Anatomy and Yoga

What comes into your mind when you hear the word anatomy? Majority of us, the first thing that will enter our mind is the human body. The structures and it’s compositions, joints, muscles and the system of the body. As defined Anatomy is a branch of science connected with the bodily structure of humans, animals and other living organisms, especially as revealed by dissection and the separation of parts.
I have been studying anatomy during my university days. I’ve studied about the human systems and its functions. But only now when I took the YTT did I realize that human anatomy and physiology plays a big part in teaching, learning and practicing yoga. And on the other hand yoga has a big impact in the human body as well.
Learning some of the origin, insertion and the actions of a muscle will help us to get in and out of the asanas with ease. Knowing more about a certain muscle will make it easier for us to engage it during the movement not worrying whether we doing it correctly or not. It makes it easier to know as well whether we are stretching or strengthening the correct part. If a person knows more about the joints it will be easier identify which part should be moving and to which direction, a simple understanding of flexion and extension, internal and external rotation makes a big difference.
At the same time asana have different physical benefits in our systems, take for example the Pawan Muktasana (wind releasing pose), tucking the knees close to the chest and hugging them and lifting the chin between the knees can help expel abdominal gases, stimulates the digestive system and aid in combating constipation, it can also relieve menstrual cramps for females. Doing Pada Hastasana (hand to feet pose) not only helps to stretch the entire posterior part of the body, it also lengthens the spine and increases its flexibility. It increases the blood supply to the brain as well. Most of the twisting asana doesn’t just increase the flexibility of the spine it also squeezes the kidneys, intestines and all other digestive organs, facilitating their revitalization and cleansing process. There are a lot more physical and spiritual benefits an asana can give to the body.
So if we want to deepen our knowledge and practice of yoga I would suggest that we continuously learn more about the human anatomy. There is no need to memorize every little details and terminologies what is important is we get to learn and understand our own body. This will help us improve and become a better yogi.
Erly (“,)
 

As it comes to an end…

Few more sessions and My 200hrs YTT course is about to end I am actually starting to miss it. For almost 3 months I would be waking up early in the morning on a weekend just to get ready and head up to my yoga school/studio. I would be spending 6 ½ hours of my day, learning stuffs about yoga together with different people having different reasons why they are there.
I still remember the first day in class when we were asked why are we taking the course and why are we there. I was the first one to answer that question not because I volunteered but because I was sitting at the corner of the room, my answer was “I want to learn more about yoga because I want to learn how to teach and be a yoga instructor”. Others wanted to deepen their knowledge about yoga, learn whether what they are doing is right or wrong, others for their personal development, some wanted to know whether medical problems they have such as knee pain, shoulder problem, spinal problem or even scoliosis would hinder them from doing or practicing yoga, Others, just like me they wanted to teach as well.
Did I learn from this course? OF COURSE I did… I learned the proper execution of Surya Namaskar. I learned and memorized the primary series of ashtanga yoga and their Sanskrit names, how to get in and out of those poses, Adjustments and alignment, How to breath properly, principles and philosophy of yoga, meditation, chakras, anatomy, how to make a lesson plan and how to teach them and a lot more of stuffs about yoga that I wouldn’t be elaborating further more.
Most importantly I learned to take it one step at a time. I learned that yoga is not about rushing to get into a pose and perfecting it. It’s not a competition of who can do the pose and who cannot. I learned how to be patient and be more positive and never give up just because I cannot lift or I fell. One day I will get to the pose that I cannot do for now all I have to do is keep practicing and keep going and continuously learn to love and embrace every easy and difficult asanas.
Do I still want to be a yoga instructor?… YES but I know I still have a long way to go, I still have a lot more things to learn and to explore about yoga. But I know I will get there as long as I keep in mind all of the things I learned from this course, from the teachers and their assistants and also from my classmates. Yoga is a continuous learning process you just don’t stop with what you know. You keep going and keep aiming high.
Erly (“,)

