My Yoga Journey

I started Yoga back in 2017 because I had minor back pains due to my physically demanding job as a flight attendant back at that time. I signed up for a 1 year package at a yoga studio, in hopes of stretching my muscles and preventing any more back problems. I attended mostly stretch and beginner yoga classes around 4 times a month for a year. It was useful, and when coupled with more proper movement precautions when working, my back pains decreased. With yoga, I was able to increase my range of motions and flexibility. I also gained more body awareness and with some core control, I was better able to protect my back while working. 

As I transitioned to a corporate job, my life became sedentary and I was looking for a way to keep myself active, Yoga once again came to my rescue. I had  signed up for a classpass package and started exploring different exercises and studios. I tried boxing, spin and barre, but decided I still preferred yoga the best. I dislike cardio exercise, and I found yoga to be the only exercise that could increase my heart rate, and make me break out a sweat without realising I am ‘sweating’. Thus making me do cardio which I dislike and normally cannot maintain doing. It was a great way for me to keep fit in a way that I like. 

After practising yoga for a while, I also realised that I usually walk out of yoga class being in a better mood than I was walking in. This was especially helpful when I attended yoga class after a busy and stressful day at work. I find that the 1 hour physical practice allows me to practise dharana. As I fully concentrate on doing the asanas, and focus on my breathing, I was able to keep my mind off any distraction, and immerse myself in practice for that hour. After practice, I usually find my mind to be clear and relieved of stress. I feel refreshed, calm, peaceful and happy. I find this amazing because I had expected myself to feel ‘tired’ after the physical workout, but instead, I feel less tired than before the class. I always walk out of the yoga studio to the bus stop with light steps and feeling thankful that I came to practice. 

During the Circuit Breaker period in Singapore last year, I found myself practising yoga daily using the ‘Downward Dog’ application on my iPad. It helped me keep fit physically, gave my day structure and was something for me to look forward to. It helped keep my mind clear. 

As the pandemic affected my job, I found myself out of a job and being lost as to what to do, yoga and this Yoga Teacher Training (YTT), once again, came into my life and gave me a daily purpose for this month of joblessness. This YTT surprised me with the amount of Yoga theory and philosophy that we learn. I was surprised as I had expected it to be more focused on asanas. However, I am also surprised as these unexpected teachings and knowledge seemed to have come at an extremely timely period of my life. I am very grateful for this.

This is my yoga journey so far, and I know I will be happy wherever yoga brings me next.

Muscle Anatomy’s Application on Lower Back Yoga

Lower back pain (LBP) is the fifth most common reason for physician visits and it affects nearly 60~80% of people throughout their lifetime. While the lumbar spine is sturdy and resilient, it is subject to a high degree of stress and loads, which may cause various problems, resulting in pain.

Lumbar spine plays an important role in our daily activities. 1. Support and stabilize the upper body 2. Allow truncal movement 3. Protect the spinal cord and cauda equina 4. Control lower body movement with lumbar spinal nerves control the sensation in the legs. ……

Lower back pain can be caused by the muscles and ligaments of the back or lumbar vertebrae. The lower back muscle anatomy includes the multifidus longissimus spinalis (spinalis lumborum, longissimus lumborum and Iliocostalis lumborn), quadratus lumborum, psoas, erector spinae, transversospinales and etc.

Movements that put stress on the back can result in pulled muscles. For example, lifting a heavy object, twisting while lifting, falling, or some sports could cause lower back pain. Acute pain from a lower back strain can resolve in a short amount of time, but low levels of pain can continue for weeks or months after the initial injury. After two weeks, back muscles can start atrophy from lack of use and cause more pain. If the lower back pain is not addressed properly, it can even lead to disability.

Try the following poses to activate the lower back muscle and build the awareness of the lumbar to prevent yourself from lower back pain.

  1. Cat-Cow Pose: This pose provides a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs

This gentle, accessible backbend stretches and mobilizes the spine. Practicing this pose also stretches your torso, shoulders, and neck.

