Out of my comfort zone and into Padmasana – Anatomy of the hips

From a young age Westerners (like myself) are not used to sit on the floor in a cross-legged position, let alone sit in a Lotus position for a longer period of time. And because I have worked in an office for many many years doing a ‘sitting’ job my hips felt pretty tight and I am unable to sit in Padmasana.

To better understand how to ‘open up the hips’ and get mobility and stability in the hip joints the anatomy lessons were a great eye opener.

Sitting leads to shortened hip flexors including the iliopsoas also known as the psoas muscle (the iliopsoas is actually a combination of two large muscles: the psoas major and the iliacus) and weak hip extensors like the gluteus maximus and thus the feeling of that dreaded tightness.

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Because of better understanding of the anatomy I am able to come up with asanas that externally rotates the hip joints and stretches the iliopsoas. All to prepare myself trying to get into Padmasana.

For example; to stretch the iliopsoas I use Ustrasana (Camel pose), Utthita Trikonasana, (low) lunge pose and Virabhadrasana I. To either open up the hips, increase flexibility of hip joints and/or externally rotate the hip joints I follow up with Baddha Konasana (Butterfly pose), Paschimottanasana and Pigeon Pose.

And then, with patience and perseverance and a lot of the above asanas; I am able to come into Padmasana, but only for a very short time…. Ouch! More practice is needed 🙂

Monique

200hr YTT January 2017           

Application of Anatomy in Our Yoga Practice

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Incorrect downward rotation, depressing the shoulders for inversion

In any sports, understanding key body structures will help to enhance our practice and reduce or avoid injuries.  Learning to apply the functional understanding of our musculoskeletal system in my yoga practice has actually help me to achieve micro successes in arm balance poses. I usually experience a lot of difficulties kicking up in inversion poses because I kept using my hip flexor instead of engaging my shoulder girdle correctly.  Another great mistake I made was depressing my shoulders downwards instead of protracting and rotating upwards.  Hence, it was not quite possible to hop up in inversion without collapsing as I was actually locking my torso downwards. My legs also felt super heavy when I just relied solely on my hip flexor to kick up in inversion poses.  

Identifying the muscles to work on for different asanas will also help to allow our body to gradually gain strength in the targetted muscles through consistently exercising these muscles to build muscle memories.  The muscles that are mainly utilised in the shoulders for handstand are the anterior and posterior deltoids. Working on drills such as plank, dolphin push ups, jump tucks etc, can help to strengthen these muscles as well as the biceps and triceps for steadier hold in inversions.  Although I may not be able to hold these inversion poses without relying on the wall, it is one baby step forward learning to work with the body structure with lesser resistance.  

 

Contributed by: Annie Chua (Jan’15)

 

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Upward rotation of Scapula for Pincha
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Correct: Upward rotation of Scapula, protracting the shoulder
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Finally able to rotate scapula upwards for handstand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The eight limbs of Yoga, abracadabra?

The very first time that I heard of the existence of the eight limbs of Yoga was in the first week of our YTT! When I had read through all the texts it was hard to grasp and take it all in, confusing and sometimes the word ‘gibberish’ came to my mind 🙂 How on earth could I remember all this, let alone practice it in my daily life.

 But after reading it again (and again and again 🙂 and reading explanations from others in articles on the Internet I now understand that Yoga is not complete without all these eight limbs. Doing Asanas without the seven other limbs are just a physical work-out, and for that you might as well go to a gym or a boot camp training, true or not?!

Pranayama is the second limb (after Asanas) I am consciously trying to integrate into my ‘new lifestyle’, meaning I have started an evening and morning ritual. And also trying to be alert and mindful of good breathing techniques during my Yoga practice but I must admit that it is not easy and takes concentration, conscious effort and practice to do it right and feel the benefits.

 I found this short explanation and it sums it all up in a succinct and understandable way for me:

“The eight means of Yoga are self-restraint, faithful observance, right posture, intentional breathing, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and awareness”.

 Monique

200hr YTT January 2017           

Dhayana – more than meditation?

