The Yamas and my Headstand Practice

I found Yoga Philosophy to be very abstract and difficult to understand when I first came across it during the YTT theory lessons. After thinking them through and reading more about them, I came to appreciate them more and see how they relate to our everyday lives and in my yoga practice.

Particularly, I found myself remembering some of the yamas (Ahimsa, Asteya, and Aparigraha) when I was trying (very hard) to practise my headstand.

Ahimsa – non-violence; to not hurt yourself and others with words or actions

  • I had difficulties in getting both legs up in headstand at first and felt a lot of my weight being pushed onto my head and neck, even though I tried my best to push into my shoulders. I was adamant on getting both legs up that I tried again and again, even when my neck and shoulders were getting sore. I ended up getting a sore neck the following day and I knew that I probably had pushed myself too hard.
  • Remembering ahimsa, we need to take care to not push ourselves over what we can take, and rest when it is needed.

Asteya – non-stealing; freeing oneself of jealous instincts

  • Besides the literal meaning of not committing theft, asteya also means to refrain from coveting others’ possessions, time, abilities etc.
  • In the past, it was common for me to look up from my mat to see how others were doing in a yoga class. Some of them could do advanced poses easily whereas I was struggling as I was not flexible or strong enough. As I grew older (and more mature haha) I began to understand that what others are doing does not matter to me in my own practice.
  • Even so, in trying to achieve headstand, I found myself thinking about how others seem to do it so effortlessly and wishing that I had that ability too. And then I remembered asteya – instead of focusing on my “lack”, I can shift my focus to gratitude. I am thankful that my body allows me to practise yoga and I know it is getting stronger and better every day. Also, as Master Paalu often tells us, we need to believe in ourselves and our capabilities, because it is in us!

Aparigraha – non-attachment; non-grasping; non-possessiveness

  • Aparigraha suggests that we do not accumulate more than we need. This can mean wealth or material goods, or in my interpretation in relation to yoga practice, we do not need to “accumulate asanas”, as if there’s a checklist for us to track how many poses we can do.
  • Greed and accumulation may stem from a fear of not having enough, or not being good enough.
  • Practising aparigraha may also mean reducing or removing the attachment you have to outcomes. Instead of focusing on the destination – a headstand, I can focus on the journey to achieving it. We have been taught in our training that asanas are just the final posture, the movements leading to that are what’s key. And when we have gotten our desired outcomes, we should not be too attached to it and instead remember the journey of getting there (you have worked hard!).

Thanks for reading and hope this will help you to reflect on how you have incorporated the yamas or the other limbs of yoga in your daily life or yoga practice too 🙂

Walking Meditation with Pranayama

Following our theory session on Pranayama in the third weekend of our training course, I thought I could experiment with incorporating in my morning walks the key Pranayama techniques that Master Paalu had taught us. These were:

  • Gentle, regulated and extended breath
  • Using the standard ratio of 1:2 (inhalation:exhalation)

I started with the most basic ratio of 4 counts of inhalation to 8 counts of exhalation. Even then, it was not as easy as I had thought! I had to slow down my steps, and concentrate hard on coordinating each footstep with a breath count to achieve the desired regulated state. I must have looked pretty strange to passers-by in the first few days of my experiment. 

As the days passed, I grew more comfortable with the experience, and was able to lengthen the breath counts slightly, even fitting in breath retention in between. Personally, I still find the mindful walking practice described in my earlier blog which involves focusing on the surroundings more enjoyable. However, I do find this practice of “walking Pranayama” a lot more effective in helping to sharpen mental concentration.

Curious to find out if “walking Pranayama” is just my own somewhat unorthodox approach, I decided to do some research on this topic. I found out that walking meditation is indeed practised in several branches of the Buddhist tradition, typically in between periods of sitting meditation. 

When it comes to the Yoga tradition, Pranayama is certainly predominantly a seated practice. Nonetheless, there does exist a practice named Bhramana Pranayama (“going round” Pranayama) which is the practice of controlled breathing performed while walking. 

Some of the benefits of Bhramana Pranayama include improving stamina and endurance through fine-tuning the heart and lung, and releasing negative thought and energy. 

