Benefits (and overcoming the fear) of Inversions

A few weeks ago, I finally had to face the moment I feared, head on (literally) –  having to do a head stand. Maybe it was a good thing that I was the first one in the class to try it, because that gave me no time to feel scared and chicken out. But another major factor was that I know that with Master Sree, we were in good hands.

There is definitely still alot of practice and room for improvement before I can nail my first supported head stand (against the wall). I realise that fear has alot to play in the pace of improvement. When I am upside down, the fear of losing balance tends to flood my consciousness, such that my brain is unable to effectively tell my elbows to push inwards, my neck to stay strong and my belly muscles to suck it in.

Perhaps for now, to encourage myself (and anyone else out there who is overcoming the fear of inversions) to do more inversions, I would like to share some of the benefits of yoga inversions.

An inversion is when the heart is placed higher than the head. Adho Mukha Svanasana and Prasarita Padottanasana can be considered as semi-inverted poses, where the feets are not off the ground. The main inverted poses consist of – just to name a few – Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), halasana (plough pose), sirsasana (headstand) and handstand.  

Physical benefits

Inversions stimulate the immunity system. In an inverted position, lymph moves to the key areas of the body eg. lungs more efficiently, thereby improving the elimination of toxins from the body.

Further, inversions can strengthen the abdominal and core muscles, which are key to maintaining a good posture. As Master Paalu said, in a headstand, you are also working the muscles in the upper body such as the deltoids, neck muscles and trapezius.

Inversions can also help to relieve spinal pain, as it counteracts the pressure on the spine in an upright position.

As being in an inversion defies gravity, it supposedly helps to slow down ageing (eg. less sagging of facial features).

Psychological benefits

Inversions allow an increased flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, which invigorates the brain and improves mental clarity and focus. Inversions also help to calm your mind and nervous system, and is a good way of relieving anxiety.

In addition, inversions can help us to look at things from a different angle –  literally and figuratively! Perhaps the next time you get stuck with a difficult problem at work, try doing a headstand in an empty meeting room!

Another benefit of inversion, which I really hope to achieve, is the increase in confidence and patience, which can be applied to our daily life. To accomplish a challenging pose such as an inversion, loads of practice (and failing) are involved. By not giving in, we are training our minds to be more resilient. When we finally get into a pose, we feel confident of trusting our hard work and the process.

Spiritual benefits

Inversions guide the energy of the pelvis towards the heart, enabling inner growth and self-exploration.

To close out this post, here are some important points to note in practising inversions:

  • Besides being physically ready (in terms of strength), it is key to learn the correct alignment for each pose, to avoid injuries especially to the neck.
  • It may be beneficial to practise how to “fall out” of an inversion, in order to be less fearful and also reduce the chances of injuries.
  • As Master Sree advised, an inversion should always be succeeded by balasana (child pose), to allow the blood flow and therefore, heart rate and breath, to return to normal.
  • To all ladies, it is recommended to avoid inversions during a menstrual period, as the reversed blood flow opposes the body’s urge to release stale blood and endometrial lining.
  • Last but not least, always listen to your body. Be kind and be patient with your body!

With that, lets work hard towards nailing our headstands! Feel the fear, and do it anyway!

 

References:

https://www.juruyoga.com/popular-yoga-inversions-and-their-benefits/

https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/strike-a-royal-pose

https://www.yogapedia.com/10-benefits-of-inversions/2/9632

The Beginning of a Union

“I don’t even like Yoga!”

This is my response if you asked me to comment about Yoga before July 2019.  Reason being all along, I have taken Yoga classes in community centres and I always find the pace too slow for me.  I prefer something more robust like Cardio boxing or Zumba.  So taking up YTT course will be the last thing on my to do list.  But the Universe always have something in plan for you regardless of whether you like it or not or shall I say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

One fine day on the first week of July 2019, I woke up having this mentality of wanting to try out Yoga. This is very strange as I have no connection with Yoga in any areas of my life and neither do any of my close friends do Yoga.  Nevertheless, I go with the flow, did my research, compared the studio prices/location/timing and finally had my 2 best choices; which one of it is Tirisula – of course!

