I N V E R S I O N S

Inversions – the kind of asanas that takes you out of your comfort zone, a test of balance and courage and that satisfaction when you’ve found the sweet sweet spot to stay, hold, and breathe with ease in the pose.

Having done gymnastics for a while in primary school, going upside down was a rather familiar feeling. However, when I begun doing inversions in yoga again, I suppose the challenge was for my arms to hold up more weight than I had as a primary school kid. Inversions seems to take up more energy than it did as a child, and perhaps the fear of falling increased in leaps and bounds as an adult.

Ever since I attempted a headstand in one of my hatha classes, I fell back in love with inversions. I wasn’t great at it at the start – with every headstand, my neck and shoulders would hurt, blood rushing to my head was such a foreign feeling and I was discouraged at how weak my upper body strength was. But, I loved the challenge, and over time, I loved how the pose places me out of my comfort zone to see the world from a different perspective (literally!) and how aware I became of the area of muscles I should be activating to stay in the pose or even come into it.

With time, practise, falling, getting back up again, falling again and coming back to it, I got better. I managed to stay in my headstand and found peace in that pose – like as if the world has slowly faded and I am there, chilling, upside down. Pincha was always a challenge, but I was encouraged to continue trying at it when I saw how I was improving, little by little, week by week.

If you have yet had the opportunity to attempt an inversion, I encourage you to take the leap of faith and try to get into one (of course with some supervision and help at the start), and begin to be okay with the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Who knows… maybe one day, you’ll begin to love it.

The greatest take away I got from inversions has been a life lesson. Similar to when you’re in an inversion, “life is a balance of holding on and letting go.”

Yoga Numerology: a Brief Explanation

For this blog, let’s explore a less popular affiliate of the yoga practice.  That is numerology, or the knowledge and occult significance of numbers. Numerology has various interpretations throughout different cultures, and the depth and allegiance to the interpretations. 

In my practice I can appreciate numerology in a way that I also appreciate tarot, or other practices that offer us perspective, feedback, and self reflection (or anticipation).  For me, these interpretations are not defining, but thought provoking in my self reflection. Yoga numerology explores the 10 yogic bodies (11th is mastery) and 7 chakras. If we think of those bodies like a musical instrument, we realise that they can fall out of tune, or balance, even without being touched.  Like an instrument, our environments and atmospheres affect our balance. Reflecting on this helps us start to learn how to keep ourselves in tune. 

Read on to learn  about your numerology!

 

Calculating your numbers: 

Your numerology code consists of 5 unique numbers. 

We’ll add digits of your birth dates to come up with the unique numbers, but will never condense the numbers 10 or 11 by adding them together. 11 will stay as an 11 and a 10 will be a 1+. Numbers higher than 11 are added together to give you a single digit to work with; for instance, 12 becomes 3 (1+2=3).

Let’s take may birthdate for example: 03/08/1989 (mm/dd/yyyy)

Karma Position (The month you were born… eg. 03) = 3

Soul Position (Day of birth… eg. 08) = 8

Gift (Last two digits of the year you were born… eg. 8 +9 = 17 >>>> 1 + 7 = 8) = 8

Destiny (The year of your birth… eg. 1 + 9 + 8 + 9 = 27 >>>> 2 + 7= 9) = 9

Path (The sum of adding all of the digits of your birth date… eg.  3 + 0 + 8 + 1 + 9 + 8 + 9 = 38 >>>> 3 + 8 = 11) = 11

As you read on, remember that each number can manifest a positive and negative quality.  These things are also fluid; how the qualities show up and at what times may depend on how you are managing, balancing, and cleansing  your 10 bodies and chakras. This is feedback for your own reflection. Yoga, meditation, pranayama all help to keep in balance and work through this.   Also keep in mind that what may come across confusing or negative is really just constructive feedback for yourself. 

Karma Number: How you relate to the external world and to relationships with others.  Opportunity to create harmony between your internal and external worlds

Soul Number: How you relate to yourself; your soul, your consciousness, the spiritual and creative essence in you.  If you are able to consciously connect with your soul self, you are more self loving and have less separation and alienation.

Gift Number: Reveals a positive quality you have been given in this lifetime. The body and chakra associated with this number indicate natural talents which can support you through challenges presented by your Soul and Karma numbers, as well as get you through times of stress and pressure.

Use it or lose it.  It’s important to strengthen your gifts as much as possible.

Destiny Number:  This number resonates with your deep personal history, uses your skills and many lifetimes of talents to support you through the challenges and weak areas in your chart. Similar to the use-it-or-lose-it philosophy mentioned before, if we are not using the talents we have mastered over lifetimes, they can show up as negative attributes of the body and chakra associated with the number in this position.   Use your relationship with this number to develop your inner mastery and use it as a platform for balance and personal strength.