Dhyana, the seventh of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, is the Sanskrit word for meditation or an unbroken concentration of the mind towards a point of focus. In yoga, however, Dhyana has the greater objective of leading one to enlightenment, by allowing one to enter a state where the boundaries between the self and the object of focus dissolve and become one. One may experience the state of Samadhi (union with the Divine) after the boundaries of the self dissolve in Dhayana.

After practicing yoga for a few years, I’ve come to realise that it is more difficult for me to practice the Dhayana aspect of yoga than the Asanas (poses). For the first year of my practice, I found it very difficult to lie still in Savasana (corpse pose) for just 3 minutes at the end of the class. I would always feel anxious to get out of the pose to go get dinner or to scratch an itch, and my mind would be filled with thoughts of what happened during the day or how badly I did a certain pose in class.

After a doctor friend of mine started educating me about the proven benefits of meditation (see for example: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm#hed3), I began to make a conscious effort to go for meditation classes whenever I had the chance, to try and learn how to control my mind rather than letting my mind control me. ‘Life’ unfortunately always gets in the way, and meditation classes happen only once every few months for me. I slowly realised that instead of trying to go for two separate classes (yoga and meditation), I could try and incorporate meditation at the end of each yoga practice in savasan and I eventually found myself being able to lie still for up to 10 minutes each time, without falling asleep!

So if you’re curious like me about finding out whether it is possible to experience heaven on earth in our minds, in this lifetime, but find it difficult to find the time or discipline to practice your dhyana, start practising in savasana first by focussing on the breath. Thoughts will come and go, but just bring your attention back to the breath and maybe one day we might experience Yoga or Union, in the highest form.

Rachel L. – Jan 2017 YTT 200 hour

Overcoming Obstacles in Asanas

Being petite and small build, I always feel that I am not strong enough for arm balance poses and inversions. My focus in asanas has always been to build more strength and to grow stronger everyday to overcome my weaknesses in arm balance asanas.  I was pleasantly surprised when I felt that I couldn’t do a headstand because my shoulders are not strong enough but Satya Wei Ling pointed out to me that my arms are definitely strong enough to hold my body weight 🙂 I guess the reason why I cannot hold arm balance poses and inversions well is because there is this little voice in my head that keeps telling me that I need to build more strength, that I’m not ready yet.😂  Sometimes we need to control our mind over our body to get things done in life. 

If you think that you have done enough ground work to build your foundation, create the muscle memory to bring you to the next level. We have an amazing body and I am ever so fascinated by the different shapes that our body can create. This is also one of the reason why I love yoga. Attached is how I try using blocks to assist me to create muscle memory getting into Lolasana and jumping through to Dandasana. Now I feel that my arms are too short to lift me up to jump through! 😆 Hope this little tips help you as well if you also face the same problem in lifting up for Lolasana or in jumping through during your yoga practice. 😉

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Using blocks to lift up to Lolasana (Pendent Pose)
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Tilting backwards and extending both legs forward (aka jumping through)
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Sit down in Dandasana

Contributed by: Annie Chua (Jan’17)

Yama & Niyama ~ The 8 limbs of Ashtanga

YAMA:

How I practice AHIMSA (non-harm)  on or off the mat… I usually go for Eco-friendly materials like organic cotton clothes if possible. They are not only very comfortable but they are harmless to the workers harvesting the cotton and the environment. Pesticides can cause a lot of health issues to the workers and harm the environment. For my sports attire, I usually purchase those made from recyclable materials such plastic bottles.  The materials dry up fast and are very comfortable especially in our tropical climate. Though I’m not a vegetarian, I try to eat less meat, eggs are my main source of protein.

SATYA means truthfulness. Not being afraid to be who you really are. Life is not about putting up a good show but to be comfortable in our own skin and walk our talk ✌️

ASTEYA: non-stealing, freeing oneself of jealous instincts. Living in a modern city like Singapore, it can be quite difficult not to compare and crave to own the things that others have. This is however, not difficult for me as I am a very busy working mum. I hardly have spare time to think too much. Staying focus on what really matters to you in life helps. My family means the world to me.

