Deepening my yoga practice beyond the mat

I am typing this as our Yoga Teacher Training is coming to an end and if there’s one main thing I am leaving with; it is with the intention that I am deepening my yoga practice beyond the mat. I shared earlier that I was introduced to yoga through Ayurveda, and I’ve been told that’s pretty unconventional because it never did start with a mat. It started with cleansing. My yoga therapist once joked that I didn’t choose yoga, yoga chose me. But it was during those treatments that I had met many yoga practitioners/therapists who taught me that yoga and mind are a single entity, not separate and yoga is more a lifestyle than just asanas. I was also constantly reminded to not suppress anything in my life because at the end of the day, I’ll be the one suffering – as exhibited through my health. While I am sensitive to the needs of others, I tend to forget to examine my own needs. I am glad I was tasked with Swadhyaya as my individual project because it served as a gentle reminder to check in with myself, my thoughts, and emotions. To train my brain to enter the subconscious mind – checking my habits, emotional reactions, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. Now as I look back in the past month, this was again reiterated by all my Masters – Master Sree, Master Paalu, and Master Weiling. While the joke of yoga choosing me may still stand, I have decided to choose yoga too and to always remind myself that I am a human being, not a human doing 🙂

“You fractured your toe.”

I stubbed my toe so hard by accident at the end of our second week that I fractured it. When it happened, all I could think of at the time was how I was going to sit for my practical exam with a fractured toe. I dragged myself (literally) to get an X-ray the following day and sure enough, I was given one-week MC and was advised not to participate in any physical activities for six weeks to allow the healing of the fracture. My little left toe is now immobilised for six weeks. Though I was disheartened, I informed and assured Master Sree that I would still be attending my lessons because there are other ways I could participate and learn. He agreed and reminded me that some things are not meant to be. Maybe I am not meant to sit for my practical exam this week. The doctor said the estimated time to heal my fractured toe was six weeks. Maybe I am meant to sit for the practical only after.

Now that I am not physically participating, I got to thoroughly observe the class in all its (sweaty) glory. I took this as golden time; an opportunity for me to hone my senses. It’s a different experience to simply observe. In the previous weeks, I focused on being a student and working on my own body, my postures, and alignments, but my focus has since shifted from me to others. Regardless of the fractured toe, my third week turned out a blessing because I got to be a sponge and soak up my surroundings. I learned how each body and student is different. I picked up messages from their body language and discerned what they were feeling. I noticed the common mistakes for alignments and little things like a change in breathing and facial expressions. I soon realised that all bodies are yoga bodies. Your yoga is still yoga if you need props or you take modifications and variations. The core is in practice and patience because flexibility and strength can be worked on. Over time, the body will learn to gain strength and flexibility. I took the time to study Master Sree as a teacher too. I paid attention to how he gave variations for students who weren’t as flexible. He assisted my classmates by suggesting the use of a strap or sitting on a towel to get into certain asanas. I was thoroughly impressed at how he was training them according to the poses that they struggle with. While he entrusts one to a Sirsasana because she’s good at her core, he trains another in her Chaturanga to work on her arms. It clearly showed me that as a teacher, he studied his students – their strengths and weaknesses, their behaviour and idiosyncrasies, knowing what they’re lacking in and assisting in that. He ensures his students were growing in their own way, all while working within their limits. In practice, I tend to mainly focus on myself but this sitting out ‘experience’ has helped me in knowing what to look out for – student, teacher, and teaching-wise.

Fractured toe. Tragic? I think not. 🙂

Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda

I was first introduced to Yoga through Ayurveda. I was fascinated by the discovery of Doshas in my last blog post that I would like to share about my Ayurvedic treatment: Kriya. Before coming for treatment, I am to fast because I am needed to do lots of purging.

  • Jala Neti

My yoga therapy first starts with Jalaneti. It is essentially nasal irrigation, where lukewarm saline water is taken through one nostril and leaves the other. This is done on both nostrils.

  • Kapalabathi

After Jalaneti, I blow out all remaining water from both nostrils using the technique of Kapalabathi Pranayama.

