Head Stand

Salamba Sirsasana
Introduction
‘Sirsa’ refers to the head and ‘Salamba’ means ‘supported’. This is a basic posture with vertical stand; which means, all Yoga practitioners have to experience the pose by holding their legs together throughout and balance on their heads and forearms. It, at the first beginning, may look very difficult; but once you overcome the fear psychologically and balance well physically, I am sure everybody can do it with confidence.     
The Posture
Warm up is a must for this posture. I suggest to start with six sets of Surya Namaskar . According to my experience and Yoga rules, it will be better if you can finish 12 sets of Surya Namaskar before practising Salamba Sirsasana.
First, kneel down with your knees together and bring you hips back over your heels, place your elbows aligned under yours shoulders. Deeply interlace your fingers and creating a semicircle throught the palms. Place the crown of your head on the ground up close against yours hands, lengthen through the back of your neck and extend the back of your head into your palms, curl your toes under and straighten your legs then walk your feet towards your body until your torso and hips are raised vertically upwards. Hold your abdominal muscles contracted as you pull back in your hips, bend your knees and rasie your legs so that your thighs rest over your abdomen as you bring your torso into a vertical position. If you still building your confidence with the head balance, you may wish to spring  your feet up softly one at a time, gradually working towards springing them up together until your abdominal strenght and confidence develop enough for you to float your legs up and straighten them together.  Remember to keep on your breathing soft and deeper.  For beginners , hold 3-5 minutes; for practitioners, keep it for 15 minutes or above if you can keep yourself very stable.  To recover, reverse your path slowly and carefully then move into the child’s pose so that your head and neck are supported in line with the rest of your spine.
 There are two very important things you have to pay extra attention: 1. Have to keep balance;  2. Beware of your cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) especially those who had injured their spine before. Taking myself as an example, I had my C4 injured and almost lost my confidence to practice this posture until I can practise Salamba Sarvangasana well. So, keep balance and play safe are my advice to all Yoga beginners when trying out this posture.  
Benefits
Salamba Sirsasana is an indispensable part of a Yoga practice. It influence the functioning of the body in numerous ways; benefits are experienced on a physiological, metal and spiritual level, and this postures revitalize the entire system. It can help alleviate fatigue, insomnia, headaches, varicose vine, digestive problems and excess tension and anxiety. So that  this posture is often referred to as the king of all postures.

yoga benefits

Health Benefits ascribed to Yoga Practice.

Yoga, as we all know, is aimed to unite the mind, the body, and the spirit. Yogis view that the mind and the body are one, and that if it is given the right Yoga knowledge and taken to the right environment, it can find harmony and heal itself. Yoga therefore is considered therapeutic. It helps you become more aware of your body’s posture, inner body, alignment and patterns of movement. It makes the body more flexible, alert and helps you relax even in the midst of a stress stricken environment. This is one of the foremost reasons why people want to start Practicing Yoga – to be healthier, be more energetic, be happier and peaceful.
Yoga is a science that has been practiced for thousands of years. It consists of Ancient Theories, observations and principles about the mind and body connections, which are now being proven by modern medicine and science. Substantial research has been conducted to look at the Health Benefits of Yoga – from the Yoga Postures (Asanas), Yoga Breathing (Pranayama), and Meditation. The information on Yoga Poses & Benefits are grouped into three categories-physiological, psychological and biochemical effects. Furthermore, scientists have laid these results against the benefits of regular exercise.
Just to name a few physiological benefits :
Excretory functions improve
Endurance increases
Endocrine function normalizes
Eye-hand coordination improves
Psychological Benefits of Yoga
▪    Somatic and kinesthetic awareness increase
▪    Mood improves and subjective well-being increases
▪    Self-acceptance and self-actualization increase
▪    Social adjustment increases
▪    Anxiety and Depression decrease
Biochemical Benefits of Yoga
▪    Glucose decreases
▪    Sodium decreases
▪    Total cholesterol decreases

Kurmasana (tortoise pose)

The yogi looks to be more like the calm, cool, collected reptiles and amphibians. Thus more relaxed, steady and ready for any situation. Poses like ardha kurmasana (half tortoise) are designed for just that. The head is below the heart, forehead resting on the floor, back spine and neck are elongated and relaxed.~ Theresa M
Chakra: Vishuddha
Dristi: Third eye
Benefits
Your abdominal organs are gently massaged, as you bend your hip and stretch your spine. Being a ground hugging forward bend the blood circulation to your brain and to the spine, hips, thighs increases. Due to the added flow of blood to the brain and sinuses, it also builds your body’s resistance to sinusitis.

