Why I Hated My 1st Yoga Class: Common Misconceptions

I used to hate yoga. The first few times I went to class was because my mother brought my sisters and I every Sunday, and I just went along because everyone else was going. I stopped shortly after starting and did not practice yoga for a few years, especially when I went to England to study. Until earlier this year, when I discovered the Adidas Studio London, a space which has a new schedule and different teachers every week, meaning I had the awesome opportunity to be exposed to different styles of yoga and teaching. It was through going for all these different yoga classes that I realised how much I genuinely enjoy practicing physical asanasin yoga. Looking back to my first few yoga classes, these are some misconceptions and thoughts I had about yoga…

  1. “Yoga is not exercise”

As a school team tennis player who could endure physical conditioning sessions and long hours of non-stop drills or rallying, I thought yoga would be a breeze. I remember when we were holding parivrtta parsvakonasana(revolved side angle pose), the teacher came round and asked me to engage my adductor group (inner thighs), but I was already contracting it as much as I could – it was then that I realised I had so little strength compared to those around me. It was definitely frustrating, where I liked how other forms of physical exercise would leave me dripping with sweat and my heart racing, feeling like I really got a good workout. Whereas yoga was less aerobically intense, yet still tiring. I’ve now learnt that yoga requires the combination of strength, flexibility and stamina, which I would definitely consider exercise, and brings me on to my next point…

2. “You need to be flexible to do yoga”

When I went for yoga classes a couple years back, I couldn’t touch my toes – meanwhile everyone else could effortlessly go into paschimottanasana (seated forward fold). No matter how much I tried, I was just so exasperated trying to reach further that I neglected my breath – which can really help to deepen the stretch. Fast forward to now, I can comfortably touch my toes. Yes, it helps if you’re flexible, but by practicing physical asanas in yoga, you’ll naturally increase your flexibility. Bottom line is, you don’t need to be flexible to do yoga, but you can certainly gain flexibility by practicing regularly.

3.“I have no idea what I’m doing”

Being new to yoga, I didn’t know what adho mukha svanasana (downward dog) was, meaning I was mostly looking around and desperately trying to copy people around me before everyone moved onto the next asana. Everyone else in class seemed to know what they were doing, but I was just clueless. Over time, I’ve come to realise that not many people reallyknow what they’re doing, and it’s through going to more classes, watching yoga videos and having a teacher adjust us that we learn how to properly execute asanas with correct alignment and depth. Beyond that, yoga doesn’t have to look a certain way – each individual’s anatomical structure is different, and it’s more about moving with yourown body and breath, so it will most likely be different from the person next to you. As long as you do what feels right to your body, it will all come together eventually.

4. “What is this weird chanting and breathing and foreign words”

The first few classes I went for always started off with an opening mantra and focussed a lot on breath work. The teacher also used the Sanskrit names for the asanas, leaving me more confused than I already was. I’ve now come to understand that yoga is a form of meditation combined with movement – which requires focus on breath, especially so during the challenging asanas. By keeping our breath steady during the difficult parts of yoga, we can translate this to real life stress and challenges we may face and become more mindful. In yoga, we usually inhale and exhale through the nose, and try to focus on grounding our breath at a steady pace. It’s also so important to go into downward dog or child’s pose if we lose our breath. When I was still new to practice, I was always reluctant to do so because I thought others would consider me “weak”, but I’ve realised I know my body best and can feel when I need to reconnect with my breath, so we shouldn’t hesitate to take a rest when needed and take a moment to listen to our bodies. As for the Sanskrit, teachers often say the common name of the pose together with the Sanskrit name, and with time, you’ll come to recognise most of the basic names.

5. “Yoga is for 太太s (n., housewives who do not need to work; usually rich)

When I heard the word “yoga”, I would think of rich housewives going for yoga in their expensive leggings before heading to brunch or high tea after… which is so inaccurate. I was self-conscious of what I wore to my first few classes, but after a while I stopped caring and felt comfortable because I realised hey, no one really cares what you’re wearing. People are there for yoga, to practice physical asanas, focus on their breath and find calm in the middle of their busy lives. Besides that, although majority of those who come to yoga are female, there are indeed males who practice yoga. I think it’s amazing how they can be so comfortable and confident in a room full of girls, where I know of quite a few guys who are reluctant to go for yoga because they think “it’s just for girls”, “I’m not flexible enough”, “it isn’t challenging enough”… the list goes on.

As I’m about to graduate YTT, it’s interesting to see how far I’ve come, from someone who dreaded going to class to growing to love yoga and hopefully teaching classes soon. Through these experiences, my little nugget of wisdom would be to go to stick it out at first and keep going to classes – because not only are there so many different types of yoga, but each teacher has a different style of teaching. So even if you hate your first class, give it another go and hopefully you find a style of yoga you enjoy. I do believe that yoga is for everybody and everybody – no matter the size or shape, regardless of flexibility or fitness level, yoga is welcoming and meant for everyone, you just have to give it a shot.

Kyla x

#Instayoga

Scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you’ll probably come across someone contorted into a yoga pose, dreamy sunset location optional. With the popularity of social media soaring in recent years, it has become ubiquitous for yoga teachers and yogis alike to post pictures of them in a yoga pose, and I’m no exception.