This practice could be a less intimidating entry-point for beginners to the Pranayama practice, or perhaps a nice occasional alternative to a seated Pranayama practice for more active people who find it challenging to stay focused while staying still. 

I can’t wait for the day when I can practise this without having to wear a face mask!

 

Walking Meditation

I’ve always loved walking in nature, but until this year, this has mainly been limited to holidays (which I used to take a lot of!) and very occasional weekends in Singapore.

When COVID struck and lockdown began early this year, I needed an outlet to release my pent up frustration and a remedy for my cabin fever. 

I turned to walking around my neighbourhood twice a day – first thing in the morning and in the evening. During the weekends, I would go for longer walks in different nature reserves, parks and park connectors. 

At the beginning, the main objective was simply to get out of the house and to ‘escape’ into nature. Quite quickly, I started to realise the calming effect that these daily rambles had on me. It was then that I thought that I might be able to harness more meditative effects of these walks by becoming a lot more mindful, and to really just focus on the ‘now’ as I moved. That is, instead of crowding my mind with all kinds of thoughts and plans, I started tuning my senses towards the details of the surroundings –  the patterns on the trunks and leaves of trees, the varied sounds made by different species of birds and insects, the feel of wind against my skin, the smell of nature, the rhythm of my gait. Whenever I got interrupted by a thought, I would try to let it pass as soon as possible and to refocus my attention on the immediate present.

6 months past my first mindful walking experiment, I definitely feel that my senses have grown a lot more acute. This has, in turn, made each walk more enjoyable and interesting because I frequently spot something new or chance upon unexpected beauty – a newly blossoming tree, an exotic bird, beautiful cloud formations – all of which immediately brightens up my day. 

The cultivation of a deeper level of mind and body connection through walking meditation has greatly benefited my yoga practice, as I have made the same transition from mechanic to embodied movement on the yoga mat. In the past, I had often found my thoughts wandering every now and then during a Mysore practice, especially when I practised alone and not in the studio. Now, I am able to maintain a steady mind and to stay fully concentrated on my breath, asana and drishti throughout the practice. Coupled with that comes the similar joy of constant discovery in every practice despite going through the same sequence.

 

Why I sign up for YTTC 200h?

Prior this, I was initially planning to sign up for Yoga 200h when I reach 25 years old; 2 years later. The reason was I feel that I lacked experience because usually I attend yoga beginner classes in the gyms. I did not expect to take a big step to further my yoga practice.

Previously, I saw the requirements to other studios and usually requires or recommended to attend some yoga classes in the studio before attending the YTTC 2h. The mindset I had was I am not ready….

These are misconceptions I learnt after attending YTTC 200h:

1. You need to be flexible.
This is totally wrong. Flexible can be trained and developed by making adjustment and learning how to stretch the right muscles correctly to prevent injury. Definitely flexible cannot be achieved overnight, but with the right mindset and perseverance you will definitely improve!

2. You need to be practice at least 6 months.
Tirisula is a good place to learn even for beginners! The yoga instructors are friendly and give advices. Have a humble attitude and open mind to learn.

3. Yoga is religious.
Definitely this is so untrue! Yoga is practice by many religious. Yoga is not a religion. It is an ancient practice which has many health benefits. The asanas practice challenges me and purify the body. Kapalabahati is a good practice every morning to increase energy to start the day with positive energy.

4. Yoga is too expensive.
Yoga nowadays are accessible. Studios offering from $10/class via online streaming.YouTube is accessible to everyone and its FREE! There is no harm doing yoga at the comfort of your home but nothing beats practicing at the yoga studio with a yoga instructor correcting your posture!

5. Yoga is too slow.
I have one colleague who shared with me that she will never do yoga because its too slow for her. There are many variations of yoga classes. If you like heart pumping, maybe power yoga or flow yoga will be more suitable.

6. Older people cannot do yoga.
I have seen people who are in their 50s who are stronger than me! They can do inversions such as bakasana (crow pose) and sirsasana (headstand) effortlessly! Imagine your parent’s age doing things that are better than you. Never say it is too late to join yoga class.