  1. Aids prevention of Diabetes and diseases of the stomach.
  2. Helps reduce obesity

Contraindication

  1. patients suffering from postural vertigo or sharp variations in blood pressure

Instructions:
Stretch your legs forward while seated comfortably.
Spread your legs to a distance wider than hip width apart.
Bend knees slightly and anchor heels
Bend forward and slide shoulders under the knees
Stretch arms to the sides with palms pressed facing down
note:
The ideal time for you to do this exercise early morning on an empty stomach. Do it  before having your bed tea or breakfast. But if you need to do it during the daytime then you should allow for a gap of five hours to elapse after having meals. An Asana to be mastered!
 www.kundalini-yoga-poses.com

Hello Tiisula Yoga!

It’s pre-dawn and nearly time for class to begin (I’m a student in the 200 hr training) and I wanted to check if I can blog via iPhone. Hope you’re having a lovely day, yogis and yoginis!

Extended hand-toe pose

This post is written by a 200Hr Yoga Teacher Training student, Nancy. I’ve just posted it on her behalf. Here is goes:
Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana,
Extended hand-toe pose.
Translations:
Utthita: extended
Hasta: hand
Pada : foot
Angusta: big toe
Asana: Pose
Level: intermediate
Actions:
The upper body: the spine is neutral; shoulder is flexed; hand holding the lifted leg: elbow extended; index and major are flexed. Hand resting on the standing leg hip: elbow flexed;
The standing leg: extension of the hip and the knee;
The lifted leg: flexion of the hip of the lifted leg; knee extended;
Muscles contractions:
Upper body: Isometric contraction of the Deltoid and the for-arm muscles holding the lifted leg; Advance variation: in step one if flexibility allows the lifted leg is lifted more upward the face, this induce an isotonic concentric contraction of the biceps brachii
Lifted leg: isotonic concentric contraction of the Hamstrings, Iliacus, and posterior deep muscles;
Standing leg: isometric contraction of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, astus medialis, gluteus, gracilis, adductor magnus and calf’s muscles.
Drishti (gazing): Step one of the pose, look forward on something steady over the lifted leg. Though some suggested focusing on the big toe, and I do it personally, I noticed that when my balance is not settled then I am distracted by my shaking toe, I find it easier to focus on something in front that does not shake. Step two of the pose look at something fixed over the shoulder of the standing leg, same idea. The difficulty in the Ashtanga primary series is when you have to keep your balance from gazing A to gazing B, sometimes it easy and sometimes I lose my balance. I noticed that when rotating my head and leg, I need to keep my abdominals really tucked in.
Getting into the pose:
Stand tall and firm in tadasana (mountain pose)
Balancing:
Abdominals are contracted. The deltoid, pronator teres, flexor carpi and Palmaris longus of the extended hand holding the big toe are engaged. The chest is open, spine straight, abdominals contracted. The standing leg is fully engaged, muscles squeezed tighly.
Critical zone: abdominals, standing leg and chest upright.
Tips: stretch your legs on something high, it will help lengthening the muscles when lifting the leg.
Benefits:
Physical: improves balance, strengthens the arches, ankles, calves and tights, strengthens the hamstrings, and lengthens the spine.
Mental: stimulate the mind, develop focus concentration and willpower.
Coordination of the muscular and nervous balance
Contraindications:
For those with knee, or ankle injury, the lifted leg should be kept into the chest
Those with hernia problems, hip injury or sciatica should avoid this position.
Breathing: Ujjahi breathing. Avoid moving the abdomen as the muscles have to remain contracted for a better balance.
My experience:
I found it easier to balance myself when squeezing tightly my standing leg and my abdominals, keeping my chest up right.
I had a tendency to bend my back because of flexibility issues with the lifted leg, however when beginner in this pose, it is best to bend the lifted leg and focus on the engagement of the standing leg and upper body as described above. Once balance is achieved then we can start working on the extension of the lifted leg.
Each of us needs to find our own center point and which method works best for ourself. Feel the pose with your body and your breathing. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, yoga is “99% practice and 1% Theory”, after 4 weeks of practice I may not be to the top but I am working to improving.
~Nancy
Reference: Hatha Yoga illustrated, M Kirk, B Boon, D Dituro; Yoga Anatomy, L Kaminoff; Anatomy and physiology, Cliffs quick review; Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, Swami S. Saraswati.

