Brahmachari

In Yoga philosophy we learnt the eight limbs of yoga, asht-anga, are yamas (abstentions), niyamas (lifestyle observances), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption into the Divine). 

The goal of yoga is self-realisation, which in some sense is freedom. All of it takes work, and with baby-steps I hope to be able to incorporate these eight limbs of yoga bit by bit to eventually free myself from the unknown. 

One of the yamas, is brahmacharya also known as energy moderation. Amongst all the yamas, I wanted to share how this has the biggest application in my life given that I am of Vata dosha – energy of movement. Vata dosha people are identified as thin and lanky (check, and check), active both physically and mentally (also very true for me as someone who is constantly engaged in a sport or seeking academic rigour), and many other attributes that I related to. 

While Brahmacharya is often interpreted as celibacy, a more appropriate interpretation of it would be based of the literal translation of the word ‘walking in the way of God’. It is rather about channeling the appropriate amount of energy and preventing the dissipation of one’s energy through the misuse of senses. Overstimulation or turbulence in the mind is a violation of brahmacharya. Yet as a vata dosha, I find myself expending excessive energy on certain projects, only to be easily exhausted and struggling to follow through with other responsibilities. I often overthink, or am clouded with thoughts racing through my mind rather than expending the right amount of energy for a required task and conserving what is left of me. 

To help my Vata turbulence, not only was it vital for me to regulate Vata ways of staying balanced, I also thought applying Brahmacharya is of utmost importance to me. I started by working Brahmacharya on a more tangible aspect: asanas. When striking a pose, I bring my awareness to it and hold it to consider: am I regulating my effort such that I’m not pushing or forcing? Am I draining myself out just in this one pose? And if so, how do I put in the right amount of effort? By bringing about breathing into the poses, I relax my mind and use the asana instead to help replenish my energy rather than drain it. All in all, the various aspects of Yoga – breathing, asanas, and spirituality unite harmoniously to elevate a being.

I want to bring this same awareness I practice in yoga, to daily aspects of my life. I wish to live more in the present without feeling constantly drained and exhausted. For me, brahmacharya has been a very applicable aspect of the Yamas in my life. 

My yoga journey and Patanjali’s teachings

One of my key recent learnings has been Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.

The Eight Limbs are:

  1. Yama (Restraints)
  2. Niyama (Observances)
  3. Asana (Posture)
  4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
  5. Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses)
  6. Dharana (Concentration)
  7. Dhyana (Meditation)
  8. Samadhi (Pure Contemplation)

Each limb provides useful guidance on its own, but collectively they provide a roadmap to living a meaningful and purposeful life.  The structure offered in these teachings has resonated strongly with me –as looking back on my own yoga journey, I’ve unknowingly sought out and struggled with them in my own ways. 

 

My journey with yoga started from injuries.

In high school I became an avid gym-goer and amped up the intensity when I joined my university’s crew team. However, being keen and excited about weightlifting didn’t mean not getting injured  –actually it happened probably too often. Chiro visits and massage therapy became a regular part of my life from the age of 20. I saw specialists but their assessments and treatments always felt superficial.

I first took up yoga to help with these injuries. I didn’t want to listen to the doctor who told me I shouldn’t necessarily have expectations to run or jump again at my young age. I wanted to focus on my spine to build up strength, stability and regain flexibility. Away from the weights, the low impact nature of yoga offered me an active approach to healing.

The universal appeal of yoga also allowed it to be one of the few activities that I could do anywhere as I’ve moved around with my career. DC, London, Hong Kong –and now here at Tirisula in Singapore, I’ve been fortunate to find active yoga communities and great teachers to learn from in each city.

Through these various life moves, a large part of why I’ve stayed with yoga is the confidence it has helped me develop as I grow capable of doing new asanas, coupled with the sense of calm and feeling refreshed that I always have at the end of each class.

A deepening desire to expand what I was finding within the classroom into my everyday life has promoted an evolution of my practice.  In particular, this has been with an increased focus on incorporating meditation in my personal life, and on asserting myself genuinely and confidently in my professional life. 

