Tapas: Embracing Pain to Grow

Tapas translates to “burning desire”, how you wish to interpret this is subjective.  However, the underlying principle of this Niyama or Observance is that the goal needs to be there to inspire you to take the journey in the first place and then you must have the “burning desire” to achieve that goal, it will ensure you have a logical path to reach that goal.  In my title I have highlighted the topic “Pain” as I believe this is a common subject that most Yoga practitioners have experienced, it is also something those new to Yoga will discuss with their fellow Yoga practitioners and also their friends and family.  When beginning to practice Yoga, it is normal to experience pain, there are different degrees of mental or emotional pain and obviously the resistance to an internal or external sensation.  For a beginner, because these sensations are different to anything they may have experienced before, often the element of fear will creep in, generally, fear can exaggerate that sensation and it often becomes a bigger issue that it actually is.  This is why Tapas is a fundamental part of Yoga, with it comes determination, as B.K.S Iyengar explains, “…we must not run from the pain, but move through it and beyond it.  Learn to find comfort even in discomfort.”
It is important to note that there is “right” pain and “wrong” pain and you must learn to distinguish them and share this with your students, particularly for your beginner students.  “Right” pain is to challenge ourselves, but not to expect to immediately master the asana, the journey must be gradual, each individual knows what their bodies are capable of.  In terms of “wrong” pain, this is when the pain is destructive and counterproductive of what we want to achieve, for example, a beginner student forcing an asana that they have only practiced a few times because they crave the immediate gratification of “achieving” something.
Tapas can be applied to any part of your inner self and it will be reflected through your external self as well.  Tapas and discipline go hand-in-hand, through discipline you are able to dissolve negative thoughts/emotions, for instance, purifying yourself through Yoga practice.
To develop more Tapas in your Yoga practice, commit yourself everyday to focus on an asana you find difficult or a pranayama you may not perform often.  Encourage your students to do the same.

“Discipline is remembering what you really want.”

“Tapas… is the choice of finding a better way.”

Doug Keller (Yogi) 

Ujjayi Breathing

The definition of Ujjayi is “victorious breath”, which refers to the expansion and uprising of the prana through the pranic channel between the ida and pingala which goes up from the bottom of the spine.  It is also recognised by the sound made in the back of the throat which is made by engaging the glottis, often it is explained as being a ‘snoring’ sound.  It could be described as the breathing building block for Yoga, as it is key to monitoring the flow of breath when performing almost all asanas and also cleanses the body internally; it is important to note it should be taught to beginners and regular Yoga practitioners often need to be reminded to use it as it also aids your endurance.
Key points to remember for personal practice or when explaining to classes:
–         Calm your mind
–         Remind your beginners this form of breathing is through the nose
–         Allow a brief pause at the top of each inhalation and bottom of each exhalation
–         Each inhalation and exhalation should be even and steady
–         Each inhalation and exhalation should be the same length of time
–         The volume of each inhalation and exhalation should be steady and not be so loud as to disturb your mind
–         Engage your core on inhalation
–         On inhalation imagine filling your torso with air from the bottom of the spine to the chest
–         Expand and lift your ribs simultaneously
–         On exhalation, breath evenly and imagine releasing the air from the top of the torso to the bottom
–         Aim for inhalation/exhalation to be 5 seconds for each breath

Up and Running With Yoga?

