Being present

Inhale, exhale. One breath, one move.

Behind this cue of action, it is actually reminding us to be aware. This sense of awareness can be translated to different parts of our life.

Being aware of our surroundings, our train of thoughts, reaction to different situation as well as our own emotive states. Oftentimes, we are so ingrained with our daily habits – brushing teeth with our master hand, picking up the phone to check the time when we wake, wearing watch on the left wrist and etc. It has become second nature to us that we do not even realize or be aware of it until either we lose the privilege to do the same things or if someone pointed it out to us.

Practicing yoga has made me more aware, specifically, more aware of my breathing, the limits of my physical body as well as the noise inside my head. By not listening to my body and breath during asana practice, there is a high probability of me injuring myself.

Being aware also helps me to stay grounded and stay present. People always say, be in the moment. But do they practice it? The pace of life in Singapore is so fast and ever changing. It is so easy to get swept up with the paper chase, material security and what not. Are we truly appreciating being in the moment – e.g. savouring the taste and texture of the food in our mouth, appreciating the time people took out to spend us with or just shovelling food in as we reply our text messages and make plans for later?

With the current flurry of fluctuation and uncertainty that the world is facing right now, yoga reminds me that one breath, one move. Be present with yourself, appreciate this current moment and sometimes, that is all we need, for that moment.

Breath

Breathing – an essential thing that our body does automatically. It is the first and last thing that we do. But so often overlooked and taken for granted.

Growing up with sinusitis, I always struggled with proper breathing / clear nasal airway. But I did not think much about it. It is only when I started practicing Yoga that I realize the importance of breath. During lessons, we went through the practice of breath control – Prāṇāyāma. It consists of synchronizing the breath with movements.

On a physical level, by using Prāṇāyāma techiques, we are able to strengthen our respiratory organs, regulate the inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath. On an emotional level, our breathing patterns are also very closely linked to our emotive states. We breathe differently when we are experiencing anger, sadness. Being more aware and conscious of our breath, we are able to use Prāṇāyāma techiques to regulate our emotive state.

Below are some examples of the different types of Prāṇāyāma that we can practice daily:

Heating
Heating pranayama techniques are highly vitalising and energizing.
Kapalabhati – The emphasis is on the exhalation through strong, fast abdominal contractions.
Bhastrika – It is similar to Kapalabhati, except that for Bhastrika, both the inhale and exhale are forceful. It is physically and energetically more intense and demanding than Kapalabhati.
One physical benefit of the above 2 pranayama techniques is that it strengthens the abdominal muscles and digestive organs while one mental benefit is that it is beneficial for preparing the mind for work that requires focus.

Note: The above two are strong pranayama and not suited for everyone (e.g. pregnant, period, high blood pressure).

Balancing
The flow of breath in each nostril is intimately connected with the left and right side of our body. The right nostril represents Pingala Nadi (Solar energy) and the left nostril represents Ida Nadi (Moon energy). Balancing pranayama techniques are used for purification of the energy channels in our body. 
Nadi Shodhana – This is also known as alternate nostril breathing. Firstly, start inhaling from the left nostril with slow, deep and rhythmic breath while keeping the right nostril closed with the thumb. At the end of inhalation close the left nostril and open the right and breathe slowly and deeply. After exhalation through the right nostril, inhale through the right and exhale through the left. This completes one round of the practice.
One physical benefit is that it enhances the vital capacity of our lungs and helps to relax the rhythms of the heart and nervous system and one mental benefit is that it calms our mind.

Cooling
Cooling pranayama techniques leaves a cooling effect on the body. It cools down the body, especially the brain.
Sheetali Roll the tongue into a tube-like structure, through which one inhales deeply and then at the end of inhalation one closes the mouth and exhales through the nose. 
Sheetkari – Roll the tongue up behind the teeth. Lips are opened and teeth are exposed. A long, slow and deep breath is taken through the mouth and at the end of inhalation, lips are closed and exhalation happens through the nose. When one inhales though the teeth, the breath creates a hissing sound and results in a cooling effect in the mouth region.

One physical benefit is that it enables us to cool our body down when excessive heat is generated and one mental benefit is that it helps us to relax and helps with insomnia.

The environment that I have placed myself in is always in a rush, rushing to get work done, rushing for class etc, leaving me barely any time to catch my breath. Let this be a reminder that amidst all the happenings in our life, we should set aside time to be more aware of our breath, and in turn our physical and emotive states.

More than a physical practice

“I can’t do Yoga because I can’t touch my toes”, “Can you do /teach me how to do headstand, handstand, pincha, scorpion, crow” etc. These are some common statements that pops up whenever someone ask me about Yoga, which somehow revolves around the physical (asana) practice.

Contrary to modern yoga practice, it is more than just a physical practice. After weeks of delving deeper into Yoga as a subject, I learnt that Yoga is a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices / disciplines. In the yoga philosophy, I learnt about the 3 Gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – which are essentially the 3 fundamental aspects of Nature. The gunas cannot be separated or removed but can be consciously acted on to encourage their increase or decrease. A guna can be increased or decreased through the interaction and influence of external objects, lifestyle practices and thoughts. Being aware of these 3 Gunas, it acts as a signpost – guide that indicate where one is and where one wants to be.

Sattva – a state of harmony, balance and contentment

Rajas – a state of energy, action and change

Tamas – a state of darkness, dullness, inertia and illusion

The Tamasic practice is interesting because the traits associated with it is the opposite of Sattva. However, the difference does not mean that it is not able to achieve the same end goal of a Sattvic practice. A tamasic practice can go so deeply into the darkness, into all things unthinkable to mortals that one comes into the light. 

Light and darkness. This and that. There is no wrong / right / perfect practice but find one that works for you and keep seeking the light.

The Yoga Journey

I used to run during my university days and to push myself further, I continued pushing myself to run longer, faster. After some time, I realize that I am not improving and that my training is stagnant. Thus, I decide to change direction and look for something less cardio intensive that targets different muscle groups. I chanced upon a really good trial offer for one month of unlimited practice at a Bikram Yoga studio. Maybe it also helped that I started my practice in winter. I looked forward to rushing to a heated room and sweating it out.  Half way between the standing and seated practice, there is one Savasana (corpse pose) where we are instructed to empty our mind and just focus on our breathing. I remember the teacher saying that ironically, this is the hardest pose because often time, during this pose, most people will either be thinking about their checklists or doze off. We struggle with letting go, our thoughts, our ego and our body. Something clicked inside me.

Day in, day out. That was how I started having a consistent yoga practice until I came back to Singapore and got caught up with everything else. Still, my mind constantly returned back to the time I was practicing consistently. I remember feeling different and more grounded. I remember telling myself, I need to find that feeling back and I want to share the positive energy that it has given me.

Fast forward to now, as what the teacher mentioned, “Yoga finds you. Even if you are not looking for it.” I am nearing the end of YTT, a course which I did not know what to expect and also a course, which I told myself, I will only enrol in after 5 years of consistent practice – when I have mastered my fundamental poses and when I have found stability in my work.

I am no where near 5 years of consistent practice nor can I do a proper chaturanga, crow pose, headstand. Are these the pre-requisites for this course? No.

Instead of focusing so much on the outcomes (e.g. ability to do fancy poses, to teach yoga), all that is needed is just taking the first step out. Breathe into the spaces that are tensed. Be ready to explore and understand your body, mind and soul. When your body is ready for more, it will be yours. Our practice is always with us, wherever we go.

For now, find joy in the learnings and teachings.