My Backache

A few years ago, I woke up with a backache. Like any normal young adult, I decided to ignore it and went about my days. The pain grew over the months to the point where I could not sit for extended periods of time. I would drive and exit the car in numbing pain. I went for massages which only provided temporary relief. The pain would return with a vengeance and extended into radiating pains down my thigh. I was worried that I had a spinal injury, a herniated disc perhaps. I went for checkups, scans, and second opinions but alas, my spine was in good condition! The doctors simply sent me to physiotherapy that only helped minimally.

After more than half a year, I was introduced to a Chinese physician. After listening to my condition, her team proceeded to give me the most painful deep tissue massage (tui na) I have ever had in my life. I have a high tolerance for pain (case in point: half a year of radiating pain) but I will not send my worst enemies to her. I have seen grown men cry in her clinic. However, it was worth it. 90% of my pain went away after just one session. What surprised me was that she did not massage my legs nor my back much. Instead, she pressed deeply into my buttocks in all angles, seemingly searching for gold. I did not understand why or what she was doing but I recovered fully after 3 sessions, so I told everyone it was a miracle that Western medicine could not achieve.

Fast forward to my YTT course today, I learned about the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle originates from the anterior part of the sacrum and inserts into the greater trochanter of the femur. In short, it starts from the front/ bottom of your spine to the top of your thigh bone. It is in charge of externally rotating your femur and also abducting it when hips are flexed.

More importantly, when the piriformis muscle is inflamed, it will impinge on the sciatica nerve. This causes lower backache, pain down the back of thigh/calf/ foot, and pain after prolonged sitting. Sounds familiar? This is also known as piriformis syndrome.

This is the pot of gold that my Chinese physician was looking for! Causes of piriformis syndrome include overexertion due to impact or exercise.

Today, I wonder why my doctors and physiotherapist did not diagnose me as such. Nevertheless, this lesson has taught me the importance of body awareness and anatomical knowledge. Your physical body is the only vehicle carrying you for the rest of your life. You are the passenger, driver, and mechanic. Take care of it.

My journey and it’s just the beginning

My YTT journey

It has been almost 3 and a half weeks since I started this YTT training in Tirisula.

When I first registered and began training here, I didn’t really know what to expect but I was hoping to deepen my practice and better understand the postures and it’s benefits which I have always not understood from attending past classes in other schools.

We are almost coming to the end of the YTT now and Time has just flown past. I must say that I have learnt a lot in terms of Philosophy such that I feel that it will help me have better perspectives and character. I have also learnt much in the technical aspects such as the skeletal,respiratory and muscular systems. The detail to which we learn these systems is also surprisingly extensive for a yoga teacher training course. But this has helped increase my understanding and awareness to my own body and anatomy. Instead of just feeling a stretch or a pain at some part in my body, I can now pin point the muscle that is aching and understand the possible reasons to it or the ways to help it. This is useful for me even in my day to day life as I am a person with scoliosis and deals with pain in numerous parts of my body almost everyday. It has helped me gain perspective to my pain.

Honestly, I never expected this course to be so much work, physically, mentally and in terms of assignments and projects. But as we come to the end of our course, I do see the value in these challenges I have been going through for the past weeks. The physical challenges were almost unbearable for me at the start. I was aching all over and I had difficulty in many postures. But as the weeks pass by I slowly feel myself making small improvements and albeit small, it has still given me a small sense of achievement. The project, lesson plan, bloggings and catching up with my understanding of the theory classes and Sanskrit terms were also challenging time wise when I had to work and care for my child and family at the same time. But in retrospect, these were also valuable experiences as the homework made me delve deeper into the topics we were studying giving me a more thorough understanding. Struggling with time and yet having to submit the assignments meant late nights and stress for me, but it taught me to time manage and learn to deal with my stress.

