Yoga for Scoliosis

Yoga for Scoliosis

Scoliosis refers to the sideways, or lateral, curvature of the spine.  When I was 10, I found out that I had mild lumbar scoliosis, i.e. a slight curvature in my lumbar spine.  As the curvature remained under 5 degrees, I did not have to undergo surgery or any other form of treatment.  The scoliosis does not cause any pain (for now, at least), but it has resulted in some asymmetries in my stance.  So I hope to use yoga to reduce this curvature, or at least prevent it from worsening as I grow older.   

(1) Bend towards convex side of curve

In a class with Master Paalu, I learned how I could modify certain positions to straighten up the curve in my spine.   Generally, I should try to bend towards the convex side of the curve (which is my left side) as much as possible. So in poses like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) or Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), I can modify my alignment by twisting towards my left side instead of facing forward.  Similarly, Balasana (Child’s Pose) can be modified by moving my arms toward my left side, keeping the arms shoulder-width apart.

I can also incorporate more twisting asanas in my practice. These may include Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Half lord of the fishes pose),  Bharadvajasana and Marichyasana.  While I should practice these asanas on both sides, I should spend more time twisting to my left side.  It is important to lengthen the spine before twisting into these poses.

Side-bending poses like reverse warrior may also be useful for lengthening the spine.  More time should be spent bending to the convex side of the curve.

(2) Maintain proper posture and place equal weight on legs

Master Sree has constantly emphasised the importance of proper posture, whether we are sitting or standing.  To keep the spine straight and healthy, we should maintain an upright posture and avoid slouching or hunching the spine.  This is particularly important for people with scoliosis, since we have the tendency to slouch to one side.  We need to always remember to place equal weight on both feet and remain aware of any imbalances in our posture.

(3) Strengthen abdominal muscles

If the abdominal muscles are weak, the back muscles overwork and thus tighten. This may cause lordosis or worsen the scoliotic curve in the lower back.  Therefore, it is important to practice asanas that strengthen the abdominal muscles. 

(4) Strengthen musculature on convex side

A study has shown that regular practice of a modified Vasisthasana (side plank) pose with the con­vex side of the lumbar curve down can reduce the scoliotic curve. The modification was to hold the upper ribs about a half-inch higher than in the classic pose.  The researchers hypothesized that the poses may help straighten the spine by strengthening the musculature in the abdomen, spine and lower back on the convex side of the curve.

In essence, regular practice of carefully selected and modified asanas will help to reduce the scoliotic curve.   The key principle is simple: strengthen the muscles on the convex side and lengthen the muscles on the concave side.   While yoga may not bring about instant results like surgery, it is definitely the safer treatment option and is ideal for people with mild scoliosis.

The Yoga Journey

I used to run during my university days and to push myself further, I continued pushing myself to run longer, faster. After some time, I realize that I am not improving and that my training is stagnant. Thus, I decide to change direction and look for something less cardio intensive that targets different muscle groups. I chanced upon a really good trial offer for one month of unlimited practice at a Bikram Yoga studio. Maybe it also helped that I started my practice in winter. I looked forward to rushing to a heated room and sweating it out.  Half way between the standing and seated practice, there is one Savasana (corpse pose) where we are instructed to empty our mind and just focus on our breathing. I remember the teacher saying that ironically, this is the hardest pose because often time, during this pose, most people will either be thinking about their checklists or doze off. We struggle with letting go, our thoughts, our ego and our body. Something clicked inside me.

Day in, day out. That was how I started having a consistent yoga practice until I came back to Singapore and got caught up with everything else. Still, my mind constantly returned back to the time I was practicing consistently. I remember feeling different and more grounded. I remember telling myself, I need to find that feeling back and I want to share the positive energy that it has given me.

Fast forward to now, as what the teacher mentioned, “Yoga finds you. Even if you are not looking for it.” I am nearing the end of YTT, a course which I did not know what to expect and also a course, which I told myself, I will only enrol in after 5 years of consistent practice – when I have mastered my fundamental poses and when I have found stability in my work.

