The 4th Chakra: Anahata Chakra

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Anahata Chakra, or heart chakra, located at the heart region, which represents love without self-gratification. People who possesses this chakra are not affected by praises or criticism, do not take sides and do not place a quality of the result but acknowledge that it is there. Anahata means “unstruck” or “unhurt.” They take failure as progress and as means of doing things another way. They are selfless, take Mother Teresa as a leading example. External events does not affect her intention or goal to help others, whereby moving people by action.
 
Anahata Chakra is the balance point, integrating the lower 3 chakras below and the upper 3 chakras. Through the heart chakra, we connect with harmony and peace. The health of our heart center registers the quality and power of love in our life. Anahata’s element is Air, and pranayama practice helps to balance and tone this chakra, increasing one’s vitality and enthusiasm for life.
 
When the heart chakra is deficient, one may experience feelings of shyness and loneliness, an inability to forgive, or a lack of empathy, leading to contraction in our bodies. This is something I should work on, as I’m easily affected by external criticisms. Often, I lead with my head and not my heart, or even let my emotions get the better of me.
 
Asanas that enliven the heart chakra include chest openers and backbends, Cow face pose, camel, bow and eagle pose to name a few. In most backbending poses, the heart is positioned higher than the head, hence, it is refreshing let the mind drop and to lead with the heart.
 
For some, the heart chakra may be overpowering, which include signs of co-dependency, possessiveness, jealousy, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Forward bends are the antidote for these symptoms.
 
To sum up, the most powerful way to energize and balance not just the heart chakra but all of our chakras is to love ourselves and others. Love is the greatest healer.
 
Denise Leong
200hr YTT Weekday
(March 2015)

Parsing Parsvottanasana

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Intense Side Stretch Pose – one of my favourite poses as I find myself able to fold deep into it. Building a firm foundation with alignment in Parsvottanasana taught me how to cultivate a sense of freedom, which allowed me to fold forward easily, firmly. One day, I will be able to reach my forehead nearer to my ankles.
 
Benefits of this pose:

  • Stretches the spine, shoulders and wrists, hips and hamstrings
  • Strengthens and tones the legs
  • Stimulates the abdominal organs and aids digestion
  • Improves posture and sense of balance
  • Alleviates lower-back strain and asymmetries

 
How to get into Parsvottanasana:
1. Stand in Tadasana
2. Inhale, bring your hands behind your back and grab your opposite elbows or hands in reverse prayer, step your right leg back about 1 feet distance pointing to the back, left toes pointing at 45 degree angle, feet hip width apart
3. Exhale, fold from the hips, keepings your hips squared, breathe deeply for 5 breaths
4. Reach your forehead to your knee, bend slightly if required
5. Press into your palms and keep your elbows away and back
6. Drishti at nose tip
7. Inhale come up, swivel toes and exhale, repeat on the left side
8. Inhale come up and release your hands, Tadasana
 
Muscle actions

  • Internal rotation of the arm
  • Retraction and depression of shoulder blades
  • Flexion at the hips
  • Internal rotation of both hips
  • Pronation of feet

 
Contraindications

  • High blood pressure
  • Pregnancy
  • Hamstring injury

 
Continue stretching and find the freedom to balance!
 
 
Denise Leong
200hr YTT Weekday
(March 2015)

Move Like A Tortoise

kurmasana 5From The Bhagavad Gita, chapter two, verse 58, Krishna says to Arjuna, “Having drawn back all his senses from the objects of sense, as a tortoise draws back into its shell, that man is a man of firm wisdom”.

When a person feels threatened or startled, the brain sends an immediate signal to do physical defensive reaction where the mind responsively draws inward. The connection to the world around is suddenly disconnected and out of focus, only inner world becomes crystal clear and self-centered.  Just like a frightened tortoise, hiding inside its own shell.

 Kurmasana or Tortoise Pose is the most challenging pose for me in primary series.  Some people find it easy and effortlessly jumping into this pose then breath.  Being an Ashtanga regular practitioner for number of  years is not giving you a guarantee to master all the poses perfectly or at least nearly there, mostly when the body is unnaturally flexible and the ego or emotion are still dominated.  The mind filled with thoughts that flying around seeking for attention then confuses the body. Stress! Hard work!  The legs, arms, face, even the mind were giving strong resistance and fearful feelings whenever stepping into this pose.  Until at one point of no return, the feeling of submission was filling up the entire body, the senses of eyes, ears, skin, nose, mouth and also to the mind like an electric shock.  Breath…  Slowly draw inward like a tortoise, move into the posture with control, then feel the sensation to go deeper in the pose, giving time to perceive instead of resist.