 

Learning the Eight Limbs…

When I look at the Eight Limbs, they prioritize many of the same values I have been trying to develop in myself to be a happy and productive adult.

Yamas and niyamas are restrictions and disciplines that I see as beneficial in shaping how I approach myself and others. Asanas and pranayama are key to keeping a healthy body. The higher limbs outline an approach to developing clarity of mind. 

As I forge ahead on my quest for self development, learning the Eight Limbs has been encouraging and welcomed, as they provide structure to an approach I was trying form for myself.

Misconceptions about the Dog

Downward facing dog (DFD) is probably the most commonly cued pose and often the “resting” pose.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

Heels are supposed to touch the floor

Not exactly! A student with tight hamstrings or short Achilles tendon* may find heel-to-floor contact challenging. Hamstrings are attached to the sit bones and if they are tight, pelvis will be pulled into a tucked position which strains the lower back. If you have tight hamstrings, save your hamstring stretching for poses that will actually change the length of the muscles instead of pulling other body parts out of alignment and causing unnecessary strain. A student with less range of motion in his/her ankles (reduced dorsiflexion) may not be able to have heel-to-floor contact.

*Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body. When the calf muscles flex, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel. This movement allows us to stand on our toes when walking, running, or jumping. Despite its strength, the Achilles tendon is also vulnerable to injury, due to its limited blood supply and the high tensions placed on it (https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/picture-of-the-achilles-tendon#1)

Legs have to be straightened

There seems to be an understanding that the “correct” form” of DFD must be done with straight legs. Student tend to straighten their legs when comparing to others. This may cause rounding of backs and taxing the hamstrings. A bent-knee down dog is as much a down dog as a straight-legged down dog. 

In conclusion, don’t worry about trying to get the heel-to-floor contact. The “correct” form should be the one that best serves you and at any moment. If your hamstrings are tight, it is ok to bend your knees as much as required as long as you maintain a long spine with pelvis tilted up towards the ceiling.

How to do Downward-Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana – Alma Story (https://www.almastory.com/)

Go forth and have a more sustainable DFD 🙂

Yoga’s Origin Story: 

Yoga is very special in the sense there is so much more to it than just the practice. Theres a rich deep-rooted cultural history to it, and I was curious to find out more as it would been touching base with my own roots.  

Yoga originated in India, over 5,000 years ago. It was initially mentioned in the Vedas, which are sacred ancient scriptures used by priests. Within Hinduism, there are six schools of philosophy encompassing the world views and teachings. 

These were: 

  1. Sankhya: the duality of consciousness and matter
  2. Yoga: emerging from the prior, the practice of Sankhya through meditation, contemplation and liberation
  3. Nyaya: Logic, sources of knowledge
  4. Vaisheshika:  empiricist, atomism 
  5. Mimamsa: Orthopraxy, accurately interpreting the ancient sanskrit Vedas
  6. Vedanta: The final segment of knowledge in the Vedas

Yoga is one of the schools of philosophy in Hinduism, preserved by the sages and adapted to fit a diverse audience by practicing through the five basic principles: Exercise (Asana), Breathing (Pranayama), Relaxation (Savasana), Diet (Vegetarian), and Thinking and Meditation (Vedanta & Dhyana). Given its strong link to the religion and practiced by the priests in temples from years ago, my obvious next question was: 

Is Yoga a Hindu practice? 

Within Yoga, there are some mantras involved, and even the chanting of (alongside its history) makes me question – are we practicing a religious form of exercise? The use of repeating mantras or chanting is to adjust vibrations of all aspects within our being and penetrating into the depths of our unconscious. This is understandably useful and vital in meditation and other aspects of Yoga as we connect with our breath and elevate our self-growth. The word, mantra means to free the mind – very much in tune with the concept of Yoga yet also commonly used in Hindu prayers. 

Perhaps with external influences extracting Yoga as a form of exercise, it diluted the significance and link of it to the religion. Yoga was introduced to the west when Swami Vivekananda visited the states, translating the yogic texts into English and describing Yoga as the science of the mind! Thus forth, Yogis were welcomed to the west, and one such guru was Shri Yogendra who strived to research and produce scientific evidence of the yogic benefits in the medical realm. This was wildly successful and since then Yoga has been moulded over time, to adapt to different ages and physical abilities. With the power of globalisation, yoga has a lot more expertise now! But it also facilitates the spread of misinformation and/or omits its significance originating from India, discounting potential other benefits of doing yoga (in place of any form of exercise). 