I am no where near 5 years of consistent practice nor can I do a proper chaturanga, crow pose, headstand. Are these the pre-requisites for this course? No.

Instead of focusing so much on the outcomes (e.g. ability to do fancy poses, to teach yoga), all that is needed is just taking the first step out. Breathe into the spaces that are tensed. Be ready to explore and understand your body, mind and soul. When your body is ready for more, it will be yours. Our practice is always with us, wherever we go.

For now, find joy in the learnings and teachings.

Food for thought

The nutrition is directly linked to the performance of asanas and our lifestyle in general. The yogi diet is based on Ayurvedic teachings. Some products are strictly forbidden by them, others are consumed in small quantities and in a certain period of time, and third yogis eat constantly. Three types of food in yoga According to Ayurveda, even the best and cleanest foods are not always healthy. So, there is food that should be consumed only in winter or summer. Some foods should be eaten in the morning, because they excite and give energy, others in the evening, as they calm and set you up for a long sleep. Yoga  divides all food into three types:

       Sattva, which means “purity.” This includes all fresh vegetarian food. Mostly seeds and sprouted grains, fruits, wheat, butter, milk and honey.

      Rajas is a food that excites the body. It is better not to use products from this category or to reduce their amount in the diet to a minimum. This includes citrus fruits, tea and coffee, as well as spices, fish, seafood, eggs, alcohol, soda, garlic and onions.

     Tamas is a rough and heavy meal. It is difficult to absorb by the body. It does more harm than good. Relaxes, after eating it makes you want to sleep. These are root vegetables, red meat (beef and pork), all canned foods, mushrooms, food with a heavy taste (roach, etc.). This includes frozen food and one that has been stored for some time. These are also considered dishes that are reheated, alcohol and food that has been cooked in a restaurant or store.

 Doing yoga, you will feel what products you will not need. Changes in the body will occur harmoniously and in accordance with the needs of your body. The gradual process of rebuilding the habits of the body is very important.

Many (and not only in yoga) make the same mistake: they abruptly begin to change their diet (completely abandon meat, fish, eggs, switch to the most sophisticated diets, such as raw food diet, etc.). With this development of events, in a few months you will face a series of ailments, such as colds, exacerbation of all previously existing sores, and digestive upset. And then it could be worse. Naturally, there can be no question of doing yoga.

Beware of this mistake!

  • never abruptly change your lifestyle, especially in nutrition, non-compliance with this rule leads to big trouble;
  • a complete rejection of meat food does not always bring positive results. If you abandoned the meat, you need to replace it with another animal protein: milk and dairy products, eggs, fish;
  • in your diet should always be present in large quantities vegetables and fruits;
  • food should always be fresh and harmoniously selected.

It must be remembered that the body will never tolerate abuse of itself both in the diet and in the mode of activity. And with the right approach to yoga, you become as independent as possible from environmental conditions, feeling great in any situation, with any set of food products.

 

Yoga or Pilates?

For many people , Yoga and Pilates look very similar – there are no power or cardio loads, exercises are performed slowly and consciously , with calm music. Pilates and yoga are wellness systems that include exercises to develop flexibility, endurance, and concentration. Regular exercises tidy up the body, allow you to find harmony with yourself. In this, both areas of fitness are similar.

But, having examined   these   practice closely, we  can find a lot of differences between them

    What is yoga?

     Yoga is the ancient Indian system of human self-development, which originated long before our era. This is a spiritual tradition, experience and wisdom of many generations that millions of people around the world have followed to this day.

Translated from Sanskrit, yoga means “union, communication, harmony.” Those. the unity of the physical and mental state of a person, the harmony of health and spiritual beauty. The purpose of classes is to achieve and maintain this unity.

