Just breathe

As a quiet observer in the office elevator this morning, I watched as this tall man breathed heavily, breaking the stillness with his audible inhalations and exhalations. Before I could think “oh awkward, does he know how loud he actually is”, I interrupted my own thoughts and wondered if perhaps being able to hear another person’s breathing should be considered normal.

How many of us suffer from shallow breathing?

Are we aware of the way we suppress our inhales and exhales to avoid emitting too much noise as it is “inappropriate”? Or by practising the “sucked-in belly” so as not to show our bulging tummies? Add to that stress and long hours hunching over a desk or electronic device, what happens? We become shallow chest or thoracic breathers.

When we breathe in a shallow way, the body remains in a cyclical state of stress—our stress causing shallow breathing and our shallow breathing causing stress.

Source: https://www.headspace.com/blog/2017/08/15/shallow-breathing-whole-body/

By contrast during yoga classes, we are encouraged to breeeeathe (teacher goes “I can’t hear your breathing!”) and not hold your breath even in uncomfortable poses.

I never really appreciated the breathing cues during yoga classes until I attempted to practise Surya Namaskar together with the corresponding inhales and exhales. What started as a tedious memorization test slowly revealed itself as being quite logical once I’ve gotten used to it. We see this in a forward bend – you exhale, contracting the abdomen and hence making space for a deeper stretch. It also acts as a pacer for me in group classes as I try to align my breathing with someone of similar respiratory rhythm.

As we have learnt, breathing is both involuntary and voluntary but intentional deep breathing provides massive benefits to us physically and mentally. There is an extensive discussion available online with numerous studies on the advantages of pranayama but for now, I would just like to share 4 things I have started to do in my humble attempt to try to reap some of the benefits:

  1. During the morning commute to work, I spend a short 3-5 minutes just focusing on abdominal breathing, counting each inhalation and exhalation as I go along. In just a week, I have found myself being able to increase in the length of each breath and it feels good to start the day with a clear mind.
  2. I tend to tense up at work and often catch myself holding my breath or taking in little sips of air when I’m stressed. Being conscious of my breath throughout the day allows me to remind myself to breathe properly. Many of us also wear a smart watch/device set at hourly intervals to remind us to stand up or move around. Whenever I get such an alert on my watch, I take the opportunity to do a quick check on my breathing as well.
  3. For those who are sensitive to environmental allergens, I have found that Anulom Vilom can very quickly clear a stuffy nose. While it doesn’t provide an instant remedy for the tightened chest and constricted airways, Anulom Vilom does help to diminish the anxiety as the discomfort gradually fades away.
  4. Before bedtime, I wind down by doing several rounds of Anulom Vilom in the hope of a calm mind and a good night’s rest.

Back to my thought this morning, since societal norms dictate that breathing loudly can be rather awkward, one can be really discreet while practising Anulom Vilom as compared to the other types of pranayama (well, that is if you don’t have a blocked nostril!), so this is definitely my go-to. Try to incorporate this into your daily life!

Within our own limits?

Knowing our own limits could be a delicate task. Instructors may say “do it within your own limits, don’t injure yourselves!”. But at times, we do try to push ourselves a little harder to “test” our limits. I did just that on Day One of YTT. I thought I could survive that “frog-jumping” streak of exercise. But unfortunately, my physical capability failed, and it rendered me big toe stubbed. Thank goodness the bones were still in place!

My swollen big toe would have led me to bid farewell to YTT, if not for those kind and encouraging advice from Master Max to hang me on. Well, I had to blame myself for not knowing my own limits, though.

Subsequent lessons incorporated with strength-building exercises swept away all my previous impressions of some “softy” yoga poses. Strong core muscles are needed, indeed (Savasana is an exception, of course). Reality kicked in. I knew I had to work harder to do those numerous asanas better. There is simply no magic..

Keeping a positive mindset and also watching those high-performing classmates in action are of great help. That’s a vital source of motivation to push myself further to keep up and expand my limits!

I guess all the capable ladies (and a lone-guy) in the class are all working hard and persevering to achieve their own new heights!  Keep it up!

Road to Yoga

It may sound weird, but I was recommended to yoga by a geomancy master about ten years ago. He believed that yoga’s calming effects would be helpful to me in ensuring a smooth life journey ahead… (I doubt he practise yoga himself, though.) The image of a white-haired guru meditating in a lotus pose came into my mind and it wasn’t very attractive to me then.

The surge of popularity of yoga finally pulled me in, with the help of those loud and continuous publicity of the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Out of proximity convenience, I embarked on Hatha yoga for a try, and it became a weekly routine. As time passed, I gradually realised that an old muscle problem of mine was gone! Better sleep, calmer temper, greater patience,…. all were happening! I felt so very grateful to my dedicated yoga teacher and, of course, that geomancy master who planted the seed of yoga in me.

Having benefitted so much from yoga practice, I thought it was time to share my personal experience with others and help those in such need. And it would only be more convincing if I do it as a yoga teacher.

So, here I am, in the YTT course 2019!

