Slow down

Today, we live in a fast-paced world – constantly moving from place to place, multi-tasking all the time, being constantly being plugged in to your devices, and just moving through life without stopping and noticing things around you, or taking time to appreciate life, people around you, or even yourself.

I am definitely guilty of this. Definitely.

One of the reasons I picked up yoga a few years back was so that I wanted to learn how to slow down.

And, yoga is not just about asanas.

Yoga is a practice for the mind and body. In class, we had learnt that the 7th limb of yoga is Dhyana. Through constant practice of meditation/Dhyana one will be able to achieve balance between the mind and body.

Dhyana/Meditation is practiced by many cultures everywhere. As we live in a fast-paced, stress-filled environment, there is growing interest in Meditation and Mindfulness.

Through meditation, you can create calmness in the mind, obtain peace within yourself, and gain a better understanding of yourself. There are many benefits from practicing meditation daily: increased focus, improved sleep quality, reduced anxiety, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune system etc.

Meditation can be done by anyone, anywhere. It requires patience, and practice. Constant practice and discipline will help train your wandering mind come back to you.

Start with just 10 minutes, sitting in a comfortable position (you can sit in any position you like, as long as you are able to hold it for a period of time).

To get to Dhyana, first you got to get to both Pratyahara/Withdrawing your senses and bringing your awareness within, and Dharana/Concentration.

You may focus on one thing; an object, your breath, your movements, a person, your chakra..

Observe your breath, and your thoughts as they come.

When about the end of your meditation practice, check in with yourself: How are you feeling?

Do it daily, and reap the benefits of meditation.

While researching, I found various types of meditation techniques that I found really interesting, and experimented with these!

Focused Meditation – Concentrating using any of the 5 senses.
Candle meditation
We experimented with this during Master Sree’s class. I found it really amazing.

Master Sree lit a candle, dimmed the room, and placed it in the middle of the room (at our eye level) with us sitting in a circle around it. We took a few deep breaths, relaxed our bodies, and gazed at the flame, focusing on it. We watched the shape of the flame as it dances, and the colour as it changes. And for a moment, I felt immersed in the flame, and everything around me went into a blur.

Gong Meditation / Singing Bowls
Both the gong and singing bowls have healing properties and are thereupeutic in nature. It is an immersive experience, that helps you to relax and declutter your mind. It’s good for those who does not like to sit in silence. I prefer to sit in silence, but would love to try it some day.

 

Movement Meditation – This is an active form of meditation where movement guides you.

Yoga is a moving meditation technique. Another one that I have recently discovered is walking meditation. One day while commuting, I decided to try it. It felt really amazing to be present and not be distracted by your phone. What I did was: Walk in a pace that is comfortable for me, do a body scan to notice how my body feels, tune in to what is going on around and acknowledge what I see and hear around me. Note the sounds, the smells, physical sensations, movement of the body. Use the movement rhythm as a base awareness. I matched the breath with my steps e.g. 3 steps inhale, 6 steps exhale. I realised this was what I have always been doing when I used to do a lot of running and competitive swimming in my younger days, or when I was diving (yes diving can be quite intimidating especially if you are nerve-y like me, so doing such techniques help me to calm down). You don’t even have to take out special time to do this, and can just do it when you are travelling from place to place!

 

Mantra meditation – Using repetitive sound (word, phrase, sound)
Through repeating a mantra out loud or in your head, e.g. Om, affirming phrases for yourself, and matching your breath with the mantra, can help meditation become easier and feel more relaxed. I have tried this technique by repeatedly saying a mantra in my head that corresponds to the chakra that I was focusing on during my meditation. e.g saying “I am empowered” and focusing on your Solar Plexus chakra, can increase your confidence and self-esteem.

 

Calligraphy meditation – Using Calligraphy
I first experienced this in a temple on Koya san, Japan. Sitting on the floor, cross-legged at a short desk, and using a brush to trace scriptures quietly, focusing on the strokes and the letters. This technique uses the power of words, and perfecting the art of writing, to calm your mind. You may also trace or write words repeatedly on a piece of paper for 10 to 20 minutes e.g. the symbol “Om”. It can be in any shape or form that you like. Or a verse, a word or a phrase. I truly enjoy this form of meditation, and hope you can try it too!

