June has always been chosen as “Yoga Month” in my company, whereby the Wellness Committee will engage external yoga teachers to conduct yoga lessons during lunch time.
One of the conversations I often heard among my colleagues was always “Yoga is for flexible/skinny people only! I am too stiff to even bend and touch my feet!” or “How is yoga even considered an exercise? It is so sedentary that I will fall asleep!” etc and the list of reasons for not trying out yoga goes on and on…
This makes me realized that many people have the incorrect perception of Yoga. While social media influences (think of picture-perfect Instagram photos of yoga postures!) have helped to spread this beautiful art of Yoga to the greater masses, there is still much to do to help many others to understand that Yoga is not just about the beautiful postures or “bending to touch your toes”. Regardless of factors like body shape, age, flexibility etc, there will be one form of yoga suitable for you.
- If you are someone who likes high intensive exercises, try out dynamic vinyasa yoga like Ashtanga Yoga or Hot Yoga.
- Trying to recover from an injury? Go for Yoga therapy that focuses on the target part of the body and highlight to the teacher for modifications to the postures.
- Feeling a little lethargic today, go for restorative yoga like Yin Yoga.
My favourite part of the gym routine always involve cardio exercises like Running / Spinning class followed by either Hot yoga or Yin yoga to give myself a good stretch.
The good vibes after a yoga class is what keeps me going back to my yoga mat every time. So go on and give yourself a chance to enjoy what yoga can bring to you!
You will never know, if you never even try!
Niyama is the second limb of Yoga and it means personal observances which a yogi should follow.
The 5 parts of Niyama are as follow:
- Saucha : purity of thoughts
- Santosha : contentment and acceptance of the world, oneself and circumstances exactly as they are
- Tapas : self-discipline, passion and courage
- Swadhyaya : study of the self and the practice of self-reflection
- Ishwara-pranidha : surrender of ego
Out of these 5 parts, Tapas left the deepest impression on me and this phrase “Austerities transform impurities!” has became my favourite personal mantra by the end of the training course.
The word “tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn”. Hence, Tapas is interpreted as cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away physical, mental or emotional ‘impurities’.
When we face challenging situations in a yoga practice, such as a difficult inversion pose or arm balance poses we previously thought was ‘impossible’; remember to calm the mind through breathing and keep on trying. If you can’t achieve the poses today, try it again tomorrow. Have the self-discipline (Tapas) to keep on trying until the poses become comfortable. It is through the practise of Sirsasana (Headstand) that allowed me to have greater awareness about Tapas. Inversion poses have always been my weakness as my body just did not know how to feel comfortable in an inverted position. Through this TTC and with the constant encouragement and tips from my batch mates (thank you all ladies!), I finally managed to perform Sirsasana without a wall. It is still far from perfect but I know I will get there someday, so long I continue to practice.
The self-discipline (Tapas) we learn on the mat can be applied to our daily life too. Some examples are waking up early on every Sunday morning to spend quality time with your family or committing to a “no mobile phone” rule during meals so that you give utmost attention and respect to the person you are having meal with.
The greatest lessons we had in life often come after persevering through the difficulties. So next time when you feel a little overwhelmed with the challenges in your life, take a breath and remember: “Austerities transform impurities!”
As we go further into advanced yoga poses that tend to stretch our body into deeper bends and twists, it is important to ensure that we also perform the corresponding counter-poses to avoid injuries.
A counter-pose in yoga is a posture that helps neutralize the body after performing a particular pose. Its purpose is to restore balance in the body, help us to avoid injury and imbalances in the body.
Here’s some general rules on counter-poses:
- For backbend poses, such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose), Ustrasana (Camel pose) or Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose), the counter pose is to take the body into opposite direction like forward fold. Do take note that moving back and forth between the two extremes can cause strain in the body. Therefore, avoid the extreme spinal movement by doing a more gentle preferred counter-pose like Pawan Muktasana (Knees To Chest), which gently stretches and neutralizes the spin before attempting the complete forward fold like Paschimottanasana.
- Forward folds like Paschimottanasana stretches the back side of the body, including the spine and hamstrings. The corresponding counter-pose would be Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose), which opens the front side of the body and stretches the shoulders, chest, and ankles.
- Sirsasana (Headstand) requires the use of forearms and head on the floor to provide a stable foundation for the inversion. With the reverse in blood flow during headstand, it is important to remain in Balasana (child pose) to prevent sudden change in blood flow direction after coming out of headstand.
- Variations of shoulder stand poses like Sarvangasana, Urdhva Padmasana, involve stretching on the neck and upper shoulder muscles in order to balance the pose. After coming out of shoulder stand, take a couple of breaths in Savasana (Corpse pose) and attempt Matsyasana (Fish pose). Matsyasana is a great counter pose to stretch the shoulders and cervical vertebrae in opposite direction and therefore relieving any tensions built up during the shoulderstand.
- Poses like Vakrasana, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana involve twisting of the torso. To ensure there is balance on spine, perform the twisting postures on both sides of the body.
Always remember to incorporate the corresponding counter-poses in your practice sequence! Have a safe practice everyone!
By the end of the 20 days YTT where life goes back to routine, perhaps it is challenging to incorporate the vigorous daily yoga practise of 2-3 hours which we had. Nevertheless, there are still many ways we can incorporate the asanas into our daily routine.
Here’s some bite size yoga which you can try from day to night!
Waking up from a good night sleep? Before you get busy with the hustle and bustle of the activities line up in the day, spend 5 minutes to perform these 3 asanas; Paschimottanasana, Bhujangasana and Vakrasana to give the spine a good stretch in all directions.
Been sitting at your desk and typing furiously on the keyboard for the past hour? Stand up and do a Tiryaka Tadasana and Uttanasana to stretch your spine and hamstrings.
Watching your favourite movie from Netflix? Instead of sitting and lounging on the couch, why not sit in Baddha Konasana or do a Malasana posture for a couple of minutes to stretch the inner thighs, groins, knees and back.
Drying your hair with the latest dyson hair dryer? Instead of sitting in front of the dresser table and blowing dry your hair, why not stand up and do a Utkatasana or Hasta Padangusthasana to strengthen the ankles, thighs, spine and improves sense of balance.
Relaxing on bed before sleep? Instead of scrolling on facebook newsfeeds, why not do a Supta Padangusthasana or Ananda Balasana to have a good stretch to your hip joints and hamstring before drifting to sleep.
The list goes on! The key is to be dedicated to the Yoga practice and be creative in incorporating the asanas into our daily routine (with or without a yoga mat) so that we maintain our flexibility, balance, strength and stamina.
Afterall, Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. Remember to smile and practise on!