From self-distancing to self-study

In response to the novel coronavirus that is currently spreading around the world, more than 90 countries have compulsory or recommended confinements, curfews, and quarantines. This means that more than half the world’s population has been asked to stay at home by their governments.

This isolation and lack of human contact are the roots of serious emotional and psychological distress, especially in those who live alone. Long periods of confinement can cause frustration, stress, anxiety, irritability… We feel that we lost a significant part of our freedom, we miss our loved ones and we fear to fall sick. These measures are forcing us to change our habits, slow down the pace of our daily lives and activities, and confronting us to our own company.

Even if nowadays social media is a very powerful tool to connect people located on opposite sides of the world in a matter of seconds, physical and social contact are still crucial for our mental health because most of us are used to interact with multiple people during the day. What should we do when all the voices around us are silent? We have an opportunity to listen to our inner voice.

Confinement is indeed giving us an opportunity to practice Swadhyaya. Swadhyaya is the fourth of Patanjali’s Niyamas and it is the concept of self-study. Now more than ever we have the chance to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions that we often choose to ignore and define who we are, our qualities and weaknesses, and the impact we have on others. Practicing self-study through meditation and pranayama during these difficult times is especially important in order to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves and others.

Urdhva Mukha Shavanasana – How to perform it more effectively

To perform it more vigorously and effectively

  1. Press the big toes firmly on to the mat to give nice push and energetic vibrance to the pose
  2. Do not collapse the hips but let it sink on its own
  3. By pressing on the mat firmly, the sternum is lifted up and facing the ceiling and widens the sternum
  4. Engage the calf muscles to protect the lower from cringing on each the spinal joints thus releasing the pressure from the sacrum.
  5. Lift the forehead up and beyond but without hastily compressing the cervical spine.

to learn Urdhva Mukha Shavanasasna effectively, pls seek a teacher who knows about this pose or someone with many years of experience teaching it.

 

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana – Meaning and Benefits

Upward-Facing Dog Pose — Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana — Strengthens the back muscles, especially the spinal erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, deltoids etc

  • “Urdhva” — meaning “upward”
  • “Mukha” — meaning “face”
  • “Shvana” — meaning “dog”
  • “Asana” — meaning “pose or stance”

Upward-Facing Dog is incorporated in the Sun Salutations A and B of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Series as taught by Sri Krishnamacharya and is often done 5 times in Sun Salutation A and 5 times in Sun Salutation B warm up vinyasa. It can be used as a strength-builder and also as a prep towards deeper backbends.

Benefits of Upward-Facing Dog

Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Shavanasana) does eccentric contraction  the chest and torsa areas, while strengthening the wrists, arms, and shoulders. By concentric contraction of the back musecles and opening the upper body and chest.  Urdhva Mukha Shavanasana improves posture and can be therapeutic for asthmatic patients as well as people who have sinusitis issues. Upward Dog creates suppleness in the back torso and abdomen, which stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion. It also firms the buttocks and thighs, helping to relieve sciatica. The backbend energizes and rejuvenates the body, providing relief from fatigue and mild depression.

How did yoga democratise itself and how it has become part of our daily life routine?

A few years back, Yoga was perceived like a weird spiritual related discipline that only hippies were into. So it got be questioning: how did Yoga become such a huge hype that today you cannot avoid traveling anywhere in the world without seeing a Yoga studio somewhere?

Yoga in sanskrit means “union” and a yogi will spend a lifetime trying to align body, mind and soul! 

Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago and at the time was a philosophical and meditative movement (amongst many others) trying to unite our physical world with the divine. 

The mental effort to unite body, mind and soul is much more difficult than only focusing on the physical postures. It is therefore thought that postures will only start appearing in Yoga in the 18th century and they could only start being practiced after long hours of meditation work first. Yoga has therefore evolved over the course of the years and History. The Yoga that we practice today has mostly been inspired by the 1920’s. 

The first guru to “promote” Yoga to the western world was Swami Vivekananda in Chicago in 1893 during the World’s Parliament of Religions. He gave a vision of Yoga to be a philosophical, spiritual, universal and tolerant discipline. 

In 1924, the guru Tirumalai Krishnamacharya developed a series of postures accessible to all, targeting the western world. This method which did not require intense meditation before starting any physical practice will democratize Yoga and become quite popular amongst westerners in search of spirituality and exotisme. 

In 1968, The Beatles go on a trip to Rishikesh, the city of their guru Maharishi Mahesh. Following their stay, Rishikesh will then become popular as a city of yoga and music and will attract a lot of people who want to visit the “Holy City of Yoga”. 

In 1973, the popular and controversial guru Bikram Choudhury started teaching Hollywood stars Yoga (Madonna, George Clooney, Demi Moore…). He will create his own hot yoga practice and will open hundreds of studios across the USA and abroad. 

In the 1980’s, as Yoga has become more and more “trendy” across the world, the attention sets back to its roots: India. Rishikesh becomes one of the official “yoga authentic” cities in the world. Many westerners who are into Yoga will make a stop over in the city. 

