Yoga Lost in Translation

Like many arts and sciences that are compelling, beautiful, and deep, yoga has suffered from the spiritual starvation of the modern world. Over the years Yoga has been translated, modernised, westernised and watered down. In many countries the profound and eternal essence of yoga has been mainly misrepresented as a fitness culture or even promoting Hinduism. Unfortunately such a cloud of confusion has masked the true concept of yoga.

Yoga is a way of life, the uniting of the body, mind and spirit. Its real purpose is not just to become physically fit or mentally relaxed but also to deepen our own spiritual journey, enabling and guiding us to be more aware of ourselves, ultimately leading to self-realization. It is about making a connection with our world and having a clear mind that is free from delusion.

Patanjali, known as “the father of yoga”, said in a very simple way what he thought yoga is for him; “Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind”. To give meaning to those simple words, continuous practice and discipline are required to attain Yoga. Yoga means “union”, to unite mind, body and spirit. There are many descriptions long and short among books and websites on explaining the concept of yoga. However theorizing and describing yoga, would be just the same as trying to define love. During my first week in Tirisula’s YTTC Master Paalu asked the class “how do you know when you are in love?” and many of us were stummped in describing the full essence of love. Like Yoga the dictionary and books can define the term, but in order to truly understand we have to experience yoga by living the practice.

For me yoga provides me a safe space and an opportunity to connect with the inner silence and peace within. During asana practices it stretches and bend me in more ways than one, both physically and mentally. Yoga has taught me awareness, awareness of my body, mental state and my breath. It is about returning to my breath and realizing that I am blessed with everything that I have at this very moment. As Master Paalu said “ We are living in Heaven, what more do we want?”

Yoga – something for men?

If you go to any Yoga studio in Singapore, you will soon realize that most of the students are female. All the classes I ever took were overwhelmingly dominated by women and in the Yoga studio I frequent there are maybe – beside me – two or three other men, who use to come regularly (more than two times a week). Also while I was doing my YTT here at Tirisula Yoga I was the only participant out of a total of 13. If you look at the gender of the teachers – at least at my Yoga studio – a quite different picture shows itself. It is actually quite evenly distributed (with even a slight advantage for male teachers). So the reason why not more men are practicing Yoga is definitely not that they are physically not able to. Actually – historically speaking – Yoga used to be men-only until not so long ago.

 

When my family was moving to Singapore in early 2017 my mother was the only member of the family practicing Yoga. My father was joining her soon afterwards and a little later both of them were trying to persuade me to also join them. Their effort was not bearing fruits for nearly half a year. I didn’t want to do Yoga because I thought like a lot of other men that Yoga is something for women. My (naïve) idea of a typical Yoga class consisted at this time of a lot of meditation, simple stretches while chanting Om the whole time and then going back home. I think that this perception of Yoga is quite common among men. When I was finally convinced to try a Yoga class all of these ideas were disproved massively. My clothes were dripping wet and I felt muscles I didn’t even know existed days afterward. I soon realized that Yoga requires not only a great amount of flexibility but also to the same extent strength, discipline and stamina.

 

So the main reasons why the great majority of men are not practicing Yoga is that they have a totally screwed idea of what Yoga is. And the awesome pictures of super-flexible girls on Instagram don’t really help to change that. Yoga is generally linked by men to meditation, chanting and flexibility, but in reality it is so much more! Yes, there are classes which require a lot of flexibility, there are meditation classes, but there are also classes which are more strength based and there are definitely classes which you will finish wet from head to toes. Apart from that Yoga reduces stress, leads to a happier life and improves your posture. Also it cures back pain and an abnormal blood pressure, from which a lot of men are suffering from.

So in a nutshell Yoga is something for everyone regardless of gender!

 

Amon

Discussing “Pain” in the Singapore context [part 1]

DISCLAIMER:
This will be a pretty long anecdote/opinion piece so I have divided it into two parts for your benefit.

With longer working hours, the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle have been observed in the growing epidemic of chronic pain. Observe the working adults around you; you might see them involuntarily cracking their neck or unconsciously rubbing their shoulders in the hopes of temporarily relieving pain. Cases of chronic low back pain have also dramatically increased.

