YOGA.RUN.LOVE.PEACE

I like this series of magazine advertisements on yoga apparels which carried nice pictures of people practicing difficult yoga poses. I am even more taken in by their advertisement theme that goes by: Yoga.Love.Run.Peace, because it highlights 2 of my favourite practices – yoga & running.
When I started my teacher training, I struggled with cutting back on my favourite hobby – running. This is on realising that yoga and running lie on the opposite ends of the exercise spectrum, and my yoga practices cannot progress (significantly) if I continue to run as I used to do. In fact, so serious was I in wanting to progress in my yoga, that I stop running for close to 2 months, while practising hard on my asanas.
It was definitely a tough 2 months, as I had running withdrawal symptoms every day. It was also at this point of time, that I decided to do more research to find out how I can still continue my hobby, and at the same time progress in my Yoga practices.
I have found, and listed here, the differences (subtle or not) between Yoga and Running are:

DIFFERENCES
YOGA RUNNING
(+) Lower Impact Higher Impact
(+) Varied Movements Repetitive Movements
(+) Restorative Nature Injury Risks (muscles, joints, tendons)
Strengthening (mostly) by Isometric Contraction Strengthening by Concentric Contraction
(+) Muscles lengthening postures Muscles tightening movements
Lower Cardio Respiratory Gain (+) Higher Cardio Respiratory Gain
Lower Endorphins released *(+) Higher Endorphins released
(+) Focus on body alignment Body alignment is dependent on terrain & running gait
Usually done indoors Usually done outdoors
Encompassed philosophy for spiritual attainment Hey! It’s simply an exercise lah

(+) denotes positive nature
*It is interesting to note that most people who are motivated to run, experience runners’ high – the happy feeling as a results of endorphins being released into our body system. While the runners’ high feeling is great, yoga helps to develop a body intuition that will not only help one perform better in running, but also reduce our chances of injuries resulted from the masking of pain by endorphins. Yoga practice has helped me to listen and respond to my body better.
Based on my research, I have found that even though yoga and running may have many differences, but there are commonalities that point to the fact that they can complement one another:

COMMONALITIES
YOGA RUNNING
Develops strengths and overall health & well-being
Requires breathing control
Meditative in nature

While it may be obvious that the positive effects of Yoga practices out-weighs that of running practices, it may still make sense to complement one with the other so as to add variety to one exercise regime,  further strengthen one’s heart functions, and take our exercise outdoors.
It may be ideal to Run/Swim on 2 days (max. 30-min) and practice Yoga on 4-days (45-75min) in a week (with one day rest). In that way, whatever negative ‘side-effects’ of running accumulated will be neutralised by the yoga practices. Do try to find out what is your best combination. Yoga practice will enable those who wants to run continue to do so for many years to come.
In any case, both yoga & running requires diligent practices, agility, flexibility, patience and connecting with our inner self.
I will like to leave you with a practice theme of my own, re-arranged from the advert theme that I have earlier shared:
Practice Yoga, Do your Runs, Espouse Love and Advocate Peace!
Namaste!

Pic-a-Pose

During the teacher training, I have found the notes of the Ashtanga Yoga asanas in pictorial form that was provided for us very useful in my practice. It has not only helped me to remember the sequence of poses, but has also enable me to picture how each asana looks like (pic-a-pose).
As I prepare to practice my teaching, I struggled with remembering the names of each asana, and resort to drawing stick figures to represent the poses in my lesson plan. While I may be able to remember the name of each asana now, I have realised that the pictorial form of asanas would be useful for my students if they were laid out in sequence and given to them to perform self-practice.
While drawing stick figures may work pretty well, I have attempted to create a pictorial representation that is consistent and easy to draw &  understand. After some exploration, I have found the following method which only uses 3 shapes: circle (head), trapezoid (body), small triangles (hands), big triangles (legs)

