The basics of mastery

(No) Thanks to social media, everyone and their yoga buddy seems bent on nailing some fanciful asana or its variations.

“I’m working towards xx arm balance/ inversion/ funky something etc”.

Today’s Power flow, Vinyasa and other themed classes are often planned around a peak pose, feeding the desire to glam up for the gram with a post-class snap. Goal-oriented types say that this gives them something to work towards and keeps them motivated to practice.

While planning a class around peak poses provides guidance and structure, by adopting the same mindset in our practice we could be missing the forest for the trees. Long, repeated holds of adho mukha svanasana, chaturanga dandasana, or ardha hanumanasana may not win you any Insta-likes, but with endurance and consistent efforts (tapasah), new energies are awaken as the physical body and senses become perfected.

Do not despise the days of humble beginnings

I stumbled into yoga in 2016 when a persuasive sales consultant (now a friend) convinced me that the unlimited yoga package the studio was offering was the best deal in town. She wasn’t wrong (otherwise we wouldn’t still be friends, right?); and in fact on hindsight, this was perhaps one of my most life changing investments I ever made of my time and money.

To get the most bang out of my buck, I went for as many classes as I had the time and energy for. Although I was moderately active even before yoga, years of poor postural habits and hidden imbalances were immediately revealed in the most basic of yoga asanas. For the first two years, my yoga schedule (and fluctuating mind) looked somewhat like this:

Hatha B (I thought B meant basic/ beginners? Where’s child’s pose?)

Gentle yoga (Errrmmm…you call bada konasana uttasana gentle..?)

Therapy (This is a core class in disguise…)

Stretch or Yin (The struggle is real)

Hips and spine (Who in their right mind came up with these twists and revolved asanas??)

And of course, everyone’s favourite  CORE class (slow burn, even slower counting…Navasana again??!!)



Vinyasa? Ashtanga? Hatha Intermediate ?

I wouldn’t go anywhere near those classes with a barge pole.

Tapas: Austerities transform impurities

Slowly but surely, my physical body began to change. I started noticing my back aches going away, the feeling of standing taller, breathing better and just gaining new strength. I also found better focus and better sleep. Ailments like constipation and irregular menstrual cycles took care of themselves. Practice, and all is coming.

After more than two years of practice averaging 7-8 hrs a week, I decided to move out of my comfort zone. I didn’t think much wanting to progress then, but I remember that it didn’t take long for me to find bakasana, various other arm balances and just leveling up my practice. In fact, it took me far longer working on my hamstrings in any forward fold, finding stillness in a 5 second navasana hold, or to appreciate the gentle and therapeutic effects of bada konasana uttanasana.

2.47 Prayatna Saithilya Ananta Sumapathibhyam

By relaxing effort and fixing the mind on the infinite [asana is perfected]

The basics of mastery is simply to master the basics.

Writing Meditation

Writing Sri Rama Jayam is known as Likitha Japam- Writing Meditation. Writing the same word over and over again sounds a lot like old school punishment when I was a kid. But I’m informed by articles that I find on the Internet that it can give one a sense of surrender to inner conscience and peace. So I decided to try it out since I have not picked up a pen and paper for a long long time (and also because I have ran out of blog post ideas).

I understand that there is some deeper meaning and purpose of these holy words, but since this is not my religion, I decided to practice this writing meditation with a different word instead… and pardon my ugly handwriting…

Besides feeling peace and focus, I also felt my fingers hurting from the 3 hours of writing…


Knock knock. Who’s there really?

“Study thy self, discover the divine.” – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, 2.44.

In the 8 limbs of yoga, Pantanjali asks that we trust our true nature is what we are seeking for. The Sanskrit term, Svadhyaya, translates to “self-study”; “Sva” means “own” or “self”, and “adhyaya” means “learning” or “studying”.  Look within, study your Self (not just yourself, but your Self; this goes beyond the superficial), and you will be revealed.

