Deepening my yoga practice beyond the mat

I am typing this as our Yoga Teacher Training is coming to an end and if there’s one main thing I am leaving with; it is with the intention that I am deepening my yoga practice beyond the mat. I shared earlier that I was introduced to yoga through Ayurveda, and I’ve been told that’s pretty unconventional because it never did start with a mat. It started with cleansing. My yoga therapist once joked that I didn’t choose yoga, yoga chose me. But it was during those treatments that I had met many yoga practitioners/therapists who taught me that yoga and mind are a single entity, not separate and yoga is more a lifestyle than just asanas. I was also constantly reminded to not suppress anything in my life because at the end of the day, I’ll be the one suffering – as exhibited through my health. While I am sensitive to the needs of others, I tend to forget to examine my own needs. I am glad I was tasked with Swadhyaya as my individual project because it served as a gentle reminder to check in with myself, my thoughts, and emotions. To train my brain to enter the subconscious mind – checking my habits, emotional reactions, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. Now as I look back in the past month, this was again reiterated by all my Masters – Master Sree, Master Paalu, and Master Weiling. While the joke of yoga choosing me may still stand, I have decided to choose yoga too and to always remind myself that I am a human being, not a human doing 🙂

“You fractured your toe.”

I stubbed my toe so hard by accident at the end of our second week that I fractured it. When it happened, all I could think of at the time was how I was going to sit for my practical exam with a fractured toe. I dragged myself (literally) to get an X-ray the following day and sure enough, I was given one-week MC and was advised not to participate in any physical activities for six weeks to allow the healing of the fracture. My little left toe is now immobilised for six weeks. Though I was disheartened, I informed and assured Master Sree that I would still be attending my lessons because there are other ways I could participate and learn. He agreed and reminded me that some things are not meant to be. Maybe I am not meant to sit for my practical exam this week. The doctor said the estimated time to heal my fractured toe was six weeks. Maybe I am meant to sit for the practical only after.

Now that I am not physically participating, I got to thoroughly observe the class in all its (sweaty) glory. I took this as golden time; an opportunity for me to hone my senses. It’s a different experience to simply observe. In the previous weeks, I focused on being a student and working on my own body, my postures, and alignments, but my focus has since shifted from me to others. Regardless of the fractured toe, my third week turned out a blessing because I got to be a sponge and soak up my surroundings. I learned how each body and student is different. I picked up messages from their body language and discerned what they were feeling. I noticed the common mistakes for alignments and little things like a change in breathing and facial expressions. I soon realised that all bodies are yoga bodies. Your yoga is still yoga if you need props or you take modifications and variations. The core is in practice and patience because flexibility and strength can be worked on. Over time, the body will learn to gain strength and flexibility. I took the time to study Master Sree as a teacher too. I paid attention to how he gave variations for students who weren’t as flexible. He assisted my classmates by suggesting the use of a strap or sitting on a towel to get into certain asanas. I was thoroughly impressed at how he was training them according to the poses that they struggle with. While he entrusts one to a Sirsasana because she’s good at her core, he trains another in her Chaturanga to work on her arms. It clearly showed me that as a teacher, he studied his students – their strengths and weaknesses, their behaviour and idiosyncrasies, knowing what they’re lacking in and assisting in that. He ensures his students were growing in their own way, all while working within their limits. In practice, I tend to mainly focus on myself but this sitting out ‘experience’ has helped me in knowing what to look out for – student, teacher, and teaching-wise.

Fractured toe. Tragic? I think not. 🙂

Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda

I was first introduced to Yoga through Ayurveda. I was fascinated by the discovery of Doshas in my last blog post that I would like to share about my Ayurvedic treatment: Kriya. Before coming for treatment, I am to fast because I am needed to do lots of purging.

  • Jala Neti

My yoga therapy first starts with Jalaneti. It is essentially nasal irrigation, where lukewarm saline water is taken through one nostril and leaves the other. This is done on both nostrils.

  • Kapalabathi

After Jalaneti, I blow out all remaining water from both nostrils using the technique of Kapalabathi Pranayama.

  • Vamana Dhouti

I proceed to then do Vamana Dhouti – the purification of the upper digestive tract. It is done by induced vomiting after drinking several glasses of saline water. After my sixth or seventh cup, I would naturally puke the water back out (now you know why I am needed to fast prior to treatment!)

