Yoga and Vegan Diet

Growing up in Singapore, a melting pot of culinary flavours ranging from chicken rice to satay to bak kut teh (a kind of peppery/herbal pork rib broth), I never imagined I would ever turn vegan.

It started when, at the age of 10, I stumbled upon videos exposing what happened in slaughterhouses. The blood, the screams, the animals’ eyes dilating with fear as their throats were slit – it all looked like a scene out of a horror movie.  Traumatised by the reality of how meat was made, I decided I could not eat meat anymore.  When I told my parents my decision, they reprimanded me and told me I needed to eat meat to have a balanced diet.

It was not until I turned 20 that I finally stopped eating meat.  A few months ago, I stopped consuming eggs and dairy as well. 

After studying yoga philosophy, I started to reflect on how a vegan diet related to yogic principles. 

As a starting point, yoga does not enforce veganism, or any diet for that matter, on its practitioners.  In fact, there are many yoga practitioners who consume meat and animal products. 

Nevertheless, it seems that a vegan diet is supported by a few key yogic principles. 

(1) Three Gunas and Food

In yoga philosophy, the mind is formed from the essence of food.  If the food consumed is pure, the mind can develop a strong subtle intellect. 

Tamasic food, which includes meat, fish and intoxicants, is considered to be “stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse” (Bhagavad Gita, XVII, 10).  Such food makes a person dull and inert; fills his mind with impure thoughts; and increases his risks of getting chronic ailments and depression.  This age-old philosophy has been partially backed by modern science, which has established links between meat consumption and heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and harmful cholesterol levels.

On the other hand, a Sattvic diet consists of pure natural food which increases health and vitality, while rendering the mind pure and calm.  It includes vegetables, pulses, nuts, fruits, seeds, and whole grains such as oats and quinoa.  It includes dairy products only if the cow is fed and milked in the right conditions.  However, cows are abused in modern dairy practices.  Dairy cows are artificially inseminated repeatedly and slaughtered for cheap beef once they stop producing milk. Their calves are removed within 36 hours after birth, breaking the strong bond between mother and child.  These calves are killed if they are male, or raised to be dairy cows if female.  In addition, milk is now filled with hormones and antibiotics, which are harmful to our health. 

Therefore, a vegan diet, which excludes all meat and animal products, is Sattvic and ideal for nurturing our physical and mental health.

(2) Santosha

Santosha is about being contented.  I may not get to eat a lot of my favourite dishes like butter chicken or char siew rice (roast pork rice) anymore, but I still get a healthy and delicious diet which meets all my nutritional needs.  For this, I am contented.  There is no need to compare myself with others around me who get to eat a larger variety of food than I can. 

(3) Ahimsa

Ahimsa is about respecting all living beings and practicing nonviolence to others. 

In a place with little or no plants available for consumption, perhaps due to environmental conditions (like in the Arctic or Mongolia), a person would certainly need to hunt for meat to survive.  Otherwise, he would be committing violence upon himself. 

However, in most modern cities like Singapore, people have access to a large variety of food.  Thus, most of us can choose to adopt a vegan diet if we want.

Veganism applies to ahimsa in several ways.

First, by turning vegan, I am renouncing the confinement, abuse, and killing of animals. This is a direct way to disengage myself from one of the most prevalent (but overlooked) forms of violence.  Modern factory farming is inherently cruel to animals.  Unlike farmers in the old days, today’s factory farmers show no concern about individual animals. They embrace any practice that increases profit, regardless of how much pain, suffering, and death it inflicts on the animal.  Nearly all farmed animals live in intensively crowded and filthy factory farms.  Castration, debeaking, and other painful mutilations are routinely carried out without pain-relief.  Egg-laying hens are crammed into cages so tiny they can’t spread their wings.  Male chicks, an unwanted by-product of egg production, are often ground up or scalded alive.  By adopting a plant-based diet, I stop contributing to this systematic violence.

