Grounding Into Gratitude: Practicing Santosha on and off the mat

Source: PSU Vanguard

Are we forever chasing rainbows?

Oftentimes, we think that if we get a promotion, get more money, lose weight, have better skin, get a bigger house, or get better with our asanas, we will be happier. We humans are in the constant chase for something that we don’t have, and once we do achieve what we wanted, we would aim for something else, something better. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill because we’re running after something only to end up in the same place- desiring more of what we don’t have. 

Santosha, the second of five niyamas, is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which, as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.”  Niyamas are literally translated as positive duties or observances. Together with Yamas, these are recommended activities and habits to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual enlightenment. Santosha tells us that we can only truly find happiness from within, and relying on external factors will never bring us peace. This niyama invites us to be content in the present, and know that we are complete and enough the way we are. This is not to say that we should never have desires or goals. The niyama is simply inviting us to stop wasting energy thinking about what we lack. Instead, we should enjoy the journey, live in the present, and be thankful for what we do have. Intrinsic happiness is unconditional. 

The secret to the law of attraction is to believe that we already have what we want. To manifest the best version of ourselves, we need to be grateful with ourselves and be happy where we are. Yoga is an amazing practice to work on changing our self-harming thought patterns for the better. 

 

How to practice santosha on the mat: 

  • Don’t compare yourself with other yogis. All of us have probably fallen prey to this: a difficult asana comes up in class which we’re not confident of doing; instead of practicing, we look around and compare ourselves with others. Or when we’re stuck in our phones, we tend to look at all these yogi Youtubers and sulk about not being as strong and flexible as them. Santosha tells us to shift the focus back to improving ourselves for the sake of personal growth instead of spending time wishing we had someone else’s physical abilities. Give yourself freedom to enjoy where you are in your practice.
  • Be compassionate to your body. We often forget how much our bodies provide for us: it gets us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities without much thinking. The fact that we can breathe, show up in our mat, and do asanas when we want to is amazing in itself. The least we can do is be thankful by not bringing physical harm to it and to stop saying hurtful words to it. 

Also understand that your body will be different each day depending on what you eat, how well you sleep, the quality of air you breathe, your mental state, etc. Some days you’re stronger, other days you’re very tight. Accept it for what it is at the present and know that your body will always evolve.  

  • Be present in your practice. What makes physical yoga distinct from other workouts is its mind-body-breath connection. It’s normal to get distracted with thoughts of the future or past when you’re practicing. When that happens, acknowledge the thought and try your best to bring yourself back to your movement through focusing on the breath. Being present makes your poses and breathwork more precise too. 
  • Always start and end your practice with namaste. Deciding to show up for yourself on the mat is an excellent practice of self-care. Acknowledge that you are alive, breathing, and your body can perform these asanas for you. That’s already a lot of things to be grateful for. 

 

How to practice santosha off the mat: 

 

  • Start and end your day with gratitude. In the morning, list three constant things in your life that you are grateful for. It could be the presence of your friends, family, a steady source of income, a roof on top of your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, a body that works hard for you, the fact that you’re still alive. When you start your day focusing on these things instead of what you don’t have, you will attract more things to be thankful for. At the end of the day, think about what happened in the day that you’re grateful for.

 

  • Let go of what you can’t control. Oftentimes, the source of discontentment is from things we can’t change or influence such as those that happened in the past or others’ opinions of us. Don’t sacrifice your bliss and headspace for these moments. Instead, focus on what you can directly control which ultimately is yourself- your breath, your attitude, your reaction to things. You can choose to be disappointed or accepting of events. 

 

  • Let go of expectations and perfection. Practice remaining calm in success or failure. Find ease in whatever you’re doing and completely enjoy the process. If you focus on the progress instead of the result, you are directed back to the present and appreciate how far you’ve come. Expectations often leave you frustrated with how far you need to go. Completely surrender to the moment and let life surprise you. 

 

  • Go outside and appreciate the world around you. If you’ve been taking the blue sky, tall trees, or building murals for granted, marvel at them today. Look at all their details and relish the fact that you get to live with all these beauty. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature. You can keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from technology so you can really stay in the present.
  • Take yourself in on a date.  To find santosha, you must spend some time alone to truly rid yourself of external validation. You must be content and accept yourself for who you truly are. Yes, your relationships are important and without others, you probably won’t survive but you must be careful on making others the source of your happiness. Sustainable contentment only come from within.

