Yoga for Ultra Beginner

Towards the end of my YTT course, people around me, especially family and friends are getting excited and looking forward to have me in their yoga session. Even my mother-in-law reminded me that I must also be able to teach the elderly. This really gives me a *finger snap* moment in my head. During our very first Ultra Beginner Lesson planning, after observing other lesson plans prepared by my colleagues, I realised that my lesson plan may not be suitable for the elderly.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Getting yourself comfortable. Before start the practise, we may help the students to find their comfortable positions. Be aware of any physical conditions, injuries or medical conditions. If find difficulties sitting in Padmasana or Vajrasana, sit in simple crossed-leg, or whichever sitting position which is comfortable to them. If find troublesome to be on the ground, he/she may sit on a block, on firm cushion, or even on a chair. Come to a position where he/she can feel as though spine is lifted and sit up tall. When in table top position, you may also use towel to pad your knees.
  • Gentle deep breathing: Breathing exercise allow some time to calm ourselves down and establish concentration. With shoulder relax, focus on breathing, set a foundation and carving some time to explore body and breath. Allow breath flowing in and out within the body. Learn the right breathing technique.
  • Slow and gentle movement: While planning for a lesson, the main consideration should be the students capability, so that the lesson plan is able to help them. Simple body movements can be performed to warm up the body. It is not necessary to be intensive or to perfect the asanas. Introduce asanas with stability, preferably 3 to 4 limbs on the ground. As the practice has become regular, simple balancing pose with strength can be introduced. 
  • When conducting class, observe the students, be aware and practice with care! 

Why I sign up for YTTC 200h?

Prior this, I was initially planning to sign up for Yoga 200h when I reach 25 years old; 2 years later. The reason was I feel that I lacked experience because usually I attend yoga beginner classes in the gyms. I did not expect to take a big step to further my yoga practice.

Previously, I saw the requirements to other studios and usually requires or recommended to attend some yoga classes in the studio before attending the YTTC 2h. The mindset I had was I am not ready….

These are misconceptions I learnt after attending YTTC 200h:

1. You need to be flexible.
This is totally wrong. Flexible can be trained and developed by making adjustment and learning how to stretch the right muscles correctly to prevent injury. Definitely flexible cannot be achieved overnight, but with the right mindset and perseverance you will definitely improve!

2. You need to be practice at least 6 months.
Tirisula is a good place to learn even for beginners! The yoga instructors are friendly and give advices. Have a humble attitude and open mind to learn.

3. Yoga is religious.
Definitely this is so untrue! Yoga is practice by many religious. Yoga is not a religion. It is an ancient practice which has many health benefits. The asanas practice challenges me and purify the body. Kapalabahati is a good practice every morning to increase energy to start the day with positive energy.

4. Yoga is too expensive.
Yoga nowadays are accessible. Studios offering from $10/class via online streaming.YouTube is accessible to everyone and its FREE! There is no harm doing yoga at the comfort of your home but nothing beats practicing at the yoga studio with a yoga instructor correcting your posture!

5. Yoga is too slow.
I have one colleague who shared with me that she will never do yoga because its too slow for her. There are many variations of yoga classes. If you like heart pumping, maybe power yoga or flow yoga will be more suitable.

6. Older people cannot do yoga.
I have seen people who are in their 50s who are stronger than me! They can do inversions such as bakasana (crow pose) and sirsasana (headstand) effortlessly! Imagine your parent’s age doing things that are better than you. Never say it is too late to join yoga class.

720000 seconds

and that’s 200 hours..

I can’t believe that it’s nearing to the end of YTT! Where did all the time go?

Doing YTT on top of my regular job has proven to be quite a task because it absorbs a lot of my attention and energy.

But I love it! Even though it comes with many sacrifices, but life is always a balancing act right?

Now that this training is ending, I’m starting to reflect on my journey. Even though we only spend 20 days (ok, 18 so far because there are still 2 more days) in the studio, a lot of learning actually takes place outside of that for me. When I’m revising the content, reading up articles and books for my project research – there’s always constant learning and reflection.

Some takeaways or small things which i’ve learnt and managed to apply to my daily life:

1.Living in the present.

People always say you only live once, so you gotta live in the present. But how do you actually live in the present without worrying about the future or get hung up on the past? It’s easier said than done.

