Touch-Phobia

We live in a touch-phobic society. When we are in the elevator, everyone squeezes their limbs tightly within their own impenetrable personal bubble. In the train, eye contact is avoided while everyone is crammed into a tiny car. Accidental grazes and bumps only lead to hostile stares and awkward adjustments. 

We weren’t always like this. If you observe young children, you’ll see that they are very touchy both with each other and their surroundings. The early stages of life are when our comfort level with physical contact and physical closeness is developing. Parents establish deeper connections with their children through affectionate touches. Children find support and comfort in the embraces of their parents. But as children grow older, societal, familial and cultural pressures discourage touch.

Human touch is necessary for mental and physical well-being. Our skin is the largest sensory receptor on our body. Human beings crave physical contact, but in the modern world and westernized society, the prevalence of physical touch has lessened. Cultural and lifestyle shifts have caused smaller family sizes, higher media consumption and non-physical activities in metropolitan areas around the world. Though mankind is more interconnected than ever, this fast-paced technologically advanced culture has made humans more physically isolated. 

The no-touch culture is ingrained in us from a young age, many schools now operate a strict ‘no touch’ policy in fear of pedophilia. As we grow up, many of us satisfy our need for touch through rough interactions with friends such as wrestling play and sports. Generally, fear of touch is greater between men. Touch is often perceived as a feminine gesture, conflicting with societal ideals of masculinity. Casual touches between men and women can sometimes be interpreted as unwarranted sexual advances.

In general, adults are less dependent on touch, but as we age we are likely to feel alone and vulnerable. Therapy animals have become common in care homes for this very reason. There is also a rising demand of massage therapists, physio therapists, and even professional cuddlers. 

It is a shame that touch is so discouraged because the benefits of physical interaction can improve both mental and physical health. Physical touch activates the brain’s orbit-frontal cortex, which is linked with feelings of reward and compassion and can trigger a release of oxytocin. Regular hugs can lower a person’s heart rate and blood pressure in the long term. Affectionate platonic touch has been shown to strengthen the immune system, decrease stress and reduce anxiety. 

How can physical touch benefit our yoga teaching? 

The most practical reason for having a hands-on approach to teaching is that for kinesthetic learners, physical adjustment can be more easily understood than any verbal cue. The most important thing to remember when incorporating more physical touch in your life is to do so naturally without making others feel unsafe or awkward. With touch, less is more. A light tap to remind a student to use that part of the body is more effective than forcibly manipulating. When adjusting use firm hand movements to adjust specific body parts. Physical contact, when held for too long or in the wrong places, can be perceived as creepy or threatening. Light stroking movements or fluttery fingers can be misinterpreted by the student or be considered too uncomfortable. Generally the upper back, shoulders and hands are the only acceptable places to touch between casual acquaintances.

Incorporating hand gestures and touch into teaching can help you establish a deeper connection with your students. Even fleeting contact with a stranger can have a measurable effect, such as a brief touch on your hand when returning a library card or receipt. Research has shown that even seemingly insignificant touches between waitresses and customers can yield bigger tips. Incorporating handshakes, high-fives or a pat on the back are good non-verbal ways to communicate support and cooperation. 

Using physical adjustments can also help your students feel more relaxed and at ease, and in turn, keep them coming back to your classes. When you stimulate the pressure receptors in the skin in a safe context, the body will lower stress hormones. All in all, incorporating more human touch into our lives can not only benefit our teaching practice but our overall quality of life as well. Try making an effort to connect with those around you not just while you are teaching!

Foundation

The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation. ~Carl Jung, CW 12, Para 32

Foundation

I thought I had one. I thought I could persevere through challenges. I thought I needed to keep working harder on goal setting. I thought I just needed to do something every damn day. I thought stop thinking about doing handstands and start doing them, every damn day. I thought I needed to make my intentions for real, real farmer stick-to-it-iveness. Damn it.

I thought, a lot.

And the more I thought, the more frustrating I became. To myself. I had lived through the magical life changing effects of yoga on many friends. I judged, I’ll admit it. The life change often came with a cushy ride in a luxury car and a lot of time on one’s hands to attend a high profile teacher or a class where the mythical guru of solipsism herself, Gwyneth once attended back in say, 2014. The requisite tattoo on a lithe inner wrist. We know what tattoo, because we know the narrative. And everyone seemed to be ok with this reality, non-realistic reality, whereby every single person was having the same life-altering experience. Meh, I thought, it’s a glitch in the matrix.