BRAHMACHARYA:    I would interpret it as devoting my heart and focusing my mind on following the teachings of the yoga teachers that i have chosen to learn fro. Committing our heart and soul to our practice is never easy. There are many distractions every day, can we follow our heart but still our mind each time we are on our mat? “Yoga is a journey of the self… through the self… to the self”~ Bhagavad Gita It is a journey of self practice with our spiritual being. I’m still learning to still my mind by starting with meditation first every morning before I kick start my practice. Off the mat, I have learnt to say ‘No’ when it is necessary so that I will not lose focus on what I have prioritised to be done. Staying focus helps me to use my limited time available wisely without losing sight of what I have set out to accomplish 😉

APARIGRAHA, one of the hardest to practise self-restraint because we live in a very materialistic and competitive world! Bottomline is, are we spending within our means to possess these material gains. Did we hurt ourselves or others or the environment in the pursuit of gaining them?  Are we contented with what we already have? Things that I need to use regularly, I will consider them as a necessity. I identify necessities that I need and avoid buying items that are made from killing animals in the process such as using animal’s skin.

 

NIYAMA:

SAUCHA means purity of the body, speech and mind. The enlighten path of a true yogi is definitely not easy. The thing I love about yoga is, it is unlike other sports, it is a non-competitive exercise to strengthen your own spiritual being. Over this coming year, I have learnt to eat cleaner, not totally clean yet. I am not a vegan, although 80% of my diet is fibre base – fruits, vegetables and carbo. I also try to avoid  food that may harm my body such as deep fried heaty food as I’m a dominant Pitta. Purity of speech and mind is the toughest.

We can try to be kind but sometimes it is difficult not to react to the actions of others. It may take many more OM years to practice.

SANTOSHA, or the practice of Contentment, refers to one’s acceptance of the present which tends to generate the capacity for hopefulness ~ excerpt from Yoga mind, Body & Spirit. Relating to my yoga practice, I don’t push myself beyond my capacity. If I have tried to my max and it still does not happen, I know it will happen only when my body is strong enough and that is fine.

Off the mat, contentment to me will only happens when I have accomplished what I have set out to be done in the present. I set myself achievable micro goals for the present so that I can reach my future dreams.

TAPAS (Fiery Discipline)

Finally there is one Niyama that is more of my current practice minus the ‘fiery🔥😁

I am usually quite discipline because I have 3 children looking up to me all the time. Where yoga is concern , my discipline has been to get on my mat everyday. I use to find pockets of time through out my busy schedule to workout. After attending this YTT, I understand the importance of having the discipline to wake up early with allocated time for daily practice.

SWADHYAYA (self-study/ self reflection)🌟 The first thing I learn through Swadhyaya ever since I started regular yoga practice is my lack of self love. I have to make conscious effort to remind myself that I am worth it😉 when I realised how good it felt, I want to bring it forward to remind others as well that is why I become more involved In social media to reach out to others like the old me. I was brought up in the old school methods whereby my parents and teachers back then don’t keep saying positive things to motivate us because I guess, they don’t practice self love too… When I have to constantly motivate myself, I learn to identity my strengths and weaknesses on and off the mat, and how I could have done things better. Old school methods may not be a bad thing, it helps to build resilience in us.😉

ISHWARA-PRANIDHA (Divinity/ Surrendering to the spiritual being)🌟 Sometimes things happen for a reason, it may be through our own actions but without us realising it then. Sometimes it can be through the help of others to make us see ‘the light’ to lit our path in our life or yoga journey.  I guess this is the omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and directing the course of our life. It is a belief and faith that we hold on to. Surrendering ourselves to the spiritual being is the toughest of all the Niyama in my opinion. We are constantly distracted by things or events happening around us daily, it takes all the previous Yama and Niyama to steer us back on course. I am excited to see things unfolding as I take little steps to make adjustments in my life and my family’s.

