Every Body, A Yoga Body.

What is a ‘Yoga Body’? What kind of image comes to your mind when you associate yoga body? If you are thinking of a ‘lean, toned and sexy’ body, you may be stereotyping.

Well, I believe in reality, there is no such thing as a perfect ‘Yoga Body’. Every body is a yoga body. Social media may very well be the culprit planting these ‘perfect’ images in our heads to form these stereotypes. Every time someone hashtag #yogabody, other hashtags such as #fitness #hot #perfectbody pop up collectively. These associations and impressions may have caused some misconceptions that people are having such as ‘I only can do yoga if I’m flexible and skinny’. Many people think generally, yoga is all about flexibility and twisting or contorting your body to make beautiful poses, and the ‘harder’ the pose, the more instagram likes it will have. However, the word “yoga” in Hindi actually means “to yoke”, and it emphasizes on union and connection. Little do people know that apart from physical poses called asanas, yoga actually includes 7 other aspects of breathing, meditation, and other nonphysical practices.

Recently, I was browsing at the National Library and I came across an interesting yoga book by Lauren Lipton – Yoga Bodies: Real People, Real Stories & the Power of Transformation. It caught my attention mainly because it did not have the usual ‘hot and lean’ model on the cover. Instead, the front cover was a photo collage of people of different ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes doing asanas. In this book, Lipton profiles more than 80 people who have discovered the transformational power of yoga –  each page beautifully captured them performing an asana each with much confidence. Don’t be mistaken. By beautiful, I don’t mean performing an asana with perfect alignment. Some of them might have done the pose with wrong alignment, or is not flexible enough to touch the toes and some even handicapped, but it truly shows what yoga is all about – yoga is for everyone and it is an individual learning journey. It also writes about how each of them found yoga and how it helps them to cope with their daily lives.

I believe yoga is many things and offers something for everyone — whether you’re a fitness junkie who wants to use yoga to improve your flexibility for other sports, a stay-at-home parent looking for a respite from the demands of domestic life, an office dweller who has no time to work out or someone who just wants to try for fun, yoga invites each of us to define it as we wish. I like how in her book, she did not only emphasize on the physical changes yoga brought to them, but also on a deeper level, how yoga helped them cope with insecurity, anxiety, depression, addiction, disability, gender identity, racism, aging, and more.

There shouldn’t be feelings like self-consciousness and envy when you’re on your yoga mat. There should be no competitions between you and your mat neighbours. You should not feel demoralized when everyone around you in the studio can perform a headstand and you cannot. You should not start questioning yourself after this whether it was because you were not flexible enough to walk your legs in a little more during the prep pose, or that you simply just did not have the upper body strength to lift your legs up away from the mat. Instead, we all should focus on our individual journey and not let others determine what we are and by what we see.

Yoga is for everybody. You don’t have to be thin and you don’t have to be fat. You don’t have to be of a specific colour, race or religion, nor a vegetarian to do yoga. Let’s start by bursting the yoga bubble and let yoga be accessible to everyone.

Tell yourself and your friends that they already have THE yoga body.

 

Angela

Energetic Anatomy: Chakras and Meridians

As I learn more about Chakras in this YTT course, I come to realise Chakras and Meridian points in TCM are quite similar and are often talked about together.

Definitions:  

Chakras: Disk, vortex, or wheel in sanskrit. These are non-physical energy fields that map onto our physical body from the base of the spine to the top of the head. There are 7 major chakras in our body:

  1. Root Chakra – Centre of Stability and Support
  2. Sacral Chakra – Centre of Sexuality and Imagination
  3. Solar Plexus Chakra – Centre of Self-Esteem
  4. Heart Chakra – Centre of Love and Self-Acceptance
  5. Throat Chakras – Expression and Communication
  6. Third Eye Chakra – Wisdom and Intuition
  7. Crown Chakra – Knowing and Enlightenment

Meridians: A network of energy pathways that carry energy like how arteries carry blood. These pathways create flow of information and link the connective tissues of the body with different organs and parts of the body. There are 12 Principal Meridians and they are divided into Yin and Yang groups.

  • Yin – feminine, dark, associated with slow, soft, cold and wet (represented by water, earth, moon and nighttime)
  • Yang – masculine and light, associated with action, speed and aggressiveness (represented by sun, sky and daytime)

The Yin meridians of the arm are the lung, heart and pericardium. The Yang meridians of the arm are large intestine, small intestine and triple burner. The Yin Meridians of the leg are the spleen, kidney and liver. The Yang meridians of the leg are the stomach, bladder and gall bladder.

 

Similarities

  1. Both energies need to be well balanced for a person to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spirituality healthy.

The degree of Chakra and Meridian activity in a person’s body is dependent on the person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state of health.

In chakras, if there are deficiencies/excesses or ‘blocked’ or ‘open’ chakras, it might lead to certain physical and psychological problems. Eg. if root chakra is blocked or deficient, one may experience insecurity or fear.

In meridians, if the body has too much yin or too little yang, the body will be cold and slow, showing signs of low thyroid or metabolism. Similarly, if there is too much yang and too little yin, the body becomes hot and stimulated, showing signs of high thyroid state.

       2. Both have ‘tell-tale’ signs or symptoms that can be treated

In chakras, if someone feels that it is difficult to get emotionally close with people, his heart chakra might be blocked. If he or she is confused in his/her thoughts, it may be because of their 7th chakra (cognition may be overactive) etc. Yoga exercises (asanas or prayanamas) can help to solve these problems if one can be more aware of their emotions and problems.

In meridians, acupuncture points can be stimulated with needles or physical pressure to release or redistribute energy along the meridian pathway. If you feel tiredness or soreness in your body, acupuncture can be used to treat these points to improve body condition.