Second, veganism is an act of nonviolence towards the earth and other fellow humans.  Animal agriculture uses natural resources at a way higher rate than plant crop production.   Veganism would, therefore, drastically reduce the damage inflicted on the earth.

Third, veganism extends compassion to other fellow humans.  There are millions of starving people in the world.  Farmed animals are fed huge amounts of crops and water.   In fact, it takes 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat.  These plants crops could have otherwise been used to feed more people, saving them from starvation.  

Finally, veganism is an act of nonviolence to myself.  I feel more at peace, and my conscience is clearer than before.

One of the most popular mantras is a Shanti (peace) mantra, which takes into account all living beings, not just humans:

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih

Meaning:
May all beings become happy
May none fall ill
May all see auspiciousness everywhere
May none ever feel sorrow
Om Peace Peace Peace

The Yoga Mum

Let’s start from the start of the day.Being a mum is definitely the most rewarding and a very demanding job. There are days when you question your own decisions and choices and then the silver lining of love in the form of hug assures you that “all shall be well”.

Every morning sun comes up with its own list of do’s and never ending decision making at each stage.

According to me that luxury I give myself to spend some time every day with Yoga has helped me with many different aspects of my mummy role.

In this hustle and bustle of life , we sometimes forget that “I” as we are so caught up with playing ‘the responsible person” role. Yoga gives you that time to connect with your soul when you spend time doing Pranayam and let the thoughts pass by.

Next time when my daughter gets into a unpleasant discussion ,instead of getting into an argument  I will consciously try and  tell myself that this too shall pass whether its protein or nutrition.

When we are practicing yoga, we take care of the finer details, like positioning the front leg in right angle in uddita pashvakonasana , and sucking the tummy in to fold forward in pashchimotan asana. These little detailing can transform a pose from an unpleasant  or even painful exercise to rejuvenating experience .

In a similar way, going into little awareness can often completely lift the quality of parent-child communication. . With young ones this may be as simple as giving advanced warning of an impending transition to stave off tantrums. More so then ever one does realise that keeping calm mind like in yoga also when applied in parenting can take care of most awful moods. And if nothing works, ‘breathing in and breathing out and hug can bridge lots go gap.

 

 

Yoga and menstruation: should I or shouldn’t?

Is it possible to do yoga with menstruation?What to do if you decide to actively start learning yoga? Does every month have to lose a week of precious time? Not at all. Moreover, yoga during menstruation is not only not harmful, but also beneficial. Of course, subject to some precautions and the right choice of asanas.

There are top poses, which should be avoided while you on your ‘’special days’’

Sarvangasana. Should be  excluded from yoga during menstruation. All inverted poses are equally harmful during this period. They delay bleeding. As a result, excess fluid is not excreted from the body, and can cause the formation of fibromas, cysts, and even malignant tumors. Also prohibited: halasana, shirshasana, adho mukha vrishkasana;

Navasana. During menstruation, you should not  do any asanas engage your core muscle . And this is almost all power poses. So, first of all, exclude exercises on the abdominal muscles and balances on the hands. During such asanas, bleeding and pain may intensify. Also prohibited: bakasana, lolasana, mayurasana;

Kapotasana. Yoga during menstruation should not include strong deflections of the   back. This creates excessive tension in the abdomen. Also prohibited: ardha chakrasana, ushtrasana;

Yoga Nidrasana. During such yoga classes, you should exclude extreme twisting and squeezing the abdomen. Also prohibited: eka pada shirshasana, jathara parivritanasana;

Mula Bandha. Do not do yoga, which will include unnatural bandha and pranayama. For example, excessively intense breathing of a bhastrika or uddiyana bandha can disrupt the natural course of processes in the pelvic organs. Also forbidden: kapalabhati, maha mudra.

