Yoga is LIT

“Yoga is a lifestyle. Do not refine your life for yoga, but let yoga refine your life” – Master Sree. I wish I could put into words to show how much this statement has increasingly held true in my life, over the course of consistent yoga practice for a month with Master Sree and a group of 5 other amazing women.

The statement was made by Master Sree to the class in Week 1, and over the subsequent 3 weeks, he has consistently driven in the belief that we’re each on our own path, and we do not have the right (nor should we) engage in the petty judgement of others – the perceived differences that we may not agree with, and neither should we let things of the material world define our identity. My key takeaway from this was to approach the world with greater acceptance, and stemming from that, conscious detachment, especially to the outcomes of actions, situations and life. This does not mean that we don’t practice empathy, but while we understand and feel the extent of things happening in our lives, we don’t fixate upon the experience or the outcome. We let ourselves grow from it.

 

Yoga as a chosen lifestyle

Yoga is a lifestyle option that people choose to live by, choose to participate in, choose to integrate in their lives. There are many aspects in yoga philosophy that overlap with modern day mantras of practicing self-kindness, self-care, a focus on mental health, and also religious doctrines of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and more. The beauty of it is that the underlying principle is an acceptance of all varied beliefs, experiences and viewpoints. Everything that a (rational) person embodies and believes at a given point in time, is completely valid. The person has chosen a particular course of action or belief based on what he/she thinks is best for himself/herself, and his/her appetite for acceptance of a certain mantra, doctrine, response etc. What is medicine to one is poison to another, and this holds very true for yogic belief (in my opinion, at least). Master Sree gave an example in class once about the concept of healing. He said that depending on what the person believes, he would have to tailor his healing to suit the individual. For a person who is religious, healing would touch upon more spiritual aspects, but if a person believes in science, healing would gravitate towards a scientific explanation and solution. Ultimately, it is about what works for the person, and based on the answer (spiritual, scientific, anything else) given to the person, can it help the person gain the conviction to push through and overcome the obstacles?

As such, I have chosen to integrate some core principles of yoga into my life simply because it works for me at this given point in time. The practice of yoga makes me feel more at peace in a world where everything seems to be so unsettled, so confusing, so uncertain. It makes me feel like while everything around me could revolve to a state of utter confusion and uncertainty, the onus is upon me to remain positive, remain strong, and keep my conviction towards the pursuit of the path(s) that have seemingly opened up for me, and walk away from those that have closed too. I believe in the divine shaping of my life and as long as I approach life with a positive and strong mindset, things will work out!

 

Yoga as an individual journey

I know this is cliché, everybody says it. However, I think everyone says it because they have experienced it and it really holds true. You just gotta experience it and internalise it for yourself. The beauty of this is that you can take the principles from this state of “yoga being an individual journey” and apply it to all other aspects of your life – relationships, family, career and anything else that matters to you.

When I first started practicing yoga as a beginner, my practice was heavily centered around mastering poses. I inevitably kept comparing myself to those around me – my friends who were doing yoga, the other people in classes and thought to myself “okay I need to improve and improve and improve”.

However, throughout the course of the practice, you start to realise that yoga is so broad that there’s really no ONE measure of what is considered “better” or “worse”. It really depends on how you want to use yoga to enhance your life, and how you want to integrate it into your life.

Some practitioners prefer to focus on the more meditative aspects, while others want to focus on the physical aspects, and you can’t definitively say that one is better than the other. It’s really about what works best for you. Nonetheless, I would say that a desire to foundationally understand yoga philosophy should underpin the choice.

Furthermore, we’re all built differently. Some body structures make entering and training for certain postures more easily than others. While we tend to compare what can be seen most easily (aka comparison of the achievement of postures), there’s really so much more that goes behind the scenes and affects the outcome. Thus, I have learnt over the course of my yoga practice and YTT not to fixate on achieving postures too because ultimately, it is about the process and the mindset going into it, not the outcome.

 

Yoga as a form of reprieve from a world that tends to be competitive

In the light of the above that I shared, one thing I love about yoga is that it is fundamentally not about being the best or even better than other people – it is truly about being the best version of yourself.

In a world that teaches you to outsmart and outperform others in order to achieve “success”, for yoga, “success” is based on your own individual terms and based on your own parameters. The beauty of it is that understanding that it is purely your own journey reflects a deeper walk in the yoga journey.

This brings me so much relief, contentment and peace in this very competitive world.

 

Detachment from social situations

As someone who struggles with being too emotionally involved with many social interactions in my daily life, the fundamental concept of detachment has been a good principle to adopt in my life. Master Sree gave the example of a floating lotus – one who is in the water, experiences the water, but is unaffected by the water. I hope to be able to adopt this mindset in all aspects of my life where I feel the most of life but am able to not fixate upon certain outcomes, emotions and experiences that I go through.

 

 

Moving forward, I want to be able to fully practice this, practicing both self-care and self-kindness.

I feel that one of the most important things is to keep our intentions pure. Only by doing so will we be able to let go of the outcomes of various situations that we are put in. I use social situations as an example here because of all the things in life that we seek to control, other people (their actions, behaviours and attitudes) remain fleetingly out of our grip. This is why it is difficult to let go and change outcomes because we cannot change other people. Coming to terms with this and being able to practice detachment will help us (me) deal with the uncertainty of life when it comes to the other. I feel that this will have a profound impact on how we handle many things in life that come at us – a job opportunity outcome, our friendships, our relationships, even life/death.