Muscles worked:

  • erector spinae
  • rectus abdominis
  • triceps
  • serratus anterior
  • gluteus maximus
  1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): Uttanasana is a symmetrical pose, offering the opportunity to identify asymmetry and imbalances between the two sides of the body, It is also a form of inversion which helps to lengthen the spinal muscles to prevent from lower back injury from tight muscle

 

Muscles worked:

  • Spinal Muscles
  • Psoas
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Piriformis
  • Adductor magnus

 

 

 

 

 

Reference: https://www.spine-health.com/video/lower-back-strain-video

https://www.physio-pedia.com/Low_Back_Pain

https://www.self.com/gallery/yoga-poses-to-relieve-lower-back-pain

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/598838081683497683/

 

How Do You Open Up Your Hips?



Do you often find tightness in your hamstring and glute muscles? Do you find it difficult to do lotus pose or split your legs apart?
I am one of the inflexible yoga students who find lotus pose being one of the most challenging poses in the whole of Ashatanga primary sequence.

Why we need to do hip-opening exercise?
Apart from yoga poses, most of our daily tasks involves the usage of our hip joints. When hips are tight, it will increase the load and cause overuse of the spine and this is why tight hips are often correlated with back pain.
Tight hips affect everything from performing your usual daily task to hindering your ability to get into intermediate yoga poses. Of course, we should not treat the yoga asana as ends but a mean to other parts of our lives.

Which group of people is vulnerable to tight hips?
One category of people at a higher risk of developing tight hip flexor muscles is those who sit for long periods of time or actively engage in exercises that repeatedly pull their knees towards the torso (e,g: runner).
Understanding about hip joint:
Hips are ball and socket joints, which are the most mobile joints in your body. The head of each thigh bone (femur bone) forms the “ball’, which sits in the socket (acetabulum) of your pelvis. Ball and socket joints are required in circumduction, which means moving in all three planes, like when you swing your leg in a circle.

Our hip joint consist of more than 20 muscles.
Hip joint has 6 movement: flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, external and internal rotation. When we try to open up our hips, remember to practice all 6 movements rather than focusing only on one or two.

How to use yoga poses to open your hip joint while balancing in all 6 directions?
1. Flexion: Flexion at the hip joint means pulling your thigh up to your chest
Asanas: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1)


2. Extension: Extension is taking the leg back.
Asanas: Yoga poses that extend the hip joint will create an opening and stretch the front of the hips in the sagittal plane. Most poses including lunges and backbends, and would help with hip extension. e.g: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1), Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
3. Abduction: Abduction refers to the movement of the coronal plane at the hip by taking the legs apart
Asanas: Prasarita Padottanasnana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)

4. Adduction: Bringing your legs together with movement involving coronal plane is called adduction.
Asanas: Sirsasana (Head Stand),Garudasan (Eagle Poses)

5. External rotation: External rotation happens when we try to turn our thighs out in the transverse plane.

Asanas: Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) front leg,



6. Internal rotation: Internal rotation happens when we try to turn in our thigh in the transverse plane.
Asanas:Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose); Virasana (Hero Pose), Tadasana (Mountain Pose)






References: prevention.com/fitness/g20457906/12-yoga-poses-to-open-your-hips/
https://yogasynergy.com/how-to-nourish-and-strengthen-your-hips-with-intelligent-postures-and-movements/

What is Pranayama and the benefits

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of yoga, pranayama in Sanskrit words means:

Prana = life force; Ayama = to extend, draw out or control.

Breathing is a very normal part of life and we often forget to pay attention to it. The body naturally holds the breath whenever it feels physically or emotionally challenged.

Pranayama has taught me the correct way to breathe, which is slowly and with deep breaths. Breathing this way brings more oxygen into the body and activates the reduction of stress and slows the heart rate. So with better breathing it can help to either calm or excite the entire nervous system.

The practice of breathing exercises can help improve our wellbeing:  Inhale, exhale and hold the breath in specific sequence in yoga pranayama is very useful with regular practice, and help the physical and meditation part.