Path Number: This number represents what to build in this lifetime in order to feel complete.  It behaves as a compass so you can serve and teach others how to do the same. When you have mastered this number you are thriving and doing what you are supposed to be doing!  Mastery of the body and chakra of this number means you are inspiring others and fulfilling your own path.

Yoga for Scoliosis

Yoga for Scoliosis

Scoliosis refers to the sideways, or lateral, curvature of the spine.  When I was 10, I found out that I had mild lumbar scoliosis, i.e. a slight curvature in my lumbar spine.  As the curvature remained under 5 degrees, I did not have to undergo surgery or any other form of treatment.  The scoliosis does not cause any pain (for now, at least), but it has resulted in some asymmetries in my stance.  So I hope to use yoga to reduce this curvature, or at least prevent it from worsening as I grow older.   

(1) Bend towards convex side of curve

In a class with Master Paalu, I learned how I could modify certain positions to straighten up the curve in my spine.   Generally, I should try to bend towards the convex side of the curve (which is my left side) as much as possible. So in poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), I can modify my alignment by twisting towards my left side instead of facing forward.  Similarly, Balasana (Child’s Pose) can be modified by moving my arms toward my left side, keeping the arms shoulder-width apart.

I can also incorporate more twisting asanas in my practice. These may include Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half lord of the fishes pose),  Bharadvajasana and Marichyasana.  While I should practice these asanas on both sides, I should spend more time twisting to my left side.  It is important to lengthen the spine before twisting into these poses.

Side-bending poses like reverse warrior may also be useful for lengthening the spine.  More time should be spent bending to the convex side of the curve.

(2) Maintain proper posture and place equal weight on legs

Master Sree has constantly emphasised the importance of proper posture, whether we are sitting or standing.  To keep the spine straight and healthy, we should maintain an upright posture and avoid slouching or hunching the spine.  This is particularly important for people with scoliosis, since we have the tendency to slouch to one side.  We need to always remember to place equal weight on both feet and remain aware of any imbalances in our posture.

(3) Strengthen abdominal muscles

If the abdominal muscles are weak, the back muscles overwork and thus tighten. This may cause lordosis or worsen the scoliotic curve in the lower back.  Therefore, it is important to practice asanas that strengthen the abdominal muscles. 

(4) Strengthen musculature on convex side

A study has shown that regular practice of a modified Vasisthasana (side plank) pose with the con­vex side of the lumbar curve down can reduce the scoliotic curve. The modification was to hold the upper ribs about a half-inch higher than in the classic pose.  The researchers hypothesized that the poses may help straighten the spine by strengthening the musculature in the abdomen, spine and lower back on the convex side of the curve.

In essence, regular practice of carefully selected and modified asanas will help to reduce the scoliotic curve.   The key principle is simple: strengthen the muscles on the convex side and lengthen the muscles on the concave side.   While yoga may not bring about instant results like surgery, it is definitely the safer treatment option and is ideal for people with mild scoliosis.

Yoga as we age

For our first attempt at lesson planning, Master Sree asked us to teach an ultra beginner’s class as if we were teaching grannies how to do yoga. It was quite a fun exercise thinking of easy poses that could be modified, how you would help an elderly person get into such a pose and also pretending to be grannies in a yoga class.
When I was back home and planning for the 30 minute class we had to teach the next day, my mum saw me struggling and suggested that I try out my lesson plan on her. I was quite confident she’ll easily manage a 30 minute class as she’s pretty healthy and fit for her age. Then my dad came around and was curious as well so I ended up agreeing to teach both my parents a short yoga class. I tried to tailor my class to 2 senior citizens above 60, while they do exercise regularly, they are completely new to Yoga. With all this in mind, I tried to modify what I had planned so that everything would be doable. However, I was pleasantly surprised. My parents were a lot more capable that I gave them credit for and I even might say a bit competitive with each other. They did so well that I taught them 1 or 2 ‘hard poses’ as well.
This made me reflect afterwards, what constitutes ‘Yoga’ and what it means for other people. We might not always have a name or detailed steps for getting into a pose, but doing some back stretches in the morning or a few sit ups to wake up the body, is still movement. My dad waking up 15 minutes earlier each morning to do these simple exercises seem to have done him well. Movements that keep your joints active and your body healthy.
I think yoga for me is less and less about hitting a certain number of classes per week, but rather how it can be incorporated into my daily life and also for a long time from now. I can only hope that my practice be it physical, mental or spiritual will keep me healthy even in 60s and beyond 🙂

Starting a home practice

Having started going for classes 2-3 years ago, my practice usually revolved around going for a 60 min class maybe once or twice on a good week. I just didn’t quite know what to do without a teacher instructing through poses and keeping count. Doing yoga at home didn’t even cross my mind. It’s quite possible that I didn’t want to have to think what next and liked that I just have to follow along especially after a long tiring day at work.