In everyday language, we speak about our ‘self’ unproblematically like: ‘I’ had kaya toast for breakfast, ’I’ went for yoga, ‘I’ am zen and easy going, ‘I’ practiced Savasana, ‘I’ want to pass the 200YTT, etc. All of which implies the ‘self’ as a singular being with different attributes and capabilities. From a Svadhyaya POV/explanation, the ‘Self’ dives deeper, it is the subject of our experiences, an inner agent making all conscious decisions and actions, a collection of opinions, desires, aspirations and emotions. This ‘self’ that defines ‘me’ (or ‘you’) is the part of myself (or ‘yourself’) that Svadhyaya encourages us to seek.

Once you are familiar with and know your ‘Self’, Samadhi (super-conscious state) comes more easily. Despite being placed in situations that would normally affect oneself (before deep introspection), as long as you know your ‘Self’, you will be unshaken or rather, unaffected by the stimulus in your surroundings.

As esoteric sounding as it may be, Svadhyaya is observed and can be practiced in simple mindful notions such as:

  1. Meditation
    Practice open meditation (e.g. being aware of everything that is happening around you without responding) or concentrative meditation, if you would prefer (e.g. staring at a dot with a circle in the periphery as taught by Master Ram in our 200YTT). Free your mind from distractions of your surroundings. 
  2. Studying the scriptures
    The teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and the Upanishads offer a multitude of wisdom and perhaps, provide insight into your ‘Self’.
  3. Journaling
    Putting your thoughts down on paper and revisiting it gives you an opportunity to reflect on them and integrate the learnings (that serve you) into your daily life. I find this the most helpful; journaling every thought, every feeling and opinion really bring things into perspective. 
  4. Practicing yoga
    “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self.”
    — The Bhagavad Gita
    An act of Svadhyaya here, is as simple as filming your practice. They say the way you approach yoga is a reflection of your approach on life. Filming and consciously observing your practice can reveal more about your ‘Self’ than you would think. In dance, we often take this approach to work on self-improvement as well as synergy. In yoga, the first time I did it (for our ultra-beginners vid) I noticed things about myself that I didn’t before, which I shall not reveal in this post because it is for my ‘Self’ and myself only 🌚.

Dig deep and you will find your ‘Self’ that is really there.


Tirisula 200YTT 8 Limbs of Yoga notes

Analysis of Halasana

Halasana also known as the plough pose.Hala meaning “Plough” and Asana = “posture”.

It is can also be called a forward bend while lying on your back which helps to strength the spine and make it more flexible.

It is usually done as a continuation of Sarvangasana (shoulder stand).

Benefits and positive effects  

  • Provides a good stretch to the thoracic vertebra and increases flexibility
  • Promotes the efficiency of the spleen and heart
  • Helps with digestive and gut related health problems
  • Good for pelvic region and any menstrual problems
  • It results in the mobility of the back to perform Paschimottasana (seated forward bend) as well.

Suggested warm up poses 

  • Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
  • Paschimottasana (seated forward bend)
  • Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)
  • Sethu bandhansana (Bridge pose)

The muscles benefitted 

  • Lower Back
  • Middle Back
  • Upper Back
  • Core (Abs)
  • Hamstrings
  • Hips
  • Neck
  • Pelvic

Technique to get into the pose

  1. Lie flat on your back, with the palms firmly on the ground beside your body.
  2. Inhale and slowly lift your legs off the mat using the strength of your waist without bending the knees.
  3. Continue raising the lower body off the mat, until your chest is also off the ground into shoulder stand pose with chin touching the sternum
  4. Exhale to release the chin lock, lower the waist slightly, moving your arms and legs over the head and finally the toes resting on the floor. 
  5. If touching your feet over head isn’t possible at the start, place a chair or any object behind you to attain the furthest distance possible and over time you can go lower. This variation is also helpful for anyone suffering with blood pressure issues.
  6. Continue to breath here as you keep your knees straight by tightening your hamstring muscles and raising your trunk
  7. Exhale and stretch your arms in the opposite direction of your legs
  8. Interlock the finger with the wrist on the floor OR Stretch the palms on the floor as you pull your shoulder forward.
  9. With the legs and hands stretched in the opposite direction feel the spine stretching completely
  10. While interlocking the fingering make sure to change the positions of the thumb and then stretch for a harmonious development and elasticity of both the shoulders. If interlocking the fingers are difficult at the start, do not force as it gets easier with time so start by trying to just place your palms on the floor as mentioned above.
  11. Remain in the attainable pose for as long as you can (maximum up-to 5 minutes) with normal breathing