I believed being a runner before I began practicing Yoga would give me a distinct advantage in terms of health, fitness and flexibility.  In some respects perhaps it did help with my endurance, the ability to hold the asana for that much longer.  However, I also experienced a huge disadvantage in that my knees and ankles were extremely tight, limiting my ability to get into asanas that required flexibility in these regions.  Runners generally experience lower back and knee pain and usually have tight knees, ankles, hips and hamstrings and stretching is imperative as flexible muscles are extremely important in the prevention of most leg injuries. 
After some research I found the following which is relevant to me and my tight knees.  I discovered that though the pain may be felt mainly in the knee, the problem is actually caused by the muscles that support the knee. Namely the tensor fasciae latae and the large muscle at the rear of your upper leg, gluteus maximus.
The iliotibial band is actually a thick tendon-like portion of another muscle called the tensor fasciae latae. This band passes down the outside of the thigh and inserts just below the knee.
The diagram below shows the anterior (front) view of the right thigh muscles. If you look towards the top left of the diagram, you’ll see the tensor fasciae latae muscle. Follow the tendon of this muscle down and you’ll see that it runs all the way to the knee. This thick band of tendon is the iliotibial band. Or iliotibial tract, as it is labelled in the diagram.
The main problem occurs when the tensor fasciae latae muscle and iliotibial band become tight. This causes the tendon to pull the knee joint out of alignment and rub against the outside of the knee, which results in inflammation and pain.
Biomechanical causes include:
        Leg length differences;
        Tight, stiff muscles in the leg;
        Muscle imbalances;
        Foot structure problems such as flat feet; and
        Running style problems such as pronation.
Prior to beginning Yoga, I would rarely stretch before or after a run, which resulted in tight leg muscles and I also suffer from flat feet which worsened my condition.  Other muscles in the lower back, hip, backside and upper leg also affect the function of the knee, so it’s important to pay attention to all these muscles.
In addition, Yoga involves a much more focused awareness of breath and how it affects the body.  Some articles have shown that yoga’s emphasis on breathing through the nose helps a runner become more aware of their breath, “accessing the richest supply of blood to transport to the lungs.”  Such breathing increases lung capacity, which enhances both energy and stamina for runners, focused breathing can ease the muscle tension that runners carry, and it can also relax the entire body.  Yoga complements running perfectly in that you should challenge the body in new ways and it can improve balance and breathing, it can balance out overworked muscles and increase the fluidity of the entire body so that a single, overused muscle does not throw everything off balance.
Asanas/exercises to reduce knee tightness:
Salamba Kapotasana (Pigeon pose) – ensure you are supported by using your fingers to support your upper body weight
Padmasana – modify by gently bouncing the bound knee to warm up/stretch before attempting to go into the asana
Baddha Konasana (Cobblers pose or butterfly)
Sitting with both legs wrapped behind you (calves to be parallel with thigh muscle) 

 

Aubergine Parmigiana – A tasty, filling vegetarian recipe

Facts about Aubergine (Eggplant):

  • Studies have shown it to be effective in the treatment of high cholesterol.
  • Low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol
  • High in Dietary Fiber, Folate, Potassium, Manganese, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper
  • The nutritional value and health benefits of eggplant makes it ideal for maintaining optimum health and weight loss

 Ingredients:
2 aubergines
2-3 tins tomato puree (you can always use the sauce the next day with pasta if you have leftover)
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
2 eggs
2 mozzarella balls
Parmesan cheese (grated or sliced)
Plain breadcrumbs
Olive, vegetable or canola oil
Salt
Instructions:
In a deep fry pan (wok is suitable) fry the onion and garlic until soft, add tomato puree and salt to taste and simmer lightly for 40 minutes (you can do it for less time but the sauce is richer the longer it simmers).  Keep an eye on the sauce while you’re cooking the aubergine (eggplant), stirring occasionally.
Heat the oven to approx 50 degrees Celsius, just hot enough to keep a meal warm.  While the sauce is simmering, pour some breadcrumbs onto a plate, beat the eggs just with a whisk is fine.  Heat another fry pan with your oil of choice.*  Slice the aubergine (recommend you slice as you cook because otherwise it goes brown) normally you will get 5 or 6 in a pan depending on the size of the pan.  Dip each slice of aubergine into the egg, covering each slice and then dip into the breadcrumbs (try to drip dry – but not too much – each slice before you dip into the breadcrumbs otherwise you will end up with a lot of gluey breadcrumbs!).  Pop into the fry pan and let each cook for a few minutes, they should be a nice golden colour on both sides, it is ok if they some are a bit darker.  If they are burning, you should use a little more oil.  Once they are cooked on both sides, pop them on a tray and into the oven to be kept warm.  
After you have finished cooking all of the slices, take them out of the oven.  Turn oven up to 170/180 degrees Celsius.  
Using a large oblong shaped dish make a layer of the cooked aubergine, then a layer of sauce (don’t drown the slices, it should be like a thick layer of spread on a sandwich, then add a small slice of parmesan and a small slice of mozzarella over that layer and then repeat as you would for a lasagna until you have filled the dish.  For the top layer add a spread of sauce and then some grated parmesan.  Pop in the oven for approx 25 minutes.
The leftovers taste great for lunch the next day!
Enjoy.
*          For a healthier option, after dipping each slice with egg and breadcrumbs place on a large tray, using spray oil lightly coat one side of the slices, place in the oven (170/180 degrees Celsius) until golden and then repeat on the other side.

