Anatomy: neti nasal cleansing

I would liken our nasal passages as the ‘goalkeeper’ to our inner system. When we keep this passage clean, clear and healthy the end result would be clarity of mind, mental alertness, sharper senses, restoring health and harmony and better overall general wellbeing.
When I did my first session of Neti nasal cleansing, it was like a ‘eureka’ moment. I felt so clear headed and the breathing felt good, not laboured nor congested. Neti is done by adding salt to lukewarm water and with the help of a neti pot, pour the content into the right nostril, tilting the head slightly to the left, not bending too far forward nor backwards but at an angle where the water will flow out effortless from the left nostril. It is to be repeated on the left nostril.
The results will be a clearer nasal passage as it clears the sinus which is the area above our nose and the eyebrows. It aids in ridding our body of toxins and irritants, relaxing the nasal nerves and O2 flow to the brain will be uninterrupted as energy will be properly channelled. Neti nasal cleansing also help to balance the 2 nadis: Ida (left) and Pingala (right) ) leading to the nervous system. When either of these 2 nadis is partially blocked by mucus or pollutants, it may affect the way we think, feel and our emotional wellbeing is compromised. Proper breathing is the key to good health and the maintenance of this important organ cannot be ignored.
On a lighter note, a very funny incident happened on the day we were practising this cleansing. I was with my course mate Christy and both of us were squatting by the drain pouring water down our nasal passages. While waiting for Christy to finish her 2nd cleansing, along came a mini lorry and when the driver was just by our side, I chanced upon the look on his face and it was crunched up, a look of terror and horror. Perhaps he just couldn’t believe what he was witnessing! If only he knows the benefits of this wonderful cleansing technique, he would surely be squatting alongside us.

Philosophy: Santosha

In this current materialistic world almost everyone is striving for more. We always want more of everything. More money to buy this, more money to buy that. And in order for us to have more money, we have to work longer hours, not necessarily smarter but sometimes just to show the boss that we are working long and hard. Some may even resort to trickery and falsehood just to be ahead of others. Missed meals will be a common occurrence and over a period of time, diseases will manifest and the end result will be a non productive worker. Non productive = lower income and the moment the health chart is on an uptick, the cycle will start all over again. When a person is always wanting more, always comparing himself to others, always wanting to be more successful and accomplished than others and even after achieving whatever original goal he has set from the beginning, he will never be satisfied and from here on discontentment sets in.
Will there be an end to all our material cravings?
The opposite of discontentment is contentment. Contentment comes from not comparing oneself to others. Contentment comes from being satisfied with whatever resources one has at his disposal. Contentment is gratitude and appreciation for whatever we have without wanting more to gratify our senses.
Somehow in my years of travelling I have always found that the poor are happier. Their smiles are genuine as they smile with their eyes. Perhaps their senses have not been contaminated by the trappings of the affluent. They are ever so willing to share a simple snack in their humble abode but not so for the rich. I remembered attending a lavish wedding in a 3rd world country where the feast lasted for 3 days amidst a palatial setting. Outside beggars were hanging around just hoping of scraps of food be to tossed in their direction. I made a remark to the patriarch: you must be a very contented man as you have almost everything. To which he replied: O no, this is nothing. If I have more money, it will be better. More money will make me very very happy.
It got me thinking. If this particular man is not contented with all these material trappings and a 3 generation family to boot, what then is contentment?
To a certain degree I have been practising Santosha for a good number of years without me realizing that this has been done by the yogis thousands of years ago. I have never compared myself to others because once I start, I know that my mind will start playing tricks on me and it will become very unsettled, bringing me undue unhappiness, resulting in restlessness. I do know that being contented with whatever I have will bring me inner peace and happiness and Santosha will be my guiding light.