Pranayama involves different breathing examples;

1. Nadishodhana (Alternate nostril breathing). Sitting in cross legged position comfortably, then using the right hand, one close the right side of the nose while inhaling deeply with the left nostril ,and repeat the right nostril too. Practicing this technique deeply for 10-15 time will help purifying the energy of the body and bring balance to the mind, body and soul of the human body and help in relieving stresses and anxiety.

2. Ujjayi pranayama.
Breathing through the mouth while sitting in cross legged position, after closing the mouth, breathing should be done through the nose constricting the throat. This should be done for 10-15 times.  It can give great relaxation and also help in throat issues and help reduce anxiety.

3. Kapalabhati pranayama.
Exhale from the lunge and inhaling is done. The exhalation should be suck the belly in realising the air. The same way when inhaling the belly go back the same position, usually kapalabhati done for warm up.This cycle of inhalation and exhalation should be done for few minute.this type of pranayama benefitical in strengthening and abdominal muscle.also help increasing focus,reducing anxiety and burning calories.

The benefits of pranayama are;

1. Decreases stress
2. Improves sleep quality
3. Increases mindfulness
4.Reduces high blood pressure
5.Improves lung function
6.Reduces cravings, such as cigarettes

 

Yoga Philosophy

The Main Philosophy of yoga is very simple, it is about mind, body, and spirit that are all as one and can’t be clearly separated. The philosophy of yoga gives us a plan to follow, which leads us to be happy, healthy and peaceful life. Happiness that transforms to deep and long lasting for healthy that keep our body and mind vital and vibrant.Peace that not only whiting ourselves but also with the world.

With the philosophy of yoga we are creating a physical, mental and emotional harmony. We practice physical pose, breathing techniques and meditation to become a better human being and positive light. We want more calm to a stressful situation as getting frustrated in any situation is not good. By calming and quieting the loud of voice of the ego we gain inner clarity this awareness within, remain open, kind, honest, even with those that have caused pain.

Mindfulness is important and in a yoga class I learn to do yoga poses, I will be instructed to notice my breathing and the way my body move during the exercise. The foundation of mind body connection is key. A well-balanced set of yoga exercises gives me the opportunity to understand my body, noting how I feel as move through the poses and may begin to realise for example: one side of my body feel different than the other side during stretching or maybe easier to balance on right leg or that certain poses help ease tension in neck. Learning to be aware of posture when walk, for example; first step to making improvements that will make move more easily and feel better all the time.

Interesting studies on Kapalabhati

According to the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text compiled by Patanjali in 150 BCE, pranayama is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Referring to the extension or regulation of life force (known as ‘prana’ in Sanskrit), implementing pranayamas to our yoga practice is said to help us stay healthy, cleansed and balanced.

 

Amongst the 120 pranayamas, an important pranayama is Kapalabhati, also known as skull shining breath. Involving short, powerful exhales and passive inhales, Kapalabhati forcefully expels breath out through the nostrils using the lower transverse abdominus muscle and serves as a traditional internal purification practice (kriya), removing toxins from the body and cleansing the respiratory system. Personally, practicing Kapalabhati has led to me feeling more refreshed, alert and invigorated and I thoroughly enjoy starting the day with the Kapalabhati exercise.

 

The health benefits of Kapalabhati are numerous. In fact, a coronavirus survivor has even stated that practicing pranayama as a COVID-19 patient was very effective for him in complementing his treatment for the respiratory illness. Some of the common benefits of Kapalabhati include:

  • Improving lung capacity
  • Clearing mucus in the air passages and relieves congestion.
  • Clearing nadis (energy channels)
  • Reducing bloating
  • Promoting digestion
  • Improving blood circulation
  • Refreshing the brain and calming the mind

 

Upon further study, here are a few pieces of interesting research that showcase the benefits that Kapalabhati can bring:

  1. Kapalabhati combats metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions (e.g. being overweight, high blood pressure) that puts one at risk of having serious chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. In an article published by the International Journal of Yoga, it is stated that Kapalabhati accelerates fat metabolism as it stimulates vital areas of the brainsteam, cortex and effector organs, regulating the endocrine and metabolic processes. Studies have also found that Kapalabhati results to a change in body fat distribution and reduced waist and hip circumference. Furthermore, being an abdomino-respiratory exercise, Kapalabhati is shown to directly stimulate the pancreas to release insulin and counteract hyperglycemia (high levels of glucose in the blood).