  • Vamana Dhouti

I proceed to then do Vamana Dhouti – the purification of the upper digestive tract. It is done by induced vomiting after drinking several glasses of saline water. After my sixth or seventh cup, I would naturally puke the water back out (now you know why I am needed to fast prior to treatment!)

  • Sankhapraksalana

Once I am done with Vamana Dhouti, I will then do Sankhapraksalana. It is a full intestinal cleanse, where it detoxifies the body. Here, I am to continue drinking several glasses of saline water till my bowel is clear (which means, the water that comes out is as clean as it has entered!). In between, I am to do five different asanas which include the Tadasana Stretch and Bhujangasana twisting.

  • Kitchari

Once the water that comes out is as clean as it has entered, my therapist cooks for me a Kitchari porridge with five simple ingredients – rice, lentils, cumin, ghee, turmeric. Kitchari is a staple Ayurvedic healing food that helps to line my gut after the purges.

  • Deep Relaxation Technique / Mind Sound Resonance Technique

After the full purging is done, I come to Shavasana and practice Deep Relaxation Technique (DRT) or Mind Sound Resonance Technique (“MSRT”) with my yoga therapist.

And then I am finally done! This usually takes up a few hours of my day. Over time, this treatment has tremendously helped me in my skin recovery. Whenever I share this, many who aren’t aware of Ayurvedic treatment, don’t understand how this can help a skin condition but I can attest it is a more holistic approach. Through researching on Doshas, I learned that the Kapha type likes to cling to things, where toxins are absorbed and retained by the body. This is made clear how the detoxification helps to rid it (I’m a Kapha-Pitta).

My mental and emotional stress/health were manifested through my physical health and I believe the pranic flow within my body was disturbed. But yoga and Ayurveda has assisted in the healing of my mind, body, and soul.

“You are Kapha-Pitta”

I was first introduced to Dosha through the Ayurveda treatment I used to go for my skin condition. I was a patient at the time and wasn’t very informed about Dosha. In our first week of Yoga Teacher Training, Master Weiling went through Dosha, the three Gunas, and food. We were told to do an Ayurveda Dosha quiz afterward and my results were as follows:

Attributes which do not change & childhood: Pitta (10 points)
Attributes which change: Pitta-Kapha (8, 7 points respectively)
Mental & Emotional Attributes: Kapha (11 points)

I was amused with the quiz results because according to my Ayurvedic doctor, I am Kapha-Pitta! The day after we were introduced to Doshas, I asked Master Sree what he thinks my Dosha is and he said Kapha-Pitta too! This intrigued me and prompted me to research more about the Kapha-Pitta type.

I learned that the Dosha combination of Kapha-Pitta is a healthy variant because the fiery aspect of Pitta works with the grounded Kapha, which ideally maintains balance. It is said that the Kapha-Pitta type has the “right degree of Agni (digestive fire)”. However, having this duality doesn’t mean I don’t have to listen to my body. There is still a need for me to keep an eye on the food I eat because Kapha can be a threat to the fiery nature of Pitta. With this duality, the different Doshas are more active at different times – Kapha being more present from February to May and Pitta from June to September.

With regard to a Kapha-Pitta diet, I found that it is essential for a proper acid/alkaline balance because if Kapha is aggravated, it shifts the balance to alkaline and if Pitta is aggravated, it shifts the balance towards an acidic state. The latter however depletes Kapha and its protective actions, which causes various types of excoriating and inflammatory disorders. I also found it particularly interesting that skin diseases were listed under typical Kapha-Pitta disorders. I guess this explains my inflammatory skin condition, eczema. Therefore, my diet should be something that keeps both Doshas in balance.

Some guidelines I found interesting while researching:

  • Have freshly cooked, warm food over raw and cold food
  • Sit peacefully and eat in a calm atmosphere
  • White meat is recommended over red meat
  • Excess dairy and excess seafood aggravate Kapha
  • Most vegetables (except tomatoes and capsicum) are suitable for Kapha-Pitta

These were interesting to me because some of the food I currently stay away from are in fact, red meat, dairy, seafood, tomatoes, and capsicum (and peanuts but they weren’t listed). And yes, I do appreciate warm (not hot!) food and sitting peacefully with my meal. I take my meals seriously because I see it as my me-time. 🙂