philosophy — Ahimsa

Although this Yama may be more related to our dealings with others, however if we do not first honour ourselves then we will not be able to feel for others. After the second day into the course my muscles were aching in places I never knew existed. Previously, full forward bend was a breeze first thing in the morning but even after subsequent days of practise my joints were so tight that I was beginning to question my pre-conceived notion that the more we stretch our muscles the more flexible we will become. The first thought that came to my mind was am I hurting myself? Why am I not honouring the 1st limb of Yoga? Why am I trying to get into poses which is sometimes beyond my flexibility?
It was only after the 4th day of training that I realized that I may be looking at Ahimsa from a wrong angle. Also during the introductory talk on Day 1 by Master Trainer Paalu he did mentioned that there will be some asanas that some people will simply not be able to do due to many contributing factors. After I have a better grasp how our body works in relation to muscles movements and the effects thereupon and also as this is not a regular yoga practise session but a 200 hrs YTT, I am able to reconcile that Ahimsa is to be honoured except that at this point in time, since we are undergoing training, aches, soreness, pain is just part of the process as both our Master trainers as well as many others before me have already walked this path which we are currently on. I will continue to strive to attain the difficult poses as it is a sequence of asanas with a long history, practised by thousands before me and I am certain the therapeutic effects will be reviewed in time. Moreover yoga is a journey, a lifetime of learning and I will continue to learn along the journey.

Yamas

The Yamas and Niyamas form the first two “limbs” of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.  They are the restraints and observances that are evident in our behavior and reflect our attitudes about ourselves.  They are a fundamental part of “yogic lifestyle.”
The yamas are the “restraints”.  It is important to note that one must restrain without suppression (rather covert the energy to something positive).  Suppression will lead to frustration and will have a negative effect on the mind as evident in the behavior.  For example, if I tell myself I cannot eat chocolate I will just want it more and more till I eventually eat it and probably too much!  This behavior may not be very destructive in itself, but my attitude is changed for the worst.  I will suffer feelings of loss of control, poor confidence and will mentally feel failure.  A better approach would be to ask myself why I am desiring the chocolate and work from the inside out.  This will take time but the result will be much better.  Pranayama, concentration and meditation would all be useful tools to help me change my behavior.
The yamas include:
1. Ahimsa–Non-violence in both thoughts and actions.  This includes thoughts and attitudes about oneself!  This is the reason yogis are vegetarians and refrain from eating an animal that must be killed for the purpose of consumption.
2.  Satya–Truthfulness.  This is reflected behaviorally in what we say–not telling lies and being pure in our speech.  If our speech is not pure, the mind will not be pure.
3.  Brahmacharya–sublimation of sexual energy.  This not only refers to sex itself but also to lust.  Wanting something so badly that it consumes our thoughts and drives our behavior will not lead to a calm mind.
4.  Asteya–non-stealing, lack of jealousy.  This means we are not to be distracted by what we don’t have.  Covetousness only leads to impure thoughts and discontent.  Being “non-stealing” means that if we want something it must come from pure motive and hard work.
5.  Aparigraha–non accepting of gifts or bribes.  This has to do with our motives.  Motives must be pure–if I am only acting to recieve some reward in return it is not pure and will hind my mind.  This includes self-bribery–“if I eat healthy all week I will buy myself some new shoes.”
The Yamas/restraints are the first step to purifying our minds and transforming ourselves through the practice of yoga.  I feel it is important to remember that it is a process and we must patiently transform from the inside out.  With a clear conscience and pure thoughts we will begin the pathway to peace.  Practicing the yamas will help anyone enjoy a better lifestyle whether or not they choose to continue further the practice of yoga.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a traditional french provencal stewed vegetable dish. It was made famous in the Pixar movie with the same name as the dish. ‘Touille’ in french essentially means tossed food.
I stumbled upon my version of ‘Ratatouille’ when I first prepared my baby daughter’s food. It was at a time when I was pondering on how I can eat more healthily with minimum fuss. While raw vegetables may sound ideal, it is definitely not something that I can stomach day in day out.
My daughter’s daily meal consists of – tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, etc. An assortment of vegetables steamed, tossed up and then mixed with her brown rice porridge. No flavoring (i.e. sugar, salt, soy sauce, etc).
It never occur to me to sample it (at the back of my head I know it is bland!) until I have to finish some as I have cooked too much for her. I must say that I am taken to its ‘original’ sweetness (tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin), textured (broccoli and corn) and the refreshing (whatever leafy vegetables I have used) taste.
I have used an combination of ingredients and have found the following, for 3 days worth of lunch, that appeal to me most:

  • 2 x large tomatoes, 3 x sweet potatoes, 200g spinach, 200g eggplant (can be any vegetables that you like), 300g pumpkin, 100g corns (all quantity is dependent on the size of your stomach, or should I say your appetite)