It is impossible to imagine yoga without performing various asanas (static postures) that help improve the body. But physical practice is only part of the philosophy of yoga, one of the tools for working on consciousness. It also includes:

  • rules of personal and social behavior;
  • breathing exercises;
  • meditation
  • singing mantras;
  • body cleansing;
  • concentration of attention;
  • desire for complete control over the senses.

Therefore, yoga is a way of life aimed at achieving a balance of physical and psychological health, and not just a set of static exercises that develop flexibility and endurance.

What is pilates?

   Pilates is a system of healing the body, based on the dynamic performance of exercises that are performed in a specific technique and sequence. Their goal is to develop flexibility, improve the condition of joints and spine, posture and coordination of movements.

Pilates, unlike yoga, is a young trend in fitness. The German trainer Joseph Pilates developed gymnastic exercises for the rehabilitation of patients suffering from diseases of the musculature system at the beginning of the 20th century.

6 fundamental differences between Pilates and Yoga.

  • Yoga is the oldest system of self-development, philosophy, lifestyle. Pilates is a relatively young wellness system for the body, one of the types of fitness.
  • Pilates training is aimed at creating a healthy body, practicing yoga – at achieving harmony of the body, spirit and mind.
  • Many exercises and asanas are similar, but have a significant difference in technique. If in classical yoga you need to enter a pose and fix it for a long time (static load), then in Pilates the main thing is movement. All exercises are dynamic, repeated several times. Important consistent articulation of the spine and body muscles when entering and exiting the position.
  • Pilates breathing control helps to concentrate on doing the exercise and working muscles. Ancient practice provides breathing, as one of the steps to self-improvement (pranayama).
  • In Pilates, the muscles of the back and cortex are mainly worked out, in yoga – all muscle groups.
  • In classical hatha yoga additional equipment is not used. In Pilates classes  fitball, rings, rollers are actively used.

In my opinion, you should try both this practice and chose which is most suitable for you. However, if  you want to get a little more than just a beautiful and healthy body, then you may want choose yoga. After all, ancient practice is also aimed at working with the mind, includes methods of spiritual development and self-improvement. Practice will show what is right for you.

Kakasana: Principles on the mat and beyond.

While Kakasana (Crow Pose) comes easily to some people, it has always felt like an impossible pose for me.  I have lost count of the number of times I came crashing down onto the mat trying to get into this pose over the past few years. 

To my surprise, I finally managed to do it (for the first time!) during the first week of YTT, albeit for just a few seconds.  Here are some tips which helped me get into it – equally applicable on the mat and in life.  Hopefully, this will be helpful to those still struggling with this asana.

First, build a firm foundation.   Starting in Malasana, bend forward and press your hands flat onto the ground.  When I started out, I used to place too much weight on my wrists, overstraining them as a result.  To avoid this problem, we will need to spread our fingers wide and press our fingertips and the palms firmly into the mat.   This will spread the weight evenly through the hand, and remove pressure from the wrists.  Next, we will need to engage our core and squeeze our elbows closer together.  I used to think this arm balance pose was all about arm strength, but it is in fact mostly our core muscles that will be holding us up.  Without this firm foundation, we will never be able to rise.

Second, stop finding excuses.   To justify my constant failures to myself, I used to think to myself: I will never get this pose because my butt is just too fat.  Besides, my wrist is too weak to support the massive weight of my hips.  To be fair, I injured my left wrist when I fell from a pole and landed on my left hand 3 years ago – but I had long since recovered from this injury so this wasn’t exactly a good excuse.  According to Patanjali, one of the nine obstacles to sadhana (disciplined and dedicated practice) is Samshaya or doubt.  This can happen when our minds start clouding over with doubt about our own capabilities. Unless we push this doubt out of minds, we will never be able to progress.  But of course, if we have existing injuries or ailments, particularly hip or wrist injuries, it would be better to leave this pose out of our practice.

