Why you need both physical and mental alignment in an asana

What does it mean to be “connect” to an asana? It’s tough to imagine what connecting to a pose feels like when you can’t even come into the pose.

For example, for most of my early days in the YTT 200 program, I struggled with lifting my hips up over my shoulders and wrists to do a reasonably acceptable handstand against the wall. The teachers always said we had to “enjoy the point of weightlessness” or “find comfort in the pose.” Feeling comfort might be easier if the pose involved reaching my toes or twisting my torso; I could simply reach or twist as far as my body would allow and then melt into the pose. But for inversions like handstand, you could end up injuring yourself if you thought of “melting” into a pose. Inversions require strength and control, two things I am not naturally endowed with. I also thought there was no way my two little palms could support my body weight. I imagined tipping over and landing on my back (hard!) or hitting the wall with my head.

What happens when there is no connection?

Easy. You suffer in the asana. And you find yourself counting down the minutes until a pose, sequence, or class is over. You end up hating the experience or loathing yourself. For some people, they fall back to old thinking, old ways of doing things and straining the body, or worse, they give up entirely on the pose and say, “it’s not for me.” For some, they react with self-violence, disrespecting the boundaries of their body, pushing it in unhealthy ways, and punishing themselves for it.

It’s critical to acknowledge that a huge part of this kind of suffering in a Yoga practice is due to misalignment. According to Ray Long in his book ‘The Key Muscles of Yoga’:

“By aligning the direction of the force of gravity along the major axis of the bones, we can access this strength in Yoga postures.”

And alignment can only be achieved with proper technique. With technique, you reap strength, balance and elongation.

Alignment reduces the struggle in a pose, which is important, as struggling in an asana can leave you mentally frustrated and conflicted. As human beings, it’s not unusual to have a scattered mind filled with conflicting thoughts. We typically have pre-conceived ideas, expectations and biases that, if not met, can contribute to feelings of uncertainty and fear, and lack of confidence.

In Long’s book, he writes: “Yoga postures approach effortlessness when we align the long axis of the bones with the direction of gravity.” A key word here is effortless. Another key word that master yogi trainers have said is weightless.

Be effortless and weightless, not mindless.

An essential goal in Yoga is to develop a simple mind. By simple, we mean uncomplicated, unperturbed, clear, integrated, and, essentially, aligned. Simply, other than knowing the physical technique and alignment, a third component of doing asanas effectively is mental alignment. To connect to a pose, you need concentration and mental fearlessness, which can come if you chip away at your preconceived notions. You can only do that through consistent, mindful practice that leads to improvement of technique.

In physical and mental alignment, there is strength, balance, flexibility and elongation; there is also mastery of the mind. Only in this state can you fully observe your progress and begin to enjoy coming into and being in a challenging pose. With both physical and mental alignment, you achieve a elevated type of homeostasis where you can fully grounded in a pose.

How to include yoga in our daily routine – Part 2

In my previous post, I have talked about 3 ways that requires minimal physical effort or time to implement yoga in my daily life. Now, let’s talk about the physical part, which requires a little more time.
If possible, wake up half an hour to an hour earlier. On days that I only manage to wake up half an hour earlier, can do some simple breathing exercise and stretches to clear the mind and wake up the digestive system.
1. 20x 3 sets of Kapalahbathi breathing
2. Anuloma Villoma (10 times)
3. Uddiyana Bandha (5 times)
4. Paschimottanasana (1 min)
5. Bhujangasana (1 min)
6. Ardha Matsyendrasana (1 min)
7. Show gratitude
If time permits, can add in 6 rounds of sun salutations and a headstand. Finally, end off with relaxation and a simple prayer.
If all else fails, at least do a 3 min headstand daily. This does not take a lot of time and would be more sustainable.

Yogic Principles in Daily Life Part 1

By doing the 200hr TTC, it has taught me that I need to properly warm up the body and the mind each morning. It is important to do the following activities after rising, on an empty stomach.

In the morning the yogi can start with 3x rounds of 20x pumps of Kapalahbathi, this is to clear the sinus cavities and nasal passageway. It also purifies the nadis and energises the mind whilst removing sleepiness.