Beyond Truthfulness: practicing Satya on and off the mat

Image Source: www.bindiyoga.ca

 

`Yamas` (moral discipline) are observances recommended by yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the eight-limbed path of yoga, developed by Patanjali. Unlike a commandment that has to be strictly followed, the five yamas are established for enthusiasts to develop a mindful and healthy lifestyle.

The second yama is called Satya. The Sanskrit word literally translates to fact, reality, or true nature in English. In its simplest form, satya means upholding the truth. Although the yama certainly encompasses honesty, it also includes integrity to ourselves, our lives, and our inner divine. The practice invites us to be our truest, most authentic selves. More than simply telling your truth, you have to also practice and live it. 

For instance, you can’t keep saying that you want a break but also accept overtime work from your office; or know deep down that you want to commit into a serious relationship but go on casual, meaningless dates.  These small contradictions keep us from manifesting what it is we really want. Satya encourages us to align our thoughts, words, and actions with our desires, while keeping them pure and harmless. 

Reflection piece: In what situations do you notice that your actions are in conflict with what you feel? Why? Who or what are you protecting?

Note: truth shouldn’t cause harm

This yama doesn’t invite us to be frank and forward in telling negative observations, no matter how truthful they are. Our ethical code doesn’t live in a bubble. There’s a reason why ahimsa (non-violence) is the first yama. It tells us that whatever we do should not cause harm to others. Hence, if telling your version of the truth will hurt others, you have to think twice whether your opinion matters. Practicing satya isn’t simply about blindly telling the truth regardless of the consequence. It’s making sure that you speak and act with thought and intention instead of just saying whatever is on your mind. 

 

How to practice satya on the mat

  • Set an intention in your practice. Your intention is the truth as to why you are on the mat today. It will direct your reality. Is your intention to get stronger? To get better sleep? To feel less stressed? Whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice, remind yourself of your intention to get on the mat. 
  • Listen to your physical body. Pain, discomfort, and injury are different languages that your body uses to communicate its truth. Don’t ignore that. If you’re feeling tired, or healing from an injury, don’t force yourself into doing another Chaturanga Dandanasana. It’s a violation of both satya and ahimsa
  • Rather than believing that you are not strong, flexible, or good enough, honor the reality of your body: it just needs practice. Everybody can improve through practice, and no one is an exception. 

 

How to practice satya off the mat

  • Do you feel that you are striving for things that you don’t actually want, but are conditioned by society, family, friends, or loved ones as things you should aspire to have? Ask the hard questions and be completely honest with yourself on whether you are living the life that aligns with your truth.  
  • Make sure that you speak to yourself and others with kindness and intention. Before speaking, ask yourself: is what I’m saying good, true, and beneficial? 
  • Speak up for yourself when your voice needs to be heard.
  • Shift from judgment to observation. For instance, instead of saying “I am fat”, say “My body doesn’t meet yet my standards but it can always improve.” In the first sentence, you are imposing your standards on the world by labeling yourself fat and calling it your reality; in the second, you are simply and clearly expressing your need (to be less fat) in the moment.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Practice and the 3 gunas

Guna is a Sanskrit word for quality or attribute. There are 3 gunas:

  • tamas: state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality.
  • rajas: state of energy, action, change, and movement
  • Sattva: state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence

While we strive towards sattva and reduce tamas and rajas, it is impossible to posses sattva only. There are elements of tamas rajas in us.

Our ashtanga practice reflect all these 3 gunas, how they exist together and how they affect the way we should live.

Tamas: When we practice on the mat, we should strive to engage the muscles required to do the pose, and not without engagement, i.e. the inertia to not do things. Do not be lazy. Set to finish what we started. But our body need rest, and hence tamas comes into play, in the form of shavasana. So Tamas is not entirely bad.

Rajas: It’s about the energy, the activeness, the movement. Our vinyasa should flow with energy, generate the heat within us. We should have the energy or the fire, find this energy when doing any task. The energy will give us the motivation to carry on. But too much of rajas is also not good. We expend our energy unnecessary and send ourself to state of inertia. Thus, there is a need to control our rajas.

Sattva: It’s about harmony, how am I feeling calm and at peace with ourself. Similarly, when practising on the mat, we should find stability within our pose, breathing normally with calmness. We should be focus. There shouldn’t be any rush. We shouldn’t be panting. It is in this state; that we realize what and why we are doing this.

