What I learnt from meditating 10 hours a day

I was brought up in a staunch Christian family. In my mind, meditation has always been tied to religion and religion has always been tied to spirituality. A solo 2-month trip to India in December 2014 toppled all my previously held beliefs and perceptions about meditation and spirituality. It also led me to take a 10-day Vipassana Meditation course in Malaysia a couple of months prior to starting my YTTC in September 2015.
Here are 10 things I learnt from meditating 10 hours a day for 10 days:
1. Dress comfortably. This is pretty much a no-brainer.
 
2. Meditate in a clean, quiet and well-ventilated environment. You may choose to dim the lights or switch off the lights completely. If you are the type who falls asleep easily in such setting, keep the lights on. I find music a distraction, but you may, according to your preference play some music to help you relax and get in the mood.
 
3. Do not meditate in bed. If you nod off while meditating in bed, chances are you will just give up, lie down and sleep on. Personally, I find meditating on a meditating cushion works best for me. You may try it with your yoga mat laid flat or rolled up slightly. Try not to lean your back against the wall if possible, unless you have back problems. If all else fails, use a chair.
 
4. Sit cross-legged. There is of course standing and walking meditation but my experience so far has been limited to sitting so I can only comment on that. You can of course sit in many different positions eg, in lotus or with your legs out in front of you, but I find that I am able meditate the longest sitting cross-legged without compromising my back. Test out what works best for you.
 
5. Do not hunch. Sit up straight. Your weight should be equally distributed between your sit bones, which should be level with the ground. I find that when I sit with my spine completely erect, with my chest thrust out a little, my lumbar starts to arch. The position looks nice aesthetically but can be uncomfortable to maintain over a long period. Instead, what I do, is to keep my spine relaxed and comfortably straight over my tailbone. See what position you are most comfortable in.
 
6. Do not react to internal stimuli. At some point while you are sitting still, you will get pins and needles and itch to stretch your legs out or change position. It is normal and it is what your mind has been conditioned to do. Observe this physical sensation. Do not react with frustration. In case you are not aware, if you shift positions, the pins and needles will get worse, versus if you stay still. Stay still and the pins and needles will pass. In the next moment you might experience a different sensation – numbness. Again, observe this sensation with no reaction. After numbness, you lose all feeling in your legs. If you lose feeling in your legs, sitting in the same position won’t pose a problem any more. Notice how it changes from one form to another. Observe the impermanence. Other physical sensations will arise during extended periods of meditation. You may feel pain or discomfort in other parts of the body. I suffered from a stiff neck during my retreat, that manifested itself through a persistent ache in my right shoulder blade. I sat through it. There was a German woman in my course, who was 8 months into her pregnancy. She sat cross-legged on her cushion, just like the rest of us. Unless it is an acute pain, refrain from reacting. Just observe. Learn to observe. It really is very unlikely that you’re going to get injured from sitting still for 1-2 hrs.
 
7. Do not react to external stimuli. This could come in many forms. I  had houseflies incessantly flying and landing on me. The flies basically had picnics on every exposed surface on my body during my 10 days of meditation. Mosquitoes too. I had to will myself not to react in irritation. Recognise that there isn’t always a need to react. We react too much. Our whole life is made up of reactions reverberating through our bodies and minds. Here’s the thing, whatever manifests in our thoughts will manifest in our bodies. Someone makes a negative statement, our hearts start to beat faster, our temperature rises (body reaction) we react in anger and give a hurtful retort (mind reaction).   Learn to observe the moment without reaction. See what happens next. Most if not all of the time, the disturbance eventually disappears.
 
8. Refrain from reading, surfing the Internet , interacting with people prior to meditation. Refrain from using electronic devices. Switch your phone to silent, turn off your computer. That email can wait. Our minds are bombarded by external stimuli from the time we wake till we close our eyes to sleep again. Is it any wonder that the mind keeps wandering when you want it to be still? Of course, it is not always possible to avoid external stimuli before doing your meditation. Taking a warm shower or a short walk can help to still your mind and help you wind down from a busy day. You may also choose to do meditation before you start your day in the morning.
 