Top asanas that are safe during  menstruation

Baddha Konasan .This asana relieves the pain and stress that accompany the days of menstruation. Even if you do not dare to do yoga these days, you can simply practice this pose separately. You can also practice: padmasana, sukhasana;

Ardha Chandrasana. This pose helps control the discharge if it is excessive. Pain in the back is also reduced. It is also possible to practice: utthita hasta padangustahasana, vriksasana;

Dundasana. Yoga offers simple forward stretches to relax the brain and calm the discomfort in the lower abdomen. You can also practice: jana shirshasana, marichiasana;

Shoshankasana. Relaxing postures help with excessive irritability and in the event that heaviness in the chest bothers you. You can also practice: shavanasa, adho mukha sukhasana;

The breath of ujaya. Calm pranayama in a simple pose or shavasana will help to relax the body. Full yogic breathing is safe during your period too.

However, we should keep in mind that there are no two identical women.  Someone waits the onset of new cycle with horror, and someone has almost no symptoms and can continue with the usual daily routine. So as the conclusion, remember to  be sensitive, listen to your body, and it will answer all your questions.

Having trouble sleeping?

Working in a global company, there are many times where I’ll receive emails when I’m in bed. Even though I’m not expected to reply immediately, the issue will still be at the back of my mind and inevitably disrupt the quality of my sleep. I know it’s advisable to switch off your emails or even phones before bedtime but I’ll end up feeling more anxious that I might have work piling up in the morning. 

This is where yoga comes in for me. I’ve tried and tested many poses but I’ve found these to be especially helpful for me: 

Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose)

    • It helps to relax tired, cramped feet and legs
    • Helps to soothe and calm the mind

Supine Twist

    • Massages the abdominal and helps remove toxins
    • Promotes healthy digestion
    • Stretches and relaxes spine

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

    • Relieve stress in the body by relaxing internal organs
    • Relieves indigestion and flatulence

Balasana

    • Enhances the quality of breathing
    • Releases tension in the back, shoulders and chest

 Bonus: All these can be done in bed and requires little effort! I’ll usually doze off within a few minutes after doing these poses. Hope it helps those experiencing trouble sleeping.

How to be successful

In my earlier post, I mentioned about Prāṇāyāma; how it is is the practice of breath control in yoga and how important it is in our lives. But today, this”Prāṇāyāma”  shifted up the priority list (in my own ranking of 101-important-things-to-do).  As simple as it may sound, you must be thinking, how much benefits can breathing bring? Why are we talking about this again? It is just breathing, come on.. Believe me, I felt the same way. I started out learning a couple of different Pranayamas in class and was always dubious about the benefits that was tied along with each different breathing exercise. One of it, Kapalabhati, involves a series of forceful exhalations followed with passive inhalations and this is said to cleanse and detoxify your mind and body. As this breathing exercise belongs to the energizer series; it is advisable to perform early in the morning, the first thing you do when you wake. Once practiced, it is said to be an invigorating wake-up call, and you should feel instantly fired up after performing it. What is believing without seeing? I decided to try it myself each morning on days (without woman’s problems 😂) and I can testify that it is true, you feel the heat in your belly, you feel more awake and at times I start to sweat a little (on my bed at 6am yes).

Apart from the fiery breathing styles we learnt, we were also exposed to the calming pranayamas which I was equally as interested to find out. Of course, I had to test it out yet again. So I practiced some of it at night before I sleep, and I particular love this one. I admit I have yet to instill good discipline to perform it like a nightly ritual, but on nights where I do practice, I vaguely remember drifting off to wonderland quite instantly after this breathing exercise. This belly breathing can be done lying down; reasons why I love it the most, all you need to do is take deep breaths from your belly, allowing your belly to rise and as you exhale, your belly should fall. This breathing exercise focuses on inhaling more oxygen rather than short breaths from the upper chest, hence your chest level should remain relatively still.  The deeper the breath is, the more relaxed you will feel.

