You and Your Mind

Through the 200 hour course, we heard about the Brahman and the Atman and how one ties into the other. The human consciousness is nothing but a mirror of the higher consciousness… but that is only once we learn to live in silence. Silence from distractions, from thoughts, from noise and pollutants that infiltrate our senses almost single second of every day!

We have our phones feeding us with updates and news of people and things around the world constantly. If it isn’t that, we have friends and family and their lives that we think about. Not to forget the stress of finances and employment and so many other things.
But I feel, most of all, I have to start with my mind. My mind loves to make excuses. It’s the first thing that gives up when I’m in a challenging situation. It is the first one to start complaining when something isn’t going right. It also is the first one to put me down when I haven’t met expectations. Why is my mind against me? 

Here’s the juice – minds are like dogs. If you train them, you get a loyal companion for life. If you don’t train them, you end up a messy, indisciplined, unruly stranger who doesn’t really have your best interests at heart.

It happened to me today!We’re nearing the end of our course and for the last few days we’ve been focussing on theory of yoga more than the practice of asanas. Today after a very long time we had a super intense practice and I could hear the voice beginning to get louder. “How much longer”, “We’ve already done 10 rounds, why is he making us do 5 more?”, “This is inhumane”.

Oh and let’s not forget the excuses – “It’s more important to be safe than to push harder and hurt myself”, “This is not going to come in the exam so it’s okay to not do it the best right now”, “Endurance can be built over time – I’ll start once this course is over, I can slack off for now”, or the best “I’ve already done 40 Chaturangas in this practice and we’re going to have to do 10 more… they’re not going to make a difference so I can cool off on trying”

Also the self deprecation, “You have no arm strength and you’re not going to build it all in today’s practice, so stop”

I looked around the room and my amazing classmates were diligently jumping into and out of their chaturangas. It was all the inspiration I needed. I shut off the voice in my head and jumped into my 41st chaturanga – easy peasy. My body was okay, it was my mind holding me back. Self awareness is such an important trait and today was a lesson in how to make changes that help you move towards a higher consciousness.

TAKING A NEXT STEP

Hi guys, it’s me again . so as you guys knew that I am a mother of 3 kids, a housewife . I wanted to had kids in a young age and it always in mine mind since I was little . 

So I didn’t went to university to study after my high school. I met my husband and we had kids after that not so long. And now I’m a mother of 3.

So in my life or most of woman life ,  their goals in life always have Career and built a Family.

And so for me as well, those 2 goals are very important with me. I spending almost 5 year’s to staying home to have kids and  take care of my family. Since the kids going to school one by one, I started to have more time for myself . and I want to learn something, find something that can suit myself , a job that I can enjoy, that I still have time to spend with my family, take care of my kids, or be there for them when they need me anytime. Doing something that make me happy, heathy and the most important thing is NO STRESS .

I talked to my friends ,to my husband about it, and they asked me what do I like , what is make you happy , and what would make me want to do it everyday, everywhere, anytime ???

And I realize that doing YOGA is the only things that I enjoy and fit with all the condition that I wanted.

I had been doing yoga so much ,since got my baby and there are so many benefit from yoga that I find for myself. I do it when I need to release all the tired , the stresses , a place that I can have a peace moment just for myself. For my physical and metal body.

So, I took the next step and registered for 200hr teacher training . It was perhaps the hardest, most rewarding, time of my practice ,all the new vocabularies I need to understand . all the theory that I need to able to understand in English , and the Sanskrit that I need to remember. As a housewife with 3 young kids was very tough for me, sometime I just wanted to give up, I just wanted to sleep all day, and during practice I would actually utter the words “I’ll quit “ , But then I tried to be strong, I push myself more to do it. Tried harder to make my postures right. To lift my whole body up. which is I would never though that I can do that.

I still have one more week to finished my course , but I can feel a big different my mind Physical , mental and Spiritual . I had learn so much from my teacher. I’m get to know more and deeper about yoga, the more I know about it ,the more I’m falling love with it. And I feel I’M NICER AFTER YOGA .