  • shoulder represented by the longer side of trapezoid
  • each leg /hand represented by 2 triangles
  • joints of legs/hands are represented by the tips of triangles
  • right leg/hand are shaded
  • directional sign indicated dristi point (direction of the head as well)
  • inhale and exhale may be represented by shaded circle and unshaded circle respectively (for sequence)
  • body (trapezoid) may be angled if necessary (e.g. backbends)

I have attempted to illustrate how the asanas are represented here in pictorial form for the following category of asanas:
(1) Stand, (2) Balance, (3) Sit, (4) Inverted/Back-bend, (5) Recline
A drawing template, pictured here, can be created for ease of drawing. It is cut out from a hard transparent card:





Feel free to explore using it, and do provide me with suggestions on how I may improve on it
Namaste!

general — dedication to a dear friend

I want to dedicate this to LeeEricaAP, a great lady with a heart of gold, generous with both her time and resources. For without her help and encouragement I would not have been doing this 200 hr YTT course. She has willingly arranged for the usage of her privileged pass at the place where she does her yoga, to enable me to get my physical level up to prepare for this intensive training course. Even while I was away in cold and mountainous Switzerland for 3 months which made practising yoga almost close to impossible due to the high altitude, nonetheless she still reminded me about yoga asanas and meditation in our regular email exchanges.
I believed that she has paved the way leading to this path and chapter in my life at this point in time. Thank you for giving me a chance to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Thank you my friend. NAMASTE

Yamas

The Yamas and Niyamas form the first two “limbs” of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.  They are the restraints and observances that are evident in our behavior and reflect our attitudes about ourselves.  They are a fundamental part of “yogic lifestyle.”
The yamas are the “restraints”.  It is important to note that one must restrain without suppression (rather covert the energy to something positive).  Suppression will lead to frustration and will have a negative effect on the mind as evident in the behavior.  For example, if I tell myself I cannot eat chocolate I will just want it more and more till I eventually eat it and probably too much!  This behavior may not be very destructive in itself, but my attitude is changed for the worst.  I will suffer feelings of loss of control, poor confidence and will mentally feel failure.  A better approach would be to ask myself why I am desiring the chocolate and work from the inside out.  This will take time but the result will be much better.  Pranayama, concentration and meditation would all be useful tools to help me change my behavior.
The yamas include:
1. Ahimsa–Non-violence in both thoughts and actions.  This includes thoughts and attitudes about oneself!  This is the reason yogis are vegetarians and refrain from eating an animal that must be killed for the purpose of consumption.
2.  Satya–Truthfulness.  This is reflected behaviorally in what we say–not telling lies and being pure in our speech.  If our speech is not pure, the mind will not be pure.
3.  Brahmacharya–sublimation of sexual energy.  This not only refers to sex itself but also to lust.  Wanting something so badly that it consumes our thoughts and drives our behavior will not lead to a calm mind.
4.  Asteya–non-stealing, lack of jealousy.  This means we are not to be distracted by what we don’t have.  Covetousness only leads to impure thoughts and discontent.  Being “non-stealing” means that if we want something it must come from pure motive and hard work.
5.  Aparigraha–non accepting of gifts or bribes.  This has to do with our motives.  Motives must be pure–if I am only acting to recieve some reward in return it is not pure and will hind my mind.  This includes self-bribery–“if I eat healthy all week I will buy myself some new shoes.”
The Yamas/restraints are the first step to purifying our minds and transforming ourselves through the practice of yoga.  I feel it is important to remember that it is a process and we must patiently transform from the inside out.  With a clear conscience and pure thoughts we will begin the pathway to peace.  Practicing the yamas will help anyone enjoy a better lifestyle whether or not they choose to continue further the practice of yoga.