A few days ago, something happened at work which really made me feel very upset and kept me up. After awhile, I started to think to myself – why am I getting so angry? It’s bad for my health and I know that. Then I started to shift my perspective. I thought about the things I can do in the present, instead of worrying about what the outcome will be and if it will still be unfavorable to me. I choose to focus on what I have in the present moment and embrace what comes. Then, I found happiness again. Not too bad, right?

2. Withholding judgements

Well, I will admit, I have a tendency to judge. Who hasn’t been met with the occasional comment  – What’s with that shirt? Well I’ve had quite a few of these similar comments when I was younger and that snowballed into my sense of judgement forming. Of others, and myself.

But after going through this training course, I feel humbled. There are so many things that I do not know and have yet to master though I’ve spent months and hours in this topic. It led me to appreciate the people who are good at what they do, because they made the effort and discipline to learn and hone their craft.

It made me look at my hair dresser in a different way. As I watch her skillfully cut my hair, I wondered about the amount of time and effort she must have put in to be able to give her clients good haircuts. Instead of first judging her clothes, her hair, etc. I learnt to see her as a person.

When I let go of my judgements of others, I let go of my judgements of myself as well. I’m slightly more expressive than I was reserved. Because I realised, we’re all human afterall.

3. Yoga is much much more than just Asanas.

It’s not just about posing for nice pictures in challenging asanas on instagram. It’s a practice that encourages you to discover your inner self (not the self your ego defines you as) to eventually attain peace and happiness through various practices. Asanas are just one of them. There’s also pranayama, pratyhara and so on..

Atha yoga anushasanam. 

I know, this journey has only just begun.

Namaste.

Yoga Misconceptions

When people learn that you are practicing Yoga, regardless what level you are, probably you will run into variety of comments/questions. In my case, these are 5 common curious statements I always come across. As a Yoga enthusiast, every time I would try to respond at my best:

  1. “You must be so flexible to be able to practice Yoga! I can’t practice Yoga because I’m not that flexible.”

My Answer: My body is not that flexible neither. My hamstrings and hip flexors are tight and I still can’t go deep in my backbend. (I can go on and on… with the lists of my body inflexibility, but remember I should bring out only positivity, so I stopped it there…) If our bodies are not flexible, that gives us even more reasons to practice Yoga. It will improve mobility, posture, muscle coordination, reduce the risk of injuries and muscle soreness.

      2. “I’m too old to practice Yoga, it is only for young people!”

My Answer: I have met my Yoga classmates in their 50’s or 60’s who started practicing late in their age, but continue practicing regularly. Several times, they will leave everyone who’s in 20’s, 30’s in awe, as they can do headstand skilfully or touch their chest on the mat in Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) with such flexibility. It’s never too late to start making improvement in your flexibility or strength. There are different type and level of classes for you to explore as the beginner. Just start, regardless of your age, soon you will see benefits and progress!

      3. “Yoga is so way too slow exercise, it’s not challenging for me.”

My Answer: There are several yoga classes and types for you to choose based on your preference, not all yoga classes are slow. If you prefer more dynamic, you can try Power Yoga which is a vigorous, fitness-based approach to Vinyasa-style Yoga. It emphasizes on strength and flexibility. Or Ashtanga class that you can practicing advance postures in a fast-paced, this requires coordination and flexibility. It will surely raise your heart rate as cardiovascular exercises.

      4. “Yoga is only for slim people!”

My Answer:  ..Rolling my eyes before answering…I have seen many sizeable people, but able to bend, roll, twist, inversions (anything you can name of in yoga) much greater, deeper and stronger than slim persons. If you are bigger, doesn’t mean you are unhealthy or can’t be flexible. Yoga, just like some other sports and exercises, can’t be characteristics limited to a single body type.

      5. “Yoga is expensive!”

My Answer:  You need only 3 things in Yoga: 1. A mat (which you can find the basic one for less than $10) 2. Your body and 3. Your open heart & positive mind 🙂 You can do Yoga from anywhere. All you need is some free space, whether in your living room or park and you don’t even need expensive gear.

 

What have you heard and how did you respond? 🙂

Headstrong to perform Headstand!

Over the last 10 years, my on-the-mat experience has been on and off. There were years that I was not practicing at all and years that I frequently visited Yoga studios & practiced on my own. Headstand or Sirsasana is Asana that I always want to be able to do, but somehow it hasn’t happened.