What does Yoga truly mean to me?

Now that I am about 3/4 way into the 200-hour YTT, I feel more prepared to write about this topic that has been in my drafts for the last couple of weeks.

My thoughts about Yoga has been evolving. From when I first started, it was a fitness routine. It had also led me to find a community that made my overseas work assignment feel like my second home (if you’d read my earlier post, you’ll see why). In this world of busy-ness, whereby our schedules are packed tighter than sardines in a can, I find that yoga has led me to become more introspective. By looking deeper into my thoughts and what that inner voice is trying to tell me to do – and this could be as simple as breathing.

For anyone that thinks that Yoga is simple, I would urge you to think again and to think deeper. Yoga as a subject matter is a union, that connects us with the wider universe that we are a part of. I used to be so caught up with plans, schedules and maximising every second of my life, pushing harder, pushing deeper. Whereas the me today takes a more adaptive approach towards life. It does not need to have a plan for every second, though a general longer term plan is still my guide.

In addition to working towards a deeper practice, I particularly enjoy learning about the philosophies of yoga. I was never quite a philosophical person, but I found through yoga, that I am actually pretty reflect-ive as a person. I enjoy learning about the wise words of those who have contemplated so much about life. Beyond the physical practice, I enjoy learning more about the unknowns. How we are connected to this universe in past, present and future lives, how continuous hard work together with building faith will lead us to success and more importantly, knowing that there is almost never an end to this learning journey.

Food for Thought

We rely on our 5 senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch — to make observations. Through association, we make sense of this information in the brain to provide accurate impressions of the world. But are they really accurate?

Take optical illusions for example. 

The image above shows a grid of white lines against a black background with white dots at their points of intersection. Except, the dots are sometimes seen and perceived as black. Do the black dots exist? No. But do we see them? Yes. 

An illusion is a distortion of the senses; A failure to make an accurate perception.

Or what about synesthesia, the condition where people can see colours when they hear noises, or hear sounds when they see moving dots? If these colours or images are only seen inside the mind of one person, does it mean it exists? Or does it not exist because there are no other observers to these images?

But first, what does it mean to “Exist”?
According to the cambridge dictionary, to exist means to be, or to be real. 
What is considered “real” then?

Our senses are evidently not entirely reliable as illustrated in the above two examples. To add fuel to fire, the way our mind processes these sensorial information aren’t entirely accurate either. 

Firstly, the brain only processes information that it thinks will be useful at a later date. So not all information is taken in; only a semblance of a full picture. Secondly, the way we perceive or interpret as fact may often be clouded by preconceived notions, past experiences, and prejudices. Thirdly, imagination and association comes into play in the story telling mind. We often try to fill in the blanks in order to make sense of our reality. 

In the film “Room”, a boy (Jack) lived in a shed where he and his mother were held captive. They shared a bed, toilet, bathtub, television and kitchen. The only window was a skylight. He was born in the room and believed that only the Room and its contents were real. The rest of the world existed only on television. After 7 years of growing up in the room, they finally got a chance to escape and Jack stepped into the outside world for the first time. He struggled to adjust to life in the larger world, and expressed a desire to return to the room. The room was his only reality. 

Is this where we are currently in relation to our knowledge of higher consciousness or the existence of a supreme being? Are we also stuck in the room, thinking this is our reality when actually “reality” is something much bigger? 

Let’s look at a different example.

Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment involving a cat in a box and a radioactive source. If there is radioactivity, the flask holding the poison will be shattered, and hence kill the cat. Before opening the box, there is no way of finding out if the cat is dead or alive. It is thus proposed that the cat is simultaneously both dead and alive. 

Applying that logic to the existence of a supreme being — we are in the state of uncertainty and are unable to open the box to prove if it exists or not. Till we are able to open the box, we can only speculate. 

