Eating Sattvic

We all know the theory…. “A sattvic diet is a regimen that places emphasis on seasonal foods, fruits if one has no sugar problems, dairy products if the cow is fed and milked in the right conditions, nuts, seeds, oils, ripe vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and non-meat based proteins.” source google

Since I learned about the three gunas in food, in every meal, I try to analyse whats sattvic about my food, whats rajasic, and what’s tamasic.

I am gourmet and I always love a great cheat meal, but, by categorizing what I eat with gunas, without feeling guilty, I have just stepped into more awareness. As I progress into my mindfulness journey, I can see I am integrating more and more sattvic foods, and I will try to change the cooking style (slightly cooked or steamed) or I will make sure I add elements that are sattvic.

Explanation; I am craving for a big pasta meal –

option 1 I’ll force myself to eat some salad first before getting to the main (pastas), this will ease my hunger and ensure my meal has a little bit of sattvic.   option 2 Ill make the sauce myself using fresh tomatoes and slightly cooked spinach, minimizing the oil.

My journey is there today and this meal isn’t going to be perfect, but days after days, I know it will get closer to the goal

 

Yoga for Scoliosis

Yoga for Scoliosis

Scoliosis refers to the sideways, or lateral, curvature of the spine.  When I was 10, I found out that I had mild lumbar scoliosis, i.e. a slight curvature in my lumbar spine.  As the curvature remained under 5 degrees, I did not have to undergo surgery or any other form of treatment.  The scoliosis does not cause any pain (for now, at least), but it has resulted in some asymmetries in my stance.  So I hope to use yoga to reduce this curvature, or at least prevent it from worsening as I grow older.   

(1) Bend towards convex side of curve

In a class with Master Paalu, I learned how I could modify certain positions to straighten up the curve in my spine.   Generally, I should try to bend towards the convex side of the curve (which is my left side) as much as possible. So in poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), I can modify my alignment by twisting towards my left side instead of facing forward.  Similarly, Balasana (Child’s Pose) can be modified by moving my arms toward my left side, keeping the arms shoulder-width apart.

I can also incorporate more twisting asanas in my practice. These may include Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half lord of the fishes pose),  Bharadvajasana and Marichyasana.  While I should practice these asanas on both sides, I should spend more time twisting to my left side.  It is important to lengthen the spine before twisting into these poses.

Side-bending poses like reverse warrior may also be useful for lengthening the spine.  More time should be spent bending to the convex side of the curve.

(2) Maintain proper posture and place equal weight on legs

Master Sree has constantly emphasised the importance of proper posture, whether we are sitting or standing.  To keep the spine straight and healthy, we should maintain an upright posture and avoid slouching or hunching the spine.  This is particularly important for people with scoliosis, since we have the tendency to slouch to one side.  We need to always remember to place equal weight on both feet and remain aware of any imbalances in our posture.

(3) Strengthen abdominal muscles

If the abdominal muscles are weak, the back muscles overwork and thus tighten. This may cause lordosis or worsen the scoliotic curve in the lower back.  Therefore, it is important to practice asanas that strengthen the abdominal muscles. 

(4) Strengthen musculature on convex side

A study has shown that regular practice of a modified Vasisthasana (side plank) pose with the con­vex side of the lumbar curve down can reduce the scoliotic curve. The modification was to hold the upper ribs about a half-inch higher than in the classic pose.  The researchers hypothesized that the poses may help straighten the spine by strengthening the musculature in the abdomen, spine and lower back on the convex side of the curve.

In essence, regular practice of carefully selected and modified asanas will help to reduce the scoliotic curve.   The key principle is simple: strengthen the muscles on the convex side and lengthen the muscles on the concave side.   While yoga may not bring about instant results like surgery, it is definitely the safer treatment option and is ideal for people with mild scoliosis.

The Yoga Journey

I used to run during my university days and to push myself further, I continued pushing myself to run longer, faster. After some time, I realize that I am not improving and that my training is stagnant. Thus, I decide to change direction and look for something less cardio intensive that targets different muscle groups. I chanced upon a really good trial offer for one month of unlimited practice at a Bikram Yoga studio. Maybe it also helped that I started my practice in winter. I looked forward to rushing to a heated room and sweating it out.  Half way between the standing and seated practice, there is one Savasana (corpse pose) where we are instructed to empty our mind and just focus on our breathing. I remember the teacher saying that ironically, this is the hardest pose because often time, during this pose, most people will either be thinking about their checklists or doze off. We struggle with letting go, our thoughts, our ego and our body. Something clicked inside me.

