The End of YTT is the Beginning of My Yoga Journey

The exam is on this Sunday and my 200hr teacher training course is coming to an end.

It is an extremely intense, exhausting, but extraordinarily meaningful program that I’ve attended. I’ve learned so much about yoga and made new friends. I feel grateful to myself that I decided to do my YTT training.

Before signing up for this course, I had struggle and doubt if I should do it. I just started to practice yoga last year on and off and was still at the beginner level. So I was concerned about what if I couldn’t perform asanas and failed the exam. As an introvert, I have difficulty expressing myself in front of people. So another problem dragged me was how I could teach my classmates. However, I signed it up immediately when realizing I just wanted to push myself to exercise and learn yoga for myself. And at the same time, it would force me to talk and practice teaching skills.

I still remembered my first teaching class. Hearing my heartbeat, I was too nervous to forget the sequence and instruction cues. But I felt supported by my classmates’ hard practice and I was relaxed afterward. Master Ram was very kind to compliment my teaching and encourage me really a lot. Teaching is not easy. Memorizing the instruction cues is not everything, we have to know what we are teaching like how to break down a pose into steps, which muscles concentrically or eccentrically contract in the poses, which actions the muscles work on at which bone joints, what the poses benefit for… I feel like yoga anatomy is even harder than asana practice.

Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the theory class over the 2 months. There is a good deal of information to be digested, readings, blogs, project, teaching plans… Over the past weeks, when I was not at work, I was either doing my readings, blogs, project, or thinking about teaching. But I survived! Through this course, I have learned a lot, yoga is far more than what we know. Learning yoga anatomy teaches us how the bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles all work together in yoga. The knowledge of these aspects helps us get more out of the practice and protect us from injuries.

The struggle worthwhile, otherwise I would not make such great progress to surprise myself. The root of practice is bitter but the fruit is sweet. I will stay focused and keep practicing. The YTT 200 program will end but my learning never ends.

Rediscover Yourself Through Chakras

I believe Chakra is not an alien word to those who watched Naruto, a Japanese comic series. I was a huge fan of it and you can not imagine how badly I wanted to own a powerful Chakra as Naruto to perform Ninjutsu when I was young. I always thought Chakra was just created by the animator in the imaginary world. Amazingly, I found out it does exist in reality through yoga. In Naruto’s world, Chakra is a form of energy. It resides in every cell of the body and is transported throughout the Chakra Network, which runs through the entire body. And the more Chakra a Ninja has, the more powerful Ninja Arts he/she can perform.

What is Chakra in real life? The Chakra literally means “spinning wheel”. In the point of the yogic view, Chakras are storage places for energy force instead of energy itself. There are 7 Chakras located along the spine from coccyx to the crown of the head: 1) Muladhara (Root Chakra) at the end of the spinal column; 2) Svadishthana (Pelvic Chakra) at the genital organs in the sacral region; 3) Manipura (Navel Chakra) at the navel in lumbar region; 4) Anahata (Heart Chakra) at the heart to the thoracic region; 5) Vishuddha (Throat Chakra) at the throat in the cervical region; 6) Ajna (Third-Eye Chakra) between the eyebrows; 7) Sahasrara (Crown Center) at the crown of the head. Each Chakra represents a state of consciousness. They converge energy, thoughts, feelings and the physical body and largely influence our potential and experience. In other words, by understanding how Chakras work in our body, we can rediscover ourselves.

Muladhara (Root Chakra) affects our natural instincts like safety, security and basic needs to be met like food and living. The imbalance in Muladhara causes anxiety, fears or eating disorders. If you are insecure, your Muladhara Chakra is not strong enough. Asana and meditation are good ways to strengthen it. Asanas such as Warrior stances, Chair Pose, deep lunges, and squats can be practiced to balance this Chakra.

Svadishthana (Pelvic Chakra), as the water center and home of the reproductive organs, is associated with our desires as well as social feelings and bonding. If it’s blocked, we may be ruled by our attachments. if our consciousness moves freely through this area, we can access our potential for self-healing and sensual pleasure. Similar to Muladhara, meditation and asanas such as forward bends, deep lunges, and squats help us bring our awareness to this Chakra.

Manipura (Navel Chakra) is the center of personal strength and purpose. It holds a vast amount of our physical vitality. When this Chakra is balanced, we are empowered by strong self-esteem and confidence. If it is imbalanced, we may experience disorganization, aggressive ambition or heightened ego. Twisted asanas are excellent for purifying and healing Manipura.

Anahata (Heart Chakra) is the gathering point of our human emotions. So we can experience compassion, love, connectivity and peace if the awareness flows freely in the area. But if you are always suffering from deepest feelings of insecurity, loneliness and despair, you can try practice pranayama, meditation and backbend asanas to help open the energetic center.

Vishuddhi (Throat Chakra) is the energetic center of expression. If you have stage fear and have difficulty in speaking out your opinions, you are undergoing an imbalance in this Chakra. To increase throat energy, you can practice the chant, Jalandhara Bandha as well as asanas such as Plow, Camel, and Fish Pose.