My YTTC Journey: Learning that yoga is not yoga

I started to practice yoga more seriously as a way of dealing with alot of major life events happening within a very short period of time. It was a space where I could calm my monkey mind, find focus and feel my damaged body mending. I was even developing a sense of spiritual awakening, that I had never expected to find. Everyone just assumes I must be a Christian because I’m a white English woman, but looks can be deceiving! My parents were into Zen and Buddhism when I was growing up. I flipped from atheism in my teens-20s to understanding in my 30s that there’s something like the universe or Gaia around us. I definitely believed in fate and Karma. At the same time I started to practice yoga regularly, I discovered mindfulness, meditation and small acts of kindness as a daily way to “do good and be good”, a sentiment that influences both yogic (e.g. Sivananda, Wikiquote, 2016) and Buddhist thought (Instilling Goodness School, 2016). So it was all heading in the right direction, but it felt like a bit of a “mishmash” or “rojak”, as I went about finding my way along my inner and outer spiritual journey.
At that time, I just thought this yoga thing is great! I love it! I’m sure I bored many friends raving about it, as I tend to want to share with those around me. Then a new friend came along and shook me up a little. He told me that I’d got it all wrong. Our conversation went a bit like this:
Friend: “What you do in your yoga class is not yoga, you got it all wrong”.
Me: “What?! Shut up. Of course it’s yoga. I go to back bend class, therapy class, hot class… How is that NOT yoga?”.
Friend: “It’s not yoga and it’s hard for you to understand. What you do is just something created by Westerners to make money”.
That last point I will never agree with, although of course there are some branches of modern yoga which are more tied to following a key teacher, and have a definite air of commercialism and branding around them. They will remain nameless here! However, that revelatory conversation led to me being taken to a lecture by a Krishna monk. After a couple of hours, I left having heard that yoga is pure devotion and eventually reaching a Brahmic state and a oneness with the divine. Okay, so this did sound kind of different to practicing physical poses! I am an open-minded and curious person, so I wanted to learn more about why the thing I embraced as yoga (asana) was not yoga!
I started reading excerpts from Bhagvad Gita and trying to work it out for myself. I saw glimpses of what yoga might be, but it was a slow-forming idea, rather than a sudden awakening to what this all meant. So I just carried on enjoying my asana classes and didn’t worry that I wasn’t really “doing yoga” according to others’ expectations. I experienced feelings of spiritual awakening, practised my different mindfulness techniques, and dipped in and out of different philosophical texts or articles about different concepts. That seemed good enough for me.
However, what really opened my eyes up to what yoga is – in its holistic form – was attending this Yoga Teacher Training Course. We were introduced to the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga or Raja Yoga via stories and examples that could relate to everyday life (Tirsula Yoga, 2015). I didn’t need to hear or read much to know that this was suddenly making all the things I had heard earlier, and the various spiritual practices that I liked to bring into my daily life off the yoga mat, make alot more sense to me. As we’d say in the UK, “the penny dropped” for me and I saw clearly that yoga asana is just one beautiful part of the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Asana is a physical preparation to help us live a more mindful and pure life. The 8 Limbs are:
1) Yama: including practices of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (freedom from jealousy and coveting), Bramacharya (Godly living), and Aparigraha (non-possesiveness).
2) Niyama: incorporating Saucha (pureness of body), Santosha (my personal favourite – contentment, gratitude), Tapas (cleansing the body and senses), and Swadhyaya (making an inner journey to know ourselves and the sacred).
3) Asana: physical yoga practice.
4) Pranayama: breathing practices, such as Ujjaya.
5) Pratyahara: listening to the signals from inside the body to fulfil our needs so that our inner being is not affected or shaken by external influences.
6) Dharana: focus and concentration.
7) Dhyana: meditation.
8) Samadhi: reaching enlightenment and connecting at the highest level with the super-conscience and nature.
So I learned that my friend was right all along! I was practicing yoga asana, but I wasn’t living yoga in a conscious manner through my life, though I did adopt relevant and related practices that in many senses brought me to the same destination. Nothing I learned about in the 8 Limbs was new to me, it all resonated with who I am, but this approach put it all together into a practical and clear structure for how I could live a truly yogic life. That’s something much deeper that I will take away from this experience and I’ve been sharing little by little with my friends and family so that they, too, can know and love what yoga is in its truest and most enriching form. Thank you!
Author: Arwen, YTTC Jan-Apr2016
 
References:
Instilling Goodness School (2016) Following the Buddha’s Footsteps http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/footsteps.htm
Wikiquote (2016) Swami Sivananda, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Swami_Sivananda
Tirsula Yoga (2015) Tirsula Yoga Training Manual, 200 Hour Y
 
 