Vegetarian Sheppard Pie

This post is written by a 200Hr Yoga Teacher Training student, Nancy. I’ve just posted it on her behalf. Here is goes:
When removing meat from my diet, something I thought I would miss was the traditional Sheppard pie, but as I was reflecting, I still could have it, I just had to be more creative.
Ingredients:
The filling:

  • 2 organic zucchinis
  • 1 big organic eggplant
  • 1 branch of organic celery
  • 2 medium organic carrots
  • 1 cube of organic vegetable stock
  • ½ red organic onion
  • 2 organic garlic gloves
  • 1 can of organic tomato pulp/sauce or paste
  • 1 bouquet of persil
  • A dash of organic olive oil

The mashed potatoes

  • 1 kg of red and white organic potatoes
  • 500ml organic skimmed milk (fresh or UHT)
  • 25g organic butter
  • Salt and pepper (organic if we want to be extreme J)

Optional:

  • ½ can of chick peas
  • Shredded organic Mozzarella

Cut into 5mm x 5mm cubes (or bigger to your taste) all the vegetables, onions, mince the garlic; dissolve the vegetable stock cube with 20-30ml of hot water.
In a pan put a dash of olive oil, stir in the minced garlic, onion, eggplant. After 3-5 min stir-in the celery, carrots. 3 min later add the zucchinis. Pour in the stock and tomato sauce, let simmer until carrots are tender. Optional add the chick peas for proteins. Remove from cooker, reserve, sprinkle with chopped Persil. Season to your taste, if you need more pepper or salt; personally as the mashed potatoes are seasoned I never felt necessary to add more.
Meanwhile cooking your veggies, thoroughly clean the potatoes, keep the skin if you like. Steam them until a fork can go through. Once cooked dispose in a big bowl and mashed the potatoes add the butter and the 500 ml milk, more or less according to the texture your prefer for your mashed potatoes, I personally prefer it moist. Add some salt and pepper.
In a Pyrex plate, pour the veggies. Sprinkle a bit of cheese (optional). Then pour over the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle some more cheese. Put in the oven until the top is golden. Voila!
Now I will not miss my Sheppard pie anymore. Bon appétit J
~ Nancy

Natarajasana

Natarajasana – Lord of the Dance pose or Dancer’s pose. Nata= Dancer. Raja = King / Lord. 
Nataraja is another name of Lord Shiva, who is also known as the “Lord of the dance”. His dance symbolizes cosmic energy in its “five actions:” creation, maintenance, and destruction or re-absorption of the world, concealment of authentic being, and grace. It is said that when Nataraj’s cosmic dance begins it brings blessings in the form of destruction for rebirth, which is an essential part of life’s cycle.
 This pose exudes elegance and grace. I’ve always thought that this pose are usually performed by Ballerinas on stage. Never knew that it is one of the Balancing Asana. The first time i tried this pose was 1 week prior to the Teacher’s Training Exam. I felt like my hamstrings were splitted into many halves.
Before getting into the pose, we did a bit of warm up. We did 20 times of alternate leg switches while in lunge position. It got our heart rate up. We did a few preparatory poses to help open up our hips, thighs and chest. Preparatory Pose Illustration:-
From Adhomukha Shvanasana (Downward Dog), bring your right leg forward and angle  the right shin such that the outside is resting on the mat it forms a ninety degree with your knee. Keep your hips square and left leg should be extended straight out from the hips.. Sink down as much as possible. This is a great hip opener. After you steadied in the pose, lift up your left leg from the knee and wrap your left hand on your ankle. Keeping hips squared, lengthen your spine and bend backwards. Now you’ll feel your chest opening, spine extending and hips opening.
Struggles – Keeping hips square and sinking as low as possible so that the stretch is deepened. When left leg is lifted from the knee, alignment is out. Bending backwards might compress the lumbar if awareness is not in opening the thoracic region and chest. Getting out of the pose is like releasing all the strain from your hamstrings and deep muscles.
Repeat on the other side.
Illustration to get into Natarajasana
From Tandasana, shift your weight onto your right leg. Lift your left heel towards your butt with your left knees bent. (Standing right leg has to stay straight and strong. Square your hips to the front). Keeping chest straight, shoulders retracted, sweep your left hand around behind your back and catch hold of the left foot. (Avoid compression on lumbar by actively tucking your tailbone under). Lift your left foot up, away from the ground,  away from your back. Extend the left thigh behind you and parallel to the floor. Stretch your right arm forward. Hold in the pose and repeat on the other side.
Struggles – Staying strong on the standing leg and keeping the balance with body squared to the front while pulling the lifted leg away from the body. Alignment tends to shift towards the side of the lifted leg.
End result .
An elegant and graceful dancer who makes it all seemed effortless. This pose stretches your shoulders and opens your chest. It opens up your hips, stretches your thighs and strengthens your legs. It helps to improve your balance.
It is no wonder that the chinese said that 1 min’s glory on stage equates to a lifetime’s practice.