Embracing the differences in our bodies

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ―Confucius

As a yoga practitioner, there is often a perception that I am able to twist and turn in every direction. People will frequently comment “Wow you must be very flexible if you do yoga!” or “OMG can you do a handstand?!” – and I follow with an awkward smile.

Throughout my Yoga journey, I have scuffled with that thought numerous times. I pressured myself to attain these postures and often found myself feeling disappointed when I am unable to accomplish them perfectly. It is only after some time and during my teachers training where I realized that no one’s perfect and we are all different in our own ways. Some of us will have strength and some of us will have flexibility – and both should be celebrated.

Although being able to move effortlessly into a headstand is still a dream for most of us – I am slowly accepting that I do not have a time frame to achieve a certain level of expertise in postures. Our bodies are all different and hence, the lengths and width of our arms and legs vary as well. A posture which may seem easy for some, may require props and adjustments for another. Some may take a month or 2 and others may take a year or so.

There are still times i feel defeated when my peers are able to do some poses at ease while i cant, i make it an active effort to remind myself its okay – i’ll get there, just don’t give up!

x

How I came to Yoga

As years passed by, I see changes in my body and every month I am suffering badly from cramp and back aching usually lasted for a few days. I started to visit TCM and picked up some aerobics classes like high impact cardio exercise and also yoga classes. I feel energetic after every workout but my monthly condition did not really improve much and was getting worse. After some soul searching and facts finding, I decided to cut down on cold stuff and changed my routine to attend more yoga classes and I feel is working good on me. My pain is shorter now and my back-aching is improving.

I started to get curious and wanted to find out more about yoga and finally I took up the courage to enroll Yoga Teacher Training. After attended 6 lessons, I simply feel no regret to enroll this course as I always thought Yoga is only a form of exercise along with meditation. It is definitely more than that when one of the topics covered the eight limbs of Yoga. It inspired me to move through life with mindfulness for own self and others.

On the other hand, now I am paying much more attention to my breathing using proper technique of Pranayama. Breath is the bridge between the mind and body! After every Yoga lesson, I feel my mind is refresh though my body is worn-out. Although there are so many challenging poses that I could not really do it well yet, there are so many aliens words that I have to memorize etc. Really love the feeling to feel alive again!

My learning journey to Yoga begins. Namaste!

What We Give, We Receive

Up until recently, I had never given much thought to Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This statement was repeated to us multiple times during the course of our training, and thinking about it in detail made me realise that indeed every action we take has an effect that ripples outwards, sometimes in ways that we may never know.

On the yoga mat, Newton’s third law can be applied in terms of channelling the strength and energy to move the body in the opposite direction of gravity. For example, when we stand or sit without consciousness, our body is relaxed, and it slumps and collapses into itself. However, the action of consciously pressing our hands or feet firmly onto the mat will produce an immediate “equal or opposite reaction” of helping us root more firmly into the ground, thereby enabling us to stretch and rise up a little taller. The more energy or strength we expend in pushing against the ground, the easier it will be to lift the body in the opposite direction.

This concept can be applied in life off the mat as well: if we make a more conscious effort to be kind and compassionate, without anticipating anything in return, we will in turn receive an increase in capacity to perform more acts of kindness and compassion, which will help transform our lives to become extra extraordinary. The energy from which we give is not finite; the more you give, the more you have. Likewise, the more gratitude we express or feel for the good things we have in life, the Universe will respond by delivering to us more of the things for which we are grateful.

As week 4 of our yoga teacher training draws to a close, I am grateful for the knowledge and wisdom I have gained from Master Sree, for the friendship and camaraderie of my fellow trainees, and for the freedom and time to embark on this journey.

ST

Crystals & Yoga

A quick search on Google will reveal many ways in which one can use crystals to enhance their yoga practice. There is also plenty of information available online about how crystals are associated with the different chakras, and how crystals can help promote physical, emotional and spiritual healing. While there isn’t (or at least I think there isn’t) any scientific evidence to support the notion that crystals can harness energy, I have always felt drawn to crystals, and started collecting them a long time ago, way before I started practicing yoga. They initially served as decorative pieces, but I subsequently started using them in my meditation practice.

Having formed in the earth’s surface thousands or millions of years ago, crystals are commonly thought of as a means to help us connect with the energy of the universe. Here are some of my favorite pieces. On the extreme bottom left is a piece of Palo Santo wood, which is also used to cleanse my crystals of any unwanted negative energy after meditation.

My crystal collection

I normally do not research the properties of any particular crystal before purchasing it; I will buy it if I feel a connection. Without realising it, I somehow collected more pieces of amethyst crystals than other types – the properties of amethysts are to aid healing and bring about intense spiritual growth and self-discovery, so perhaps my inner sub-conscious thought it was the type of energy I could utilise?

It’s easy to meditate with a crystal. Just sit or lay on the mat with a stone in your palms, focus on the breath, and visualize/feel the energy spreading from your palms to the rest of your body. When you are ready, gently blink a few times and open your eyes, then cleanse the crystal properly (there are many ways of doing this!).

It’s interesting because each crystal vibes with each person differently, so when picking up a stone, trust your intuition in telling you what your soul needs.

