Self-reflection through my YTT journey

My YTT journey is coming to an end in a few days. Looking back, I started this course with the intention to learn the proper alignments and muscle engagements to do yoga poses correctly for my personal practice. I joined the course knowing that headstand is part of the final exam and I, like many, have a fear of inversions. Enrolling myself into this course forced me to confront my fear and I must say, it has been a very introspective headstand journey.

I recall Master Sree asking all of us to go into headstand against the wall in our 2nd or 3rd class and my immediate reaction was ‘WHAT!? We are barely into the course and I don’t know how to do this, how do I even …’ My feeble attempt was to come into Dolphin pose, keep walking my feet towards my palms and alternate lifting my feet up, which did not reach anywhere near my butt.

Then, somewhere along the course, where we were reaching the end of our Ashtanga Primary series learning, headstand popped up again as it is part of the series. Again, the same ‘Noooo …’ reaction rose. There was no escaping this time – Master Sree had us did it right at the mat, without the wall, but he was there to support and guide us. That was my very first time in a headstand. I guess I should have been happy then, but I was too busy panicking to feel the pose. All I wanted was to come back down ASAP and have my feet grounded again. I was not present at all.

It took me another week or so before I felt compelled to really start practising headstand. Even before coming into the physical practise, it was a lot of internal self-questioning and self-convincing.

‘What is it that I am afraid of when there is the wall behind me?’

‘The wall is just XXcm away from my palms and elbow. And if I were to go upside down, and my feet were to touch the wall, the wall has to be XXcm away from me *measures length from knee to heel*’

‘What is the worst that can happen if I fall?’

‘What if I fall sideways?’

‘What if I fall and I don’t react in time and I hit my knees?’

‘How do I come down if I manage to get up?’

Yes, I think a lot … maybe too much for my own good. Well, there comes a point where I cannot answer my own questions and the only way to find out is to just try and see what happens. That’s when I guess I have to surrender and trust that my body can and will do what it can do. But before that, a deep breath and reminder to stay present and not panic.

Once I had that mental state settled (to me, it felt almost like I had to zone out), the physical practise was a lot easier. It was still baby steps one at a time.

Keep both legs up in a bend knee position close to the chest

Balancing at this halfway point (This position actually feels nice… the weightlessness, why can’t the full expression of headstand be this?)

Raising bent legs up and tilting back (Why am I not touching the wall yet!? Phew! Oh … so this is how it feels. Can I tilt myself back and straighten my legs without touching the wall? Hmm .. let’s try that next round.)

Pushing feet against the wall, straighten torso, straighten one leg to the ceiling (Eh … push myself away from the wall? OK… sure… Is this enough? Am I straight? How does straight feels like? And now you expect me to remove 1 foot from that wall?)

Straighten the other leg to meet the straight leg and SQUEEZE them together and hold that balance (breath and trust, breath and trust, and SQUEEZE!! OK, I’m off balanced … *wobbling* OK, time to come down.)

Panic still kicks in sometimes, but I know better now and had some successful experiences to fall back on to know that I can do this. This is within reach. I may not be there yet but the knowledge that I am able to do it is empowering.

Being able to perform the headstand is undoubtedly an achievement. However, I view the ability to sit with your fear, face it head-on, question its validity, and act responsibly to be a greater achievement. Applying this to different asanas and, more importantly, to life allow us to live a more present life and actively choose our responses instead of having a victim mindset.

Finally, I leave you with 2 quotes. The first being a favourite of mine and the second is so true of many asanas.

“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is the product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Now do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

― Will Smith in the movie ‘After Earth’

 

“The body achieves what the mind believes.” ― Napoleon Hill

Aparigraha and Sustainability

I just watched the TEDxTiESG #JOINTHECOUNTDOWN livestream talk and thought that it is very apt to share in this current climate situation. A brief background on the Countdown collaboration below. You may find out more on https://countdown.ted.com/

“Countdown is a global initiative to champion and accelerate solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action. The goal: To build a better future by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 in the race to a zero-carbon world – a world that is safer, cleaner and fairer for everyone.”

