Meditation.Self Journey

For me yoga was always about physical practice. I have never done meditation at home and was skipping that “boring part of yoga” in yoga classes. But after some time, part of me has developed feeling that I maybe missing something. So when I signed up for Tirisula yoga teacher training course, one of my goal was to concentrate on  spiritual part of yoga. And that’s what I have learned so far.

Meditation is an integral part of yoga practice. Yoga helps to improve and develop physically. But spiritual development is no less important for a person. The goal pursued by meditation is self-knowledge of oneself, achieving clarity of mind, the ability to relax, the desire for complete inner harmony.

In medicine there is a concept such as “chronic fatigue syndrome” – a disease of modern man.By doing meditation, you can learn to concentrate and relax, control your emotions and mind. Meditation helps to strengthen health, get rid of existing diseases, prolongs life.

The best part –  you can do it yourself, in any convenient place. In yoga centers, classes are led by experienced teachers who will help you understand and master the basics of meditation.If there is no time and opportunity to visit specialized centers, you can master meditation yourself. After a hard working day, it’s good to take 15-20 minutes. relaxation in a homely atmosphere.

As in any practice, there are certain rules in meditation. Here are a few points for conducting an independent practice:

  •     Choose a place for relaxation, where nothing will distract from immersion in yourself. Although, it should be noted that neither advanced noise nor extraneous sounds interfere with advanced practices.
  •    Take a comfortable position.
  •   Try to relax as much as possible each muscle of the body, mentally observing relaxation.
  •    Concentrate on breathing. Monitor inhalation and exhalation – the exhalation should be longer.
  •    Try to turn off your mind. Throw all thoughts out of my head. This will help focus on something specific – on breathing, on relaxation.
  •   Try to withstand a certain time. 10 minutes is enough for a start.
  •     To leave meditation smoothly, without rushing, trying to feel new sensations and maintain a state of calmness.

After trying my best and practice it regularly every day for some time , I came to understanding that : Meditation is not as difficult as it may seem. But the benefits of this practice are undeniable. And very good when it becomes a habit.

Yoga & Pregnancy

Finding out you are pregnant is a great piece of news !

But very fast a lot of questions are coming; What should I be eating? When will I start gaining weight ? Can I keep exercising ? Shall I keep practicing yoga ? Will yoga help me or harm me ?

Here are my 2-cents on the subject as I am currently in my first trimester

Food – while you have a lot of cravings during your pregnancy, you still want to eat satvik as much as possible – avoid the snacks with too much salt and eat almonds when you are hungry. Eat frequently and nauseas are fading away

Yoga is definitely helping me to go through the disadvantages of the 1st trismester.

Thanks to practicing pranayamas several times per day, my belly is not so tense or painful at the end of the day. Usually you can find a lot of discomfort that can be as painful as constipation at the end of the day. Regular yoga practice really relieves that.

A strong and intense practice makes me feel so good and makes me forgetting all nauseas and tiredness. However, the rule of thumbs is the following; don’t do anything you were not doing before being pregnant.

If you were doing inversions, keep doing them but less time

If you were doing nice back bends, do them but maybe go less deeper…

Asanas need to be practiced very carefully – your limit today might not be the same as tomorrow so listen to yourself; if today you cannot do bakasana, then no worries maybe tomorrow you will… or in 9 months !

But the most important part where yoga (not just asanas, the whole thing) is helping me is the gratitude towards your body and towards your tiny baby. I spend time to fully relax, use what I learnt in yoga (pranyamas, concentrations) to connect with my baby & send him happy vibes and kindness. A baby as small as it is need the best of you and I think yoga can bring out the best in every person.

Yoga and other sports

Yoga is not only a good form of exercise on its own but also a great complement to many other types of sports. One such example is surfing. 

I had a brief encounter with surfing after participating in a surf camp in 2017. During the camp, we did two surf sessions, as well as a yoga class every day. Initially, I thought that the yoga classes were just to stretch out our sore muscles. However, as I learnt more about the surfing techniques, I realised that both of them are actually deeply intertwined because many of the surfing poses are similar to yoga poses. 