First, I tried out this Yoga X studio and my first lesson was disappointing because the trainer mainly go through the movements and was even using her hand-phone during class! Luckily for me, from the 2nd lessons onward, I started to enjoy the Yoga classes, mainly because of the trainer who corrected my alignment and explain clearly which muscles to focus on during the different asanas . At that moment, I understand how important it is for a good trainer to impart Yoga skills/knowledge to others especially newbies – it’s either you lead them towards the path or destroy the path for them – I was almost on the verge of “giving Yoga a bad name” after my first lesson! There and then, I was in a dilemma whether to continue classes with this studio and hence taking up the YTT course with them or to try out Tirisula.

After some thoughts and “CSI” work, I finally made my move and took up the classes at Tirisula and everything is history!  The incense’s smell as you walked up the stairs to the main door with the studio set up looks very zen and calming – it’s like “coming home” for me although it is my first time there.  The friendly trainers who generously teaches you and correct your alignment are a gem!  Initially I just wanted to attend class for this year before signing up for the YTT in 2020 because the last available weekend YTT course is in September and I already have holidays planned and do not wished to skip any lessons.

However ….
While I was casually browsing through the course dates, I was surprised that there were no classes during my planned holidays and my heart skipped a beat.
Is that a sign?
Is that really what I am supposed to do?

And so, I took that as a clear sign to me, and sign up for YTT course.

Days leading up to the YTT course were filled with “why am I doing this”, “what if I fail?”, “I can’t even do this and this posture”, “how would my course mates be?”, etc.  I read up all the blog post from YTT seniors and the more I read, the more worried I am .. 3 mins of head stand to pass the exam?!  OMG!  I can’t even ……. Yet at some point, I am actually looking forward to it and wondering where will it leads me to.

If you ask me what is the main purpose of me taking up this YTT course, my answer will is simply because I want to do the asanas correctly with the right alignment. I guess, being OCD in this aspect is positive and instead of depending on the trainer in class to correct my posture as and when he is available (he needs to attend to other people too!), I would rather learn it myself.

And the golden question – am I going to teach after the YTT course?
For me, if it happens, it happen – trust the process; just like how Yoga “found’ me!

**

I remembered the first time I stepped into a Yoga studio and I felt so intimidated.  The students all looked so steady and were in nice workout wear while I was wearing a frumpy T-shirt and leggings. And I signed up for the Ashtanga Primary Series class (at my 3rd class – so smart right)  not knowing this is for the advanced students and it’s a culture shock for me.  Everyone was moving in syn, while I was busy looking at the girl beside me and copying whatever she is doing.  Whatever she did, I can only do 40% and I was already perspiring like mad.  At the end of the class, I almost have to crawl out – no joke!  Thereafter, that is the last of me in that class.

I am just glad I did not give up Yoga.

After 3 months of Yoga, I feel more grounded and I think it helps me with my anxiety – at times, I wonder why am I not getting angry over a particular issue when in the past, I would have flared up already.

Yoga (life) is great and I am a true convert now!

21092019 Weekend YTT
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Shirley

Stupendous Sangha!