So why have we passively accepted and even accommodated this unwelcome presence of pain in our lives? From my own observations, pain (especially chronic pain) in Singapore has been perceived in the two extremes, however contradictory.

  1. Pain is a sign of hard work
  2. Pain is a sign of weakness

Let me explain myself. In Singapore, where most people are caught up in a rat race to be the best, the concept of “no pain, no gain” has become entrenched. It started off as an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work but now it has been applied in all kinds of scenarios, including at our workplace and at school. In a way, that saying validates our competitiveness and justifies our long working hours. However, we have gone too far by glamorising that thinking. We have even begun to use pain to justify our hard work; for example, if you have muscle aches after a punishing workout, that is a good sign that you pushed yourself to the limit. If you have knots in your shoulders from working long hours on the computer, you are an excellent employee.

This is because we have been given the message that in order to succeed, we need punishing workouts, we need to work until we are completely exhausted, we need to work doubly hard to the next person. After all, pain is weakness leaving the body, right? No. In the short term, that might work, but it is damaging in the long run. It is not sustainable and the consequences have begun to show.

Speaking from personal experience, I have injured myself a few times because I subscribed to that belief. I was immersed in yoga for a few months and I feared that I would lose my hard-earned fitness if I took a day or two off. At the same time, I was balancing a time consuming part-time job and my first year of University. I was not getting enough sleep, not eating well enough and as a result, I was constantly exhausted. And in a flow class one day, I lost my focus for a moment and I hurt my wrist. For the next few months, I could not get myself into a proper chaturanga, plank poses and variations hurt greatly and I was forced to stop.

-> read part 2 for my revelations.

Musings of a Muslim yogi

Prior to commencing my YTT I had only experienced yoga practice in a gym environment, where it was treated like another workout program. A typical class comprised asanas, a brief relaxation session and occasionally some breathing exercises. Mantras and chants are never in the picture. During the YTT I was exposed to the philosophical and spiritual aspect of yoga and, for the first time, I felt some inner conflict while chanting mantras, as I wasn’t sure whether that brought a religious dimension to my practice which would contradict my Muslim beliefs. And so I started researching the topic to better understand the role of mantras and chanting in yoga practice.

 

My first finding is that a desktop search on Muslims practicing yoga renders a pretty wide range of views. At one end of the spectrum are those who argue that Muslims should refrain from any contact with a practice that originated in a different religion. At the other end lies the Sufi approach, which proposes that man’s effort to give himself to God naturally manifests itself through actions that resemble yoga practice, i.e. striving to detach oneself from worldly desires through meditation and even asceticism. The middle ground seems to boil down to the view that yoga as physical exercise is perfectly suitable for Muslims, while the spiritual element is best avoided. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, for instance, states on its official website that “[…] Muslims are not allowed to practice yoga in a form that clearly contains elements of the rituals (such as recitations) and beliefs of other faiths, as such practices are indeed non-Islamic rituals and are no longer a physical exercise per se.”(https://www.muis.gov.sg/officeofthemufti/Irsyad/Advisory-on-Yoga-Practice).

 

So we’ve established that yoga as physical exercise is no cause for concern. But as I’ve learnt during my YTT, asana practice is only one of the many aspects of yoga. If I reduce it to pure physical exercise, can I still claim to practice yoga and if my only aim is to stretch and build strength using body weight, why not practice Pilates, calisthenics or barre instead? Well, the ethical values upheld in yoga (i.e. yama and niyama) are aligned with the Islamic tenets, so I do not see a contradiction there. Pranayama (breathing techniques) are extremely practical exercises aimed to either energise or calm the body, and they carry no religious connotation. Dhyana (meditative state) is a very useful practice, very especially in this day and age where stress reigns supreme.

 

So what about asana sequences like Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)? Some argue that this sequence was designed specifically to express gratitude to the sun, which amounts to worship and is therefore undesirable for Muslims. In my view, that’s where the notion of niyyah (intention) comes into play. Niyyah is defined as the intention behind an action and it plays a crucial role in a Muslim’s life, as it is believed that Allah SWT will weigh one’s deeds according to one’s intention when performing the respective deeds. In this spirit, when performing the Surya Namaskar, the practitioner’s intention alone is what determines whether the action carries any shirk (deification of worship of anyone or anything other than Allah SWT) elements, since the sequence itself is just a series of movements and does not carry any inherent element of worship, nor is it accompanied by any religious recitations.