This is followed by Anuloma Villoma which helps to balance the nadis. Anuloma Villoma is done in Sukhasana, easy pose, with the left hand in Jana Mudra and the right hand in Vishnu Mudra. In the morning we start with the first inhalation on the right nostril, then after retaining the breath, hold the right nostril and open the left nostril exhaling slowly. Then inhale left nostril, hold, open right nostril and exhale slowly. Continue for 20x rounds on each nostril.

Following this we perform Uddiyana Bandha for 5 rounds. This is done to strengthen and tone the abdomen, internal organs and pelvic floor muscles. It stimulates the manipura chakra and soothes anxiety. Uddiyana Bandha has to be done on an empty stomach and avoided when menstruating.

This is then followed by a few asanas to gently warm up the physical body. Pachimottanasana, Bhujangasana and Ardha Matsyendrasana should each be held for 1 minute.

The final part of the morning routine is to meditate on what we are grateful for in our lives. Cultivating gratitude is a practice which elevates our individual consciousness.

This is a part of yogic practice which is now already integrated into my daily routine and will continue to be after the TTC has finished.

Master the Breath, Master the Mind

Often when we attend any asana class, we will be reminded to “breathe consciously” when we are entering and exiting a pose or simply just holding a pose. It is through the breath that we are able to navigate through different levels of consciousness. Breathing consciously also has an organic effect on our mental, emotional, and physical state.

Being fully aware of our breath is a method for being present. When we bring our focus to the breath; we let go of the past and future and in turn we are focused on the moment. For this reason, breathing consciously is its own meditation.

When we breathe consciously we activate a different part of our brain. The autonomic function of unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more developed areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex. Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions. By bringing our attention to the breath, we are able to control aspects of the mind, causing our consciousness to rise from instinctual to awareness.

Conscious alteration of our breathing pattern, can produce different states of mind. For example, deliberately slowing down the breath has an impact on our emotional state. When the cerebral cortex is activated through consciously controlling the exhalation, it sends inhibitory impulses to the respiratory centre in the midbrain. These inhibitory impulses from the cortex activates the hypothalamus, which is concerned with emotions, and relaxes this area. Conscious deep inhalation and especially exhalation has a soothing effect on our emotional state.

In the early stages of my yoga journey, whenever I got into a pose that challenged me a great deal, I would subconsciously hold my breath, clench my teeth and tense my shoulders, accompanied with emotions of stress, annoyance along with a voice that told me it was too hard and I should give up. Yet, when I focused on my breath, backed off a little and worked through it patiently, it created a space for my mind; it becomes quieter and a sense of calm awareness washes over me. It is in that moment that the breath has allowed me to delve deeper into the pose and appreciate the stillness and awareness from within.


Is it normal to sleep during yoga?

Being someone who has the tendency to fall asleep when not doing something of a certain engagement level can create a fair few problems. Dozing off during class comes across as disrespectful and uninterested although this is not the case for me! I’ve faced this issue from as early on in my life as I can remember. Maybe it’s a combination of growing up in an era where media is causing attention span to decrease, maybe it’s a genetic disorder, I don’t know.

It is close to the end of the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course and I have fallen asleep during Shavasana almost after the end of each practical class. I have also fallen asleep while holding various sitting and supine poses. So I research about whether it is normal to sleep during yoga and it is completely normal! (Phew.) It also shows that you are in a state of relaxation, a goal of yoga practice.

However, if like me, you would like to not fall asleep during yoga, here are some recommended poses.

Breath of Joy (Pranayama)
Upward-Facing Salute – Urdhva Hastasana
Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
Reverse/Exalted Warrior Pose – Viparita Virabhadrasana
Dancer Pose – Natarajasana

Besides these poses, I feel like inversions also help me to feel more awake. Although I still sleep in class, I don’t think that this is an issue that can be resolved overnight and other measures need to be taken as well. First and foremost, ample sleep. Secondly, a classmate of mine who practices qigong shared with me her knowledge regarding pressure points, saying that pressing firmly onto certain pressure points on my body would aid with my blood circulation and hopefully help me stay awake during class. This is similar to the concept of chakras that we are taught in yoga. Apologies to my non-Mandarin reading friends but I’m sure a quick Google check can provide you with information!