Understanding the Chakras

There are 7 major chakras in the human body, aligning with the spinal cord, plus another 4 minor chakras in the arms. A chakra, or wheel in Sanskrit, is a rapidly-rotating disc which emits energy and a certain frequency, moving in a up-down spiralling motion rather than being fixed. These are found at the points in our body where Kundalini or cosmic energy flows, or the 7 Nadis located around the major energy centres of the body. Starting at the base of the spine and working up to the top of the head, these are:

  1. Muladahara – found at the root of the body, pelvic floor, coccyx, represented by the earth element, fulfilment of basic survival needs and more animal instincts such as food, water, shelter and sex;
  2. Svadhisthana – genital and lower abdomen area, sacral area, represented by water element, drive to go beyond basic survival to imagine and create;
  3. Manipura – navel, solar plexus and lumbar area of spine, represented by fire element, calm, self-actualisation;
  4. Anahata – behind the heart, represented by air element, compassion and spirituality;
  5. Visuddhu – based of throat, cervical spine and thymus, represented by ether, knowledge and understanding;
  6. Ajna – between eyebrows, 3rd eye, pituitary gland, spirituality and connection;
  7. Sahasrara – crown of the head, the brain and pineal gland, intuition.
  8. Some also include an 8th chakra which is what we emit as a whole person – Aura – the bioelectric field or vibrations we emit from our body. (Iyengar 2014; Tirsula Yoga, 2015)

A fully healthy, balanced human will have balance and harmony between the different chakras, with their energy – somewhat akin to Chi or lifeforce in Taoist philosophy – flowing naturally. However, blockages can occur in different chakras leading to distortions of the mind and body. Namely, our healthy functioning mind and body become affected by trapped energy in one or other parts of the body, in turn leading our mental, emotional and behavioural energy to be over-emphasised in some parts of life rather than others. In order to deeply connect with the chakras, we need to work through the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga and to overcome the 6 evils (greed, desire, anger, pride, infatuation and envy), allowing us to connect the human body with our divine self (Iyengar, 2014).
With sustained practice, we can gently activate the chakras through asana practice. For example, grounding asanas such as Utkatasana (chair) tend to help activate the root chakra, Muladhara, whereas asanas such as Sirsasana (headstand) help to activate the crown chakra, Sahasrara.
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Meditation, mantra chanting, pranayama and mudras (healing hand and body gestures which help to receive energy as well as set our intentions) are particularly useful to activate the chakras (Electric Energies, 2016; Rice, 2015). For example, to promote activity at the Anahata (heart) chakra, we can practice Padma Mudra (shown in the photo above), where a lotus shape mudra is made with the hands whilst using deep breathing and chanting YAM. I find this a really powerful meditation myself, though I feel I am already quite balanced in this area. The resonance of this mantra and the lotus mudra hand formation help to draw energy to the heart centre. If we are experiencing a major blockage in the Anahata, we will tend to have low spiritual connection, lack compassion towards others, and lack ability to love and understand ourselves and others. Opening this area up can, as with the other chakras, help us to flourish as fully-rounded and spiritually connected individuals.
By shifting the energy evenly between the chakras, we can heal and re-align our physical and emotional conditions, redirecting negative energies and habits towards positive ones (Singh Khalsa and Sauth, 2001).
References:
Eclectic Energies (2016) Working with the Chakras, https://www.eclec*cenergies.com/chakras/working. Php
Iyengar, B. K. S. (2014) Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, New York, Dk Publishing.
Singh Khalsa, D. and Stauth, C. (2001) Meditation as Medicine: Activate the Power of your Natural Healing Force, New York: Fireside.
Tirsula Yoga (2015) Tirsula Yoga Training Manual, 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course, Singapore: Tirsula Yoga.
Rice, A. (2015) 7 Mudras to Unlock Your 7 Chakras, http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20543/7-mudras-to-unlock-your-7-chakras.html.
 