We have no physical evidence to prove the existence of a supreme being. Even if there is evidence through the lens of someone else (like the TV in Jack’s room), are we able to take that as our reality? How do you prove if the outside world is true? If one day we are lucky enough to “encounter” or “experience” this supreme being, are our senses and mind ready to perceive what really is?

But then again, after all these questions being asked, does it matter whether we know for sure or not?

External to Internal, Internal to External

“ACTIVATE YOUR PSOAS” is probably one of the most commonly heard phrase for any student taking YTT. 

The Psoas muscle is probably one of the most important muscle in your body. It is a combination of two large muscles: the psoas major and the iliacus. They attach from the 12th thoracic vertebrae to the 5th lumbar vertebrae, through the pelvis , and to the inside of the proximal femur bone. This muscle is responsible for plenty of day-to-day activities, including stabilising the trunk and spine during movement and sitting. It is also connected to the breath due to its connection to the diaphragm. When startled or stressed, the psoas contracts as well.

In yoga, the psoas plays an important role in all the asanas. For instance, contracting the psoas bends the trunk forward in Paschimotanasana, or draws the knee up in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Contracting the psoas on one side flexes the trunk, allowing for Utthita Trikonasana. Stretching the psoas allows for backbends such as Ustrasana. A toned psoas is also required for all inversions and arm balances. 

Outside of yoga however, we do not hear much of this muscle. What is focused on in most workouts or physical exercises target superficial muscles such as sculpting the ideal 6pac abdominals, training for bulging biceps and achieving firm glutes. 

In society, plenty of emphasis is placed on outward appearances. The clothes you wear and how well groomed you are affects the way other people perceive you. Looking the part can help you get ahead in job interviews. A physically attractive person can easily impress others. The endless bombardment of advertisements promoting unattainable beauty standards also has a large part to play. Look good, feel good — Looking good can help build your self esteem. Or so they say. This “self-esteem” or self image, however, is built on what other people think of you. External means are used to fulfil internal satisfaction. 

Back to the psoas muscles — An imbalance in the muscle can cause various problems such as pain in the lower back and hips when lifting the legs. Back pain is common, and posture can be affected. Internal muscles are equally important, if not more important, than superficial muscles. 

Likewise, the inner self needs equal, if not more, nourishment. Clinical depression has surged by huge percentages in recent decades. Self help related sales have been on an increase year-on-year, with books on topics such as happiness and self-esteem topping the charts. People increasingly find that the mind and body are at odds with each other.

Yoga is an internal journey and is beyond anything I have mentioned above. Not only does it strive to achieve the union of mind and body, it also includes the soul. 

The 8 limbs of yoga (Ashtanga) include:

  1. Yamas – guidelines for social behaviour
  2. Niyamas – guidelines for inner discipline and responsibility 
  3. Asanas – physical practice of holding steady, continuous, comfortable poses
  4. Pranayama – practising the extension of breath
  5. Pratyahara – removal of mind from sense organs
  6. Dharana – concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. Samadhi – transcendence

It is unknown whether or not samadhi is ever achievable in this lifetime. Having that as a goal and through the practice of yoga however, allows for an internal transformation starting from physical, to mental, to spiritual. What is shown on the outside / the external as a by-product then ceases to matter.

Internal to external. Selfishness to selflessness. Inward focus to outward focus. 

Emotional Release Through Yoga

“Go deeper, go deeper, go deeper.”

I laid down on my back in Savasana after what felt like a very intense and fulfilling yoga session. It was only the third day of YTT, and my body was not yet used to the physical demands of all the conditioning we did. Nonetheless, the workout felt good. Finally, relaxation. Melting the body into the mat, feeling the perspiration slowly dry under the cool air from the air conditioning, the meditative voice of our teacher – it all felt calming. But the moment my body started to fully settle and cool down, I felt a sudden tightness in the body and tears started rolling out the corner of my eyes. Before I could make sense of what was happening, I was bawling.

As it turns out, it is fairly common for emotional releases to happen on the mat. So, what exactly was happening?