Directions:

  1. Remove the skins of the pumpkin & sweet potatoes
  2. Steam the pumpkin & sweet potatoes for 25-min, the rest of the vegetables for 15-min
  3. Tossed all into a bowl, and mashed it up
  4. Put it in a freezer with a cling wrap to keep it’s freshness (never keep more than 3 days. Where possible, we should always prepare it fresh everyday, as nutrients are loss over days when we did not consume it)
  5. Warm up the amount that you want to eat either by mirco-wave or oven toasting it
  6. Tossed it with extra virgin olive oil, flax seeds (for the Omega 3 Fatty acids) and nuts before you chomp them down
  7. OK. For starter, you may flavor it with some salt/soy sauce and sesame oil

Have fun creating your own version of ‘Ratatouille’, and attempt to mixed and match until you find a combo that suits your taste buds without any flavoring. Whatever combo you come up with, you will get your carbohydrates (potatoes), vitamins & minerals (vegetables), proteins (nuts), fatty acids (flax seeds), monounsaturated fats (olive oil).
That’s what we call simply natural – easy to prepare, injest and digest.
Just like Yoga.
Namaste.

Karnapidasana

Karnapidasana (Ear Squeeze Pose) is an asana in the Finishing Sequence. It looks like a pretty easy pose, but if not done correctly may cause strain on the upper back and neck muscles. Let’s take a closer look at the pose.
From Halasana (Plow Pose), bend the legs and bring the knees to either side of the head. Squeeze the ears with the knees and press the knees to the floor. With no change from Plow Pose, arms are extended and placed on the floor (with fingers inter-laced) .
The Joints Action are (1) Spinal flexion (2) Scapula retraction (3) Hip flexion (4) Knee flexion (5) Ankle plantarflexion
The following major muscles are lengthened during the pose (1) Erector Spinae (2) Gluteus Medius (3) Gluteus Maximus (4) Biceps Femoris
The following major muscles are shortened during the pose (1) Trapezius (2) Rhomboids (3) Rectus Femoris (4) Gastrocnemius & Soleus
When performing this pose, it is important to focus on Scapula retraction (round/lift the chest). This will prevent compression of the cervical vertebrae and also enable smooth breathing. Arms placed on the floor can also be pressed down further to help in rounding/lifting the chest.
Remember to warm up sufficiently as this pose require lengthening of key muscles in our body – back and leg muscles.
Happy practising. Namaste.

Eating for Flexibility

Although it is difficult to find a significant amount of scientific data supporting the idea that food choices affect flexibility, personal experiences seem to indicate that what we eat can effect the physical deepening of our asana practice.
Food can affect our bodies in so many different ways:  weight changes, skin condition, disease.  It can also affect our mind:  sleepy/energized, depressed/stimulated.  It seems reasonable to conclude that food could have an impact on flexibility.  What we put in to our body becomes who we are.
As with most dietary advice coming from our field, it appears that the first step is to eliminate meat from our diets.  Animal protein creates acidity in the body which appears to negatively impact flexibility.
However, a typical ovo-lacto vegetarian diet may not be enough to optimally prepare the body to become flexible.  Other factors include dairy products, which contain casein protein.  This protein is widely used by bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other athletes to increase muscle size and strength, but it is likely having a number of negative effects on the individual, one of which is decreasing flexibility.
Increasing the amount of alkaline forming foods has been shown to increase flexibility.  This can easily be accomplished by simply including more green food items in your daily diet.  Spinach, spirulina, seaweed, broccoli, etc. should all help you maintain a healthy pH balance in your blood.  It is also important to make sure you are getting your recommended amount of vitamins and minerals.
Adding a small amount of flax oil to your diet can also act as an anti-inflammatory and can lubricate your joints and counteract the toxic effects of cooked oil stored in our body.
While maintaining an almost completely vegan diet would likely be well-suited for flexibility, this may not be realistic or desirable in all situations.  Personal experimentation and gradually determining what works well for the individual is probably a good course of action.  But if you are having issues with your flexibility, why not experiment with some of the above suggestions and see if they work for you?