Eating for Flexibility

Although it is difficult to find a significant amount of scientific data supporting the idea that food choices affect flexibility, personal experiences seem to indicate that what we eat can effect the physical deepening of our asana practice.
Food can affect our bodies in so many different ways:  weight changes, skin condition, disease.  It can also affect our mind:  sleepy/energized, depressed/stimulated.  It seems reasonable to conclude that food could have an impact on flexibility.  What we put in to our body becomes who we are.
As with most dietary advice coming from our field, it appears that the first step is to eliminate meat from our diets.  Animal protein creates acidity in the body which appears to negatively impact flexibility.
However, a typical ovo-lacto vegetarian diet may not be enough to optimally prepare the body to become flexible.  Other factors include dairy products, which contain casein protein.  This protein is widely used by bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other athletes to increase muscle size and strength, but it is likely having a number of negative effects on the individual, one of which is decreasing flexibility.
Increasing the amount of alkaline forming foods has been shown to increase flexibility.  This can easily be accomplished by simply including more green food items in your daily diet.  Spinach, spirulina, seaweed, broccoli, etc. should all help you maintain a healthy pH balance in your blood.  It is also important to make sure you are getting your recommended amount of vitamins and minerals.
Adding a small amount of flax oil to your diet can also act as an anti-inflammatory and can lubricate your joints and counteract the toxic effects of cooked oil stored in our body.
While maintaining an almost completely vegan diet would likely be well-suited for flexibility, this may not be realistic or desirable in all situations.  Personal experimentation and gradually determining what works well for the individual is probably a good course of action.  But if you are having issues with your flexibility, why not experiment with some of the above suggestions and see if they work for you?

The value of my life

There is this cliché of sayings that was once very popular (you might even have received one as an email attachment):
 
To realise the value of one year, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realise the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realise the value of one week, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realise the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realise the value of one minute, ask a person who just missed a train.
To realise the value of one second, ask someone who just avoided an accident.
To realise the value of one millisecond, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.

 
I don’t know about you, but reading it sure made me think and ponder over my perception of time.
 
I like it because it serves as a reminder that time is precious and that I really should be living my life the way I want it to be. Although of course, that may not always be possible since more often than not, we have people liking to tell us the way life should be led.
 
These days, when I call people up and ask if they mind me ‘ trial-teaching’ a yoga session, the first question they will ask is, “Why are you doing this?” This may sometimes be followed by a comment “Wah, you very free, no need work”. Some others may express admiration at my zest to pursue my interest.
 
But just what is there to be envious about? What is there to admire about my plans? It puzzles me.
 
At moments like that, I can’t help but remember what Weiling said during one of the sessions, that people nowadays tending to bury themselves beneath layers and layers. To the point in which they forget about their true selves.
 
Just what do we see life as?
 
As an endless episode of pursuits- the next management position, the bigger pay pocket and the grander house?
 
Or the continuum of goals- the extravagant holiday, a library of tech-gadgets and a Swiss account with uncountable cash?
 
Truth be told, we ourselves create the cellars to imprison ourselves.
 
We are trapped within the prisons of sense gratification because we fall into the falsehood that all that is what life is about.
 
Seriously, what is life about?
 
Here’s a related analogy that might also be useful:
 
Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day.

What would you do? Draw out every cent, I suppose?
Each of us has such a bank account. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.
It carries over no balance. It allows no over draft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day.
If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against “tomorrow.”
You must live in the present on today’s deposits.
This bank is time.


If there is anything about me that one should be envious about, it would be that I try to live my life pursuing the things I know can bring me bliss.
 
I say ‘try’ because I don’t always succeed. Like everyone, I have to deal with contention, but this almost-morbid motto echoes constantly as a reminder:
 
Live each day like your last.
 
Because that is what life is about: 86,400 seconds. 24 hours. 1 day.
 
If only we can stop thinking of life as some big project that will happen in 10 years.
 
Life is now. It happens every moment, every second, every hour, every day. It happens all the time. Since you were born to when you are going to die.
 
And truth be told, I am really glad about my decision to pursue Yoga Teacher’s Training, because it has reinforced my life’s value and beliefs.
 
Like what Paalu said, every individual’s path has been carved out the moment he/she is born. It is just that the trails are bleak. Our job in this lifetime, is to find the path.
 
And that, for me, is what life is about.