Hence, all there gunas plays a role to our life and our ashtanga practice reflect these attributes. Next, we need to reflect upon ourself after practice and evaluate how to mainly the gunas within us.

 

Relieving My Anxiety Through Yoga

It’s undeniable that stress and anxiety issue has become increasingly pervasive in this modern world that we live in. Again, and again, we see people being overwhelmed with pressure coming from all aspects of their lives, and thus resulting in a noticeable downwards trend in the state of people’s emotional well-being. There are times when we would spend hours worrying about something that has yet to happen, or just be too bothered by what others thought or said – because, well, that was me, drowning in that anxiety whirlpool. 

 

Anxiety disorder was not easy to deal with, though you might wonder, how hard could it be? Well, there are many times where I will be in such a heightened state of nervousness and fear, which would escalate to the point where I would start feeling shortness of breath. There’s constant excessive worrying in life, which makes daily life difficult to focus and concentrate. Sleep disturbance became a norm, and insomnia somewhat triggers more anxiety, and thus becoming a vicious cycle. Anxiety can also bring about fatigue and restlessness, with days you would not want to get out of bed nor socialize. And the symptoms go on and on. I had to deal with it. I had to live this. I had to address this anxiety. 

 

I sought professional help, and was prescribed with medication. But that’s not a long term solution. I know I cannot, and should not rely on that treatment plan. That’s when I was recommended to practise meditations and mindfulness, and in short -Yoga.

 

Though Yoga is said to be able to relieve anxiety, most people will tend to simply follow the teacher blindly and perform the poses to the best of their ‘looks’, rather than how the poses should feel. And many of them would therefore not know that, these poses, known as asanas, actually can calm your nervous system if you do them correctly with the right alignments. They help to lower tensions and promote relaxations of the muscles in the body, as physical tensions are what we actually experience in most fight or flight situations.

Many of the controlled breathing yoga exercises known as Pranayama, actually soothes our nervous system as well. It teaches us to breathe with awareness, focusing on nothing but our breaths in that present moment. As we breathe slowly and deeply, we will feel much calmer and less uneasy, and this controlled breathing will deactivate the body’s stress response. 

Also, Yoga teaches us to have flexible and healthy mindsets. Many of us were stuck in the anxiety cycle due to many rigid and inflexible mindsets. We run away from triggers instead of facing them. Through Yama and Niyama, it teaches me to be more self-accepting, and feel contentment, and also to be self-motivated and discipline. That I should also learn to face my fears and have courage, even if I don’t succeed at my very first try, I will eventually get there as long as I do not give up. 

Last but not least, through constant practice of concentration, and withdrawal of senses, it provides us with an opportunity to take step back, take a look at, and observe ourselves. It also relieves us from distractions and the saturated negative and toxic thoughts inhabiting in our mind, allowing us to put attention only on what we are focusing, 

In retrospect, though stress is an evitable part of our busy, modern life, we should never neglect our mental well-being. It’s a long journey of recovery, and it isn’t an easy one. I am truly glad and gratified that I am being introduced and exposed to Yoga. Yoga is such a powerful adjunct treatment for my anxiety, and it certainly has changed my life tremendously one way or another. I truly hope it does the same for you too. 

The Chase

I started practicing yoga last February and decided to embark on YTT this October. Day 1 was a shock to me as one of the first things Master Ram said when he came in was, “I don’t care about asana, I only care about movements.” A year and a half of practicing yoga and I had never heard anyone say that to me before! With social media and instagram yoga, it can sometimes feel as though we’re all racing to get to some point first – the first crow, the first handstand, the most bendy wheel, the best asanas etc. and so I was surprised when Master Ram completely shot that idea down.

He believes and taught us to pursue movements instead – the movements which carry us through this world and the building blocks which come together to form a pose. Instead of obsessing over superficial goals like mastering all the arm balances under the sun, we instead focused on learning how to move our body – protracting the shoulders, engaging the psoas, activating the lats, eccentrically contracting the hamstrings and so forth.

Somewhere around week 3 or 4, Master Ram taught us Mayurasana, Peacock pose.

How to do Peacock Pose: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

I gave it a few attempts, fell flat on my face and thought, “well, I’m never going to be able to do that” and that was that. In my mind, it was such an impossible pose that I didn’t even think about pursuing it. Fast forward to the second last day of our YTT,  we revisited Mayurasana and to my surprise and delight, I actually took flight! I was amazed that over ten weeks of drilling the basics without a goal in mind, learning and trying to perfect small movements, my body actually managed to do something I never sought out to do.

