Strengthens the back, help alleviate back and neck pain
Often, people do not practice backbend properly, as a result, they injure their back instead of alleviating their back pain.
Some tips to improve on your backbend:
1. Do not extend from the lumbar spine area.
The lumbar spine is naturally arch and quite flexible and mobile. This is is the area where most people focus on backbend since it can bend easily. However, too much of extension at lumbar spine will cause pain around the area.
2. Lengthen the spine to allow greater spinal extension and focus on extending the thoracic spine
The thoracic vertebra has a bony piece that sticks out towards the back of our body known as spinous process. If the spine is not lengthen before extension, these spinous process are compressed, creating a “jam” feeling. This limits your ability to bend. This will cause the person to bend on his lumbar spine.
3. Avoid engaging the gluteus Maximus and focus on internal rotating the thigh at hip joint area
Our gluteus Maximus is one of the biggest muscles at hip and it externally rotates our thigh outwards. You will notice your right feet will tend to point outwards rather than forward. What this means is that it creates more range of motion, which allows us to easily slip into bending our lumbar spine. To prevent this, avoid engaging the gluteus Maximus. Instead focus, on internally rotating at the hip joint, lift our knee caps and press onto our feet, with our feet toes pointing forward. This helps to minimise bending at the lumbar spine.
“I’m not flexible, I can’t do yoga”, “nah,I don’t think I can…..”;
These responses were always what I got when I invite family members and friends to join yoga together. Yoga is always a misconception of you need to be flexible or thin, or it’s connected with religion.
Yoga isn’t “too hard” or “too easy.”. Yoga isn’t a religion. Yoga is for everyone at every level, and yoga can fit into every lifestyle. If you’re open to trying the practice, you just might discover how inclusive and uplifting yoga can be.
What can we do to help our loved one to roll on their first mat and try? Here what’s in my mind: ~
Give them a picture of what will be happened from the start of class till end of the class. Tell them what’s the entire process; it could from a sign-in section / pranayama breathing exercise / who when how during the class, a simple studio etiquette brief. Let them have a clue beforehand so that they are not totally lost.
Help them not to shy away. You might want to share with them about suitable outfits, props and mat. Of course, most of the studio now did provide what are needed for practices. Most importantly, let them know no one is judging at them when they’re in studio practice. Why did I say that? This is because many yogis have been where you are and they relate to what you’re going through—regardless of what they look like now, and what they’re capable of on the mat now. Let them know yoga is so much about personal experience and development. Basically, what they need to ready are just themselves with water bottle and small towel =)
Choose the best fit first class for them. With the wide range of yoga class available out there, you can find some interesting class that may helpful to introduce yoga at their first class. You might also want to choose classes that might fit more into their personality. However, we still want them to have their own experience.
Share your story with them. Not only sharing how yoga has benefit your physical health, but also mental stability. Yoga helps calm our mind, de-stress and relax, relieves anxiety. Through yoga, you get to know yourself and building self-trust. You became self-conscious and mindful, you able to understand yourself with compassion and love, as well as toward others too. Mental health and self-awareness are issues need to deal by every individual to balance life and find sense of inner-peace.
We have to appreciate that everyone is different, and yoga is so much about personal development and understanding. At the end of the day, we can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do. We can however share our stories, gently present them with the opportunity to try, and let them experience it at their own time and in their own way. A small introduction might be a good starting point that will help ease them into the world of Yoga.
Hip openers powerfully stimulate and balance the muladhara, or root chakra. By physically rooting our pelvic floor and the base of our spine into the Earth, we plug ourselves into the vibrational current of the planet. It also activates the sacral chakra, Svadisthana, which is translated as dwelling in a place of the self. This energy center relates to fun, freedom, creativity, flexibility, and pleasure. When we open our hips, we restore our reproductive organs, which at a base level represent the original force creating existence. Through creating balance in these chakras we can become grounded, comfortable within our own identity, inherently creative, and flexible in changing environments, not excessively holding on to what you thought before. Before you start this practice, meditate on something you would like to let go of that you feel prevents you from expressing yourself fully.