 

Contributed by Annie Chua (Jan’17)

Perfect Asanas

After finally enrolling myself for the Yoga Teacher Training with Tirisula Yoga, I was ready to deepen my five years on and off practice on the mat. Little did I know that it would be that tough, physically and mentally. It’s just plain hard work 🙂

I discovered that it’s all about pushing your own limits on the mat (with care, yoga is not about injuring yourself) as well as off the mat. That you need to change your lifestyle, that Yoga and Pranayama practice has to become your daily routine, your philosophy of life.

The chances to grow on your mat are often hidden at a place where it is unpleasant (oh the muscle pain everyday), in each asana I have the possibility to seek where my physical limits are. Sometimes I have the feeling never to be able to master a certain asana, for example Padmasana (Lotus) or Ustrasana (camel pose), but it takes patience and the willingness to challenge yourself to go one little step further every time you try a certain asana. And to breathe! Never forget to breathe!!! It’s a happy moment when you feel that your body can take more than you think and that it feels more open, strong and flexible after a while.

But the most important thing of all is to remind myself that I have to focus on the longer journey, rather than focusing on the perfect posture.

Monique

200hr YTT January 2017

Connection not Competition

I have two older siblings who are eight and five years older than me, respectively. During my childhood, I always compared myself to them. I wanted to be able to do a handstand, like my sister, before I could walk. I wanted to run faster than my brother so he could not catch me. I wanted to be involved in their badminton game when I could not even hit the shuttle cock once.

For me, one of my greatest internal achievements has been ‘Santousha’: Contentment. Since I turned eighteen, I have learned to focus on improving myself rather than always comparing myself to my siblings. We have all gone on to achieve top professional careers: one doctor, one accountant and me, the lawyer: the products of a Tiger Mother. And whilst we each live on different continents now, we are close in spirit because we appreciate each other’s achievements and rely on them rather than seeing them as competition. Whenever I have an ailment, I call my sister. If I am making an investment or paying my taxes, I call my brother. And everyone has legal issues that crop up from time to time, so I am always there for them.

We each achieve inner peace by keeping fit, reaching out to help others and leaning on each other in times of need. I feel lucky that our relationship is one of deep connection; not competition.

(Kay Vasey, 200hr TTC, January 2017)

The Flying Super(wo)man

When I was at university, I was a flying member of the University Air Squadron, part of the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve. Whilst it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life, I was also studying hard to achieve good grades in my law degree. This led to an awful lot of sitting: in the library; in the light aircraft; and then, relaxing during my scarce ‘downtime’. I went on to qualify as an aviation lawyer, which involved even more sitting.

Over the years, I began to experience intense lower back pain. The worst would be right at the time of day when it was most unwelcome: getting into bed and relaxing. The pain would be so intense that I would have to force myself to lie on my side just to enjoy reading my book before lights out.

After working with a colleague whose back problems were so intense, he would lie on the floor of the office and do Natarajasana (Lying Down Body Twist), I decided to explore some yoga poses to see if they would work for me. I discovered that one of the best ways to counter my pain was to try to strengthen my lower back muscles. This was when I discovered Viparita Shalabhasana (Superman Pose) and I have continued to ‘fly’ (albeit, on the ground) ever since.

(Kay Vasey, 200hr TTC, January 2017)

Back pain and yoga

Yoga has being associated with one of the best exercises for back pain. When I told my husband that I had back pain after practicing yoga he was really surprise. As a yoga student I was not aware of the limits of my body and I pushed myself too much.

The pain associated with yoga injuries and lower back pain is often related to posture and muscle tone. There are also genetic and structural reasons for back pain but even those conditions are well served by better posture and balanced muscle tone.

The normal backwards can compress our spines in a debilitating way, no matter how slight the compression. It also can cause more serious problems like herniated disc spine injure. The majority of people like me have tight lower back muscles and weak or imbalanced abdominal muscles. 

So be aware of the anatomy of your spine and imbalanced muscles. Practice yoga safely and do not push your body beyond its limits. Take care!

Vanessa Menezes