9. Your thoughts WILL wander and keep on wandering. You will get frustrated with your inability to focus. Let me assure you that it is completely normal! Do not beat yourself up over it. Your mind is like a wild beast. It will not be tamed and trained without putting up a fight. The very fact that you are aware your mind has wandered is a milestone. Say hello to Increased Awareness! Calmly acknowledge that your mind has wandered and bring your attention back to your breath and the only time that matters in this moment – NOW. Learn to live NOW. We live too much of our lives in the past and future .
 
10. Lastly, if you don’t already know, meditation is hard work  extremely HARD WORK. Many people don’t realise this. I didn’t realise it. If it were that easy, every one would be walking around hyper aware, with a halo above their head. Meditation is a test of body, mind and spirit. It requires commitment as well as great determination and bucket loads of discipline. And it takes time to see tangible results. For many people, myself included, meditation is even more difficult than asana practice. I think a great motivating factor to consistent meditation is when you realise how much your mind and ego have controlled your life to date and ask yourself to what end you are willing to go to in order to tame the wild beast that is your mind.
 
Finally we have come to the end! If you have read all the way, thank you very much! There are many different kinds of meditation and correspondingly just as many different ways to do so. There is no right way. I still struggle with meditation.  The above are just some pointers based on my personal experience but I hope that my article will help you in your practice and journey to greater consciousness.  Meditation and spirituality need not necessarily be tied to religion.  You can ask hard questions about yourself and the world around you without bringing religion into the picture.  Anyone can meditate.  Good luck!
 
Ei-leen Tan
200Hr YTTC Weekday September 2015

Yoga Asana | Sirsasana (headstands) & Inversions

forearm standAccording to Master Paalu there are over 100 inversions and today in the September 2015 Weekday YTT we focused on headstands. Prior to joining a Yoga Teacher Training program I was able to do an ‘amateur’ headstand, meaning I could get up and hold a headstand but was not engaging the right muscles and I was not utilizing the proper technique.
Through training I have been able to improve my headstand, learn a few new variations as well as progress to learning Pincha Mayurasana (fore arm stand).Below I have shared a few common mistakes to watch out for as well as tips that helped me to improve my practice.
 
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Preparation for the pose:
1. Build up shoulder, arm and upper back strength and awareness.

a) Concentrate on stronger Chatarungas (don’t cheat yourself, use each Chatarunga as an opportunity to strengthen yourself, so you can get to the fun and challenging poses)

b)Hold Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana (forearm planks) for several minutes. Build up strength by starting with 30, 60, 90 second holds

c) Donkey kicks (as I would like to call them) should be done with three variations, both feet, left foot and right foot

Forward bend with arms engaged, planted on the ground and upper back rounded. Bring your feet closer to the body and kick up to (almost) handstand, land lightly and jump again do 30-50 times. Then alternate left and right with a scissor like action hopping left leg to handstand, coming down to the right leg, hopping lightly to handstand and continuing to switch legs do this exercise 30-50 times

d) Back Bending exercises and asanas (really understand how to engage and activate the upper back)

Back Bending Asanas include Setu Bandhasana (bridge formation pose), Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward bow pose), Ustrasana (camel pose)

When working on back bending focus on using the breath to first lift the chest and the lower/bend the upper thoracic spine (upper back)

e) Cat & cow poses (increases awareness of the upper back as you round into cat pose)

f) Makarasana (dolphin pose) is your best friend, do 50 times ‘dolphin push ups’ to build strength. When you are ready use dolphin pose to help get you into the inversion

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Trying the inversion*:
1. Use props to help you ‘feel’ the pose

a) Grab a strap and one block (if you’d like put a towel under your arms for more cushion). Utilize the strap to put around your biceps to keep your elbows, hip width apart during your headstand or forearm stand. The block is for those trying forearm stand, place the block between your hands (pictured above) and focus your gaze in front of your hands.

