Training – Through Physical Practice

Sthira Sukham Asanam – Yoga Sutra, Patanjali

Means continuous comfort in posture. Steady and comfortable, that is how one should experience upon holding the yoga postures.

It may sound simple, but anyone who just started practicing yoga or just completed their first Vinyasa practice, would attest to the difficulty in keeping steady let alone being comfortable during the class. Before you can do a complete forward fold by making sure there is no gap between your thigh and tummy, the instructor would have already asked you to jump back and chaturanga on the next exhale. Hold on, what is Chaturanga even? Nevermind, the elbows were barely getting there, the hips were giving up and dropping on the floor when the class moved on to upward and downward dog.

That was how I got introduced to Yoga – through the asanas in a gym studio. That was also my earlier understanding of yoga – that by doing 5,000 sun salutations I might achieve enlightenment. In fact, that was how I was living this life – using my physical body and brain – Sthula Sharira to get things done. And I wasn’t even good at that.

In short, this is the practice of Asana:

– proper posture – Asan

– proper breathing – Prana

– proper gaze – Drishti

– proper concentration of the mind – Chitha

Asana is but just one out of the 8 pillars in the practice of yoga. We humans put so much emphasis in attempting to achieve form perfection. And yet it was just one part of the practice, let alone life. That said, practicing Asana religiously without thinking how the pose look like every single time does help me achieve better poses and get me closer to understanding myself, my mind, the teacher, the others in class, and other people in my life.

Then it clicked, we try and we practice to be comfortable in posture. As you practice, you encounter more challenging poses, discover new muscles in the body that has never been activated and won’t start moving, so does the effort required to stay comfortable in a posture. Then you start needing the support of good food intake to help the body hold, mental strength to eliminate fear, sheer belief that you can rock a pose, and some level of spirituality to not be traumatised when you fail (or bruise half your face after falling in crow) so you can put it behind, get back up and go on with the practice, like a boss (or guru?).

And as you go on, what looked hard when you started became easier. And as you go on further, you start getting comfortable in more poses and able to pick up more challenges more comfortably.

Not bad for a life hack.

Training – Through Mental Exercise

Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah – Yoga Sutra, Patanjali

Is the sutra that clears your mind.

Teacher Sree opened the training by asking the class What is Yoga?” (cue deadpan face). We shot random things, naturally. And he shared this definition – “Yoga is the removal of thought from your mind.”

HEY WAIT. That’s it? For someone who just wrote a page-long article about Asana and got introduced to Yoga through gym studios, realising that Yoga essentially is not about physical fitness was rather confronting.

And liberating, realising that there are other aspects of existence to be explored. Physical strength has not been my forte or area of interest. I thought I was doomed for practice from day 1. I didn’t know why I signed up. Then this. Is good. I might have a chance! Still was thinking simply.

Then we started learning about the quadrants of life, the different bodies and seeds that we have and some techniques. They were intended to help humans identify -> classify -> uncolour -> remove thought -> clear mind.

Yoga removes thoughts from mind. Yoga has a sutra to clear your mind. You are not your mind. Clear. Everything sounded clear, and the whole thing also came with supporting materials such as manuals, tools and step-by-step guides. Great.

Alas, once you want to start “clearing”, you don’t know where to start. If anything, rather than being “clear”, hearing this filled up my mind more. So I asked – How exactly do you do that? Which one to use when?

“Yoga doesn’t teach you anything. It makes you aware about yourself, so you can live consciously.” – Teacher Sree.

And so I exercised.

Figure it out, I did.

Slowly, but surely.

Training – Through Spiritual Discipline

Yama. Niyama. Dharana. Dhyana. Sadhana.

Management of life. Purity of being. Concentration. Meditation. Discipline.

 

Teacher Sree always said that he’s not a yogi. A yogi lives and breathes yoga. He’s chill. He practices and teaches yoga.

Note to self: no self-proclamation.

Understanding the 5 aspects above helped me see the breadth and depth of yoga practice as a way of life. From the moment you wake up, to what you are thinking, your intentions, your actions and reactions, and what you plant in your mind before you go to sleep.