Vegetarian vs Meat Eater – The Debate: A Personal Reflection

Steaks, sausages, schnitzel, burgers…..the list is endless, particularly if you are born and raised on a dairy farm in rural New Zealand. Often the focus of many debates in our household between my father and his sister-in-law when visiting, who has been a staunch vegetarian for the past 20 odd years following her conversion to the Hari Krishna religion. As witness to these debates it sparked myself and my siblings to often question each other whether we could imagine shifting to a meat-free diet, my elder brother would instantly dismiss the thought as ludicrous stating that we are farmers, it is our job to sponsor the consumption of meat, my younger sister was a little more open-minded and would evaluate both options and the pros and cons of both (she still eats meat by the way). This is a conversation that frequently crops up at dinner parties or at work and particularly when a vegetarian is present. People are intrigued by it, like my brother, some people will immediately say its ridiculous, you need meat in your diet, you will experience all sorts of illnesses if you don’t, others like my sister will offer that they would be able to give up beef, but definitely not chicken or fish! There are also many reasons people choose to eliminate meat from their diet, quite simply they just don’t like the taste. Following the 200 Hour Teachers Training Course and learnings regarding diet, it made me reassess where I stood on the argument, my research showed some interesting findings, it was normally either pro-vegetarianism or pro-meat eating, there weren’t a lot of articles that were neutral; there are many factors impacted by the consumption of meat but on the other side of the coin, as a key export for many countries, economies could also suffer.
As we all know meat is high in saturated fat which means those who consume it are at higher risk of developing heart disease and weight problems; studies also show a strong correlation between meat consumption and various strains of cancer, strokes and as a result a shorter life expectancy. However, one study of 544 children, who were an average age of seven years, were given two spoonfuls (about 60 grams) of minced beef each day to supplement their ordinary diet. The other groups were given a cup of milk, an equivalent amount of energy as vegetable oil, or no supplement at all. Over two years, the children kids given food supplements gained an average of 400 grams more than those without, those conducting the study found those given meat showed the biggest benefits. Children in the meat-supplemented group showed up to an 80% greater increase in upper-arm muscle compared with the non-supplemented children; for milk drinkers, this figure was 40%. They also found the children who were fed meat also outperformed their peers in tests of intelligence, problem solving and arithmetic. Additionally, the group that received the meat supplements was more active in the playground, more talkative and playful, and showed more leadership skills.
In contrast, studies found becoming vegetarian means you will be helping reduce waste and air pollution. A farm in the US, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles. Each year, the nation’s factory farms, collectively produce 2 billion tons of manure, a substance that’s rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the country’s top 10 pollutants and that’s not including the methane gas released by cows, pigs and poultry (which contributes to the greenhouse effect); the ammonia gases from urine; poison gases that emanate from manure lagoons; toxic chemicals from pesticides; and exhaust from farm equipment used to raise feed for animals.
Let’s put a Yoga lense on this debate. If most people had to guess whether a Yoga practitioner followed a vegetarian or meat diet, I think we could safely say they would correctly select the former option. This is generally because you associate Yoga with healthy mind and body, though some would incorrectly assume it was because of some religious reason linked to Yoga. The reason is deeper than just healthy mind and body, yes; eliminating meat from the diet naturally aids the body’s muscles to become more flexible, obviously a huge advantage when you practice Yoga. In Yoga philosophy they say “the mind is formed from the subtlest portion or essence of food” – this philosophy sets the tone for how foods are categorised. There are three categories food can fall into – Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamasic. Sattvic foods are those that are free from additives, preservatives, are eaten in their natural or pure state and provide maximum energy for a healthy lifestyle e.g. raw vegetables and fruits. Rajasic foods are those that over stimulate the mind and body and are believed to increase adverse behaviours e.g. coffee and strong spices. Finally, Tamasic foods promote laziness and the body has difficulty breaking these foods down e.g. alcohol and fried foods. Yoga philosophy directs meat straight the Tamasic category, the reason of this designation is also due to Yamas – Ahimsa – non-violence and non-injury.
So how do you decide what diet to raise your child on? Claims your child will benefit from eating meat versus reducing global pollution, makes it a difficult one. It is a debate that will most likely exist forever, though statistics show the rate of those converting to vegetarianism has increased dramatically from 20 years ago. In the Yoga world, the choice is simple, if you wish to live a Yogi life, you must eliminate meat. Me? I’ve removed red meat so far, check with me in a year from now and perhaps chicken and fish will also be off the menu.