The value of my life

There is this cliché of sayings that was once very popular (you might even have received one as an email attachment):
 
To realise the value of one year, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realise the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realise the value of one week, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realise the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realise the value of one minute, ask a person who just missed a train.
To realise the value of one second, ask someone who just avoided an accident.
To realise the value of one millisecond, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.

 
I don’t know about you, but reading it sure made me think and ponder over my perception of time.
 
I like it because it serves as a reminder that time is precious and that I really should be living my life the way I want it to be. Although of course, that may not always be possible since more often than not, we have people liking to tell us the way life should be led.
 
These days, when I call people up and ask if they mind me ‘ trial-teaching’ a yoga session, the first question they will ask is, “Why are you doing this?” This may sometimes be followed by a comment “Wah, you very free, no need work”. Some others may express admiration at my zest to pursue my interest.
 
But just what is there to be envious about? What is there to admire about my plans? It puzzles me.
 
At moments like that, I can’t help but remember what Weiling said during one of the sessions, that people nowadays tending to bury themselves beneath layers and layers. To the point in which they forget about their true selves.
 
Just what do we see life as?
 
As an endless episode of pursuits- the next management position, the bigger pay pocket and the grander house?
 
Or the continuum of goals- the extravagant holiday, a library of tech-gadgets and a Swiss account with uncountable cash?
 
Truth be told, we ourselves create the cellars to imprison ourselves.
 
We are trapped within the prisons of sense gratification because we fall into the falsehood that all that is what life is about.
 
Seriously, what is life about?
 
Here’s a related analogy that might also be useful:
 
Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.

What would you do? Draw out every cent, I suppose?
Each of us has such a bank account. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.
It carries over no balance. It allows no over draft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against “tomorrow.”
You must live in the present on today’s deposits.
This bank is time.


If there is anything about me that one should be envious about, it would be that I try to live my life pursuing the things I know can bring me bliss.
 
I say ‘try’ because I don’t always succeed. Like everyone, I have to deal with contention, but this almost-morbid motto echoes constantly as a reminder:
 
Live each day like your last.
 
Because that is what life is about: 86,400 seconds. 24 hours. 1 day.
 
If only we can stop thinking of life as some big project that will happen in 10 years.
 
Life is now. It happens every moment, every second, every hour, every day. It happens all the time. Since you were born to when you are going to die.
 
And truth be told, I am really glad about my decision to pursue Yoga Teacher’s Training, because it has reinforced my life’s value and beliefs.
 
Like what Paalu said, every individual’s path has been carved out the moment he/she is born. It is just that the trails are bleak. Our job in this lifetime, is to find the path.
 
And that, for me, is what life is about.

