Union in diversity

The word yoga means to yoke or bind and is it often interpreted as “union”: the union between the body, the mind, and the spirit. Therefore, this simple word englobes thousands of different practices and interpretations. Nowadays, Patanjali’s third limb of yoga, asanas, is practiced worldwide. It is the most visible and popular part of yoga, and even within this limb, there is a wide range of styles and variations.

When I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t know all the different currents and possibilities that exist out there. I just thought there was one type of yoga that was practiced in the same way everywhere.

Then, I heard of hatha yoga. Hatha is a term that refers to all physical postures of yoga that help us align, open the energetic channels, and balance the masculine and feminine elements of our body. Currently, most Hatha yoga classes are slow-paced and beginner-friendly.

Today everyone can find a yoga style that can suit their needs. For people who prefer slow-paced yoga, Hatha is the most common type but there are many more such as:

  • Iyengar yoga, in which postures are held longer to really focus on alignment and detail;

 

  • Yin yoga, in which mostly seated postures are held during long periods of time in order to target deep and rarely used tissues;

 

  • Restorative yoga, in which simple postures are practiced along with a large number of props to achieve a deep relaxation of the body and the mind.

 

On the other hand, for people who enjoy fast-paced classes, there are other styles such as:

  • Ashtanga yoga, a physically demanding style that follows a dynamic sequence of postures to attain flexibility and strength;

 

  • Vinyasa yoga, a style that derived from Ashtanga in which the movement is coordinated with your breath, flowing from one pose to another;

 

  • Bikram yoga or hot yoga is a sequence of 26 postures, each done twice in a heated room

 

  • Kundalini yoga, a style that prioritizes core and breathing exercises to release the kundalini energy in the body.

 

As I researched more, I realized that when I started practicing, I was doing Anusara yoga, a modern variation of Hatha influenced by Iyengar that focuses on alignment and heart-opening postures. The yoga world is everchanging and the possibilities are endless, it is up to us to find out what we are looking for and explore in order to integrate it into our own teaching.

From self-distancing to self-study

In response to the novel coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, more than 90 countries have compulsory or recommended confinements, curfews, and quarantines. This means that more than half the world’s population has been asked to stay at home by their governments.

This isolation and lack of human contact are the roots of serious emotional and psychological distress, especially in those who live alone. Long periods of confinement can cause frustration, stress, anxiety, irritability… We feel that we lost a significant part of our freedom, we miss our loved ones and we fear to fall sick. These measures are forcing us to change our habits, slow down the pace of our daily lives and activities, and confronting us to our own company.

Even if nowadays social media is a very powerful tool to connect people located on opposite sides of the world in a matter of seconds, physical and social contact are still crucial for our mental health because most of us are used to interact with multiple people during the day. What should we do when all the voices around us are silent? We have an opportunity to listen to our inner voice.

Confinement is indeed giving us an opportunity to practice Swadhyaya. Swadhyaya is the fourth of Patanjali’s Niyamas and it is the concept of self-study. Now more than ever we have the chance to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions that we often choose to ignore and define who we are, our qualities and weaknesses, and the impact we have on others. Practicing self-study through meditation and pranayama during these difficult times is especially important in order to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves and others.

The legacy of yoga

Yoga came into my life as a family heirloom. Everything started when my grandmother went to a gym and was introduced to a discipline that she had never heard before because it wasn’t as popular back then: yoga. She then decided to recommend it to my father as a way to exercise and relax from the stress of his job.

Around ten years ago when I was only eight, my father found a studio near our house which was one of the firsts studios in our city and completely fell in love with it. For years, he practiced once or twice a week religiously. It was a very important part of his life and it made a huge impact on his mood and behavior.

My first contact with yoga came in the form of a colorful book full of animals chanting OM and performing different asanas, and as I grew older, I started joining my dad at the studio every once in a while. At the time, yoga for me was a fun activity that I was able to share with my father, but it wasn’t a regular practice.

I was always the youngest in the class, but I was amazed by the strength, flexibility, and balance of the people who had been practicing for years. One of our teachers was a lady in her late sixties that was stronger and more flexible than everyone in the class.

Almost a decade later, we moved to Singapore and I decided to dust off my mat, wear the yoga pants in the family and challenge myself with this 200h YTT. I am still quite young but the more I practice, the more I realize that in yoga and in life, it’s more about discipline than given qualities and that everyone has their own pace.

