YTT: the aftermath

Tomorrow marks the end of the YTT 200hr course and I can’t believe it’s already here. I remember signing up for the course quite quickly – some say I am impulsive but I would like to think that I’m decisive!

Well, to be honest, I thought about doing the course for a long time but it simply wasn’t possible with work commitments. “Taking a month off to do the course is a luxury” Master Paalu said today, and I totally acknowledge that.

Everything worked out perfectly – the timing, schedule, connection with the studio. I believe in what Paulo Coelho says about how “when you truly want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it”. I’m thankful for this chance to spend time off for self-care, self-learning and growing my self.

Now for the million dollar question: what’s next? I definitely enjoy the daily asana and pranayama practice. My mat at home is now always open and it is my goal to always keep it open and keep practicing.

I have more homework to do – I want to work on a few poses, learn more about yoga and its healing power, and gain more teaching hours. Only that it doesn’t feel like homework you get from school – this is a luxury. To practice is indeed a luxury!

My new obsession: Psoas

I never really thought about the Psoas – the deep muscle in the lower lumbar region of the spine that extends through the pelvis to the femur.

The Psoas isn’t visible like the abs, triceps or deltoids (perhaps that’s why it’s often neglected), but it is essential not just in deepening your asanas but also when you run or bike. In fact, your psoas muscles are the primary connectors between your torso and your legs that stabilizes your spine – the center of your universe.

We probably heard the word ‘psoas’ more than once a day during the YTT 200h course. A strong psoas is key to perfecting many asanas including inversions, Uttita Hasta Padangusthasana, Utpluthih, Bhujapidasana, etc.

Here are three simple exercises to strengthen the psoas muscle:

  1. Using a resistance band
  2. Using a hanging bar
  3. Spend more time squatting

Unlock this mysterious muscle and many asanas will be released – it’s still a work-in-progress for me, but I hope to unlock this achievement!

What they didn’t tell you about the YTT 200 hour class

Sure, with a yoga teacher training course, I expected intense asana practice. Sure, I expected to learn a little about the anatomy and muscular system. Sure, I expected to learn practical tips and tricks to teach yoga.

What I wasn’t expecting though is to learn a new language (well, just a little bit of Sanskrit), travel back time to hear the rich history and philosophy of yoga, and understand the natural workings of the body and the way the world works.

My favourite topic in the course would be everything to do with Pranayama. I didn’t expect to learn a trick about living longer (and live longer, healthily). “Prana” means “vital life force” and “ayama” means “extension”. Therefore Pranayama is the regulation of breath that would extend your life.

“Bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desa kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah” – Yoga Sutra 2.51

Roughly translated as “Inhale, exhale, holding, moving, action, duration, regulate, long and deep”, this yoga sutra clearly explains pranayama. Elongated and prolonged, deep and controlled always regulates the breath and has wonderful benefits for the body, mind and spirit.

Here are some Pranayama techniques:

  1. Bastrika
  2. Anuloma Nilouma
  3. Nadi Shodhana
  4. Sheetali
  5. Sheetkari

Note that during Pranayama, the exhalation is always longer than the inhalation, and if there is retention of breath it should also be longer than the inhalation. In ratio terms, it would be 1:2:2 or 1:4:2 (inhale:holding:exhalation). In terms of number of breath counts, it should be at least 6 counts (e.g. inhale for 6 counts, hold for 12 counts, exhale for 12 counts in 1:2:2 ratio).

Pranayama ensures more oxygen to the lungs and is good for the cardiac system. Pranayama tones up kidney and control the functions of nervous system. Kumbhaka or retention of breath facilitates better work of lungs and triggers the brain to work more efficiently.  Pranayama affects autonomic nervous system which controls heart rate, glandular secretions, respiration, digestion and blood pressure.

It is said that the longer and slower your breath, the longer you will live. Take the example of a dog: their breath is short and quick and their life is (very sadly) much shorter than a human being.

Pranayama benefits are far and wide, living true to its name as the ‘vital life force’. Next time, when you feel stuck, stressed and simply need to calm your mind and body – breathe!

Yoga Therapy

Boring. That’s what I used to think whenever I see a yoga therapy class in the schedule as I book my next class. “That’s a slow class and if I’m paying for a class, I want to make my money’s worth” – I’d say to myself. And time and again, I’ll opt for a faster flow class or a challenging backbend or inversion class.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love and benefit tremendously from a flow, backbend or inversion class. However, as I go through the YTT 200h course, my eyes are slowly peeling open to a whole new world: the science of yoga and its healing power.

Not just therapeutic

Yoga therapy is not just “therapeutic” in the sense that it offers you the nice sensation of feeling good after a class. It is a preventive medicine and it cures. How did something with such a rich history of over 5,000 years (or some say 10,000 years) become sidelined and forgotten?

Along with TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Eastern healing methods have been labelled ‘alternative’ medicine – simply suggesting the Western-centric view of the world with Western Medicine as the default.

How often have we heard of people turning to alternative medicine after Western medicine fails them? Dozens of my friends have spent loads of money trying all sorts of methods in their quest to conceive a child, and finally turning to TCM as the last resort.

It’s probably stress.

Stress. That’s probably why more and more people are finding it hard to conceive. In fact, stress is now blamed for almost every health condition today – from diabetes, heart diseases and cancer to even the common cold.

The word “stress” in the way it is currently and commonly used today is a relatively new term. Time Magazine in 1983 called stress “The Epidemic of the Eighties” and there is no doubt that the situation has worsened. Before we get stressed about stress, what if we finally acknowledge that we need to take a holistic approach to our health?

Our bodily conditions are hugely influenced by our mind and spirit. Yoga therapy is an inherently holistic approach, simultaneously working on the body, mind, and spirit. Holistic approaches to health emphasizes the body’s own ability to heal itself, as well promoting lifestyle changes and naturally occurring remedies, such as meditation and herbal medicines.

Yoga as medicine

Regular Yoga practice can improve the function of the digestive system, foster better psychological health, and improve oxygen delivery to tissues. Yoga can also help the body more efficiently remove waste products, carcinogens, and cellular toxins.

Over the last 18 days, given the YTT course, it has been #yogaeveryday for me. And I thought I would test if pranayama works. Every night before going to bed, I would do anuloma viloma starting from the left nostril and I am certain it has helped my body recuperate and cool down from the intense asana practice. Since this works, I have stopped taking BCAA supplements to help my body recover from muscle aches.

As I enter my late 30s, my next test would be to see if regular asana practice would make me age beautifully (of course I’m superficial). And *touch wood* – if it allows me to be free from illness and health conditions often associated with age.

We’ll see!