Day in, day out. That was how I started having a consistent yoga practice until I came back to Singapore and got caught up with everything else. Still, my mind constantly returned back to the time I was practicing consistently. I remember feeling different and more grounded. I remember telling myself, I need to find that feeling back and I want to share the positive energy that it has given me.

Fast forward to now, as what the teacher mentioned, “Yoga finds you. Even if you are not looking for it.” I am nearing the end of YTT, a course which I did not know what to expect and also a course, which I told myself, I will only enrol in after 5 years of consistent practice – when I have mastered my fundamental poses and when I have found stability in my work.

I am no where near 5 years of consistent practice nor can I do a proper chaturanga, crow pose, headstand. Are these the pre-requisites for this course? No.

Instead of focusing so much on the outcomes (e.g. ability to do fancy poses, to teach yoga), all that is needed is just taking the first step out. Breathe into the spaces that are tensed. Be ready to explore and understand your body, mind and soul. When your body is ready for more, it will be yours. Our practice is always with us, wherever we go.

For now, find joy in the learnings and teachings.

My journey to yoga

I am a person who resonates deeply with the outdoors.  I hear the ocean in our breath, feel the swell in the currents of life.  Some days I wake up dry and achy as an old tree, and need soft winds to encourage the movement in my limb.  Sometimes I feel as strong as a mountain, or as vast as a valley carved out by the brute strength of a glacier. The sound of a hummingbird’s wings make me giddy as a child.  There are moments when I look up a granite wall, seemingly impossible to ascend, but with every move, every crack, every smudge, hold, and pinch, I make my way towards the place I hope to reach.

My most honest journey to yoga began in one of these places (although I’d been to studios and classes many times before).   On the shores of Bahia de Conception, Baja California Sur. I can close my eyes and see it. Feel it. The place is not a memory to me, but almost like a singing bowl; silent in place, then awakened by a vibration, a movement, a resonance within.   It was there that I began to realize things about myself, to make an agreement with myself. My yogic journey is a piece of that, and so that is where my journey to yoga began.

I started visiting Baja to work hiking and sea kayaking expeditions in the southern part of the state.  As I drove down the single highway for three days to reach the campus from which I was based, I saw a lot of desert. Dry vast spaces, the landscape only broken up by giant cardon and cholla cactus, old fences, brittle and falling. I had not spent any significant time in the desert before. I couldn’t realize what I was seeing.

The ocean of course looked more inviting.  As I drove down the west coast the Pacific thrashed upon rocky shores, smashing rocks into pebbles, into sand, into dust.  On the east the sea was much calmer, a deep blue contrasted by the dry mountains. The tension of wind lines clear from far away, but from a distance only a ripple on the water.

But still, I was just seeing the superficial.

My journey to yoga began when I started to realize that everything  has an adaptation, a way to be, a reason to be, and an unconscious perfection in this world.  That the leaves on the trees rotate with the sun, to harvest its energy, but also to protect is physical self.  That the cholla clings to movement because it is wise, and it wants to expand its space. The mesquite root drives deep into the earth to pull its water and life source, while the cardon fans its roots to catch water as the sky releases it back to Earth.  That the bat ray jumps to impress its mate, and the whale jumps for perhaps no reason at all..

 My journey began when I started spending time (a lot of time) in the outdoors. Not days, but months on end in natural and wild places.  When I started paying better attention to the moon and the stars. When I started to cycle with the moon and be honestly more connected to nature.  As I started to pay attention to what was going on around me, my consciousness was stirred. I began reflecting on pain-body, presence, non-attachment.  Although, as I said, I had been to many yoga classes at the gym, I can now look back and realize that the beginning of my practice manifested in a more spiritual than physical way.

My life has been quite privileged in the way that I get to spend so much time in nature.  However, my life in the past two years has moved me away from the wilderness in which I once lived.   Sitting here in Singapore, I realize and reflect on the distance that I’ve put between myself and these environments which are so important to me.  By environments I mean not only nature, but the internal environment where I once cultivated self love, awareness of life, and compassion and curiosity  toward all entities and beings.

It is with most humility that I can admit I feel a loss of that in myself these days.  And so, coming full circle, my current journey in a yoga practice is to find a vehicle to move once again  to the place I was before. Physical practice is an opportunity to realize my body and mind as a path toward spirituality and awareness because my physical, natural environment cannot always exist.

Maybe what I’ve learned most of all,

Is that no amount of money, career, or prestige is worth what I feel in nature.

A holistic practice is what I journey towards now; a plan to return to the wilderness with increased philosophical and physical practice. And soon enough, I’ll reflect again.  And we’ll see where my journey goes from there.