There is just so many different pranayamas but finally I will come to this last one for this post and I was introduced to this as THE prayanama to do if you want to be successful in life. Ahh, have I gotten your attention? Known as the Kumbhaka Pranayama – Full breath retention, you basically inhale, hold your breath for however long you can (the longer the better), followed by a longer exhalation in a ratio where it is twice that of your inhalation. Teacher said that when you hold your breath in, you will slowly start to activate your brain and push it to a greater depth of thinking (i.e he used vineyards as an example, about how deep their roots can grow and penetrate down into the soil), likewise so can our brain as we dig a little more and more and open our minds to a greater depth of thinking and creativity. Definitely caught my attention if not yours, but it does sound pretty abstract to me. Won’t be able to share with you my thoughts/experience on this (just yet), but do give me some time to verify this hypothesis. After all, holding of breath versus a successful life, how hard can the former be? 

 

Yoga Stretch

To be honest, I’m someone who barely sets aside time for stretching. On a day to day basis, I wake up early in the morning, head straight for my workout class, and be it a strength, high intensity intervals, or a spin class, whenever I hear this sentence “the time now is xxx, for those who are rushing off to work, now is the time to leave”…I scoot off. I rush to the showers, rush to get changed and head straight to work. Minimal stretching is done, unless perhaps, if there is a queue for the showers. Then I’ll be like, okay, reach down and touch your toes, stretch out those tight hamstrings, or sometimes maybe bending my knees to the back for my quads stretch. But all these are done in a quick span of time, and only if I have that pockets of time to spare. Somehow, somewhat, I just fail to put stretching under my priority list, and amidst the hectic schedule and busyness, I don’t ever recall giving my body a good proper stretch.

Recently however, I had the rare chance to attend a yoga stretch class and description read “improve muscular flexibility by holding stretches for extended periods of time”…”wonderful complement to your slightly more athletic pursuits like cycling, running, and even lifting weights’ and I thought to myself, why not? Reasons why I never set aside time to do stretching or ever attended a stretch class was because I always felt that going for a high impact class was more value in terms of time, money, etc. Yet this notion dismisses the importance of stretching for your body. It’s not enough to build muscle and achieve fitness. You need to think about flexibility, too. Stretching helps to keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We also need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in our joints. Without it, our muscles shorten and become tight which may then increase the risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. In our everyday life, majority of us spend 8 hours sitting on a chair and this causes different parts of your body to tighten up – especially your hip flexors, rectus femoris, pectoralis, upper traps, and anterior scalenes (the front of your neck). When these tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that the exertion “won’t put too much force on the muscle itself”.

I survived the stretch class that day. Each stretch posture was held for at least 2-3 minutes long and it is definitely a misconception that stretch classes are relaxing and full of savasanas. My muscles were COL – crying out loud, as I tried my best to stay in the pose and not give up. Coupled with the teacher’s adjustments, my muscles never felt so stretched out before. Going forward, I wish to put in more effort in stretching everyday. Shan’t be overly ambitious and declare that I will go for stretch classes every day / week but at least for now, I will aim to commit 10-15 mins each night before I sleep.

Stop, think and breathe

Why do I want to do this YTT?

That was my teacher’s first question to me and the 9 others in the room. I thought about it, rolled my eyes to the corner for a few seconds and pondered. A lot of different reasons flashed through my mind, it was like a slideshow with a white background, then cloud bubbles flashing in, “I want to be more flexible”,”I want to do more Yoga”,”I want to be able to conquer all the inversion poses that I see people doing”. And to be honest, right now, I can’t remember what I told him on the 11th of January.

Being in this course for about 6 weeks now (4 more to go) has taught me that Yoga is more than all of that. Perhaps its true that my drive towards Yoga was about the handstands, fallen angel poses that makes people go ‘woah’, but even the simplest act of breathing properly is what constitutes Yoga. Prāṇāyāma is the practice of breath control in yoga. Daily prāṇāyāma trains the lungs and improves the capacity of respiratory system immensely and its precisely the little and simplest things in life that we overlook. Also explains the reasons why I cramp so often when I’m in the pose, or the tensed up feeling I always experience because I hold everything in and forget to breathe.