Perhaps, not having a goal to chase means that we’re not subconsciously limited by a glass ceiling. Not chasing an asana gives us the freedom to explore our limits and tune in to our body, and learn that there are no limits to what we can achieve. If you are pursuing certain asanas in your practice, a piece of advice: master the basics. Take time to learn and internalise the small movements, trust the process and enjoy it – you may just end up with a certain asana in your practice and that’s just the icing on the cake!

PSA for Flexible Friends

Before YTT, I’d dabbled in yoga here and there throughout the years, casually going for classes every so often. Being naturally quite flexible, I was able to do a lot of postures that required decent flexibility, such as hanumasana, forward folds, backbends etc. Teachers often wrote me off as being good at yoga and never paid me too much attention, leaving me to my practice on my own. Unforunately, perhaps no one was aware that I was only relying on flexibility to enter these poses, instead of technique.

I had been working out regularly for a few years with lower back pain slowly creeping up on me until a disastrous crossfit incident triggered intense sciatica in my left side. It was a simple tire flip, however, years of not learning proper technique meant that my hypermobile spine allowed me to get into a deep squat without me engaging my core to keep my spine straight. As I lifted, I felt a burning sensation shoot through my body and I limped away not knowing what had happened to me.

Instantly, I went from someone who could easily drop back into a wheel or get an A for sit-and-reach to someone who couldn’t even bend over the sink to brush her teeth. The left side of my body burned whenever I sat, stood, slept, walked or EXISTED and it took two years of slow rehab for the sciatica to gradually subside. I’m thankful that it did get better, however I still struggle with on-and-off back pains and residual sciatica in my left hamstring.

Throughout YTT, with my newfound reduced flexibility, I’ve had to acknowledge my body’s limits and re-learn how to approach asanas with technique instead of flexibility. It was a humbling experience, and a much safer one at that, although I often found myself frustrated thinking “I used to be able to do that! Will I ever be able to again?”. As YTT comes to an end and I continue on with my yoga journey, I feel excited to continue re-learning how to move my body properly and safely. It is far more important to me that I can move and practice for many more years to come, than to be able to show off all sorts of funky poses but end up injured and out of the game entirely. I’ve learnt to let go of my ego and the ideal of “I have to be able to do this pose”, and instead focus on tuning in to my body and its limitations.

To all my flexi friends out there: just because you CAN get into a pose, because you are flexible, doesn’t mean you should. Please learn the proper technique and muscle engagement to safely enter a pose or you really might be at more risk of getting injured than a non-flexi person and it’s terrible being injured! We want to be in it for the long run!

A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow

It is true that to have a sound sleep, one needs to have a calm mind and peaceful thoughts. In today’s world there are so many distractions which demand constant attention. Social media, mails, messages, advertisements to name a few, cause constant chatter in the mind. Our brain is like a supercomputer. If it is loaded with constant processing tasks, it leads to fatigue and damage and eventually lack of sleep. This condition is termed as insomnia.

Just like water, air and food, the body needs sleep to function. During sleep cycles the body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. I dealt with sleepless nights for a long time and couldn’t help to notice that how it affected my life by way of constant mood swings, fatigue and that feeling of restlessness.

After joining YTT with Tirisula Yoga, I realized the power of pranayama and yoga in healing this problem. We have always heard starting your morning with pranayama and yoga to kick start the day with positive energy and intentions but we should also end the day, after those hectic schedules, with the mindful breathing routine relaxing and calming our minds which ultimately helps in a good sleep. Hence, I was introduced to the technique of Chandra Bhedana pranayama during my course.

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Setting an intention in yoga and beyond

It’s not until recently that I no longer thought “setting an intention for our practice today” is just one of those things yoga teachers say.

It happened when this connects internally for me what intention means, not just for my yoga practice but beyond that in life as well. Let’s look at it from both perspectives.

  • In our yoga practice, an intention is not a goal, it’s a mindset to achieve balance by keeping in mind what I need most at that time, helping me stay present in the moment. An intention can be manifested through a word, a quote, or a feeling. Sometimes it can be dedicated to someone or something outside of myself, which is a great way to increase a positive flow of energy.
  • The true beauty behind an intention is that we will manifest into our lives, that we’ve set in our heart. By returning to the energy of this focus no matter what is going on, we can train ourselves to stay committed to that intention, on and off the mat. 🙂

We were discussing this in class today with Master Ram, having intention is quite different than making goal. It does not aim towards a future outcome. It is a path that is focused on how we are “being” in the present moment, intrinsically and extrinsically. We can achieve this by practicing Dhyana, Dharana and Pratihara.