I had been indoctrinated at a Catholic high school on the ease with which cults could mind control young people into giving up their entire lives for a single guru who speaks as a god like figure. Cultists would have mind and body pushed to their limits so it would be easier to convince them to give up their lives and money to the cult. The irony is not lost on me that it was a Catholic priest teaching Cult 101. But I was enthralled with how easily the methodology of cult think worked. It works in corporations, countries, universities (go Badgers!), relationships, and most places people congregate.

Well I was guaranteed to not fall for these tricksters! I’m a free thinker. Sign the dotted line, my eyes are scanning for an exit sign. I felt like a short Liam Neeson, a doomsday prepper of sorts. And yoga wasn’t going to take me that easily. And certainly not modern yoga with the fancy pants with strange holes that pucker the skin into funny ellipses and all the soft voices radiating no fear that terrorism is going to spread and our polar axis will suddenly switch. So, I made a conscious decision. Confront my stereotypes. But really, confront my fear.

What am I afraid of? Who was this boogy–bhagwan shree rashneeshyogi! Well, I don’t know. I’ve never seen “IT”. I signed up for the complete mystery course of 200 hours of YTT, allowing myself full-immersion therapy. Living life dangerously! Unprepared, unknowledgeable, unskilled.

I had one goal in mind. Be open to the possibilities. That was it. I have a long and rather tedious physical history involving professional dance, triathlons, marathons, Olympic lifting, functional training. Basically, most areas of fitness with the exception of yoga. As an ex-dancer I figured I could gain back that muscle memory rather quickly. Then our YTT began, currently, we are halfway through our class journey. By day three, the air felt different. By day four, I think I felt invisible energy glowing around me. By day five, exhaustion was confused with elation.

Oh my goodness! It was happening! And I’m not talking about increased flexibility, although I did feel a bit of that too. I may just give my entire life savings to Tirisula! Ok, ok, I’m not going to drink spiked Kool-Aid, but I felt something I never felt before. Oneness. I could feel my fatigue. Something I would normally deny to myself while I forced myself into some set of actions which would domino into more actions I would not truly want to do. Synchronicity. My mind was mellow. My thoughts were now mere watercolors, stains. I found that moment of a sadhana (spiritual practice) speaking to me, moving me, nominating ME for ME.

When I was tired, I laid down. I could breathe. Finally, I could feel the effects of the pranayama breathing. My thoughts began to bend into less cluttered thinking. My mind was no longer on Fitbit mode, “better drink water, you’re only at 3 glasses”. Literally, the water within me was flowing with a current outside of me and leading me to intuitive actions that had escaped me because I had been using the FORCE of my thoughts to dominate even simple physical body functions. (Raise your hand real high if you need to earn a pee break!) This waste of energy was similar to using an entire electrical city grid just to make your morning alarm go off. My mind was no longer using constant FORCE to lug one leg in front of the other. Suddenly, I felt what power means. Power, like gravity pulls things down. Power, that water will flow down a river. Power, that mountains cast shadows which move throughout the day. Power, of an apple seed which will grow and fight through soil to rise.

I was most moved by philosophies we learned our second week. “Do things that are progressive for you”. What a novel idea. Do not express intent, express the positive thoughts without the intent. I feel strong. When I do yoga, I feel my breath and that feels good. Versus my FORCEful self-talk; I WILL feel great when I clean my office today. Every breath creates a pattern. This pattern connects to your brains thoughts. Be interested in what you can do, no need to pinpoint why.

My thoughts thought they thought of everything. Obviously not.

Set An Intention

We know that the mask of the unconscious is not rigid—it reflects the face we turn towards it. Hostility lends it a threatening aspect, friendliness softens its features. ~Carl Jung, CW 12, Para 29

Set An Intention. Easier said than done.

This is especially true during the highly anticipated month of January. We plan, we dream, we sign up for gym memberships we know we will never use! It is kicked off with lofty and truly innocent do-gooder intentions of weight-loss, kindness, and career success. However, year after year, January dolefully ends with the shameful quixotic morning-after feeling of self-imposed amnesia to all the dreams now broken. We crawl to our cubicle hoping no one sees our Venti coffee after two weeks of braggart level confidence, “Some people do ‘Dry January’, I’m doing coffee-less January!”. Our intention seemed so simple. We speak inside our head, ‘A child could do it. But why couldn’t I?”

And thus begins our minds ability to rationalize any number of excuses and reasons as to the answer of WHY? We have been trained through media, family, socializing, nationality, race, and religion to believe that our mind is linear. That in order to have followed through on our January intention we would gain success and reach our goal by following a very circumspect ambition and taking well known routes to our finality of accomplishment. Unwittingly, our dedication will be fraught with failure after failure. How is this so?