The various gurus who have helped Yoga become more trendy have also raised new questions amongst the practitioners: is yoga a practice of the body or the mind? 

Source: Marie Kock, « Yoga, une histoire-monde »

What the 200hrs Yoga Teacher Training brought me

I started my yoga journey 6 years ago by a friend dragging me for a 2 days yoga retreat in the middle of nowhere (with no internet connection). At that time I didn’t know what to expect from these two days and arrived to the retreat with a preconceived idea of this discipline: modern hippies only eating seeds and avocado gluten-free toasts and singing ohms to relax! I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt after an intense day of stretching, exercising, singing and meditating and from that weekend onwards never stopped my yoga asana practice. 

I started practicing more thoroughly the following year as I moved to Singapore, land of the yoga clubs! To me yoga had become my new “sport hobby” as I hated having to sweat all the water out of my body by running outside. 

Throughout my six years of weekly yoga practices, I thought my ultimate goal was to be flexible and strong enough to be able to snap an instagram shot doing peacock or fancy headstand postures. 

Few months back I went through a hard time and felt depression and anxiety slowly settling in my daily life. I stopped “exercising” and felt even worse. One night my husband pushed me to register to a 200hrs YTT saying that even though I might not change want to make a leaving out of yoga it would probably help finding a new source of personal inspiration. He was so right, I do not regret a second taking some time away from home, kids, work, daily routine to focus purely on myself. 

Of course practicing 2hrs of asanas everyday has “forced” me back into a physical activity and has helped me deepen my practice, feel stronger and healthier physically but it has also been the starting point of a new journey: asking myself questions I had always tried to ignore: how do I define myself, what is my life purpose, where do I want to be in a few years time. I am still currently answering these questions with too much of my “daily life” elements, but this training has definitely helped me to start focusing on who I am and who I want to be as well as how I want to live the rest of this life more deeply. 

This training has opened my eyes and taught me that yoga is not a practice it is a life philosophy and it might take more than just a single life to answer some of the deepest questions it forces oneself to think about 😉

Teaching “ultra” beginners

The first class we were asked to teach during our 200hrs YTT was an “ultra beginner” class, and “ultra beginner” meant no downward dogs or warrior 1. 

How could we teach people how to focus on their breathing or stretch for a full 60 minutes practice? Wouldn’t it be super boring? 

The evening before I decided to use my husband to design my ultra beginner sequence. I was quite surprised to find out that, downward facing dog to him (a true yoga newbie, constantly complaining about back pain) was like doing headstand without any other support than the crown of the head to me!

I reshuffled things a little around to focus mostly on deepening the breathing, playing around with some balancing poses, including a fair amount of stretching and including downward facing dog and warrior one as the two most advanced postures of the sequence. Here’s how it went: 

  1. Sit in a comfortable position (ideally legs crossed, can be on a block)
  2. Start focusing on some breathing exercises to become more conscious of ones own breath:
    1. Deeply inhale in 1,2,3 (tummy goes out) and 3,2,1 (tummy comes in)
    2. Start Ujayic breathing by pretending to fog a mirror but keeping mouth closed
  3. Some stretching exercises:
    1. Neck rotations (clockwise, anti clockwise)
    2. Shoulder rotations (inwards, outwards)
    3. Arms in front: wrist rotations
    4. Right arm up, left arm hand on the floor, extend right arm over left side (and other side)
    5. Still on the floor, sit on toes and rotate toes (with weight of your body on the balls of your feet)
    6. On all fours: cat and cows
    7. Standing up, breath in, stretch the arms up, stand on toes – exhale, release the whole body by bending forward
    8. Rotate the arms inwards, then backwards
  4. Exercises to teach some basic postures
    1. Forward fold with bended knees, grabbing opposite elbows, rock from side to side
    2. Low lunge with knee on floor to open hips
    3. Face a wall, place hands on the wall in L shape (to practice pressure in arms and shoulders during downward dog)
  5. Hatha yoga sun salutation 5 times
    1. Inhale – arms up
    2. Exhale – fold forward
    3. Inhale – half way lift, hold: right leg back, left leg back
    4. Exhale – Knees, chest, chin on the floor
    5. Inhale – Cobra
    6. Exhale – downward dog
    7. Inhale – Right leg forward, left leg forward 
    8. Exhale – forward fold
    9. Inhale – Arms up
    10. Exhale – Stand still, arms on side of body
  6. Relaxation exercises
    1. Sit on the mat, forward stretch
    2. Lie on the mat – happy baby pose
    3. Bend knees – hold tight to the chest
    4. Still bended knees, drop both knees on right side, gaze to the left (then other side) 
    5. Lie is savasna

Building a good yoga sequence

One of the challenges I was faced during my 200hrs YTT is when, during the last week of our training, we had to come in front of the class to teach other future teachers a real class.