As such, I would say it has been a challenging journey for me, But rewarding and it has been a new kind of experience. Despite facing some challenges, I learnt quite a valuable amount over this period of the course. The exams are coming soon and I am truthfully nervous and unsure about how it will turn out. But nevertheless, I will try my best. Regardless of the results of my exam, this was a journey for me and definitely one that has enriched my life and knowledge.

My YTT journey

I have been doing yoga on and off for about 4 years now. Some years, I get really into it and go for classes daily and some years, I go on the mat once every few months. After 4 years of classes in studios, I feel like my practise had stagnated. I wasn’t learning much or quicker from the usual 1 hour classes that studios usually offer. Apart from that, yoga at studios were often asana-focused and I always felt “rushed” or “pressured” in practise.

Hence, I decided to take up YTT in order to truly understand what yoga is about. I was surprised to learn that asanas are actually just a little fraction of what yoga is. There is so much more to yoga – such as pranayama, meditation, diets and physiology.

It has taught me what my body is physically possible and to practise mindfulness during my practise. I can dare say that yoga is more a lifestyle than just a “fitness workout”.

I’m currently only halfway through my YTT but I already feel more grounded and elevated in my practise. I used to practise yoga so choppily and haphazardly, trying to keep up with the room, but now I practise it with mindfulness and grace. It truly has become my own practise instead of just doing what everyone else in the room is doing. What is surprising is that – when I am mindful and slow down in my practise, I actually become stronger in my asanas.

With this mental shift, I also feel like I’m also just now generally more aware of my body and how my body feels. I become more aware of the muscle/limbs alignments I need to make in my asanas to make it a more comfortable practise for me. I found strength and stillness in uncomfortable positions when I engage the correct muscles.

I’m excited to see what else I will discover about myself in my YTT journey!

The End of YTT is the Beginning of My Yoga Journey

The exam is on this Sunday and my 200hr teacher training course is coming to an end.

It is an extremely intense, exhausting, but extraordinarily meaningful program that I’ve attended. I’ve learned so much about yoga and made new friends. I feel grateful to myself that I decided to do my YTT training.

Before signing up for this course, I had struggle and doubt if I should do it. I just started to practice yoga last year on and off and was still at the beginner level. So I was concerned about what if I couldn’t perform asanas and failed the exam. As an introvert, I have difficulty expressing myself in front of people. So another problem dragged me was how I could teach my classmates. However, I signed it up immediately when realizing I just wanted to push myself to exercise and learn yoga for myself. And at the same time, it would force me to talk and practice teaching skills.

I still remembered my first teaching class. Hearing my heartbeat, I was too nervous to forget the sequence and instruction cues. But I felt supported by my classmates’ hard practice and I was relaxed afterward. Master Ram was very kind to compliment my teaching and encourage me really a lot. Teaching is not easy. Memorizing the instruction cues is not everything, we have to know what we are teaching like how to break down a pose into steps, which muscles concentrically or eccentrically contract in the poses, which actions the muscles work on at which bone joints, what the poses benefit for… I feel like yoga anatomy is even harder than asana practice.

Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the theory class over the 2 months. There is a good deal of information to be digested, readings, blogs, project, teaching plans… Over the past weeks, when I was not at work, I was either doing my readings, blogs, project, or thinking about teaching. But I survived! Through this course, I have learned a lot, yoga is far more than what we know. Learning yoga anatomy teaches us how the bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles all work together in yoga. The knowledge of these aspects helps us get more out of the practice and protect us from injuries.

The struggle worthwhile, otherwise I would not make such great progress to surprise myself. The root of practice is bitter but the fruit is sweet. I will stay focused and keep practicing. The YTT 200 program will end but my learning never ends.

Yoga as an extreme sport

More than 300 million people are getting their asana on in yoga studios, ashrams, back yards or goat farms. Far away is the era when it was strictly reserved for the higher castes of India. We found some of the craziest yoga variations for you. Will you be brave enough to try?

