Sirsana is symbolic of my TTC journey, and thus the asana of choice for my post.
I came to the TTC not even knowing what the dolphin pose was, let alone having attempted a headstand. Naturally, I struggled to even kick my legs up to the wall on my first attempt. It is with gratitude that I share my progress in this pose, after several classmates on different occasions generously came to me with advice on the pose based on their observations and personal experience.
Getting into the Asana
Stage 1 — Walking your legs to the shoulders
Heaven knows I’ve tried and worried about all that pressure on my head and wondering if I’d crush my skull, until a classmate told me that once you have your legs up, the placement of the weight feels completely different — and she was right.
I walked my legs to my shoulders bravely until my legs felt light, and I lifted them off to the wall.
Stage 2 — Practise hugging your legs to your chest
After I got a feel of how it’s like to balance on my head, another classmate told me to really place the weight on my shoulders and forearms and balance with my legs folded against my chest.
This gave me a really good foundation to work on.
Stage 3 — Lifting one leg before the other
It was a challenge trying to lift both legs up to the air from the bent position, and I was encouraged to straighten one leg before the other. The balance was a lot easier to find this way.
Stage 4 — Pushing through the shoulders and arms
I had been relying on balance to go up for some time, and to do the pose better, I will have to continue building my upper body strength in order to push through the pose and balance decently.
Benefits of the Asana
- Stimulates the Sahasrara Chakra
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
- Stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands
- Strengthens the arms, legs and spine
- Strengthens the lungs
- Tones the abdominal organs
- Improves digestion
- Helps relieve symptoms of menopause
- Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, insomnia and sinusitis
Contraindications of the Asana
- Back injury
- Heart condition
- High blood pressure
- Neck injury
- Low blood pressure: Don’t start practice with this pose
- Pregnancy: Don’t start learning this asana during pregnancy
“Don’t waste time on people who are not worthy of it.”
This advice has been circulating in my world for the past few years, and I have often fallen back on it as an excuse to escape from having to deal with emotions.
A classmate shared today that she’s been bothered by the lack of closure in some relationships, and I started wondering about mine. K is a friend I’ve held close for a long time before I decided I didn’t have to put up with her mean words and actions anymore. For the past few years since I stopped talking to her, I often wondered how I’d behave if I bump into her on the streets. I still cared about her but I couldn’t let go of the anger.
Today after class, I sent her a text to apologise, tell her I still cared about her, thanked her for her friendship, and finally asked her to meet up for tea in February. She readily agreed.
A few years ago, one of my aunts told me that if you think about someone, just let them know; don’t let your fear of rejection hold you back.
From Pratyahara to Dharana, I’m going to consciously make an effort to actively deal with the negative emotions inside me, and brave through the fear.
In other news, I just text my ex to apologise for any wrong I’ve done him, and that I have forgiven him for what he has done.
I thought I was being generous with my forgiveness, but the liberating lightness that I feel makes me understand that forgiving others is actually forgiving myself.
Dhanu ( or Dhanush) – Bow
Asana – Pose
Dhanurasana is a backbend in prone position that makes the body look like an archer’s bow. The arched torso and legs representing the arch of the bow and the straight arms look like the string. This pose provides a great stretch for the abdomen & thighs and opens up the chest.
Lie on the belly with palms by your side. Bend both knees and bring your heels above your buttocks. Extend your arms back and grasp the outside of your ankles with both hands. Make sure that your knees are not wider than hip width apart.
Inhale and push your quads higher up, away from the floor and at the same time push your shins away from your buttocks. This will lift your chest off the ground. Depress your scapula and rotate shoulder externally to open up the chest area. Move your shoulders away from your ears, creating space around the neck.
Continue to breathe normally.
Feel the stretch in the quadriceps and transverse abdominus, contraction of hamstrings and the hip abductor muscles
The quadriceps and Transverse abdominus are stretched. Hamstrings are contracted. Hip abductor muscles provide stability along with the anterior pelvic muscles.
Hold the pose for 20-30 seconds. Repeat up to 2-3 times.
If you can’t reach your ankles, you can wrap a strap around the front of the ankles and grab the free ends as close to your feet as possible.
Another way to ease into the pose is to practice one leg at a time.
To deepen the stretch, bring both legs closer together until the knees, thighs and shins touch each other.
Parsva Dhanurasana can be performed by rolling over on your side while maintaining the pose. Hold on each side for 20-30 seconds.