Third, focus your eyes straight ahead, and never look down (or that’s where you’ll end up).  This last tip was the most pivotal in helping me take flight into Crow.  As I was struggling to get into the pose, Master Sree placed a block in front of me, and told me to look straight ahead and focus on the block.  I looked up from the ground and focused ahead – and for the first time in my life, I lifted into Kakasana.   

Meditation.Self Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How yoga relieved my knee injury

Don’t laugh, its true!

I have been having this painful knee for the past two years, wearing a protection whenever I was working out. I haven’t really been able to cure it because I really like high stamina sports… tennis, kickboxing, running, bootcamp… name it! I basically try a new sport every other month.

But what I discovered since the start of YTT200 – mostly because I exclusively practice yoga – my knee pain is GONE !

I think its due to several things

  • limiting the impacts – but hey, you still jump in your vinyasa, don’t you?
  • Better pranayamas – it helps the overall circulation in the body

I am now questioning if all these sports that I am so found of are doing more harm than good… I guess I will need to try after the YTT200 – if the pain is back, I will limit them

Yoga and Vegan Diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Three Gunas and Food

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

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

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

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

(2) Santosha

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

(3) Ahimsa

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

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

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

Veganism applies to ahimsa in several ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga and menstruation: should I or shouldn’t?

Is it possible to do yoga with menstruation?What to do if you decide to actively start learning yoga? Does every month have to lose a week of precious time? Not at all. Moreover, yoga during menstruation is not only not harmful, but also beneficial. Of course, subject to some precautions and the right choice of asanas.

There are top poses, which should be avoided while you on your ‘’special days’’

Sarvangasana. Should be  excluded from yoga during menstruation. All inverted poses are equally harmful during this period. They delay bleeding. As a result, excess fluid is not excreted from the body, and can cause the formation of fibromas, cysts, and even malignant tumors. Also prohibited: halasana, shirshasana, adho mukha vrishkasana;

Navasana. During menstruation, you should not  do any asanas engage your core muscle . And this is almost all power poses. So, first of all, exclude exercises on the abdominal muscles and balances on the hands. During such asanas, bleeding and pain may intensify. Also prohibited: bakasana, lolasana, mayurasana;

Kapotasana. Yoga during menstruation should not include strong deflections of the   back. This creates excessive tension in the abdomen. Also prohibited: ardha chakrasana, ushtrasana;

Yoga Nidrasana. During such yoga classes, you should exclude extreme twisting and squeezing the abdomen. Also prohibited: eka pada shirshasana, jathara parivritanasana;

Mula Bandha. Do not do yoga, which will include unnatural bandha and pranayama. For example, excessively intense breathing of a bhastrika or uddiyana bandha can disrupt the natural course of processes in the pelvic organs. Also forbidden: kapalabhati, maha mudra.

Top asanas that are safe during  menstruation

Baddha Konasan .This asana relieves the pain and stress that accompany the days of menstruation. Even if you do not dare to do yoga these days, you can simply practice this pose separately. You can also practice: padmasana, sukhasana;

Ardha Chandrasana. This pose helps control the discharge if it is excessive. Pain in the back is also reduced. It is also possible to practice: utthita hasta padangustahasana, vriksasana;

Dundasana. Yoga offers simple forward stretches to relax the brain and calm the discomfort in the lower abdomen. You can also practice: jana shirshasana, marichiasana;

Shoshankasana. Relaxing postures help with excessive irritability and in the event that heaviness in the chest bothers you. You can also practice: shavanasa, adho mukha sukhasana;

The breath of ujaya. Calm pranayama in a simple pose or shavasana will help to relax the body. Full yogic breathing is safe during your period too.

However, we should keep in mind that there are no two identical women.  Someone waits the onset of new cycle with horror, and someone has almost no symptoms and can continue with the usual daily routine. So as the conclusion, remember to  be sensitive, listen to your body, and it will answer all your questions.

The Balancing Act

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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