720000 seconds

and that’s 200 hours..

I can’t believe that it’s nearing to the end of YTT! Where did all the time go?

Doing YTT on top of my regular job has proven to be quite a task because it absorbs a lot of my attention and energy.

But I love it! Even though it comes with many sacrifices, but life is always a balancing act right?

Now that this training is ending, I’m starting to reflect on my journey. Even though we only spend 20 days (ok, 18 so far because there are still 2 more days) in the studio, a lot of learning actually takes place outside of that for me. When I’m revising the content, reading up articles and books for my project research – there’s always constant learning and reflection.

Some takeaways or small things which i’ve learnt and managed to apply to my daily life:

1.Living in the present.

People always say you only live once, so you gotta live in the present. But how do you actually live in the present without worrying about the future or get hung up on the past? It’s easier said than done.

A few days ago, something happened at work which really made me feel very upset and kept me up. After awhile, I started to think to myself – why am I getting so angry? It’s bad for my health and I know that. Then I started to shift my perspective. I thought about the things I can do in the present, instead of worrying about what the outcome will be and if it will still be unfavorable to me. I choose to focus on what I have in the present moment and embrace what comes. Then, I found happiness again. Not too bad, right?

2. Withholding judgements

Well, I will admit, I have a tendency to judge. Who hasn’t been met with the occasional comment  – What’s with that shirt? Well I’ve had quite a few of these similar comments when I was younger and that snowballed into my sense of judgement forming. Of others, and myself.

But after going through this training course, I feel humbled. There are so many things that I do not know and have yet to master though I’ve spent months and hours in this topic. It led me to appreciate the people who are good at what they do, because they made the effort and discipline to learn and hone their craft.

It made me look at my hair dresser in a different way. As I watch her skillfully cut my hair, I wondered about the amount of time and effort she must have put in to be able to give her clients good haircuts. Instead of first judging her clothes, her hair, etc. I learnt to see her as a person.

When I let go of my judgements of others, I let go of my judgements of myself as well. I’m slightly more expressive than I was reserved. Because I realised, we’re all human afterall.

3. Yoga is much much more than just Asanas.

It’s not just about posing for nice pictures in challenging asanas on instagram. It’s a practice that encourages you to discover your inner self (not the self your ego defines you as) to eventually attain peace and happiness through various practices. Asanas are just one of them. There’s also pranayama, pratyhara and so on..

Atha yoga anushasanam. 

I know, this journey has only just begun.

Namaste.

Blocks are my yoga best friends

When I first started yoga in the year 2017, yoga blocks are my essential and stepping stones to correct my alignment, support range of motion, and allows me to go progress to challenging poses and inversions.

I remembered walking in to studio and make a beeline to the yoga props whenever I go for my yoga classes. I was that one student in class with inflexible, tight hips, tight shoulders, and weak upper body. A sequence Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) was actually very difficult and challenging for me to perform. Stepping back of the mat to do Ashwa Sanchalansana (Horse Lunge pose) was already challenging to me. I need the blocks to help me stabilise to get into the correct alignment otherwise I would fall.

Fast forward to practicing more than a year and a half, I have improved tremendously in my range of motions, flexibility and strength. I can perform the Surya Namaskar A and B without the blocks. I started to rely less on yoga blocks as I am able to perform the asanas in the correct alignment. Blocks are still my best-friend for Yin Yoga, Restoration Yoga and Vinyasa!

My learning takeaway from my practices is that sometimes a simple tool can have an adverse change to our lives. A simple Yoga blocks are so helpful in many ways! Never underestimate the power of blocks during practice.

It is coming to and end… or

It is coming to an end my friends… or is it just the beginning, I hope so…

I was recommended this course by a friend of mine about three years ago. She said even if you decide not to teach, just do it for yourself as you will learn so much. At the time I only did a little yoga here and there but not enough to keep me hooked and most of my exercise came from jogging and weights at the gym. I have always been very inflexible would always struggle in very bendy poses. But I thought hey, I can try this and I have always been interested in all the things around yoga as it seems like the best thing to keep the body fit and healthy. When I signed up for the course it was easy to choose Tirisula Yoga as they were based in the East and of course and the price was great compared to the other places. Then I learned they moved to Little India, which is further away but feels very authentic and I like the little shophouse. 