The action of the submission or being surrender is defined as sense withdrawal, meaning the conscious withdrawal of energy from all the senses, known as PratyaharaThe fifth limb of Ashtanga, Yoga Sutra by Patanjali.  Being free of external distractions will lead you to rest in atman – the true self.  Pratyahara is the threshold to your inner world.  Your mind becomes less reactive to the swirling distractions of the world around you, and as a result, you feel quiet and centered.

No surprise Kurmasana is the most challenging pose and it is so sloooowwww… to get there just like how the tortoise moves.  Every step has a deep meaning behind, preparing yourself to the next level, always be conscious and raise your awareness.   Supta Kurmasana will be the next one!

Sri Ram Jai Sita Ram

Om Shanti

Rhea – Ashtanga 200hr, weekday 2015

The Anahata Chakra

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Chakras, which are energy centres in the body, move in circular motion creating an energy vortex. There are 7 main chakras and each of these are associated with particular functions in the body, as well as the way life issues are handled, both within self and interactions with the external environment. A deficient chakra does not receive the required energy and also not able to manifest energy appropriately. An excessive chakra is overpowering and becomes a dominating form. These imbalances may be developed with situational challenges or can be chronic (childhood experiences, cultural values) and affect one’s life. Thus, developing and balancing the chakras are essential to leading a healthy and joyful life.
The fourth chakra, the Anahata (heart chakra), lies in the centre of the chakra system. The physical position of this chakra is in the centre of the chest. The 12 petals of Anahata represent lustfulness, fraudulence, indecision, repentance, hope, anxiety, longing, impartiality, arrogance, incompetence, discrimination and an attitude of defiance.
Some qualities of the Anahata: Unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, openness, contentment.
And some negative qualities of the Anahata: Fear of love, heart problems, emotional instability such as jealousy and possessiveness.
When feeling fearful, there is no room for love and the body collapses inward, showing contraction. The mind overpowers the heart and therefore, thoughts rule the body, ignoring emotions. In backbending asanas, the heart is fully open, developing trust as the body surrenders into the poses. The head is also positioned lower than the heart in many backbending asanas, allowing the heart to take over the mind. In this way, Anahata can be stimulated, creating a balance in this chakra.
However, if the Anahata is overpowering, which can be seen with possessiveness, jealousy, dependency, high blood pressure etc, forwardbending asanas are the poses to go for. These asanas provide grounding and an inward-seeking effect. By looking inward and into self, nourishment which is expected to be found from the external can be discovered on the inside.
Joanne
200-hr Mar’15 Weekday Batch

Yama – Disappearance of all suppressions

Like any normal person I tend to be very concerned when others make comments about things in general or even casual remarks about me that I don’t agree with at times. More often than not, I let it affect me when I know it should not. Yama, one of the 8 limbs in Ashtanga yoga, comes into play, in which how I deal with myself with reference to the outside world.
OM1
 
 
 
 
 
 
The 5 characteristics of Yama:
Ahimsa – compassion for all living things, non-violent, cause no injury, do no harm. To hurt another is to hurt oneself.
Do I get violent: reactive or defensive, physically, mentally and spiritually? Self torture is also a form of violence, eg: dieting, starvation. One can go on a diet, slowly and gradually by day and not drastically. Sometimes I get defensive, but I don’t voice out, keeping them on my mind. Day by day I learn to empty out my thoughts, doubts and try to voice them out. Otherwise, I will end up in a mental torture.
 
Satya – be genuine, to speak the truth.
Am I genuine in my actions, and remain true to my own goals? Truth will appear automatically if we stay genuine and original in our own ways. On the other hand, if speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing. Everyday I strive to be honest with myself in my thoughts, feelings, words and deeds.
 
Asteya – non-stealing, taking without permission.
Do I stereotype, judge? This speaks out a lot to me, as my perception of others seem to daunt me, in the process, I stereotype people. Hence, leading me to remain in my comfort zone seldom reaching out, feeling intimidated at times. By stereotyping, I am stealing the truth, which the actual fact is that they are not what I perceive them to be. They are not daunting, they are just like myself, searching for a purpose and intention in life.
 
Brahmacharya – sense control, responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth.
Do I treat others the way I want them to treat me? Be friendly all the time, no matter how cold others are. Accept feedback and adjust selectively as one can’t change everything. At times, I feel the weight on my shoulders, wanting to please people. I have learnt that comments are just comments, some need no action at all.
 