When on Mount Rinjani…

Modern day yoga has the greatest focus on the 3rd limb of yoga, asana, or physical practice, where “The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit” (Iyengar, 1966 p. 41). Often times neglecting the other 7 limbs as defined in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, especially so on social media. Yamasand niyamas (moral guidelines or self-discipline), pranayama (translating to expansion of life force; usually refers to breath work), pratyrahara (withdrawal from the 5 senses), dharana (focussing on one thought at a time), dhyana(meditation; observing your thoughts but not reacting to them) and samadhi (detached, non-judgmental; Buddha-like enlightenment) are rarely mentioned on social media, mostly due to the fact that the target audience is largely just interested in the physical postures.

The paper Yoga on Instagram: Disseminating or Destroying Traditional Yogic Principals has drawn light on the flaws of posting yoga-related content on social media. Many people, especially yoga teachers, use it as a form of marketing – I personally am not against this because it’s free and if they have a large following, effective in getting their followers to come to their class. However, the paper finds fault in those who use it to seek validation or an ego booster, where it depicts a misleading perspective which goes against the yogic philosophy. In addition, the paper brought up the dangers of negative body image, where most of these pictures of young, toned bodies in tight leggings and a sports bra spurs comparison of one’s own body to that ideal, especially when tagged #fitspo (fitness inspiration).

But then again, yoga is derived from yuj, which means union in Sanskrit, and social media is a great platform for yogis all over the world to connect and draw inspiration from one another. Besides that, it isn’t purely about the asana – captions can often share a lot of knowledge about the asana or yogic philosophy and videos can give you tips to help correct your alignment. Many of these posts focus on achieving both physical and mental wellbeing, which goes in line with the traditional practice. As B.K.S. Iyengar wrote, “to the yogi, his body is the prime instrument of attainment. If this vehicle breaks down, the traveler cannot go far. If the body is broken by ill-health, the aspirant can achieve little”.

It definitely is a double-edged sword, where its benefits lie in the way people choose to use and respond to it. When used well, one can share knowledge about the philosophy, tradition and history of yoga and spread their love of yoga to their friends. Beyond that,  it’s called social media, so let’s make it more social – its an awesome opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and perhaps more importantly maintain those friendships, even if we’re oceans away.

Kyla x

The Most Underrated Asana: Savasana 

“Lie down, close your eyes and relax” – the words we all look forward to hearing at the end of the class, meaning we’ve worked through some sun salutations, practiced asanas and are ready to rest. After getting into a comfortable position, taking a cleansing breath or maybe an audible exhale, we find ourselves in savasana, also known as corpse pose.

I think savasana is perhaps the easiest asana to perform but one of the most difficult to master, a form of conscious surrender. In today’s fast-paced society, people are so used to instant gratification and efficiency, where we want effects of our actions to be nearly immediate, thus find it hard to take a moment to slow down. I know I definitely do, where I used to really struggle just lying still for a few minutes and always had the urge to fidget. Even when I did self-practice, I often left out savasana because I wanted to get back to my day instead of lying around. On the other side of the spectrum, some find themselves falling asleep, where they let go and lose focus, enjoying the pose a little too much.

However, savasana has many benefits both physiologically and psychologically. It is an opportunity for us to physically and mentally relax each part of the body, usually starting from the feet up. By taking time in savasana, we can absorb the energy from the physical asanas and dissolve any tension in our muscles, letting our body recover and rest, as well as taking a mental inventory and checking in with how our body feels. Besides that, we can allow our parasympathetic system to take over, where we can slow down our respiratory rate and heart rate, and give our bodies time for them both to return to resting rate. Although the autonomic system usually works unconsciously, in savasana we can consciously notice and register how our breath and heartbeat is slowing down, and in that way, feel more relaxed.

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The Yogic Diet: Cranberry Banana Bread

The Yogic Diet

Food has such a powerful impact – affecting our physical appearance, physiological processes and emotions. With such a diverse variety of food items to choose from, making small changes in what we eat and observing the effects these have on our body help us to decide which foods best nourish our bodies and minds.

The Yogic Diet comprises 3 main gunas (categories): Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Sattvic foods are seen as pure, wholesome foods that increase energy and prana (life force) within us. These leave us feeling calm, refreshed and alert, and are generally primary sources of energy so are largely plant-based. Sattvic foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts and oils, whole grains, legumes, honey and mild spices that have not been processed.

Rajasic foods are said to be stimulating, such as spices, caffeine, tobacco, processed sugar, onions and garlic. They make one overly alert and thus difficult to find calm.

On the other hand, Tamasic foods make one feel dull, sluggish and perhaps even lazy. These include alcohol, meat, fish and mushrooms, as well as foods that have been frozen, fermented, reheated, fried, stale or laden with preservatives. Unfortunately, this is the kind of food the large majority of the population consumes in this day and age, be it due to convenience such as microwave meals or taste preference, it not only provides insufficient prana to the body, but also inadequate fuel for the mind. From a nutritional perspective, some of these food items may not necessarily be harmful to health – for example frozen vegetables or meat still retain majority of their nutrients, but the process of freezing has depleted its prana. 