I would love it if we could continue spreading the knowledge of Yoga, while paying homage to its historical significance. From my understanding, while there are links to religion, I do believe it is highly spiritual rather than a religious practice. In religion the focus is on God while in spirituality it begins with your own spirit, within yourself. नमस्ते।

Meditation is amrit (अमृत) for my Vata mind

A practice which is seemingly easy but tough. As someone who is grounded in the ways of science, I went to look up how meditation improves my self-awareness, mental health and other benefits it proposes. 

Meditation is now gaining momentum, as most people live a fast-paced and stressful routine. It helps the mind to focus, while creating space in our mind to stay present, disallowing other thoughts from our greater pool of consciousness to interfere. 

It is tough to catch a break to collect our thoughts and take deep breaths – a simple meditative process, yet many of us struggle to remember doing it midst our busy day. I remind myself that meditation is truly a form of self-care and as we live and work through a global crisis, we must ensure our wellness. 

For starters, meditation reduces stress. Stress is caused by increased levels of the hormone cortisol which releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. This exacerbates mental health by promoting depression, anxiety, poor concentration, as well as increase blood pressure and susceptibility to fatigue. Regardless of the type of meditation performed, it reduces the production of cytokines, inhibiting the escalation to further unwanted effects of stress! 

Meditation seeks to enhance one’s self-awareness. Some forms of meditation helps personal growth. The key idea is to gain greater awareness and understanding of our thought habits, how we interact/relate to others around us. Furthermore with the ability to stay present in the moment to read ourselves, not only does it allow us to move towards developing constructive patterns, it also increases our attention span! I think this is my favourite benefit of meditation, as a Vata dosha type, I truly struggle with the attention span in completing an activity and the patience to see myself through a project which I so ambitiously started. Focused-attention meditation builds strength and endurance of the mind. Research studies have concluded meditators perform tasks with improved attention and accuracy. (Meditation helped me sustain focus and the attention span to see this post through, so I can attest to this too!) 

Some of the other benefits of meditation include: reducing memory loss, generating kindness (with self-care and kindness inwards, we extend the positive feelings and actions outwards too), breaking out of vices (with our increased self-awareness and control), improving sleep and decreasing blood pressure. 

There are so many great benefits that essentially come back to self-growth, improving productivity and daily quality of living. But it is a real struggle to get into, even if it means we will potentially live better. My mind is constantly thinking of something, be it relevant or not, and that tires me out leaving no energy for my tasks, which in turn are executed with many distractions and poor focus. Also the constant thinking keeps me from sleeping restfully, which builds into this vicious cycle of waking tired and contributing to my poor performance leading to stress and other unhealthy patterns. 

The first time I learnt to be one with my breath was when I went diving in high school. I was keen on pursuing marine biology in college and hence went to get certified. Breathing underwater, you’re completely immersed in the moment – no time to accommodate other thoughts. And the pronounced sound of every breath through the regulator – your inhalation and exhalation; following the rhythmic breathing pace and deep breaths to ensure you conserve your oxygen. Just being in the water with the floating feeling (when you’re comfortable with the skill/technique of diving). The entire process of diving was so meditative, and once I learnt how to follow with my breath, it guided me similarly in my daily life. I end my day with a meditation practice to allow me to collect my thoughts and just observe stillness in my mind. My Vata mind is calmed and in a happy place. 

4 ways to get your family into yoga

Yoga has had a such a positive impact on my health and mental well-being that I’m an enthusiastic advocate of the practice.  Give me a willing listener, and I’ll gladly share my story of how yoga has helped me.  While I’ve converted by husband into a fellow yogi, it has been difficult to convince other adult family members to give it a try.