Image result for 人体经络网 足阳明胃经

Any points showed on the red and blue lines pressed during 7 to 9 in the morning would be the most effective.

Image result for 后头骨 凤池

There are three indentations at the back of our head, those are also pressure points that are easily accessible to be pressed by ourselves to help relieve fatigue.

Yoga is about going with the flow and not fighting our body’s desires and signals.

Do note that sleep and yogic sleep (aka yoga nidra) is different. Yoga evaluates the overall state of the mind and body by the relative proportion of three inherent qualities: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Sattva is associated with calm awareness. Rajas is the principle of movement and activity. When out of balance, it can lead us off on mental tangents and manifest in the body as twitches and jerks. Tamas is the force of gravity and gives a sense of groundedness. In excess, it can be felt as a restrictive heaviness, dragging the conscious mind into sleep. Falling asleep during relaxation practices is usually a sign that the quality of tamas is excessive or the quality of rajas is deficient. The practice of systematic relaxation requires a balance between rajas and tamas so that we are grounded and comfortably present in the body, but at the same time alert and mentally attentive. When both conditions are present, our consciousness can rest in sattvic self-awareness.

This Sattvic self-awareness can be achieved through yoga nidra, a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping that occurs during the stage where we enter deep sleep. The yogic goal of both paths, deep relaxation (yoga nidra) and meditation are the same, a state of meditative consciousness called samadhi.

I hope my post has been reassuring and informative to those who face the same problem as I do!


This has been a period of ‘firsts’: I gave my first yoga lesson, and my friend had her first ever yoga lesson from me. She said afterwards: “I realized I don’t really know how to breathe.” Such a simple, yet profound statement, made me think about why breathing is so important.

One of the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga is Pranayama, which is sometimes translated as ‘extension of prana’ (breath / life force) or ‘breath control’. Different Pranayama and breathing techniques can be used for different reasons, and with different benefits.

Some benefits are immediately felt, for example with sheetali / sheetkari breathing – sucking air through the tongue or teeth to help cool the body. You can immediately feel the cooling effect of evaporation, as air passes over your tongue.

Other benefits can be observed over time. For example, a study has shown that daily Pranayama practice resulted in statistically significant reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure over a period of 6 weeks.

Other benefits may be even more subtle. A recent study has shown that breathing has a direct effect on the levels of noradrenaline in the brain, a natural chemical messenger, which “If produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertiliser. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.”

Some people – swimmers, singers, actors – train specifically in how to control their breathing, in order to get the most out of their performance. The physiological benefits of Pranayama on the body are already well understood. But when considered as one of the limbs of yoga, it could be said that Pranayama helps us to get the most out of our lives.

I was grateful that I could help my friend become more aware of her breathing. And I hope she will not only learn ‘how to breathe’, but also reap the benefits.

Nadi Shodhana – My personal experience

My life has always been hard. For many years I had always done things for the sake of my family. I never did expect anything in return. I have always been a person who gives much more than I have received until the day I lost everything in life. It was 7 years back that I lost my house, family, CPF and all the money I had. I was devastated and it took me about 2 months to pull myself back together. It was during that time when I remembered the “Alternate Nostril Breathing” that I was taught when I was in India back in 2007. I started practicing it daily and I managed to calm myself down. Things became clearer in my mind and I started rebuilding my life back up again.

By practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing, one can experienced the following:

  • Settles stress and anxiety
  • Improves the ability to focus in the mind
  • Supports our lungs and respiratory functions
  • Restores balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and clears the energetic channels
  • Rejuvenates the nervous system
  • Removes toxins

After that very bad experience in my life, I have learnt to practice Nadi Shodhana more regularly.

Just keep breathing.

In Yoga we are told that breath is the singular most important thing. We’ve all been told by our yoga teachers to breathe deeply, to consciously bring awareness to our breaths, to synchronize breath and movement, and so on. Indeed, I’ve come to learn during this course that the power of our breaths is truly astonishing and far-reaching. Our breath is the key to unlocking our true potential.

