your ‘Self’.
  3. Journaling
    Putting your thoughts down on paper and revisiting it gives you an opportunity to reflect on them and integrate the learnings (that serve you) into your daily life. I find this the most helpful; journaling every thought, every feeling and opinion really bring things into perspective. 
  4. Practicing yoga
    “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self.”
    — The Bhagavad Gita
    An act of Svadhyaya here, is as simple as filming your practice. They say the way you approach yoga is a reflection of your approach on life. Filming and consciously observing your practice can reveal more about your ‘Self’ than you would think. In dance, we often take this approach to work on self-improvement as well as synergy. In yoga, the first time I did it (for our ultra-beginners vid) I noticed things about myself that I didn’t before, which I shall not reveal in this post because it is for my ‘Self’ and myself only 🌚.

Dig deep and you will find your ‘Self’ that is really there.


Tirisula 200YTT 8 Limbs of Yoga notes

Analysis of Halasana

Halasana also known as the plough pose.Hala meaning “Plough” and Asana = “posture”.

It is can also be called a forward bend while lying on your back which helps to strength the spine and make it more flexible.

It is usually done as a continuation of Sarvangasana (shoulder stand).

Benefits and positive effects  

  • Provides a good stretch to the thoracic vertebra and increases flexibility
  • Promotes the efficiency of the spleen and heart
  • Helps with digestive and gut related health problems
  • Good for pelvic region and any menstrual problems
  • It results in the mobility of the back to perform Paschimottasana (seated forward bend) as well.

Suggested warm up poses 

  • Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
  • Paschimottasana (seated forward bend)
  • Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)
  • Sethu bandhansana (Bridge pose)

The muscles benefitted 

  • Lower Back
  • Middle Back
  • Upper Back
  • Core (Abs)
  • Hamstrings
  • Hips
  • Neck
  • Pelvic

Technique to get into the pose

  1. Lie flat on your back, with the palms firmly on the ground beside your body.
  2. Inhale and slowly lift your legs off the mat using the strength of your waist without bending the knees.
  3. Continue raising the lower body off the mat, until your chest is also off the ground into shoulder stand pose with chin touching the sternum
  4. Exhale to release the chin lock, lower the waist slightly, moving your arms and legs over the head and finally the toes resting on the floor. 
  5. If touching your feet over head isn’t possible at the start, place a chair or any object behind you to attain the furthest distance possible and over time you can go lower. This variation is also helpful for anyone suffering with blood pressure issues.
  6. Continue to breath here as you keep your knees straight by tightening your hamstring muscles and raising your trunk
  7. Exhale and stretch your arms in the opposite direction of your legs
  8. Interlock the finger with the wrist on the floor OR Stretch the palms on the floor as you pull your shoulder forward.
  9. With the legs and hands stretched in the opposite direction feel the spine stretching completely
  10. While interlocking the fingering make sure to change the positions of the thumb and then stretch for a harmonious development and elasticity of both the shoulders. If interlocking the fingers are difficult at the start, do not force as it gets easier with time so start by trying to just place your palms on the floor as mentioned above.
  11. Remain in the attainable pose for as long as you can (maximum up-to 5 minutes) with normal breathing

Technique to get out of the pose

  1. Inhale, Release your palms if interlocked beside your body, raise your legs up to shoulder stand
  2. Exhale and gradually bring your legs down to the mat.
  3. Lie on your back and relax


Throughout the pose gaze at the tip of your nose

Suggested cool down poses

  • Continue to Lie flat on the ground in Savasana
  • Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
  • Vipariti Karani (Legs to the wall)


Halasana is not recommended for people having the below conditions

  • Extreme Backache
  • Spine and neck Injuries
  • Heart and blood pressure disorders

If needed, perform the variation (no. 5 under Technique) mentioned above which will help release the stiffness in the back or spine. 

Enjoy the “plough posture”!

Finding length in arm balances

“Lengthen your spine!”


A common cue in any yoga class, it almost reminds you of your mum yelling at you to stop slouching when you were a kid.

Elliot showing us how to sit tall.

When we think of asanas involving the spine, top of mind are forward folds like uttanasana, back bends (spinal extensions), twists (axial rotations), side bends (lateral flexions) or simply standing tall in tadasana. One area of application I’ve found where the conscious lengthening of the spine gives an added edge is in the practice of arm balances.


What has the spine got to do with balancing on your arms?