Apariagraha – to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy.
Do I give and expect double returns? When people give you things, there is no need to feel obliged to give back, or you will have a guilt feeling. Don’t make it transactional, give and receive, receive and give, it will continue in a vicious cycle and will have no end. Remove feelings for things given away, don’t expect returns, don’t expect for more than what you already have. At times, when I give someone something, I would love to see them using it, to feel appreciated. Apariagraha taught me to let go, and have no expectations.
 
Yoga is a journey of self-discovery, expect nothing and accept everything.
 
Denise Leong
200hr YTT Weekday
(March 2015)

Self-awareness is an act of self-kindness

I used to attend Yoga classes not understanding what ‘alignment’ really meant. Whenever the instructor mentioned ‘Square your hips’ or ‘Tuck in your tailbone’, I never truly understood what they intended & neither would they explain themselves. Hence I would transition into the asana the way I normally would, knowing if anything, they’d just adjust me because that was the normal thing to do.
After joining YTT, I came to realise what alignment is all about & how important it is. It was truly eye opening for me, because I never knew how I was slowly damaging my body – simply because I was completely unaware.
I was unaware of my hyperextended back. I was unaware of how I was constantly compressing my lower back. I was unaware of my misaligned feet. And I was unaware of my tilted hips.
So when YTT began, I had a lot of unlearning & relearning to do. I had an especially tough time with my back because it naturally loves to arch. After hearing ‘Arch your back!’ countless times during Ballet & Pole lessons during my younger days, I assumed it was safe to apply the same thing in Yoga. Boy was I wrong.
Last year I found that my lower back was starting to hurt whenever I got into Urdhva Dhanurasana & I couldn’t quite understand why. I used to be able to do it easily & come out of it without feeling any painful after effects. Turns out it was because I was focusing deeply on arching my lower back, with my feet pointing outwards & I was solely relying on my arms for support – a very bad alignment for that asana (and yet no instructor ever corrected me – not even to point out that my feet were wrongly aligned when it was so obvious!). But at YTT, I learned the correct alignment for this & my back no longer hurts! Feet pointing inwards, focus on your sacrum, lift & open your chest! I can get into this pose now without feeling that sharp pain in my lower back & it feels pretty good.
Being aware of my back has also helped me to be more conscious in rounding my back & tucking in my tailbone in poses such as Uktanasana & Virabhadrasana 1. I recall arching my lower back & sticking my tailbone out in those poses in the past. Being more aware of this definitely helps to make sure I don’t end up hurting myself in the long run. It’s still not as easy rounding my back for certain asanas such as Baddha Pindasana, but at least I’m aware of the issue & I know I have to work on it.
Funnily enough, now that I’m more aware during my practice & make the effort to correct my alignment, I actually feel more clear headed, much more liberated, more aware of what’s happening in my life, aware of what path to take & aware of the type of person I want to be.
I intend to practice self-awareness from now on because it means taking good care of myself, hence I see it as an act of self-kindness. And in future, when I teach Yoga, I’ll make the effort to teach students to be aware of their own alignment as well so that they also know how to take care of themselves during their practice, and possibly reach a certain clarity in their lives the way I have.
‘Rather than being your thoughts & emotions, be the awareness behind them.’ – Eckhart Tolle
 
Zen Law
 
 

The Scapular Stabilisers

I have a personal interest on the scapular (or shoulder blade) stabilisers, having the tendency to have my scapula winging out.  Our modern day lifestyles (studying, working in offices, carrying children) all lead to weak and overstretched scapular stabilisers.
The scapular stabilisers involve three muscle groups, enabling six ranges of movement of the scapula- elevation, depression, retraction, protraction, upward rotation, downward rotation.
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The scapular stabilisers are made up of three muscle groups:

  1. Trapezius:  The trapezius is a large triangular muscle originating at the centre of back and extending from the lower thoracic spine to the base of the skull and inserting at the scapulae and clavicle.  Contraction of the middle and lower trapezius helps adduct or retract the scapulae and works with the rhomboids to open the chest.
  2. Rhomboids: The rhomboids are rectangular muscles that originate at the vertebral spinous processes and a ligament in the midline of the back.  They insert at the medial border of the scapula.  The rhomboids allow you to draw your shoulder blades towards each other on your back – this action is called retraction.
  3. Serratus anterior: The serratus anterior originate on the side of the ribs (specifically the superior borders of ribs 1 to 9) and like the rhomboids, insert in the scapula (in the costal border).  They pull our scapula forward onto our ribs and are sometimes called the boxer’s muscles as they are the muscles engaged to pull the scapula forward (protraction) when a boxer throws a punch.