 

How is sustainability relevant to Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)? Without going into the history of consumerism and industrial revolution, I believe that most of us will agree that we are entrenched in a consumerism society. “If only you had________, you would be happier/more successful/respected/etc.” Additionally, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) does not help either.

 

Because of this assumption and fear, humankinds are destroying the habitats of many other living things, including our own. I believe that practising Aparigraha can and will contribute positively in our sustainability actions as we learn to discern between our needs and wants.

 

What can we do in our daily lives to practise Aparigraha?

  1. Practise Marie Kondo’s famous phrase – “Does it spark joy?”

One practice that I have been doing since my secondary school days is to clear out clothes, shoes, bags, books, etc. that I no longer need and donate them to the Salvation Army or people around me, at least once a year. Those items have served me well and are still in good condition to fulfil its purpose for someone else. Since they no longer spark joy in me, it is time to give them away.

  1. Shop consciously.

I don’t deny the need to shop. However, we can practise more awareness whenever we go on our shopping trips. It helps to reduce unnecessary purchases and if we do buy something, be mindful of the source, especially clothing.

Fast fashion is a problem. Their clothing is cheap but, the quality is typically compromised. This results in faster wear and tear, and in turn the need to buy again. The entire cycle encourages more production and more pollution and waste.

Personally, I like to shop at 2nd hand vintage clothing shops as I find their material quality way better (I can wear long sleeve silk dress in Singapore’s hot daytime weather, feel cool i.e. not warm and not perspire) and have more design elements as compared to today’s clothing styles. They are pricier but I know I am paying for quality and design. Let’s be honest, the price also helps to control my spending.

  1. Order and eat only what you can.

Food wastage is a major issue contributing to sustainability. More food is required to meet its demands when we waste food. More food means more production, processing, transportation and in turn, more greenhouse gas emissions.

You may read more about the problem and innovative initiatives employed in Singapore, and actions we can take at: https://www.towardszerowaste.gov.sg/foodwaste/

 

 Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. The pursuit for more is endless and superfluous.

Nada Yoga – The Yoga of Sound

During the recent theory class conducted by Master Paalu, he shared with us some of various yoga styles in Singapore and India. I have not heard of quite a number of them and was quite curious about it hence, I started to search online. All was well (read: quick reads) until I came to Nāda Yoga and it got me hooked right from the first search result.

As a musically-trained person and music lover, the idea of sound being a form of yoga is most interesting and captivating. Sharing the summary of what I have found below.

What is Nāda Yoga?

Nāda Yoga is a metaphysical system that is based on the belief that the entire cosmos and all that exists in the cosmos, including human beings, consists of sound vibrations, called nāda. Nāda means the flow of sound and Yoga means Union. Practitioners focus their mind in meditation and then use sound to access higher states of consciousness and healing.

Four types of Nāda

  1. Vaikari – the physical sound. This is the audible sound that can be heard by the human ear. It is the sound of speech, song and when two things strike each other (e.g. instruments).
  2. Madhyama – mental sound. An example provided by Sadhguru: “Suppose I say “chocolate” or if I show you something that looks like it, and your mind thinks, “Oh, chocolate.” It is a sound that comes from a dimension of your mind. It is not just an abstraction or a vibration of thought. “Hot chocolate” is a voice, a sound.”
  3. Pashyanti – subconscious sound or what is known as a visual sound. An example from Sadhguru: “Suppose I did not show you anything or shout “Chocolate,” but without any input from outside, from within, from some deep recess in your mind – “Chocolate.” It is not a reflection or rebound of what I said; somewhere from within, your mind can create it.”
  4. Para Nada – transcendent sound that is beyond the senses and the mind and can also be heard in different dimensions. It is a sound without movement or frequency – a still sound. A state of consciousness corresponds with this stillness. The Nada Yogi reaches this state by becoming one with Para Nada.

Benefits of Nāda Yoga

  1. Relaxes and releases stress
  2. Regulates the immune system
  3. Relieves tension, high blood pressure, insomnia and negative mind states
  4. Develops an atmosphere of joy, happiness and harmony

How Nāda Yoga is practiced

Choose a quiet place where you can sit for some time without being disturbed.