So I am unable to do the lotus pose and cannot even do one leg in lotus. As it has been recommended to me by both the Masters I’m sitting every evening in butterfly pose with 10 kg of rice bags on each leg with hope that this will open up the hips….not pain free! (Ahimsa). So I am unable to do many of the Primary Series poses. The other big challenge I have are the binding poses as my chest is too tight and needs to open up, so I have a lot of practising to do. 

I can’t believe we’re into the final week of the course and we are almost done! This week will be dedicated to the study of all the muscles, skeleton and poses. And the theory of course. It is overwhelming how much information we need to learn in so little time and I hope I will remember most of it for Sunday.

I would like to say thank you to Master Sree and Master Paalu and my fellow course mates for this experience! It has been a blast!

Wishing you all the best of luck for the exam.

KEEP CALM AND DO YOGA!!!

Nathalie

Headstrong to perform Headstand!

Over the last 10 years, my on-the-mat experience has been on and off. There were years that I was not practicing at all and years that I frequently visited Yoga studios & practiced on my own. Headstand or Sirsasana is Asana that I always want to be able to do, but somehow it hasn’t happened.

When I signed up for this TTC, my goal was to gain greater knowledge and understanding in Yoga. Also, push myself further, physically and mentally. I didn’t have specific goal about headstand. On the first day of the class itself, we had to perform the pose with the wall support. I struggled to push my legs up as before, however, finally I were able to get my legs up against the wall for the first time in my life! Yes, I had a big smile on my face that day 🙂

Physical strength and preparation played important factor in this possible attempt. Several rounds of Ashtanga Surya Namaskara A, B and poses from Ashtanga series were included to prepare our body for Inversions. My body was exhausted, but turned out it was the greatest preparation. It helped built up a lot of my arms strength, without realizing the positive change.

However, what was more important than physical capability, it was my mentality or what I‘ve mentioned in my title, headstrong (not literally)! Without realizing, I probably came close to experiencing the true meaning of Yoga, which is not only physical exercise, but it is the union of Body, Mind and Soul.

Instead of avoiding this Asana further, I felt this was the right time and opportunity to practice and truly feel I could go a little bit further. (Tapas – Awaken our internal strengths and courage)

My ears were only focusing on the message from Yoga master. Followed his step-by-step instructions & technique, without worrying about my physical strength or entertaining my mind of how tough the pose is. I moved out of the body and out of the mind, then I understood the body and the mind (Nirodha – Disappearance of the mind on its own spontaneously)

I was totally focused and immersed in “how” to do the pose. It then excluded all other discouraging thoughts that I used to think before. (Dharana – Concentration of Mind)

My headstand journey is still going on. While trying to work on my arms and core strength to be able to perform Asana without wall support one day, I am still knowing my body and not pushing myself over the edge. (Ahimsa – Non violence, not physically harming others, ourselves or nature)

At least, I’m grateful to experience these steps & realization and positively able to adapt the essence of Yoga in my life, on & off the mat!

Inhale & Exhale.

Sometimes when I get angry and start ranting to my best friend, she’ll tell me “Just breathe”. Sometimes, I feel like her saying this makes me feel angrier. But lately I discovered that, there’s some truth to what she’s saying. Afterall, there is 1 limb dedicated to Pranayama in the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga..

What is Pranayama?

Prana means ‘life force’ and yama means ‘expansion’. It’s a series of deep breathing exercises that helps to regulate our breath.  Simply put, if there’s no breath, there’s no life. Breathing can happen involuntarily and voluntarily. When we practice pranayama, we’re consciously controlling and regulating our breath, our life force to take in more oxygen and removing toxins from our body. When we breathe consciously, we also bridge our mind and our body.  

Some benefits of Pranayama:

  1. Relaxation

When we’re angry, happy, sad, or stressed our breathing patterns are different. It is very much connected to our emotional states. Like in my case above, if I was upset, my breath would probably be shallow and fast. To combat this, sit in hero’s pose, and do a simple balancing pranayama like annuloma viloma.