- Relieves Stomach ailments like constipation and diarrhea
- Aids in weight loss
- Relieves mild backache
- Helps overcome fatigue
- Eases menstrual discomfort
- Helps with respiratory ailments
- Relaxes anxiety & fatigue
- Massages liver & aids digestion
- Strengthens back muscles
- Stretches entire front of body
- Improves posture (corrects a hunch back)
Do not attempt this pose on a full stomach and if you suffer from any of the following conditions:
- High or low blood pressure
- Back injury
- Neck injury
- Heart trouble
Common alignment issues:
Feet can be wider apart than hip width. This can cause injury to knees.
Solution: placing a block between the thighs and pressing inwards to keep it in place will ensure that hips don’t spread beyond safe limits.
Prapti (Yoga TTC200hr, January 2016)
SATYA – living the truth.
I’ve learnt a good few lessons from this little girl (possibly because she has all the best bits of her father’s spirit). This is Tara.
Tara is the only true Paddy in our family (being the only one actually born in Ireland – the rest of us are ‘Plastic Paddies’, born in England and pretending to be Irish!). Tara is now 9 (and 3 quarters), still dressing in her own ‘style’, and lives every day like it’s the best day that ever happened to her. She gives the best hugs in the world, knows when someone else needs a hug, or makes up a good enough excuse to give you one anyway, and always tries her best, never thinking that she might fall.
Sometimes it’s terrifying trying to keep up with her, emotionally and physically – but I can’t wait to see where she goes in her life. She is completely fearless.
Tara is always true to herself, wending her merry way in life, not stepping carefully, but dashing ahead. Being a good friend, not being concerned about what people think of her, and putting her heart into all that she does.
Tara has never cared if she has her ‘Sunday’ knickers on on a Sunday, or if her top matches her skirt, and I can’t imagine that she ever will. And I thank the heavens for that.
YTT 200hr, January 2016
Draw inwards, look inside of yourself, to identify the patterns of your life.
I’m an identical twin. It’s shaped my life, from before I was even born, and my sister is my total soulmate, my best friend, and the person I always turn to before I think of anyone else. I have also struggled with my identity for my entire life, made harder by not being the ‘dominant’ twin, and being possibly far too sensitive! I have forever been in her shadow and constantly been compared to her, and felt greatly lacking.
The pattern of my life was to lose courage to speak up for myself, partly because trying to be heard over my limelight-hogging sister was too exhausting! Our ‘twin’ pattern was set early, and we settled into our roles, which started to polarise. She rebelled and I polished my halo – both vying in our own ways for attention in an unhappy home.
Leaving home was a great watershed for me – college, travelling and living abroad – all a fantastic game, pretending to be someone else. Fun, carefree, rebellious – it was intoxicating, so it took me years to come back home. Every time I came home I felt the weight of my old pattern descending on me. My family wouldn’t let go of the past image of me, I only challenged weakly, and I allowed myself to fall back into my old ways – trying to keep the peace, not being true to myself.
I recognise this pattern, I know how I must break away from it, and most of the time I feel that I am on that path (but maybe I am cheating as I am essentially still ‘running away from home’ in Singapore!), but I need to practice Dharana and make my transformation complete.
YTT200hr, January 2016
To get into position, the following needs to be done :
(1) Shoulders flex and abduct
(2) Elbows extend
(3) Forearms pronate
(4) Knees extend
(5) Trunk extends
Common alignment issues will be used to discuss how this pose can be improved.
Common Alignment Issue 1 – Thighs and Knees Splay Apart
To address this, first, plantar flex the ankles, press the weight into the soles of the feet and press the heels into the mat. This engages the peroneus longus and brevis muscles on the sides of the lower legs.
Next, when in pose, contract the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles to internally rotate the hips to counteract the external rotation forces of the hip extensors (gluteus maximus and adductor magnus). Ask the student to fix the feet on the ground and contract the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius to draw knees towards midline. Use a block between knees and squeeze it to bring awareness of these muscle contraction.
Common Alignment Issues 2 & 3 – Knees are not straight and hyperextension of the lumbar spine
Engage the quadriceps to straighten the knees. As the feet are glued to the mat, they cannot move out to the front hence the quadriceps act like a hydraulic lift to raise the pelvis. The rectus femoris crosses the hip and knee joints moving both when they contract. This will tilt the pelvis forward. Together with the contraction of the gluteus maximus, this rotational effect on the pelvis helps to extend the spine and helps to prevent hyperextension.
Common Alignment Issue 4 – Hands are not straightened
Contract triceps to straighten elbows. As the longheads of the triceps attaches to the scapula, firmly engaging this muscle aids to rotate the scapula away from the humerus and prevents impingement of the acromion process. The gives more room to flex arms above the head. Activate the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles to externally rotate the shoulders, creating a helical action down the arms and through the elbows. To get into this position, imagine rotating the hands outward.