Flexibility on and off the mat

My last year of high school was a very stressful year for me. Between tests, quizzes, final exams, university applications, and deciding what I wanted to do after graduation, I was constantly anxious thinking that if I made a mistake it would affect my future and my life permanently. At the time, I thought that if I worked really hard and designed a plan for every single step of my future, I would feel calm and in control.

However, I was proven wrong. Making plans is indeed necessary for all of us to define our goals and dreams in life and what we must do in order to achieve them, but at the end of the day, life is unpredictable. During the last couple of months, the world has dramatically changed in an unprecedented way and so did all the plans I had carefully crafted. This is how I learnt how important it is to be flexible not only physically but also mentally to be able to adapt to different circumstances and settings.

Santosha is the second of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga that roughly translates as contentment. It is an attitude of understanding and accepting oneself and one’s environment and circumstances as they come. This concept is not always easy to follow because we often tend to compare ourselves to others or rely on external factors in order to feel happy. During this period, I have been trying to detach myself from my plans and expectations of the future, live one day at the time, and feel grateful for everything that I have on and off the mat.

Urdhva Mukha Shavanasana – How to perform it more effectively

To perform it more vigorously and effectively

  1. Press the big toes firmly on to the mat to give nice push and energetic vibrance to the pose
  2. Do not collapse the hips but let it sink on its own
  3. By pressing on the mat firmly, the sternum is lifted up and facing the ceiling and widens the sternum
  4. Engage the calf muscles to protect the lower from cringing on each the spinal joints thus releasing the pressure from the sacrum.
  5. Lift the forehead up and beyond but without hastily compressing the cervical spine.

to learn Urdhva Mukha Shavanasasna effectively, pls seek a teacher who knows about this pose or someone with many years of experience teaching it.

 

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana – Meaning and Benefits

Upward-Facing Dog Pose — Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana — Strengthens the back muscles, especially the spinal erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, deltoids etc

  • “Urdhva” — meaning “upward”
  • “Mukha” — meaning “face”
  • “Shvana” — meaning “dog”
  • “Asana” — meaning “pose or stance”

Upward-Facing Dog is incorporated in the Sun Salutations A and B of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Series as taught by Sri Krishnamacharya and is often done 5 times in Sun Salutation A and 5 times in Sun Salutation B warm up vinyasa. It can be used as a strength-builder and also as a prep towards deeper backbends.

Benefits of Upward-Facing Dog

Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Shavanasana) does eccentric contraction  the chest and torsa areas, while strengthening the wrists, arms, and shoulders. By concentric contraction of the back musecles and opening the upper body and chest.  Urdhva Mukha Shavanasana improves posture and can be therapeutic for asthmatic patients as well as people who have sinusitis issues. Upward Dog creates suppleness in the back torso and abdomen, which stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion. It also firms the buttocks and thighs, helping to relieve sciatica. The backbend energizes and rejuvenates the body, providing relief from fatigue and mild depression.

How pranayamas are changing my life

Since I am a kid, I hear my mother telling me to deeply inhale when I am hurt. I noticed it worked at the time, but honestly, until I started yoga, I can tell I have never known how to breath.

Pranayamas are such powerful exercices, I feel days after days the benefits of doing daily breathing exercices. They bring one into another frequency, that can open up opportunities, people, and somehow, more mindfulness.

The good thing about pranayamas is that you can do them everywhere; in the MRT, before sleeping or while walking or simply in between two meetings.

For me, its releasing the tension when I am stressed, the tummy pain (I’m expecting a baby and it’s quite frequent to have tension and cramps at the end of the day), or even the pain when I am doing a difficult asana.

While I believe I am doing pretty good and I am quite regular with pranayamas, it is not a sadana just yet, so the next steps for me is to block 15minutes to do my couple of asanas but, most of all, alternate breathing.

to be continued…

Eating Sattvic

We all know the theory…. “A sattvic diet is a regimen that places emphasis on seasonal foods, fruits if one has no sugar problems, dairy products if the cow is fed and milked in the right conditions, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins.” source google

Since I learned about the three gunas in food, in every meal, I try to analyse whats sattvic about my food, whats rajasic, and what’s tamasic.

I am gourmet and I always love a great cheat meal, but, by categorizing what I eat with gunas, without feeling guilty, I have just stepped into more awareness. As I progress into my mindfulness journey, I can see I am integrating more and more sattvic foods, and I will try to change the cooking style (slightly cooked or steamed) or I will make sure I add elements that are sattvic.