Enzyme (home-made environmental friendly)

1)  to do dishes and laundry( add about 20ml to full load of laundry, 40ml to 500ml of detergent)
2) for washing bathrooms and toilets( act as a booster to cleaners)
3) for removing stubborn stains
4) to clean vegetables and fruits
5) clear blockages in kitchen sinks and drains
6) as a natural insect repellent (use undiluted) for ants, cockroaches..
7) as a floorwash to mop floors shiny clean( add a small cap to floor cleansers for a full pail of water)
8 ) as fertiliser for vegetables, flowering and non-flowering plants
9) as a skincare product, e.g. facial cleanser( great for oily hair, add about a teaspoon to each wash for scalp cleansing!!! tried it and loved it!! saved alot on hair treatment!)
Things to prepare :
10L of water
3kg of fresh Fruit skin ( I prefer citrus fruits example pineapple, orange, lime, lemon)
1Kg of Brown sugar
Mix and stir everything together to dissolve the sugar and place it in a sealed container, air tight please!! you would never want the smell to diffuse to any part of your home. Place it in a safe place ( where no spillage will occur) for 3 months. You can speed up the process by adding 2 tablespoons of yeast which will take about 2 weeks instead of 3 months for full fermentation.( i have never tried using yeast). I suggest you fill the final product in small bottles for easy excess usage. This about should last almost more than 6 months.
My family has been a avid user for a few years!! We are very please with the results and whats most important we are saving the earth. With so many products introduced every year but only a few guarantee to be bio-degradable. It is a factor that affects a lot of developing countries, with toxics pumping into open seas and rivers. Affecting eco system in seas. Lets do a small little part right in our homes.

Bhujangasana: Almost Perfect

More commonly known as “cobra”, bhujangasana could come as close to a perfect pose as can be.
Lying on your stomach, keeping your feet together, you connect yourself with your body and bring your awareness to the flowing movement of the pose. Bringing your hands to each side, just below your shoulders, elbows upward, inhale and slide forward, elongating your arms, rolling your shoulders outward and lifting your chest upward, using your back muscles to get farther and further into the stretch, resting on your pelvis with your buttocks engaged. As you move into the pose, your awareness is focused on the smooth flow on the many parts of the body used to achieve the benefits.
Once into the pose, you have the ability to engage the energy of four chakras. Your anahata (heart) chakra is wide open, communicating a receptiveness to the world and its beauty. Bhujangasana also opens the basal swadhisthana (groin) chakra, bringing relief and bloodflow to the area while also opening up the manipura (navel) chakra, stimulating appetite and helping to allieve constipation. As you stretch your neck back and upward, your vishuddhi (throat) chakra is activated, enabling you to tap into the energy to discriminate between right and wrong, bringing a clear head to its practitioner.
Lower back pain is alleviated in this pose, as well as sciatica and constipation. Women feel the benefits in their uterus being stretched while the circulation is opened up. The spinal stretch helps to keep the spinal cord more flexible, and massages the liver and kidneys. What a great way to flush out toxins.
In addition to the physical and mental benefits, bhujangasana forces the practitioner to regulate their own breathing. Following the inhale is the exhale; the practitioner literally breathes life inward and exhales life while following the ballet of physical release.
Bhujangasana could quite possibly be the perfect asana.
Stay bendy, everyone!

Sutra neti: Thread cleansing

On the third week of July 2010 I successfully managed to do Sutra neti: Thread cleansing. It felt very weird at first, my eyes started to tear and saliva dripping out of my mouth. It felt both comfortable, yet uncomfortable at the same time.
Sutra neti is a cleansing nasal technique, performed by using a sutra, a string of rubber thread. This technique is used for nasal cleansing, where the thread is inserted into one nostril and comes out from the mouth.
It is an extremely effective method for nasal cleaning. It allows the nasal passages to be opened to their full capacity. If you often have nasal blockage or excessive phlegm in your sinus cavities, sutra neti can help you get rid of it. For a condition like sinusitis, surgery seems to be the only alternative. You are wrong! This yoga nasal cleansing technique allows you to forego surgery!
I used to be a social smoker.
After a few sessions of nasal cleansing, I developed a very bad sore throat and fever. A lot of phlegm and mucus was purged. It felt good knowing that all these impurities were rid and my mind felt clearer, with a better sense of smell!
Nowadays, I find the smell of cigarettes revolting! In the past, my mind used to wander off into the meadows when I smelt cigarettes, desiring a puff of it. Now i just want to shun away from it!