Technique to get out of the pose

  1. Inhale, Release your palms if interlocked beside your body, raise your legs up to shoulder stand
  2. Exhale and gradually bring your legs down to the mat.
  3. Lie on your back and relax


Throughout the pose gaze at the tip of your nose

Suggested cool down poses

  • Continue to Lie flat on the ground in Savasana
  • Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
  • Vipariti Karani (Legs to the wall)


Halasana is not recommended for people having the below conditions

  • Extreme Backache
  • Spine and neck Injuries
  • Heart and blood pressure disorders

If needed, perform the variation (no. 5 under Technique) mentioned above which will help release the stiffness in the back or spine. 

Enjoy the “plough posture”!

Finding length in arm balances

“Lengthen the spine!”


A common cue in any yoga class, it almost reminds you of your mum yelling at you to stop slouching when you were a kid.

Elliot showing us how to sit tall.

When we think of asanas involving the spine, top of mind are forward folds like uttanasana, back bends (spinal extensions), twists (axial rotations), side bends (lateral flexions) or simply standing tall in tadasana. One area of application I’ve found where the conscious lengthening of the spine gives an added edge is in the practice of arm balances.


What’s the spine got to do with balancing on your arms?

Drishti? Check. Open hips? Check. Long spine? Check, check. (Photo credit: Cirque du Soleil)

Directly supporting the spine are the three sets of muscles that make up the erector spinae: running along the entire vertebral spinous process (spinalis), from one vertebral transverse to another (longissimus) and from one rib cage to the next (iliocostalis). Synergists here are the back muscles comprising the deep muscles of the quadratus lumborum (QL, and also the psoas major) that wrap around and stabilise the lumbar region, and the more superficial latissimus dorsi or lats that are activated in twisting postures and arm extensions.

Reproduction of a Gray's anatomy plate with the muscles of the erector spinae muscle group highlighted (Wikimedia Commons)

While the lengthening of the spine is not the primary technique to get you lifting in an arm balance (engagement of the upper back, arms and abdominal core muscles are crucial for this), what it does is build up the supporting muscle memory that over time, will allow you to find more focus, steadiness and alignment in these asanas.


Before I go further, I would like to clarify that this blog is about technique refinement rather than a technical guide on getting started in arm balances.


2.46 sthira sukham asanam

Asana should be steady, stable, and motionless


Two arm balances where I’ve found more hang time by consciously recruiting the entire spine and lower back musculature (QL and lats) are eka pada bakasana and titibasana (bent arm variation).


In eka pada bakasana (assuming you are already very comfortable with bakasana and have successfully attempted the single leg variation), your body weight would be tilting in a slight asymmetry away from the side of your lifted leg and into the supporting side (ie, where your tricep is on your knee).


Most practitioners enter the pose in one of two ways – either from adho mukha svanasana or from bakasana and shifting the weight onto one side. Either way, remember to always lift your hips high. Hips are heavy and are the centre of gravity of the body, so lifting them high creates lightness and more lift for your lower limbs.


Next, get your drishti on point. You should ideally be gazing between your nose, at a point on the ground just a few inches in front of you. Yes – the ground is just a few inches in front of you so face planting is a looming danger. But fret not, it’s here where the lengthening of the spine (along with the critical supporting structures of the arms, upper back and core) comes into play.

Notice the high hips and pointed toes (plantar flexion) of the extended foot. Drishti on point. (Photo credit: iStock)

Observe here how your drishti “anchors” the neck or cervical as it reaches forward, while lifting the hips up “pulls” the sacrum and coccyx away in the other direction. This is the effect of lengthening the spine.