Credit: https://barefootsurftravel.com/livemore-magazine/how-to-do-a-take-off

For example, while paddling out on the board, we’re on our belly and our back is slightly arched/chest lifted up. This is similar to Bhujangasana (Cobra pose). After we’ve caught the wave and ready to “push up”, we get into a pose similar to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), but with the toes tucked. Finally, we shift our back leg forward and stand up in a position like Virabhadrasana B (Warrior 2)! 

Of course, apart from the poses above, I find that yoga also helps to train up the following areas which are beneficial for other types of sports as well.

1. Core strength 

I believe many of us have heard our instructors telling us to “squeeeeeze the core!”. Indeed, most of the yoga poses work on core strength. From Navasana (Boat pose) to Kakasana (Crow pose) to Sirsasana (Headstand), all of them require us to engage our core muscles. Not just for athletes, having a strong core is important for everyone, because it helps to stabilize our body, strengthens our back muscles and holds up our body.  

2. Flexibility

A lot of the yoga poses help to stretch our muscles and increase our range of motion, which in turn improve our flexibility. Hence, I feel that yoga will be a good complement to rock climbing, because with better flexibility, we’re able to bend our bodies into awkward positions as we try to reach for that foothold and push ourselves up.  

3. Better breathing

Yoga teaches us how to breathe properly through the practice of different types of pranayama. Proper breathing techniques help to improve our respiratory system and build up our stamina. This will be beneficial for people who do aerobic exercises like running, swimming and hiking etc. 

Nowadays, with more sports facilities and gyms around, a lot of us are doing different types of sports. Whichever sport that you’re doing, I strongly encourage you to incorporate yoga into your training routine, be it as a form of stretching or as a complement to the sport. Give it a try and you might be surprised how it can improve your performance and overall well-being!

Yoga and Vegan Diet

Growing up in Singapore, a melting pot of culinary flavours ranging from chicken rice to satay to bak kut teh (a kind of peppery/herbal pork rib broth), I never imagined I would ever turn vegan.

It started when, at the age of 10, I stumbled upon videos exposing what happened in slaughterhouses. The blood, the screams, the animals’ eyes dilating with fear as their throats were slit – it all looked like a scene out of a horror movie.  Traumatised by the reality of how meat was made, I decided I could not eat meat anymore.  When I told my parents my decision, they reprimanded me and told me I needed to eat meat to have a balanced diet.

It was not until I turned 20 that I finally stopped eating meat.  A few months ago, I stopped consuming eggs and dairy as well. 

After studying yoga philosophy, I started to reflect on how a vegan diet related to yogic principles. 

As a starting point, yoga does not enforce veganism, or any diet for that matter, on its practitioners.  In fact, there are many yoga practitioners who consume meat and animal products. 

Nevertheless, it seems that a vegan diet is supported by a few key yogic principles. 

(1) Three Gunas and Food

In yoga philosophy, the mind is formed from the essence of food.  If the food consumed is pure, the mind can develop a strong subtle intellect. 

Tamasic food, which includes meat, fish and intoxicants, is considered to be “stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse” (Bhagavad Gita, XVII, 10).  Such food makes a person dull and inert; fills his mind with impure thoughts; and increases his risks of getting chronic ailments and depression.  This age-old philosophy has been partially backed by modern science, which has established links between meat consumption and heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and harmful cholesterol levels.

On the other hand, a Sattvic diet consists of pure natural food which increases health and vitality, while rendering the mind pure and calm.  It includes vegetables, pulses, nuts, fruits, seeds, and whole grains such as oats and quinoa.  It includes dairy products only if the cow is fed and milked in the right conditions.  However, cows are abused in modern dairy practices.  Dairy cows are artificially inseminated repeatedly and slaughtered for cheap beef once they stop producing milk. Their calves are removed within 36 hours after birth, breaking the strong bond between mother and child.  These calves are killed if they are male, or raised to be dairy cows if female.  In addition, milk is now filled with hormones and antibiotics, which are harmful to our health. 

Therefore, a vegan diet, which excludes all meat and animal products, is Sattvic and ideal for nurturing our physical and mental health.