Focusing on the breath during meditation or savasana helps to calm the mind, taking away superficial stress and worry. But the silence and “going deeper” also forces us to access the feelings we bury and push aside on a daily basis. Emotional pain can feel overwhelming and crippling. The body hence comes to defense and does things to stop the pain from being fully experienced as a form of coping mechanism. There is thus a break between body and mind. However in yoga, the mind, body and spirit exists as one — or at least that’s the goal. The 3 are interconnected. The body keeps the score even if you’re not consciously thinking about it from day to day. It holds on to emotional tension, pain, trauma and intense joy. Through asanas, it wakes up the parts of the body that holds these emotions, helping to break through unresolved issues and energy.

Some say that hip-opening poses are good for helping to find release. It is not scientifically proven, but perhaps it can be  understood when relating to Chakras. The muladhara chakra is situated in the tailbone. The traits stored in this chakra includes security, self confidence, body image, and connection with nature. The swadishtana chakra, located in the sacrum, includes gender identity, anger, and sexual relations. The manipura chakra, located at the naval, includes belonging, trust, intimacy, friendship, status of your current position in life and whether it deviates from your true nature, and fear. It seems like  plenty of emotions are stored in these 3 chakras, all of which are situated near the hips. Perhaps they are stirred whenever sitting in a hip-opening pose. 

There are also sources that speak of the benefits of chest openers in relation to emotional release. This could be due to the increased flow of Prana (life force) which is situated in the anahada chakra (heart). Prana rides on the breath, which correlates to our respiratory system. According to the chinese, grief is stored in the lungs. Crying also involves gasping for air. 

However, I wonder how accurate these deductions are. If they are, could this be a potential way of identifying internal issues through physical tensions observed during asana postures? Or, could postures targeted at certain emotions be used in psychotherapy for healing?

PTSD and Yoga

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after a person has experienced very stressful or distressing events. Symptoms can include intense feelings of distress and extreme physical reactions when reminded of the trauma, nightmares, detachment, feeling emotionally numb etc. 

In a normal person, stress levels usually return to normal after the stimulus is taken away. In people suffering from PTSD, however, the regulatory system that manages the stress hormones are malfunctioned. The smoke detector, the amygdala, is rewired by the trauma to interpret certain situations as life-threatening dangers. It sends signals to the survival brain to fight flee or freeze. Having all three happen the same time causes the person to mentally shut down, or trigger a panic attack.

There is a study recorded in the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bassel Van Der Kolk, where people who have experienced trauma had their Heart Rate Variability measured while in Savasana. Instead of picking up a clear signal, they ended up with too much muscle activity. Rather than going into relaxation, their muscles continue to “be on standby mode to fight unseen enemies”. It is shown how difficult it is for traumatised people to feel completely relaxed and physically safe in their bodies. Memory of helplessness is stored as muscle tension in the affected body areas. Many survivors cope by trying to “neutralise unwanted sensory experiences through self-numbing”. 

Yoga, however, can help. 

Learning to stay calm
People who have gone through trauma often find it difficult to stay calm. The body is constantly at a heightened state of anxiety and stress, especially for War Veterens. Through Pranayama, it teaches them to focus on the breath. More oxygen is brought to the head and the rest of the body which is known to help in relaxation. Kapalabathi (also a Kriya) for instance, helps with unlocking mental and emotional blockages. It encourages a tranquil state of mind, and can help relieve stress and depression. The chanting of AUM, which is the vibration of life, can also create a calming effect and help smoothen the mind. With regular practice, the focus on the breath and the internal chanting of AUM becomes habitual and can be a method to turn to whenever they sense a flashback or panic attack coming. 

Rebuilding body awareness
We need to be aware of what our body needs in order to take care of it. In yoga, there is focus on the breath and builds an understanding of how our body moves with it. We notice the connection between body and mind, emotions and physical asanas —  How anxiety about doing a pose ends up tensing the muscles and throwing you off balance. Or the calmness of hearing your own inhalations and exhalations during Ujjayi breathing. Physical practice of asanas can also help rebuild self-confidence and establish a friendly relationship with the body. This is especially so for survivors of sexual assault, many of whom hate their bodies. 