2. Utilize dolphin pose, walking your toes closer to your head, stacking your head, abdominal, and hips on top of each other

a) Then lift one leg, followed by the other

b) Remember to kick to the ceiling not the wall

3. Don’t use the wall as a ‘crutch’ (once you have build strength and practice yoga regularly)
4. Don’t arch your back and don’t rely on your lower back

a) Engage your upper back – rounding your shoulders (think cat back)

b) Depress you shoulders bring your shoulders away from the ears, putting weight into your arms, head and upper shoulders

5. Trust yourself, you’ve worked hard to build up strength all you need is the technique
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* If you are doing a headstand for the first time please have a trusted instructor near by and a wall can be used to provide support and comfort.
Restrictions: You should avoid this asana and inversions if you suffer from any of the following: cervical disc and eye issues, extreme neck and shoulder pain and possibly high or extremely low blood pressure and menstruating (as the prana could flow in the wrong direction).
 The world of headstands:
Today in class after two weeks of training we learned 5 different variations of headstands. I have described them as follows:
 
Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand)
supported hs
backward palms hsSalamba Shirshasana 3 (backward palms headstand)
 
 
 
tripodSalamba Shirshasana 2 (tripod headstand)
 
 
 
bound hsBaddha Hasta Shirshasana (bound/double arm headstand)
 
 
 
free hand hs
Mukta Hasta Sirsana C
(iron cross headstand)
 
 
 
 
 
Note: I have just started working on my headstands so I am still working on my form but it is fun and challenging. Be sure to not do too many headstands and allow your mind to internalize the techniques you are working on. The tips above are what helped me with my practice and hope it is some food for thought.
 
Good luck!
Melissa
Weekday Hatha/Ashtanga 200 Hour YTT September 2015

Is that Whey too much?

A year ago, I brought home a very large tub of whey protein powder and was immediately frowned upon by my father. He nagged at me the whole night and exclaimed that I should not take such supplement drinks. He insists that protein drinks were only meant for female bodybuilders and I ought to be slim, to be more ladylike instead of trying to bulk up looking like a man. Obviously, I disregarded his nags because 1) he definitely has his misconception about whey protein 2) why should I conform to his notion of how ladies should look and not be happy with my own body?
Today, I shall try to explain what proteins are and what it does to our body and debunk his misconception about whey protein!
 
Our human body needs proteins. Proteins are essential for us as it is the building block for body tissue, bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Protein serves as a fuel source and is used to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. Protein is especially important when you’re an active individual that does strenuous workouts, as it helps repair and build muscle, while keeping you energetic.
We get protein through our daily diet. Some examples of food high in protein are fish such as salmon and tuna, lean chicken, eggs, tofu, milk, yoghurt, nuts and seeds. If you are an average active individual, that exercises only 1 – 3 times a week, my humble opinion is that incorporating food higher in protein in your daily diet should suffice.
 
However, if you are a heavy-duty active individual, say you practice the Ashtanga primary series every day before sunrise, goes to gym to lift weights, does HIIT, run intervals 2 – 3 times a week, you would need a bit more protein in your body than the average Joe/Jane in order not to leave your muscles with a deficit of the building blocks to recover. Hence the whey protein! Whey protein shakes are fast digesting protein, delivering amino acids and gets straight to work on repairing your muscles. Imagine, having to consume the equivalent of 2 chicken breast and 2 eggs (quantity based on estimation) right after a strenuous workout when you can have the convenience of the whey protein shakes.
 
That said, I advocate that individuals should be responsible of their own food consumption and be aware of what their own body needs. Know your food nutrients; know your own lifestyle habits, do your own research and be a discerning reader. Only you will know what works for you, so take charge now and adjust your diet and nutrition accordingly.
 
– Charlie Tan (200hr Weekday TTC Sep 2015)