Besides that, the manner of preparation and the way it is eaten can also determine the guna. Food that is prepared with love and awareness is Sattvic, while overeating or scoffing down your food is said to be Tamasic, even if the food itself is Sattvic. Thus, we would ideally have wholesome foods prepared with love and care, eaten in a mindful and relaxed manner.

The effects of food on our body can perhaps best be seen in meditation. During mediation, the 2 main issues are an over-active mind, brought about by ingesting excessive Rajasic food, and conversely, falling asleep due to too much Tamasic food. Thus, Sattvic foods are best for attaining the balance between the 2 to quiet the mind whilst maintaining alertness to explore our thoughts.

Cranberry Banana Bread topped with chia seeds and butterfly pea flowers 

Ayurvedic Doshas

Ayurveda translates to complete knowledge about life. It focuses on balance of the interplay between the body, mind and spirit, where imbalances lead to illness. There are 3 main doshas (changeable body types) –Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each body type is associated with the 5 different elements – Vata goes with air and space/ether, Pitta goes with fire and Kapha goes with water and earth. Your dosha is determined by 3 main criteria: physical appearance, physiological processes and your behaviours or mindset. By doing an online quiz, we found out our doshas, where most people have 1 or 2 dominating doshas. Besides that, we learnt about the health conditions each dosha is more susceptible to, and how to alter our diet to prevent this. I have summarised some characteristics of each dosha below:

Properties Vata Pitta Kapha
Element Air, Space/Ether Fire Water, Earth
Stature Thin Medium Large bones
Skin type Dry skin Oily skin Good skin
Metabolic rate High Medium, warm temperature Low, but strong immune system
Mental characteristics Quick learner, spontaneous and likes change Opinionated, intense focus, usually a leader Easygoing, friendly, slow learner but retains information well, likes routine
Weaknesses Poor at managing finances, fickle Domineering, poor anger management Frugal
Medical conditions susceptible to Constipation, restless sleep, arthritis, depression, anxiety Inflammation, hypertension, coronary heart disease Metabolic syndrome: Obesity, type II diabetes, high cholesterol

Let food by thy medicine

In Ayurveda, diet plays an important role in affecting our physiological processes, acting as both a preventative and therapeutic measure. There are 6 main Ayurvedic tastes – sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent, which are also associated with the elements as shown in the table below:

Ayurvedic tastes Elements Dosha suitable for
Sweet Earth, Water Vata, Pitta
Salty Water, Fire Vata
Sour Earth, Fire Vata
Pungent Fire, Air Kapha
Astringent Air, Earth Pitta, Kapha
Bitter Air, Space/Ether Pitta, Kapha

Pitta-Pacifying Food 

Most of the class is Pitta dosha, so I made a pitta-pacifying cranberry banana bread to celebrate the end of our first week of YTT200. Since Pitta is associated with the fire element, Pitta-pacifying foods consist of those that are cooling, hydrating and subtle. These help to balance moisture, achieve optimum temperature and neutralise any excess acidity in the body. As such, Pitta should increase intake of sweet, astringent and bitter foods and decrease that of salty, sour or pungent. As a general guideline, hot, spicy and fried food should be avoided, as well as fermented foods such as sour cream or alcohol. A more comprehensive recommendation of foods that Pitta should consume is shown in the table below:

Pitta Pacifying Food Chart
Pitta pacifying food, source: https://www.theayurvedaexperience.com/blog/pitta-diet/

Cranberry Banana Bread Recipe 

As we practice asanas for 2h a day, we need to replenish the glycogen we’ve consumed, as well as provide our brain with the much-needed fuel for the afternoon of theory. Since our brain’s main metabolic energy is glucose, which we derive mainly from carbohydrates, I thought banana bread would be a generally sattvic snack to fuel us through YTT (which is also gluten-free). It has elements of Pitta-pacifying ingredients such as sweet overripe bananas, oat flour and cretan honey, astringent cranberry raisins and a small amount of cinnamon that contributes to the bitter taste. I’ve also topped it with chia seeds which absorb water to keep us hydrated and is rich in fibre to aid digestion. Besides that, butterfly pea flowers have anti-oxidant, anti-depressant properties that reduce stress and hypertension, and is beneficial for hair and skin.

 

Cranberry Banana Bread ingredients

Ingredients

  • 3 medium bananas
  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp cretan honey
  • 3 eggs
  • Cranberry raisins
  • Chia seeds
  • Butterfly pea flowers

Method 

  • Preheat the oven to 180°
  • Add the dry ingredients into a bowl
  • Mash the bananas and add them into the bowl
  • Add the wet ingredients and mix well
  • Fold in cranberry raisins
  • Grease baking tin (I like to use the inside of the banana peel, it works pretty well!)
  • Pour the mixture into the baking tin and top with chia seeds and butterfly pea flowers
  • Bake for 25min, then leave in for another 5min with oven off
  • Enjoy!

And there you have it, a quick easy pitta-pacifying snack fix. Would love if you gave the recipe a try, let me know what you think!

Kyla x