 

  1. Helps improve concentration, relieves mood imbalances and stress

Ujjayi breath or victorious breathing is useful in this case. Whenever I’m practicing ashtanga yoga, I make use of ujjayi breathing to help myself be more focused. Because this breath has an ‘ocean’ sound to it, I find that it also helps take my mind off things by making my focus be on my breath.

 

  1. Reduces high blood pressure

Stress is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension, is also a pre-cursor to many other heart conditions. Our respiratory system is also closely related to our cardiovarscular system. Changes in breath rates can also contribute to changes in heart rate. When practicing breathing techniques, it also helps to lower our heart rate and thus stress, which may in turn help in alleviating hypertension. However, not all pranayama techniques are suitable for this particular syndrome. Hence before practicing different pranayama techniques, it is good to look out for contraindications and use appropriate modifications for your unique conditions.

One good pranayama to practice for people with high blood pressure is simply, Sukha Pranayama. When inhaling, belly should move out. When exhaling, belly should move inwards. This can be practiced for ratios 1:1 to 16:16. Note that as you begin increasing the ratio, you should also regulating your inhalation or exhalation such that you use the full 16 seconds to inhale or exhale.

Yoga and Climbing Part 2

Mental/ Spiritual Similarities between Yoga and Climbing
More importantly, both yoga and climbing share similarities that transcend beyond the physical body.
Focus and Calm
Through the practice of pranayama, yoga practitioners are invited to focus on breathing in order to calm the mind and be in the present. And we need to keep coming back to this breathing techniques throughout our asana practice for good reasons.
Imagine doing balancing poses such as Warrior III (Virabhadrasana C) or Ardha Badha Padmottanasana while thinking about lunch? Or forgetting to breathe while holding Navasana?
During climbing, the same focused and calm mindset is imperative to continue progressing upwards, one step at a time while trying not to fall and getting injured.
Thinking about lunch while up on the wall/rock few meters above the ground will definitely be worse than losing balance from Warrior III!
Therefore, yoga and climbing share Dharana (or concentration) both as a mean to an end and an end itself.
Courage and Confidence
I still remember the fear and doubt I had before my first inversion – Fear of falling down, breaking my neck and back.
And the fear during bouldering, when there is not any safety rope and I need to jump down after reaching the last hold. Or when I reach halfway during wall climbing and accidentally look down at how far the ground is.
But it doesn’t just stop there – once we conquer inversions or solve that V6.
In Ashtanga, once we complete the Primary series, there will be 5 other series of complex poses. Climbers would often feel stuck making the progress to the higher problem. For me now, V8 seems very daunting and just simply beyond my reach.
Both disciplines bring us out of our comfort zone, constantly require us to have courage to confront and grapple with our fears. Over time, the practice becomes mind over matter. We develop confidence and trust on our body and capability – and above all, on ourselves.
Looking back at some videos of me attempting inversion or V3 made me realise how far I have come.
There would be no progress without courage and confidence.
Humility and Perseverance
 
Falling down in climbing and failing to execute the asanas are common, shared by all practitioners.
Yet we keep trying again. And again.
We may not have developed enough grip strength or our hips are not open enough.
Whatever the reasons are, as long as we can identify them, both yoga and climbing teach us humility and perseverance – to keep trying and learning while honouring our bodies and other limitations.
Acknowledging that everyone is work in progress. There are people who are better than us and there are others who can learn from us.
Humble enough to receive adjustments for certain poses or to listen to beta (tips) from the crowd watching below.
As well as humble enough not to judge anyone but to encourage fellow practitioners.
Meditation
With those aspects above, both yoga and climbing have become forms of moving meditation for me.
While they may not be as profound as Dhyana described in Yoga Sutra, but these exercises have provided me with glimpses of peace and calm, interrupting my otherwise hectic days with endless fluctuations of external stimulus.
These exercises invite me to look inward and know who I actually am.
These mental (some would even tag this as spiritual) aspects of these disciplines may not be as easily observable as the physical ones, but over time, practitioners would slowly notice their applicability and integration into the daily life.