Ajna (Third-Eye Chakra) is the place where the mind and the body converge. It is responsible for our six senses, intuition and inner-knowing. If you feel unsettled, lack sleep or cannot concentrate on tasks or remember things, we may need Nadi Shodhana and meditation to focus on this Chakra.

Sahasrara (Crown Center) is the bridge to the spiritual world to connect us to our spirit and self-awareness. If you are experiencing depression or lack of life compassion, you can work on meditation to increase this Chakra.

To know yourself more, you should assess which of your Chakra is out of balance. Try the asanas, meditation and pranayama above and be a better version of yourself.

 

My Struggle – Chaturanga Dandasana

At the beginning of my yoga journey, I was pleasantly surprised by my flexibility in yoga poses, but frustrated by my strength. Chaturanga Dandasana is the one I am struggling with the most.

Chaturanga is wedged between plank and upward facing dog. From plank to Chaturanga, most of the upper body weight shifts to shoulders and arms, but they lack enough strength to get into the pose, and core muscles are too weak to engage to maintain proper alignment throughout the pose. And we often move through chaturanga to upward facing dog so quickly that we rarely get the chance to refine our alignment.

Aside from the difficulty to do a quick Chanturanga, to hold it for 1 min sounds like a mission impossible. Unfortunately, it’s such a foundational pose that we have to master it. Chaturanga can develop the upper body and core strength which is needed for arm balances such as crow pose and flying pigeon pose. It builds stability in the shoulders, a sense of compactness at the center, and alertness in the legs, which are crucial to do inversions like headstand, forearm balance, and handstand. Chaturanga effectively strengthens legs which play an active role in poses such as bridge pose and wheel pose. In other words, Chaturanga is the cornerstone to prepare us for advance poses like arm balances, inversions, and backbends. What’s more, the mastery of Chaturanga infills us with confidence and satisfaction in our yoga practice and daily life.

As a weak beginner, how to practice Chaturanga? To build into Chaturanga, we can practice some prep postures to gain some arm, shoulders, and core strength, such as forearm plank and dolphin for core and shoulders; locust pose for the back, chest, and abdominal muscles; boat pose for core muscles; Sphinx pose to work on shoulders and chest.

After prep poses, we can try modification with blocks first. Either place two blocks near shoulders to support in shoulders or place a block underneath the core to engage core muscles and prevent the back from arching. These modifications do not make the pose easier, but they will let us know how much of our body we actually have to use in this pose. They will also help build upper body and core strength and help practice with proper alignment without dipping elbows too low and learn to engage core properly. Or we can also try variation like place our knees on the mat instead of lifting up to reduce the difficulty and in this way we can refine alignment and also strengthen core muscles.

I know even the modification and variation poses are not easy because I tried them over weeks. Though I cannot perform Charturanga perfectly for now, however, improvement is quite obvious. I believe with consistent practice, I can master it eventually!

 

Why Yoga?

Everyone comes to yoga for various reasons, some for perfect figures, some for health, some for mental peace…I started my yoga journey last year, and my reason was just as simple as to force myself to exercise and keep healthy.

When it comes to Yoga, most people simply consider it as an exercise as I did. However, that’s our misconception. Yoga is more than that. It is a system that integrates the body, the mind, and spirit with the self, which means that yoga is the connection of the mind and the body in complete harmony that brings about a sense of equanimity, happiness, and fulfillment. As B.K.S Lyengar said “ Yoga is like music. The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life. ”

It’s commonly known that Yoga poses bring physical health. It helps stretch and strengthen muscles to improve flexibility and strength. Poses like Uttanasana stretches out hamstrings, calves, and lower back, which is an excellent way to deal with chronic back pain, to strengthen hamstrings, and to make you more flexible. Bhujangasana, named as cobra pose, engages the lower back, shoulders, and chest. Those who suffer from spine injuries, back problems, or lower back pain should practice this asana to deal with lower back stiffness and relieve spinal pain. Downward facing dog and plank pose build upper-body strength. The standing poses build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abs. The benefits of yoga poses are too numerous to be listed down here.

Pranayama is also an important part of yoga and usually practiced together with asanas and meditation. It’s a breathing technique that teaches us how to control our breath like breath duration, frequency and hold in the practice in order to strengthen the connection between our body and mind. Pranayama can promote relaxation and mindfulness and also provides healing physical benefits, such as reducing high blood pressure, improving lung function, and enhancing cognitive performance.

Have you ever thought that yoga also can help achieve self-realization? Self-realization is the experience of oneness with the truth. Yoga practice is one way to reach self-realization. It integrates your body, mind, and spirit and through the integration anyone, anywhere can realize their truth and full potential. Once reaching this state, you are free from all personal desires, fears, anxieties, worldly attachments, and external pressures, and you can get inner peace, permanent happiness, and spiritual fulfillment.

Does it sound perfect to practice yoga? Inner peace and spiritual fulfillment are like what we pursue in our whole life and yoga practice can help you to reach it. Of course, it takes time. As you get deeper into your practice over the years, you can see the mental and spiritual benefits. Let’s hang on there together.