Brahmacharya

The 4th Yama (restraint) in the Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga is Brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya means “to respect the creative power of sex and not abuse it by manipulating others sexually”.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 11.38 “Brahmacharya-pratishthayam virya-labbah” translates to “When one does not misuse sexual energy, one obtains enduring vitality resulting in good health”.
I came across a book that actually defines “Brahmacharya” as “Good Sex”. But in the book, it describes explicitly everything and anything but good sex.
Sex is the power that creates life. When sexual energy is used for exploitation or manipulation, it propels us into deeper separation and ignorance.
While we do hear of human sexual abuse on a regular basis in the newspaper, most of us are ignorant of the extensive sexual abuse of animals inflicted by humans. This has been  deeply ingrained in our culture, and takes the form of “animal husbandry” where breeding, genetic manipulation, castration, artificial insemination, forced pregnancy, routine rape and child abuse took place on a massive scale”.
“Animals on factory farms are not allowed to develop normal sexual relationships with others of their own species. All of the animals born in factory farms have come from mothers who are repeatedly raped by human farmhands and forced to become pregnant over and over again until their fertility wanes, at which point they are slaughtered and eaten”.
As described in the book on what happens to an average dairy cow on today’s farm: “She lives in a tiny stall with a concrete floor in an indoor ‘milk facility’. Not even a year old, she has just given birth to her first calf a few hours ago while being chained down. The chain makes it difficult for her to get close to her baby whom she is nursing – but not for long. Within hours, men come to take her baby, shouting abuses at her. She tries to turn her head to see what is happening, but the chain prevents her from moving. She cries out to her baby, who cries back. In a few minutes, she no longer hear and see her baby – for it is driven to a ‘veal facility’. She is left in her place, her milk dripping from her breasts. The milking machine moves in to clamps onto her nipples, sucking her and emptying her of the vital life force, for weeks to come, until she is ready to go through another cycle of being raped (artificially inseminated), give birth, separation, lactation and depression. She has to be pregnant or lactating to be able to produce milk. She is viewed as a milk machine, one of billions of cows confined in factory-farm concentration camps”.
I was filled with grief when I first read this article – the image of mother separating from the child within a few hours after such a special occasion. While the mother continues to suffer on the same floor, chain to the same chain and sexually manipulated by the same man, the babies head to the slaughter house. Grief turns to anger when it dawned upon me that this has been accepted as part of the culture (of ignorance, where we simply do not want to know). And finally, overwhelmed by guilt for being part of the contributing factor.
There are many untold sufferings that we have inflicted on others, none more so than to animals. The abuse of animals were described quite vividly in many videos and books that talks about humanity. Documentary-Movie such as “Earthlings” and book such as “Yoga & Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon” (from which most of the accounts were shared here) should be watch by everyone to learn the truth.
Someone actually describes our treatment to animals as the holocausts of the biggest unimaginable proportions, that happens on a daily basis. It is even more frightening to know that most of us are comfortable with the actions even after knowing the truth.
So, before you make that order for coffee , with or without milk –  stop and think!
The harmless act of drinking milk may not just be a breached of the yama “Brahmacharya”, but more importantly an opportunity for us to practice compassion and conditional love. Yoga is more than the practice of asanas and prayanama, but the practice of being humane.
Our choice may be that just one moment of decision-making, but it can make a hell out of difference in making this a better world for all!
Namaste!
 
 

Karma Yoga as the Ends of All Means

To me, karma is a pretty religious concept. I don’t want to admit to being religious, but I do believe in karma.
Paradox, I know.
I am not sure about past lives and the afterlife, but I do believe in positive energy, and the accumulation of it. I believe in spreading this positive energy, and have myself experienced receiving more as I give more. This, to me, is karma.
Karma in Sanskrit means “action” or “deed”. Karma yoga means doing something to benefit others with that as the end objective. There will be no thought of getting something back in return, and no process of withholding that thought. The giving is spontaneous, selfless, and quickly forgotten. But the impact can be strong, extensive and long-lasting.
Karma is not only an action; it is also the result of an action one needs to bear. Action and result are separable only by time – seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, lives – but are inseparable as a pair. One reaps the fruits of his actions, be it punishment or pleasure; if not this day, then another.
Accepting Karma gives me a state of Calmness
The believe in Sanchita – accumulated karma of the past helps me to accept the Prarabdha with calmness, so that I can embrace the latter with open arms, knowing it can’t be avoided or changed, so that I can eventually let it go. I’ll embrace good fortune with gratitude, at the same time knowing it won’t last forever. I’ll too embrace bad fortune with composure, knowing the same. And as I exhaust these works, I continue to carry out Agami, something I can control as of now; an idea I like very much.
Agami returns to the idea of karma yoga; it is now being done for the future. But I wish to highlight here that karma yoga is not to be done for the future. As much as it produces such an effect, karma yoga should be focused on the now, and forgotten as soon as it is carried out. After which, Agami can take its natural course, and one bears the fruits of his doings, but not with expectations.
What is good? What is bad?
Being the hopeless thinker that I am, I then start to deliberate on what constitutes a “good” or “bad” deed, because of the grey world we live in. Is following rigid rules “good”? Is breaking up with someone I’ve fallen out of love with “bad”?
And what is “good” or “bad” fortune anyway? There are two sides to every situation. It depends on how you make the best of it. My friend’s house caught fire a few months back, and it gave her a good excuse to throw out all the old furniture and paint her room a pretty purple. My other friend married into a rich family, but have to eventually put up with all the obligatory social activities that are totally not her cup of tea.
Don’t Think. Just Do.
Then, something Paalu once said hit me: “Don’t think. Just do.”
There’s no point thinking about all this, because it’s not going to change anything. Rather, focus on what your heart believes, and follow it in your actions with sincerity and good will. After which, you let nature take its course, and embrace whatever comes to you. This will ensure you live life to its fullest.
This is what I call karma.