I’m barely scratching the surface, but it downs on me that different from education systems that see you as a new empty hardware and so upload you with softwares and apps to help you become more functional in life, Yoga sees and treats your system as already perfect as it is, in its original form. However with life, we have Karma bugs. Turns out, Yoga is a practice to remove bugs in systems. It strives to clear your system and get it back to its clear factory setting so that it can function with minimal (or close to no) glitch. Help you be a smooth operator, if you may.

All the tools and manuals provided are there to help us peel the layers of onions within ourselves. And when you get to the end, you will see that it’s …

 

Listen to yourself, find ways to clean yourself.

From everything, to nothing.

– Teacher Sree

Training – Through Teaching

As we are completing our teacher training program, I asked Teacher Sree on his experience teaching – was there a time he was nervous or anxious before a class. And how did he overcome that.

He said, come with the wonders of a kid, stay a kid and do not be a master

In my own words to translate the Sree Sutra above:

Come with a humble heart, an open mind and a positive vibe.

A willingness to share, to teach and to spend time with the students.

An acceptance that there will be students more experienced that you and that’s really cool.

An understanding that we are not good or bad, the others are not good or bad.

A pure soul.

Granted, it will help to remember the sequences and not go in blank.

As part of this training program, we also got a chance to train in teaching by conducting a class in the studio. I took my chance last week. I knew all of them – all of different gender, racial and background profiles. Yet, for once in our friendship history, I could consciously generate to be present for everybody. To be aware of each person’s strength, weakness and to work with each one’s experience, unaffected by the others.

I realise that I do love all the students the same. Finally got what he said weeks ago – a divine connection of an unconditional detached attachment.

There was no condition. I detach myself from each soul. I treated all soul the same. And thereby I was able to be attached to each one of the soul at the same time. Practicing this helped them to be able to have a full experience regardless of the gap in experiences.

We attach, and then we detach, and then we attach, and then we detach, and then we attach, and we detach again and the cycle repeats unconditionally.

It was a rather beautiful afternoon.

Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

In the western world, most of the people perceive yoga as another form of physical workout with relaxing benefits. Some people treat it next to veganism as another trend. Yoga studios are usually full but at the end when some of the teachers start chanting most of the practitioners leave the room- they typically say that they aren’t interested in this ‘spiritual stuff’ they just want to do yoga-for them yoga is the name of the workout, the same as kickboxing, pilates, fitness etc. It might be because lots of gym places offer yoga class next to physical workouts, so its mixed, contaminated and there is no so many real yoga teachers out there. 

When I first started, I didn’t really understand what yoga is about. I felt that it’s something more than physical practise. I started doing it to help me with some emotional problems, I needed it not for my body but for my mind. At that time, it was a form of support to help me deal with stressful situations at work etc. Now I know its not about that but without this, without me feeling this stress  I wouldn’t start it. If I was completely happy in my material life I wouldn’t be looking for something more. Actually, when I think about it I was never fully satisfied in my material life.  There was always something missing.

My approach to life was so emotional. If someone said something or did something I didn’t agree with I had this strong need to defend myself, to explain that it’s not true, I was so attached. I’m not saying that you should agree with everything that someone is saying about you, but being emotionally attached to every judgment takes you further away from understanding yourself. 

Yoga in its ancient traditional development its not primarily about the body, about making you relaxed or distracted form your hectic life style. Yoga is connected to mind.

The three Sanskrit words Chitta Vritti Nirodhah hide the answer to what yoga is really about.

Yoga sutras(basic principles, manual for yoga practitioner ) written over two thousand years ago by Patanjali are the traditional foundation of the inner journey through the spiritual practice of yoga -and its physical part -asanas-practised by most of the people in the west is only one part of 8 limbs of yoga.

The yoga sutras explain what happens to our mind, emotions when you practice yoga- In second sutra Patanjali says ‘Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah– yoga controls, quiets waves(thoughts) of mind, consciousness. You don’t compulsively( obsessively) control the mind but you allow the mind to rest, to switch off by itself. Patanjali further explains that through committed practice and detachment we ll be coming closer to not identifying ourselves with the thoughts, emotions that are the reasons of internal pain, that take us away from our true selves.