Garbha Pindasana (Womb Embryo)

Tiny thoughts:
“Slippery when Wet.” That is the way to go for this pose. Do your primary series and you will reach this position towards the end and it will make it easier to do the asana and smile(with satisfaction as you are reaching the end of the practice). Try when you have not sweat it out before the Primary Series and then try again in the flow of PS. Try it! You will know what I mean.
Dristi point: Nose
Chakra: Manipura
Benefits:

  1. Reduces excess fat in the body especially in the abdominal region due to total contraction during the asana.
  2. The digestive system of the body improves due to the regular practice of this posture. It also prevents all kinds of stomach illnesses.
  3. Provides exercise to both the upper and the lower body
  4. Exercise that might help get you to the perfect Asana:
  5. Lots of hip flexors( Baddha Konanasana)
  6. Core, which helps to loosen the fats around the trunk.
  7. Strengthen the knees

Hip Adductors (Inner Thigh) / groin muscle and inner quad muscle (VMO) Strengthening: Sit in chair, put fist between knees, squeeze together knees. Hold for count of 10. Relax for count of 3. Do 10 repetitions.
Lie on floor on your right side, shoulder and hips aligned. Use your right hand to prop up your head. Place the left hand on floor in front of you to help balance yourself. Bend left leg and bring it to the floor in front of you. Slowly raise your right leg about 10 inches off the floor then, hold for a second, then slowly lower leg to ground. Lift 10 times on each side.
Hip Abductors (Outer Thigh) strengthening: Lie on floor on your right side, shoulder and hips aligned. Bend right leg (leg on floor) to 90 degrees.Slowly raise you left leg about 18 inches, hold for a second, then slowly lower leg.Do 10 repetitions. Repeat on other side.
Instructions:
Place the legs in full lotus.
Slide elbows through the 2 gaps formed from the lotus pose.
Place the chin in between the palms
Variation: Roll back and fourth clockwise nine times with deep breathing OR roll back and fourth nine times in a straight line
Note:
Overweight people may find it relatively hard to pass their arms through the gaps between their calves and thighs. However, the arms can be more readily passed through the gap if one raises oneself just a bit after placing legs in Full Lotus
www.syvum.com/cgi/online/serve.cgi/fun/yoga
www.bigkneepain.com/knee-exercises.html#kneestrengtheningexercises

Navasana

Navasana (Nava=Boat)
Tiny thoughts:
Engage your abdominal muscles babe!
I am terrible at this pose but I am about to change things around! The next time, you will be hearing. “I love this Asana!”
I have been working on my abs. Sitting in a V-shape with my sit bones grounded to the floor and holding up one leg at a time. Then holding both legs up above the ground, ENGAGE your CORE!!! I hear myself saying to myself again and again. Then I will let go of both my arms and “PLOP!” my legs fall THUD onto the ground. So.. bring it up again!!!
This helps: Rotate your thighs inward and SQUEEZE… Lengthen your spine and lift your sternum..
Anatomical focus:
Thyroid
Dristi point: Toes
Chakra: Muladhara and Swadhishthana
Benefits:

  1. Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors, and spine
  2. Stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and prostate glands, and intestines

Contraindications:

  1. Asthma
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Headache
  4. Heart problems
  5. Insomnia
  6. Low blood pressure
  7. Menstruation
  8. Pregnancy

Neck injury: Sit with back against the wall to perform this pose. As you tilt your head back, rest the back of your head on the wall.
Prop for help!
Often its difficult to straighten the raised legs. Bend your knees and loop a strap around the soles of your feet, gripping firmly in your hands. Inhale, lean the torso back, then exhale and lift and straighten your legs, adjusting the strap to keep it taut. Push the feet firmly against the strap.
Instructions:
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Press your hands on the floor a little behind your hips, fingers pointing towards the feet and strengthen the arms. Lift through the sternum and lean back slightly. Make sure your back is straight; continue to lengthen the front of your torso between the pubis and the top sternum. Sit on the ‘tripod’ of your sit bones and tailbone.
Exhale and bend your knees, then lift your feet off the floor. Lengthen your tailbone into the floor and lift your pubis toward your navel. Straighten your knees, raising the tips of toes slightly above eye level.
Stretch your arms alongside the legs, parallel to each other and the floor. Spread the shoulder blades across your back and reach strongly out through the fingers.
Try to keep the lower abdomen flat. Press heads of the thigh bones toward the floor to help anchor the pose and lift the top sternum. Breathe easily. Tip the chin slightly toward the sternum so the base of the skull lifts lightly away from the back of the neck.
Release the legs with an exhalation and sit upright on an inhalation.