  • Sankhapraksalana

Once I am done with Vamana Dhouti, I will then do Sankhapraksalana. It is a full intestinal cleanse, where it detoxifies the body. Here, I am to continue drinking several glasses of saline water till my bowel is clear (which means, the water that comes out is as clean as it has entered!). In between, I am to do five different asanas which include the Tadasana Stretch and Bhujangasana twisting.

  • Kitchari

Once the water that comes out is as clean as it has entered, my therapist cooks for me a Kitchari porridge with five simple ingredients – rice, lentils, cumin, ghee, turmeric. Kitchari is a staple Ayurvedic healing food that helps to line my gut after the purges.

  • Deep Relaxation Technique / Mind Sound Resonance Technique

After the full purging is done, I come to Shavasana and practice Deep Relaxation Technique (DRT) or Mind Sound Resonance Technique (“MSRT”) with my yoga therapist.

And then I am finally done! This usually takes up a few hours of my day. Over time, this treatment has tremendously helped me in my skin recovery. Whenever I share this, many who aren’t aware of Ayurvedic treatment, don’t understand how this can help a skin condition but I can attest it is a more holistic approach. Through researching on Doshas, I learned that the Kapha type likes to cling to things, where toxins are absorbed and retained by the body. This is made clear how the detoxification helps to rid it (I’m a Kapha-Pitta).

My mental and emotional stress/health were manifested through my physical health and I believe the pranic flow within my body was disturbed. But yoga and Ayurveda has assisted in the healing of my mind, body, and soul.

“You are Kapha-Pitta”

I was first introduced to Dosha through the Ayurveda treatment I used to go for my skin condition. I was a patient at the time and wasn’t very informed about Dosha. In our first week of Yoga Teacher Training, Master Weiling went through Dosha, the three Gunas, and food. We were told to do an Ayurveda Dosha quiz afterward and my results were as follows:

Attributes which do not change & childhood: Pitta (10 points)
Attributes which change: Pitta-Kapha (8, 7 points respectively)
Mental & Emotional Attributes: Kapha (11 points)

I was amused with the quiz results because according to my Ayurvedic doctor, I am Kapha-Pitta! The day after we were introduced to Doshas, I asked Master Sree what he thinks my Dosha is and he said Kapha-Pitta too! This intrigued me and prompted me to research more about the Kapha-Pitta type.

I learned that the Dosha combination of Kapha-Pitta is a healthy variant because the fiery aspect of Pitta works with the grounded Kapha, which ideally maintains balance. It is said that the Kapha-Pitta type has the “right degree of Agni (digestive fire)”. However, having this duality doesn’t mean I don’t have to listen to my body. There is still a need for me to keep an eye on the food I eat because Kapha can be a threat to the fiery nature of Pitta. With this duality, the different Doshas are more active at different times – Kapha being more present from February to May and Pitta from June to September.

With regard to a Kapha-Pitta diet, I found that it is essential for a proper acid/alkaline balance because if Kapha is aggravated, it shifts the balance to alkaline and if Pitta is aggravated, it shifts the balance towards an acidic state. The latter however depletes Kapha and its protective actions, which causes various types of excoriating and inflammatory disorders. I also found it particularly interesting that skin diseases were listed under typical Kapha-Pitta disorders. I guess this explains my inflammatory skin condition, eczema. Therefore, my diet should be something that keeps both Doshas in balance.

Some guidelines I found interesting while researching:

  • Have freshly cooked, warm food over raw and cold food
  • Sit peacefully and eat in a calm atmosphere
  • White meat is recommended over red meat
  • Excess dairy and excess seafood aggravate Kapha
  • Most vegetables (except tomatoes and capsicum) are suitable for Kapha-Pitta

These were interesting to me because some of the food I currently stay away from are in fact, red meat, dairy, seafood, tomatoes, and capsicum (and peanuts but they weren’t listed). And yes, I do appreciate warm (not hot!) food and sitting peacefully with my meal. I take my meals seriously because I see it as my me-time. 🙂

Would yin yoga enable me to become flexible more quickly?

Ever since moving to Singapore from the UK in 2012, I have been increasingly intrigued and impressed by the flexibility of the locals. Although my hips are not very flexible, I have been attending intermediate classes for a number of years.

Quite often I will find that there are a number of poses that I cannot even attempt due to me inflexiblity. This extends to binds as well. During the YTT at Tirisula yoga and looking more closely at muscles actions and movements, I’m interested to discover if I can ever come to a full lotus pose. After following the advice from Master Sree to frog pose and a half lotus for extended periods, I have been able to form some variation of a full lotus.