There are many pre-conceived notions of yoga.  Ask a non-practitioner what they think of when it comes to yoga and they may describe a yogi, deep in a meditative state floating across mountain tops.  Others may instead immediately associate the practice with the bendy photos of yogis striking poses on social media.  Both images can be equally intimidating and off-putting for someone who feels their life is worlds removed from what they see as the practice of yoga.  

While some yogis can be intensely focused on mediation and spirituality or flexibility and athleticism –the practice of yoga needn’t be, and can be very accommodating to individuals of varying abilities and at different stages in life.

As I’m keen to share a part of my life that has benefited me greatly with those I care about, I’ve been eager to understand new ways of opening their minds to the practice.

4 Ways to Get Your Family into Yoga

Here’s some suggested approaches that are worth a try –

  1. Show rather than tell

Going straight into all the benefits and evangelizing about yoga will often overwhelm people. Instead, you can start slow. When my family has asked how I am, I try to drop subtle hints about why I feel like I do – whether it’s feeling refreshed, more active, or more calm, it’s been easy to link this back to yoga.

The goal here is to incite curiosity. Showing them the benefits of yoga, rather than telling them to do it.

  1. Baby steps

It can be daunting to attend a yoga class as a newbie. All the cues in a yoga class can be overwhelming when you don’t know the movements.  I’ve had friends –not used to taking direct instruction –feel pressured in class and cry.  

You can help them gain comfort and confidence by practicing some initial poses together. When my husband first started yoga we kept this really simple – working through well-known poses such as downward dog. Having this basic knowledge in a safe space made him more comfortable when joining an actual class.

  1. Breathing exercises

Classes and postures may still be a bit too much at the start. Instead, you can start with breathing exercises – who can say no to breathing? 

Helping them to gain control of their breath is already a benefit. For these, they can start with a simple easy exercise –sitting in any comfortable position, closing their eyes, and breathing to counts of 5 breaths in, 5 breaths out.

  1. Address their concerns

If subtle hints aren’t drawing curiosity and your family won’t engage, there’s often a reason for this and some probing questions might be necessary. Some common concerns are around fitness – that they’re not flexible or fit enough. This often goes back to the preconceived notions of yogis from social media.

Once you get a sense of where the hesitancy may be, try to speak to their concerns and relate yoga benefits back to their situation and how it can specifically help them –whether it be physical like fixing a stiff back or mental like destressing the mind.

Although it can be a challenge to convince your family to first try yoga, the rewards that they’ll get are well worth it!

 

 

Love is in the air!

Anahata – the heart chakra!

Anahata, the fourth primary chakra, in the heart region, the 9th bone at the thoracic, has the element of Air, is a smoke-colored mandala. In Sanskrit, Anahata means “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten”. Anahata is often called the “heart” center, symbolising the qualities of compassion, acceptance, universal love, selflessness, and devotion that are associated with the awakening of this center. How I personally perceive the heart chakra, when aligned, is one of strength, resilience, courage, and of course, love!

 

In the current situation that we live in, many might not feel love, acceptance, compassion towards others. COVID-19, stressful jobs, highly demanding lifestyle…. We are taught by many motivational speakers to train our mindset – THINK POSITIVE! GET BACK UP! WE TRY AND WILL BE BETTER! But competing with all these, going with all these, most of us are not aware of how the different chakras work. I chose to write about Anahata because the matter of the heart is complicated. With a “good” heart, we can do so many things for ourselves and for others.

 

When the Anahata is well aligned, one will feel love, compassion, and happiness. There is a sense of willingness and openness to challenges and situations in life, in connections and relationships with others. It allows us to see goodness and love, finding ourselves, accepting ourselves, bringing true self-love.

 

What if the heart chakra is blocked? One will experience the total opposite of the above. Such as holding grudges, dwelling on past relationships, having trust issues, feeling shy and lonely, commitment issues, defensive, afraid of being rejected…. Signs of blocked Anahata can be shown through the body as well. Examples of bodily illnesses could be poor blood circulation, high or low blood pressure.

 

How to open Anahata:

  • Yoga heart-opening asanas that lead to back bending, without the head touching the ground such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel pose), Ardha Ustrasana (half camel pose), Purvottanasa (reverse plank pose).