 

Hope that these variations of meditation can help you explore your mind further, drop me a comment if you have tried and how you felt during your practice, and most importantly,

remember to slow down 🙂

 

<3, Veron

Every body is different

Through yoga practice, I have grown to understand that every body is different. And to accept that my own body is different from others. Some poses are more accessible to some, and some are less accessible to some. Some have longer limbs, some have bendier backs, whatever, you name it. Every body is different. Yes, I still do look in awe at people who can do the perfect wheel, or hold their pincha, and I still do hope that I can do that one day.

But for now, to achieve that besides consistent practice, and getting that fear out of my head during inversions, I do require some sort of support or aid. Especially right now with home practice being so common during this unprecedented pandemic where virtual classes are prevalent, and there’s no physical adjustments in classes, yoga props have become my best friends.

Yoga props are good supporting tools for beginners, and help provide modifications to your asanas. They make poses accessible, in alignment of your poses, or help to deepen certain poses. Using props allow you to find stability and space in your asanas, increase body awareness, and explore body alignment comfortably.

Some students may resist using props as they have the mindset that using a prop shouts out “I am not good enough, not flexible enough for yoga”. I too, was once shy to grab that block.

Instead of viewing it like trainee wheels on the bicycle when you are trying to learn how to cycle, how about viewing it as an aid to help you get the right amount of stretch at the right muscles, so that you can be in a correct posture without overextending or straining your muscles. Most importantly, with props, you can lower the chances of getting injured, and avoid worsening old injuries.

Sharing with you some of the props that I have tried in my own practice: Blocks, blankets, straps, wall

  • Blocks
    Most common prop seen during yoga practice, comes in different colours or materials (cork, foam).
    You can see them as “floor raisers” and can be used to support different parts of the body while in asanas, especially so that you do not compensate or overstretch muscles.Some examples of using blocks during my practice:
    (i) Sun salutations on blocks to assist jump throughs
    (ii) Blocks under hands to support if unable to reach floor when doing Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, Parivrtta Trikonasana, Prasarita Padottanasana
    (iii) Blocks to support lower back in bridge pose – It is really comfy 🙂
    (iv) Stepping on blocks to lift legs to a higher position for crow pose, or supporting the head in crow pose, especially if you have fear of face-planting, like myself
    (v) Raise pelvis and hips to help the spine lengthen in seated poses and seated forward folds
    (vi) Sitting on blocks during meditation, or resting head on block in child’s pose
  • Strap
    These can be thought as arm lengtheners – especially when shoulders have not enough flexibility to allow hands to meet at the back or reach as far as the feet. Example of poses are like Gomukhasana.My favourite is to use the strap to open my tight shoulders i.e. flossing of shoulders
    (a) Sit on heels, grip strap wider than shoulders
    (b) Inhale bring the strap overhead from back
    (c) Exhale lower strap in front of you

Straps can also be used to ensure that legs are kept together in reclined hero pose, or arms are correct shoulder width apart in forearm stand.

  • Yoga Bolster/ Blankets
    These are usually used in restorative yoga classes to provide additional comfort and ease in the pose, or in yin yoga, for you to stay in the pose for a longer period of time (usually 4 minutes per pose). These props help your stiff muscles to relax and reduce tension in them.

Examples of using bolsters or blankets are in supported bridge pose, supported reclined hero pose, or even Savasana.

  •  Wall
    In my opinion, the wall is the most under-rated yoga prop. It is free (you can find it in almost anywhere), and really useful in attaining alignment, deepening some poses and ensuring safety during inversions e.g. headstand, handstands, forearm stands.