Each asana holds meaning that’s intended to connect us to our deeper beings. This hip opening flow ends with Hanumanasana, the yogic name to the famous front splits. Hanuman, the ancient Monkey God in the mythological times, was famous for his powerful leaps, as he was able to jump over South India to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita, the Queen, who was kidnapped by the Lord of Darkness. Such leap is memorialized in the pose. Similar to Hanuman’s devotion in saving the queen, this asana expresses the expansiveness possible when you fully commit to your practice.
This flow will focus on the following major movements and muscular engagements:
(1) Opening the Hamstrings
(2) Opening the Hip Flexors
(3) Lengthening Your Stride
(4) Engagement of Glutes, Pelvic Floor, Psoas, and Core
(5) Keeping the spine neutral while performing all (important to prevent lower back injury, don’t go into anterior tilt).
It’s important to note that any hip opening pose must be approached with humility, even if you’re already quite flexible. Many flexible people further stretch their already-open hamstrings but allow their pelvis to tip forward (anterior tilt). This creates an imbalance and leads to lower back pain when students attempt, as they should, to lift the spine.
Hanumanasana requires the work of the hips and hamstrings, while balancing the upper body on the pelvis. With the hips and the legs moving in opposite directions, the hip flexors and hamstrings need to be strong and flexible to attain the required balance and stability.
Warmup (5 mins)
Table Top Cat Cow (1 min)
Table top with leg pulsing on each side (1 min)
5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A (3 mins)
Standing Sequence (25 minutes)
Prasarita Padottanasana ABCD (3 minutes)
Praying hands (1 minute)
Hugging and kissing knee (1 minute)
Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
Vinyasa on Both sides: Downward dog – Three legged downdog with knee flexing- Active pigeon- Sleeping Pigeon- Child’s Pose- Repeat on left side (6 minutes)
Vinyasa on Both sides: High lunge- Warrior 1- Skandasana- Warrior 2- Birds of paradise- Tadasana (8 minutes)
Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
Lizard pose + Quad Stretch Both sides (2 minutes)
Active Malasana (2 minutes)
Active Malasana Level 2: For more adduction stretch, step on the blocks while still pushing the thighs back and engaging hamstrings
Active Malasana Level 3: place forearm and palm flat on the ground, flap legs sideways
Goddess Pose (1 minute)
Seating Sequence (10 minutes)
Paschmitonasana A (1 minute)
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana Both sides (2 minutes)
Triang Mukha Eka Pada admotanasana (2 minutes)
Split drills with blocks (Get two blocks. Put them near your pelvis. Keep on placing one block in front of another until you extend your arms to its maximum. Once arms are at maximum, fold forward) (2 minutes)
Hanumanasana (3 minutes)
Focus on leveling the pelvis instead of reaching to the ground
Keep hips squared; try to avoid going into an anterior tilt
Press your inner thighs towards each other to help support the pelvis.
Engage hip flexors, glutes, pelvic core, psoas, and core
Ahimsa, the first and foremost five Yama of Eight Limbs of Yoga. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning of “non-violence”, or in another words it means “absence of injuries”. Ahimsa is not only non-violence in the physical sense, but with your words and thoughts as well. It’s the absence of violence in physical, mental and emotional form.
Many of us could say good words and show pleasant behavior to our families and friends, or even could show generous kindness to stranger. But we seem to forgot the most important “myself”. You may not identify some thought and mind actually harm yourself.
It’s important to remind ourselves of ahimsa throughout our yoga practices, it is easy to just judge at ourselves for not being at a level of enough strength or flexibility and push ourselves too much further which beyond what our body can do thus hurting or injuring ourselves unconsciously. This is not saying that we shouldn’t push ourselves to get better, but we need to be made the process slow and steady for improvement. We have to be thoughtful to our physical body and only go a little bit beyond your ability day by day, one day you will get here. While we practicing on mat, celebrate every moment between you and yourself. Practicing ahimsa over and over again, eventually it will become natural part of us.
The more often you practice self-care and compassion, eventually you become ‘ahimsa’ naturally and effortlessly. Take a moment for yourself, sit comfortably and upright, close your eyes and place your palms together in heart center. Take a deep breath in, notice whatever within you now, maybe you can feel your pulse or even a fluctuated mind, but they’re all fine. Whisper to yourself “Thank you, you’re great.”