Learning to be in control
Trauma survivors often do not feel in control of their mind and body.  They may be able to logicize and think rationally on a normal basis. But when fear or strong emotions are triggered by association, all logic fails to work as the brain goes into survivor mode or shut down. These triggers are often random and can happen anytime. The fear of panic in itself can also increase the anxiety multifold. Yoga, however, teaches control. Through the lengthening of the breath in Pranayama, or learning to focus while in balancing poses, or holding in a pose for long periods of time, it all trains mental discipline and is reassuring that you still are in control. 

Channeling of energy
In yoga, there is practice of channeling energy towards energy centres such as the heart, throat, forehead etc during Asanas. Similarly, trauma survivors can also learn to channel their fear (negative) towards something more beneficial (positive). For example, determination to hold asanas, or the fight to keep trying and never give up when unable to do a pose. 

It is important for friends and family members to be supportive and help create a safe environment. Trauma survivors need to learn that the stressful situation is now over. They need to know that they are now safe and have no need for fear. This takes time to slowly rewire the brain, to relearn to trust. Patience and encouragement is key. Yoga can be helpful when introduced the practice slowly, but it is also important to understand that it can be very difficult for them to stay in Savasana or in any meditative state due to the sudden quietening of the mind which may bring up traumatic memories that they do not wish to relive. Symptoms for PTSD can last for months or years, or they may come and go in waves. However, with enough time, patience, willpower, and consistent yoga practice, the symptoms can be minimised, or even be eliminated.

Yogacharya

A yogacharya (pronounced “yo-ga-char-ya”) is the respectful way to address a yoga teacher. Sure, you can call them a “yogi” as well and that is completely acceptable too!

As a part of the 200 hours YTT course, we’re all learning to become yogacharyas and for us all, there is a short poem that I dedicate:

eyes closed and palms up 
steady minds and mouths shut
that's how we connect 
our own fuse to the common plug

we are it and it is us
there's no give and take
in trying to understand this
there are some mistakes we will make

give up attachment
to almost everything
but be conscious of the experience
while doing anything

learn to live and live to learn
for karma yoga will show
every action has a consequence
either you'll regret it or it will make you grow

soak in all those experiences
and then let it go
clutch on to sand too hard
and the faster it will flow

reaching Pratyahara 
is definitely no mean feat
your sadhana will take some time
so please do take a seat

close your eyes and look inside
stay grounded, stay cool
say hi to your third eye
and goodbye to the inner fool.
- LeelaM

Happy yoga, fellow yogacharyas!! 

Handicapped!

Yoga isn’t for everyone. If you’re healthy, strong, flexible and inclined towards being a part of a larger collective, then yoga is a perfect match. If not, then please do Tai Chi!!

That’s how I felt when I had to undergo emergency knee surgery in 2017. 
I was a university level basketball player and in 2005 I had a terrible fall on the court. I was told that I had a tear in my ACL and needed to hang up my sneakers and retire from my budding career in the WNBA. I was also told that I could either get surgery done or I could just strengthen my leg through exercises and continue with life.

As an irresponsible, impatient 20 year old, I chose to do neither. So I immersed myself is my 20s and everything that it brings with it – first jobs and with that financial freedom, relationships, new friends, and a level of delusion I can’t believe I had and seriously wonder why countries allow people in their early 20s to vote! Every time I wore high heels and danced the night away, I would sprain my knee and the tear in my ACL would increase a little. I would lie in bed for a few days, binge watch TV shows and get right back to it after that. This went on for a decade.