I believe with true intentions, we can become more effective in reaching our goals to overcome materialism and insecurities. Goals could help us be an effective professional, but being grounded in intention is what provides true purpose in life.

Let’s live our intentions everyday 🙂

My Yogi-Wannabe Journey

Documenting my yoga journey in the hopes that some of you reading might relate to my story, and feel encouraged to start or continue exploring the world of yoga. 

I have to admit that I used to think that yoga was some lame thing that people do just for the sake of sounding fancy and to take nice shots for social media. (Oh how mistaken I was!) 

As I started working, I ended up trying yoga out, just as an easy way to get some light exercise. As I attended more classes, I realized that yoga was not as easy as it sounds and looks. This was when I found out that you could get a good sweat from a normal (ie not a hot class) yoga session. I also learnt that entering and holding a pose requires flexibility, strength, balance, and focus. 

And then I signed up for Tirisula’s YTT200 (without a clue of what I was getting myself into). Over the last two months, I have learnt that yoga is so much more than just flexibility, strength, balance, and focus. It is, amongst many other things, about: 

  • A good understanding of the musculoskeletal system so as to know which muscles to engage for each pose, why certain poses can only be achieved with specific movements 
  • Overcoming my own fear to attempt various (scary-looking) poses (aka arm balances and inversions) 
  • The philosophy of yoga – the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga 
  • The yogic lifestyle beyond the mere practice of asanas (such as the yogic diet, and the practice of mindfulness) 

As my YTT200 journey comes to an end, I increasingly realize that there is so much more to learn about yoga, and this is definitely not the end of my yoga journey. And hopefully this has piqued your interest in finding out more about yoga and inspires you to begin or to continue your own yoga journey 🙂 

Yoga – The Art of Balance

Balance is a term that we have all heard and tried to inculcate in our lives with multilevel tasks. And often we have been subjected to the criticism that how we fail in striking that perfect balance. This is something that we know but fail to achieve it. The term “balance” refers to both, physical and mental balance. Imagine you are standing on a stool and its shaking, well you try to find the balance in your body to not to fall. Mental balance on the other hand is about the inner peace and calm that you feel when there is chaos and noise outside. The yoga lifestyle teaches us to embrace both forms of balance as a means to a healthy and fulfilling life.

Being a beginner, when I joined YTT with Tirisula yoga, nor I thought once that I was going to rediscover the meaning of balance and inculcate in my life. Throughout the course, as I was progressing to learn new poses and to find that balance, one thing I learned was you cannot achieve it if you have not fallen practising it. Because with every new effort you practice it with more awareness and vigor and hence achieving that balance on point. One pose that made me understand the meaning of balance in yoga and in life was headstand (Sirsasana).

The Sirsasana or Headstand Pose is called the king of all asanas as it is a pose that involves balance on the head. This is an advanced yoga asana that must only be attempted under the guidance of a yoga instructor. This asana is very popular due to its multiple health benefits. It speeds up the blood circulation and ensures that the brain receives sufficient, well-oxygenated blood. When first Master Ram announced and showed headstand pose, the first thing that came to my mind was “I don’t think so.” That stability and perfect balance on your crown was something that I really doubted myself doing. Every time I use to practice it and fall, I would start it again but with more awareness, following the right technique, focusing on every small movement and finding that coordination among the whole body. And one day I did it (yayy)! The feeling of striking that balance while you are upside down, without any support, without any fear was just out of this world.

And there Sirsasana taught me the greatest lesson of life- art of balancing. In our busy lives, juggling between different roles – we experience many upside downs leading to blaming ourselves or others, feeling depressed and just feeling out of picture. We just keep falling into the trap and never do we realize how to exit from it. But that’s what you need to know, just as in Sirsasana, sometimes you see things clearly when your upside down. Yoga helps in cleansing the mind through the practice of pranayama hence building that awareness and internal focus which is not then carried away with the external turbulences. It helps you to find that inner connection with your soul, deterring any distractions which occupied your attention till time. Sirsasana, which requires strength to fight all those fears of falling and also calm and focus attained through breathing and awareness teaches us how to find that balance when our world is upside down.

Yoga just not teach the art of balancing in poses but also in life. So, channelize that inner focus and energy in you and you’ll master headstand – and life. 🙂