When I signed up for this TTC, my goal was to gain greater knowledge and understanding in Yoga. Also, push myself further, physically and mentally. I didn’t have specific goal about headstand. On the first day of the class itself, we had to perform the pose with the wall support. I struggled to push my legs up as before, however, finally I were able to get my legs up against the wall for the first time in my life! Yes, I had a big smile on my face that day 🙂

Physical strength and preparation played important factor in this possible attempt. Several rounds of Ashtanga Surya Namaskara A, B and poses from Ashtanga series were included to prepare our body for Inversions. My body was exhausted, but turned out it was the greatest preparation. It helped built up a lot of my arms strength, without realizing the positive change.

However, what was more important than physical capability, it was my mentality or what I‘ve mentioned in my title, headstrong (not literally)! Without realizing, I probably came close to experiencing the true meaning of Yoga, which is not only physical exercise, but it is the union of Body, Mind and Soul.

Instead of avoiding this Asana further, I felt this was the right time and opportunity to practice and truly feel I could go a little bit further. (Tapas – Awaken our internal strengths and courage)

My ears were only focusing on the message from Yoga master. Followed his step-by-step instructions & technique, without worrying about my physical strength or entertaining my mind of how tough the pose is. I moved out of the body and out of the mind, then I understood the body and the mind (Nirodha – Disappearance of the mind on its own spontaneously)

I was totally focused and immersed in “how” to do the pose. It then excluded all other discouraging thoughts that I used to think before. (Dharana – Concentration of Mind)

My headstand journey is still going on. While trying to work on my arms and core strength to be able to perform Asana without wall support one day, I am still knowing my body and not pushing myself over the edge. (Ahimsa – Non violence, not physically harming others, ourselves or nature)

At least, I’m grateful to experience these steps & realization and positively able to adapt the essence of Yoga in my life, on & off the mat!

Inhale & Exhale.

Sometimes when I get angry and start ranting to my best friend, she’ll tell me “Just breathe”. Sometimes, I feel like her saying this makes me feel angrier. But lately I discovered that, there’s some truth to what she’s saying. Afterall, there is 1 limb dedicated to Pranayama in the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga..

What is Pranayama?

Prana means ‘life force’ and yama means ‘expansion’. It’s a series of deep breathing exercises that helps to regulate our breath.  Simply put, if there’s no breath, there’s no life. Breathing can happen involuntarily and voluntarily. When we practice pranayama, we’re consciously controlling and regulating our breath, our life force to take in more oxygen and removing toxins from our body. When we breathe consciously, we also bridge our mind and our body.  

Some benefits of Pranayama:

  1. Relaxation

When we’re angry, happy, sad, or stressed our breathing patterns are different. It is very much connected to our emotional states. Like in my case above, if I was upset, my breath would probably be shallow and fast. To combat this, sit in hero’s pose, and do a simple balancing pranayama like annuloma viloma.

 

  1. Helps improve concentration, relieves mood imbalances and stress

Ujjayi breath or victorious breathing is useful in this case. Whenever I’m practicing ashtanga yoga, I make use of ujjayi breathing to help myself be more focused. Because this breath has an ‘ocean’ sound to it, I find that it also helps take my mind off things by making my focus be on my breath.

 

  1. Reduces high blood pressure

Stress is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension, is also a pre-cursor to many other heart conditions. Our respiratory system is also closely related to our cardiovarscular system. Changes in breath rates can also contribute to changes in heart rate. When practicing breathing techniques, it also helps to lower our heart rate and thus stress, which may in turn help in alleviating hypertension. However, not all pranayama techniques are suitable for this particular syndrome. Hence before practicing different pranayama techniques, it is good to look out for contraindications and use appropriate modifications for your unique conditions.

One good pranayama to practice for people with high blood pressure is simply, Sukha Pranayama. When inhaling, belly should move out. When exhaling, belly should move inwards. This can be practiced for ratios 1:1 to 16:16. Note that as you begin increasing the ratio, you should also regulating your inhalation or exhalation such that you use the full 16 seconds to inhale or exhale.