Picture source: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/upward-plank-pose

Picture source: http://- https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/pose-of-the-week-wheel-pose-urdhva-dhanurasana

Picture source: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/camel-pose

 

  • Chanting the mantra “YAM”
  • Singing/crystal bowls
  • Wearing rose quartz crystals
  • Repeating positive affirmations such as “I am loved, my heart is opened to love, I live in a state of gratitude.”
  • Keeping a gratitude journal (write 3 things to be grateful & thankful for each day)

Learning about Anahata has made me aware of my own feelings, reminding me to be grateful. When we are grateful, we have no time to be upset. These two emotions cannot work together. Be grateful always! <3

How pranayama is helping COVID-19 sufferers

Pranayama is the practice of breath regulation. The benefits of a regular pranayama practice have long been recognized within the yoga community, and with the on-set of the COVID-19 pandemic, pranayama is increasingly being discussed as a vital tool for treating ailments brought on by the novel coronavirus.   

The mysteries of ‘Long COVID’

While COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory illness, the virus has been found to potentially affect long-term nearly all organ systems and the nervous system.  A study published by the UK Office for National Statistics found that roughly one out of seven people who tested positive for COVID-19 experienced symptoms for a period lasting longer than 12 weeks.

Common symptoms in long COVID sufferers include fatigue and shortness of breath, but some also report heart palpitations –a sign that the body’s “autonomic nervous system” is out of balance. This is the body’s control system that critically regulates heart and breathing rate and triggers the “fight-or-flight response” when being confronted with a perceived threat. Carrying out seemingly mundane tasks –like loading the washing machine or sitting up in bed –have been reported as setting heart rates racing.

Prescribing Breath-work

An article published by The Atlantic earlier this year documents the observations and success of a team of researchers and doctors at Mount Sinai in the U.S. with prescribing breath-work for treating these symptoms. Notably, in formulating their course of treatment, the team remarked –

“long-COVID patients were breathing shallowly through their mouths and into their upper chest. By contrast, a proper breath happens in the nose and goes deep into the diaphragm; it stimulates the vagus nerve along the way, helping regulate heart rate and the nervous system.” 

This prompted the realization that in treating long-COVID patients –

the diaphragm and the nervous system had to be coached back to normal function before further reconditioning could start.”

Within just a week of starting patients on the breath-work course, all patients within the program were reporting positive improvement.

As discussed in the article, the Mount Sinai team’s theories about why the breath-work ultimately was so helpful touches upon many of the widely-discussed benefits of pranayama. In particular, they noted  –

  1. Breath-work allows patients to consciously control their heart rate;
  2. In helping to regulate stress, breath-work may benefit the immune system;
  3. Proper breathing is crucial to the lymphatic system, which plays a key role in eliminating toxins and waste.

Considering for example the pranayama practice of Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing), it is documented as improving lung function, increasing oxygen saturation levels, reducing sympathetic activity and correspondingly stress and anxiety.

While we all hope not to be in the situation where we must use breath-work for rehabilitation from an illness, these findings are a positive reminder of the power of controlling our breath and its healing effects on the body.

瑜伽的体式练习

结束了瑜伽导师培训课程后,我才正式的去了解自己的身体构造。我在练习瑜伽体式时只一味的想把体式做到位,但没有意识到身体上的深浅肌肉、关节、五脏六腑与体式有多大的关系。

            能够掌握身体构造的知识,会让练习瑜伽者更能把注意力集中在人体的大肌肉群来做出特定的动作,再使用较小的肌肉来调整动作,以便安全有效的达到体式的正位而又不会造成其身体部位如肌肉、关节、骨骼的伤害。还有呼吸系统让我们把呼吸转化为能量而流动到我们身体里每个细胞而激活。在瑜伽里有很多的扭转、弯曲、后弯、前倾的动作,我们可以通过这些动作来刺激五脏六腑它们有效的发挥功能。