(2) Santosha

Santosha is about being contented.  I may not get to eat a lot of my favourite dishes like butter chicken or char siew rice (roast pork rice) anymore, but I still get a healthy and delicious diet which meets all my nutritional needs.  For this, I am contented.  There is no need to compare myself with others around me who get to eat a larger variety of food than I can. 

(3) Ahimsa

Ahimsa is about respecting all living beings and practicing nonviolence to others. 

In a place with little or no plants available for consumption, perhaps due to environmental conditions (like in the Arctic or Mongolia), a person would certainly need to hunt for meat to survive.  Otherwise, he would be committing violence upon himself. 

However, in most modern cities like Singapore, people have access to a large variety of food.  Thus, most of us can choose to adopt a vegan diet if we want.

Veganism applies to ahimsa in several ways.

First, by turning vegan, I am renouncing the confinement, abuse, and killing of animals. This is a direct way to disengage myself from one of the most prevalent (but overlooked) forms of violence.  Modern factory farming is inherently cruel to animals.  Unlike farmers in the old days, today’s factory farmers show no concern about individual animals. They embrace any practice that increases profit, regardless of how much pain, suffering, and death it inflicts on the animal.  Nearly all farmed animals live in intensively crowded and filthy factory farms.  Castration, debeaking, and other painful mutilations are routinely carried out without pain-relief.  Egg-laying hens are crammed into cages so tiny they can’t spread their wings.  Male chicks, an unwanted by-product of egg production, are often ground up or scalded alive.  By adopting a plant-based diet, I stop contributing to this systematic violence.

Second, veganism is an act of nonviolence towards the earth and other fellow humans.  Animal agriculture uses natural resources at a way higher rate than plant crop production.   Veganism would, therefore, drastically reduce the damage inflicted on the earth.

Third, veganism extends compassion to other fellow humans.  There are millions of starving people in the world.  Farmed animals are fed huge amounts of crops and water.   In fact, it takes 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat.  These plants crops could have otherwise been used to feed more people, saving them from starvation.  

Finally, veganism is an act of nonviolence to myself.  I feel more at peace, and my conscience is clearer than before.

One of the most popular mantras is a Shanti (peace) mantra, which takes into account all living beings, not just humans:

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih

Meaning:
May all beings become happy
May none fall ill
May all see auspiciousness everywhere
May none ever feel sorrow
Om Peace Peace Peace

The Balancing Act

Going back to the “Why do I want to do YTT”, one of the main reasons was because I wanted to learn the technique of how to do all the various inversions that could possibly be done and, effortlessly.

Just like how an elephant balances on the circus ball? I wanna be just like that.

 

But saying is one thing and doing is another. When we first started YTT, we were told that different poses will be tested during the examination, i.e Crow pose – 1min, Headstand – 3mins etc etc. And I thought, Oh my goodness, I can’t even hold the crow pose for 10s, how to do it for 1min? Surely a miracle must happen on the examination day for me to pass.

Week by week, as we attended YTT, teacher took effort to train us, and painful as it was, we definitely needed it. The 1001 chaturangas we kept doing, transitioning from one pose from one to another, there was no mercy. But overtime, bit by bit, we became stronger; chaturanga holds extended from 30s to 45s, headstand practice went up to ‘let’s-do-for-3-full-minutes’ and if we can’t, it’s fine, we have the wall behind us and thus could cheat a little. Slowly but surely, doing inversion became easier. My crow practice started from 5-10s, to 15-25s, in which I saw improvements but it was simply not good enough. Headstands, on the other hand, had me playing this balancing act as I tried to beat gravity, keeping my feet up high and trying not to tilt. All of these however, was just not the ‘right technique’. I’m not saying that there is the one method we must all conform to, but surely I always felt that there is a better & easier way to take, for a longer and more convincing stay in each desired pose.

The technique is none other than ’rounding your back, squeezing your core super hard and creating a firm base’ before each balancing pose. Example – when you do crow, you place your palms down on the floor, round your back, squeeze the core before proceeding to bring your knees outside your arms and eventually getting your feet off the ground.