200 Hour YTT Reflection

The last 10-11 weeks flew by just like that.
I still remember the first morning I had to peel myself out of bed for the first class. I was still coping with jet lag as I had just returned from a 5-month study programme at Copenhagen. Further, I was never a morning person, so the waking up was really the hardest part.
However, I have no regrets for I have learnt so much in such a short period of time. I have learnt so much more about my own body, and grown to be more aware of how my body moves, etc. Through the course, I learnt about the history of yoga, what yoga is about, the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga and the human body. It is good to learn and know how practicing yoga benefits the human body through asanas and various breathing techniques.
Furthermore, it was useful and practical to learn how to give guided instructions and techniques for practice sequences using instructional cues. These were taught in the later part of the course, where we were tasked to come up with lesson plans that are suitable for students at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. We were also taught how to do adjustments for some asanas to correct the students’ alignment.
I love how I became much fitter and healthier over the last 10-11 weeks, especially since I haven’t worked out in the last 5 months prior to the start of this training. I really like how it made me more conscious of the types of food I consume. In the past, I would often crave for very unhealthy food, but would try my very best to shun them. But now, I feel that these cravings have lessened and I would gladly choose salad over a plate of nasi lemak (not kidding).
My practice won’t stop when this training/course end. There is still so much to learn and I can’t wait to deepen my practice. Also, I am feeling slightly nervous for the assessment tomorrow. All the best to those taking it with me.
 
Amanda
200 hours YTT Jan weekends
 

Raja Yoga- Yama

When I was first introduced to the eight limbs of raja yoga/ashtanga yoga in class, I found that the first limb, Yama, seems to be similar to the Ten Commandments. So I went to read up more about it.
Yama refers to the disappearance of all suppression. It describes five moral restrains that governs our interactions with other and they are Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha.

  1. Ahimsa- “Non-violence”

A person who is firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities towards another will completely disappear, and suddenly love arises from the abandonment of violence. From a Christian perspective, this yama resonates strongly with Jesus’s greatest commandment- to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus did not harbor any hate or grudges on those who had betrayed him, yet He showed forgiveness. He repeatedly emphasized the need to forgive people, and to do good to everyone.

  1. Satya- “Truthfulness”

A person who firmly established in truthfulness, he will be living truth, he will be walking with truth and all actions will be aligned to truth. Being truthful in all things is of paramount importance in yoga but it must be balanced with Ahimsa. The commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” mirrors Satya.

  1. Asteya- “Non-stealing, non-covertedness”

When a person is completely established in non-theft of other possessions, all treasures and ornaments appear and present itself to the person. This mirrors the commandment “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet what belongs to your neighbour’s”.

  1. Brahmacharya- “Moderation”

Brahmacharya states that when we have control over our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor and increased energy. By practicing Brahmacharya, we can achieve balance, creating moderation in our daily activities. From a Christian perspective, the seventh commandment “You shall not commit adultery” doesn’t exactly mirror this. However, the commandment encompasses the human sexuality. The virtue of chastity comes under the fundamental virtue of abstinence and seeks to moderate the passions and appetites of the senses with reasons.

  1. Aparigraha- “Non-possessiveness”

The word “parigraha” is greed rooted in jealousy. Aparigraha encourages a simple and modest lifestyle. Being established in non-possessiveness, all the possibilities of how, why, where and when about the various existences are revealed to you. When you are not possessive of the body and mind, you comply with the present. Similarly, this mirrors the commandment “You shall not covet whatever that belongs to your neighbor”. The parable of the rich fool also underlines the danger of putting material possessions over God.
 
Happy Good Friday
Amanda
200 hours YTT Jan weekends

Piriformis

Origin: Inside the pelvis from the sacrum.
Insertion: Tip of the greater trochanter on the proximal femur.
Action: Externally rotates and abducts the hip. Contraction of the piriformis tilts the pelvis backward.
The piriformis regulates joint movement and lends stability to the sacrum, which is necessary when we walk or run. However, when the piriformis is too tight, it can cause pain as it pinches on the sciatic nerve. Tightness in the piriformis will limit the internal rotation of the thigh in seated twist postures like marichyasana C. Tightness in the piriformis also limits the depth of forward bends like paschimottanasana and uttanasana.
Practicing asanas that stretch the piriformis can help relieve tightness. However, over stretching the piriformis can lead to its laxity, which will destabilize the body. Hence we would need to find a middle ground of strength and laxity with the pirifiormis, by incorporating asanas that stretch & strengthen it into our daily practice.
Stretching the Piriformis muscle

  • Garudasana
  • Ardha Matsyendrasana
  • Pigeon pose
  • Supine twist

Strengthening the Piriformis muscle

  • Salabhasana
  • Setu Bandhasana
  • Dhanurasana

 
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Philosophy: The Four Paths of Yoga