ST

More than Asanas: Pushing Boundaries, Achieving Personal Best, The Journey Inwards & Beyond

Time flies and we’re on the final lag of the YTT course. It has certainly been a fruitful yet trying journey, one of pushing physical and also mental boundaries.

Those who know me know I’ve got an immense fear of heights and also confined spaces. With that, of course, brings about limitations to certain physical postures that have been impossible for me to do, even with regular practice. Yes, the dreaded sirsasana(headstand). It’s a posture that comes easier to some than others but for me it’s like getting a fish to walk on land. There really is no reason why I would not be able to perform the posture, other than the great fear of falling, which is involuntary and crippling. The fear is real.

I’m very proud to announce that I’ve achieved the impossible (for me at least) and did my first headstand over the weekend in the third week of the course. It’s the ‘I want to stand on top of the mountain and shout, I did it, kind of proud’. The sentiment that with the correct technique, focus and trust in oneself, personal bests and how the impossible can be achieved is not lost on me.

That to me, basically sums up YTT and its’ application to daily life for me. The theoretical aspect of yoga and looking inward on very tough questions like identity, with the practice of Pranayama and Asanas, gives insight and teaches life lessons that might not have been possible to achieve any other way. For me at least.

This journey has definitely been worthwhile and I’ve gained immensely from it. I achieved what I wanted and so much more. The alignment of both physical and mental state of being is a work in progress and something I think will benefit a lot of people. That yoga is more than Asanas & postures. Now that would be something I hope I can share with more people, either through teaching yoga or in some other way. Yoga is here to stay, for me.

Similarities Between a Multi-Tasking Ninja & Teaching Yoga

The connotation of a multi-tasking ninja is no doubt associated with; mothers, an amazing superhuman form who does a multitude of tasks on a 24/7 basis. Whilst definitely not on the same level as a mom, being a female, I take pride in being able to multi-task on a small scale, relatively well. Yes, I’ve gone out and said it, I think us females are better at multi-tasking and in details than our fellow male counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, I think males can get things done well, but just one thing at a time.

The class was exposed to teaching aspect this week, a real exciting yet daunting task. How hard can teaching be right… I’ve gone for my fair share of yoga classes, a few times a week actually and never gave much thought to what teaching really entails.

I joined YTT course for the simple fact that I like the physical aspect of yoga and want a deeper understanding of, not just the asanas, but what yoga really is. I did not except the course to be easy but never thought that teaching could be so challenging.

The class was tasked with teaching sun salutation and the application of posture alignment for it. Doesn’t sound like much on paper, in fact it appears rather fun, but NO. There are so many factors coming into play at the same time; from remembering the sequence of the postures, whether you need to breathe in or out for the postures to paying attention to the students’ postures and making the relevant adjustments… It was mind boggling… Another challenge is the finesse that comes with conducting the class, for instance, alignment of a student’s posture whilst the rest are all holding the pose and absolutely cursing you in their heads. Do not even get me started on having to remember the correct technique to adjusting the postures. Poooffffttt, the bubble that my multi-tasking skills are at a satisfactory level has just burst. Similarly, the stereotypical idea that multi-tasking ninjas are usually females. Look at the number of male teachers out there, who are exceptional at what they do.

To say that I’ve got a newfound respect for yoga teachers and the amount of work involved in teaching is an understatement. Of course, teaching is an art and a skillset that would get better with time and practice. I’m looking forward to honing my skills in that respect, to evolve from a duckling to a multi-tasking swan.

On deeper thought, it is my view that the art of yoga teaching and also yoga teachers on the whole are more like multi-tasking swans than ninjas. Poised, graceful and focused on the surface, but so much more work is going on beneath the surface.

Final Week of YTT :-(

As our YTT has come down to the final week, I can foresee with my yogic powers (that I have harnessed over the past 3 weeks :-)) that graduating from YTT with the certificate on Friday will be a truly bittersweet moment, and that for a long time, I will miss the whole experience in this month of July. 

YTT, or rather yoga itself, has gifted me many things, the best one of all is this feeling that I’ve reawakened another part of myself that has been sleeping dormant deep deep inside for a very long time. YTT is just another temporary human experience, the physical practices and drills, the theory and philosophy classes, even the people :-(. But the one thing that YTT gifts you, is this newfound positive empowerment that is sure to last a long time. Throughout this month-long yogic journey, it feels like I found a long-lost friend, like a friend I’ve lost while growing up, but is a friend who will stay with me (for as long as I practise yoga hahaha). Maybe this ‘friend’ is my natural self, my inner self, and 3 weeks of intense yoga practices has brought me closer to who I was, before I became someone I’m not. 

Though I’m sad that YTT will soon come to an end and I will definitely miss this whole experience, I’m thankful for this deep-delving inward journey with all its wonderful treasures and lessons. After YTT, the best thing that I can do next is to help others, even in the smallest ways, to take a step closer to their natural self by teaching yoga to those around me, while doing my best to live up to the Yamas & Niyamas and keeping up my own practise. 

Honestly, because of YTT, July has been the best month of the year thus far. 

After that, YTT 300? Hmmm… seriously considering…