  • Bhramari Pranayama (i.e. Bumblebee breathing): It is used to strengthen and develop musicians’ ear for music.

    • Place the thumbs over the ears, closing them, and bring the little fingers to rest lightly on the third eye.
    • Close the eyes, take a few deep breaths and then on your next exhalation emit a humming sound (much like a bee), directing your full attention to the humming sound.
    • Continue the practice for five minutes, increasing to 10 minutes as you become more comfortable with it.
    • After the practice, remain sitting still with closed eyes in any comfortable seated position with relaxed hands or the Nada Yoga pose and listen to the inner sounds.

 

  • Listening to soothing instrumental music
    • Sit quietly and focus your full attention on the music. Gradually direct your attention inwards and towards your inner subtle sounds. Eventually, you will become aware of your inner sounds and can bring your full concentration to these sounds.
    • Relax your body and mind into deep meditation and then gently come back to a wakeful state when you are ready

 

 

References:

https://www.nadyoga.org/blog/nada-yoga/

https://upliftconnect.com/the-power-of-nada-yoga/

https://www.yogameditation.com/reading-room/nada-yoga/

https://www.yogameditation.com/reading-room/bhramari-the-bumble-bee/

https://isha.sadhguru.org/in/en/wisdom/article/sounds-of-the-creator

https://ayl.com.au/practices/nada-yoga/   

Satya and Mulan

The second of five Yamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is Satya or ‘truthfulness’.  

“The word ‘sat’ literally translates as ‘true essence’ or ‘true nature’. It also means something that is pure and unchangeable. ‘Sat’ also means ‘that which exists’, ‘that which has no distortion’, ‘that which is beyond time, space and person’, and it also means ‘fact’ or ‘reality’.” [https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/5-ways-to-practice-satya-being-truthful-second-yama-of-yoga-sutras]

This reminded me of the tagline of latest Disney movie release i.e. Mulan. Its tagline? Loyalty, Brave & True.

A summary of the movie for those who are unfamiliar with the story. Mulan is girl who is active, adventurous, naturally good in martial arts – everything that a girl should not be in ancient Imperial China to wed a good husband. Hence, her parents wanted her to hide these sides of her so that she can get a good husband and bring honour to the family, the only way they felt a daughter can do so.

Ancient Imperial China was in war then and each family had to contribute a man to join in battle. Mulan’s ailing father was forced to serve the Imperial Army as he does not have a son. Mulan then decided to disguise herself as a man and take her father’s place to serve in the Imperial Army.

Initially, Mulan hid her gender and her talent in martial arts to blend in with the rest of the soldiers. However, eventually she learnt to embrace her true self instead of hiding away her identity and power. In the result, she accomplished great success and brought honour to her family.

Personally, I find practicing Satya towards self the hardest. We tend to identify ourselves with our thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc. that we get lost as to who we truly are. We forget how to listen to our self. Moreover, after years of being dishonest with oneself, it takes courage to be honest again. Baby steps at a time, baby steps at a time …

Some ways we can start practicing Satya in our daily lives:

  1. Slow down your mind and observe your thoughts

Many times, especially in this fast-paced, hyper-connected world, we are in a reactive mode. Not all emails, messages need to be responded immediately. Not all emails, messages need to be responded at all. The same goes for our thoughts.

     2.  Be genuine

Recall those times where you did not want to attend a gathering and you gave some fake excuse, instead of just declining the invite? Or those times where you forced yourself to attend it even though you know the gathering will be a gossip, catch-up session which has no meaning to you at all?

Start by expressing your true response. Accept if you truly want to attend, decline if you do not want to.

  1. Speak your truth

Remember the acronym THINK when you speak.

T—Is it true?

H—Is it helpful?

I—Is it inspiring?

N—Is it necessary?

K—Is it kind?

More often than not, there is a kinder way to phrase our words. Slow down, take the time to reflect on the words.

 

We may not accomplish feats like Mulan but I think that we can all live a more congruent life. I know I will be practicing these baby steps to discovering myself again.