The Balancing Act

Going back to the “Why do I want to do YTT”, one of the main reasons was because I wanted to learn the technique of how to do all the various inversions that could possibly be done and, effortlessly.

Just like how an elephant balances on the circus ball? I wanna be just like that.

 

But saying is one thing and doing is another. When we first started YTT, we were told that different poses will be tested during the examination, i.e Crow pose – 1min, Headstand – 3mins etc etc. And I thought, Oh my goodness, I can’t even hold the crow pose for 10s, how to do it for 1min? Surely a miracle must happen on the examination day for me to pass.

Week by week, as we attended YTT, teacher took effort to train us, and painful as it was, we definitely needed it. The 1001 chaturangas we kept doing, transitioning from one pose from one to another, there was no mercy. But overtime, bit by bit, we became stronger; chaturanga holds extended from 30s to 45s, headstand practice went up to ‘let’s-do-for-3-full-minutes’ and if we can’t, it’s fine, we have the wall behind us and thus could cheat a little. Slowly but surely, doing inversion became easier. My crow practice started from 5-10s, to 15-25s, in which I saw improvements but it was simply not good enough. Headstands, on the other hand, had me playing this balancing act as I tried to beat gravity, keeping my feet up high and trying not to tilt. All of these however, was just not the ‘right technique’. I’m not saying that there is the one method we must all conform to, but surely I always felt that there is a better & easier way to take, for a longer and more convincing stay in each desired pose.

The technique is none other than ’rounding your back, squeezing your core super hard and creating a firm base’ before each balancing pose. Example – when you do crow, you place your palms down on the floor, round your back, squeeze the core before proceeding to bring your knees outside your arms and eventually getting your feet off the ground.

As you stay in your posture (sounds easy but hard to master), just continue to contract and contract those core muscles, keep that rounded back, and sometimes I see it as staying super compacted with a bigger area of base to lower your center of gravity, hence making you more stable. Moving on to headstand, it is slightly different because the body is fully extended and lengthened, but using the same concept, create that firm base and that is fundamental. Place your forearms and head down the mat in a triangular shape, keep your elbows tucked for a narrow and firmer base, slowly start to walk your feet closer to your elbows and eventually contract/engage your core as you lift both feet off the mat and come to a perfect invert.

I won’t say that I am an expert in balancing poses and all now, I’m pretty sure I’m still unable to do the lotus feet headstand (i.e a cross-legged sitting where each foot is placed on the opposite thigh): in lotus position, place forearms and head down in triangular just as how you would do a normal headstand, but only relying on your core, lift your lotus feet up [probably my ultimate challenge to myself] – this pose is really a “pure-core” work of art. But having said that, practicing this newfound technique has really enabled me to hold in those poses for an unexpected extended period of time. And I am excited, because word is that once you’ve got that strong base formed like a house built upon a rock, the rain can pour, the flood can come, but your house won’t shake.

 

 

 

 

How to be successful

In my earlier post, I mentioned about Prāṇāyāma; how it is is the practice of breath control in yoga and how important it is in our lives. But today, this”Prāṇāyāma”  shifted up the priority list (in my own ranking of 101-important-things-to-do).  As simple as it may sound, you must be thinking, how much benefits can breathing bring? Why are we talking about this again? It is just breathing, come on.. Believe me, I felt the same way. I started out learning a couple of different Pranayamas in class and was always dubious about the benefits that was tied along with each different breathing exercise. One of it, Kapalabhati, involves a series of forceful exhalations followed with passive inhalations and this is said to cleanse and detoxify your mind and body. As this breathing exercise belongs to the energizer series; it is advisable to perform early in the morning, the first thing you do when you wake. Once practiced, it is said to be an invigorating wake-up call, and you should feel instantly fired up after performing it. What is believing without seeing? I decided to try it myself each morning on days (without woman’s problems 😂) and I can testify that it is true, you feel the heat in your belly, you feel more awake and at times I start to sweat a little (on my bed at 6am yes).

Apart from the fiery breathing styles we learnt, we were also exposed to the calming pranayamas which I was equally as interested to find out. Of course, I had to test it out yet again. So I practiced some of it at night before I sleep, and I particular love this one. I admit I have yet to instill good discipline to perform it like a nightly ritual, but on nights where I do practice, I vaguely remember drifting off to wonderland quite instantly after this breathing exercise. This belly breathing can be done lying down; reasons why I love it the most, all you need to do is take deep breaths from your belly, allowing your belly to rise and as you exhale, your belly should fall. This breathing exercise focuses on inhaling more oxygen rather than short breaths from the upper chest, hence your chest level should remain relatively still.  The deeper the breath is, the more relaxed you will feel.