             就与轮式来论吧 !梵文名称 Urdhva Dhanurasana 在这个高难度的动作里所要注意的肌肉就包括了大腿的前侧股四头肌、后侧的膕绳肌、腹直肌、腰大肌还有手臂上的三角肌、肱三头肌、肘后肌也包含踝关节、膝关节、髋关节、肩关节、肘关节、腕关节。它们都是息息相关的而又各自发挥去完成这个任务。我初时练这个体式时,曾经让自己的重量强行推向头部和手臂,而使上半身难以抬离地面,重力就会转移在手腕上。而且髋关节无法轻松地伸展,腰椎被迫过度活动。就这样我的手腕和腰椎受伤了🤕️,后来经过老师的引导,现在能掌握还满好,施力时不会费劲了!而且这个体式还能够增强心肺功能。                    

                  总结是,瑜伽练习者能够掌握对人体解剖的学识,更能够发挥到体式的形成还可以增进身体健康。也能够帮助其他学员在练习体式不受伤害。

瑜伽之路

谈起瑜伽,从接触到TTC结束,大概3个多月时间,说起为什么会从瑜伽小白直接就报了TTC,我想说,我只是因为一个体式——犁式。

起初接触瑜伽是十多年前吧,大学时期,我的柔韧度还可以,因为学校每周一节形体课,培训时同屋的女生是瑜伽教练,偶尔会教我们一些拉伸,但是并没放在心上。再来就是十年前自己在家练了两次,热身不够,拉伤腰跟大腿的肌肉!之后就有了宝宝,知道今年……

长久的不运动,驼背等不良习惯,感觉自己经常头晕,肩颈部特别的紧,刮痧按摩缓解一些,但是顶不了几天,有一天送孩子去街舞课,遇到我的老师,由于自己无精打采,她问我怎么了,我说我肩膀很重,头晕……她教了我几个活动肩颈的动作让我回去,再找找视频慢慢练,每天20-30 分钟。

由于有拉伤经验,所以这次我很小心的练习,起初肩颈,再到脊椎,到双腿,循序渐进的找一些视频练习着,几个星期后觉得自己身体轻松了一些,便每天早上找一些视频来跟练,有些难的,只看不练,直到有一天,视频练习犁式,我自己也尝试着跟练,做的不标准,但是居然可以做到,开心之余突然就想去专业系统的学瑜伽,然后去网上了解了一下之后就打电话给我的老师,刚好,老师说他们要开华文瑜伽教培课程,但是需要等一段时间。我说:可以 ,开课通知我!犁式的第二天,肩膀脖子疼的要命,我知道我应该又是热身不够,或者哪里做不对,这坚定了我去参加瑜伽教培的决心。同时也正是通知了我的家人们,我要去瑜伽教培课,时间在周末,所以请大家配合我,无论如何我都要去!很意外的是,我老公很支持。

再之后就等待开课,然后上课,第一堂体式课,我真的是颤抖着全身出来的,差点爬回家……一个八体投地就要命了的感觉,看着同学们每一个口令都做的那么漂亮标准,再看看自己,体式名称都听不懂,就开始后悔,是不是应该慢一点再来上教培课……但是,没有后悔药,只能坚持,心态调整好,开始慢慢练习,中间,同学借我了一本艾扬格瑜伽书,我打开看到主页的体式便是—犁式,很神奇,就感觉冥冥之中就注定我要去学瑜伽一样。然后我就尝试各种解锁办法,查资料,视频……我怕受伤,练习之前不懂随时问老师,老师耐心解答,同学们也热心帮助,不知不觉的发现了身体的变化,顺利解锁八体投地,之后,标准的下犬,上犬,平板,三角,侧三角,半月,侧板等等以及我觉得我永远不会解锁的头倒立,四柱,乌鸦和船 ……这个过程,有老师同学的鼓励和帮助,有自己的付出和坚持!让我觉得直接参加教培课程是正确的选择,因为它会让你的汗水每一滴都不白流,都有它存在的意义!很感谢我的老师,我的同学以及家人和我自己!感恩,瑜伽路上有你们一起……现在已经开始教免费瑜伽课,听到学员们说,老师下节课我还来,听到学员们说,你教的很好,收一些费用吧!那种心中的喜悦不是能用钱来衡量的。摸索了一些经验后,努力让自己变得更好。