Who is considered as an ultra beginner exactly? Well, someone who has never done yoga before; someone who doesn’t do much exercise at all; or even, just take a look at the coffee shop across your house, those middle age people or elderlies that are relaxing and chilling away with their coffees in the lazy afternoons – those, are ultra beginners.
If these group of people are to be considered as ultra beginners, that means the class would meant no downward dogs, nor any warriors. Then how should we plan such a class for 60 minutes?
I played around with some poses, and tested them on the ‘ultra’ beginners that I could grab around me from office and among my friends, and this is what I’ve got.
Sit comfortably, introduction of the session, open the class with OM chants
Deep breathing exercise
Inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose. Long deep breaths for 6 to 10 times
Lie in Savasana
Chanting of 3 OMs to close the class.
Still, some of the stretches were not easy, surprisingly, for these ultra beginners, but they are definitely manageable, and would suffice for an ultra beginner class for a good 60 minutes!
Shojin ryori, otherwise also known as temple or Buddhist cooking, is one of the classic Japanese cuisines. Shojin ryori was introduced to Japan from China by the monk Dogen, the founder of Zen Buddhism, whose practice emphasizes seated meditation. Buddhist tradition forbade killing animals for human consumption, which was believed to cloud the spirit and interfere with meditation. As a result, the meals they ate were made without meat or fish and also abstained from the use of pungent flavors like garlic and onion. These principles became the foundation of shojin ryori.
A typical shojin ryori meal is centered around soybean-based foods like tofu along with seasonal vegetables and wild mountain plants, which are believed to bring balance and alignment to the body, mind, and spirit.
What is Yogic Diet? Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic?
Before we talk about Yogic diet specifically, we need to understand what is “Guna”. Guna is a Sanskrit word that signifies “rope”. In an abstract use of the word, it can signify “subdivision”, “species”, “type” and generally “quality”. According to the Bhagavad Ghita, a Guna is the subtlest quality in nature and exists in all human beings, in various grades of concentration and combination, moving in different physical, emotional and mental levels. Basically, they are three qualities that compose the universe.
Guna is one of the three tendencies: Tama (dull, inertia, ignorance), Sattva (grace, kindness, pure), and Raja (passion, energy). They are in charge of categorizing behaviors and natural phenomenon, and can be utilized in medicine as well. Ayurvedica is used in diagnostic systems with various conditions and diets. According to Ayurveda, medicine and food are Sattvic, Rajasic, or Tamasic, or a combination of the three.
As such, the food that we eat can be also classified into three types – Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Here is a quick look at some foods and how they are categorized.
Grains such as rice, wheat, and oats, legumes, moong dal (whole green gram)
Meat and fish, excessively spicy, salty, and sour foods
Meat and fish, white flour, food with preservatives, food kept overnight
Fresh green vegetables such as spinach, green beans, steamed vegetables with moderate spices
Pungent vegetables, excessive intake of potato, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower
Foods with excessive starch, canned and tinned food
Fresh fruits such as pomegranates, apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes
Jams, jellies, flavored and preserved foods
Jams, jellies, flavored and preserved foods
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices
Wines, alcoholic drinks, soda, cola, and coffee
Hard liquor like whisky and rum
Fresh or lightly roasted seeds and nuts
Fried food, roasted and salted food, and mustard
French fries, chips, foods preserved with salt
Fresh buttermilk, fresh curd (yoghurt), butter, and ghee (clarified butter).
* Fresh milk is Sattvic but once pasteurized, it turns a little Tamasic.
Sour milk and cream
Too cold or pasteurized milk, curds, and cheese
Coconut oil, sesame oil, and olive oil
Excess intake of fats, oils, sugars, and pastries
Spices such as ginger, cardamom, dalchini (cinnamon), saunf (fennel), dhaniya (coriander), and haldi (turmeric)
Chilies, garlic, onions, pickles, and vinegar
Honey, jaggery and raw sugar
Brown or black chocolate
White sugar and white flour
(Reference: Written with inputs from Dr. Sharika Menon, Vaidya, Art of Living)
Being of Sattvic or “pure” mind is the goal when we practice, and this quality is also present in the food that we eat. Ideally a yogic diet would be rich in sattvic foods, which are freshly prepared, light and healthy and do not go to any extremes of tastes.