The four paths of yoga are all directed to different approaches of life. But despite this, they all lead to the same end path; the union with Brahman and true wisdom. Swami Sivananda taught that as humans we all have these four elements; intellect, heart, body and mind. To have a balance of them he advised to practice each element. He even said that according to people’s temperament they could emphasize the practice of certain Yogas over others.
Karma Yoga: The Yoga of Action
Karma yoga purifies the heart, teaching you how to act selflessly without personal gain or rewards. You learn to detach yourself from your own ego and rather open your heart to helping others. The devotion of yourself. They say it’s not how big your actions are or what you do that counts but rather your attitude and motivation. Both must be pure.
Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of Devotion
Bhakti Yoga appeals to those of emotional nature. It is motivated by the power of love, and instead of trying to hide or get rid of these emotions, you seek to channel them by turning them into devotion. It is the union through love and devotion.
Raja Yoga: The Yoga of No mind, Scientific Approach
Raja Yoga can be referred to as the royal road. We use our mental and physical energy and transform it into spiritual energy. It is our mental control. One of the main practices of Raja Yoga is meditation. Through meditation we seek to control our body, energy, senses and mind; the goal or Raja. Raja Yoga is also another name for Ashtanga Yoga (8 limbs of yoga).
Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom
Considered the most difficult path, this yoga requires strong will and intellect. You use your own mind to inquire into your nature. You break the barrier between the outside and inside to unite yourself. Before practicing Jnana Yoga it’s important to integrate the lessons of the other yogas, because they all help with the final path. Selflessness, love, and strength of body and mind lead to a succesful search of self realization.
Lan Otani 200HR YTT

Progressing Through Yoga


About a year ago is when I first had my experience in yoga. It was the summer after my first year of college and I decided to go to a Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India for about 10 days. Before then my yoga was limited to occasional yoga classes at studios, something purely physical. The experience at the ashram was very eye opening as suddenly the world of yoga was not just a way for me to exercise.
I saw that the people at the ashram applied the philosophy and teachings of yoga to their own life. For example, we had a strict schedule of 5:30 am wake up calls for meditation and satsang. Then we would practice yoga and after we did our daily routine of karma yoga. Then we had brunch, an afternoon discussion where we would learn more about the philosophy of yoga, and our second class of the day. We would always end the night with meditation and satsang, just like how we started.
Even though it was only 10 days, I felt like each day I was improving in my yoga practice; and that was something I had never really felt beforehand. I wasn’t sweating heavily like I did in the studio but my body still felt more stretched and open. That was definitely the start of my intrest in yoga.
After that it was hard to keep my practice up. That’s when I decided to sign up for this training course and I’m grateful for both experiences. This teacher training course really helped me understand more about alignment and help further my motivation to keep practicing. In the future I’m excited to have more experiences learning and practicing yoga.
Lan Otani 200HR YTT

Asana: Headstand (Sirsasana)

 
Sirsa = head
The headstand was one of the more earlier poses I worked on when I first started practicing yoga. There’s something fun about inversions in general, but to fully conquer and to work on my headstand is one of my biggest goals.
There are many physical and mental benefits to this pose, known as the king of asanas. It has anti aging elements, reduces stress, increases focus, and strengthens your arms, core, and shoulders.
Even though it may seem unnatural at first, when you are upside down in a inversion the blood that is now being redirected from your toes to your head really refreshes your body. Some people even say that frequent headstands can bring color back into grey hair.
There are also many different variations to the headstand, with supported headstand (salamba sirsaasana) being one that beginners usually practice. Dolphin plank is a good way to slowly get yourself used to having the weight on your forearms rather then on your head. This is hugely important as when you are up in headstand, the crown of your head should not feel the pressure of your body as it causes strain on your neck and can cause injuries. So while people may think that arm strength is the key to headstands, I would say that core has a lot to do with it as well. If you can strengthen your core and engage it while you come up, your body will be tight and balanced. If your core is loose, then your body becomes loose, and balance is difficult to maintain.
Of course there are cautions, that being if you have high blood pressure, low blood pressure, back injuries, you’re currently menstruating and pregnant the pose is best to be avoided.
After you come out of the pose its always important to lie in childs pose to let the blood flow return to normal.
Lan Otani 200HR YTT