Last year, things changed a little and I decided to buy myself a good mat so that it would entice me to practice yoga on my own rather than depend on classes. I tried sometimes for a couple of minutes whatever I could briefly remember from classes or watched online videos that could guide me along. However, I would easily get distracted and could never stay on the mat for longer than 20 minutes.

Jump forward to this week, I realised how I actually look forward to time on the mat where I can have my personal practice, be it trying to master a pose or simple stretching out in cat-cow. The time we’ve spent on lesson planning comes in handy here and what better way to make use of these skills learnt than to apply on yourself. I find myself thinking of how I want to start my practice, what warm up poses should I start with, and if I had a pose I wanted to master, how I should complement it with some preparatory poses and then counter poses.

It is quite interesting looking back seeing how my practice has evolved and will continue to evolve. As for now I’m excited for what’s next and where this new home practice will take me.

Studying for the theory exam

As we’re reaching close to the end of the course, the stress of an exam is beginning to set in. I’ve not had to study since I last left Uni. What if I can’t remember all the tough Sanskrit names, all the details on the muscular or skeletal system!? While it all seems a lot more daunting now with a set deadline being exam day, I also recognise that push when under pressure and time constraint circumstances can sometimes be the push we all need. The hard part is juggling time at work and time I have to study. I started my week with a plan and a checklist of stuff to tick off as the week progressed but as always things get pushed back especially if I had a long day at work and didn’t come home in time for my allocated study session, things would naturally have to be carried over to the next day. Suddenly I realised I have 5 days to the exam but not that much information in my head. This is where I found some study tips really handy and I thought I’d share it here.

1. Printed out a poster I found online of the Ashtanga Primary series poses. While the printed version didn’t have great resolution, you can still work with it. After learning the names of poses from the text, I tested myself by writing out the names in Sanskrit.

2. Learning some key Sanskrit words and their meaning. Master Sree had taught us some cheat codes to help in remembering Sanskrit. It’s easier knowing the meaning of “Pada”, “Ardha”, and other repeated words.
3. Creating cue cards that you can ask your family or friend to test you on. I even looked up an app for this but didn’t have the time to test it out. Apparently, also very helpful for learning a new language.
Lastly, amidst all the studying and stress of an exam, remember to practice Pranayama and some asanas. You could take it as killing 2 birds with one stone, getting some learning in as well as your daily practice.

Why I decided to do a YTT

It has been something that I have considered since 2017, but always seemed quite far reaching for me given I felt I was not good enough in my practice for something so intense.

Come 2019, I’m still at the same level I would deem myself as 2 years ago and I thought to myself maybe the only way to get better in my practice is to just go for it. While searching for studios and which YTT I wanted to join, I also discovered my close friend and yoga buddy, Stacy was considering a YTT too. After some convincing we both decided starting our course in Jan 2020 would be a good way to start the year and went ahead to put in a down payment making it OFFICIAL.

Now looking back at the 9 weeks of Yoga, I can say one thing you’ll never be 100% ready but if it’s some thing you truly want, the only way to get better is to just go for it.

Being present

Inhale, exhale. One breath, one move.

Behind this cue of action, it is actually reminding us to be aware. This sense of awareness can be translated to different parts of our life.

Being aware of our surroundings, our train of thoughts, reaction to different situation as well as our own emotive states. Oftentimes, we are so ingrained with our daily habits – brushing teeth with our master hand, picking up the phone to check the time when we wake, wearing watch on the left wrist and etc. It has become second nature to us that we do not even realize or be aware of it until either we lose the privilege to do the same things or if someone pointed it out to us.

Practicing yoga has made me more aware, specifically, more aware of my breathing, the limits of my physical body as well as the noise inside my head. By not listening to my body and breath during asana practice, there is a high probability of me injuring myself.

Being aware also helps me to stay grounded and stay present. People always say, be in the moment. But do they practice it? The pace of life in Singapore is so fast and ever changing. It is so easy to get swept up with the paper chase, material security and what not. Are we truly appreciating being in the moment – e.g. savouring the taste and texture of the food in our mouth, appreciating the time people took out to spend us with or just shovelling food in as we reply our text messages and make plans for later?