According to Ayurveda, this is the best diet for a Yogi to adopt. It helps purifies our body and calms the mind.
Shojin Ryori inspired yogic diet – what’s on the Menu?
Now, it is not hard to tell Shojin Ryori diet is somehow largely in line with what we envision for a sattvic diet. That said, Shojin Ryori diet might contain certain elements that we wish to modify or remove to make it 100% sattvic. Foods in Shojin Ryori diet that we might want to avoid: tempura (deep-fried foods are generally considered Tamasic), miso, or fermented soybean paste (fermented foods are generally considered Tamasic), mushroom (considered tamasic because it grows in the dark).
For that, here is a Shojin Ryori inspired menu curated just for yogis! Bon appetite!
Option A: Brown Rice
Option B: Soba
Steamed vegetarian gyoza
Chawanmushi (egg-option)/ Tofu (vegan-friendly)
Option A: Vegetable salad with roasted sesame dressing
Oftentimes, we think that if we get a promotion, get more money, lose weight, have better skin, get a bigger house, or get better with our asanas, we will be happier. We humans are in the constant chase for something that we don’t have, and once we do achieve what we wanted, we would aim for something else, something better. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill because we’re running after something only to end up in the same place- desiring more of what we don’t have.
Santosha, the second of five niyamas, is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which, as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.” Niyamas are literally translated as positive duties or observances. Together with Yamas, these are recommended activities and habits to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual enlightenment. Santosha tells us that we can only truly find happiness from within, and relying on external factors will never bring us peace. This niyama invites us to be content in the present, and know that we are complete and enough the way we are. This is not to say that we should never have desires or goals. The niyama is simply inviting us to stop wasting energy thinking about what we lack. Instead, we should enjoy the journey, live in the present, and be thankful for what we do have. Intrinsic happiness is unconditional.
The secret to the law of attraction is to believe that we already have what we want. To manifest the best version of ourselves, we need to be grateful with ourselves and be happy where we are. Yoga is an amazing practice to work on changing our self-harming thought patterns for the better.
How to practice santosha on the mat:
Don’t compare yourself with other yogis.All of us have probably fallen prey to this: a difficult asana comes up in class which we’re not confident of doing; instead of practicing, we look around and compare ourselves with others. Or when we’re stuck in our phones, we tend to look at all these yogi Youtubers and sulk about not being as strong and flexible as them. Santosha tells us to shift the focus back to improving ourselves for the sake of personal growth instead of spending time wishing we had someone else’s physical abilities. Give yourself freedom to enjoy where you are in your practice.
Be compassionate to your body.We often forget how much our bodies provide for us: it gets us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities without much thinking. The fact that we can breathe, show up in our mat, and do asanas when we want to is amazing in itself. The least we can do is be thankful by not bringing physical harm to it and to stop saying hurtful words to it.
Also understand that your body will be different each day depending on what you eat, how well you sleep, the quality of air you breathe, your mental state, etc. Some days you’re stronger, other days you’re very tight. Accept it for what it is at the present and know that your body will always evolve.
Be present in your practice. What makes physical yoga distinct from other workouts is its mind-body-breath connection. It’s normal to get distracted with thoughts of the future or past when you’re practicing. When that happens, acknowledge the thought and try your best to bring yourself back to your movement through focusing on the breath. Being present makes your poses and breathwork more precise too.
Always start and end your practice with namaste. Deciding to show up for yourself on the mat is an excellent practice of self-care. Acknowledge that you are alive, breathing, and your body can perform these asanas for you. That’s already a lot of things to be grateful for.
How to practice santosha off the mat:
Start and end your day with gratitude. In the morning, list three constant things in your life that you are grateful for. It could be the presence of your friends, family, a steady source of income, a roof on top of your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, a body that works hard for you, the fact that you’re still alive. When you start your day focusing on these things instead of what you don’t have, you will attract more things to be thankful for. At the end of the day, think about what happened in the day that you’re grateful for.