The quest for Self-Realization

Or the eternal question: “who am I?” We all want to know who we are truly, what is our goal in life, what is the purpose of the things we are doing? We are taught from a young age to learn and experience things through others. We need to succeed at school, in our work, in our family and we can do all those things, we can go through life with little awareness of who we are deeply. We hear stories about one successful CEO well married, with beautiful intelligent children living his life for a retreat in the mountains. Or others very wealthy, owning a lot of valuables and yet they never seem to have enough, they never feel happy enough. Often it’s our neighbor or a family member who’s being bitter, mean and aggressive to everybody even himself. We need to let go. Nature continues to taunt through life, with afflictions and uncertainties, those who have no discrimination power and awareness. Renunciation is the practice of detachment from desires. (Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali 1.15) We need to learn how to be detached from objects, and then we can remain unmoved by temptation. It is willpower to develop indifference to all types of attachment. Once the senses have been silenced, the mind moves towards Soul Realization.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Obstacles to healthy life and self realization are diseases, indolence of body and mind, doubt or skepticism, carelessness, laziness, failing to avoid desires and their gratification, delusion and missing the point, not being able to concentrate on what is undertaken and to gain ground, and inability to maintain concentration and steadiness in practice once attained. They are further aggravated through sorrows, anxiety or frustration, unsteadiness of the body, and labored or irregular breathing. Often we meet people who have giving up, caught in the web of pleasures and comforts forgetting on how to look after themselves, neglecting their sadhana (practice).
The way you practice yoga reflexes the way you behave in your life. Are you dedicated? Can you wake up every morning and practice? When you are practicing, are you focused, where is your dishti (gazing point)? Are you breathing correctly with ujjayi breath (victorious breath or sea sound breathing), to allow the distribution of the prana flow throughout the system? Are you pushing yourself further in the posture, beyond your limitations, your fears or expectations? Are you lying to yourself and to others, pretending to do or to be? If you truly, honestly practice Ashtanga yoga it will help you to get to Self-Realization. When we have overcome our intellectual and emotional defects, nature’s gifts readily serve us for realization of the soul. All sorrows and hatred are washed away, and everlasting unalloyed peace comes to the seeker.

How do we know our Chakras are opened?

The word Chakra comes from an ancient Indian language known as Sanskrit, chakra means vortex, spinning wheel or circle. Chakras are the major centres of spiritual power in the human body and are circles of energy, which balance, store and distribute the energies of life all through our physical body along the subtle body. The subtle body is the non-physical body or also known as our soul or spirit, which overlays our physical body.
The belief in chakras started in India, and is utilized in Ayurvedic medicine, the earliest records of Ayurvedic dates from around 2500 B.C. The word Ayurvedic comes from two Indian words Ayur meaning life and Veda meaning knowledge. Ayurvedic or life knowledge medicine may be interpreted as knowledge on how to lead a healthy life. Ayurvedic medicine observes illness as unevenness in the body, which may be treated with a mixture of meditation, physical exercise and herbal treatments.
Imagine chakras as circles of energy, flowing through our body, they assist in the running of our body, mind and soul. If a chakra is not performing correctly, this could cause our physical health, mental health and our spiritual selves to suffer. These chakras start at the base of the spine and move upward to the last one at the crown of the head. They have corresponding centres in the spinal cord and the nerve plexus in the gross physical body. Each chakra represents a state of consciousness.
To have a feel on how well functioning your charkas are, just ask yourself the following questions. The more you answer “yes,” the more open the corresponding chakra probably is. If you see “weak” points here, you can simply focus consciously on developing that area of your life in order to achieve better balance.
Root chakra: Do I feel physically vibrant, healthy, and powerful in the world? Do I feel at home here? Do I feel like I belong? Do I have a strong desire to live? Do I love and appreciate my body as a wonderful treasure? Am I a high-energy person, moving boldly through life?
Sacral chakra: Do I have a strong, healthy sex drive? Do I feel sexually confident and fulfilled? Can I express myself sexually, and give and receive pleasure? Does expressing myself creatively feel wonderful and fulfilling?
Solar plexus: Do I know what I want, and feel confident about being able to manifest it? Can I make decisions and act upon them? Am I aware of my emotions and able to control them? Am I able to mentally sort through and resolve my feelings? Am I emotionally fulfilled?
Heart chakra: Do I have fulfilling, healthy relationships? Do I love friends, family, and myself and have a strong sense of compassion for all living beings? Can I accept others as they are, without needing them to change? Do I expect the best from people, and look for the best in them? Am I good at cooperating? Can I stay in the moment and surrender outcomes to the Universe?
Throat chakra: Can I express myself with skill and ease? Do I do the practical things I need to do in order to be healthy, happy and successful? Do I take responsibility for my life instead of blaming others for my problems and expecting others to take care of me? Do I strive to do my best, and do I feel worthy of rewards or compensation for my efforts? Do I have enough faith in myself to take risks, embrace challenges, and create avenues for fulfillment?
Third eye: Am I mentally sharp and able to figure things out? Do I have lots of creative ideas, and the habit of taking the necessary steps to make them reality? Do answers or insights come to me as I mentally try to understand things? Am I able to visualize my goals and dreams? Do I set realistic, attainable goals? Do my experiences support and validate my beliefs about life?
Crown chakra: Do I feel like I’m part of something vast and wonderful? Do I feel connected to God/ Spirit/ the Universe, and feel that my life has a purpose? Am I able to view myself honestly, and to ferret out the lessons in my experiences in order to develop wisdom?