Self love

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

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

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

Unlimited

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santosha – Contentment

In a blink of an eye, we are at the end of the course. I remember whining about having to wake up way before my usual routine, to make it for daily 8am classes. My course mates and I would joke about how dreadful mornings are, and seek solace in one another sharing the same struggles to this new routine.

Fast forward to the second last day of the course, thinking about how our YTT journey is coming to a close and the possibility that our paths may not cross again leaves me feeling bittersweet. Overheard in class today, “I am going to feel so lost. No need to wake up early and come here?” Funny how when YTT is ending, we are actually going to miss waking up at 630am!??

It also reminded me of Santosha, the second Niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga –  contentment.

Demand is high only and especially when supply is low, vice versa. We whined when we had to wake up early, and then start missing this routine when it is coming to an end. In a nonexistent perfect world, if Santosha was in practice, we would be appreciative of every new day we have from waking up from our sleep, our able bodies, the opportunity have a class to attend and the luxury of time to be able to attend this course. We would be in the present and enjoy every moment, without complaints. But of course, this is highly unrealistic. We know this in theory, but practicing it is a different ball game. All we can do in our best ability is to be mindful. Accept and appreciate what we are, what we have and make the best out of it.

I believe showing gratitude to the luxuries of time, health, money we currently have will fill our hearts. More often than not, complacency takes over and we tend to forget that life is unpredictable. A twist of fate can happen any moment, and everyone would go “THAT’S SO SHOCKING” … as if we never knew how life works.

In light of Thanksgiving today, I am thankful to share the last 19 days with my course mates, and an impish buddy who cracks me up every day. Thank you Sree for sharing your stories and wisdom with us.

Namaste

Mock Class Teaching

Hello everyone, how have you been?

Towards the end of YTT, we had to do some practice mock classes for 30mins – ultra beginner (which was just stretch actually), beginner, intermediate, and 2 theme class.

Teaching was a little difficult at the start due to us not being familiar with the class format. One rookie mistake made was the assumption of how advanced beginner students are.

Master Sree shared that he sometimes get ultra beginner students to do eye rotations! This drew some gasps from the rest of my YTT classmates too.

However teaching does get easier after some practice and I learnt a lot about how to adjust different body types and the kind of students that we can encounter in class. The best advise given to us was to “go with the flow” because no matter how you plan, there might be students who might come with unforeseen circumstances like a pulled muscle or even a huge belly.

Master Paalu shared that we can build our yoga classes around 5 of our favourite asanas, I found this extemely useful so I will be sharing some of my favourite asanas in the next blog post!

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Emotion during asana practice

This week I’ve experienced emotional moment during asana practice. I was so upset with myself and my tears uncontrollably slipped out during the class.

I’ve heard this kind of emotional situation before but couldn’t imagine much until I experienced it myself. I was so overwhelmed by the emotional feeling throughout the day, therefore, I began to do some research on the connection between the emotion and the asana.

Mind and body are actually inseparable and all the emotions (regardless positive or negative) we have in our mind has a certain impact on our body. We have different thoughts every day and some might be a little burdensome for us which we are not aware of the mental burden we carry. These negative emotions could create chronic stress that affect the body’s hormone balance and further produce the brain chemical which will lower our immune system. Furthermore, some of the ‘chemical toxic’ that we produce are kept in our body.

Therefore, yoga is always considered beneficial for our mind and body. By practicing the asanas, we are able to move and stretch on the muscles that we do not frequently use (such as back, hips and thigh muscles). Releasing these muscle tension enable us to breakdown and release the emotional tension  which store in the muscle (by crying or shouting).

For me, backbend and inversion asanas are the trigger my emotion. I felt very helpless, frustrated, sad and fear when practising these asanas. These emotion probably reflecting the motion and trauma currently stored in my body or fear due to the opposite action of what I’m familiar and comfortable with.

No matter how difficult it is, I still need to be courageous and keep practicing to overcome the emotions for these asanas. Slowly but surely, I believe I could do these asanas perfectly and also calm the triggered emotions. This is applicable to my life also, wherein sometimes I’ve the tendency to run away when things get tough, but yoga teaches me courage to face the obstacles that arise in my life.