I hated my body

Two years ago I was so self-conscious about my weight and body, and loathed wearing jeans because of what I saw in the mirror and it filled me with so much pain and disappointment. You would have thought I had an unhealthy diet. I was health conscious and I would eat all the superfoods, but, I would also binge eat on certain junks then binge exercise on guilt, and repeatedly asked myself “why did I lose control over food in my life?”
I didn’t have an answer back then, but a turning point in life came and made me realise that I had to start looking inwards. As I worked on healing both on and off the yoga mat, life gradually began to feel different and so did my perspective. These changes took place over months and years, and it made be realise that its ok being OK with myself and who I am than just losing weight. All it took was a little compassion. Here are some of the changes:-
1. I became kinder to myself 
The more I loathed myself, the more I felt like I had to punish myself for eating that instant noodle, that packet of chips, that slice of pizza, that creamy pasta. But as my perspective shifted, food should be a source of joy, to be shared with people and conversation, not suffering. As I fully accepted myself and my body, I was able to eat whatever I wanted and not feel guilty about it. I was no longer eating on emotions – be it stress, anger, sadness, or the feeling of out of control. I was more aware of my emotions; I watched them closely and in turn, do not react on it. Emotions, like the weather, come and go. There are days when I slip up, but I do not punish myself for it and intuitively know what to do to return to a balanced life.
2. I started to feel comfortable in my own skin 
I was no longer obsessing over my weight of the size of my body. More importantly, the moment I accepted who I am, I stopped feeling conscious about what other people thought of it. They are entitled to their opinion and judgments and all I could do was to control my mind, not theirs.
3. I felt lighter and less encumbered inside out 
The less I hated my body, the more I gained awareness of it. I took time to nourish, rest and move it with purpose and in turn, creating a healthier me living inside a stronger body.
4. Cut out toxic
Lastly and most importantly, the key to self love is to remove ‘toxic’ in life. Thoughts, emotions, relationships and people. Do not spend a moment on negativity. Channel all your positivity to things and people that energise you. Take care of that body. Try practising saucha (sanskrit for purity and cleanliness). Practising asanas (yoga postures) tones the body and pranayama (using the breathe to strengthen the flow of life and body) cleanses our lungs and purifies nerves. Purity of thoughts leads to purity of the body, which attracts energy in life.
may you live long and prosper 🙂
Shi Jye
200hr Hatha/Ashtanga Weekends – July 2015

Sinus – my ex best friend

 

 

I have been having sinus problem for many years. 

I am allergic to change of temperature, dust, air-con, crowd, hair, messy and cluttered place (yes, sensitive to both psychological and physiological triggers). In addition to the usual running nose and sneezing, my sinus glands would swell up so much that I feel a bad ache in my jaw, teeth, forehead and the sides of the nose under my eyes. In serious sinus episodes I am pretty much a dysfunctional human being and the only solution will be to sleep it off after popping multiple clarinese/zrytecs/panadol cold flu/telfast/any other anti-histamine pills. 
 
One morning when Master Paalu introduced the “Sutra Neti”, I was horrified by the sight of the rubber bands handed to us. Geez, my nose is already so sensitive (I can’t even pinch my own nose) and we gotta stick the rubber tube up into the nostrils and pull it out of our mouths? and this is supposed to be good for people who have sensitive nose?!
 
I was determined to fix this problem and decided to give this ancient method the benefit of the doubt. 
 

How to practice of Sutra Neti ?

I followed Master Paulu very closely as he demonstrated the Sutra Neti. FYI I would highly recommend anyone who is trying Sutra Neti for the first time to learn it in a guided practice preferably from a qualified yoga instructor. Take the rubber tube in your hand and very gently insert the tube inside your left nostril. Take care not to rush it; do it very slowly as it can irritate the sensitive membrane inside the nostril. Many people have mild nasal septal deviations, which is more or less harmless. If the deviation is acute then one may feel a block while inserting the rubber tube, try to slowly wiggle it in a different direction and gently insert it in further.
1. Push the tube into your nostril upwards, till it bends and go down the throat. Continue inserting the tube slowly
2. Open your mouth and use your middle and index fingers/index finger or thumb to grab the tube from inside your throat.* This takes a little practice. Once you get the knack of it, you can do it with ease
3. Pull the tube out so that part of it is just outside the mouth. Never leave the other end of the tube, which you are holding with your other hand
4. Now using both hands move the tube in a massaging motion to clean the nostrils and throat. (optional)
5. Clean the tube and repeat the procedure with the right nostril.
6. After the practice is over, remove the tube and clean it. Store the tube in a clean place for another day’s next practice.