The fact that holding conditioning poses for extended periods has improved my flexibility leads me to think that regular yin yoga sequences would be a good idea for me and many other westerners who like to practice intermediate of even advanced yoga but have tight hips.

What are some yon yoga hip stretched that I could consider using in my practise?

Winged Dragon (five-minute hold on each side)

 

Shoelace (five-minute hold on each side)

Square Pose

What weird and wonderful yoga styles are out there?

During the final week of YTT at Tirisula Yoga, we have been learning about the business side of yoga. Master Sree has spoken about his most popular class where his students practise fun postures, like forward roles that they have not practised since childhood. This idea intrigued me because I’m a primary school teacher and children like to have fun. We tend to be less concerned about fun as adults.

I have come to understand and appreciate that Vinyasa, Hatha and Ashtanga are the main styles of yoga, but what are some of the more unusual styles that have surfaced in more recent time?

1 Yoga Rave – As Yoga Rave put it “The Yoga Rave Project will bring the spiritual element back to celebration and the way we have fun, offering a drug free alternative for our youth to gather and release their energy and tension.”

2 Goat yoga is yoga practiced in the presence of — and in tandem with – live goats.

3 Broga Yoga is a yoga class geared for men (where it’s okay if you can’t touch your toes).

4 Laughter Yoga is one of the more developed unusual styles of Yoga, counting with its own world conferences and even its own “Laughter Yoga University.”

5 Tantrum Yoga is a yoga class shaking, screaming, foot-stamping and chest-thumping.

Master Sree spoke about teaching from the mind and inspiring others rather than doing the same. I intend to spend some time trying out some different styles and planning some more creative lessons… maybe I’ll try one of these classes if I can find one online.

Looking back to day 1

In a blink of an eye, my YTT journey is coming to an end. I can still remember the very first day of me stepping into the small cozy studio on Norris Street, the very first time meeting Master Sree and my classmates. We embarked on this remarkable journey together on 6th July 2020. Every morning, waking up at 6am and forcing our half-asleep selves to eat our breakfast. Scanning the Safe-Entry QR code at the door. All these tiny actions that became our routine for the entire month.

Looking back to day 1, where we sat together in the room, practicing for three hours. We got to know each other better; our fears, habits, likes, and dislikes. From barely saying “Hi”, to helping each other practice teaching, these bits and pieces are definitely unforgettable.

Remember how we were unable to remember any Sanskrit, until now, where we are almost ready for our exams. Many poses were difficult for the group. Some of us are stiff, some are tight on some muscles. We may not be the most flexible bunch, but I believe our dedication to this training will only bring us further in the future. Only a few days away from the final exams, I can’t wait to see how much I have improved. There is so much more to learn. I am very thankful to have met my classmates and trainer, for helping me improve as a person and understand myself better.

There are days where we went to have lunch after morning practices, studying together on Zoom, collating notes together for exams. These bitter-sweet moments are what made us who we are today. 3 more days till the end of this training, we have so much more to learn, so much more to improve on. I am definitely very excited to graduate from the training but at the same time, I am not ready to leave this month-long routine behind.

I can’t wait to visit the studio in the future as a student, a teacher in training, and even a teacher in the future. I would love to pass the knowledge I picked up during the past 4 weeks to many more students in the future.

As we embark into the final week, we are definitely more flexible and less nervous when teaching. We can confidently correct each other’s poses and even sing in front of each other. I will definitely be implementing some of the Pranaya techniques in my daily life. And I can’t wait to learn more about Ayurveda! This is (almost) the end of my Yoga Teacher Training, but it is barely the start of my Yoga journey.

What if everything happens for a reason?

I could say that I had fallen into yoga accidentally when more than one year ago I was offered a trial class. And now, for almost 3 weeks I have been practicing yoga regularly in my daily life.

For me, yoga is not a physical performance, it is rather a journey towards personal well-being. I will say that I allow myself to tame my body until I will be able to control it better. Once my mind is ready then I can challenge myself but not to the point of making it an obsession.

I know I am improving, making progress every day without aiming for performance as I deeply know it will discourage me. And frankly, I have really noticed some real improvements. I can measure my own progress and self-growth through those weeks of yoga practice.

