Love is in the air!

Anahata – the heart chakra!

Anahata, the fourth primary chakra, in the heart region, the 9th bone at the thoracic, has the element of Air, is a smoke-colored mandala. In Sanskrit, Anahata means “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten”. Anahata is often called the “heart” center, symbolising the qualities of compassion, acceptance, universal love, selflessness, and devotion that are associated with the awakening of this center. How I personally perceive the heart chakra, when aligned, is one of strength, resilience, courage, and of course, love!

 

In the current situation that we live in, many might not feel love, acceptance, compassion towards others. COVID-19, stressful jobs, highly demanding lifestyle…. We are taught by many motivational speakers to train our mindset – THINK POSITIVE! GET BACK UP! WE TRY AND WILL BE BETTER! But competing with all these, going with all these, most of us are not aware of how the different chakras work. I chose to write about Anahata because the matter of the heart is complicated. With a “good” heart, we can do so many things for ourselves and for others.

 

When the Anahata is well aligned, one will feel love, compassion, and happiness. There is a sense of willingness and openness to challenges and situations in life, in connections and relationships with others. It allows us to see goodness and love, finding ourselves, accepting ourselves, bringing true self-love.

 

What if the heart chakra is blocked? One will experience the total opposite of the above. Such as holding grudges, dwelling on past relationships, having trust issues, feeling shy and lonely, commitment issues, defensive, afraid of being rejected…. Signs of blocked Anahata can be shown through the body as well. Examples of bodily illnesses could be poor blood circulation, high or low blood pressure.

 

How to open Anahata:

  • Yoga heart-opening asanas that lead to back bending, without the head touching the ground such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose), Ardha Ustrasana (half camel pose), Purvottanasa (reverse plank pose).

Picture source: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/upward-plank-pose

Picture source: http://- https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/pose-of-the-week-wheel-pose-urdhva-dhanurasana

Picture source: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/camel-pose

 

  • Chanting the mantra “YAM”
  • Singing/crystal bowls
  • Wearing rose quartz crystals
  • Repeating positive affirmations such as “I am loved, my heart is opened to love, I live in a state of gratitude.”
  • Keeping a gratitude journal (write 3 things to be grateful & thankful for each day)

Learning about Anahata has made me aware of my own feelings, reminding me to be grateful. When we are grateful, we have no time to be upset. These two emotions cannot work together. Be grateful always! <3

Anulom Vilom Pranayama

Pranayama – the cessation of breathing and expansion of prana.

Prana means “vital life force” and Ayama means “to extend or draw out”. Together, Pranayama means breath control.

Before hearing of this term pranayama, I’ve never given extra thoughts as to why yoga teachers tell students to take deep breaths and throughout the class, give reminders to “breathe”. I knew breathing regulates our heart rate, making the movements from pose to pose more manageable. Until recently, when I was introduced to the different types of pranayama techniques that I was wowed by it.

 

So, what exactly is pranayama? It involves techniques controlling our breaths in various ways.

According to Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, sutra 2.50:

bahya abhyantara stambha vrittih desha kala sankhyabhih paridrishtah dirgha sukshmah

This translates to “that pranayama has three aspects of external or outward flow (exhalation), internal or inward flow (inhalation), and the third, which is the absence of both during the transition between them, and is known as fixedness, retention, or suspension. These are regulated by place, time, and number, with breath becoming slow and subtle.”.

 

The three aspects of breath are:

  1. Exhalation: Training the exhalation is removing the jerkiness, allowing the flow to be slow and deep, as well as diaphragmatic.
  2. Inhalation: Training the exhalation also means eliminating jerkiness, breathing slowly, and using the diaphragm.
  3. Transition: Between exhalation and inhalation, and between inhalation and exhalation there is a transition, which is experienced as suspension, retention, or cessation, etc. The training of the transition is to make it very smooth as if there were no pause at all.

 

One of the breathing techniques that I would like to talk about is Anulom Vilom – Alternate Nostril Breathing.

What attracted me to this pranayama is that it improves digestion. I am someone with poor digestion and irregular bowel movements. When I first tried Anulom Vilom, just 5 minutes in and I felt the need to go to the toilet! How quick is the effect of it? Given the stressful lifestyle and the amount of food some of us take due to convenience, this is one pranayma that I think is highly suitable!

Some other benefits of Anulom Vilom are:

  • Boosts respiratory system
  • Reduces stress
  • Helps in keeping mental disorders at bay
  • Improves concentration
  • Boosts and improves digestion

  

The steps to practice Anulom Vilom:

  1. Sit in a cross-legged or meditating position, making sure the spine and head are straight.
  2. Close eyes and relax for a few minutes and when relaxed and ready, to cool the body, take your right thumb and place it on the right nostril (refer to the left image below)
  3. Press the right thumb with a slight force so that airflow through the right nostril is temporarily stopped. And take a deep breath from the left nostril.
  4. Then release the thumb, place your ring and pinky finger on the left nostril, and release the breath through the right nostrils (refer to the right image below)
  5. Making sure breath is slow and ratio for inhalation and exhalation to be 1:1 and graduation work up to 1:2

*to heat up the body, take your ring and pinky finger and place it on the left nostril, breathe in through the right nostril, then release the fingers and place the right thumb on the right nostril and release the breath through the left nostril.