Examples of how I have tried including wall in my practice
(i) Half split – Deepen hamstring stretch (It hurts so bad for me ><)
(ii) Alignment for Trikonasana, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, Parivrtta Trikonasana by ensuring right chest opening and the right stretch
(iii) Uttanasana – Deepening stretch by folding with back against the wall
(iv) Build strength in order to achieve handstands e.g. do inverted L against wall
(v) Safety by ensuring you don’t fall over in inversions if you don’t have someone to spot you
(vi) King Pigeon pose – Deepen quad stretch

Other useful ways to utilize the wall as a prop are like using the wall to aid dropback, wheel pose, doing shoulder openers like puppy dog on the wall, deepen back bends through placing chest on the wall while doing sphinx pose.

And when you are finally able to attain the pose or when you are more aware of your body limits, try to reduce reliance on the props. With right use of yoga props, you may find your poses improving and get to deepen your yoga practice. For example, reducing reliance on the wall when doing headstands so that you can be aware which of the muscles have to be engaged while in inversion, i.e. move away from the wall occasionally to learn to engage core muscles to lift legs in the air.

Hope that this post will give you the courage to pick up that block, or strap, during your practice whenever you feel your body needs it, because every body is different!

Let us love our bodies and admire all the great things we can do with it  🙂

<3,
Veronica

The Power of Om

Have you ever been to a yoga class and the teacher begins and ends the class with a loud “Om” together? When I first started yoga, I have always wondered the meaning of this sound, the purpose of chanting Om, and the benefits for our body.

What is Om?

Om is a single-syllable mantra, also known as bijia (seed) mantra. It is the root mantra, from which all other mantras emerge. It is powerful, yet easy to recite.

It is a sacred sound, a soothing humming sound or a vibration, and is also known as the sound of the universe. It is said to be all-encompassing and unifying everything in the universe. It is also the first sound from the beginning of time, and is the root of any sound heard or produced. Interestingly, this sound is actually present in all languages.

Now, sit in silence and observe the sounds around you. Listen. You may hear the humming, vibrating Om in the air.

What does Om mean?

Om is the sum of all four states of consciousness.

The sound of Om consists of four parts: (1) A (ah)(2) U (ooh)(3) M (mm)(4) Silence; which also represents all four states of consciousness.

“A”, the physical state, or subjective consciousness of the outer world, “U” – the mental state, or consciousness of our inner world (thoughts, memories, dreams), and “M”, the state of deep sleep, or the state of nirvana, allowing one toconnect with the higher self and becoming one with the universe. The fourth part of the mantra (anusvara), which is silence, is the crown of the mantra.

Even the writing of the Om symbol, embodies each part of the mind. Bottom-most curve on left signifies the waking mind, the curve to the far right symbolizes dreams, the top curve illustrates the mind in deep sleep and the dot represents the unknown state of consciousness.

Why chant Om at the beginning and end of a yoga class?

It helps to promote a quieter mental state through assisting yourself in focusing on your breath. It is also a type of sound meditation (kirtan) to start our practice.

Is chanting Om religious?

In some religions, they discourage chanting, or sometimes even yoga (That’s another topic in itself). In my opinion, chanting Om is actually not religious (and yoga is not a religious practice as well), even though you see it being practiced in some religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

Fun fact: Some say that Aum is the same word “Hum” of the Tibetans, “Amen” of the Christians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Jews, and “Amin” in Arabic of the Muslims.

It’s so amazing how this sound is actually present in so many languages and religions!

Another reason to chant Om, is that there are actually great health benefits to doing it. Here are some that I found to be beneficial to your bodies:

  1. Opens up sinuses
  2. Cardiovascular benefits – Lowers blood pressure, regulates heart rate
  3. Improves sound sleep
  4. Relieves stress and anxiety, reduces depression
  5. Detoxifies body
  6. Boosts immunity

There are so many beautiful facets of Om, and so many benefits of chanting this simple, yet powerful sound.

I hope that in your next class, you will join in with a loud, resounding Om whenever you feel your body needs it!

Ommmmmmm……. ^O^

<3,
Veronica

Sthira Sukham Asanam

Sthira Sukham Asanam

We have learnt that one of the 8 limbs of Yoga is Asanas. Most importantly, asanas should be steady, effortless, and at ease. In our first few lessons, Master Sree was always reminding us to do practise with a smile, and not a scrunched up face in pain. (I think I still do at times make a pained face unknowingly :p)

Well, one of the sutras that we are learnt too is Sthira Sukham Asanam.