Reflections on Yoga Sutras 1.1-1.2

I always knew yoga was more than what I’ve been doing in physical classes, but the philosophy side of it was a whole new world and it wasn’t necessarily shining or shimmering to me at first. I didn’t know what all the Sanskrit names meant and there were so many of them in the teachings.

Physical practice was still more interesting. In it, I break a sweat, do interesting poses, focus on my breath. It takes my mind off stress, worries and makes me be more present in the moment by instilling mindfulness. But after being assigned my project topic and doing more research on it, learning more about chakras, 8 limbs of ashtanga in classes, I found all the teachings revolving around yoga to very interesting and intriguing.

In one of the first few YTT classes, Patanjali, the Father of Yoga was quoted. To be frank, I didn’t know who’s Patanjali at that point in time (I just pretended to nod and know, haha).

Who is Patanjali?

From my brief google search though, there’s not much known to modern people about him. There are legends about his birth and how his teachings has spread[1]. But people most famously know him as the author of the Yoga Sutras which is the guide book of classical yoga.

But first, what are Sutras?

The word, Sūtra, means “string, thread” and it comes from the root word, siv – that which sews and holds things together. Thus Sūtra can be defined as any short rule, or a string of words woven together to form an aphorism (an observation which contains a general truth).

The very first sutra of Patanjali’s yoga sutras reads: atha yoga anushasanam.

Interpreted as: Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.

The interpretation of each word as follows (Because sutras are a string of words, it’s important to know what each word means):

atha = now, at this auspicious moment; implying the transition to this practice and pursuit, after prior preparation; implying a blessing at this moment of transition

yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join or to integrate; same as the absorption in samadhi

anu = within, or following tradition; implies being subsequent to something else, in this case, the prior preparation,

shasanam = instruction, discipline, training, teaching, exposition, explanation; Shas implies the imparting of teaching that happens along with discipline

My interpretation of this sutra, is that it is a warm blessed welcome and beginning to this practice. Once you have picked up the Yoga sutra book, or started to read it even, the practice has begun. “Atha” interpreted as “now”, where we are encouraged to be in the present. And in this present moment, we are going to unite all our prior experiences that has brought us to this point in our lives, with the methodical teachings of Yoga. 

The next sutra that follows is Yogash citta vrtti nirodha.

This sutra can be interpreted as: Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.

Simply put, Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind. 

yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join; same as the absorption in samadhi

chitta = of the consciousness of the mind-field

vritti = operations, activities, fluctuations, modifications, changes, or various forms of the mind field

nirodhah = control, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, understanding, stilling, quieting, setting aside of

The sutra briefly explains what Yoga is all about.

To me, it also very nicely sums up the reason why I practice yoga at all. Like I mentioned on top, practicing yoga helps me to be present in the moment, and not be distracted by all the thoughts in my head. I focus on my breath, how my body is moving and how it feels like, instead of living in my head and what I perceive. However, something I can further work on here is to to actively make my mind be still, work on being conscious and present, rather than let it happen passively in physical practice.

I think it’s quite amazing how these texts were written maybe thousands of years ago. Now we are here, learning and practicing these teachings to continually discover and improve ourselves. It makes me feel grateful to be able practice and learn the art of yoga that was passed down from many years before. 

[1] https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/who-was-patanjali

My Mind through Mantras

During my yoga practices, I’ve always enjoyed hearing teachers chanting “Om” or other Mantras. Chanting Om along with teacher, each exhalation I feel the sense of calmness, relaxation and peace. My perception of mantras is that it is a ritual of yoga practice, showing gratitude or devotion to Yoga masters or Gurus and a calming effect through sound. The same as music which I love and has been one of the sources for my relaxation and stress-relief.

Through this YTT, I’ve gained a better understanding of Mantras and how to benefit from them.

Man in Sanskrit means something you think about and Tra means repeat. So if we repeat something, being counting numbers, words, sentences or anything, our mind will consciously remind ourselves again and again. Mantras can be chanted aloud or silently. If we chant mantra internally, the “inner sound” becomes object of attention for our meditation.  Chanting aloud is given the sound vibration and energy waves to our body, brain and mind. The sound of the mantra becomes the focus of our attention.