Our clarity to answer the WHY; why the failure, why is a linear path not a path to success, why can’t I succeed in my wishful earnest goals, is answered at the beginning of our path.

Many sadhakas (spiritual practitioners) will start their sadhanas (spiritual practice) with subconscious and conscious preconceptions about what a follower on a path of sadhanas is all about. The reality, pain, and difficulty in starting this path are contradictory to our highly-held preconceived ideas about this practice. The typical struggle begins with how the sadhaka reconciles the irritable shocks and unexpected realities on this path. Most often, around mid-January, we see the neophytes backtrack to their former existence. The judgement along the path causes deep primal wounds to reappear, the sadhaka feels gullible to this pain and misery and although it slows one down, it is a necessary limp to overcome. We can find comfort in the many who have lost muster and belief in the sadhanas and the realm it opened to their hearts. The sheer power of spiritual life can make one feel ill. Only through intensely following through on the sadhanas and through this initial disappointment can one progress. Set your intention and find a practice that supports this.

The sadhanas can be any simple daily spiritual practice. Be prepared to dive into your sadhanas by letting go of your pre-conceived judgements and linear thinking. Allow it to free form into whatever it shows you. Only an openness is necessary to begin this journey of intention. You can keep your judgement but it must be carried on the shoulders of wanting to learn more and adjusting yourself to the practice and not the other way around. Soon your sadhana will enhance your everyday life to infinite possibilities.

A true tyaga (renunciation) of your former way of thinking and of the ego’s needs and desires will be necessary to stay on the path. Our mind is Maya and at every turn it will shapeshift reality into an illusion. We cannot decipher it’s intention, nor it’s abilities. But it will seek to enter your path where you once saw clearly, you will become blind.

Be aware. Sadhana for the path of self-realization is an opportunity at every moment in life and time should not be squandered by postponing this urgent duty. Start a regular and systematic sadhana in your life.

Sadhanas can be:

–a mantra

–chanting

–reading sacred scripture

–yoga asanas

–meditation

–pranayama

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will release responsibility by naming it fate. The subconscious is where our experiences, beliefs and memories are stored. Self-knowledge, the understanding of our thoughts and behaviors and their influence on our lives, will make the unconscious conscious.

Overcoming Inversions

Overcoming Inversions

Inversions. Depending on who you are this word might incite fear, calm your nerves or somewhere on that spectrum. For me, just by hearing the word inversion my hearts beats a little faster. 

I have always been afraid of being upside down. You might be thinking, hmm that is an oddly specific fear. So let me step back a little and give you some background on why I possess this deeply rooted fear. It all started with a basketball. 

When I was nine, I was playing basketball in the neighborhood with my brother when it landed on my head. Now thinking back, I’m sure being hit by a basketball is quite a tame experience. I doubt if any of you got hit by a basketball today would be traumatized by the ordeal. But here I am, a nine-year-old me who from that day on became deeply afraid of anything falling on my head. 

Keep in mind here, I was an active kid. I did dance, gymnastics (which yes, included many cartwheels, back handsprings and inversions of all kinds) and all sorts of other activities. Kids don’t have a preconceived notion of what is to come, so learning how to flip and hold myself upside down came as naturally to me as every other motor skill. But fast-forward a couple years, and the fear started to kick in. 

This brings me back to the past week at my yoga teacher training course. Since picking yoga a couple years ago to supplement my dance training, I have noticed a myriad of benefits. Many poses came naturally to me due to my dance training, and I gained strength in my arms and upper body — areas normally neglected by dancers. But the one thing I dreaded towards the end of every session was sirasana (yes the dreaded headstand). What was once a fairly standard warmup in my toddlers gymnastics class had grown into a demon of its own.

Every yoga instructor and dance teacher I’ve had has told me that getting into inversions was only as hard as it is to get over your fear of being upside down. Okay easier said than done. I was the one who couldn’t even get her legs up the wall in a yoga class. But I’m telling you, in just the first week of the course, I overcame my fear of inversions. The teachers at the yoga teachers training course were right. The most valuable piece of advice that helped me finally jump over that mental hurdle was to not fear falling. Satya advised us that after a few times falling, we would learn that falling isn’t so scary after all. She was right, with this new mindset, I went home and practiced my headstands on my bedroom wall and the thought of losing balance out of an inversion didn’t scare me anymore. 

So for all of you out there struggling to get up into your headstand, I hope this little story gave you an ounce of motivation to keep trying, and if not I hope you were at least mildly entertained by my ramblings. 

How did I end up in YTT? Part 2

Though my brain was acting weird by telling me not to do the YTT in the last few days leading to the first day of my course, I chose to ignore my thoughts and focus on what my heart wanted to do.