Assuming here that you are starting to lift and extend one leg – point the toes of your extended leg for an added engagement of the hamstring muscle, you will find even more of that spinal extension. Your upper body is now suspended in a diagonal equilibrium, with the lumbar and sacrum moving up and out (by the lift of your hips and plantar flexion of the foot engaging the hamstrings of the extended leg) and your drishti “grounding” you as you press firmly down with chaturanga arms.


In titibasana with bent arms, unlike its classic straight arm sibling or eka pada bakasana above, the spine is parallel to the ground. This time, keep extending the hips back, lengthening the entire spine especially in the lumbar region. Those who find themselves stable in this pose can even think about arching the lumbar spine. You cannot lose the core engagement here, otherwise you would not even be able to lift up on your arms in the first place. Instead of gazing down, drishti remains between your nose but gazing straight ahead in the space before you.

Notice from this angle the length in the spine. (Photo credit: iStock)

Asanas that work on spinal extension


I personally find these asana variations extremely helpful for teaching the spine how to lengthen while holding space:

  • Trikoasana with arms extended over the head (think about holding a beach ball)
  • Virabhadrasana 3
  • Ardha prasirita padottanasana (once again, arms extended over the head)

They are particularly useful in awakening the lats too.


Notice that these three asanas are open-chain movements for the upper body, which teach balance and awareness while also isolating specific muscles, in this case the erector spinae, QL and lats (among others). Closed-chain movements like santolasana (plank), vasisthasana (side plank) or chaturanga dandasana are also extremely effective in working the entire backline, shoulder girdle and abdominal core, although they do not impart the same muscle memory required for lengthening the spine in an open-chain movement such as arm balances.


Teacher – and mum – are right: always remember to lengthen your spine!




Ray Long: The key muscles of Hatha Yoga.

Breathe, right now. Breathe right, now.


Inhale deeeeeep. Exhale.

Breathing is so important in yoga (and actually almost all kinds of sports). However, what sets yoga apart from other sports is the correlation between the breath and movement. The breath guides your movement and sets the pace; every inhalation and exhalation is synchronised with a movement.

Still an infant in my yoga practice back then, I didn’t know what my Teachers were talking about when they said I’m “not breathing” or I’m “not breathing right”.
O.o?? Isn’t breathing supposed to be an instinctive innate ability of the living?

So I consulted Google sensei.

Breathe, right now.
“I don’t hear you breathing”, she said to me.
Okay google, what is the importance of breath in yoga?

Many of us tend to hold our breath in difficult poses and this is not recommended. Breathing can enhance your yoga practice and serve as an indicator of your stamina. Prana (breath) is integral in an asana practice. The intentional breathing — when done correctly — helps you flow into a pose better. For instance:

1. In supta matsyendrasana (supine spinal twist), breathe to enter a deeper twist with every exhalation.
2. In uttana shishosana (puppy pose), breathe to sink/melt your chest further down towards to mat with every exhalation.
3. Getting into Uttanasana (forward fold), inhale raise arms up, exhale fold forward. The flexion of the body only makes sense when exhaling; to fold to your maximum.

The breath also indicates or signals to you the duration of hold in a pose. Your breath should be easy and effortless. At any point in time when your breath starts to feel erratic or shallow, it is time to exit the asana. So remember to breathe in your practice, listen to your body (literally) and avoid overexerting yourself.


Breathe right, now.
“You’re not breathing right”, she said.
Okay google, what is the correct way to breathe in yoga?

Apparently, most of us are breathing wrongly. (O.O!! Not so instinctive after all I guess..)
Only a small part of our lung capacity is utilised, in turn depriving the body of prana.
There are a few ways of breathing:

  1. Belly/ diaphragmatic breathing – breathe in deeply through your belly first, followed by your lungs. Exhale from your lungs and then your belly.
  2. Thoracic breathing – breathe into your lungs, expanding the lungs upwards and outwards. (Mostly used in backbending poses/ anahata asanas)
  3. Clavicular breathing – inhaling through the upper portion of your lungs (closer to the clavicle aka collarbone), until the shoulder and collarbone moves up as well.
  4. Yogic breathing (one that my Teachers were looking out for!) – the amalgamation of the above #1-3 forms of breathing.