When we embark upon something new where unknown people are involved, whether that be a new job, a new hobby or moving to a new country perhaps, for some it can seem daunting and for others it is all about excitement of what is to come. Some people can walk into a room and talk to anybody seemingly without any fear. I have a friend who when she goes anywhere she collects friends. Her personality is such that no matter what situation she is put into she finds lots of interesting people to interact with and sometimes these people become lifelong friends. These are people she may never have met unless she had taken that first step into the unknown. For others they may need to seek safety when they enter a filled room as they do not feel the confidence to mingle and network with lots of people. They may pick one person that they connect with and spend most of their time just getting to know that one person – that person too however could become a lifelong friend. So neither person is right or wrong in their behaviour – both of these scenarios have benefits. However, when you put yourself into a situation where you are with the same people every day for four weeks going through the same aches and pains, the same emotional ups and downs, and the same anxieties and triumphs, you are forced to learn not only about yourself but about each other. There is a common bond that links you. You are all there for the same reason. You may have different end games but the current aim is the same. You are all in the same boat together and in order to get across the river you must learn to row the boat together in a way that will get you to the other side safely. Sometimes someone may be stronger at rowing, and another may be better at navigating and there may be the need to have someone entertain you to keep your spirits up on the journey. What there is between you is a shared purpose so naturally you start working together and supporting each other to achieve the end result. Two of the definitions of Sangha are ‘community‘ and ‘a group of like-minded people, usually walking the same spiritual path’. I feel blessed to have been a member of my YTT Sangha. The love and support that I have felt from you all has been incredible. It always amazes me how you can put a group of people into a room and they can all seem so different to start with but as we get to know each other we see that we are essentially all the same. We are all human, we all have our strengths and our flaws, and we all have our worries and our hopes. What I have learnt about my Sangha particularly is that we are all caring and supportive individuals and I feel so grateful to have shared this time with you all. We have had an experience together that I will remember for ever. Thank you to my Sangha – you are stupendous!

Where is the East?

So I ask myself.. is part of our yoga journey learning what physically we can and cannot do or are we supposed to believe that if we continue with our yoga practice that we will one day be able to accomplish those asanas that we think we are incapable of? There are certainly limitations to my body in its current form. After years of sitting at a desk my shoulders and upper back muscles are incredibly tight and my lower back and core are weaker than I would like. This probably started when I was young closing myself off from others by rounding my shoulders. I also think it can have something to do with growing up in cold climate where to keep warm we are constantly hugging our arms close together. In the last 3 weeks there has been a physical change in my body. Slowly my collarbone is more pronounced, my shoulders are moving backward and I am standing taller than before. I’m a long way off but I hope with regular practice and heart opening poses I will turn around this constant pain that I suffer each day. What I am learning is that though there are potentially limitations to what I will be able to achieve physically in the long run because of my physical form, this does not mean I will not be a great yoga practitioner. By understanding the limitations of my body, it helps me to understand others. I understand that it may not be so easy for everyone to sit cross legged on a mat with their back straight. This actually was something that it took me years to achieve and I still have to work hard at it now. How taking 5 long breaths in downward dog is actually not for a beginner if it is practiced properly… and guess what… touching the floor in a forward bend is not actually a measure of being good at yoga! So often when I have been to a yoga class in the past I have looked at the ‘bendy’ people and wished that was me. Hoping that one day I will be able to do a headstand or a handstand effortlessly. Teachers told me it was just fear that was stopping me but actually my physical form had something to do with it too! If we just think that those that can do all the asanas are good at yoga, where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave the beginner? Or the person that doesn’t have the time to practice regularly because they have a busy work schedule or a family to tend to. Does it leave them looking enviously at Instagram at the so called beautiful people in bikinis posing on cliff top in a luxury destination? All that this can bring is self doubt and lack of confidence and wishing away the wonderful lives that we have been given. This in itself is against yoga philosophy. We are told we must practice ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness) and this means to ourselves as well as others. We do not know how long we will have in this life and to practice yoga is to practice gratitude for all that we have been given in good times and in bad. It is about the journey we are on in this life and how we choose to live it. We were asked the question in our YTT – where does the sun rise? The east we answered. No, we were told, the sun does not rise in the east, where the sun rises IS the east. When I told my husband this he said to me… that is because the east is not a place, the east is a direction. I know yoga is showing me my direction and it seems I am heading on my way without a map but I am starting to trust that my internal compass will lead me where I am supposed to go.

Learning to Swim!