So here I am, 10 days into my course. How do I feel? I feel happy, yeah happy. So I guess my heart is right this time.

Besides getting to practise the yoga that I like to do, I get to know people from different walks of life which otherwise, in my clinical corporate world, I will never get to meet. I get to learn and hear different experiences that my teachers and classmates have. I am inspired by many of them, who have so much drive and persistence to follow their passion and earn their keep, regardless of how young they are. This is definitely something that I will share with and hopefully impart it to my children.

I always believe that in every environment, it is the people who makes the difference. In the training, we share stories, we laugh, we train, we work our bodies till our sweat drip like crazy. It is hard and it is fun. It is the people that we connect with, not the environment.

I am not one of those superstar yogis on Instagram who can do those impossibly amazing postures. There are many postures that I am good with and there are also that many postures that I struggle a lot with, for example, handstand! I still have many things to work on but I am positive, because I know that I am on the right track. The cup is half full, not half empty. Yoga humbles me because I can only do what my body and mind can do in unison. I cannot rush it, I cannot force it. I have to earn it. Yoga is a journey which doesn’t end.

If it is a journey that allows me to make my mind and body stronger and calmer, to make new friends, hear new stories, I guess it is worth it.

Cheers, JT

Breaking the Ceiling with YTT 200

For anyone who has been practicing yoga for at least two years, considering taking a teacher training program is normal. The motivation to join begins as an idea. It comes when you hear that a person who used to sit beside you in yoga class has now become a certified yoga instructor. It can also come from seeing personalities on Instagram who have “YTT 200 certified yoga instructor” on the multi-hyphenated answer they provide to the question, “What do you do for a living?” The idea can also form because one day your teacher observes your form and tells you that you have the potential to push your practice and become an instructor.

Wherever the idea originates, one thing is certain – the teacher training is not easy. It’s a commitment. The daily 2-3 hours of asana practice can be grueling. And the difficulty of memorizing Sanskrit and specific muscle and bone names gently reminds you of how old and rubbery your brain has gotten.

But throughout the lectures, you also pick up the images and ideas that help to refine your practice. For me, it was the image of the “ascending triangle,which was part of the learning methods we discussed during the second week of training. The concept of learning here is we aim for a goal or a “ceiling,” and when we fail, we don’t return to the low point where we started; we are a step higher. When we try to reach for the ceiling and fail again, we descend to a point that is even higher than the previous one – until all the points at which we begin form an ascent. Finally, we reach a summit and break the ceiling.

Imagining your training (or your entire life) as an ascent can be powerful. If you’re open, you realize that a failure or a fall is never final because you can always try again. If you give up on your first or second try, then you are leaving something open ended. Like a loose windowsill flapping in the wind, it will nag at you endlessly.

So, while the teacher training can be struggle at times, it’s important to establish a pattern of completion, to complete the training and not leave it hanging.

If you hope to become a teacher, you need to realize that your first pupil is yourself. You can be disciplined by simply showing up daily. You can be mindful of your practice by being present with the challenge, observing it, and meeting it.

If you’re thinking about enrolling for a program, then you’ve already taken a first step; indeed, the only way to complete something is to start something and go through the motions. And each day as you observe your progress, you also witness your ascent. When the struggle transforms into relief and effortlessness, that’s when you know you’ve broken out of the ceiling and it’s time to aim for a higher one.

Chiara M.

How did I end up in YTT?

I have been in the corporate world for more than 20 years. It has been a good 20 years as I have learnt many things and the most valuable thing is, some of my colleagues are now my closed friends. I have been fairly lucky at work (or I chose to see that I am lucky) and have been given many opportunities to try different things and move up the corporate ladder. I started a family in my 30s and children ‘took charge’ of my life for more than a decade. My life, my thoughts, my activities revolved around their needs. As I head towards the 50 years old milestone, with my children growing up, I start to think about me.

I started yoga some 15 years ago. Besides being a good workout, I enjoyed the session and felt happy and peaceful at the end of the class. I always feel proud of myself when I have managed to achieve the postures consistently. I stopped for a few years when my kids were little and resumed into more regular practice when they are a bit bigger.

I am no different from other working mums. I am busy with work, busy with the children’s homework and their endless logistics needs, doing marketing for groceries and when time permits, I squeeze in an hour of Korean drama. On top of that, I try to do a daily (if I can) yoga practice at home because it just saves me the time travelling to and fro the studio.

In the last couple of years, I start thinking what will I be doing in another 10 years. Where do I see myself in 10 years time? The answer to these questions has been consistent – I hope I will not be working in the corporate world full time after 10 years. However, I cannot be just leaving the corporate world when I am 50 without something to go to or do. So what should I be doing when I am 50 and what should I do to get myself ready?