In 2017, I was not dancing, I was not wearing high heels. I was in my most sensible pair of flat sandals and was standing still in a book store, when I suddenly felt my right knee shift out of position and intense pain followed. I couldn’t straighten my knee and had to be wheeled to the A&E. The MRI showed that my ACL had said enough was enough and had decided not just to tear completely, but decided to also take a little piece of my meniscus with it as it slid off. Surgery was the only option. I was brave about it until a week after surgery and I was told to lift my leg up from the bed (like in Eka Pada Uttanpadasana, but only to 45 degrees!). I couldn’t and the pain was so terrible that the physiotherapist had to yell at me to lift my leg 5 degrees off the bed. Needless to say, it was one of the most trying times in my life and I wouldn’t have come through it without the support of my amazing husband! 

9 months after surgery and PT, I felt good – I had reached good flexion and extension in my knee and all was well. I decided to try and join something a little more restorative and I tried my hand at yoga. It did not go well. I couldn’t do 70% of the poses. Something as simple as Virabhadrasana 1 was hard to do and lets forget about Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana! I was dejected and demoralised and almost gave up after the first class, but then I had paid for 10 sessions so decided to just continue with it while it lasted.
I’m glad I did. My body responded. My knee felt more stable as the classes progressed. I was able to bend further and lower and even if I couldn’t get into complicated baddhas, I saw that my body had the confidence in itself, even if I didn’t. 

Yoga IS for everybody. The “ideal yoga body” aspiration isn’t. It’s okay if you can’t do a headstand or a full chakrasana. It’s okay if you can’t even do Virabhadrasana 1. Just keep doing it how much you can and slowly, but surely, your body will start to surprise you. I have experienced this over and over again. Nike got it right, quit thinking – “JUST DO IT”! 🙂

What’s in it for me?

Yoga means different things to different people and all these meanings are substantial. If someone considers it a just physical activity – a great way to get into shape – so be it. If it means something deeper to someone else, then that is a welcome definition as well. 

The one thing yoga shouldn’t be, is judgemental.

I started doing yoga in 2009 when I was just out of college and after a few years of working in a corporate environment realised that I wasn’t getting any exercise in my routine. Yoga was an easy choice because it had just begun to get popular and there was easy access to yoga studios at every corner. I got what I was looking for as a good workout alternative. I sat through the boring meditation and instructions to “sit still” and “be one with my mat” – whatever that meant, in order to get to the sweat eventually, that’s all I really cared about. How many calories did I burn and what meal did I earn. This thought process continued to follow me as I meandered through HIIT and pilates and home workouts and the gym as well. It was only when I reached the dreaded ’30yrs old’, that questions about myself and my purpose started to come up in my consciousness and I realised I wasn’t equipped to answer them. 

I, once again, automatically turned to yoga. This time, however, I wasn’t that interested in the physical aspect of it as much as I was seeking answers. Even if I wasn’t seeking answers, I was looking for tools to help me get my answers. It turns out, not many people offer these tools when they teach yoga in studios. There is not a shred of theory in any of these classes, there is hardly even a trace of meditation! So I decided to do this myself – I spoke to a few friends who were yoga teachers and they pointed me towards libraries and book stores with a list of books that were going to enlighten me, hold my hand and guide me as I trudge through the darkness. 

Once again, I faced a sea of information that didn’t make much sense to me. Skepticism took over and I turned my back on yoga and immersed myself into my life, work and hobbies. It was only when I quit my corporate job in a fit of frustration, that I realised that I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get into the meaning of it all, what yoga is all about. 

I signed up for the RYT – 200 hrs course. I can’t say if I’m going to be a yoga teacher in the future or not, but I sure as hell have become a student. I understand the abstract concepts that have been simplified for a beginner’s mind in an attempt to ready them for the vast universe of yoga. Thank god for awesome teachers! I haven’t received the certificate of success yet, but I do consider my decision the right one. I feel ready to absorb and understand what the guru’s of yore were talking about. I can’t wait for my journey to continue as my own unique one – unlike anyone else’s. Allowing me to fail and fall and then rise up in my own time.

Like I said, if yoga is anything – it isn’t judgemental.