So ‘why are we here’ is something that we have been exploring in our YTT and we have all been looking inward to identify our personal qualities. This has been an experience that has been both emotional and enlightening for me. I have for many years spent time looking inward to try and understand why I experience the feelings that I have and also why my life has taken me on the path that I have walked to date. My samsaras and samskaras – the impressions from my past and from my current life – have influenced me, but the question is whether I choose to repeat past negative behaviour going forward or whether I choose to live my life free of the previous stresses and strains I have experienced. To live in the present is in some way impossible as everything is moving and changing constantly so that as soon as we are in the present this moment in time is already the past. It seems to me that the question is how we deal with the ever-changing cycle of life. ‘Living in the present’ to me means living in what I would call the ‘flow of life’. Riding the waves rather than being concerned we will drown. If we are weak swimmers, we are always worried that a big wave will come and knock us over or cover us in water so that we cannot breathe, but the stronger we get at swimming the more confident we are that we can swim through or stay above the waves. If we grow further in confidence and master the art of balancing well, we may even learn to surf and use the waves for enjoyment. Yoga teaches us that we can be contented and balanced through the ups and downs of everyday life. By focusing on ourselves and our wellbeing and by practicing self-care we can be available to give to others around us. We have a duty to nature and also to those family members and friends who are sadly no longer with us to live our lives to the full in the most positive way we can. This brings me to a quote that has so far resonated with me very deeply during my YTT: “It’s not how long we live, but how alive we are before we die – Master Sree, 11-9-19”. On that note I think I’ll get on with learning to surf!

Thank you

Thank you Tirisula Yoga for existing and providing a safe space for us to grow ourselves physically and mentally (still need more work on spiritually). Being a second home for the past months, getting so used to locating the red door that opens to the smell of incense upon walking up the stairs, soft and comfortable carpets and cushions, the whirring sound from the metal fan and the one and only precious toilet for our BRBs (bathroom breaks).

Thank you Master Paalu and Sree for sharing your knowledge, experience and honesty. I, too, hope to inspire others like how you have inspired me us. Yes, the journey and learning has only just begun, exciting and interesting future lies ahead! Who knows what’s there to come.

Thank you my fellow course mates for the support and making this journey enjoyable. Let’s keep in contact! We’ll all do great for our assessment tomorrow 🙂 Fighting!!

Thank you myself for making the choice to embark on this journey, balancing with work and family. Pleasantly surprised that my body held up and not falling ill since July 2019. Also, pat on the back that I did not take as much Grab as I thought I would, taking 60-70 minutes journey from the west to the east and back each weekend. I guess the body knows when you are doing what you enjoy.

What kind of yoga teacher do you want to be?

I was asked by Master Paalu during our first teaching practice.

I couldn’t give a definite answer. This question ever crossed my mind but I didn’t have an answer yet. At my finger tips, I knew what type of yoga teacher I preferred, someone who

  • gives clear instructions
  • synchornises breathing with postures
  • gives encouragement
  • pushes us to break my mental & physical limit (without breaking the body)
  • provides adjustments
  • inserts a bit of fun

So for a start, who do I want to be?

I’m still searching. Are you?

 

 

Practising with Injuries

Having to do sports (competitive Badminton, Swimming, Tennis etc.) for most of my life, I’m fortunate that I have not suffered any major sports injuries. Besides the mystical elbow pain (undiagnosable) or suspected chondromalacia that caused me to limp for a few days. It is really hard to know or feel how does one practice with injuries.

Fortunate or unfortunate, I got a taste of it. Sustaining a strained left hamstring before the 5th YTT course day. Though I have no idea how and when did I get it. What I know for sure was that it was definitely not in my favour as YTT was still focusing on physically practice, training up strength, endurance & flexibility.

The strained hamstring affected how deep I could go into my forward bends and splits. Still recall that it was quite bad that during a practice I previously could do a full front split but even in a half split my leg was shaking uncontrollably. “Time to back off” says my body. It truly felt like taking baby steps again.

It got me thinking how I could modify to go into the posture or turning back time recalling how did I progress to where I am today. Lesser ego, more patience and love for my body was all it took. 

This reminded me to also show the same patience and love when I teach. Be mindful of any injuries that anyone may arrive with on the mat. Remember to ask “anyone has any injuries or medical conditions?” at the start of the class!