Brahmacharya

The 4th Yama (restraint) in the Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga is Brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya means “to respect the creative power of sex and not abuse it by manipulating others sexually”.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 11.38 “Brahmacharya-pratishthayam virya-labbah” translates to “When one does not misuse sexual energy, one obtains enduring vitality resulting in good health”.
I came across a book that actually defines “Brahmacharya” as “Good Sex”. But in the book, it describes explicitly everything and anything but good sex.
Sex is the power that creates life. When sexual energy is used for exploitation or manipulation, it propels us into deeper separation and ignorance.
While we do hear of human sexual abuse on a regular basis in the newspaper, most of us are ignorant of the extensive sexual abuse of animals inflicted by humans. This has been  deeply ingrained in our culture, and takes the form of “animal husbandry” where breeding, genetic manipulation, castration, artificial insemination, forced pregnancy, routine rape and child abuse took place on a massive scale”.
“Animals on factory farms are not allowed to develop normal sexual relationships with others of their own species. All of the animals born in factory farms have come from mothers who are repeatedly raped by human farmhands and forced to become pregnant over and over again until their fertility wanes, at which point they are slaughtered and eaten”.
As described in the book on what happens to an average dairy cow on today’s farm: “She lives in a tiny stall with a concrete floor in an indoor ‘milk facility’. Not even a year old, she has just given birth to her first calf a few hours ago while being chained down. The chain makes it difficult for her to get close to her baby whom she is nursing – but not for long. Within hours, men come to take her baby, shouting abuses at her. She tries to turn her head to see what is happening, but the chain prevents her from moving. She cries out to her baby, who cries back. In a few minutes, she no longer hear and see her baby – for it is driven to a ‘veal facility’. She is left in her place, her milk dripping from her breasts. The milking machine moves in to clamps onto her nipples, sucking her and emptying her of the vital life force, for weeks to come, until she is ready to go through another cycle of being raped (artificially inseminated), give birth, separation, lactation and depression. She has to be pregnant or lactating to be able to produce milk. She is viewed as a milk machine, one of billions of cows confined in factory-farm concentration camps”.
I was filled with grief when I first read this article – the image of mother separating from the child within a few hours after such a special occasion. While the mother continues to suffer on the same floor, chain to the same chain and sexually manipulated by the same man, the babies head to the slaughter house. Grief turns to anger when it dawned upon me that this has been accepted as part of the culture (of ignorance, where we simply do not want to know). And finally, overwhelmed by guilt for being part of the contributing factor.
There are many untold sufferings that we have inflicted on others, none more so than to animals. The abuse of animals were described quite vividly in many videos and books that talks about humanity. Documentary-Movie such as “Earthlings” and book such as “Yoga & Vegetarianism by Sharon Gannon” (from which most of the accounts were shared here) should be watch by everyone to learn the truth.
Someone actually describes our treatment to animals as the holocausts of the biggest unimaginable proportions, that happens on a daily basis. It is even more frightening to know that most of us are comfortable with the actions even after knowing the truth.
So, before you make that order for coffee , with or without milk –  stop and think!
The harmless act of drinking milk may not just be a breached of the yama “Brahmacharya”, but more importantly an opportunity for us to practice compassion and conditional love. Yoga is more than the practice of asanas and prayanama, but the practice of being humane.
Our choice may be that just one moment of decision-making, but it can make a hell out of difference in making this a better world for all!
Namaste!
 
 