Pranayama beyond the asanas prove to be helpful in regulating mood, stress levels and prolong longevity as well. Some beginner-friendly Pranayamas to practice at your OTOT:


1. Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing)
2. Ujjayi (ocean’s breath)
3. Brahmari (bumblebee breath)

When practices like Pranayama are performed properly, they can eradicate all diseases; but improper practice can otherwise generate diseases. — Hatha Pradipika, 2.16.

Remember to breathe, and breathe right.



Why you can’t do Reverse Prayer if you have BIG muscles

Yoga Retreat” by “Yoga Retreat” is licensed under “Yoga Retreat

Reverse prayer, also otherwise known as Penguin Pose or Pashchima Namaskarasana. It helps to improve flexibility in the shoulders, arms, wrists, chest and back. Supposedly easy to learn, and quick to do – for most. However for some, it looks like they have to pop their arms out to achieve it. 

To figure out why some find the pose challenging, let us first understand the muscles and movements involved: 

  1. Internal rotation of the shoulder. Muscles involved in this action are in the rotator cuff. Subscapularis is contracting to create internal rotation of the upper arm. Infraspinatus and teres minor are external rotators of the humerus, so they are being lengthened in this action. (,humeral%20head%20against%20the%20glenoid.)
  2. Flexion of the elbow. The three muscles involved are the brachialis, brachioradialis and biceps brachii. They connect the upper arm to the forearm, and when they contract, they become shorter and pull the forearm toward the upper arm. (
  3. Extension of the wrist. The primary muscles involved are: extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis and the extensor carpi ulnaris. (Neumann DA. Wrist. In: Falk K, ed. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby/Elsevier; 2010:216-243.)

Obviously any injuries to the above mentioned areas would make the pose impossible to achieve. However, if you are loaded with muscles and showing up in a Yoga class, chances are probably low that you are suffering from any injuries (or you are stupid like me). The challenge then is most likely related to flexibility of those areas involved in this reverse prayer pose. For example, tightness of the infraspinatus limits internal rotation of the humerus and therefore making reverse prayer pose challenging. The solution would then be easy. Increase flexibility of the muscles involved in the pose, and progress gradually.

But… for the extremely muscular one… the challenge may actually be a ‘structural’ issue instead. How muscular? Arnold Schwarzenegger muscular.

The challenge probably then comes in twofold: 

  1. Limitation in the degree to which they can move the arm to the back due to a well built out ‘wings’ aka latissimus dorsi.

  2. Limitation in the degree of elbow flexion due to their mountainous bicep. You see, normal average people can probably flex their elbow to around 160 degrees. But when one has a bicep as high as Mt. Everest, the degree to which you can flex becomes a lot narrower…


For this special group of individuals, unless they lose all that bulk, they probably may never ever be able to touch their back… Let alone do the reverse prayer pose.

Rumour has it that the sticker is still on his back till this day…

Take flight in Tittibhasana.

Tittibhasana (also known as the firefly pose)
Pronunciation: Tit-tee-ba-sa-na

Tittibhasana is an advanced arm balancing pose from the Ashtanga Intermediate Series involving strength, flexibility, balance and a whole lot of Tapas (aka determination). As intimidating as it looks, it is not impossible. I mean how many asanas and mind-blowing Yoga phenomena have taught us that already?(Interesting reads: Mind-blowing article #1 | Mind-blowing article #2)

Nelson Mandela once said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” What you perceive to be impossible is merely an illusion and restriction of the mind. In this moment, this complicated asana may seem “impossible”, but we all know it’s possible especially with hard work and discipline in our yoga practice. You will come to master the “impossible” with due diligence and that is what makes yoga so empowering at times. Yada yada; Clichés and a measly attempt at a TedTalk aside… Of course, understanding the inner workings and breakdown can take you one step closer in succeeding as well.