I used to struggle against myself on the mat, but now I have learned to better release the tensions in my body thanks to my breathing. And even if flexibility is not an end in itself today I’m happy to say that I am quite proud of myself.

Breathing also helped deal better with stress and anxious feelings. Yoga has become more than a physical practice, it is a real state of mind for me .

Now when I look back at my first yoga class, I truly believe that everything happens for a (good) reason and it happens when it is supposed to.

Blog 4: Reflection on Innerworks – Attachments

In one of my conversations with Master Sree, I remembered he looked at me sombrely , and told me that there’s one thing that I would need to be consciously and constantly working on – which is letting go of attachments. I was taken aback, not because of Master Sree’s words, but because it was very true that I am someone who forms deep attachments to many things in life – be it people, places, memories and even to things like food. I have constant bad experiences in trying to let things go and telling myself that it is okay, and instead suppress that pile of negative emotions that accompanied with the action of me forcing myself to be okay that certain things that weren’t meant to be. Similarly to this YTT course, there’s some form of attachment that grew on me over the span of three weeks – the routine of getting up early to the studio, the physical practises, the time spent with my classmates and even the trips to Jalan Besar MRT – I have begun to like this routine and would love it to continue to roll on for a while more. However, it is not realistic to have the YTT continuing for a while longer, and neither is it healthy for me to form such attachments. I too, began to wonder, does it mean that to not be attached to a certain person, place, ideology, it meant that I have to not feel for it? Or do I need to keep my distance away from it, in order to avoid forming attachments? I couldn’t grasp that idea of detachment – it was too abstract and unfamiliar to the point whereby it’s uncomfortable for me to even accept detachment in my daily life. Personally my attachments and associations with things, people, objects  comes with a great deal of emotions, thoughts and even memories – and hence I find it difficult to release these attachments in my life. These attachments are part of my identity, and it’s something I also used to define my self. For the past 2 weeks I often wondered, if I let go of these attachments, then what am I left with, what can I used to define myself and my identity?

When we were learning about Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga – Aparigraha ( in Sanskrit) and when translated it refers to non-greed and non-attachments. This Yama’s teaching emphasised on how one should only take what they need, to retain what serves them at that current movement, and learning to let go at the right time. A quote by Krishna as follows: Let your concern be with the action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction. Sometime we are often caught up with wanting to achieve the end-results of a certain process, but we too also forgot that the process itself is equally important – and Krishna’s quote reminds us that one should place their focus on the actual process, and not overly-emphasising on the end-results. Personally, this is very applicable for me – as I find myself driven by performance-based results – I need to see actual growth in myself before I am satisfied with the situation that I’m handling with. For example, back in my University days, I find myself being too caught-up with wanting to achieve a certain goal, and sacrificing my own health in the pursuit of results, and I too have forgotten that critical thinking and learning are the processes that I need to be focused on in my studies, and not just the end-results. Even for yoga, I tend to place my focus on the accuracy of the postures, and often forgetting to breathe – which is not what the practise is suppose to be like. With Master’s words and the philosophy learnt in this YTT course, i find myself often reflecting what is important – and subsequently made peace that perhaps it is okay to be not that great in certain poses such as Sirsasana and Chaturanga – the process is something that I need to fully submerge myself in this course, and that the actual learning is my takeaway, not the accuracy of my poses. This gave me the freedom from the constant stress of the need to perform better, which is a new thing for me as I’m always under constant stress from benchmarks and anchor points in life that I set for myself. Master Paalu also showed us a video excerpt from the Avatar: The Last Air Bender. In that clip, it emphasise that letting attachments go do not equate to letting it disappearing from your life, it is just simply accepting the fact that you can’t bring this person or item with you wherever you go – it’s already part of who you are, and we need to understand that when it is time to let go, we do need to let go. It doesn’t dissipate right now, and it won’t be here forever as well. Many attachments are formed out of love and familiarity, and I too have formed such attachments in my life that I find it difficult to let go. So learning to understand what it means to let go is crucial for me, to navigate more upcoming hurdles and obstacles in life – if not these attachments will in turn become my very own obstacle instead.