 

Back to Basics

Asanas in a yoga practice seem to be what many focus on – getting that insta-perfect shot or pushing your body to strive for that perfect pose. When I began yoga, like many others, I thought it was only about the poses, and maybe a little bit of meditation. I would strive to attain a perfect split, go for hot yoga to enable my body to do more and get into poses with ease. During my yoga journey, i have been fortunate to yet meet with any serious yoga injuries, but I have heard of people who pushed themselves beyond their limits to attain a pose and in return, sustain some form of damage.

Besides learning that there is more to yoga than the Asanas, I have learnt the importance of going back to basics to train the mind and body to prepare for more challenging poses is necessary during one’s asana practice. Yoga is not all about the inversions such as headstands, handstands and pincha, but also the basic poses like virabhadrasana, udhva mukha svanasana, ardo mukhua svanasana and even paschimottanasana – I mentioned basic, and not easy, because if done with intention and correctly, you would know these fundamental poses are not easy.

In a Virabhadrasana B, for example, what may seem like a  simple squat with arms parallel to the ground, is actually a powerful stretch to the groins, legs and chest, when correctly executed. Moreover, it helps to train up one’s stamina, thighs and glutes. I’ve found myself breaking into much sweat when staying in this pose for 5 long breaths, and definitely feeling those muscles working hard. What stands out for me even more about these simple poses really work some muscle you otherwise would not necessarily work out such as your inner thighs! Asanas have a way of stretching and strengthening at the same time, and i’ve found it a great way to gain fitness at my own pace.

It is the basic poses that serve as a foundation for different inversion poses. It is through practising the dolphin pose and holding it there for a while, which will build the back muscles you need to come into a headstand with little protest. It is through paschimottanasana that allows your body to be flexible enough to walk your legs in close to your body before raising up into a Pincha.

With that, I often remind myself: to perfect the simpler postures before mastering the challenging ones; to accept my body as it is and the shape my body forms with every pose, which will be different from the person next to me; “Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you” – B.K.S Iyengar

My road to headstand

Ever since I face-planted on the floor and hurt myself while attempting a crow pose 2 years ago, I have been wary of doing arm balances and inversions. I kept telling myself that “I’m not strong enough”, “My yoga practice is not so advanced yet”. Whenever I went for yoga classes and the teachers said that “If you have inversions in your practice, you may get into them now”, I will sit down and think to myself, “One day…but not today”. 

Finally, in October last year, I decided to stop giving myself all these excuses and kick-started my inversion journey by going for an inversion class. It was a class on hollow back headstand and everyone was experienced except me. Thankfully, it was a very small class so the teacher was able to spend some time teaching me the basics such as hand and head placement, as well as how to prepare for a headstand. The dreaded moment came when he said, “XY, I want you to come up into a headstand now.” I swallowed my saliva, placed my arms and head on the mat, and up I went. My arms were shaking and my legs were flailing as I tried to make sense of this strange sensation of being upside down. Just when I felt that I was going to fall over, the teacher caught hold of my legs and there I was, in my first headstand. Yes, it was scary, but it wasn’t as scary as I’ve imagined it to be! 

After that, the teacher taught me how to use the wall as a support, and that began my self-practice at home as I tried to get into a headstand on my own. Using the wall really helped me to gain confidence and feel comfortable being upside down. However, what really eliminated my fear of falling over was in fact, by falling over. Once, I toppled over while trying to do a headstand without the wall. After the initial shock, what surprised me more was how okay it felt. From then on, I was more daring to try the different inversion poses (even managed to kick into a handstand last week!). 

What this headstand journey has taught me is that more often than not, what’s preventing us from achieving greater things in life are the mental barriers that we have created ourselves. Do not be scared to try new things, and more importantly, do not be afraid to fail. Once we’ve experienced what it feels to “fail”, we can better prepare ourselves to succeed in the next try. 

From resting my butt on the wall to stretching my legs out and now trying to do the knee-tuck method without the wall, I’m still a long way from the perfect headstand. However, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far and I know that slowly but surely, I will get there. If I can do it, you can too 🙂

“Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds” – Napoleon Hill

Food for thought

The nutrition is directly linked to the performance of asanas and our lifestyle in general. The yogi diet is based on Ayurvedic teachings. Some products are strictly forbidden by them, others are consumed in small quantities and in a certain period of time, and third yogis eat constantly. Three types of food in yoga According to Ayurveda, even the best and cleanest foods are not always healthy. So, there is food that should be consumed only in winter or summer. Some foods should be eaten in the morning, because they excite and give energy, others in the evening, as they calm and set you up for a long sleep. Yoga  divides all food into three types:

       Sattva, which means “purity.” This includes all fresh vegetarian food. Mostly seeds and sprouted grains, fruits, wheat, butter, milk and honey.