This was a challenge for various reasons: I had to fight away the “shyness” in me and act as if I was a tenured teacher, I had to show confidence when this was the first real class I was teaching, I knew the others had the same level as me (if not better) and I had to teach them nice sequences, I had so many things running in my head at the same time (voice tone, energy, smooth transitions, adjustments…). 

But one of the most difficult challenges for me was finding the right sequence. The sequence that I and my students would enjoy. The sequence that would reflect my personality and style. 

I would spend hours over the weekend to watch some YouTube videos or pinning some nicely illustrated yoga sequences on Pinterest, yet I felt lost in an overflow of information. Until I found a really nice cheat-sheet on how to build a yoga sequence. You need to fill the blanks according to the class you want to deliver but it guides you through a nice smooth flow. As I know a lot of young Yoga Teachers might be reading these blog posts, I thought it’d be a nice to share:

  1. [Note to teacher only]
    1. Class Name
    2. Peak pose
    3. Theme
  2. Intro
  3. Starting pose (eg. child pose, seating, standing, laying…)
  4. Breathing exercise (eg. kapalbhati, ujjayi, aloma viloma…)
  5. Spinal warm ups (eg. cat-cow, twists, side bend…)
  6. Sun salutation x times (eg. Hatha, Ashtanga A, B…)
  7. External hip rotations with Vinyasa in between and repeat other side (eg. 
  8. Internal hip rotations with Vinyasa in between and repeat other side (eg. 
  9. Standing balance poses (eg. tree, half-moon, eagle, warrior 3…)
  10. Sequence leading to peak 
  11. Peak pose (eg. high lunge, chair, pyramid, low lunge…)
  12. Counter pose (eg. headstand -> child pose, shoulder stand -> fish pose…)
  13. Seated poses (eg. baddha konasana, lotus, paschimottanasana…)
  14. Supine poses (eg. bridge, fish, reclined butterfly, happy baby…)
  15. Savasna
  16. Optional: place some core exercises in between a sequence category

You can fill out this cheat-sheet depending on the time of day, level of your students, theme of the class, mood of the day… without forgetting the essentials!

Yoga – a friend for life.

As we age, Our mind and body mostly misalign with the our physical and mental status. No two people age similarly . For example, one always feels amaze when you come across 70 year old man with 70 year old body and mind  compared to 70 year old man with 40 year old mind and body.

As one ages, the physical changes is inevitable and sometimes it makes most obvious and daily routine task more challenging. This may end up shaking one’s self confidence with lower flexibility , lower sense of balance , bones and joints movement limited.Some of the other common problems could be issues with digestive system, lack of proper lung functioning hence affecting breathing patterns. All this ultimately create obstacles in the proper functioning of the heart which could be recognised by disruption in daily living functions like missing of adequate sleep, mild depression, mood swings, and a decline in overall well-being.

The practice of yoga amongst elderly can bring about positive change in their  quality of life . The program created for this age group should combine simple stretches and modified yoga poses suiting to their need and support their spine . It should also be remembered that the practise for the elderly should include in massaging int he internal organs especially the digestive system and at least 15 min of pranayama should be added in a 60 min practice for helping to enhance the lung capacity and align the chakras.Conscious effort should be made to keep in mind the average age and fitness of the students with modifications to customise the sequence as per the bodily requirement of the aged group.

Don’t give up

 

I read somewhere ‘there is no magic needed to do Beautiful asanas ‘. My head stand has taken a lot of discipline  and working and I can safely say it still a Work in Progress. The lesson I have learnt is that practice is necessary. It also needs that Minor and major adjustments and knowing what works best for me.

How many times in a day do I tell myself to give up and take the easy way out ? At least two on an average!These could be a explained with a classic Motherly explanation. Since we are all human beings , temptations may come in at every stage of parenting to give in to unreasonable demands and not bothering to choose the path of discussion. That is when you have to study what needs to be done in your family life and decide how much of yourself you are willing to give to get it. Having the discipline to maintain a high level of active parenting reaps rewards not just in the area of behavior, but in health and happiness as well.

It’s very important to never give up without giving it a try especially with decisions and actions which you know would be in the right direction.So what are you waiting for ?

 

The Chakras Connection

As per Yoga , our body and mind and ultimately our well being gets regulated by 7 chakras located in different parts of our body.They are dependent on each other and for a step closer to samadhi , they need to be in alignment with each other.

Unfortunately, the chakras in most of the modern physical body gets victimised by external forces most of the time. Sometimes these forces are initiated by others and sometimes it’s our own creation. Though we cannot control the external reasons, what we can control is out reaction towards those forces.

Since the modern world moves very, very fast , it’s not long before we feel all kinds of pressure (personal, parental, social) to keep up with everyone around them. For example ,as parents we want our children to act and behave with mindfulness and with compassion, to be brave, to know love and happiness, and to find inner peace but we take it as a performance pressure and burden ourselves.

Being a regular Yoga Practitioner and doing it like a Sadhana helps create a routine in one’s life. It also helps in taking that one more step toward Chakras spinning at the right speed Yoga functions as a balancing act to connect with self and create an example for the follow .