Karma Yoga as the Ends of All Means

To me, karma is a pretty religious concept. I don’t want to admit to being religious, but I do believe in karma.
Paradox, I know.
I am not sure about past lives and the afterlife, but I do believe in positive energy, and the accumulation of it. I believe in spreading this positive energy, and have myself experienced receiving more as I give more. This, to me, is karma.
Karma in Sanskrit means “action” or “deed”. Karma yoga means doing something to benefit others with that as the end objective. There will be no thought of getting something back in return, and no process of withholding that thought. The giving is spontaneous, selfless, and quickly forgotten. But the impact can be strong, extensive and long-lasting.
Karma is not only an action; it is also the result of an action one needs to bear. Action and result are separable only by time – seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, lives – but are inseparable as a pair. One reaps the fruits of his actions, be it punishment or pleasure; if not this day, then another.
Accepting Karma gives me a state of Calmness
The believe in Sanchita – accumulated karma of the past helps me to accept the Prarabdha with calmness, so that I can embrace the latter with open arms, knowing it can’t be avoided or changed, so that I can eventually let it go. I’ll embrace good fortune with gratitude, at the same time knowing it won’t last forever. I’ll too embrace bad fortune with composure, knowing the same. And as I exhaust these works, I continue to carry out Agami, something I can control as of now; an idea I like very much.
Agami returns to the idea of karma yoga; it is now being done for the future. But I wish to highlight here that karma yoga is not to be done for the future. As much as it produces such an effect, karma yoga should be focused on the now, and forgotten as soon as it is carried out. After which, Agami can take its natural course, and one bears the fruits of his doings, but not with expectations.
What is good? What is bad?
Being the hopeless thinker that I am, I then start to deliberate on what constitutes a “good” or “bad” deed, because of the grey world we live in. Is following rigid rules “good”? Is breaking up with someone I’ve fallen out of love with “bad”?
And what is “good” or “bad” fortune anyway? There are two sides to every situation. It depends on how you make the best of it. My friend’s house caught fire a few months back, and it gave her a good excuse to throw out all the old furniture and paint her room a pretty purple. My other friend married into a rich family, but have to eventually put up with all the obligatory social activities that are totally not her cup of tea.
Don’t Think. Just Do.
Then, something Paalu once said hit me: “Don’t think. Just do.”
There’s no point thinking about all this, because it’s not going to change anything. Rather, focus on what your heart believes, and follow it in your actions with sincerity and good will. After which, you let nature take its course, and embrace whatever comes to you. This will ensure you live life to its fullest.
This is what I call karma.

The truth about gut feelings

Right now, I am officially jobless. I left my job after three months.
 
It wasn’t a hard decision. The fact is, I clearly remember feeling very unsettled the moment I decided to accept the job. And that wasn’t even an official decision yet. It was during my consideration phase. Then, I had dismissed it, thinking that this feeling had arisen just because the job scope was new to me and I was just trying to cling to my comfort zone. I dismissed the ill-feelings as my lack of adventure and convinced myself to take the plunge.
 
But the job didn’t quite go the way I wanted. I could have had too high an expectation but it was more than that. It just didn’t fit, somehow. So it wasn’t long before I finally decided to tender my resignation following a series of unfair and unjust events.
 
The feelings following this decision were unmistakably, relief.
 
I took upon some time to reflect on the incident but still I could not explain my feelings and responses at the simple chain of events. It was almost as if ‘I’ knew what was going to happen.
 
I should have known better. Oprah Winfrey once said this on her show “Learn to let your intuition—gut instinct—tell you when […] the job isn’t good for you (and conversely, when you’re doing is just right)”.
 
The truth is, this is not the first time that such ‘para-normal’ things have happened. At one time or another, I had “known” things I didn’t even know how I know them.
 
Intuitions, or commonly known as gut feelings, are sudden, strong judgments with origins we can’t immediately explain. While they seem to emerge from an obscure inner force, scientists believe that the true origin of gut feelings is in the brain[1]. Be it the gut or the brain, intuitions are unconscious recognitions of a deeper knowledge within all of us.
 
But where does this knowledge come from? A closer study suggests that this deeper knowledge is attributed to the subtle energy system of Chakras and how they work to produce many of the unexplainable intuitions that all of us experience from time to time. First formalized by physician-sage Patanjali about 3000 years ago, the Chakras are a system comprising of 7 vital energy centres and 3 interconnecting channels. These centres each govern specific aspects of our physical, psychological and spiritual being and their state of balance is integral to the health of the various body systems that they govern. In other words, imbalance, damage or blockage of these centres will lead to problems in the physical, psychological or spiritual aspect of our being that the affected centre deals with.
 
And if you ask me, I think scientists might be right this time round.
At the region of the top of the head is the crown chakra or Sahasrara. Corresponding to the limbic system, the Sahasrara is unique among all the centres because it serves to integrate the functions of all the other chakras. The way in which it achieves this is beyond thought. Literally. In other words, it works only in the state of mental silence.
 
