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.

Swadhyaya.

Swadhyaya is the practice of self-study and self-analysis.
In Yoga, swadhyaya is incorporated by doing asanas, pranayama and Meditation. In the past 3 weeks I’ve  been reflecting on myself, and gaining a deeper understanding of my body and mind through YTT.
It’s hard to accept myself when I see how I am perceived through others, but there’s no other choice . Here are the things I noticed

I’m as confident as I want to be.
I’m not accepting of my own flaws . I speak slowly and softly , and have a habit of withdrawing my words before I finish my sentence (voice getting softer towards the end ). I don’t like that about myself and am trying to change.
I’ve trouble making decisions.  I am often unkind to myself in my head
I’m easily influenced and affected by others’ opinion of me.
I get stressed out easily in my mind when there’s actually no need to be.

I’ve also drawn a few conclusions in regards to what I can do;
I can be nicer to myself, I don’t have to be so harsh all the time.
I can treat others’ opinion of me as a stepping stone , to improve or to ignore. I can take everything with a pinch of salt.
I can try to speak with more intent, and be present when I speak.
I can accept that I am not perfect and relax in that fact because nobody is perfect and perfection is unattainable.
I can be at ease when I know that there is no right or wrong or bad or good. my flaws are just there as a part of me, I don’t have to fix everything in one second, I can do it at my own speed.

I started off writing this blog with discomfort  (because it was painful to look at my flaws) and ended it with ease. It’s nice to relax and know that when we face our fears and discomforts, it goes silently away. It’s a pleasant release of emotions.
Walking into the eye of the storm is scary, but when you get to the middle, you find calmness.
Whatever we resist, persists, so walk into your pain and feel it. It is not as painful as we imagine it to be. 

 

Mind over matter/ Tapas/

I think I was slightly over-ambitious when I decided to take this course and work full time.  It’s towards the end of the third week and I feel both physical and mental exhaustion creeping in along with a visit from Aunty Flo.
On Thursday I was late for class because I didn’t sleep well and I woke up at 3am and couldn’t sleep because I was berating myself over not having enough time to finish my emails and do my yoga homework. I did some homework  and then ended up falling asleep again at 5 am and having gut problems and not being able to get up. I contemplated skipping class (not something I usually do) but decided to go in the end because I think I could still function. I was surprised by my body’s ability and strength to keep going even though I was mentally exhausted.
Even on Friday I felt a little tired but I kept going and trying my best in my asanas practice and by the end of it I wasn’t even as tired as the first two weeks of practice. I think my body has perhaps gotten used to the practice or become stronger.

I’m thankful that I have a healthy and strong body to be able to practice yoga and I think most people take this for granted .
I believe in the body’s ability to self-heal .If I become a yoga teacher,  that will be my motivation– knowing that I am helping people heal their bodies , mind and spirit.

 

Yoga during Menstruation

Even though this YTT course has yet to end, I can state with utmost certainty that my greatest takeaway from this journey is regaining my health, both physically and mentally.

In terms of mental health, I have definitely come very far since the start of the YTT course. I have gain greater clarity to the issues which had been troubling me in the past. In addition, I have learnt to connect with myself, to listen to my breath and body, and to start loving myself again.

Physically, I have not seen much changes appearance wise. However, I have regained my women health, if you know what I mean. After dedicating myself to a regular yoga practice for just slightly over a month, my period has returned for the first time in a long time. I believe that it is the improved circulation of energy in my body as well as the reduced stress levels, as a result of doing yoga, which helped my body heal. In addition, my period cramps were very mild, which is nothing as compared to what I experienced in the past. For these, I am beyond grateful for finding yoga again.

As this is my first time having my menstruation while having a regular yoga practice, I was rather clueless as to how (or whether) I should upkeep my yoga practice, while honouring my body’s needs. As such, I was inspired to share with my personal experience on how to practise yoga during menstruation, which I hope will

First and foremost, listen to your body

I guess the first question is, should I continue practising yoga while on my period? I guess this differs from person to person. I was feeling very drained and light-headed on the few days leading up to the first day of my cycle, as well as on the first day. I listened to my body’s cues and cut down on the intensity and frequency of my physical practices.