Explanation; I am craving for a big pasta meal –

option 1 I’ll force myself to eat some salad first before getting to the main (pastas), this will ease my hunger and ensure my meal has a little bit of sattvic.   option 2 Ill make the sauce myself using fresh tomatoes and slightly cooked spinach, minimizing the oil.

My journey is there today and this meal isn’t going to be perfect, but days after days, I know it will get closer to the goal

 

How did yoga democratise itself and how it has become part of our daily life routine?

A few years back, Yoga was perceived like a weird spiritual related discipline that only hippies were into. So it got be questioning: how did Yoga become such a huge hype that today you cannot avoid traveling anywhere in the world without seeing a Yoga studio somewhere?

Yoga in sanskrit means “union” and a yogi will spend a lifetime trying to align body, mind and soul! 

Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago and at the time was a philosophical and meditative movement (amongst many others) trying to unite our physical world with the divine. 

The mental effort to unite body, mind and soul is much more difficult than only focusing on the physical postures. It is therefore thought that postures will only start appearing in Yoga in the 18th century and they could only start being practiced after long hours of meditation work first. Yoga has therefore evolved over the course of the years and History. The Yoga that we practice today has mostly been inspired by the 1920’s. 

The first guru to “promote” Yoga to the western world was Swami Vivekananda in Chicago in 1893 during the World’s Parliament of Religions. He gave a vision of Yoga to be a philosophical, spiritual, universal and tolerant discipline. 

In 1924, the guru Tirumalai Krishnamacharya developed a series of postures accessible to all, targeting the western world. This method which did not require intense meditation before starting any physical practice will democratize Yoga and become quite popular amongst westerners in search of spirituality and exotisme. 

In 1968, The Beatles go on a trip to Rishikesh, the city of their guru Maharishi Mahesh. Following their stay, Rishikesh will then become popular as a city of yoga and music and will attract a lot of people who want to visit the “Holy City of Yoga”. 

In 1973, the popular and controversial guru Bikram Choudhury started teaching Hollywood stars Yoga (Madonna, George Clooney, Demi Moore…). He will create his own hot yoga practice and will open hundreds of studios across the USA and abroad. 

In the 1980’s, as Yoga has become more and more “trendy” across the world, the attention sets back to its roots: India. Rishikesh becomes one of the official “yoga authentic” cities in the world. Many westerners who are into Yoga will make a stop over in the city. 

The various gurus who have helped Yoga become more trendy have also raised new questions amongst the practitioners: is yoga a practice of the body or the mind? 

Source: Marie Kock, « Yoga, une histoire-monde »

What the 200hrs Yoga Teacher Training brought me

I started my yoga journey 6 years ago by a friend dragging me for a 2 days yoga retreat in the middle of nowhere (with no internet connection). At that time I didn’t know what to expect from these two days and arrived to the retreat with a preconceived idea of this discipline: modern hippies only eating seeds and avocado gluten-free toasts and singing ohms to relax! I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt after an intense day of stretching, exercising, singing and meditating and from that weekend onwards never stopped my yoga asana practice. 

I started practicing more thoroughly the following year as I moved to Singapore, land of the yoga clubs! To me yoga had become my new “sport hobby” as I hated having to sweat all the water out of my body by running outside. 

Throughout my six years of weekly yoga practices, I thought my ultimate goal was to be flexible and strong enough to be able to snap an instagram shot doing peacock or fancy headstand postures. 

Few months back I went through a hard time and felt depression and anxiety slowly settling in my daily life. I stopped “exercising” and felt even worse. One night my husband pushed me to register to a 200hrs YTT saying that even though I might not change want to make a leaving out of yoga it would probably help finding a new source of personal inspiration. He was so right, I do not regret a second taking some time away from home, kids, work, daily routine to focus purely on myself. 

Of course practicing 2hrs of asanas everyday has “forced” me back into a physical activity and has helped me deepen my practice, feel stronger and healthier physically but it has also been the starting point of a new journey: asking myself questions I had always tried to ignore: how do I define myself, what is my life purpose, where do I want to be in a few years time. I am still currently answering these questions with too much of my “daily life” elements, but this training has definitely helped me to start focusing on who I am and who I want to be as well as how I want to live the rest of this life more deeply. 

This training has opened my eyes and taught me that yoga is not a practice it is a life philosophy and it might take more than just a single life to answer some of the deepest questions it forces oneself to think about 😉