Picture source: https://www.myupchar.com/en/yoga/pranayama/anulom-vilom-pranayam-yoga-steps-benefits-in-hindi

Have fun with this! Hope you’ll experience the same effect I had!

Yoga and CrossFit for me

My relationship with yoga was almost never constant. Me for the past few years, and even now, will not say yoga is my main form of exercise. I do CrossFit. A lot. Almost 5 times a week. I enjoy the fast-paced, strength work, heavy lifting, explosive movements in CrossFit. But the issue was, whenever I reach my peak fitness, I get injuries that will stop me from exercising for a few months.

 

The worst I had was persistent lower back pain. I knew it was serious when I suddenly wasn’t able to get out of bed. Went to the specialist and through a MRI scan, found out that I had a tear in my lower disc. I then took a break from heavy weightlifting for 3 months. After consultation with my physiotherapist, we found out that the reason for the lower back injury was because my hamstring, quad, and upper back was so tight and compressed that the tightness concentrated to an area, which was how my lower back compensated, to “allow” me to continue with all the heavy lifting at the gym.

 

I’ve never stretched after my workouts. I never did any form of stretching.  After 3 months of break from CrossFit and a lot of rehab work, I was given the clearance from my physiotherapist to resume my usual workout. I decided to start yoga again. It was the best decision that I’ve made in a long time! My body recovered quickly, I was energised, with no pain, and good strength and mobility.

 

Then, I got lazy again. See this relationship I have with yoga? When I reflected on this, I realised I first encountered yoga 7 years back and no matter what other forms of exercise I took up, I’ll somehow always ended up having yoga in my life again. This definitely means something! That was when I decided to take up yoga teacher course at Tirisula Yoga. All the Ashtanga practices with Master Ram and YY gave me another perspective on yoga. It is not only about stretching/flexibility. It is fast-paced, it is strength training, lots of heavy lifting (I mean me, I’m the heavy one), and I’m humbled by all of it. There are many poses that are still a challenge for me but I believe it will soon come to me!

 

All the yoga practices also improved my strength for CrossFit. My shoulders are so much stronger now that I was shocked when I went back to CrossFit class and did some of the movements that I previously struggled with. Yoga complements my current regime perfectly!

 

To any of you thinking you can’t do yoga because your whole body is tight/stiff from bodybuilding/spin/martial art/CrossFit, I am one great example that you should have yoga in your life! It complements and you will see definitely see physical improvements in yourself!

The Anatomy of Adho Mukha Svanasana

When I first started yoga, Adho Mukha Swanasana – the downward facing dog was always challenging. It is the pose that we do in almost all yoga classes, and yet I feel the tightness in all parts of my body, in all the classes! Gradually, I realised that it is one pose that without noticing it, I have gotten better at it, going deeper, heels touching the ground, knees straighten, back lengthen. It has actually become a resting pose for me! It is a pose that I used to determine changes in my body. Am I getting stronger or weaker, flexible or tighter? It helps me to find the balance between the strength I have, and the flexibility I am building.

 

Adho Mukha Swananasa is an inversion and an arm strengthening pose. It fully stretches the full length of the back of our legs, especially the tight hamstrings and calf muscles, feeling the awakening along our spine and strengthening our shoulders. As we flex our hips and over time with flexibility, straighten the knees which help with the stretch on the hamstrings.

 

Our soleus, the muscles crossing our ankles, and gastrocnemius, the muscles crossing the back of our knees, are stretched when we dorsiflex our feet. When we straighten our arms, grounding them firmly onto the mat, we push ourselves away from the ground, bringing our body back towards the legs, our hip higher up into the air, we then go into a deeper stretch.

 

With palm grounded, fingers evenly spread onto the mat, shoulders rotated externally and flexed, ankles dorsiflexed, our lumbar spine extends and cervical spine flexes. Our wrists play a part here as well. The wrists are widely involved in yoga poses. In downward dog pose, we should align our wrists such that the middle fingers are pointing forward.

 

With all the different adjustments and alignments, are we then correctly distributing the entire body weight, placing most of our weight towards our legs? I determine that by checking in with the feeling I have in my wrists. If I am feeling uncomfortable or hurting around my wrists, it is a telltale sign that I am not doing the pose correctly.

 

I’d like to imagine myself as a mountain, an inverted “V”, in the downward facing dog pose. With the fingers spread out evenly, shoulder strong and secured, my ankles and palms form the base of a firmly grounded mountain. No rain or shine can disrupt the peace surrounding it. Which is my take on this pose, my resting pose in my practice, my warm-up, my cool down, a pose I do in between sequence, my go-to. It is a pose that I can power with a continuous flow of deep breaths, strong and steady.

 

Its been a few years since I first started yoga. Even though there were quite a few periods that I stopped yoga completely, I’ll come back to it and the downward facing dog pose will always feel foreign when I was starting my practice again. After regular practice, I feel myself improve and almost at my “best” and I attend a class and can even be corrected and pushed deeper into the stretch!

 

What I learn from this pose is that, firstly, there will always be room for improvement. Secondly, it is the foundation and when the foundation is strong and secure, things flow. Lastly, it can actually be my resting pose, and now my favourite pose!