I am sure there would have been decisions in your life too during which you just have no answers and you just decided to just go with the flow of whatever happens. Or you might just have a very strong feeling towards something. Those are in fact moments which you are tapping into the dimension of the Sahasrara. At this juncture, knowledge is drawn from the Cosmos. Knowledge beyond all that is known.
 
Gandhi once commented about inner silence:
“What a great thing it would be if we in our busy lives …prepare our minds to listen to the voice of the Great Silence. The Divine Radio is always singing if we could only make ourselves ready to listen to it, but it is impossible to listen without silence”.


We can’t listen without silence. That is why we need silence. That is why we need to still the mind.
 
Because without that, no matter what innate knowledge exists within us, we won’t be able to hear a single word the divine radio is saying.


[1] Michael Gershon, a professor at Columbia University, writes in. The Second Brain

Parallels between Yoga Philosophy and the Christian Bible

The decision to pursue Yoga Teachers’ Training was not an easy one. After all, I have been told about how Yoga contradicts my religious beliefs and that my faith didn’t support it. To be sure I consulted the right people on the issue, I had even written to priests regarding the acceptability of Yoga in my faith. It was a subject I treaded carefully, because I love Yoga, and I love my faith, both very much. I have had thoughts about fusing them! Apparently, some like-minded individuals have done so. Currently, a style known as ‘Christian Yoga’ is becoming very popular in the United States. A typical session is just like any other Yoga class, the only difference being that the meditation is based either on scriptural readings or on the teachings from the Bible.
 
The reasons for its popularity are clear. Firstly, many devout Christians are uncomfortable with the seemingly association of Yoga and Hinduism, due to the use of Sanskrit terminology and the devotional chants. Secondly, many look upon yoga as a meditation-in-action, so as to better prepare the mind to seek a deeper relationship with their Christian faith during meditation. Religious purists, on the other hand, are protesting against such a combination. Fundamentalists argue for Yoga to be kept separate from religion.
 
What about you? What is your stand on this matter?
 
The book Exodus in the Old Testament records the Ten Commandments, which is a central pillar in the Christian faith. The Ten Commandments speak of the ideal Christian behaviour. God speaks to his followers (Exodus 20: 1-17):
 

  1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have any other gods except me. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  3. You shall remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
  4. You shall honour your father and mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
  10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.

 
It should be emphasized hereby that the Christian definition of “neighbour” extends beyond the current English language definition of “somebody living next door/ nearby”. In the Bible, the neighbour takes on a more generic definition of being ‘everybody’. Hence, you and I are neighbours, in that sense.
 
Reflecting on the Yama, which is one of the eight limbs of Yoga, I found a close parallel between Yoga Philosophy and these commandments. Specifically, Yama talks about the restraints of the Yogi, which in my opinion, is somewhat like a code of conduct. It includes Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (sublimation of sexual energy), Asteya (non-covetedness) and Aparigraha (non-accepting of bribes).
 
Comparing the two:
 

Yama Corresponding to Commandment:
Ahimsa – Non-violence (5) You shall not kill.
Satya – Truthfulness (8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
Brahmacharya – sublimation of sexual energy (6) You shall not commit adultery.
 
(9) You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
 
Asteya – Non-stealing (7) You shall not steal.
 
Aparigraha – non-accepting of bribes (10) You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.

 
There is hence no basis for the argument that Yoga contradicts the Christian faith.
 
Personally, I dedicate the practice to God before I begin. That way, I consciously practise Ishwara-pranidha by letting God lead me through my practice. There is no ego at work, only contentment (Santosha) in where I can be. The way I see it, the asanas are but a means of stilling the mind, so that I will have an increased capacity for concentration and hence God-centred meditation.
 
The truth is, I really don’t see why Yoga can’t be incorporated into my faith, especially when there is a conscious effort to involve God in the practice, as what the apostle Paul says in the Bible: “Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).