If you see a student with:

  • Flaring of the lower scapula, it is a sign that the lower trapezius muscle is weak.
  • Flaring of the medial border of the scapula, it is a sign that the serratus anterior is weak
  • Separated or protracted shoulder blades, it is a sign that the middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles are weak.

Simple body awareness can help scapular retraction (movement of scapulae toward the spine) and depression (sliding the scapulae downward).  Also shoulder blade squeezes can help strengthen the stabilisers (in particular the middles trapezius and rhomboids).  Plank and downward dog both help build strength in the serratus anterior.  The benefits of stablising your scapular are plentiful, not only will it help reduce injury in the shoulders, but it will also you to open your chest more and be able to breathe more easily.
Namaste, Sabine 200hr Weekend YTTC
 

Stillness in the modern world

In my first transformation, I talked about slowing down and taking time to appreciate the small things.  In my second transformation, I am going to take this one step further and talk about stillness.  Stillness is a concept which is very difficult to practice in our everyday world – many of us live in a city where things are buzzing 24/7 and where we are connected and contactable at any time of the day.  Have you noticed that if you take the mrt or bus to work, everyone is on their phones either sending emails, browsing the internet, or watching videos?  Are you a culprit? What about just going on the ride and having the mind being still?
Mediation (dhyana) is very effective in stilling the mind. The second sutra of Patanjali says “Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah”, this can be translated as “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind”.  Both asana practice and dhyana can help reach a point of stillness.
The bonus effect of meditation is that it makes you more efficient throughout the day.  Did you know what Ray Dalio (billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund firm), Rupert Murdoch (the media tycoon), Oprah (no introduction needed), Bill Ford (Ford Company), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post) all have in common?  They all meditate.   Now I’m not saying that if you meditate that you will become a billionaire, but what I would argue is that it helps to remind you of the importance of the presence and that life is not eternal.  When the mind is trying to grapple with multiple tasks, mediation helps you to prioritise and to behave in certain ways, hopefully with more compassion.
Prior to my YTT, I tried meditation here and there but it was definitely not part of my daily practice.  Now, I can’t imagine it not being in my daily practice.  Yes, I do have thoughts that come in and out of my mind when I meditate, but I know that is normal for someone who is starting off with mediation. I just try and watch these thoughts come and go.  During the day, I don’t feel so burdened with multiple tasks and I can detach myself from some, giving me more space to work on the things that are important.  I am thankful for this transformation and as an aspiring yoga teacher, I hope that I will help future students find a bit of stillness in their busy lives.
Namaste Sabine (200 hr Weekend YTTC)

"Ekam Inhale, Dve Exhale" brings Life Transformation

photoFirst time I started yoga class in year 2005, it was for beginner.  I only went to several classes (not even five) until one day the teacher came approach me after class and asking few questions.  Basically he was saying that he was surprised that me as a woman had very less flexibility and not able doing any simple basic poses then laugh.  Like a lightning strike, I just said that this is me and I am willing to learn.  At the same moment I walked out from that studio and went home thinking on what he was saying to me.  Since then I never went back to do yoga and not even think about it.  Deep down inside, I only believe that one day if I have to do yoga, I will meet the real yoga teacher to help my practice.  Time will tell.

Six years later, I had numerous injuries from minor to serious one.  Dislocated ankle, several slip discs on the spine, shifted muscles, pinched nerves, plantar fasciitis and many more not to mention depression and being unhappy until at some point I woke up in the morning, got off the bed and not able to step my feet on the floor.  I went to see chiropractor therapist and luckily she immediately spotted the physical problem that I had been suffering for years.  It was building up over years due to over exercising on doing too much kind of sports from low to high impact.  The therapist gave me a strong advise to stop on whatever I was doing apart from swimming and she also suggested to take pilates class.  I did some research about pilates however nothing convinced me knowing that reformer involved on the exercise.