There is just so many different pranayamas but finally I will come to this last one for this post and I was introduced to this as THE prayanama to do if you want to be successful in life. Ahh, have I gotten your attention? Known as the Kumbhaka Pranayama – Full breath retention, you basically inhale, hold your breath for however long you can (the longer the better), followed by a longer exhalation in a ratio where it is twice that of your inhalation. Teacher said that when you hold your breath in, you will slowly start to activate your brain and push it to a greater depth of thinking (i.e he used vineyards as an example, about how deep their roots can grow and penetrate down into the soil), likewise so can our brain as we dig a little more and more and open our minds to a greater depth of thinking and creativity. Definitely caught my attention if not yours, but it does sound pretty abstract to me. Won’t be able to share with you my thoughts/experience on this (just yet), but do give me some time to verify this hypothesis. After all, holding of breath versus a successful life, how hard can the former be? 

 

Yoga Stretch

To be honest, I’m someone who barely sets aside time for stretching. On a day to day basis, I wake up early in the morning, head straight for my workout class, and be it a strength, high intensity intervals, or a spin class, whenever I hear this sentence “the time now is xxx, for those who are rushing off to work, now is the time to leave”…I scoot off. I rush to the showers, rush to get changed and head straight to work. Minimal stretching is done, unless perhaps, if there is a queue for the showers. Then I’ll be like, okay, reach down and touch your toes, stretch out those tight hamstrings, or sometimes maybe bending my knees to the back for my quads stretch. But all these are done in a quick span of time, and only if I have that pockets of time to spare. Somehow, somewhat, I just fail to put stretching under my priority list, and amidst the hectic schedule and busyness, I don’t ever recall giving my body a good proper stretch.

Recently however, I had the rare chance to attend a yoga stretch class and description read “improve muscular flexibility by holding stretches for extended periods of time”…”wonderful complement to your slightly more athletic pursuits like cycling, running, and even lifting weights’ and I thought to myself, why not? Reasons why I never set aside time to do stretching or ever attended a stretch class was because I always felt that going for a high impact class was more value in terms of time, money, etc. Yet this notion dismisses the importance of stretching for your body. It’s not enough to build muscle and achieve fitness. You need to think about flexibility, too. Stretching helps to keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We also need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in our joints. Without it, our muscles shorten and become tight which may then increase the risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. In our everyday life, majority of us spend 8 hours sitting on a chair and this causes different parts of your body to tighten up – especially your hip flexors, rectus femoris, pectoralis, upper traps, and anterior scalenes (the front of your neck). When these tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that the exertion “won’t put too much force on the muscle itself”.

I survived the stretch class that day. Each stretch posture was held for at least 2-3 minutes long and it is definitely a misconception that stretch classes are relaxing and full of savasanas. My muscles were COL – crying out loud, as I tried my best to stay in the pose and not give up. Coupled with the teacher’s adjustments, my muscles never felt so stretched out before. Going forward, I wish to put in more effort in stretching everyday. Shan’t be overly ambitious and declare that I will go for stretch classes every day / week but at least for now, I will aim to commit 10-15 mins each night before I sleep.

Stop, think and breathe

Why do I want to do this YTT?

That was my teacher’s first question to me and the 9 others in the room. I thought about it, rolled my eyes to the corner for a few seconds and pondered. A lot of different reasons flashed through my mind, it was like a slideshow with a white background, then cloud bubbles flashing in, “I want to be more flexible”,”I want to do more Yoga”,”I want to be able to conquer all the inversion poses that I see people doing”. And to be honest, right now, I can’t remember what I told him on the 11th of January.

Being in this course for about 6 weeks now (4 more to go) has taught me that Yoga is more than all of that. Perhaps its true that my drive towards Yoga was about the handstands, fallen angel poses that makes people go ‘woah’, but even the simplest act of breathing properly is what constitutes Yoga. Prāṇāyāma is the practice of breath control in yoga. Daily prāṇāyāma trains the lungs and improves the capacity of respiratory system immensely and its precisely the little and simplest things in life that we overlook. Also explains the reasons why I cramp so often when I’m in the pose, or the tensed up feeling I always experience because I hold everything in and forget to breathe.

As we live in a fast paced environment and rush to do 101 things everyday all the time, always remember to breathe. Taking a breath break can help you reset the button, release tension, calm yourself down and relieve stress and anxiety. So before you do anything in a rush, before clicking that ‘submit’ button, just stop. Stop, think and breathe. Trust me, it will different.