On 2 wheels

Yoga doesn’t only borrow the shorts from cyclists. You haven’t heard about her yet but Viola Brand is a star in her discipline: artistic cycling. She combines some yoga and dance techniques… on a bicycle. If you think you nailed your handstand, I suggest you to watch some of her tricks in this video. She brings the peacock to the next level.

 

In India, Gugulotu Lachiram Naik created his yoga style after being inspired by some bike stunts he saw on television. He combines his love for motorbikes to his love for yoga and created a very unique and extreme routine. Would you dare?

Breakdance yoga

Yoga and breakdancing are both about flexibility, balance, and focus. It is naturally that some passionate dancers and yoga practitioners merged them.

Made popular in New-york by Anja Poter, Breakti, as it is called, combines funky street dance moves (including arm balances called “freezes”) with yoga postures. The result is a fun and playful “breakfklow” that aims to offer something beyond the experience of a traditional class. The trend has already been noticed and adopted by some famous brands. To practice it: listen to some hip-hop music, throw on our hoodies and dig into the floor. Is Master Sree ready for some b-boy moves?

Khanda Manda Yoga

Khanda Manda Yoga is said to be one of most terrifying and difficult sadhana. It is said that the practitioner of Khanda Manda Yoga cuts off his own arms and legs with a sharp cleaver, and throws them into a roaring fire. After twelve hours these limbs reemerge from the fire and rejoin his body thus giving him a re-birth. Shirdi Sai Baba was famous to know all Yogic Practices. He was also well-versed in the six processes including Dhauti (Stomach-cleaning), and separating his limbs and joining them again.

This is not a recommended practice on our planet but maybe you’re reading this article from another yoga planet.

Why all these animals? 

They are strong, fast, flexible, intuitive and know how to release their energy and emotions. They are aware of their bodies and how to use them. Animals do better yoga than you and have inspired the founders of yoga. Let’s dive into how animals and yoga are intrinsicly connected.

Learning from nature 

Ancient yogis were fine observers of the nature surrounding them. Imitating animals was for them an enlightening experience for both the body and the mind. Take a moment to think about how touching a tree and gazing at a mountain makes you feel.

By keeping an open mind, our gurus can be everywhere. The masters understood that from the beginning.

Cats are experts in relaxation. On awakening from sleep, they instinctively stretch and arch their spine in both directions before softening and moving onward.

You mean like this, human?
You mean like this, human?

Creating movement

Animals know how to adjust, how to release adrenalin to hunt or endorphins to love. Some scholars say that the asanas would be a means to recover our natural way to move in nature, hunter gatherer. Listening to our bodies.

Maybe you’re not quite ready yet to practice yoga with your head in a hay bail and a goat on your back. Just plain old yoga will definitely reconnect you to your environment. Being aware of your body helps you to be aware of your surroundings.

All these animals and the poses they’ve inspired are a good way to motivate your kids to practice yoga.

8 tips to convince your boyfriend to do yoga

He still doesn’t understand why yoga is such a thing. He doesn’t support your passion and thinks that yoga is only for ladies.

Well, here are some tips to convince your (gentle)man to get onto the (gentle)mat.

1/ Yoga makes you happy (and will make him happy too).

Yoga clears your mind and releases endorphins. Yoga gets your body tuned up, inside out. And simply because he loves you, you shouldn’t actually work so hard to convince him.

2/ With Yoga pants.

Not only you in your pants, but seriously, is there anything more comfortable than a pair of yoga pants? He should try a pair!

3/Show him the Boys of Yoga

Normal and cool guys like him who decided to start yoga. Tell him your yoga teacher is one of them. He will come to the class.

4/ To spend more time with you.

Warrior 1 – If he brings you to watch a movie to hold your hands and avoid a real conversation, tell him that he can probably get the same in a yoga studio, with some benefits.
Warrior 2 – Give him a simple private lesson. Ask your loved one to sit and breathe with you for a few minutes. There’s probably a good chance he won’t say no. Yoga feels even better together and he will experience it himself.