Forward sitting postures and hip openers were a saviour to my period cramps

On the second day of my period, I felt a bit more energetic and decided to go for a class, even though I was starting to experience mild period cramps and discomfort. I was glad I did, because my cramps disappeared right after the practice! In addition, I came out of the practice feeling so much fresher. I attribute these to the forward bends (eg. paschimottanasana and janu sirsasana) and hip openers (baddha konasana, prasarita padattonasana) we did during the class. It appears that these postures helped to alleviate tightness in the pelvic muscles, providing relief to the back pain and cramping experienced during menstruation.

There are some poses we may need to avoid during menstruation

Of course, there are some postures which we may need to abstain from performing during our menstruation. In general, strenuous postures should be avoided – this also depends on one’s level of physical fitness.

However, it is best to avoid inverted poses. This is because being inverted goes against the normal flow of energy. When the uterus is pulled towards the head, the ligaments that support the pelvis are broadened and the veins carrying blood supply away from the uterus collapse partially, which may lead to increased bleeding. In addition, intense stretch, twisting and backbends should be avoided as these postures place additional stress on the pelvis and abdominal areas.

Incorporating pranayama may be useful in combatting PMS and menstrual discomforts

Alternate nostril breathing (nadi sodhana / anuloma viloma), which is a gentle form of pranayama, has many benefits and can be practised daily. If you are feeling emotional or anxious because of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), this pranayama is able to help to calm and relax the mind. However, kapalabhati and uddiyana bandha should be avoided during menstruation as they are too intensive.

We may feel unfortunate that as women, we have to experience on a monthly basis, the inconvenience and discomfort of menstruation (which potentially comes with the free gift of PMS). However, if we look at it from another perspective, we are lucky that as females, we have such a system in our body to help us shed blood and purge toxins from our bodies. When we experience PMS, the suppressed emotions from the past month are allowed to come to the surface. We can then acknowledge, confront, express and let go of these embedded emotions. It is almost like death (literally and figuratively) and rebirth. As such, when we look deeper at the spiritual meaning, menstruation is a beautiful gift given to women, which makes us more intuitive and sensitive.

The next time when you experience discomfort brought by menstruation, perhaps just breath and take a moment to be grateful for this special gift.

Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle to balance the vata dosha

Yoga and Ayurveda are separate branches in the Vedic knowledge, but are closely related and have many overlapping principles.

The word “Ayurveda” is created of two Sanskrit words – “Ayuh” and “Veda”. “Ayuh” suggests that life or longevity, and “Veda” suggests that sacred knowledge or science.

I first came in touch with Ayurveda around two years ago. At that time, with the challenges of being a new mother, I was suffering from the effects of a poor lifestyle and diet. I was at my heaviest weight and biggest size in my life. In addition, I was constantly feeling tired and short-tempered.

Desperate to slim down, I began to try out various fad diets such a “low carb”, “keto” and “paleo”. However, none of them were sustainable and I ended up in an unhealthy cycle of restricting my diet, followed by eating everything I could see in sight. In addition, when I was following these fad diets, I constantly felt bloated even though I was eating mostly whole foods. I was constantly bloated and the poor digestion negatively affected my mood as well.

I continued to be in this “yo-yo” diet until I chanced upon an article on eating the Ayurvedic way. The article described the concept of eating for your “dosha”, in order to aid your digestion and to feel balanced internally. I was intrigued by this new concept and decided to find out more.

“Dosha”, which is a foundational theory of Ayurveda, refers to the energetic forces of nature. There are three types of “dosha” – vata, pitta and kapha – and each dosha influences our bodily functions in a specific manner, and is made up of predominantly two elements.

  • Vata: Air and ether (space)
  • Pitta: Fire and water
  • Kapha: Water and earth

All three doshas can be found in everyone, but in different proportions. I inferred that I was predominantly of a vata dosha, as I have a small frame and my skin tends to be dry. I am also anxious and quick tempered.

I finally understood why I was constantly feeling bloated and sluggish even though I was eating somewhat healthily. My diet consisted of a lot of cold food (eg. salads and cold fruits), was heavy on animal protein and limited in carbohydrates. All these were considered cold, dry and light foods, which aggravates the vata dosha. In addition, I was also eating a lot of leftover food due to the lack of time to cook. Ayurveda considers leftover food to be devoid of prana and are hard to digest.