As you stay in your posture (sounds easy but hard to master), just continue to contract and contract those core muscles, keep that rounded back, and sometimes I see it as staying super compacted with a bigger area of base to lower your center of gravity, hence making you more stable. Moving on to headstand, it is slightly different because the body is fully extended and lengthened, but using the same concept, create that firm base and that is fundamental. Place your forearms and head down the mat in a triangular shape, keep your elbows tucked for a narrow and firmer base, slowly start to walk your feet closer to your elbows and eventually contract/engage your core as you lift both feet off the mat and come to a perfect invert.

I won’t say that I am an expert in balancing poses and all now, I’m pretty sure I’m still unable to do the lotus feet headstand (i.e a cross-legged sitting where each foot is placed on the opposite thigh): in lotus position, place forearms and head down in triangular just as how you would do a normal headstand, but only relying on your core, lift your lotus feet up [probably my ultimate challenge to myself] – this pose is really a “pure-core” work of art. But having said that, practicing this newfound technique has really enabled me to hold in those poses for an unexpected extended period of time. And I am excited, because word is that once you’ve got that strong base formed like a house built upon a rock, the rain can pour, the flood can come, but your house won’t shake.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Asanas

One of the most common misconceptions about yoga is that it’s just stretching and doing fancy poses (a perception heightened by social media). I too, admit that I had a similar view. In fact, I only began my practice because I wanted the stretch, flexibility and ability to do instagram-worthy poses.

During the first few months of my practice, I thoroughly enjoyed the stretch, the feeling of being more flexible and being able to do more poses. I started out being unable to touch my toes with my fingers, but after weeks of practicing, I began to see results. The small improvements and achievements were the main reasons why I kept coming back. However, after the excitement of my newfound flexibility died down, I’ve found that yoga goes beyond just stretching/poses. It is about connecting with yourself. On top of the physical benefits, it works on my mental and spiritual well-being. By changing the focus to my breath, it calmed my mind and helped my body to relax. Yoga has also taught me mindfulness and self-awareness. What people do not realize is that the stretches and poses are just parts of a larger practice.

I’m not going to lie, I still feel joy when I am able to master more poses and get disappointed when I’m the only one in the room not being able to do them. However, I always try to remind myself that perfecting the asanas should be a bonus and not the main reason for practicing yoga.

How to be successful

In my earlier post, I mentioned about Prāṇāyāma; how it is is the practice of breath control in yoga and how important it is in our lives. But today, this”Prāṇāyāma”  shifted up the priority list (in my own ranking of 101-important-things-to-do).  As simple as it may sound, you must be thinking, how much benefits can breathing bring? Why are we talking about this again? It is just breathing, come on.. Believe me, I felt the same way. I started out learning a couple of different Pranayamas in class and was always dubious about the benefits that was tied along with each different breathing exercise. One of it, Kapalabhati, involves a series of forceful exhalations followed with passive inhalations and this is said to cleanse and detoxify your mind and body. As this breathing exercise belongs to the energizer series; it is advisable to perform early in the morning, the first thing you do when you wake. Once practiced, it is said to be an invigorating wake-up call, and you should feel instantly fired up after performing it. What is believing without seeing? I decided to try it myself each morning on days (without woman’s problems 😂) and I can testify that it is true, you feel the heat in your belly, you feel more awake and at times I start to sweat a little (on my bed at 6am yes).

Apart from the fiery breathing styles we learnt, we were also exposed to the calming pranayamas which I was equally as interested to find out. Of course, I had to test it out yet again. So I practiced some of it at night before I sleep, and I particular love this one. I admit I have yet to instill good discipline to perform it like a nightly ritual, but on nights where I do practice, I vaguely remember drifting off to wonderland quite instantly after this breathing exercise. This belly breathing can be done lying down; reasons why I love it the most, all you need to do is take deep breaths from your belly, allowing your belly to rise and as you exhale, your belly should fall. This breathing exercise focuses on inhaling more oxygen rather than short breaths from the upper chest, hence your chest level should remain relatively still.  The deeper the breath is, the more relaxed you will feel.

