Flowing through transitions

I’ve attended plenty of yoga classes before, but I never really thought about the importance of transitions through the poses until I started teaching yoga lessons during our YTT. I guess I must have taken for granted the importance of transitions as I just followed the yoga instructor’s cues to  get into the poses without giving much thought into how to transit into the poses.

Ever since we started planning our lessons and teaching yoga, I came to realise that transitions are so important because it allows us to move smoothly from one pose to another, especially from standing to sitting, or from lying on our backs to standing. Without a smooth transition, the movement will become abrupt and may end up confusing the students.

Here are some tips on how to flow through transitions:

  1. standing (tadasana) to sitting (dandasana):

IN – from standing (tadasana) sweep arms up overhead

EX- hinge from hips to fold forward

IN- step one leg back

hold – step left leg back to plank

EX- bend knees down to table top

IN- sit on knees

EX-sit on one side of your bum to swing legs forward to sitting (dandasana)

2. sitting (dandasana) to standing (tadasana)

IN – from sitting (dandasana), sit in cross leg position and bring both palms in front of you

EX- lean weight forward to uncross legs and lift your hips up into table top

IN-tuck in toes to prep

EX-send your hips up and back to a downward dog

IN- step one leg forward in between hands

EX-step other leg forward in between hands

IN- slowly roll yourself back up to standing (tadasana)

3. From supine poses (lying on back) to sitting (dandasana)

IN – bring arms up overhead

EX-engage your core to sit back up in dandasana

4. From prone poses (lying on belly) to sitting (dandasana)

IN- roll over to one side

EX-relax on back

IN-bring arms up overhead

EX-engage your core to sit back up in dandasana

5. From prone poses (lying on belly) to standing (tadasana)

IN- bring arms to side of your chest

EX-push up into a table top

IN – tuck in toes

EX- send hips up and back to a downward dog

IN- step one leg in between hands

EX- step other leg in between hands

IN-slowly roll yourself up to tadasana

 

I hope that this post helps you to appreciate the transitions from pose to pose in your practice better!

Revolved Side Angle Pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)

Parivrtta = revolved

parsva = side

kona = angle

This seemingly easy pose is very difficult to perfect in alignment. The important part of this pose is to twist the upper body from the thoracic spine and not the lumbar spine. Some benefits of this pose include better balance, digestion, and stretches many parts of the body including the hamstrings, spine, chest and shoulders.

When in this pose, the spine is in axial rotation. In the upper body, the scapular is in downward rotation and shoulders are internally rotated to hook the elbow outside the knee. In the lower body, the hips and knees are in flexion in the front leg, while the hips and knees are in extension in the back leg.

The key muscles worked to rotate the spine towards the front leg are the erector spinae, internal obliques, transversospinalis and external obliques.  In the upper body, the trapezius, pectoralis major and minor, serratus anterior and coracobrachialis works to lengthen the spine in this pose. The muscles worked in the lower limbs to hold the front leg in 90 degree angle, extend the back leg, and find balance in this pose include the adductors longus, magnus and brevis, gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings and piriformis.

Meditation and the brain

Meditation is a practice that helps to clear the mind and can train one’s attention and awareness. It has been practised since the ancient times, and brings about many wonderful mental, physical and spiritual benefits.

With advancements in technology, brain researchers have been able to study the brain activations and differences brought about my meditation through the use of EEG (electroencephalogram), DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

Here are some key highlights that brain research has suggested about the benefits of meditation.

  1. Differences in the cortical thickness of various frontal and parietal regions of the brain in meditation practitioners compared to controls were associated with enhanced cognitive processes such as emotional regulation, more focused attention, and self-perception.
  2. Meditation is able to change the brain through neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s way of learning or acquiring new ‘skills’. A study that compared advanced meditation practitioners vs novice meditation practitioners found differences in brain activations in regions associated with emotional regulation and attentional control. This suggested that attention and emotional regulation can be trained through more practice in meditation.
  3. Meditation can trigger the neurotransmitters and chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, melatonin and serotonin which in turn regulate stress, mood levels, anxiety levels, and calms us down.
  4. There are 5 types of brain waves – delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma. A 2009 study suggested that meditation helped to increase the alpha and theta brain waves, the two brain waves that are associated with a more relaxed state of mind.

 

References:

Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2008). Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation. IEEE signal processing magazine25(1), 176–174. https://doi.org/10.1109/msp.2008.4431873

Kang, D. H., Jo, H. J., Jung, W. H., Kim, S. H., Jung, Y. H., Choi, C. H., … & Kwon, J. S. (2013). The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience8(1), 27-33. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss056

Krishnakumar, D., Hamblin, M. R., & Lakshmanan, S. (2015). Meditation and Yoga can Modulate Brain Mechanisms that affect Behavior and Anxiety-A Modern Scientific Perspective. Ancient science2(1), 13–19. https://doi.org/10.14259/as.v2i1.171

Lagopoulos, J., Xu, J., Rasmussen, I., Vik, A., Malhi, G. S., Eliassen, C. F., … & Ellingsen, Ø. (2009). Increased theta and alpha EEG activity during nondirective meditation. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine15(11), 1187-1192.

 

My journey with yoga

Patanjali defines yoga as the removal of thoughts and consciousness from our minds, also known as Chitta Vritti Nirodhah. Our minds are likened to a clear lake, if we look in, we should be able to see our own reflections.  On the other hand, our thoughts and consciousness are like the ripples that disturb the calmness of the lake – when there are ripples, we can no longer see our own reflections when we look in the water. This definition of yoga greatly resonates with me, as I discovered how having yoga in my life allows me to be able to filter out the noises in my mind and help me to find my grounding to focus on the task at hand better and improve my productivity and mental well-being.

 

Throughout my life, I have always struggled with confidence issues and self-doubt. I never believed in my own capabilities and self-worth, and that resulted in a lot of emotional distress and negativity. I was always comparing myself to others who were better than me, and that made me feel inferior and hopeless.

 

Somewhere along the way, I started my yoga journey out of curiosity and mainly for pursuing the asanas as a form of exercise. I started out practising yoga about once or twice a week, sometimes once in two weeks. While practising, I learned to understand my body better, to be more aware of what my body was capable of, and also to be more kind to my body and listen to myself. As time went by, I find myself drawn back to yoga for the mental benefits that accompanied the physical practice. That’s when I started practising more intensively, about 4-5 times a week, and what led me to this YTT course.  I enjoyed the mindfulness of the practice, whenever I was doing poses, I focused on my breath and dristi, and found calmness despite the intensity of the asanas. There were days where my mind was not so calm, and that made the physical practice feel different.

 

While I still have lots of room for improvement, I am able to appreciate Chitta Vritti Nirodhah, that Yoga is the suspension of the fluctuations of the mind. I am also learning to apply this sutra to my everyday life, and I do feel that by practising yoga, it has helped to transform my mind to bring about greater productivity when I remove all distractions and unrelated thoughts from my mind and focus on the one task at hand. With a clear mind, I am empowered to achieve more things and be more aware of my capabilities and strengths, relieving myself from self-doubt. I am excited to see how yoga will continue to change my life, and the journey is just beginning.