As I read up more on Aparigraha – I realise there’s a need to integrate it in my mental works – and I chanced upon this Sanskrit word in an article regarding Aparigraha – which is ‘Parinamavda’. Parinamavda preaches that change is the only constant in life – and that everything ‘is in a constant state of flux’. Seasons change, people come and go, and life still goes on. The tendency to cling onto past memories, people, results, and forming this attachment that I need to be someone of a certain calibre, or to achieve certain results, in order to properly define who I am. However, with Aparigraha, I will release myself from these stress points in my life, to allow myself the freedom to enjoy the process, and be in the current moment. This is not only beneficial to my own health, but also for my personal development as well. Parinamavda is also important – and it should be a constant reminder for me to prevent myself from forming over-attachments.

Looking forward, I do realise learning attachments and detachments will be a life-Long lesson for me, in order to truly understand and work on Aparigraha. Integrating aparigraha in my life and yoga practise will bring me the freedom to actually experience without stressing out what things should look and be like, and instead learn to experience it proper for what it is by letting go, releasing my preconceived notions and unhealthy attachments in my life and practise.

Blog 3: Yoga and Self-awareness

In our morning check-ins with Master Sree, one key theme kept repeating itself, which was how yoga can allow us to achieve self-awareness and self-conscious  in our daily lives, and the importance of having these two components – to lead us to have a more meaning life in our lifetime. One thing that struck me was what Master Sree said in the first week of our YTT training – by the age of 40, if we yet to fully understand ourselves as individuals, as human beings in this earth, this space, it might be too late to start searching for ourselves, and one way to avoid such situation is to begin being self-aware, being aware of ourselves, being conscious of our daily decisions in our lives.

Importance of self-awareness

Self awareness is defined to be the conscious knowledge of one’s own characters and feelings. This ability to narrow down and place a huge focus on ourselves – to better understand our thoughts, actions and emotions, and question if these aspects aligns with our inner values and principles we set for ourselves. An individual is defined to be self-aware if he or she can effectively and objectively conduct an evaluation on their own actions, thoughts and emotions, and align their behaviour with their principles. When one key aspect of their behaviour is not aligned with their core values and principles, they would be able to take the initiative to rectify and make a change. Being aware of ourselves – in situations and in the face of challenges is important, we will then be equipped and empowered to make improvements in our lives.

Yoga philosophy tied in with self-awareness

In our asana practise, as a form of excerise, yoga itself releases endorphins – creating some form of happiness in our daily lives. However, there’s more to what Yoga could offer – the asanas itself creates an opportunity for us to stay focus on our breathing and our actions, which allow us to be aware and conscious  of our mind, body and soul. In practise, svadhyaya, or otherwise known as self-study, often appears in my mind. The study of my breathing, my body reactions to different postures, the emotions that it brings at each pose true transition. Looking at Master’s Sree demonstration in class – I realised there alignment and adjustment doesn’t just happen for just yoga postures, but looking and observing other people will act as mirror for us to realise what is wrong and what needs to be corrected. I used to practise Yoga on an adhoc-basis, treating it as a mindless activity as it seemed to be a mental escape from my environment and the various commitments I have in my life. However, after weeks of YTT practise, I too realised that Yoga is not a mindless activity – it as a sequence of movements that requires me to be focused on myself – and such awareness mirrors the self-awareness we need in our lives as well. As what Master Sree has said: Life is like a pattern, you enter yoga to break the pattern. Sometimes people are prepared to die, but they are not prepared for changes.

Questions to check-in with ourselves:

At times  it is difficult to answer certain questions and be truly honest with ourselves – there are truths that we find it difficult to face and being humans, the preference to stick to our comfort zones often outweigh us acknowledging that there are things we need to change, or things we have to face. Facing the truth often indicates us leaving our comfort zone – a bubble where we live in self-denial and not willing to admit Nor accept certain parts of ourselves. However, one step to develop better self-awareness and self consciousness is to first face the harsh truths – there are things we dislike about ourselves, about other people, about the world, and it is okay to acknowledge it and not suppress it – as these makes us another component of us. Like the moon, we often have our bright, lighted side by the sun, we too have our own shadow side – the parts which we like to conceal and hide from others. However, accepting this part of us is often crucial, and understanding our shadow side will allow us to understand ourselves better, in our actions, thoughts and emotions. Some questions that we can ask ourselves may include:

  • What are the things you truly dislike – what do you dislike about yourself, your environment, and the world? Why?
  • Who/what do you hate, and why?
  • What can you change about yourself? Why?
  • Who do you envision to be, and who do you not wish to become?
  • Which version of yourself is the best version of yourself?
  • What defines you – what are you good at, what adjectives will you use to define yourself?
  • What decisions do you truly regret?