*try to pull the tube out as gently as possible and avoid scrapping the throat with your nails as the throat lining is quite fragile  
 
My experience 
 

My first experience of Sutra Neti was exciting but less than glamarous. I could smell the rubber but resisted the urge to take it out immediately. I tried to insert the tube very very very slowly and wiggle a little whenever I felt a block in my nostril. It involved a bit of tears, saliva (all due to reflex action), and of course, mucus that I did not knew existed which was sitting at the back of my nose in my nasal passage. When I pull the tube out of my mouth, to my surprise, my hands were covered with mucus (I know…..), and I thought my nose was completely cleared the very morning before trying the Sutra Neti.
For the first time in my life, I felt my nasal passage completely CLEARED. This means generous amount of fresh air flowing in and out of my nose into my lungs with no blockages! I managed to clear up a space in my nasal passage that I would not have ordinarily reached without using the tube.

For those who are interested in trying it out, here are some of the other benefits of Sutra Neti.
 

Benefits of Sutra Neti

Sutra Neti has benefits similar to that of Jala Neti. The nasal cavities can get clogged with impurities which may cause infections, inflammations and headaches. 
1. It helps to maintain the nasal hygiene by removing the dirt and bacteria trapped along with the mucus in the nostrils.
2. It de-sensitizes the sensitive tissues inside the nose, which can alleviate rhinitis, allergies and some types of asthma.
3. Several health problems like sinusitis, migraine, headaches, can be reduced by doing Neti

My tip to anyone who’s keen to try is that don’t be horrified by the pictures and the process. Put away any subconscious biases and judgments and try with an open mind. You might just discover something that works for you. 
 
Shi Jye
200hr Hatha/Ashtanga Weekends – July 2015

One of the theory lessons that was covered, was on the four paths of yoga, which one of it is Karma Yoga. Kharma Yoga basically consists of entirely selfless service or action(s), in which the ego is given up to the desire to serve everything, a life or inanimate object. To borrow a quote from the website ‘http://www.sanatansociety.org’, “Kharma Yoga is an expression of divine love, of the unity of everything that is yoga. Kharma Yoga means to help, heal and share”.

Kharma Yoga
One of the theory lessons that was covered, was on the four paths of yoga, which one of it is Karma Yoga. Kharma Yoga basically consists of entirely selfless service or action(s), in which the ego is given up to the desire to serve everything, a life or inanimate object. To borrow a quote from the website ‘http://www.sanatansociety.org’, “Kharma Yoga is an expression of divine love, of the unity of everything that is yoga. Kharma Yoga means to help, heal and share”.
During the lesson, Master Weiling was giving us examples of how Kharma Yoga is performed. Internally I was thinking hard of any examples to show Kharma Yoga, and how I may apply Kharma Yoga in my life. Then I remembered conversation that I had, on the day that i signed up for YTT.
As i was signing up for the 200YTT with Tirisula, a friend of mine, asked me why i wanted to take up the course. In no particular order, i described to him my reasons, which can be broken down simply to:
1) Using the skills to do volunteer work (I had wanted to join yoga-on-wheels to bring the benefits of yoga to those who needed it)
2) Using the skills to do fund raising on ad hoc basis, for a person and/or family with special needs. The ‘grand plan’, was to conduct a class and 100% of the fees will go to the fund raising, and I myself will add in and match a dollar-for-dollar donation
3) I wish to share the benefits and inner peace from yoga with my friends. They can come to me, and do a class totally free of charge! Good things must share right?
I can’t do those if i do not have the skillset to conduct the class properly. His answer to my reasons was “Wah! you so free ah? Where will you get the time to do it? And you very rich ah? Can match a dollar-for-dollar.” My response to him was “No i am not free at all, and i am definitely not rich. But i just want to do it. I am an abled person, and i have the ability to helping people and bringing joy to them. I do not benefit from it. But it’s ok for me. So why not?”
This memory made me realise that I can practice Kharma Yoga through community service work. There are many people out there, practicing Kharma Yoga, unknowingly. In fact upon thinking further, Kharma Yoga can be practiced easily, everyday, without breaking any bank or sweat. For example,
(a) As you are tapping your Ezlink card while boarding the bus, you can always say ‘Thank you Uncle’ to the bus driver;
(b) At the end of your taxi ride, wish your taxi driver to have a good health, or good business everyday;
(c) As you are paying at the cashier for your item, say ‘Thank you and you have a nice day’.
These are just 3 examples. There are many other ways we can do it. As we open up and wish them sincerely, we bring a smile to them, brighten up their day. This smile, this positive feeling, could help elevate a person’s emotional and mental health. Even for a mere 5 min. If you factor in the butterfly effect, this could actually go on and affect others too. Isn’t it great to be able to bring a smile to someone.
Signing off, I hereby wish you readers, a good health and may no illness befall onto you.
XOXO,
Anna Hee, 200hrs YTT, weekend.