 

  1. Kapalabhati improves reaction time

A 2013 study published by the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic research suggests that simple eye exercises along with kapalabhati helps in improvement of visual reaction time.

The study proposes that Kapalbhati improves the oxygenation of blood in the body which hence facilitates visual reaction through better nourishment of all the nerves and structures of the eyeball. The decrease in mental fatigue after performing pranayama is also hypothesized to lead to the improvements in visual reaction time.

 

  1. Kapalabhati can help children with ADHD

According to Gosewade et al. (2015),  practicing pranayama such as kapalabhati can help to calm the mind and even increase attention span for it helps to absolve and remove distractions from the mind. Its soothing effect can greatly help children and adults calm overly excitable behavior. Overall, the study suggests that all individuals can benefit from high levels of concentration and reduced stress.

The Quadratus Lumborum

 

The Quadratus Lumborum (QL) muscle is located in the deep and posterior, lateral and inferior areas of the spine. It is the deepest muscle of the posterior abdominal wall. The muscle is flattened and has a quadrangular shape.

The QL plays an essential role in the posture and helps stabilize the spine when extending the lower back or bending to the side. It also supports the core of the body when breathing.

  1. Key factors on the QL muscles
  • Location: Between the top of the pelvis and the lowest rib
  • Origin: Medial crest
  • Insertion: Lower rib 12 and transverse process of lumbar vertebrae L1 to L4
  • Antagonists: Abdominals
  • Synergists: each other, latissimus dorsi, trapezius
  1. What are the main causes of QL pain?

The QL is one of the primary sources of lower back pain. Pain can be due to overuse, stress and strain. The most common examples are:

  • Sitting for long hours implies continuous contraction or tightening of the QL and can therefore lead to muscle fatigue. If blood flow is decreased, the muscle can become stiff and painful.
  • Poor posture when sitting or standing
  • Weak surrounding muscles. When other muscles in the back or the pelvic area are weak, the QL has to compensate and work harder to support the body. It will eventually become overworked and tense
  • Unequal leg length
  • Trauma
  • Incorrect or awkward lifting of objects
  1. How can QL pain be treated?

In some cases, depending on the severity of the pain, YOGA practise is highly recommended alone or in combination with medical treatment. Below are some recommendations:

  • Strengthening poses
Utkatasana:

QL engaged with the other back and core muscles to maintain length in upper body

Vashistasana:

QL engaged to stabilise the torso and not collapse or rotate

Santolasana:

QL engaged to stabilise the posture and offer back strength and length

Shalabhasana:

QL engaged to extend back, especially when coming up from prone position

 

  • Stretching poses
Tiryaka tadasana:

Lateral flexion with QL, gentle stretch

Balasana:

Extension of spine using QL, gentle stretch

Utthitha trikonasana:

Extension of spine + lateral flexion of spine using QL, gentle stretch

Kurmasana:

Extension of spine using QL, deep stretch

In any cases, staying healthy and aware of the sources of the pain will lead to improvement.

E.g., good standing and sitting postures, lifting heavy objects properly, sleeping in a proper position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • STRETCHING POSES

 

Utthitha trikonasana:

Extension of spine + lateral flexion of spine using QL, gentle stretch

Kurmasana:

Extension of spine using QL, deep stretch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In any cases, staying healthy and aware of the sources of the pain will lead to improvement.

E.g., good standing and sitting postures, lifting heavy objects properly, sleeping in a proper position.

Dhanurasana – Bow Pose

Best of both worlds; stretches the front while strengthening the back. 

