Control

It is the lack of control that frightens me.

In yoga terminology, I believed I had a rajasic mind – an overstimulated body, unable to keep still, and an anxious mind. I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist. But over time, I realize my need to establish structure and stability has heightened over the course of adulthood. Maybe for a long time, I have decided I have been cruising through life too much – lost in life at 19; the I-woke-up-one-day-and-decided-to-fly-to-Australia-for-two-years-with-a-student-loan decision because I thought leaving was the best solution to a happier life; the trip to the grocery store one day, with a budget of 20 dollars, felt like crap and walked in to get a job at a café. Those days, I drank too much coffee, to keep my body physically capable to do everything I thought I had to do.

There were also days I felt moody and lethargic, having a tamasic behaviour, causing me to make impulsive decisions, like waking up one day and telling my partner I’m taking a solo trip because I needed to be alone. Those days were the worst, because they were the days I lack purpose, demotivated to chase a shining future. I ate badly and lived on ready-to-eat food. I smoked and drank too much, thinking that the 5 minutes that cigarette will last is the 5 minutes my mind could be at peace.

Shifting from the two extremes was exhausting, not only for me, but also for the people around me, particularly family who couldn’t cope with the stubbornness, my then-partner, who had to live with my impulsive decisions and irrational moods. After a while, with all the hasty decisions and carelessness, I made a commitment to settle for something, for anything.

I made a conscious decision to settle on a career and to stay in Singapore. Being in one place allowed me the space to try new things for a longer duration of time. In my quest to find myself, I found yoga. For a long time finally, I felt I had composure.

I began my quest to eat more sattvic food, partly to lose weight so I can work on my asanas, but as I went along, I also began feeling healthier, more energetic and focused. I slowly transitioned towards cooking more. As much as I can, I avoided processed food, even bread and crackers, even if they were wholegrains, but I ate small portions of brown rice. I couldn’t avoid meat altogether but I switched to white meat and fish. I snacked with nuts, not on chocolates (though I snacked on 90% dark chocolate).

Suddenly, with the choice to progress and grow, I realised that the control I was searching for was within myself.

I cannot alter my external surrounding, I cannot will people for approval, my partner’s loyalty – in short, I cannot demand certain outcomes. That is the challenging part, isn’t it – accepting that some things are beyond dominance.

And with that, I leaned back on my office chair and drank my chamomile tea in big gulps. I then left the office much earlier than usual. I met a friend and had some good laughs, and made one conscious decision;

This time, I will breathe and let go.

 

The Science of Pranayama

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is the process by which the prana (or breath) is controlled or regulated. It comes from 2 Sanskrit words:

“prana” which means life energy and

“Ayama” which means extend/draw out. Some scripts also mention that it comes from the word “Yama” which means control.

 

I’d like to expand on prana a little bit more. The term prana is very interesting because many of us may misunderstood the action as “breathing in air”. But that is not the case, According to The Science of Pranayama (written by SriSwami Sivananda), prana is the sum total of all energy that is manifest in the universe. It exist in everything that moves or works or has life, including in all men, literally it is everywhere around us. It is not atmospheric air that we breathe in, but all the energy that exist around us. 

So when you see how some persons are more successful in life, more influential and fascinating than others. It is all due to the power of this prana. 

 

Why practice Pranayama?

 Just as a goldsmith removes the impurities of gold by heating it in the hot furnace, by strongly blowing the blow-pipe, so also the Yogic student removes the impurities of the body by blowing his lungs.

 

According to the Akhand Sutra (written by Dr.Shiv Bhushan Sharma): “… It means that the practice of Pranayamah prepares the mind for the practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The Body-breath-mind forms the three sides of a single functional triangle…” The aim is for you to reach antaratma sadhana, or your innermost quest of Dharana concentration, Dhyana meditation and ultimately Samadhi enlightment.

Before I summarise the main points of Pranayama’s benefits, I would like to watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIfwbEvXtwo

For me, what was the most interesting part of the video and perhaps the most relatable to science is this:

“…. So yogic breathing stimulates salivary secretion. And the saliva, the compounds or the principles in the saliva say nerve growth factor or several other factors in the saliva can be:

  • transported to the central nervous system through specific transport mechanisms
  • Or it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and available throughout the body
  • Or it can just stay there in the oral cavity to help us fight germs…..”

So in relations, Pranayama allows you to:

– utilise consciously for self-development

– heal many incurable diseases in your system

– heal others and

– for other various useful purposes.

An excerpt from The Science of Pranayama (written by SriSwami Sivananda): “… It is through Pranayama that you can control your circumstances and character and can consciously harmonise the individual life with the cosmic life..”

The guiding principle behind Pranayama is that we all hold physical or emotional blocks in our bodies which inhibit the flow of breath and of prana – life energy. This can leave us feeling unwell and “stuck” or blocked physically and emotionally. By practising Pranayama (and asana) we are clearing these blocks so breath and prana can flow freely, our bodies can then function properly and our minds can become calmer and clearer.

 

So what is the basic steps of Pranayama?

There are many types of Pranayamas. Some says there are 7, some says 9, and some say 12. Regardless, according to the Yoga Sutra, Pranayama is the regulating of the breath in three steps.