As we live in a fast paced environment and rush to do 101 things everyday all the time, always remember to breathe. Taking a breath break can help you reset the button, release tension, calm yourself down and relieve stress and anxiety. So before you do anything in a rush, before clicking that ‘submit’ button, just stop. Stop, think and breathe. Trust me, it will different.

Yoga during the Time of the Month

During the Time of the Month, most of us would choose to take a panadol and rest in bed. However, it isn’t recommended to constantly rely on medication. If your body allows it, yoga can help alleviate back pain and cramps. It also helps in balancing emotions, reducing mood swings, irritability,and anger.

Some poses you can do to help relieve menstrual cramp:
Baddha Konasana
Supta Baddha Konasana
Janu Sirsasana
Paschimottanasana
Supine Twist

These poses stimulate blood flow and circulation, helping to relieve symptoms of bloating, heavy bleeding, PMS and lower back pain.

Word of caution: Do not force your body into anything if you’re not feeling it. Alternatively, if you are too uncomfortable for a full practice, you can practice deep breathing such as Ujjayi Breath and Anuloma-Viloma

Doing these yoga poses/pranayamas at home helps to manage period pains. While it is tempting to turn to snacks, panadol and Netflix as a form of relief, we all know that it is a short term fix. Practicing yoga for even a few minutes a day will be beneficial in the long run 🙂

Self love

Love had been a topic that we’ve been discussing quite often. I remember when Master Sree said for the first time that pure love is self-love I didn’t agree. It sounded too selfish, but I kept thinking about it, and my conclusion is that self-love is a base, a starting point for universal love.

We often hear that to love others you need to love yourself first, self-love is given to us, we don’t have to do much-its there-we always do everything to be happy(whatever you understand by happiness), but the realisation I came into is that if everyone loved everyone, it would be only positive energy around us. Imagine you never do anything against anyone; you are always ready to help, always happy to be there for others. Our world would be so peaceful and harmonious, the power that it would create could heal all evil in the world.  

“Where the heart is full of kindness which seeks no injury to another, either in act or thought or wish, this full love creates an atmosphere of harmony, whose benign power touches with healing all who come within its influence. Peace in the heart radiates peace to other hearts, even more surely than contention breeds contention.” ~ Patanjali

Unlimited

It was early morning; I was on my way to the yoga studio, still half asleep I was  suddenly drawn to the motto written on a building saying Patience and consistency are keys to success.  A few seconds later, my eyes were attracted to the red bike that had written unlimited on it.

These three words: patience, consistency and unlimited made me think about these things in my life. I started asking myself if I have been  patient and consistent enough. If I’m not what’s the reason? Have I been really rooted in something I do or it’ s only passion that attracts me for a while but doesn’t let me fully express myself. 

As long as I remember, I was always asking lots of existential questions, trying to understand whats the meaning of life, why we exist?

I studied philosophy and I always have been  interested in spirituality, there were even some moments or rather seconds when I felt I know, I understand but when I was back  in everyday life situations, I have been easily forgetting all the wisdom I thought I gained. 

My first encounter with yoga (or I should rather say my adventure with asanas) happened about two years ago. I started doing some simple asanas briefly for 15 minutes every morning before going to work. It wasn’t regular practice but I felt there is something in it. I attended some commercial classes but these weren’t was I was looking for, something was still missing. I kept practising on my own and then a year later when I moved to Singapore I found out that I don’t do all the poses I thought I know how to do in a correct way. I kept attending professional yoga studio two, three times per week, learning right alignments, it became my practice, it felt good but I was still missing something. And finally all started making sense when I joined Tirisula teaching training.

Our morning talks about the philosophy behind yoga, discussions about life and long and tiring practice brought lots of joy into my life; it felt so good or I should rather say that I felt that I am finally on the right path. The first week was quite slow and intense, the second one was even more intense but went so fast, on Friday my body felt knackered, but my mind was so fresh, I felt awakened. I finally understood that the main thing I was missing my whole life was having an austerity that in this case is yoga. You feel pain, but it doesn’t make you want to stop, it switches your brain off.