Everyone’s journey is different

Yoga is a personal journey, and everyone’s journey is different.

There is no need to compare.

These are what I often hear my yoga teachers say.

This idea that everyone’s journey (in life) is different and that it is not some sort of competition resonates with me. We are inherently different individuals, so why would our (life) journeys be the same?

I believe in embracing and learning from differences. Differences in opinions, differences in responses to situations, differences/deviations from our usual way of being or our expectations. It is only in appreciating differences that new perspectives, creative solutions and innovation emerge, and compassion cultivated.

In our lifetime, we may not be able to do all the yoga poses in the world. Some asanas may feel impossible for you but a piece of cake for others. But always know that that is okay. Be gentle to yourself. Perhaps, we should instead try to observe and learn from the experience, we may discover something new about our selves or our bodies.

Put in my best efforts, experience the process, accept the outcome and maybe learn a thing or two from it.

How yoga have impacted my life

The biggest change that I had noticed after starting a consistent yoga practice was the tremendous increase in my hamstring flexibility. Almost 10 years ago, I was a cheerleader who had difficulty touching my toes in a forward fold.

The biggest change that the people around me noticed, however, was the improvement in my patience. Friends from long ago would be surprised to know that I am now known as one of the most patient person in the office and friend group.

Yoga has also made me more observant to my inner self and my emotions and helped me mature emotionally. For example, in times of anger or distress, I now find myself first examining the experience and the emotions that arise. This gesture came naturally and reminds of how I tend to observe my breath and the sensations I feel when I am holding a difficult posture.

And instead of acting impulsively, this “check point” also gives me clarity on how I should respond.

I am thankful for have found yoga and for the effects it had to my life.

My yoga journey

My first experience with yoga was during my schooling days – it was just four classes but it left a lasting impact. Even though I didn’t quite appreciate savasana, I felt great after each class. I told myself that I would revisit yoga some day.

Fast forward to 5 years later, I got into an accident and sustained a spinal injury. It was during one of the visits to the doctor that he had suggested yoga as a way to strengthen my core and protect my back.

That is how my yoga journey started.

I signed up with a fitness platform and signed up for my first few yoga classes, fell flat on my first 20 chaturangas, attended a flow class not knowing what to expect (and feeling thoroughly defeated at the end of the class).

And after months of that, my body changed, my muscle awareness improved and I had an idea of what “breathwork” meant. And most importantly, my pain became less frequent and less intense. However, I do not advocate anyone with spinal injury to use yoga as a form of rehabilitation without a doctor’s clearance.

Today,  I can’t wait to share the practice of yoga with my loved ones and whomever is interested to learn.

 

Yoga teacher training

This pandemic had a silver lining – I was finally able to embark on this journey.

I have wanted to take up yoga teacher training for a while now. But having an irregular work schedule made attending any course outside of office hours quite challenging.

Initially, the main reason to take up the course was to deepen my own practice, improve my asana alignment and learn more about yoga philosophy and pranayama.

However, after having expressed this interest to my close circle of friends, a group of the couch potatoes and calisthenics fanatics, I seemed to have piqued their curiosity about asana practice.  But they were held back by their own narrative of “I am too inflexible to try yoga” to give it a shot.

I had an amazing time during this training, I  learned a lot too. And with this newfound skills and knowledge, I hope to bring the opportunity of learning yoga to my friends, improve any stiffness-related pains / mobility issues and perhaps they can start to realise that there are many who only became flexible after consistent yoga practice.

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.

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