  1. Regulating the exhalation (rechaka)
  2. Regulating the inhalation (puraka)
  3. Regulating retention of the breath (khumbaka)

The regulation of the breath can be measured by place, time, and number. The goal of regulating the breath is for the breath to become long and fine.

As you progress in your own pranayama, you can do your different types such as:

  • Ujjayi Breath
  • alternate nostril breathing (nadishodhana)
  • and female honeybee humming breath (bhramari)

I’d like to end off this post with an Eastern philosophy saying: ‘Mind is a monkey. It’s not a normal monkey. It’s a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion!’

It’s simply means that our mind is something hard to manage!

But as the video has so clearly stated: “… there is an easy way. Mind cannot travel on its own. Mind needs a vehicle. Mind is using a horse. That horse is your breathing. So if you want to control the mind, the rider, you have to control the vehicle, the horse – the breathing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Philosophy – lessons from the quest of finding oneself

I lost someone special to me when I was 19.

In my journey to recognising my true nature, I have come from being lost to reflecting deeply about every circumstances in my life. When yoga became part of my being, I find myself relating my life lessons to its philosophy. 

  1. Asanas, uniting my head with my body – Since the event, I started to question why I felt so lost for majority of my life.

I realised that I was restless and easily distracted. I have many likes, but I never stick to one. I have many plans, but I never follow through. However, I realised if I put my mind to it, I can truly accomplish the things I aim to do. Of course, my yoga journey was my starting point to finding , it came (still comes) with a sprained neck and aching wrists – at one point, a bleeding mouth. The improvements are immense though; I can feel that my yoga positions are sharper and my balance is better. I realise, that only through the acceptance of my multiple failures do I start to understand the techniques to get to the asana allows consistently each time. Which part of my muscles should I engage? Where did I engaged the last time I did the asana? How did it made me feel?

The difference between one who never gets to his destination to one who does is separated by a thin line – and to me, that is mindfulness, which is part of niyama, by always being conscious of our actions and their consequences, and that our choices are always ours. I, then, realised, that in the same way, I hold the key to my own grief.

2. Pratyahara, letting go of external disturbances disrupting one’s mind – Letting go is always the hardest. I find myself turning to physical “pleasures” like random shopping, spending days eating out with friends, overworking to keep the mind busy with no purpose.

The art of surrendering is perhaps a lifelong learning, but if I want to start really making progress in life, I have to cut back on doing things that no longer serve me. Clichéd as it may be, I began to believe there’s a reason for every circumstances. Later, we’ll understand why, sometimes, never, but circumstances always mould us in certain ways, and in what way is a conscious choice. Acceptance of past hurts allows me to detach from all the meaningless habits, and instead reflecting on what to be thankful about each day, allowing me to cultivate an inner bliss that is more permanent.

Perhaps, the greatest lesson I have been trying to learn and finally understood is that one can keep fighting for things, but certain circumstances do not change because one fights. Sure, it shows effort and sincerity, but it also is a sign of desperation. Sometimes, letting loose will allow things to work out on its own – maybe the consequences are not to our favour at times, in my case, I had no chance in fighting against the nature of life, but there is always lessons to be learnt and we end up better people.

My journey towards enlightenment is far from over, and perhaps I will never achieve it in this lifetime. But in my quest, I am learning to give myself up for a higher purpose, to quieten your mind and focus on moving forward.  

 

 

The application of the Cat and Cow Pose

The Cat and Cow Pose is a perfect beginner yoga pose if you are looking to warm up your spine and abdomen. The simple step-by-step instructions would be to to start in “tabletop” position (palms and knees aligned, shoulder distant apart). Center your head in a neutral position, eyes gazing to the floor. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, with shoulders and knees in position. Relax the head toward the floor. Inhaling, lift your hip bones and chest toward the ceiling, with the belly sinking towards the floor. Lift your head to look straight up to the ceiling. Repeat a few more times as desired. To end, exhale, coming back to neutral “tabletop” position.

The muscles:

The cat pose strengthens your abdominal muscles, the rectus and transversus abdominis, the chest area, particularly the pectoralis major and minor and stretches the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi. The cow pose is the reverse, tightening the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi and stretching the abdominal and chest muscles. In addition, it also works on the hip muscles, the iliopsoas and iliacus and the quadratus lumborum.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the Spine: With the repeated movement of the back, the pose strengthens and allow flexibility of the spine to release lower back pains as well as improve posture.
  • Massages your Internal Organs: The pose gently massages and stimulates organs in the belly, particularly the kidneys and adrenal glands. This also helps with the digestion.
  • Women’s Reproductive System: With the repeated movement of the lower back and abdomen, the gentle massage of the muscles around the reproductive system keeps the hormone level in balance and help elevates the cramps during the menstrual cycle.
  • Breathing for Pregnant Women: The inhale and exhale breathing involved keeps the mental state of the woman calm, allowing a better growth of the fetus.

Contraindications:

  • Weak wrists and shoulders: Someone with weak wrists and shoulders move to the simpler version of Seated Cat Cow Pose to avoid injuring the muscles or bones there.
  • Injury at the shoulders: If you have an injury on the shoulders, remember not to put too much pressure during the poses to avoid straining it further. Practice with caution.
  • Pregnant women: Avoid doing this on your own if you are a first time practitioner, as the breathing needs aligned along with the body alignment.