A 360° overview of… Bow Pose (Dhanurasana) With Dr Kiki Morriss |  Pocketmags.com

Image source: Google search – https://pocketmags.com/us/om-yoga-uk-magazine/may-2019/articles/558458/a-360-overview-of-bow-pose-dhanurasana-with-dr-kiki-morriss

How to do Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

  1. Lie on your stomach with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by the side of your body.
  2. Flexed the knees, rotate shoulder and extend both arms to grip flexed ankle
  3. Breathing in, lift your chest off the ground and pull your legs up and back
  4. Hold for 15 -20 seconds, as you exhale, gently bring your legs and chest to the ground. Release ankles.

Key Muscles 

Stretches the Front – Eccentric Contraction  Strengthen the back, Engaging Concentric contraction allowing to grip ankles 
  • Pectoralis Major  (Chest)
  • Anterior Deltoid (Front shoulder)
  • Rectus Abdominus (Abdominals)
  • Iliopsoas (Hip flexors)
  • Quadriceps femoris (Quads)
  • Posterior Deltoids (back of shoulder)
  • Trapezius (Upper back)
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lower back)
  • Gluteal Muscles (Glutes)
  • Bicep Femoris, Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus (Hamstrings)

Other than giving us a good stretch while improving our posture, holding in this pose on our abdomen also provides positive pressure to improve to our digestive, eliminative and reproductive organs.

The more i read into this pose the more I love it, and now we know why yoga instructors are always getting us to kick higher and further!

Yamas in a material and results-oriented society

Living in Singapore where we pride ourselves in our fast-paced, efficient culture, it is honestly not easy to resist being caught up in the rat race and material achievements. Since a young age, comparisons and competition are encouraged such that we will be motivated to work harder, achieve more and ‘do well’ in the future. The notion of being ‘successful’ spurs us to participate in things that we don’t truly enjoy or see meaning in. But what does being successful really mean?

 

I think many of us are (or have experienced being) largely motivated by comparisons, as well as the fear of not being ‘successful’ – whatever this means to us. In large part, me too. Yet, before this course, I don’t think I’ve actually considered what success actually means to me. Instead I’ve let society define my idea of success – having a good-paying or high-ranking job, maybe a nice house, nice clothes, being able to afford various material things. As a result, we wind up in the hustle culture and partake in various behaviour that do not actually serve us.

 

Learning more about yoga philosophy through this teacher training course has helped me reflect more about my desires and how I lead my life. In particular, the introduction to yamas – a guide/diplomatic management of how we can best act towards ourselves and others – reminds me to be more in tuned with myself, what my body needs and don’t let comparisons/greed/ego drive my actions. In particular, the concept of Aparigraha which translates to ‘non-possesiveness’ reminds us that we should be content with what we have and have a non-grasping attitude towards the things in life. This yama conveys that we should be aware of what serves us in the moment, to not be concerned or possessive over the outcomes and to let go of things when the time is right. As Krishna states:

Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’. 

 

Reflecting on my daily life, it dawned upon me that a lot of the accomplishments that I strive for are partially due to the ego of wanting to appear accomplished. Similarly in yoga practice, I often find my mind being distracted by the final outcome of a beautiful posture.  Keeping Aparigraha in mind allows me to realign my thoughts and focus on the joys of the present – to appreciate and be content with the current moment, be it in yoga practice, dance, studying or teaching. To not be possessive of the outcomes and material achievements, but to simply let the enjoyment of the current moment lead me forward.  

 

Furthermore, as someone who sets quite high expectations for myself, I can often be rather critical of my performance and easily stressed. Learning about Ahimsa, which refers to ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’, I am reminded to not let negative thoughts takeover, and to be kind to my body and my mind. Negative thoughts are said to be harmful not only for the mind, but also for the body as the secretion of cortisol (stress hormone) lowers the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and pain. Remembering Ahimsa in daily life for me, means respecting my boundaries and listening to my body – while challenging myself to grow, I should never push myself to harm. Applying this to school, this could mean taking care of my mental health and not overworking or partaking in too many side projects. In yoga practice, this could be knowing my limits when performing challenging asanas as well as taking care of injuries instead of aggravating them for the sake of practice. 