 

What about chanting OM at the start and end of a yoga practice session? Katha Upanishad I, ii, 15-17 explains: “The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is OM. This syllable OM is indeed Brahman. This syllable is the Highest. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires. This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma.” (http://singaporehindutemples.com/om.html). Brahman is understood as the Cosmic Principle in Hinduism, or “the primordial reality that creates, maintains and withdraws within it the universe”, according to German Indologist Paul Jakob Deussen. The Aitareya Upanishad defines Brahman as Consciousness and Consciousness as the First Cause of creation (https://www.esamskriti.com/e/Spirituality/Upanishads-Commentary/Aitareya-Upanishad~-Origin-of-the-Universe-ad-Man-(Part~1)-1.aspx). While Brahman is not equated with God in the Islamic sense, the act of primordial creation and the quality of supreme consciousness are attributed to Allah SWT. If, as stated in the Katha Upanishad, “OM is indeed Brahman”, there is a clear correlation between OM and the notion of divine consciousness in the Hindu tradition. Since my understanding of the Hindu sacred texts is sketchy at best and I lack the expertise required to assess the exact extent to which OM may conflict with the Islamic precept of worshipping no god other than Allah SWT, I would rather err on the side of caution and omit it from my practice.

 

Having said that, if you remove the fish from the biryani, you’re just left with boiled rice that no longer qualifies as biryani. Similarly, simply removing aspects of the practice you’re uncomfortable with without filling the void is not the ideal approach. So what would I replace the OM chant with? What religious scholars typically do when interpreting scriptures is engage in the science of hermeneutics, i.e. understand the intended message of the text and establish how that message can be carried forward into the present era without either corrupting the original intent or falling into a literal application which doesn’t necessarily make sense in the present circumstances. I am no religious scholar, nor am I trained in hermeneutics, but for the purpose of this personal decision making process, I will try to apply a similar concept, i.e. establish the intended purpose of the OM chant at the start and end of of the practice and replace that with a more desirable equivalent in a Muslim context.

 

Based on my research, OM chanting serves a number of objectives, of which I will only list one due to space constraints: it is intended to separate the yoga practice from the rest of our day and create a meditative space in which we are able to create a deeper connection with ourselves beyond simple physical exercise. I believe we all have our individual ways of getting into a contemplative mood and practicing mindfulness. As a yoga teacher, which I aspire to become someday, I would create the space for this contemplative mood at the start of the practice. Each one of my students can fill the space with whatever mental and spiritual visualisations they’re comfortable with. I would then end the practice by encouraging my students to carry with them the inner peace and balance achieved during the practice into the rest of their day and week.

 

Will this approach please everyone? Highly unlikely. There will be those coming to class in search of cultural immersion and mystical Hindu experiences. Those will find my class lacking in authenticity and will not return. Those interested only in getting a good will sit impatiently through any meditation or relaxation exercise. However, I am confident that there will also be some who will enjoy my approach to yoga and those will return. After all, as Master Paalu says, even Dracula has followers.

 

To end this piece, I would like to say that I realise how sensitive a topic religion is. I am perfectly aware that some of readers out there might see the views described in this article as deviant, while for others the very fact that I agonise over this topic might seem strange at best. In response, I will quote Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Each one of us is on his/her individual spiritual journey and we each manage every step of that journey as best we can. And, since this article is about the musings of a Muslim yogi, I will end with a quote from the Qur’an: “And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.” (Holy Qur’an Surah Al-An’am 6:164).

The king of asanas

The Headstand often called the ‘king of asanas’. What has earned it that title is because to master it requires focus to your balance and alignment that heightens your sensitivity and stability and the strength and the willingness to literally turn yourself upside down. It’s a pose that requires courage and it’s only once you muster that courage, can you reap in the numerous benefits.