Engage the anterior deltoids to flex the shoulders further, drawing the trunk deeper into the pose from the arms. To get a feel of the deltoids, before entering pose, ask student to raise arm in front of him and feel the front of the shoulder with the other hand to feel the anterior deltoid contracting. When in pose, draw the shoulder blades towards each other by engaging the rhomboids. When arms are above the head, the scapulae will rotate outwards. Use the lower trapezius to depress the scapulae and draw the shoulders away from the neck. The rhomboids and trapezius muscles combine to stabilize the shoulder blades.
Wheel push ups using blocks can be done to help those unable to straighten their hands to achieve that gradually.
Finally, on a non-alignment issue, breathing in this pose can be improved by breathing from the chest instead of the abdomen if one wants to reap more benefits from the pose. It is not easy to do and requires bringing awareness to the breath and consciously direct the breath from the abdomen to the chest through practice.
• Benefits of Udhva Danurasana
1. Udhva Danurasana strengthens and lengthens the vertebrae to increase elasticity and flexibility of the spine. As we age, our spines compress. This pose creates the necessary space in the spine to keep young and healthy, and standing tall.
2. Strengthens arms, wrists, abdomen, legs, shoulders and chest resulting in toned muscles. In particular, it strengthen the muscles of the shoulder girdle including the trapezius, rhomboids, supraspinatus and infraspinatus which helps in keeping good postures.
3. Opens up the chest and strengthens the lungs and is also instrumental in allowing increased amounts of oxygen into the rib cage. Respiration will improve. Studies have shown that wheel induces therapeutic effects in practitioners with asthma. Breathing deeply while holding the pose is important.
4. Enhances the nervous system and improves hormone secretions that keep the body in optimal health. The hormonal balance that is attributed to wheel is said to aid in fertility.
5. As one stretches in wheel pose, fat build-up may be removed from the oblique area.
6. Loosens tight hips hence increase hip flexibility.
7. This pose is a full body and weight-bearing pose that can reduce the onset of osteoporosis.
8. As Udhva Dhanurasana is an inversion, we give the heart a break because the baroreceptors in the brain sense a flood of blood to the brain resulting in slowing the flow. This decreases blood pressure and heart rate.
Mental and Spiritual
1. Counteracts stress, depression and anxiety. This is due to stimulation of the thyroid and pituitary glands when engaged in the posture.
2. Wheel pose is a heart opening backbend. Heart openers are intended to cure any broken hearts from our past, while allowing ourselves new opportunity for love. It also helps to maintain emotional stability.
3. The vulnerability one feels from performing the pose develops courage in us.
4. Increases endorphins and energises the body.
• Who Should Not Do This Pose
Those have back injury, have carpal tunnel syndrome, heart irregularities, shoulder impingement, headaches, diarrhoea or high or low blood pressure.
Submitted by Patricia Loke, February 2016
In one of the theory sessions, Master Paalu asked what led us to take up the teacher training course. Was it physical, mental or spiritual? My answer was I don’t know.
The conditions of time and money made it possible for me to take up this training session hence if mental means rational thinking, the answer would be mental. However, I could have chosen to do something else with these resources so why Yoga Teacher Training? Why Tirisula?
I shall attempt to pen down my thoughts on the training journey thus far using these categories
of physical, mental and spiritual.
At the physical level, this journey has strengthened the physical body with the initial two weeks of intensive asana sessions. The alignment instructions enabled the body to discover and activate new muscles giving rise to new sensations being felt. New poses challenge the body and mind and serve to both humble and motivate.
The importance of the breath was also understood in a new light. Breathing is something so taken for granted that we only realize it when it is absent. The practice of pranayama brings the breath to the fore and jolts me out of complacency.
At the mental level, it has cleared questions and confusions regarding yoga and the practice of yoga. Yoga gained popularity over the past 2 to 3 decades and yoga is practiced predominantly through asanas. In fact, yoga is viewed as a form of exercise generally especially in a fitness centre setting. However, if one refers to the writings of Patanjali, this physical aspect of yoga, the asanas, is only one out of the eight limbs of yoga.
Personally, I feel there is no need to be dogmatic about what is yoga. The reason the physical aspect predominates is likely due to the deterioration of the physical health as a result of the modern lifestyle. The fact that people are drawn to the practice of yoga testifies to fact that yoga provides a solution to this. If yogis want to deepen their practice, they will eventually seek and discover the other aspects of yoga. If they are happy with just the physical practice, they will reap many benefits too. The scope and breadth of yoga is deep and wide enough to meet people at different levels. This is the strength and uniqueness of yoga.