A diet to keep vata in balance (i.e. a vata pacifying diet) should consist of foods with the following qualities:

  • Warm
  • Moist
  • Grounding

In addition, the vata diet favours foods that taste sweet, sour and salty, whereas pungent, bitter and astringent foods should be minimized.

A sample day of eating on a vata-pacifying diet, adapted to suit the food choices available in Singapore, may look something like the following:

Breakfast: Oatmeal cooked with milk and warming spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg / Kaya and butter toast with soft boiled eggs

Lunch: Chicken congee / Mung dal with chapati

Dinner: Yong tau foo soup with beehoon / Chicken stew

Once I started replacing the cold salads with warm and fresh meals, as well as drinking warm water throughout the day, my digestion worked way better (too much information, but I started having bowel movements almost on a daily basis instead of once every three or more days). I also started using ghee (clarified butter) in cooking, and even in my morning dose of matcha tea. I found that ghee has a lubricating effect on my digestive system, and I like the buttery taste and texture it lends to the dishes (especially eggs).

As I read up more about Ayurveda, I discovered that diet is not the only way to keep your dosha in balance. Daily lifestyle habits and routines are, too, crucial in balancing the dosha.

I learnt that having a routine makes vatas feel grounded. As such, I started to incorporate some routines into my daily life, some of which I still practise up until today.

  • I try to maintain consistency in my waking and sleeping time, as well as meal times. I try not to eat after 7pm and to sleep by 10pm. Initially I was really strict with this and bailed out on many intimate family meals or outings. Overtime, I have learnt that it is even more important to relax and just go with the flow of life, and to trust myself to be able to get back on track.
  • Get ample rest, physically and mentally! I started to reduce the intensity of my workouts, opting out from my daily circuit training when I feel my anxiety kicking in.
  • Having a basic morning routine, starting with tongue scrapping and oil pulling to help my body eliminate toxins.
  • Have a simple wind-down routine at night. I try to minimize screen time an hour before bed and do some light stretching to prompt my body that its time for bed.

Understanding my dosha through Ayurveda has helped me tremendously in coping with my digestion and stress in life. I’m positive that coupled with my more regular yoga practices these days, I am on my road to achieving a calmer disposition.

What is your dosha?

 

References:

https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/learning-ayurveda/glossary-of-ayurvedic-terms/

Returning to a natural state

My 2-year old toddler is a natural yogi. Seriously. She stretches in supta padagustasana when she drinks milk, flips her tiny body into ardha kapotasana when she’s done drinking & gets up, drops into malasana when she plays with her toys, rests in supta baddha konasana, sees the world upside down in adho mukha swanasana when she’s horse-playing with me and my husband. Effortless and natural movements.

Watching my toddler move, to me, embodies the spirit of yoga asana practice. To return the body to a natural state, the way we moved before our bodies manifested bad postures, habits and our samskaras.

Beyond the mat, my toddler has also taught me other yoga lessons. At dinner last night, she used a Chinese soup spoon, western spoon AND fork to eat her dinner. Switching between the different utensils every few mouthfuls, grinning from ear and ear when she succeeded in eating rice with her fork.

Food for thought. How much of what we do is conscious or unconscious? Do we accept what we are told, or do we take action ourselves? When was the last time we learnt something new? In our natural state, we are a blank piece of paper, no ego, openness to everything around us, fearless in our actions. As I continue in my yoga journey, I take inspiration from my toddler to return to basics and keep things simple.

When was the last time you used different utensils to eat your dinner? Or walked backwards simply because it’s fun? Perhaps it’s time to give it a try.

What is your karma?

“What is your karma? What is the current action you should take in your life now?”

As Master Shree asked the class this question, I instinctively whispered to myself “my karma now is to nurture”.
As this thought left my mouth, I realized how much it resonated with me, like a wheel clicking in place.

In a moment of sharp mental clarity, I saw how my choices in life and career were weaved to the theme of nurturing. Becoming a mother 2 years ago, my choice of profession, finding myself naturally slipping into a mentoring and coaching role at work.