Falling Down & Yama

On Yama

At the start of week 2, I injured my index finger falling out of Sirsasana wrongly. This would’ve put me out of arm balances (at least) for the next few days. It made me a little disappointed because I was hoping to pick up speed, strength and intensity from the second week onwards. What further left me feeling a little ‘FOMO’ was the fact that there was going to be an advanced pose class coming up which would include the teaching of various arm balances that I have been struggling to learn on my own for the past few months, or even year!

 

Hence, the night before the said arm balances class, I thought to myself – since I can’t do much physical practice today, let me still try to be productive and revise some yoga theory so that I can compensate for my physical practice more in the following week.

 

The first topic – Yama. The yogic way of life management and boy, am I glad I studied it one more time. Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. The two that really spoke to me in this circumstance was Ahimsa and Aparigraha.

 

For Ahimsa, the practice of non-violence both to yourself and others reminded me of taking care of my body (my sprained index finger) and not be too caught up with trying to keep up with the advanced class that was coming up. Prior to revising the passage on Ahimsa, I was tempted to just go ahead with trying out with the arm balances in class the next day, no matter how my finger was feeling. I could not miss out and I wanted to learn. I psyched myself into thinking that this finger injury wasn’t really a big deal and that it will be fine. However, upon revising the passage on Ahimsa, I realised that in practicing yoga, I should fundamentally not do self-violence – that is, not injure myself more in the practice for the sake of performing the practice. Trying to perform a complex asana when my body is physically unable to is going against this principle of yoga and wouldn’t it be ironic if I pressed on? Upon reading that, I felt stupid for being so bent on performing the arm balances that I forgot about the core, even more important principle behind it.

 

This thus leads to Aparigraha – the non-possessiveness of… things. Like Master Sree gave as an example during his class, this includes the non-possessiveness of postures. I was being possessive of mastering the posture and continuously practicing the postures that I already knew, so much so that I forgot about this core principle!

 

Anyway, being someone who tends to get extremely irritated when things get in my way, especially for things that I see will bring me improvement, in a sense, I’m glad this finger sprained happened. It’s time I learnt to let go and get over it!

Pranayama & Curing Eczema

Recently, I’ve taken an interest in how yoga and pranayama can help with eczema. Having had no history of eczema until this year (could be the weather, stress, who knows?), and hearing a little about how some pranayama such as Sitali and Sitkari can lower body heat, I decided to do some research into how pranayama can help with Eczema!

For starters, a yogi, Swami Ramdev, suggests doing kapalbhati breathing for half an hour, and then anulom vilum for an hour, then bhastrika, ujjai and bhramari pranayamas. After a consistent practice of this together with some tweaks to our diet, we’ll supposedly have glowing skin! Time-commitment seems to be a bit of an issue here though, but we can try.

Anyway, how can pranayama specifically help to ease eczema?

Detoxifies the body

Pranayama detoxifies the nadis (energy channels in our bodies), which are usually clogged with impurities. Once these energy channels are purified, the blood circulated around the body is one that brings about greater energy, and this also helps to improve complexion. In addition, pranayama activates the body’s lymphatic system, which is responsible for the removal of waste. The lymph nodes produce white blood cells to fight infections. I can imagine that this could lead to greater inflammation in the short-term, but a solution in the long-term.

Helps to relieve stress

We all know that yoga as an activity in itself, even if just focused on physical asanas, does help to relieve anxiety and stress levels. Being placed in an environment which encourages you to focus on your breathing, your flow, your postures, your mat and leaving your stressors outside the door (at least for the hour or so) does wonders for the mind. You leave a yoga session feeling rejuvenated and at least a little more calm.

To zoom in specifically on pranayama, In a Vogue article, Yoga guru Mini Shastri talks about how the slowing, modulating and equalising of our breath triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes the master gland of the pituitary-thyroid-adrenal nexus to harmonise. This results in a balanced hormonal system. Hormone imbalance is a primary cause of many skin conditions, including eczema, which are triggered by stress. Thus, pranayama helps to tackle this by bringing greater relaxation to the body.

Also, Kapalbhati has been said to have a positive effect in clearing the mind, and thus helping with anxiety and depression, all which contribute to, and simultaneously stem from some forms of stress in life too.

Eczema can be seen from a yogic perspective to be a dysfunction of the Muladhara Chakra, Manipura Chakra and Vishudda Chakra. Thus, yoga will help these chakras spin more effectively to some extent.

The Anatomy of Kakasana (Crow Pose)

Kakasana (Crow Pose) : Analysing the postures with knowledge from the muscular and skeletal system

 

Note: I am not extremely familiar with the muscular and skeletal system so some muscles/bones pointed out MAY be wrong!

 

(Taken from Pinterest)

 

To get into Kakasana, yoga practitioners need to ensure first that their arms are able to hold the body weight. This involves activating the triceps brachii and biceps brachii to provide a strong base to rest the body weight upon. Contracting the deltoid muscles (anterior, medialis, posterior), pectoralis major muscle and trapezius muscle will also provide additional support to the arms to bear the weight. As the practitioner leans forward, he/she increasingly activates and contracts the serratus anterior muscle and psoas muscles (iliopsoas and iliacus) to keep the body lifted up and able to rest on the arms for a sustained period of time. To a certain extent, in order to bring the feet together to touch, there is a need to contract the adductor muscles (brevis and longus) to bring the feet closer together, and the tibialis posterior and extensor digitorium to point the toes.

 

As this is an arm balance posture, the areas with the greatest points of contact with the ground, and thus bearing the most weight are the hands – the tips of the fingers (phalanges), and especially the carpals. Practitioners whose arms and psoas muscles are not properly activated for the posture will end up bearing more weight on their wrists and potentially put strain on the wrist area.