5/To spend more time solo.

With a studio at pretty much every street corner, he can make some new friends for sure. However, yoga is an individual practice and a moment to reflect and observe. What better place in the entire world than a child pose?

6/To get the famous beach body… faster!

They spend lots of time in the gym but complain about the low and slow results? Well, yoga accelerates weight-loss and body toning, increases flexibility and strengthens muscles. One hour of Bikram yoga can burn 500 calories. 500 calories, that’s like a chicken porridge and a char kway teow together.

7/To stress less.

It has been proven that 12 weeks of yoga significantly reduces anxiety.

8/For better sex.

According to a study published online in The Journal of Sexual Medicine (Nov. 12, 2009), regular yoga practice improves several aspects of sexual function in women, including desire, arousal, orgasm, and overall satisfaction. Should work also for him, isn’t it?

If after all these fantastic reasons he’s still reluctant to practice yoga, it is probably better he doesn’t join you. You’ll have your little secret garden at the studio, share your latest adventures with your friends, and live 10 years longer than him. Namaste!

My 200hour YTT Reflection

We’ve got just one more day to the end of the 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training and I thought to reflect a little bit about the experience. For starters, I signed up – mostly because I wanted to take a more holistic approach to learn about yoga. I always enjoyed the practice and wanted to find something deeper, anatomically and philosophically. Then…on a very superficial level, I thought – why not! 10 weeks of yoga boot camp sounds AWESOME. But jokes aside, two things will really stick with me.

One: Everyday, I am A Beginner

Over the weeks, small shifts occurred, physically and more importantly, mentally. While I would never say I feel “easy” or “comfortable” in a pose, I feel like I’m slowly learning to work more consciously with my breath and mentally quieten an internal struggle. Part of this has been about listening to my body, using a prop when I need it (yes, putting aside that ego) and realising very profoundly, as Master Sree says, that everyday, I am a beginner. Yes, do I feel like I should be stronger or more stable (jeez, I signed up for a teacher training course)? Yes, but also – it’s been 10 weeks of coming to a better understanding of where I am in my practice, in mindfulness and asana. Every week, every practise I learn something more about me, about a pose, how to awaken a muscle or about my course-mates’ approach to yoga. 

If anything, the course has given me so much information and understanding about where I can grow and how I can take that step. Though, in the first couple of weeks I was quite confused about how the philosophy, physical practice and anatomy classes would “work” together, but they slowly did!

Two: Yoga is On and Off the Mat

 

Yoga is for everyday and always – it is a way of living and approaching life. In one of our first lessons on yoga, I learnt that the word yoga derives from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means to yoke or bind, and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. It is a practice of mind and body, though we often engage in practising the asana – the third limb of yoga. While it is tempting to be envious of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing postures that are achieved by size-zero persons on Instagram, it’s important to remember that the practice of asana is for purification of the body and mind. It prepares one for a lengthy meditation practice too. A commitment to practising the Eight Limbs of Yoga (as set by the Sage Patanjali) can put someone on the path to living an ethical, meaningful and purposeful life. 


There’s a lot that we can read about the 8 Limbs, but focusing (right now) on 2 of the five yamas, (abstinences) has been a good guide for me, particularly in ahimsa and aparigraha.

Ahimsa: Can translate as “absence of injury” or “non-harmfulness” – a practice that seems common-sense, but can be hard to achieve in body and mind. This includes, not harbouring unkind or injurious thoughts against others. To do this, we can cultivate empathy, choosing to practise kindness in deed and thought.

Aparigraha: Often translates as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and ‘non-attachment’. This yama encourages us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right. This includes, not being jealous of other’s physical practice – and can be applied to so many situations off the mat, too!

So – regardless of what happens tomorrow in that exam (I am scared, to be honest), it’s been a super journey. Many thanks also to the amazing, encouraging classmates who have been a great source of support. You know who you are 😀 XOXO Everyday, I am a Beginner.