Here are some of them:

It’s the elixir of youth
Going Into a headstand and letting your skin hang in the opposite direction can provide an instant ‘facelift’. The inversion also flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, creating a glowing effect on the skin.

It resets and improve blood flow
When you’re doing an inversion, oxygenated blood flows the other way. It can flow straight to the brain improving focus and mental clarity or to the eyes, improving eyesight. It also increases blood flow to the scalp, which in turn improves nutrient delivery to your hair.

It relieves stress
Combined with slow, long breaths, it’s great for when you’re having anxiety, stress or fear. It also works on your adrenal glands which are responsible for the release cortisol or adrenaline- stress hormones.

It’s great for hormone balance
Aside from relieving stress, the headstand stimulates and provides oxygenated blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands which are considered the master glands that regulate all other glands in the body (thyroid, pineal, and adrenals).

It’s great for strengthening shoulders, arms and abs
The headstand uses a lot of muscles to firstly get you up then keep you up. Strengthening these muscles are also great for improving upper body strength and muscular endurance.

It improves digestion
When the effects of gravity are reversed, it helps relieve trapped gases, improve bloodflow and remove waste from the digestive system.

 

“The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid,”

B.K.S. Iyengar says in his section on Sirsasana in Light on Yoga

Yoga for your insides

Yoga has many benefits. Most people know the wealth of physical benefits- improves flexibility, improves strength and stamina – but what about what it does to your insides?

There’s a whole new area to explore when looking at the effect of yoga on your hormones.

Each of the glands in the endocrine system has specific functions, and can cause specific symptoms if out of balance. As it’s a system, if one gland is out of balance, then it is likely to affect other glands in the system so it’s important to do a yoga practice that helps to keep the entire system balanced.

For those who believe in the energy of the chakras, the endocrine system is also very closely aligned with the chakra system with the positioning of each chakra containing one or two glands.

A regular practice has been shown to decrease cortisol and adrenaline hormone levels- the hormones that rise during periods of stress and can possibly cause tumours if the levels remain high for a long period of time. While they’re our in-built fight or flight mechanism, they’re also the hormones that can make you cranky and generally not happy.

For women during their menstruation or menopause, hormones can wreck havoc on happiness and outlook on life. Yoga can contribute a balancing effect.

Yoga can also help you sleep more soundly and peacefully as certain positions can raise levels of melatonin.

Yoga can also increase thyroid hormone which increases your metabolism rate and helps you lose weight and feel more alive.

While it’s not an exact science, many studies state that it takes around 3 to 6 months of regular practice for yoga to have these effects on your hormones.

I’ve been doing yoga one and off for a few years now and I personally have definitely noticed its effect on my mood during the periods when I’ve committed to regular practice.

Here are some good yoga poses to try to stimulate certain glands:

Pireal gland– halasana, matsyasana

Pituatory– siriana

Thyroid– halasana, viparita karani

Pancreas– any twisted pose like parvitta trikonasana or pincha mayurasana

Adrenal – any backbends such as chakrasana, ustrasana

Reproductive glands – sirsasana

Here are some power poses when it comes to stimulating the glands:

Sasangasana
This pose stimulates the thyroid and the parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland is located in the neck and secretes hormones that regulate growth and metabolic function. The parathyroid glands are also found in the neck and control how much calcium is released into the body.

Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose massages the adrenal gland which allows your body to better combat stress and release tension.

Ustrasana
This pose stimulates your internal organs, especially in the neck region where the thyroid and parathyroid glands are located.

We are all truly one

Today it seems that almost everyone is aware of how human activity is harming our planet. We are probably already consciously trying to reduce our impact by recycling, driving less, and making an effort to choose the “green” products at the supermarket. To take a step further, we can begin a practice of cultivating gratitude and appreciation for the Earth. When our actions are ignited by a heart-centered consciousness, we can affect the larger world in limitless positive ways.

In many circumstances the habits of our daily lives cut us off from the natural world, where we are constantly cooped up within the four walls of an office, with our eyes perpetually fixated to screens of a mobile, desktop or television. Yet the reality is that we are intimately joined to nature. Similar to our planet Earth, our bodies are made up of seventy five percent water.