Sthira means Steady, Firm, Strength and Sukham means At Ease, Joyful, Comfortable, Flexibility.

Applying Sthira and Sukha on our mats during yoga practice also means relaxation physically and mentally. When practicing asanas, it should be free of tension and strain, and engaging muscles evenly.  One should also ensure calm, rhythmic and conscious prana to maintain effortless-ness while breathing. These helps to balance flexibility and strength, achieving “Sthiram Sukham Asanam”.

One may wonder how to achieve both strength and ease at the same time. It is definitely not easy, but it is achievable with conscious intention and self-awareness of your body. Recognising the reactions of the body while in the asana, the areas where your muscles are feeling the tension, and observing your breath.

The breath is an indication for sthira and sukha. If you are panting, or holding your breath, it may be a sign that you are struggling in the pose or trying to push over your limits. Inhale, and Exhale to find stability in your poses and ease. Allow your breath to guide your practice.

Besides breathing and intended pauses to enjoy the stretch, to achieve a balanced asana practice, it is also important to include counterposes in your yoga sequence.

Have you ever wondered why counterposes are incorporated in your practice? I did.

Counterposes allow one to “catch your breath”, and feel the stretch in the other direction. Counterposes help in resetting of your spine, pelvis or muscles, making sure that no remaining tensions or strains are felt in your body after your practice, preventing injuries. It also allows the mind to reset, back to a state of equilibrium, before moving on.

What is a Counterpose?

Counterpose or Pratikriya is a posture that helps to neutralize the body after performing a particular asana. Its purpose is to restore balance in the body, ensuring safe and effective practice. It helps to integrate the action of the preceding posture, through neutralizing or sometimes opposing actions.

This means whenever one stretches in one direction, one should also balance the posture out with a stretch in the opposite direction.

Noting that your muscles are also aligned differently in different directions, you can also include twisting poses in your sequence as counterposes e.g. Seated Half spinal twist post(Vakrasana), Revolved side angle (Parvritta Parsvokonasana)

What kind of counterposes for which asanas?

Well, there are no set rules for types of counterposes for which asanas. It is more important to be aware of your own body, and feel where the tension is when performing the asana. Whenever you perform a strong asana, do a simple, gentle pose/asana to relieve the tension. Choose a pose that you a breathe in. If you move back and forth too quickly between two extremes, it may even cause injuries.

Here are some suggested counterposes for certain asanas:

  • Chest-openers (Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana), Camel (Ustrasana), Bow Pose(Dhanurasana))
    If the chest-opener is too deep, you may do a Knees-to-chest (Pawan Muktasana), which helps to stretch and neutralize spine, or a supine one leg to chest pose.You may also want to do a Supine twist to stretch out your lower and mid-back muscles. Gentle forward bends like Baddha Konasanaalso works.
  • Forward fold (Paschimottanasana)

In forward fold, you are stretching your back of the body e.g. spine, hamstrings, and your quadriceps and hip flexors will shorten.

A gentle backbend counterpose would be Upward plank (Purvottanasana), or gentle bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) to help lengthen your quads and hip flexors, as well as open front side of body and stretch shoulders and chest.

  • Headstand (Srirasana)
    After completing headstand, or handstand, do a gentle child’s pose (Balansana) for a few moments after inversion to relieve pressure on head and arms.
  • Shoulder stand/Plough (Sarvangasana/Halansana)
    A common counterpose for shoulder stand or plough pose would be to do a gentle bridge pose or Fish pose (Matsyasana) as it helps to counter stretch the neck. You may also want to do Reclined hero pose (Supta Vajrasana), or Camel pose (Ushtrasana).
  • Universal Counter pose– Child’s pose (Balansana)
    Balansana is the universal counterpose as it allows for rest between poses, and allows breath to regain a steady rhythm.

With the right awareness of our breath and what our bodies need, let us work towards the same goal of achieving Sthira Sukham Asanam in our yoga practice, and practice with a smile 🙂

<3,
Veronica