Let’s talk anatomy.
In Tittibhasana, various muscles are activated such as the:

  1. Core
    Abdominal muscles (transversus abdominal, internal oblique, external oblique, rectus abdominus) in lifting your pelvis and maintaining slight flexion (rounding) in your spine.
  2. Shoulders
    All of your rotator cuff muscles (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor) are activated, stabilising your arms. The anterior deltoids and pectoralis help lift your body.
  3. Arms
    Triceps (agonists in your arms) and forearms.
  4. Hip flexors
    Psoas and rectus femoris to maintain flexion of the hips and raise the legs.
  5. Legs
    The adductor group muscles (pectinus, longus, bravis, gracilis, magnus) to hug your thighs around your arms and prevent them from slipping.

Fire up those muscles and take flight.
For the visual learners:

(Credits: High Desert Yogi)

Steps as easy as 1,2,3 😉:

  1. IN – Start in Tadasana (standing)
  2. EX – Fold forward. With bent elbows, bring shoulders behind bent knees; press back of knees into shoulders. Place palms flat on the ground with fingers pointing forward.
  3. IN – Protract shoulder blades, push palms into the ground and straighten arms.
    Internally rotate femurs, hugging thighs around arms, lift the feet up away from the floor, and straighten legs to Tittibhasana.
  4. Dristi (gaze): nose tip

⚠️ Disclaimer:
Safety first! Practice some Swadhyaya; know thyself.
Attempt this advance asana at your own risk.
Novices are advised to first work on strengthening said muscle groups above, flexibility of antagonist muscle groups (ie hamstrings, outer hips) and even agonists adductor muscles (especially gracilis and magnus). Patience, you will get there! 

High Desert Yogi:
Tirisula 200hr-Yoga-TTC-Manual-2019

Why is Spiderman’s blood pressure normal?

Image from NerdSync

Answer:  Because he has been practicing Meao Mudra


Mudra = seal.

Mudras done using hands are called Hasta Mudra.

十指连心 (shi zhi lian xin) – This is a saying in Chinese which translate to “your 10 fingers are connected to your heart”. The heart and soul / spirit often comes hand in hand (heh),  which is make up of energy (5 elements: Fire, Earth, Water, Air and Ether).

Surprise! surprise! We also have 5 fingers in each hand representing the 5 elements:

Image from Nizha Periaswamy (Astroulagam)


Hasta Mudra, done by forming different hand gestures, which can sometimes be very awkward / look retarded especially when your muscles in fingers/hands are not as flexible, is a fairly mindblowing concept. Who would have thought that these hand gestures can bring about so many benefits and balance in our body?! Just naming a few below (refer to tirisula notes for more info):

  • Physical Wellness: Weight loss, improve digestion, reduce tooth ache, helps with heart diseases cure Rheumatism, Arthritis, Gout, Parkinson’s disease, water retention issues, kidney issues, eye problems, skin disorder, bodily pains
  • Mental/Spiritual Wellness: Improve memory, sharpen brain, improve concentration, wisdom, etc

Google it and you can find all sorts of benefits that you can get from different mudras. All these can be achieved by “sealing” the energy or making connections between the different elements/ energies (Doctors are going to run out of jobs if everyone starts practicing Hatha mudra!)


Other interesting concepts (not sure how true) that I found online about mudras include:

  1. The location of the seal – where you connect (different part of the finger) have different effect.
  2. How you place your palms – Up or down, has different meaning too. Palms up = receiving, palms down = internalising

I guess there are many different school of thoughts about this, but one thing is true –

The power to change your future is in your hands.

Image by Smallstarters


It is abit unfortunate that I can’t find much about Hatha Mudra relating to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture points. Well, hopefully someday I will find the answer. In the meantime, let’s keep Hatha mudra in our daily practice.



YTT notes on Mudra