Back to square one, thinking about yoga. Where and how should I start?  Then I met this young and energetic yoga teacher from India who was giving private yoga lesson at home.  The same question popped out asking if I was sure that I want to do yoga with all my physical condition. The same answer, this is me and I am willing to learn.  Few months passed with once a week lesson, then in 2012 I decided to go to Rishikesh, India for couple weeks to learn about yoga at Parmarth Niketan Ashram.  What is yoga and what is it all about.  I met many people and yoga teachers from all over the world teaching Iyengar, Hatha, Power Vinyasa, Kriya Yoga, Kundalini, Reiki, Ayurveda, Meditation and many more.  Then I met a group of people practicing Ashtanga and at the same moment I felt that this is the one for me.  Love the journey!

I went back home and immediately looking for Ashtaga lesson.  This is where the transformation started.  Instead of studio, it was a yoga shala means school of yoga by Nilesh from Mysore.  With all the pain and agony I kept trying to keep up with Surya Namaskar and standing poses.  When it came to sitting poses, I was crying and screaming inside.  Starting from weekend student then become 6 days a week sadhana.  The teacher always said to me, learn to love your body, give them your breath and control the mind, asana comes second.  Thru meditation and practice, I realized that after all these years I had been using and abusing my own physical body and let the monkey mind controlling me.  I have to do something in respect to my body and mind and also feeding my soul with positive energy.  Even though sometimes I felt intimidated during my practice seeing long time practitioners who can jump around and bend their body here and there, still I go back to my intention that I want to be healthy inside out and motivated.  After four months being in beginner class, eventually moved up to mysore style practice.  Along the way, I had an opportunity to learn pranayama, yoga kriya and take spine therapy course.  The understanding of 8 limb of Ashtanga was getting deeper along with the practice. The mind was so much steady and calm but firm, the breathing was getting smoother and intense, and body started to go where you want to bring them.  It was like dancing when you move, every movement has it pace.  Breathing and drishti kept me focus, just like a moving meditation.  I felt so much lighter, especially in the mind and the heart.  That was the point where I realized that I was in depression state for years and unable to see things the way it is but always the way I wanted.  No need to share the background here – so sad..  Things happened for a reason and it is a preparation stage for the next level.  Absorb, take it as knowledge and be ready.

In later year, I moved overseas and the first thing I was looking for was where the shala is.  I met Ganesh from KPJYAI, Mysore.  With the move to the new place, it was hard to find time to practice regularly.  Eventually, the time permitted me to continue my sadhana five times a week starting at 5 am in the morning.  Call me crazy but I love it.  Asana practice was improving thru one killing adjustment to another but not killing the intention.  During my stay in that country, I am so grateful to have an opportunity to practice with Ajay Kumar from Mysore who is the teacher of my first teacher and also had a 7 days intense ashtanga practice with Guruma Saraswathi Jois from KPJYAI Mysore.  Until I met Master Paalu at Tirisula on my next overseas moved year after.  Surprisingly, Master Paalu and my two previous teachers, Ajay and Nilesh, came from the same ashtanga lineage of BNS Iyengar and it is not something that you can find it easily.  Twist of fate?  Some questions are better left unanswered.  It is there waiting for you to be discovered.   Every teacher has their own style of teaching, every teacher has their own intention on teaching, only pure heart and strong intention will lead the way to find what you really need.

“Purnamadah Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachyate Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavashishyate”

Om Shanti

Rhea – Ashtanga 200hr, weekday 2015

Relaxing in the Sleeping Pigeon Pose

For tight hips, like myself, try watching the television or reading a book while in the sleeping swan pose. It can be a passive, yet effective stretch to open up the hips. It can be rather intense too, yet liberating at the same time while releasing the tensions in the hips.
The sleeping swan pose is great for tight hips because it stretches the hip rotators, hip flexors and creates significant external hip rotation to the front leg as well as internal rotation to the back leg. A gentle arch in the back is also created while elongating the the hip flexors of the back leg. Stability in the pelvic floor can be established with this pose too.
Everyday sitting in the office, sports such as running and cycling, and stress are the common reasons for the hips’ tightness. These cause the hips to be strong and tensed up, losing their flexibility and range of motion.
However, getting into the right alignment for the pose’s maximum benefits can be a challenge, especially with tight hips. Start on all fours, with hands directly beneath shoulders, knees directly beneath hips, bring the right knee forward until it touches the right wrist and the ankle towards the left wrist. Straighten the back leg and with support of the hands, lower both sides of pelvis towards the mat, making sure the pelvis is not leaning to the right. Keeping the hips squared is important for full effects of the pose and also to properly align the lower back. If this is not accessible, place a towel or block under the right hips for some leverage. Walk the hands forward, lengthening the torso and fold forward into the full pose.
Joanne
200-hr Mar’15 Weekday Batch