      Rajas is a food that excites the body. It is better not to use products from this category or to reduce their amount in the diet to a minimum. This includes citrus fruits, tea and coffee, as well as spices, fish, seafood, eggs, alcohol, soda, garlic and onions.

     Tamas is a rough and heavy meal. It is difficult to absorb by the body. It does more harm than good. Relaxes, after eating it makes you want to sleep. These are root vegetables, red meat (beef and pork), all canned foods, mushrooms, food with a heavy taste (roach, etc.). This includes frozen food and one that has been stored for some time. These are also considered dishes that are reheated, alcohol and food that has been cooked in a restaurant or store.

 Doing yoga, you will feel what products you will not need. Changes in the body will occur harmoniously and in accordance with the needs of your body. The gradual process of rebuilding the habits of the body is very important.

Many (and not only in yoga) make the same mistake: they abruptly begin to change their diet (completely abandon meat, fish, eggs, switch to the most sophisticated diets, such as raw food diet, etc.). With this development of events, in a few months you will face a series of ailments, such as colds, exacerbation of all previously existing sores, and digestive upset. And then it could be worse. Naturally, there can be no question of doing yoga.

Beware of this mistake!

  • never abruptly change your lifestyle, especially in nutrition, non-compliance with this rule leads to big trouble;
  • a complete rejection of meat food does not always bring positive results. If you abandoned the meat, you need to replace it with another animal protein: milk and dairy products, eggs, fish;
  • in your diet should always be present in large quantities vegetables and fruits;
  • food should always be fresh and harmoniously selected.

It must be remembered that the body will never tolerate abuse of itself both in the diet and in the mode of activity. And with the right approach to yoga, you become as independent as possible from environmental conditions, feeling great in any situation, with any set of food products.

 

A Yoga Journey

Every person’s yoga journey is different and unique, and I thought I’d share a snippet of my personal yoga journey – Perhaps it will be an encouragement to some of you.

My journey begun some time in late 2013 and this came about when I met with an injury from a sport that I invested much time in – running. It was a relatively cool afternoon and I thought I had warmed up well enough – doing all the usual stretches and preparation before my race. Little did I know, this race would be one of my last few 400m hurdles competitions I’d have the chance to take part in. The gun went off, the runners and I charged ahead from the starting line. 10 hurdles to go. As I crossed the fourth last hurdle (250m mark),  I felt a strange tightness in my right glutes and my right leg felt weak as it reached the ground. I had pulled my glutes after crossing the seventh hurdle and could failed to complete that race. The road to recovery was long and painful, but looking back, the loss of a sport I invested 7 years of my life, led me to find a love for another.

Starting yoga was not that easy for me. With every pose, even a warrior 2 pose, I could feel my glutes give way. Despite the challenge, I told myself to stick with it, and to show up on my mat once a week. I did so for 10 weeks, then 20 weeks, and what started as a uneasy and unfamiliar route to recovery, soon became a habit.

Like most things in life, it was not all fine and dandy and I soon got out of the habit of showing up on the mat. I moved to overseas for my studies soon after and found it even harder to commit my time to yoga whilst focussing on my studies and co-curricular activities at school. To make matters worst, perhaps lady-luck was not on my side, and I broke my wrist whilst on a ski trip with some friends. That most definitely threw me off my already not-so-regular routine of practice. Yoga was was placed on hold for yet another six months while I worked towards gaining my strength back in my hand to do even just the regular things, like holding a mug or washing dishes. However, strangely enough, this incident of not having something for an extended period of time led me to miss it even more. I vividly remember my first yoga practice since breaking my wrist. My arm shook in a plank, and for a moment, I was very sure my wrist was going to snap again. It was frustrating to know even the simplest poses felt the most challenging back then.

But it was for this yoga teacher I had the opportunity to meet, Sue, whose words of kindness and reaffirmation helped me open my mind to be patient with myself and my limitations of my body. Looking back, it was through Sue’s classes that I learnt a lot more about yoga, advanced on with my practice, and made this a habit, showing up week after week. When I moved back to Singapore, I was sure of continuing yoga and finding a studio that would help me deepen my practice, because  if it were not for yoga, I do not think I would have gained back the mobility and strength in my wrist I have today.

