YTT – a journey of self-discovery and growth

It’s hard to describe all that I’ve learnt and experienced in the past 4 weeks of my 200hr YTT with Tirisula Yoga. There’s just too much to share in one blog post, so I thought I’d share an excerpt of my journal entry from last week:

I’m about to embark on my 4th & final week of my 200hr YTT, what?!! Time really flies and I wish I had more time. I’ve really loved seeing Master Sree and my classmates almost every single day. We spend our mornings getting our minds blown by Sree and his truth bombs, have interesting discussions and support one another while we attempt crazy poses! I say attempt because sometimes we get it, other times we (try not to) flop on our faces. But we cheer each other on regardless and it is never a failure because with each attempt we learn a little more, and we grow.

The practice of yoga is not confined to our mat – it is a way of life. We practice yoga by choosing how we live and act every day, and to continuously “sharpen our axe” as Sree said. It’s not about pure physical strength or effort, but having clarity and focus. For me, the biggest lesson and struggle thus far is citta vritti nirodhah – removal of thoughts from our mind.

In our physical practice, this means removing any anxious thoughts, fear or frustration. Only when we achieve this, can we truly be focused and present to hold the asanas and reap the full benefits. It’s easy for me to lose sight of this when attempting challenging poses. Each time I fall, I would get increasingly frustrated in my mind. Master Sree always catches me in that state and would make me stop for a moment. “Stop thinking. Breathe, and clear your mind. Then you do.”  The first time he said that I had no idea if it was going to help me get into the pose. But he’s the master, so I listened, stopped what I was doing and just breathed. Immediately, there was a shift in my mental state. With a focused and calm mind, I managed to do the posture with control. It felt amazing!

Some days, it’s easy for me to be fully focused and present in the moment. It’s difficult to describe the feeling – you’re fully immersed, there is this sense of self-confidence, of believing in yourself but also being okay when you are unable to do certain poses. But on many days, I find myself comparing and beating myself up for not being able to “do as well as the others”. I still struggle to quiet my mind and stay in that mental state, even when I’m alone. But I’m learning that it’s okay, and I just have to pause, breathe, believe in myself and try again. With enough practice, I will get better at it.

So while I’ve gotten physically stronger, the real training for me has really been a mental one. There’s still so much for me to learn and I’ve a long way to go. I guess that’s why I still feel like a baby. Thought I would finish the course feeling less like a child, but really it’s shown me how me how much more I have to learn and how much more I can be.

I’m grateful for this opportunity, for the people I’ve met and for the lessons learnt. The course may have ended but the learning doesn’t stop here. I will miss this daily routine but I am also excited to see where our yoga journeys will take us!

Yoga is not about touching your toes, but what you learn on the way down. 

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Being one of the most relaxing and restorative poses in yoga, balasana (child’s pose) is a common beginner’s pose and often used as a resting position between more challenging asanas. Each time we hear “come to child’s pose” in a class, we heave a sigh of relief. If you haven’t done so…maybe you aren’t working hard enough and it’s time to try a tougher class! Jokes aside, let’s dive into the anatomy of this pose so we can get the most out of it.

First, let’s talk about the basic alignment. A quick search on Google will produce the image on the left – which is actually utthita balasana, extended child’s pose. Dig a little deeper and you will find balasana as seen on the right.

Utthita balasana
Balasana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They are largely similar:

  • minimal muscle engagement and our body is mostly in flexion
  • knees hip-width apart, big toes touching
  • shins, feet, forearms, hands and forehead resting on the mat
  • abdomen compressed as we release our body weight and relax our muscles
  • both stretch and elongate the splenius muscles (neck), erector spinae (spine), quadratus lumborum, gluteus maximus and feet dorsiflexors

The main difference lies in the shoulders and arms. Extending the arms makes the pose more active, lengthening and broadening the latissimus dorsi (“lats”). Folding the arms inwards alongside the thighs in balasana allows your shoulder and upper arm muscles to fully relax. You may also feel a gentle stretch of the posterior deltoids from the inward rotation of your arms.

Diving deeper, let’s look at the main group of muscles being stretched here. The erector spinae group of muscles include the iliocostalis, longissimus and spinalis. They maintain a natural curve in our spine and allow us to bend backwards and sideways. You will be able to feel the engagement of these muscles in most sitting and standing postures, backbends – try Virabhadrasana I, II, III (warrior), Trikonasana, Ustrasana (camel), and even Tadasana. Without regular stretching, all the accumulated tension may lead to chronic tightness of these spinal extensors, which can cause headaches and neck pain. This is why it is important to include poses like balasana and halasana (plough pose) in our practice to stretch them out.

Modifications

Every body is different and the traditional balasana may not be comfortable for everyone. Here are some modifications to help you fully relax into this pose:

  • tight ankles: place a rolled up blanket underneath
  • hips cannot reach the heels: place a cushion or bolster on your heels for support
  • knee issues: place a rolled up blanket behind your knee joint, in between your thighs and calves.
  • back issues: spread your knees wider to keep the spine straight. You may also rest your forehead on a firm pillow or a stack of blankets if your lower back is tight.
  • If you’re pregnant: spread your knees, allow your belly to rest comfortably between your thighs.
  • Spreading the knees deepens the stretch in your hips, if you have tight hips you may keep your knees close together.

Use your breath to help you deepen the stretch. Breathe deeply, and which each inhalation magine your expanding and doming toward the ceiling, allowing the spine to lengthen and widen. As you exhale, release your torso deeper into the pose. Balasana is also great for beginners to get comfortable with thoracic breathing.

Balasana may seem like child’s play, but it has a wide range of benefits. Besides stretching our muscles, it also helps with dizziness and fatigue. The forward fold massages your internal organs and aids in digestion. Mentally, it can alleviate stress and anxiety, allowing us to calm our minds as we focus on our breath. In short, child’s pose is a great way to rest and rejuvenate physically, mentally and spiritually.