Mantras have several benefits such as:

  • Relaxing mind and body: During chanting, our mind relieves the stress and our body automatically start to relax. Mind also releases positive energy that decreases negative thoughts or stress. It will help to enhance the brainwaves of meditation: alpha, theta and delta, as well as open the Chakras.
  • Improve attention, change mood and Increase concentration
  • Physical benefits:  Help to regulate and slow the heart rate. Lower blood pressure. Boost immunity.

Sounds, simple words and phrases do really have power to stop negativity, shift our mindset and invite change in our life…Pick your Mantras today!

Derive more meaning from each yoga class

Before starting this course, I always enjoyed yoga classes as a participant. Just an hour long lesson on a comfortable mat, soaking in the atmosphere of a studio and mood of a moment.

It was only when I had to plan for a class, give instructions and try to create an experience did I realize the amount of work that goes into each lesson. From sequencing of poses and transitions to ensure a balanced muscle activation to setting a theme and managing the energies in a class, learning about these considerations helped me appreciate the effort that goes into each and every class.

Here are a few points to take note of when going for a class:

  1. Pose counter pose à Ensure that muscles are both strengthened and stretched, not overly contracted or stretched. If the class did not incorporate it, feel free to do it on your own to maintain that balance.
  2. Warm ups and cool downs à Listen to your body and ensure that you are using your muscles consciously and progressively to prevent pulls/tears or cramps. If it feels right to do that one more sun salutation, go ahead!
  3. Personalize it! à Everyone’s body is different and there are some poses that might be more naturally accessible to others due to anatomical differences. Chart your own path and incorporate the purpose of each pose to your own body. Understanding the intention of each pose helps us personalize the experience

I hope these points can help you enjoy future yoga classes you attend better and derive more meaning from each lesson.

Doshas, Gunas & Food lah!

I’m a foodie who loves to eat tasty, pretty and variety of food. Not only eating, but I also enjoy cooking different types of cuisines. Before taking YTT, I always thought my food habits are quite healthy as I have dedicated 3 days a week as meat-free days. However, I’ve discovered that there is much more in food and eating when we learn about Doshas (3 different energies that present in a person’s physical, emotional and mental) and Gunas (3 types of food that affect body and mind)

From a quiz result, I’m a Pitta-Kapha Doshas combination. I have contrasting qualities of heat and cold. My predominantly Pitta derives from the elements of Fire and Water which possess qualities of heat, intensity and lightness, whereas my Kapha derives from the elements of Earth and Water, thus the qualities are cold, heavy, slow, smooth and soft. Thus, my food should be a mix of both heating and cooling, drying and light. Below are examples of my Pitta-Kapha food recommendation.

Best   Avoid / Minimize
General   Warm, cooked food

  Bitter and astringent tastes

!    Too hot or too cold food

   Sweet, sour and pungent taste

Vegetables    More cooked and less raw

  Cooling properties such as zucchini, squash, gourds

   Chilies, radish, eggplant, green bell peppers
Grains   Quinoa, barley, whole wheat, oats with bran    White sticky rice, brown rice
Fruits   Neither very sweet or sour such as apples, pears, blueberries, cherries     Too sour and too sweet such as mango, papaya, pineapple, orange, lime, kiwi
Protein   Egg whites, suitable meats, moong beans and milk or milk substitutes like almond milk or soy milk     Beef, duck, turkey, pork, chicken and seafood
Dairy   Raw or organic milk !     Cheese, cream, yoghurt, sour cream
Nuts & Seeds   Light and dry seeds such as pumpkin seed and sunflower seeds     Most nuts which are heavy, oily and slightly warm aggravate Pitta and Kapha such as brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, walnuts
Oils   Use in small amounts

  soy & olive oils

    Canola, avocado, sesame, flaxseed
Beverages   Room temperature or warm !    Ice cold, alcohol, black tea, coffee


Basically for my Doshas, the type of Gunas I should embrace are clearly Sattvic foods. The foods that promotes purity, energy, health and joy. It should be fresh and natural as possible. Examples of Sattvic foods are fresh vegetable (no onion & garlic), fruits, milk, herbal tea, grains & nuts, mung beans and honey. While Rajasic or tamasic food like animal proteins, fried food, processed foods refined sugar, stimulants like caffeine, hot & spicy food should be avoided.

Keep these in mind while attempting to balance my Doshas, I now know I shall think twice or thrice before making my favorite hot and spicy Tom Yum soup or mango sticky rice or indulge in cheese platter with wine!!!