Drishti? Check. Check. Long spine? Check, check. Muscle suport? Loads. (Photo credit: Cirque du Soleil)

Directly supporting the spine are the three sets of muscles that make up the erector spinae: running along the entire vertebral spinous process (spinalis), from one vertebral transverse to another (longissimus) and from one rib cage to the next (iliocostalis). Synergists here are the back muscles comprising the deep muscles of the quadratus lumborum (QL, and also the psoas major) that wrap around and stabilise the lumbar region, and the more superficial latissimus dorsi or lats that are activated in twisting postures and arm extensions.

Reproduction of a Gray's anatomy plate with the muscles of the erector spinae muscle group highlighted (Wikimedia Commons)

While the lengthening of the spine is not the primary technique to get you lifting in an arm balance (engagement of the upper back, arms and abdominal core muscles are crucial for this), what it does is build up the supporting muscle memory that over time, will allow you to find more focus, steadiness and alignment in these asanas.


Before I go further, I would like to clarify that this blog is about technique refinement rather than a technical guide on getting started in arm balances.


2.46 sthira sukham asanam

Asana should be steady, stable, and motionless


Two arm balances where I’ve found more hang time by consciously recruiting the entire spine and lower back musculature (QL and lats) are eka pada bakasana and koundinyasana (symmetrical variation).


Eka pada bakasana, a level up version of bakasana, requires that bit more awareness of the role of your spine in the balance.


Most practitioners enter the pose in one of two ways – either from adho mukha svanasana or from bakasana and shifting the weight onto one side. Either way, remember to always lift your hips high. Hips are heavy and are the centre of gravity of the body, so lifting them high creates lightness and more lift for your lower limbs.


Next, get your drishti on point. You should ideally be gazing between your nose, at a point on the ground just a few inches in front of you. Yes – the ground is just a few inches in front of you so face planting is a looming threat. But fret not, it’s here where the lengthening of the spine (along with the critical supporting structures of the arms, upper back and core) comes into play.

Notice the high hips and pointed toes (plantar flexion) of the extended foot. Drishti on point. (Photo credit: iStock)

Observe here how your drishti “anchors” the neck or cervical as it reaches forward, while lifting the hips up “pulls” the sacrum and coccyx away in the other direction. This is the effect of lengthening the spine.


Assuming here that you are starting to lift and extend one leg – point the toes of your extended leg for an added engagement of the hamstring muscle, you will find even more of that spinal extension. Your upper body is now suspended in a diagonal equilibrium, with the lumbar and sacrum extending up and out (by the lift of your hips and plantar flexion of foot engaging the hamstrings of the extended leg) and your drishti “grounding” you as you press firmly down with chaturanga arms.


In koundinayasana (with both arms), unlike its more popular eka pada version or eka pada bakasana above, the spine is parallel to the ground. This time, keep extending the sit bones back while lengthening across the entire spine especially in the lumbar region. Instead of gazing down, drishti remains between your nose but gazing straight ahead in the space before you.

Notice from this angle the length in the spine. (Photo credit: iStock)

Asanas that work on spinal extension


I personally find these asana variations extremely helpful for teaching the spine how to lengthen while holding space:

  • Trikoasana with both arms extended over the head (think about holding a beach ball)
  • Virabhadrasana 3
  • Ardha prasirita padottanasana (once again, arms extended over the head)

They are particularly useful to awaken the lats too.

Notice that these three asanas are open-chain movements for the upper body, which teach balance and awareness while also isolating specific muscles, in this case the erector spinae, QL and lats (among others). Closed-chain movements like santolasana (plank), vasisthasana (side plank) or chaturanga dandasana are also extremely effective in working the entire backline, shoulder girdle and abdominal core, although they do not impart the same muscle memory required for lengthening the spine in an open-chain movement such as arm balances.

Teacher – and mum – are right: always lengthen your spine!


Ray Long: The key muscles of Hatha Yoga.

Breathe, right now. Breathe right, now.


Inhale deeeeeep. Exhale.

Breathing is so important in yoga (and actually almost all kinds of sports). However, what sets yoga apart from other sports is the correlation between the breath and movement. The breath guides your movement and sets the pace; every inhalation and exhalation is synchronised with a movement.

Still an infant in my yoga practice back then, I didn’t know what my Teachers were talking about when they said I’m “not breathing” or I’m “not breathing right”.
O.o?? Isn’t breathing supposed to be an instinctive innate ability of the living?

So I consulted Google sensei.

Breathe, right now.
“I don’t hear you breathing”, she said to me.
Okay google, what is the importance of breath in yoga?