Focusing our attention on the everyday gifts that nature provides, will encourage us to cultivate a sense of admiration and gratitude.In my own life, just placing my feet on the floor to connect with the earth first thing in the morning fills me with gratitude. Splashing water on my face connects me to the water that flows all over and through the planet. Breathing oxygenated air into my lungs as I feel the rays of the sun envelope me brings a sense of joy, because fire, air, and prana have united in me. In those first moments of waking, I feel a deep connection to the Earth. When we take time to appreciate and be aware of these connections, we can experience a sense of grounding, abundant well-being, and a sense of belonging.

We are all truly one.

Teacher training course- only the beginning

I have been practicing yoga on and off for many years. I move around a lot so whenever I move to a new country or city, it takes a while before I’m able to find a yoga studio I like and a teacher I want to follow.

In my dabbling of yoga, I’ve slowly progressed through the asanas (my inflexibility, slowly and painfully improving) but I always knew yoga was much more than its asanas which is why I enrolled for the teacher training course.

During one fo the theory classes we learned about the 8 limbs of yoga- which refer to a way of life that is very much in line with the ideal kind of life I would like to lead.

These 8 limbs are the Yama (attitudes toward our environment), Niyama (attitudes toward ourselves), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (complete integration).

It stuns me to think that all this time I’ve been doing yoga, I’ve only scratched the surface. I was only exploring the Asana. Through the course I’ve explored Pranayama and Dhyana, both of which I think will be great building blocks as I progress in life.

It’s also made me realise how much I’ve got to learn. We’re always told that 200 hours was not enough and I completely agree. More than a teacher training course, it’s only the beginning of what will be a life long journey of learning and I’m looking forward to further improving myself in the asanas and learning much more about the 8 other limbs of yoga.

Moving Forward! Start a journey to a Yogi Lifestyle – 4 The Theory

Moving Forward! Start a journey to a Yogi Lifestyle – 4  The Theory

Love the theory part, not so much that I like to read now, but so relax and easy that someone there talk and I listen, the science, the philosophy, the art, and the stories.

I had already much forgotten to recall exactly how many years from the day I enjoy listening to the teacher’s classroom teaching.

It’s back to my old golden days.

After all, after reading for so many years, my eye sights getting bad. Just packed up all my books into 26 cartons of boxes while preparing to move them to another location.

After this course, I think, likely will start collecting and pick up again, books on the Yoga’s title.

It’s pleasant reading on the Yoga Sutra, though initially having difficulties and hard time stirring my tongues over the Sanskrit words and trying to figure out what’s the meaning by reading the long explanation inside the manual, which eventually made me more confused.

Lucky enough, I managed to find and organized from the internet.
Well, IF, I meant “IF”, If I have the time, likely will add on to it’s German and Chinese or even other languages translation at my leisure if I can find it.

Here share if you need.

Here go we happy Journey to Yoga Lifestyle.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra Translation Sanskrit to English

 

汇编 Complied by Angie Chua 20190909.

The benefits of yoga during my pregnancy

The benefits of yoga during my pregnancy

I believe yoga significantly helped me progress through three pregnancies in five years with minimal discomfort. During the three trimesters I practiced yoga between one to three times per week and only ceased my practice two weeks prior to my due date. I’m convinced that my yoga practice prevented me from experiencing severe back pain, edema or gaining excessive weight. The combination of physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation gave me a balance in body and mind throughout each pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Practicing yoga provided me with the opportunity to focus on myself, my baby and my body. Particularly with the second and third child, it provided me with some time-out from my busy mummy life :-).

I found that there were also many benefits post pregnancy. For example, I did not experience any problems with incontinence or other pelvic floor muscles issues. My only remaining challenge is the 1.5 to 2 finger gap between the two rectus abdominis muscles (commonly known as diastasis recti) which has never completely closed.

I`m hoping that the yoga teacher course will help enhance my own exercise technique as well as providing me with the knowledge to improve my body alignment and the use of important muscles such as the M. transversus abdominis. In turn, I hope to be able to close the gap in my own rectus abdominis muscles J