Having said that, a distinction needs to be drawn between practices that are sound and practices may be damaging due to partial or wrong understanding. While the styles of yoga will continue to evolve, it is important to retain the principles and essence behind yoga. Also, focusing solely on asanas also run the risk of missing the forest for the trees.
At the spiritual level, the journey led to self-reflection and examination. Sensitivity to my thoughts and actions is heightened. Our way of life and our pattern of thinking were challenged. Stories shared by the teachers sought to reframe how we view things. Master Paalu’s at times provocative teachings gave me the opportunity to re-examine and affirm some of my beliefs. One example is that the small things matter. It is through the details that quality arises. Mastery of any skills or subjects requires us to spend time and effort to pay attention to the finer details.
Yoga means union. Yoga also means steadying the mind. Without this steadiness of the mind, we are like a boat with a malfunctioned engine in high choppy seas with no control over where we are going and at the mercy of the elements. This turbulence needs to be curbed. If we have no inner peace, there will be no world peace.
Midway through the course, a friend asked if it was worthwhile doing the course. I told him that I would answer the question after completing the course. While I do not quite know what made me take up teacher training, I can now answer yes to the question.
This journey can be summed up as gaining knowledge, reflection and renewed energy for life in general, and for yoga in particular.
To all my teachers past and present, thank you.
Submitted in gratitude by Patricia Loke, February 2016
Asteya is the third Yama that means non-stealing. It is the strength to resist a desire for material or non-materials things we don’t have. Even though this sounds impossible in today’s world, it is the only way to be happy and in peace since there is no end of desiring and jealousy once started. I always try to accept myself and loved ones as the way they are with strengths and weaknesses. For example, I always tell my children not to compete with anybody or compare themselves with others at school, just to do their best and accept the consequences whatever they are.
Growing up in India, I was introduced to yoga pretty early on in life, or rather to elements of yoga. Some yoga exercises were taught at school, some learnt watching my grandfather’s practice. When I was about 14 years old, I attended a 4 day Vipassana camp for students organized by the school, which was my introduction to meditation. I experimented with it from time to time. Even if just to fall asleep. It was common to hear conversations around the concepts of gunas, chakras and other yoga philosophy, although usually associated with older, retired people. ‘Namaste’ was just a greeting we uttered as many times a day as the English speaking world says ‘Hello’. All this wasn’t exotic or mystical; it was just a way of life.
Over time, I have attended several yoga classes and types, some hot & sweaty, some slow & sleepy and others with more creative names. I have also attempted following a regular Dhyana practice. When I was younger, yoga was exercise. During and after my pregnancy, yoga helped me build flexibility and strength. When I was grieving, Yoga & meditation were the light that pulled me through.
However, it was during my time at Tirisula and specially during the discussions every afternoon with the Masters that I realized that this piecemeal approach towards yoga or occasional yoga isn’t really yoga. To experience it truly in its entirety, I need to practice it everyday. Not just the asanas or just the meditation; and not just to fix what doesn’t seem right, but everyday, all the time. We spoke in class about practical applications of the ancient Yoga philosophy & principles in current day and age and in our daily lives. Some of the principles aren’t as easy to follow as they seem, but then Yoga is a personal journey. It isn’t a time bound race to a specific destination.
The teachings and opportunities have been around me all my life, but it was only during my time here and during the several conversations and thoughts seeded through these conversations, that I could finally see the dots connecting.
Prapti (Yoga TTC200hr, January 2016)
Asteya or non-stealing is one of four Yamas mentioned in the yoga sutras. When I was first introduced to the concept, the word stealing brought images of celebrities shop-lifting & acts of petty theft and robbery to mind and I automatically marked myself higher on my yogic path. With imaginary Om chanting and temple bells ringing in my head, I listened on and realized that Asteya also goes on to mean coveting what is not yours.
That set my head reeling like my Facebook newsfeed with images of people with better lives, better luck, better bodies, better parenting skills & more. Well, of course we have all been guilty of that every now and then. It is natural. Or is it?
Let’s look at nature itself. If an elephant compared itself to a bird based on flying skills, the magnificent animal could live the rest of his life trying to be a bird. What a waste of an elephant that would be!
So why do we do this? Why do we want what others have? The root cause of this coveting lies in a lack of confidence in ourselves and what is given to us to satisfy our needs. This leads to thinking that we need to have what others have.
To address non-stealing, I think it is important to address this root cause rather than focus on a taboo list. So let’s begin with looking at the good (and not so good) in us. Let’s pause to appreciate what we have been given, because what we have is enough to create what we need. Let’s work on being the best version of ourselves. When we try to be someone else, we are stealing from the universe, the person that we already are.
Prapti (Yoga TTC200hr, January 2016)