After months of trying different studios, I found Tirisula Yoga, and I decided to stick with it. I took the leap of faith and challenged myself to do the YTT200, and here I am today, 467 days since I joined the studio, thrilled to start a new chapter as my teacher training course at Tirisula comes to a close.

Every person’s yoga journey is different and unique. Some will fall in love with it instantly, others may take a while longer. But like most things in life, you’ll never know till you try, or stay with it long enough to fully experience it.

Kakasana: Principles on the mat and beyond.

While Kakasana (Crow Pose) comes easily to some people, it has always felt like an impossible pose for me.  I have lost count of the number of times I came crashing down onto the mat trying to get into this pose over the past few years. 

To my surprise, I finally managed to do it (for the first time!) during the first week of YTT, albeit for just a few seconds.  Here are some tips which helped me get into it – equally applicable on the mat and in life.  Hopefully, this will be helpful to those still struggling with this asana.

First, build a firm foundation.   Starting in Malasana, bend forward and press your hands flat onto the ground.  When I started out, I used to place too much weight on my wrists, overstraining them as a result.  To avoid this problem, we will need to spread our fingers wide and press our fingertips and the palms firmly into the mat.   This will spread the weight evenly through the hand, and remove pressure from the wrists.  Next, we will need to engage our core and squeeze our elbows closer together.  I used to think this arm balance pose was all about arm strength, but it is in fact mostly our core muscles that will be holding us up.  Without this firm foundation, we will never be able to rise.

Second, stop finding excuses.   To justify my constant failures to myself, I used to think to myself: I will never get this pose because my butt is just too fat.  Besides, my wrist is too weak to support the massive weight of my hips.  To be fair, I injured my left wrist when I fell from a pole and landed on my left hand 3 years ago – but I had long since recovered from this injury so this wasn’t exactly a good excuse.  According to Patanjali, one of the nine obstacles to sadhana (disciplined and dedicated practice) is Samshaya or doubt.  This can happen when our minds start clouding over with doubt about our own capabilities. Unless we push this doubt out of minds, we will never be able to progress.  But of course, if we have existing injuries or ailments, particularly hip or wrist injuries, it would be better to leave this pose out of our practice.

Third, focus your eyes straight ahead, and never look down (or that’s where you’ll end up).  This last tip was the most pivotal in helping me take flight into Crow.  As I was struggling to get into the pose, Master Sree placed a block in front of me, and told me to look straight ahead and focus on the block.  I looked up from the ground and focused ahead – and for the first time in my life, I lifted into Kakasana.   

Meditation.Self Journey

For me yoga was always about physical practice. I have never done meditation at home and was skipping that “boring part of yoga” in yoga classes. But after some time, part of me has developed feeling that I maybe missing something. So when I signed up for Tirisula yoga teacher training course, one of my goal was to concentrate on  spiritual part of yoga. And that’s what I have learned so far.

Meditation is an integral part of yoga practice. Yoga helps to improve and develop physically. But spiritual development is no less important for a person. The goal pursued by meditation is self-knowledge of oneself, achieving clarity of mind, the ability to relax, the desire for complete inner harmony.

In medicine there is a concept such as “chronic fatigue syndrome” – a disease of modern man.By doing meditation, you can learn to concentrate and relax, control your emotions and mind. Meditation helps to strengthen health, get rid of existing diseases, prolongs life.

The best part –  you can do it yourself, in any convenient place. In yoga centers, classes are led by experienced teachers who will help you understand and master the basics of meditation.If there is no time and opportunity to visit specialized centers, you can master meditation yourself. After a hard working day, it’s good to take 15-20 minutes. relaxation in a homely atmosphere.

As in any practice, there are certain rules in meditation. Here are a few points for conducting an independent practice:

  •     Choose a place for relaxation, where nothing will distract from immersion in yourself. Although, it should be noted that neither advanced noise nor extraneous sounds interfere with advanced practices.
  •    Take a comfortable position.
  •   Try to relax as much as possible each muscle of the body, mentally observing relaxation.
  •    Concentrate on breathing. Monitor inhalation and exhalation – the exhalation should be longer.
  •    Try to turn off your mind. Throw all thoughts out of my head. This will help focus on something specific – on breathing, on relaxation.
  •   Try to withstand a certain time. 10 minutes is enough for a start.
  •     To leave meditation smoothly, without rushing, trying to feel new sensations and maintain a state of calmness.

After trying my best and practice it regularly every day for some time , I came to understanding that : Meditation is not as difficult as it may seem. But the benefits of this practice are undeniable. And very good when it becomes a habit.