Breath is life.
Breathing is the most essential function of the body that can be directly controlled. It not only powers our cardiovascular system (we would die in a matter of minutes if we stopped breathing), but also serves as a critical ingredient in all our body’s electro-chemical processes. As Swami Sivananda said, “A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.” Thus, learning to control, extend, and maximize each breath we take is the key to longevity.

Conscious breathing heals.
Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex which impact emotions and thoughts. This helps promote mental clarity and focus, an inner calm. This also helps removes blockages to allow prana to flow more freely to enable the body to heal and repair more quickly.

Pranayama is a powerful tool.
Prana means life, vitality, or energy, which is inherent in our breath. Ayama means length, expansion, or control. Thus, pranayama is the extension and control of the breath. Using ancient pranayama techniques passed down through Yogic tradition, we can regulate our physical and mental states to achieve homeostasis, i.e. healthy body and mind. Additionally, Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras instructs the use of breath to achieve higher states of consciousness, i.e. spiritual growth.

Asana without proper breath is… not Yoga.
Proper breathing technique during Asana makes a meaningful difference in ability, awareness, safety and comfort. More importantly, not breathing defeats the purpose of practicing Asana in the first place, which is to prepare the body and mind for a meditative state to aid spiritual growth. Without the breath to connect the body and mind, Yoga would just be gymnastic!

Understanding Mudras

Mudra means ‘seal’ or ‘gesture’ and we use them in yoga to facilitate the flow of energy. By placing the hands in certain positions, it helps to stimulate parts of the brain. We often use mudras in pranayama and mediation, but you may also be familiar with them in some asanas too.

Each of our five fingers represents one of the five elements that make up the universe and mudras help to balance the elements within us:

  • Thumb – fire
  • Index finger – air
  • Middle finger – ether/space
  • Ring finger – earth
  • Little finger – water

Gyana Mudra, also know as chin mudra, brings the thumb and index finger together, with the other three fingers gently outstretched. Gyana mudra is known as the gesture of knowledge – palms facing up allows you to receive and palms resting on the knees, facing down is observed for feeling more grounded.

Prana Mudrais the mudra of life and is performed by touching the tip of the thumb with the tips of the ring and little finger together, keeping the other two fingers extended. Observing this mudra provides energy and strong health, stimulating the entire body.

Shunya Mudra is performed to reduce the space element in the body. Bending the middle finger and holding with the base of the thumb, gently apply pressure with the thumb, just below the knuckle. Practicing shunya mudra is thought to provide relief from a range of hearing and balance issues and it can be performed for 15 minutes up to 3 times a day.

Varun Mudra– by touching the tip of the thumb and little finger together, varun mudra, the water mudra, reduces dryness in the body particularly the skin.

Anjali Mudra – bringing the palms together at the heart center symbolizes honor and respect. Anjali means ‘to offer’ and this mudra is often performed at the beginning or end of an asana practice – it connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain and represents the yogic unity.

Try practicing some of these mudras and observe how you feel over time…





The Humming Bee!

Do you love nature? Do you love music? Do you like to meditate?

Yes, I do.

My new found love is this Bhramari pranayama, which calms my mind instantly and prepare me for meditation.

Bhramari means ‘the Goddess of bees’. In Bhramari pranayama the humming sound is produced during exhalation.

The father of modern science, Albert Einstein said – “Everything in life is vibration”. In fact, this pranayama has a soothing effect on the brain and calms the mind.


Sit in a comfortable cross legged pose, with spine erect.

  • Breathe normally and relax the body.
  • Keep your eyes and mouth closed.
  • You may choose to close your ears with your hands. Another variation is you can keep your hands in chin mudra, place on your thighs and keep your ears open.
  • Concentrate at the center of your forehead.
  • Take a slow deep inhalation and fill the lungs fully.
  • Then exhale slowly, making a continuous humming sound like the bee. Feel the vibrations in your head.
  • Repeat the process 5 times and come back to normal breathing.


  • Calms the mind, reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Helps to reduce anger.
  • Improves concentration and prepare you for meditation


  • Better do this pranayama in empty stomach.
  • Stop the practice if you feel dizzy.
  • Do not press the ear cartilage too hard.

Hum a happy tune for peace!