Let go of what you can’t control. Oftentimes, the source of discontentment is from things we can’t change or influence such as those that happened in the past or others’ opinions of us. Don’t sacrifice your bliss and headspace for these moments. Instead, focus on what you can directly control which ultimately is yourself- your breath, your attitude, your reaction to things. You can choose to be disappointed or accepting of events.
Let go of expectations and perfection. Practice remaining calm in success or failure. Find ease in whatever you’re doing and completely enjoy the process. If you focus on the progress instead of the result, you are directed back to the present and appreciate how far you’ve come. Expectations often leave you frustrated with how far you need to go. Completely surrender to the moment and let life surprise you.
Go outside and appreciate the world around you. If you’ve been taking the blue sky, tall trees, or building murals for granted, marvel at them today. Look at all their details and relish the fact that you get to live with all these beauty. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature. You can keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from technology so you can really stay in the present.
Take yourself in on a date. To find santosha, you must spend some time alone to truly rid yourself of external validation. You must be content and accept yourself for who you truly are. Yes, your relationships are important and without others, you probably won’t survive but you must be careful on making others the source of your happiness. Sustainable contentment only come from within.
`Yamas` (moral discipline) are observances recommended by yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the eight-limbed path of yoga, developed by Patanjali. Unlike a commandment that has to be strictly followed, the five yamas are established for enthusiasts to develop a mindful and healthy lifestyle.
The second yama is called Satya. The Sanskrit word literally translates to fact, reality, or true nature in English. In its simplest form, satyameans upholding the truth. Although the yama certainly encompasses honesty, it also includes integrity to ourselves, our lives, and our inner divine. The practice invites us to be our truest, most authentic selves. More than simply telling your truth, you have to also practice and live it.
For instance, you can’t keep saying that you want a break but also accept overtime work from your office; or know deep down that you want to commit into a serious relationship but go on casual, meaningless dates. These small contradictions keep us from manifesting what it is we really want. Satya encourages us to align our thoughts, words, and actions with our desires, while keeping them pure and harmless.
Reflection piece: In what situations do you notice that your actions are in conflict with what you feel? Why? Who or what are you protecting?
Note: truth shouldn’t cause harm
This yama doesn’t invite us to be frank and forward in telling negative observations, no matter how truthful they are. Our ethical code doesn’t live in a bubble. There’s a reason why ahimsa (non-violence) is the first yama. It tells us that whatever we do should not cause harm to others. Hence, if telling your version of the truth will hurt others, you have to think twice whether your opinion matters. Practicing satyaisn’t simply about blindly telling the truth regardless of the consequence. It’s making sure that you speak and act with thought and intention instead of just saying whatever is on your mind.
How to practice satya on the mat
Set an intention in your practice. Your intention is the truth as to why you are on the mat today. It will direct your reality. Is your intention to get stronger? To get better sleep? To feel less stressed? Whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice, remind yourself of your intention to get on the mat.
Listen to your physical body. Pain, discomfort, and injury are different languages that your body uses to communicate its truth. Don’t ignore that. If you’re feeling tired, or healing from an injury, don’t force yourself into doing another Chaturanga Dandanasana. It’s a violation of both satya and ahimsa.
Rather than believing that you are not strong, flexible, or good enough, honor the reality of your body: it just needs practice. Everybody can improve through practice, and no one is an exception.
How to practice satya off the mat
Do you feel that you are striving for things that you don’t actually want, but are conditioned by society, family, friends, or loved ones as things you should aspire to have? Ask the hard questions and be completely honest with yourself on whether you are living the life that aligns with your truth.
Make sure that you speak to yourself and others with kindness and intention. Before speaking, ask yourself: is what I’m saying good, true, and beneficial?
Speak up for yourself when your voice needs to be heard.
Shift from judgment to observation. For instance, instead of saying “I am fat”, say “My body doesn’t meet yet my standards but it can always improve.” In the first sentence, you are imposing your standards on the world by labeling yourself fat and calling it your reality; in the second, you are simply and clearly expressing your need (to be less fat) in the moment.