Developing regular Yoga practise

I like yoga as I always felt happier after a practise. With this passion that I had for yoga, a regular self-practise is needed to progress further. In the midst of YTT, I discovered that there are so many areas that I need to strengthen. Hence, I started to take micro changes in my lifestyle.
I give up weekends outing and gradually increase the frequency of practise. Time is scared as I am still working full time but I try to practise whenever I have the time, anywhere as long as there’s is a wall. I make use of the wall for inversions and balance, and find the gym and home a good place for self-practise. If possible, I ask friends and family for help to spot my alignment.
On weekdays, I wake up earlier in the morning to do sun salutation and headstand. At noon time, I will go over to a gym near my office and practise for 30 minutes. After work, I either go to yoga classes near my home or do my own self-practise at home. Every weekend when I go back to YTT, it seems to be another judgment day of how much I have learnt for the week.
At times, it felt overwhelming and tiring. But talking to fellow course mates and reading the funny group chats, I learnt that everyone is going through the same thing. I also have deep admiration for the mothers in our course as they have to juggle work, kids as well as practise. Training with my course mates who work towards the same goal helps me to maintain a positive attitude.
Getting proper rest and taking good care of the body is important too. I become aware of the need to rest properly to allow the body to fully recover after yoga practise. There are some days that the body just does not have any stamina, and I felt lethargic at work. I add in Friday as a designated rest day so that I can recuperate for lessons on weekends. I consume more protein food for muscle recovery, and add recovery food like protein shakes, eggs, coconut water and berries into my diet.
And lastly, practice aparigraha (letting go) at yoga practise. Sometimes, I will feel frustrated when I cannot get a pose, no matter how much I try. There’s a tendency to look around me and feel inferior when people are doing it so easily. I try to overcome this negativity feelings and let go of the need to compare. I concentrate on my own practise and stop coveting after what other have.
ZJ Chung

Understanding my own body

In YTT, we studied body anatomy as well as the muscles needed to get into various pose. I relate the anatomy studies to understand my physical body, including my flexibility, strength and flaws in my body structure. This helps me understand why I do certain pose better and faces difficulty in other pose.
I always enjoy stretching as it relieve the tension in my body with the exhalation. I thought stretching is about bending my hips deeper, but recognize that there are other aspects to flexibility which I need to work on. My hip is flexible and I can do a forward bend easily, but I can bend deeper at the right compared to my left. My shoulder and ankle is not as flexible.
During lessons, we are required to know the muscles engagement and alignment, as well as breathe pattern to get an asana correctly done. It has been emphasised that getting the alignment and breathing correct is so much more important than going deeper and doing the final pose. This is so as we want to stretch and engage the correct muscle with control. Janu Sirsasana is not about touching the head to the leg but leaning forward and keeping a straight spine after you inhale so that you can stretch the back. The dristi is another thing to keep in mind to develop our concentration in going into the pose.
When doing asana in this controlled manner, the limitations in my own body become clearer to me. I struggle with arms balancing pose as I have limited upper body strength. My tricep muscle is particularly weak and I had problem doing triceps push up other asanas that required arm strength.
After becoming enlightened of my shortcomings, I pay more time working on it. When stretching, I try to stretch my unflavoured left side more and includes more ankle and shoulder stretching. I also spend more time on strength training, especially on the upper body and focuses on asana that I am weak in. Occasionally, I am exhilarated to get into the crow pose which I always fail but others seems to jump into. As headstand is such an important asana, I also started a habit of practising headstand for at least 5 minutes every morning. With this insight on my body, I hope to overcome my weaknesses and progress in my training.
ZJ Chung

5 important lessons I’ve learnt during my yoga teacher training

Today, I thought it’ll be great to share with everyone some of the really important lessons I’ve learnt during my YTT so far, that has really transformed my yoga practice. Prior to starting my YTT, I have been practicing for 2 years at various studios, only settling at Pure Yoga around 6 months ago. I thought I had considerable knowledge about yoga and what I am doing, but training at Tirisula Yoga has really changed my perspective about my own practice.