Application of Niyama for Stage Fright

In the middle of my 3rd class, I won’t lie, I was seriously questioning myself why I signed up for YTT instead of other simple workshops. Yes I wanted to deepen my knowledge for my home practice, but I was not planning to be a teacher anytime soon. My simple mind told me “YTT would be great. Learning how to teach, I can be my own teacher” but one very important thing I conveniently forgot back then was that I actually have extremely bad stage fright and public speaking issues.

As much as I’ve still enjoyed a lot of the course, it’s been a mental challenge for me. Even with a simple cue practice, I was already extremely nervous from the beginning of the course. While waiting for my turn to come, I would have sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat and nausea, and I would be so busy trying to make myself relax with pranayama. Once I step in front of my classmates, my brain would shut down, my tongue locked and a single word couldn’t come out. So many times I found myself standing in front of everyone and saying nothing for a while. Oops. This is really bad. How would I survive this course if I cannot teach? And more importantly, if I can’t find peace and fulfilment with yoga, I’m doing something wrong.

I came back to read on 8 limbs of yoga again with an intention to apply it in teaching and public speaking. It is quite known that pranayama and meditation/dharana can help to ease your stage fright, but on top of that, applying Niyama has been helping me with my root cause. This 2nd limb of Ashtanga Yoga is composed of 5 positive duties/observances (“dos”, as opposed to Yama’s “don’ts”) for your personal growth. I tried to link each of them with my stage fright issues and thought how Niyama practice could help. This is based on my own case but below are the applications I made to remind myself during the YTT course.

 

1. Shaucha : Purification/Clearness

This cleanliness principle is applied not only to body but mind. It is crucial to keep your mind clean; that means, we should stay away from negative, destructive thoughts and emotions. For my case, they were fears and lack of self-belief. I imagine myself failing at a challenge, rather than nailing it. “I might forget the sequence, my sequence might be too boring for students, my explanation may not be clear”, etc. I applied Shaucha to clean up my mind.

Application: Image training and Self-affirmation such as “I perform with joy” “I enjoy teaching” “I will be calm” etc.

 

2. Santosha : Contentment, Acceptance

In a modern world, practicing contentment is not easy, be it materialistically or mentally. We may know that achieving contentment can give us a peace of mind, but constantly getting full of information of people who are/have better than you, we tend to bring out our uneasiness/competitiveness (especially in a “kiasu” place like Singapore). One of my stage fright triggers happens when I feel pressured to be perfect AND I know I can’t be. When I need to instruct something I’m not confident with, the stage fright kicks in. Once I accept where I am now and be honest with what I remember and what I don’t, I became less afraid to make mistakes or to be judged. I could feel a lot lighter.

Application: Know what you know and teach only what you already know. Accept and keep reminding that mistakes happen to everybody. It will take time to be a good teacher and IT IS OK.

 

3. Tapas : Self-discipline

Santosha to me is to know and accept your current status, so we can see a clear vision of what to do next or what to do to maintain the current status in a good shape. Following Santosha, Tapas may be the easiest to apply. We all need to build a basic habit of practice, without being forced by external factors for self-improvement. Know what you need to do, and after that is the execution.

Application: Practice, Practice, Practice. Be it Asana practice or teaching practice or taking time to create meaningful sequences.

 

4. Svadhyaya : Self-study, Introspection

When I started reading some articles about Yoga and Public Speaking, most of them were talking how effective Pranayama is. It does, on the spot, relieve my mind but I was feeling that it is just a temporary solution. At the next teaching or presentation, I will have the same nervousness again. When I came to the 4th Niyama, I felt this is what I needed to do. Know the enemy and know yourself; this time the enemy is inside of me but I started throwing questions at myself to dig my issues. Why are you afraid to talk? Any bad memories that stop you from performing? When do you feel less nervous, and when more? What kind of crowds make you feel more nervous? etc. 