With the current flurry of fluctuation and uncertainty that the world is facing right now, yoga reminds me that one breath, one move. Be present with yourself, appreciate this current moment and sometimes, that is all we need, for that moment.

Breath

Breathing – an essential thing that our body does automatically. It is the first and last thing that we do. But so often overlooked and taken for granted.

Growing up with sinusitis, I always struggled with proper breathing / clear nasal airway. But I did not think much about it. It is only when I started practicing Yoga that I realize the importance of breath. During lessons, we went through the practice of breath control – Prāṇāyāma. It consists of synchronizing the breath with movements.

On a physical level, by using Prāṇāyāma techiques, we are able to strengthen our respiratory organs, regulate the inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath. On an emotional level, our breathing patterns are also very closely linked to our emotive states. We breathe differently when we are experiencing anger, sadness. Being more aware and conscious of our breath, we are able to use Prāṇāyāma techiques to regulate our emotive state.

Below are some examples of the different types of Prāṇāyāma that we can practice daily:

Heating
Heating pranayama techniques are highly vitalising and energizing.
Kapalabhati – The emphasis is on the exhalation through strong, fast abdominal contractions.
Bhastrika – It is similar to Kapalabhati, except that for Bhastrika, both the inhale and exhale are forceful. It is physically and energetically more intense and demanding than Kapalabhati.
One physical benefit of the above 2 pranayama techniques is that it strengthens the abdominal muscles and digestive organs while one mental benefit is that it is beneficial for preparing the mind for work that requires focus.

Note: The above two are strong pranayama and not suited for everyone (e.g. pregnant, period, high blood pressure).

Balancing
The flow of breath in each nostril is intimately connected with the left and right side of our body. The right nostril represents Pingala Nadi (Solar energy) and the left nostril represents Ida Nadi (Moon energy). Balancing pranayama techniques are used for purification of the energy channels in our body. 
Nadi Shodhana – This is also known as alternate nostril breathing. Firstly, start inhaling from the left nostril with slow, deep and rhythmic breath while keeping the right nostril closed with the thumb. At the end of inhalation close the left nostril and open the right and breathe slowly and deeply. After exhalation through the right nostril, inhale through the right and exhale through the left. This completes one round of the practice.
One physical benefit is that it enhances the vital capacity of our lungs and helps to relax the rhythms of the heart and nervous system and one mental benefit is that it calms our mind.

Cooling
Cooling pranayama techniques leaves a cooling effect on the body. It cools down the body, especially the brain.
Sheetali Roll the tongue into a tube-like structure, through which one inhales deeply and then at the end of inhalation one closes the mouth and exhales through the nose. 
Sheetkari – Roll the tongue up behind the teeth. Lips are opened and teeth are exposed. A long, slow and deep breath is taken through the mouth and at the end of inhalation, lips are closed and exhalation happens through the nose. When one inhales though the teeth, the breath creates a hissing sound and results in a cooling effect in the mouth region.

One physical benefit is that it enables us to cool our body down when excessive heat is generated and one mental benefit is that it helps us to relax and helps with insomnia.

The environment that I have placed myself in is always in a rush, rushing to get work done, rushing for class etc, leaving me barely any time to catch my breath. Let this be a reminder that amidst all the happenings in our life, we should set aside time to be more aware of our breath, and in turn our physical and emotive states.

More than a physical practice

“I can’t do Yoga because I can’t touch my toes”, “Can you do /teach me how to do headstand, handstand, pincha, scorpion, crow” etc. These are some common statements that pops up whenever someone ask me about Yoga, which somehow revolves around the physical (asana) practice.

Contrary to modern yoga practice, it is more than just a physical practice. After weeks of delving deeper into Yoga as a subject, I learnt that Yoga is a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices / disciplines. In the yoga philosophy, I learnt about the 3 Gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – which are essentially the 3 fundamental aspects of Nature. The gunas cannot be separated or removed but can be consciously acted on to encourage their increase or decrease. A guna can be increased or decreased through the interaction and influence of external objects, lifestyle practices and thoughts. Being aware of these 3 Gunas, it acts as a signpost – guide that indicate where one is and where one wants to be.

Sattva – a state of harmony, balance and contentment

Rajas – a state of energy, action and change

Tamas – a state of darkness, dullness, inertia and illusion

The Tamasic practice is interesting because the traits associated with it is the opposite of Sattva. However, the difference does not mean that it is not able to achieve the same end goal of a Sattvic practice. A tamasic practice can go so deeply into the darkness, into all things unthinkable to mortals that one comes into the light. 

Light and darkness. This and that. There is no wrong / right / perfect practice but find one that works for you and keep seeking the light.