Many of us tend to hold our breath in difficult poses and this is not recommended. Breathing can enhance your yoga practice and serve as an indicator of your stamina. Prana (breath) is integral in an asana practice. The intentional breathing — when done correctly — helps you flow into a pose better. For instance:

1. In supta matsyendrasana (supine spinal twist), breathe to enter a deeper twist with every exhalation.
2. In uttana shishosana (puppy pose), breathe to sink/melt your chest further down towards to mat with every exhalation.
3. Getting into Uttanasana (forward fold), inhale raise arms up, exhale fold forward. The flexion of the body only makes sense when exhaling; to fold to your maximum.

The breath also indicates or signals to you the duration of hold in a pose. Your breath should be easy and effortless. At any point in time when your breath starts to feel erratic or shallow, it is time to exit the asana. So remember to breathe in your practice, listen to your body (literally) and avoid overexerting yourself.


Breathe right, now.
“You’re not breathing right”, she said.
Okay google, what is the correct way to breathe in yoga?

Apparently, most of us are breathing wrongly. (O.O!! Not so instinctive after all I guess..)
Only a small part of our lung capacity is utilised, in turn depriving the body of prana.
There are a few ways of breathing:

  1. Belly/ diaphragmatic breathing – breathe in deeply through your belly first, followed by your lungs. Exhale from your lungs and then your belly.
  2. Thoracic breathing – breathe into your lungs, expanding the lungs upwards and outwards. (Mostly used in backbending poses/ anahata asanas)
  3. Clavicular breathing – inhaling through the upper portion of your lungs (closer to the clavicle aka collarbone), until the shoulder and collarbone moves up as well.
  4. Yogic breathing (one that my Teachers were looking out for!) – the amalgamation of the above #1-3 forms of breathing.

Pranayama beyond the asanas prove to be helpful in regulating mood, stress levels and prolong longevity as well. Some beginner-friendly Pranayamas to practice at your OTOT:


1. Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing)
2. Ujjayi (ocean’s breath)
3. Brahmari (bumblebee breath)

When practices like Pranayama are performed properly, they can eradicate all diseases; but improper practice can otherwise generate diseases. — Hatha Pradipika, 2.16.

Remember to breathe, and breathe right.



Why you can’t do Reverse Prayer if you have BIG muscles

Yoga Retreat” by “Yoga Retreat” is licensed under “Yoga Retreat

Reverse prayer, also otherwise known as Penguin Pose or Pashchima Namaskarasana. It helps to improve flexibility in the shoulders, arms, wrists, chest and back. Supposedly easy to learn, and quick to do – for most. However for some, it looks like they have to pop their arms out to achieve it. 

To figure out why some find the pose challenging, let us first understand the muscles and movements involved: 

  1. Internal rotation of the shoulder. Muscles involved in this action are in the rotator cuff. Subscapularis is contracting to create internal rotation of the upper arm. Infraspinatus and teres minor are external rotators of the humerus, so they are being lengthened in this action. (,humeral%20head%20against%20the%20glenoid.)
  2. Flexion of the elbow. The three muscles involved are the brachialis, brachioradialis and biceps brachii. They connect the upper arm to the forearm, and when they contract, they become shorter and pull the forearm toward the upper arm. (
  3. Extension of the wrist. The primary muscles involved are: extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis and the extensor carpi ulnaris. (Neumann DA. Wrist. In: Falk K, ed. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby/Elsevier; 2010:216-243.)

Obviously any injuries to the above mentioned areas would make the pose impossible to achieve. However, if you are loaded with muscles and showing up in a Yoga class, chances are probably low that you are suffering from any injuries (or you are stupid like me). The challenge then is most likely related to flexibility of those areas involved in this reverse prayer pose. For example, tightness of the infraspinatus limits internal rotation of the humerus and therefore making reverse prayer pose challenging. The solution would then be easy. Increase flexibility of the muscles involved in the pose, and progress gradually.

But… for the extremely muscular one… the challenge may actually be a ‘structural’ issue instead. How muscular? Arnold Schwarzenegger muscular.

The challenge probably then comes in twofold: 

  1. Limitation in the degree to which they can move the arm to the back due to a well built out ‘wings’ aka latissimus dorsi.

  2. Limitation in the degree of elbow flexion due to their mountainous bicep. You see, normal average people can probably flex their elbow to around 160 degrees. But when one has a bicep as high as Mt. Everest, the degree to which you can flex becomes a lot narrower…


For this special group of individuals, unless they lose all that bulk, they probably may never ever be able to touch their back… Let alone do the reverse prayer pose.

Rumour has it that the sticker is still on his back till this day…