Application: Analyse and observe yourself.  Find the root causes from your past experience. Be Objective to review each teaching practice you did. Find your weakness to improve. Find your strength to stay motivated.

 

5. Ishvara Praṇidhana : Surrender to Higher Being

With a concept of Higher Beings, this last Niyama has been the most difficult for me to grasp and apply to my case. After reading several resources of Yoga Sutra interpretations, I understood this as “concentration and stable mind can be achieved when you have an attitude to let your ego go despite all the effort you have made”. When we apply the earlier 4 Niyamas (Shaucha to Svhadhaya) and practice them, we will likely see an improvement in life. But that might lead you to develop some feeling such as ego, pride, too many expectations of good results, and reputations. The last Niyama is to learn to cancel all those “tensed” feelings, completely. Do not expect anything based on who you are or what you did, but leave the outcome to the nature or somewhere out of your control instead.

Application : Constantly practice to be prepared and ready. But do not let your ego come up. Focus on improvement and do not let expectations bug your mind. Give your best self to the given circumstance without thinking of outcome.

 

I admit there were stressful moments during YTT as an extreme introvert, but it has been a great opportunity to face my long-term stage fright issue. With Niyama, I feel I can keep training myself to lessen my stage fright little by little. Even if the change is subtle, seeing myself breaking out of the shell is quite amazing 🙂

My fullest expression of an asana

I remembered back in University, I was always feeling very stressed and unsure about myself in school, I had a vague recollection of complaining to my friends about finding balance – mind, body, and soul but I didn’t’ know-how. Once I graduated and work started, I finally decided to get down to achieving my own version of ‘inner peace’ and so my yoga journey began. I was extremely grateful that I had friends then that did yoga as well, they introduced me to studios and I got to try different styles of yoga – Hatha, Vinyasa, Hot Yoga, etc. In the very first class, I was so nervous. I kept thinking about how I was going to embarrass myself and fall. But all those thoughts disappeared quickly once the class started because I realize that, nobody cared. No one had the energy to be bothered about other students, everyone was solely focused on their own yoga practice. That was when it hit me, to me, Yoga was like an independent form of exercise done in a group setting.

2 years in and yoga started becoming a part of my lifestyle, it not only works my body but clears my mind. It destresses me after a long day at work and, my body feels energized after a good sweat. Since then, I decided that if there was a chance and if an opportunity presented itself, I would very much like to deepen my practice and learn more about Yoga and so here I am.

Now, as we are midway through the YTT. Nervous, anxious, scared are not words I would use to describe my feelings as compared to how I felt in the first lesson. I’ve really come to look forward to weekend mornings with my fellow course mates – the determination, the grit, the laughs, and the energy that everyone emits when we practice.  We all had the same basic goal – to deepen our understanding of yoga and improve our asanas. Master Sree is an amazing instructor, he will push you and give constructive feedback on how we should improve, same for master Paulo. In class, Master Sree is always reminding us of the fact that everyone is a beginner, there’s just so much to learn about how to achieve the truest expression of an asana – to be relaxed, smile, breath while still engaging the right muscles (the integration of mind, body, and breath) in any asanas. With this understanding, we lower our EGO when practicing yoga, there’s no need to compare our asanas with one another because all bodies are different. Everyone is refining their asanas in their own way and getting to their fullest expression of the yoga pose. Since then, I’m no longer as worried about my progress relative to others, what’s important is that I continue to focus on my own efforts and do better every day!

To anyone who wants to deepen their yoga journey, I definitely recommend it. This course is merely the beginning of my yoga practice, it has opened so many doors for me and I discovered that there’s so much more than I don’t know and want to find out – chakras, mudras, chants, etc. Here’s to me and everyone on the same journey, to practice, practice, practice, and attain our own fullest, truest expression of the asanas every day. I am truly grateful to have gone on this journey and will forever cherish the memories I’ve at Tirisula YTT Program.