Child Abuse and Yoga

Child abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional mistreatment of children. It is also defined  as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse and child sexual abuse. 
A survivor of the above categories usually suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Jane, an eighteen year old girl suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by the first 3 categories. Abuser = her biological mother. Jane, is fostered by a close friend, EJ and his wife. I did not know that till the first time i met her.
Traumatic Truth
Jane was cold. I could feel her barrier, a wall which seemed to hold its fort very strongly. She would have passed as a normal teenager who is begining to rebel. Oddly i felt a strong sense of sadness within her, the expression on her pretty face seemed weirdly tired. She carried an air of cautiousness with her. Over coffee, i chided my friend for being bias. I have seen him bonding with his younger son and i thought he was being unfair. That was when he told me Jane is not his daughter. Jane is his sister in law’s daughter.
Since birth, she was being abused. She had gone through days without milk. As a toddler, she was pinched, slapped and punched in front of her cousins. Her mother would call her dad (who had divorced her), physically abused Jane and let him hear her cry over the line. She had also threatened to kill her, throw her out of the window.  Jane’s mother was subsequently sent to IMH after several court cases. EJ and his wife adopted the responsibility to foster Jane. Despite the Protection Order awarded by Court, Jane’s mother continue to abuse her mentally by disrupting her life. Jane was fearful of her because of the pain inflicted and she was traumatized by her past.
When i heard that, all i could think of was to give the little girl a big hug. I empathized with what she must have feel and light shed on why i felt the strange vibes when i saw her. A thought flashed through my mind. We were in a dark room. We were seated facing each other with our eyes closed, in meditation. Yoga. It dawned on me. I did a search on the internet about Yoga and child abuse and found a few articles which relates them.
Yoga emphasizes on Asana. Asana means steady pose. To have a steady pose requires one to be grounded and present. Being grounded for a PTSD sufferer might mean that he/she has to be aware not to be disconnected from the body. Being present, requires one to be able to focus in that moment. A PSTD sufferer will find this very tough because they usually spend very little time living in their bodies. They will often processed their past within themselves and worry about their next move. They are disconnected from their bodies because they are fearful of the abuse inflicted on them and they tend to “flee” from their bodies. For Jane’s case, EJ related that, “her mother would pinch her in front of her cousins till her skin turns blue and yet she was indifferent. It was as if she was not there to feel the pain.”
Yoga can be practiced with the purpose of healing the body and the soul One can practice Pranayama, perform Asanas, learn relaxation and meditation techniques. A research was done and it has shown that PTSD sufferers received flashbacks of the past and worry for the future. When these intriguing thoughts visit them, their heart rate varies and they panic. Deep breathing allows one to be able to remain calm. Ujjayi breathing helps to improves heart rate variability which in turn promotes the ability for one to remain calm. Long term practice of Asanas helps to elicit and release repressed emotions. When combined, with the use of relaxation and meditation techniques, one would be able to reconnect with their bodies and released the suppression of their fears and thoughts and realised self acceptance.  
A few poses that are recommended :-
(A) Balasana (Child’s pose).  Promotes a sense of security as one feels sheltered and protected.  This pose calms the brain and relieves stress and fatigue.
(B) Adhomukha Shvanasana (Downward-facing dog) – promotes thoracic breathing,  increase blood flow to the head, improving circulation and lowering heart and respiratory rates.
(C) Sankasana ( Rabbit Pose) – Improves blood supply to the brain. This pose helps to connect with the breath. At the same time, the practicioner feels secure.
“Hi Jane, your dad said you are keen in learning Yoga?”, i asked. “Yes, auntie Jade. My friend and i are interested.”
That was before i knew about her.  Now, i can’t wait to begin this Yoga journey with her. The question is, how?