1. Alignment is extremely important, but also extremely overlooked

This realisation was one of the biggest lessons that has transformed my yoga practice, because most of the times, yoga teachers outside don’t emphasize the importance of alignment in ensuring a safe practice enough. Most of the time, many of us collapse our weight into our lower back without realising it, in a bid to enter more deeply into the pose. My YTT has been a lot of unlearning and relearning of alignment and asanas even in seemingly basic poses such as Virabhadrasana I, II, Utthita Trikonasana, and many more. Because yoga teachers out there do not have the luxury of time to correct every single student in a yoga class, many of us are left with severe misalignment in our asanas without even realising it. This can cause severe spinal injuries in the long run. Yoga is supposed to heal, it is not supposed to inflict long-term injuries. If you are in pain in an asana, you are probably in the wrong alignment.

2. The importance of pranayama and meditation

Pranayama and meditation are great but also under utilized tools in creating greater mental awareness and alertness that can help us immensely throughout the day, even outside of the yoga mat. Doing 50 rounds of Kapalabhati first thing in the morning and doing a short 5 minute meditation before starting your day can do wonders to our level of alertness and stress. And no, meditation and pranayama are nothing about being religious – it is a tool to clear out the toxins in our body that builds up during a restful night’s sleep. You will be amazed how simple breathing exercises can help to clear out toxins and distractions in our mind and body.

3. Yoga is not just about flexibility

This is something that I have learnt since the very beginning, even before I started my YTT. I always knew how yoga is not for the flexible – it is for everyone! You do not need to be flexible to do yoga. However, this lesson was constantly emphasized again and again during my YTT.

Yoga is a combination of strength, flexibility, and stamina.

The most difficult part about yoga is about balancing all these three aspects to perform different asanas. For example, sometimes flexibility can be a hindrance because one tends to collapse into the lower back due to back flexibility. This hinders one’s ability to balance in an inversion. Similarly, one who is really strong can find that they might be really tight in some of their major joints, such as shoulders and hips. Of course, stamina is another aspect altogether. Our stamina is constantly put to the test with 3 hour asana practices, and intensive strength and conditioning trainings.

4. Do not be afraid to ask questions

That being said, I think it is important to ask questions after yoga classes if you have any questions about entering into an asana. Sometimes online resources has its limitations, and it is always better to have a more hands-on experience with your yoga teacher who have seen your practice during class and may be able to point out modifications or adjustments that are more specific to you. As I mentioned earlier in the first point, alignment is constantly overlooked in yoga classes because of the relatively large class size and a lack of time for the yoga teacher to go around and adjust individual’s alignments. Therefore, it is on our own onus to ask questions and be more inquisitive about alignment in yoga asanas. If you experience any pain during your yoga practice, it is also extremely important to flag it to your yoga teacher so he or she will be able to suggest various modifications. Keeping quiet will only aggravate your injury or misalignment, and can be very detrimental in the long run!

5. Yoga teacher training is not only for aspiring yoga teachers

Many people may have the misconception that yoga teacher training is only for people who eventually wants to be yoga teachers. However, this is definitely not true, because there are so many fellow yoga teacher trainees around me who are doing this as a way to deepen their practice. YTT has definitely helped me deepen my understanding of yoga and transformed my yoga practice. Even if I don’t plan to be a yoga teacher in the future, all these information and lessons will definitely improve my yoga practice and physical wellbeing in the long run!   Namaste, Angie (200hr Weekend TT)

Yoga is so much more.