Even doing a YTT feels like a step towards nurturing a seed or kernel within. I’ve practiced yoga asanas for a long time, going on and off the mat, but always returning, each time staying longer. I’ve dabbled with oil painting, writing, dance, and yoga is the only practice I’ve maintained consistently.

Perhaps this is samsara* at work, pulling me back to yoga time and again. And choosing to commit to YTT is a thread of samskara**, woven into my karma to nurture.

*The literal translation of Samsara would be “a wandering through.” This refers to the means within which everybody passes through a variety of lives and states. It encompasses the idea of reincarnation and therefore the fact that what an individual does in their current life are going to be reflected, through karma, in their future lives.

**Samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions, and intents that an individual has ever intimate with. They can be thought of as psychological imprints. They are below the level of normal consciousness and aforesaid to be the root of all impulses, as well as our innate tendencies.

The 9 obstacles of Yoga

To be able to exercise our body, mind and spirit , is an incredible blessing that not every has, yet those of us who do, take it for granted.
According to Patanjali there are 9 obstacles in yoga and what I think we can do to overcome them ;

Vyadi Physical Illness
When we are ill and unwell our minds will tend to focus on the discomfort and pain in our body and perhaps even beat ourselves up because we are unable to do anything. Illness is the body’s way of telling us we need rest to recover. Focus your mind on positive things and visualise yourself in a healthy and strong state and take lots of rest , and then  you can slowly pick up on our practice again, as your body allows. 

Styana –Lack of Interest
Boredom is a state of weariness and restlessness . One could be in a healthy physical state but still face lack of interest or enthusiasm mentally and spiritually. There is lack of nerve power, a feeling of stagnation and no inclination to commit to anything. The mind focuses more on the opposition of interest rather than interest itself. To overcome this I think we should constantly try new ways of approaching yoga and practice sadhana with an open mind everyday. 

Samshaya –Doubt/ Indecision
How does Doubt about ourselves arise? It is when we compare ourselves with others or when we do not have confidence and faith in ourselves. To overcome this, we just have to keep an open mind,  keep trying , watching and learning from those who have succeeded before us.

Pramada –Negligence/ carelessness
We have to pay careful attention to every aspect of our practice, if we do not , we may be habitually careless in our practice, lose focus and even cause serious injury to ourselves. Even the seemingly small adjustments can help us practice yoga safer. Practice with your mind body and spirit and be fully present in your practice.

Alasya –Physical Laziness
It is a bad mental habit acquired by continued yielding to the love of comfort and ease and tendency to avoid exertion. If we may say so, languor is a purely physical defect while laziness is generally a purely psychological condition. To overcome this We have to practice tapas, and be disciplined in our practice. Constantly challenging ourselves with difficult postures will allow us to improve.

Avirati –Desire for sense object/lack of control
In the beginning when we start practicing yoga it is not easy to shut out the interests of the worldly life abruptly. If we really see the illusions which are inherent in the pursuit of worldly objects like wealth, honour, name etc. then we lose all attraction for them and naturally give up their pursuit.

Bharantidarshana –Living under illusion

This means taking a thing for what it is not. It is due generally to lack of intelligence and discrimination. A Sadhaka may, for example, begin to see lights and hear sounds of various kinds during his early practices.

“This incapacity to assess our supernormal experiences at their proper worth is basically due to immaturity of soul.”“These things are very spurious and do not mean much and yet there are many Sadhakas who get excited about these trivial experiences and begin to think they have made great progress.
We have to keep our mind child-like, always learning and open to new possibilities.

 

Alabdhabhumikutua –Missing the Point/Non-achievement of a stage
When we hit a roadblock or what seems to be a dead end, we should not give up . This failure to obtain a footing in the next stage can cause distraction and disturb the perfect equanimity of the mind unless the Yogi has developed inexhaustible patience and capacity for self-surrender.  If needed we should rest and try again.

 

Anavasthitatva –inability to maintain achieved progress
From personal experiences; I was able to do a headstand without the wall one night, and then the next day I tried with a timer and I could not. The mind reverts to its previous stage and a considerable amount of effort has to be put forth in order to regain the foothold. We should not give up, but keep practicing daily.

We are meant to transcend whatever obstacles we face in life. We should not avoid or run away from these obstacels as whatever we resist, persists.
Keep on keeping on, fellow yogi’s 🙂