There is just so many different pranayamas but finally I will come to this last one for this post and I was introduced to this as THE prayanama to do if you want to be successful in life. Ahh, have I gotten your attention? Known as the Kumbhaka Pranayama – Full breath retention, you basically inhale, hold your breath for however long you can (the longer the better), followed by a longer exhalation in a ratio where it is twice that of your inhalation. Teacher said that when you hold your breath in, you will slowly start to activate your brain and push it to a greater depth of thinking (i.e he used vineyards as an example, about how deep their roots can grow and penetrate down into the soil), likewise so can our brain as we dig a little more and more and open our minds to a greater depth of thinking and creativity. Definitely caught my attention if not yours, but it does sound pretty abstract to me. Won’t be able to share with you my thoughts/experience on this (just yet), but do give me some time to verify this hypothesis. After all, holding of breath versus a successful life, how hard can the former be? 

 

Yoga Stretch

To be honest, I’m someone who barely sets aside time for stretching. On a day to day basis, I wake up early in the morning, head straight for my workout class, and be it a strength, high intensity intervals, or a spin class, whenever I hear this sentence “the time now is xxx, for those who are rushing off to work, now is the time to leave”…I scoot off. I rush to the showers, rush to get changed and head straight to work. Minimal stretching is done, unless perhaps, if there is a queue for the showers. Then I’ll be like, okay, reach down and touch your toes, stretch out those tight hamstrings, or sometimes maybe bending my knees to the back for my quads stretch. But all these are done in a quick span of time, and only if I have that pockets of time to spare. Somehow, somewhat, I just fail to put stretching under my priority list, and amidst the hectic schedule and busyness, I don’t ever recall giving my body a good proper stretch.

Recently however, I had the rare chance to attend a yoga stretch class and description read “improve muscular flexibility by holding stretches for extended periods of time”…”wonderful complement to your slightly more athletic pursuits like cycling, running, and even lifting weights’ and I thought to myself, why not? Reasons why I never set aside time to do stretching or ever attended a stretch class was because I always felt that going for a high impact class was more value in terms of time, money, etc. Yet this notion dismisses the importance of stretching for your body. It’s not enough to build muscle and achieve fitness. You need to think about flexibility, too. Stretching helps to keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We also need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in our joints. Without it, our muscles shorten and become tight which may then increase the risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. In our everyday life, majority of us spend 8 hours sitting on a chair and this causes different parts of your body to tighten up – especially your hip flexors, rectus femoris, pectoralis, upper traps, and anterior scalenes (the front of your neck). When these tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that the exertion “won’t put too much force on the muscle itself”.

I survived the stretch class that day. Each stretch posture was held for at least 2-3 minutes long and it is definitely a misconception that stretch classes are relaxing and full of savasanas. My muscles were COL – crying out loud, as I tried my best to stay in the pose and not give up. Coupled with the teacher’s adjustments, my muscles never felt so stretched out before. Going forward, I wish to put in more effort in stretching everyday. Shan’t be overly ambitious and declare that I will go for stretch classes every day / week but at least for now, I will aim to commit 10-15 mins each night before I sleep.

Stop, think and breathe

Why do I want to do this YTT?

That was my teacher’s first question to me and the 9 others in the room. I thought about it, rolled my eyes to the corner for a few seconds and pondered. A lot of different reasons flashed through my mind, it was like a slideshow with a white background, then cloud bubbles flashing in, “I want to be more flexible”,”I want to do more Yoga”,”I want to be able to conquer all the inversion poses that I see people doing”. And to be honest, right now, I can’t remember what I told him on the 11th of January.

Being in this course for about 6 weeks now (4 more to go) has taught me that Yoga is more than all of that. Perhaps its true that my drive towards Yoga was about the handstands, fallen angel poses that makes people go ‘woah’, but even the simplest act of breathing properly is what constitutes Yoga. Prāṇāyāma is the practice of breath control in yoga. Daily prāṇāyāma trains the lungs and improves the capacity of respiratory system immensely and its precisely the little and simplest things in life that we overlook. Also explains the reasons why I cramp so often when I’m in the pose, or the tensed up feeling I always experience because I hold everything in and forget to breathe.

As we live in a fast paced environment and rush to do 101 things everyday all the time, always remember to breathe. Taking a breath break can help you reset the button, release tension, calm yourself down and relieve stress and anxiety. So before you do anything in a rush, before clicking that ‘submit’ button, just stop. Stop, think and breathe. Trust me, it will different.

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.