        3. Different yoga asanas can help to stimulate chakras and meridians 

In chakras, to overcome inertia and lack of motivation, one can do yoga exercises such as ‘Breath of Fire’, backbends and twisting poses) to help stimulate the third chakra and heat up the body and fill it with energy.

In meridians, if you want to bring forth the dark, slow, evening feminine energy of yin, you can do poses such as low lunge and forward bends whereas sun salutations and twisting poses help to create hot, bright, morning and masculine energy of yang.

        4. Interconnectedness with other parts of the body 

In chakras, a sensitive practitioner’s hand held over a chakra may resonate with pain in a related organ, congestion in a lymph node or even areas of emotional turmoil.

In meridians, if you press specific points along the skin where the meridians surface, they may be interconnected and you can feel the aches and tingles along the same meridian points.

 

Differences:

  1. Origin

Chakras were described as centers of consciousness in ancient Indian texts like the Yoga Upanishads and in the Yoga Sutras or Pantanjali.

The meridian theory was originally expressed by the Chinese on the basis of observations of illnesses and holistic treatment.

     2. Functions of the energy

The chakras are like pools or swirling disks of energy that bathe and fuel the organs in their proximity. They govern the endocrine system and carry information about the person’s history. They also encode and process physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences.

In meridians, they deliver their energy to the organs. As the body’s energy bloodstream, the meridian system brings vitality and balance, removes blockages, adjusts metabolism, and even determines the speed and form of cellular change. The flow of the meridian energy pathways is as critical as the flow of blood. No energy = no life. Meridians affect every organ and every physiological system, including the immune, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, skeletal, muscular, and lymphatic systems.

     3. Exercises to improve Chakra and Meridian 

One can perform yoga exercises such as meditation, prayanama or practice asanas to improve specific chakras.

The fluid movements of Sundao, Tai Chi and QiGong and techniques of acupuncture and acupressure apply the knowledge of the meridians to eliminate the blockages of energy and treat the disease.

 

Conclusion

Be it chakra or meridian, they work well together. Chakras bring energy into your body, while meridians sends the energy around your body. When they are in harmony, they are very powerful in enhancing your energy supply.

 

Angela

How do you get students to like your yoga class?

After experiencing teaching this morning (and from my experiences of being a yoga student for many years), I feel that the way an instructor conducts a class is the most important factor to enhance a student’s enjoyment, such as:

  1. Personality of the instructor (calm, soothing and reassuring, confident and approachable)
  2. Tone and voice of instructor (assertive yet encouraging, loud and clear voice)
  3. Overall pace of the lesson (comfortable, steady pace – students should be able to follow and still be challenged)
  4. Clear instructions that are easy to understand and follow (regardless of class type)
  5. Knowledge of teacher (able to provide information on certain asanas performed eg. how it aids digestion)
  6. Checking on individual student and making sure they are okay (and breathing)
  7. Flowing sequence and suitable asanas (students are physically challenged but not pushing them till there is risk of an injury)
  8. Flexibility of changing the lesson plan anytime (modify the postures accordingly for different students)

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My yoga journey

 

On a random weekday afternoon about 8 years ago when I first started working, I received a call from a Yoga Centre telling me that a friend had referred me for a week of free trial classes at their centre. At that time, I thought ‘Yoga? Isn’t that for older people? Who referred me? How did you get my number? Is this truly free? What should I bring or wear?’ I was skeptical as it all sounded too good to be true and slightly “scammy”. However, in a moment of spontaneity, I decided to give it a shot. After the phone call, I roped in my cousin to come along with me to my first ever yoga class.

 

To be honest, my first experience with yoga was not great. We sauntered into the studio fashionably late (didn’t know punctuality and discipline were that important – we nearly weren’t allowed in!), struggled through the entire hour-long sequence (the poses sounded funnily foreign) and within 10 minutes, were panting like dogs and sweating buckets. The practice lasted for an eternity. I was sore for days after that, aching in places i never knew existed. But – it sure felt good! Yoga, to me, feels like a completely different workout from the usual swims or runs, because it also trains your mind to stay focused. Focus, or you forget which side you’re doing during sun salutations. Focus, or you fall when performing a balancing pose. Focus, or you forget to breathe into the pose. It all begins in the mind, and our mind controls the body.

 

I started to feel little changes in my daily life after practising yoga. I concentrated better at work, slept well at night, felt more confident about my own body …  the list goes on. More importantly, I find myself enjoying it! Yoga reminded me of my ballet days in primary school which had brought me so much joy and enjoyment. I had to stop ballet eventually after several years due to my flat feet, but the great thing about practising yoga is that it may even help you cope with certain medical conditions!

 

As I went for more classes. I began to feel more comfortable as I slowly understood the different names of the asanas without having to look to my left and right mat neighbours for guidance. I could see progress monthly, weekly and even on a daily basis. Gradually, my hands could touch my feet during forward bends. Gradually, I felt my feet getting lighter when I practised the crow pose. Gradually, I began to hold a headstand for longer each time. Each little milestone gleefully and enjoyably noted. Everyday, I learnt something new – from breathing techniques to correcting alignments in asanas. With practice, I learnt that you can get to every pose, slowly but surely. I have also learnt not to chase poses and let them come to you naturally, taking as much time as your body needs. It has been an amazing journey to discovering what my body is able to do – I even recently found out I’ve got hyperextended elbows! It also teaches you life skills – patience, perseverence, self-control and self-love. There is definitely more to yoga than the physical act of practising yoga poses.

 

Like the title of my post, yoga is a journey. “Practice, and all is coming.” – I will remind myself to enjoy the process and the benefits will come. Funnily enough, till this day, after practising yoga for so long, I still do not know who referred me all those years ago! I really want to thank whoever that person was – I would not have begun my lifelong journey with yoga if not for him/her.

Angela