By week 4 of Yoga Teacher Training we have established that yoga is so much more than just asanas. But what does it mean?
Yoga teacher training is tough, But not for the reasons you would think. When I tell people YTT is tough, they think about the Asanas (arm balances, headstands, lotus pose…). But what I actually find even more challenging is the philosophy, all the new concepts we learn about. I don’t mean that the poses are not challenging, they are believe me, but I find it easier to work on a pose, than to work on myself. This is where the real work starts for me, working on a lifestyle that balances me and grounds me so my mind can remain calm in asanas, meditation and life (especially when challenges rise, either at work or at home).
So let’s talk about the philosophy of Ashtanga yoga.
Ashtanga yoga means the eight limbs of yoga. In these eight limbs, you find the Asanas, wich is the third limb. The fourth limb is Pranayama (breathing techniques). Pratyahara (fifth limb) is the control of the senses, while Dharana (sixth limb) is concentration, and Dhyana (seventh) meditation. The last one is Samadhi (eighth limb) which is a super conscious state, the ultimate & final union with nature.
What I want to talk about are the first two limbs, the foundation of Ashtanga Yoga. The Yama and the Niyama.
I find they are enough work for me as it is. Of course I practice my Asanas (third limb), I even practice pranayma (fourth limb) and I meditate (sixth and seventh limbs). But I find working with the Yama and Niyama a lot harder than I thought it would be when I first heard about them.
So what are they?
Here are the five Yamas.
–      The first Yama is Ahimsa – non violence. Don’t cause any harm of pain to anyone (including yourself).
–      The second Yama is Satya – truthfullness. Remain true to yourself and to your word.
–      The third one is Brahmacharya – control of the senses. Treat yourself and others well, don’t rely on small pleasures for happiness.
–      The forth one is Aparighraha –non-covetousness, non-possessivness.
–      The fifth one is Asteya – non-stealing. Don’t steal from others (money, time, it could be anything), but also share what you have, don’t keep everything to yourself.
Then we have the five Niyamas.
–      The first one Saucha is purity, cleanliness (”Purity of thoughts gives purity of attitude, gives purity of actions” – Master Paalu).
–      Santosha – Contentment. It just is the way it is. Happiness will go up and down, containment is with you at all times.
–      Tapas – Self discpline, self pratice. The self practice of the other Yamas and Niyamas is tapas for example.
–      Swadhyaya – Self-study and study of scriptures
–      Ishwara Pranidhana – Devotion, surrender. Meaning accepting you’re part of somehting bigger than yourself.
What amazes me is how they are all linked to each other. This is why they are called limbs. They are all very closely related, you cannot separate them, and trying to apply one without the others is in vain. You need them all to work together in balancing you and your mind.
When I first heard of these “principles” I felt they were pretty straightforward and simple to apply. But I know better now. It’s a learning process.  Let me take an example with the first Yama, Ahimsa – non violence.
I thought this one would be really easy to implement in my life. Everyday though I struggle. When my daughter is having a fit and I want to scream at her. When I want to push myself so hard that I don’t pay attention to the pain. When someone is really rude or mean and I want to retaliate. In all these little moments everyday, I have to remind myself to let go, to not let it affect me. It is much harder than I expected.
Another example is Santosha (the second Niyama) – contentment.
I find this one very hard. To just be able to accept that things are the way they are is a real challenge for me. It can be when a pose is not accessible to me but it is to the people around me. It can be when someone tells me about their super fun job when I’m struggling with mine. Being happy with what I have now is something I really need to be working on. Learning more about myself, my strenghtes, my potential is definitely helping.
Satya (the second Yama)– truthfullness – is very much connected to Ahimsa and it can be confusing when staying true to yourself and your word actually causes pain to another person. This duality is something I am still exploring and trying to make sense of.
The fifth Yama, Asteya, is non stealing – and it will lead to Santosha. Being honest and focused on what you have will help you being satisified with what you already possess. On your yoga mat, it means focusing on what you have, no competitiveness, being grateful for what you have. If you can manage this, then Santosha will come.
Can you start seeing how all these “limbs” are connected to each other? It is hard to do one without the other.
Yesterday we talked about mindset. I think it really comes down to that, attitude towards life, towards things that are coming at you (from outside or inside), how you respond to them. Just remember, there are no bad days in yoga, just days with yoga. “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it just is what it is now”.
Kali – 200 Hr weekday.