Did I find Tirisula or did it find me?

So this week I have completed my first week of yoga teacher training at Tirisula and there have been many thoughts and feelings in the last days, and indeed last months since I first considered and subsequently chose to do this course. 

To start – why Tirisula?  Well it is close to where I live, the cost was good, I knew someone who had already done the course some years earlier and there was an internet article that noted ‘this is the place to get serious about yoga’.  Though these practical facts pointed in what seemed to be the right direction, I also know myself well enough to know that if I hadn’t had a good feeling about Tirisula – been sure in fact – that I would not have gone down this path.  I made sure I did classes with Master Sree and James  and the energy felt very comfortable to me.  I can’t say my core felt quite as comfortable the mornings after those classes though! 

I did a lot of research on which school in Singapore to study at. There were many that did not do the 4 week intensive training which I required because of my current lifestyle which requires me to travel regularly back to the UK.  I looked at reviews of all studios and found good reviews and, as with any online search, a few reviews that were not so good, but as I looked at all these studios I kept coming back to Tirisula.  The fact that it was one stop on MRT was of course wonderful for me but I knew it was not a justifiable reason for choosing Tirisula.  When my friend said that she had studied here but also studied at another more commercial school that in some ways suited better, this perhaps could have been something that dissuaded me from joining.  The timing fitted in with my schedule… but was this really a good reason?  In fact there was another studio that also fitted in with my schedule.  I was searching and searching for reasons for and against each school and Tirisula kept coming up. 

I then started looking into the practicalities of teaching in the UK after having studied in Singapore and was brought to the attention of Yoga Alliance US.  Internet articles pushed that in order to teach I should be considering  a Yoga Alliance US registered school.  Tirisula was aligned to World Yoga Alliance and not Yoga Alliance US and I was not sure why this was – I knew it had been previously when my friend studied here.  Looking at linked studios to WYA, there did not seem so many studios, particularly in the UK, that were associated with them….. but I could not escape the feeling that there seemed something more authentic about WYA and Tirisula.  My online investigation brought me to Yoga Alliance Professionals – this is the UK body for yoga.  I started reading some things about Yoga Alliance US that led me to believe that Yoga Alliance Professionals had higher standards than the US based organisation but it too talked about the necessity of studying with a preferred school.  Their website gave the option to contact them with the details of the school where you wish to study and that they would assess the course and let you know that if you studied there whether you would be able to register with them.  This was essential for me as I was hoping to use yoga practice in my future career in the UK.  Yoga Alliance Professionals came back very quickly to say that Tirisula’s YTT was approved by them.  So decision made… Tirisula it was. 

It was not as if I did not look at every single angle as to whether I should study here.  What happened in the end was that the first place that I had found, that was near me, that without my knowledge happened to be the place that one of only two friends I have in Singapore studied, that suited my lifestyle and my future career, was Tirisula. 

The lifestyle I have of regularly returning to the UK is because I have an elderly dog who cannot travel to Singapore.  She is a rescue dog that has been with me for over 12 years.  She has over these years changed my life in more ways than anyone could imagine.  It is said that you do not find a dog, a dog finds you.  She definitely found me.  Now I ask myself the same question about Tirisula.  Did I find Tirisula or did Tirisula find me?  What I know for sure is that yoga has certainly truly found me and like my dog has changed my life and I look forward to seeing where it take me next!

Sadhana

Time flies! 2 more weekend to go and I will be completing my YTT course. It has really been a fruitful journey as this course has exceeded my learning expectation.

One sanskrit word I have learnt during this course is Sadhana which means Continuous Practice. You can set yourself every day to do a meditation or to perform asana practice like surya namaskar (sun salutations). What you need is commitment and discipline. Be it 10 or 15 minutes, you just have to do it every single day without giving excuses.

I have set a goal for myself to start my daily routine to do kapalabhati breathing and follow by 3 poses. My intention is to build my core strength and strike a balance within my body & mind.

Yoga spirit will go on!