I left school decades ago and skills/ interests that I used to be good at have long disappeared from me. In the last 20 years, I have not spent time to hone any skills to increase my employability.

After thinking about it and talking to others for 2 years, I have decided to do a YTT. I want to use it to deepen my practice and also to see for myself, if teaching yoga will be something that I really want to do.

I applied for a month of absence from my company. In the last week leading to the YTT, my brain started acting weird. It kept telling me not to do it. Thoughts like I may not be cut out to be a teacher, it will be a waste of time, my current job is good and I have been given many opportunities etc, were running in my head daily.

To be continued in Part 2… JT

Productivity and Perseverance

Having to juggle both work and full time YTT together, it really forced me to learn to make full use of my time and prioritize all my tasks. I entered the course with the optimism that I would not have much issues given that it was going to be a lull period for me at work. However, it was a rude awakening when I realized how much I had underestimated the time and effort one had to put in for it.

Coming to the end of the course, I found that I have managed to weed out so many activities that only served to help me pass time but did little to add value to my life (like mindlessly scrolling through social media or watching television). Productivity came not only from the removal of unnecessary activities, but also with proper planning of each day. This gave me a clear overview of how I was to spend each day and what pockets of time I had to squeeze in some extra studying or sneak in some rest time.

Though it was thoroughly draining, both mentally and physically, to have to be fully present and alert for more than 14 hours a day, it was also refreshing to see how we are able to push our body and mind this much (and maybe even more). This month has truly been a test of how much I could stay focused on the goal (to get through YTT) despite all the distractions around and how much I could persevere through the fatigue.

This has definitely made a positive impact on my lifestyle and how I will approach my days even after YTT is over. It is amazing how much one can learn and grow even in a short span of a month and I can only be thankful of the experience I got out of it.

How to implement the yogic system in our daily lives? II

Ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat”? It is a concept that is easy to understand but not everyone is conscious of the foods they put into their bellies. Whether you live to eat or eat to live, there should be no compromise on the quality of our foods. That does not mean that the more expensive a food is the higher the quality of it, we should be looking at how it affects the body and yoga gives us some guidelines as to what food are more suitable for a stronger, healthier and cleaner body.

In yoga, we divide food into saatvic, rajasic and tamasic. Saatvic food are mainly food that increase vitality, energy, vigour, health and joy, and are categorized as food that are fresh and organically produced, eaten in as natural a state as possible. Rajasic food are food that overstimulate the body and bring a restless state of mind, such as heavily spiced food. Lastly, tamasic food are said to be food that make a person lazy and dull like meat, fish and all intoxicants.

It is clear to see that yoga encourages that shift towards a vegetarian diet. But as mentioned earlier, these are purely guidelines to help you understand why these food are better suited for the body since they help bring more clarity to the mind and introduce less toxins to the body. It is not a preach to convert all humans to become vegetarians but for everyone to strive towards showing more love towards their body and thus choosing the right kinds of food to nourish it appropriately.

So the next time you are choosing between reaching for those 3 servings of meats to eat with your rice, why not try 1 or maybe even 2 servings of vegetables instead? Start small. There is no need to entirely cut other types of food. But the idea here is to reduce your intake of rajasic and tamasic food to replace with more saatvic ones as much as possible. Give it a month or two, see the change it brings to your body and mind, and hopefully you would feel the lightness it brings and come to love the food that nature has provided for us all this time in the purest and most natural ways.

How to implement the yogic system in our daily lives? I

With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we tend to find it hard to calm our minds and settle comfortably within ourselves. Social norms and rules have also shaped us to be extra critical not only of others but of ourselves too. Which is why the need for a place of silence is even greater now than ever before and what better way to create such spaces than within ourselves?

Meditation (Dhyana) is a way we can do just that for ourselves. It helps us learn to block out distractions and disturbances whilst calming the mind and soul. It is the time we can take to reflect on ourselves and things that happen around us. When we direct our focus inward, we feel invigorated yet relaxed at the same time. The power of the mind is strengthened and we learn to love and appreciate ourselves and the universe that little bit more.

We tend to give ourselves excuses like not having free time during the day or not being able to sit and meditate for a long time. However, meditation does not necessarily have to be done for hours on end to be effective. Even a short 5 minutes a day before stepping out of your house would suffice to center and prepare yourself to tackle the rest of the day. It is simply choosing to make the conscious effort to dedicate an extra 15 minutes to yourself daily (though preferably in the morning).

Choose to work on you because self love, time and space are the best things you can gift yourself. Remember you are always worth the time and effort!