 

Integrating these yamas in my daily life and practice will be a continuous journey and a process of unlearning different cultural ideals that has been ingrained in my system. Common notions such as ‘no pain, no gain’ often push us to neglect the well-being of our body and keeping pushing, keep grasping for more. For example, in my past dance training, instructors and dancers often push their bodies beyond their limits, encouraging hyperextension for the sake of aesthetic appeal and training rigorously even with injuries, leading to unsustainable practices. In university, it is a norm for students to have all-nighters, rely on caffeine and unhealthy foods and overwork themselves such that they will have a good portfolio. 

 

Undeniably, it might take a while for me to be more in tuned with the present in this fast-paced and results-oriented society. But through yoga, I find myself slowly learning to be more present, focused and accepting. The practice on the mat provides me with respite from negative thoughts and comparisons as I take the time to listen to my body. While I can’t say that I can entirely escape from social pressures and comparison, I definitely find myself being clearer in what serves me and negative criticism and distractions hold much lesser space in my mind. Studying yoga philosophy has definitely provided apt reminders and lessons applicable to my daily life, and I’m keen to see where this journey takes me! 

Utthita Hasta Padungusthasana

One of the yoga asanas that I find rather intriguing and complex is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. While my past ballet training often required us to perform similar stretches that involve lifting one leg off the ground, my focus during dance training was more often on the aesthetics of having my leg held high and close to the face. Proper alignment of the hips were often neglected to bring the leg higher. As such, I realized that till today, doing such postures with correct alignment still remains very challenging for me.

Literally meaning ‘Extended hand-toe pose’, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana entails having flexible hamstrings, open hips and having strength and flexibility in the feet and ankles for balance.

Benefits of the pose:

  • Lengthening the hamstring of the extended leg
  • Stabilizing the hip joint of the standing leg (the gluteus medius and minimus, piriformis, superior and inferior gemellus undergo eccentric contraction to keep the pelvis level)
  • Improving single leg balance and stability
  • Strengthening ankle, knee, hip and shoulder joints

Skeletal Joint Actions in Utthita Hasta Paschimottanasana

Spine
  • Neutral spin
  • Pelvis leveled
Upper limbs

(Lifted arm)

  • Shoulder flexion
  •  Elbow extension
  • Finger flexion
Lower limbs

(Standing leg)

  • Neutral hip extension
  • Neutral knee extension
Lower Limbs

(Lifted leg)

  • Hip flexion
  • Neutral knee extension
  • Neutral ankle dorsiflexion

Muscular Joint Actions (information from doctorlib.info)

Upper limbs (lifted arm) Concentric contraction to stabilize and flex shoulder joint
  • Rotator cuff muscles
  • Coracobrachialis
  • Pectoralis minor
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Biceps Brachii
Lower limbs

(standing leg)

 

Concentric contraction to keep knee in neutral extension and balance on single leg
  • Articularis genu (muscle right above knee joint)
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of foot and lower leg
Eccentric contraction to allow lateral
  • Gluteus medius and minimus
  • Piriformis
  • Superior and inferior gemellus
  • Tensor Fasciae latae
Lower Limbs

(standing leg)

 

Concentric contraction to flex hips and slightly adduct leg towards midline
  • Psoas major
  • Illiacus
  • Rectus femoris
  • Pectineus
  • Adductor brevis and longus
Passively lengthening
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings
  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus

 

After understanding the muscular anatomy of this asana, I now understand that my previous practice has not prepared me in utilizing my deeper gluteus muscles in stabilizing and leveling my pelvis. Other common problems faced when performing Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana include:

  1. Hiking up of the hip of the lifted leg
  2. Spinal flexion as a result of tightness in the hamstrings and gluteus maximus or hamstrings. In such cases, it is better to keep the knees bent
  3. Using the quadratus lumborum to help with lifting the leg due to weakness in hip flexors

While much emphasis is placed on increasing flexibility of the hamstrings in the lifted leg, we should also not forget that developing the strength in both the lifted and standing leg is equally important for proper alignment!

 

Resources:

https://beyogi.com/learn-yoga/poses/extended-hand-big-toe-pose/

https://doctorlib.info/anatomy/yoga-anatomy/7.html

https://www.yoganatomy.com/utthita-hasta-padangusthasana/