Yuj

Yoga, union of body and mind.

The thousands of journey begin with one step’ – Lao Tze. We often learn one or two ancient philosophy quote as we grow up and this particular one influences me the most because I wouldn’t have accomplish many things in my life if I was unwilling from stepping my first step. Too, I wouldn’t have start practicing yoga, struggle to grow stronger, wiser and finally understand practicing yoga is actually a path of self awakening for seeking truth, health and philosophy of life.

I can still recall how uncoordinated I was when I started yoga, back in my 30s. My body was stiffed, hard to bend and even difficult to breathe, at some points. I refused to give up and kept returning to the class because I have started my first step and I need to complete my journey. Gradually, I was able to stretch, bend deeper and hold the pose longer. After a year or two of constant practice, a question appeared on my mind, ‘what is the ultimate goal of all this?’ I spent some times to search for the answer and following that, I realised I need to look into myself. Because of practicing yoga, I have learned to focus, contemplate and change, not only the fitness of the physical, but also the mind and spirits.

The practice of yoga started in India many centuries ago and it was not until later, a rare enlightened master, the sage Patanjali compiled a collection of sutras on the theory for practice by synthesising and organising the traditional knowledge. The collection of sutras was named as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The sutras defined Yoga (Yuj) as union, or to unite. The union of the many selves of our own, physically, mentally and spiritually.  

Further explained in one of Patanjali’s sutras, to release the mind we need to follow the systematic methodology path, the raja yoga (king of yoga), also known as ashtanga yoga (eight limbs of yoga). 

In raja yoga, the first limb is five abstentions or outer observances, Yama. Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-restraint and non-possessive. Second limb, five inner observances, Niyama. Pure, happy, discipline, reflective and devotion. Third limb, the physical posture needed for meditation, Asana. Fourth limb, controlled or suspended breath, Pranayama. Fifth limb, withdrawal of the senses, Pratyahara. Sixth limb, single-pointed concentration, Dharana. Seventh limb, meditation, Dhyana. And the eighth limb, liberation, Samadhi.

By understanding how simple a breath will affect the physical movement, how letting go some of the controls will enhance the balance, and how contemplate, adjust, change and concentrate will unite our inner spirits, we will one day able to liberate our mind and achieve infinite calmness. 

Yoga is LIT

“Yoga is a lifestyle. Do not refine your life for yoga, but let yoga refine your life” – Master Sree. I wish I could put into words to show how much this statement has increasingly held true in my life, over the course of consistent yoga practice for a month with Master Sree and a group of 5 other amazing women.

The statement was made by Master Sree to the class in Week 1, and over the subsequent 3 weeks, he has consistently driven in the belief that we’re each on our own path, and we do not have the right (nor should we) engage in the petty judgement of others – the perceived differences that we may not agree with, and neither should we let things of the material world define our identity. My key takeaway from this was to approach the world with greater acceptance, and stemming from that, conscious detachment, especially to the outcomes of actions, situations and life. This does not mean that we don’t practice empathy, but while we understand and feel the extent of things happening in our lives, we don’t fixate upon the experience or the outcome. We let ourselves grow from it.

 

Yoga as a chosen lifestyle

Yoga is a lifestyle option that people choose to live by, choose to participate in, choose to integrate in their lives. There are many aspects in yoga philosophy that overlap with modern day mantras of practicing self-kindness, self-care, a focus on mental health, and also religious doctrines of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and more. The beauty of it is that the underlying principle is an acceptance of all varied beliefs, experiences and viewpoints. Everything that a (rational) person embodies and believes at a given point in time, is completely valid. The person has chosen a particular course of action or belief based on what he/she thinks is best for himself/herself, and his/her appetite for acceptance of a certain mantra, doctrine, response etc. What is medicine to one is poison to another, and this holds very true for yogic belief (in my opinion, at least). Master Sree gave an example in class once about the concept of healing. He said that depending on what the person believes, he would have to tailor his healing to suit the individual. For a person who is religious, healing would touch upon more spiritual aspects, but if a person believes in science, healing would gravitate towards a scientific explanation and solution. Ultimately, it is about what works for the person, and based on the answer (spiritual, scientific, anything else) given to the person, can it help the person gain the conviction to push through and overcome the obstacles?

As such, I have chosen to integrate some core principles of yoga into my life simply because it works for me at this given point in time. The practice of yoga makes me feel more at peace in a world where everything seems to be so unsettled, so confusing, so uncertain. It makes me feel like while everything around me could revolve to a state of utter confusion and uncertainty, the onus is upon me to remain positive, remain strong, and keep my conviction towards the pursuit of the path(s) that have seemingly opened up for me, and walk away from those that have closed too. I believe in the divine shaping of my life and as long as I approach life with a positive and strong mindset, things will work out!

 

Yoga as an individual journey

I know this is cliché, everybody says it. However, I think everyone says it because they have experienced it and it really holds true. You just gotta experience it and internalise it for yourself. The beauty of this is that you can take the principles from this state of “yoga being an individual journey” and apply it to all other aspects of your life – relationships, family, career and anything else that matters to you.

When I first started practicing yoga as a beginner, my practice was heavily centered around mastering poses. I inevitably kept comparing myself to those around me – my friends who were doing yoga, the other people in classes and thought to myself “okay I need to improve and improve and improve”.

However, throughout the course of the practice, you start to realise that yoga is so broad that there’s really no ONE measure of what is considered “better” or “worse”. It really depends on how you want to use yoga to enhance your life, and how you want to integrate it into your life.

Some practitioners prefer to focus on the more meditative aspects, while others want to focus on the physical aspects, and you can’t definitively say that one is better than the other. It’s really about what works best for you. Nonetheless, I would say that a desire to foundationally understand yoga philosophy should underpin the choice.

Furthermore, we’re all built differently. Some body structures make entering and training for certain postures more easily than others. While we tend to compare what can be seen most easily (aka comparison of the achievement of postures), there’s really so much more that goes behind the scenes and affects the outcome. Thus, I have learnt over the course of my yoga practice and YTT not to fixate on achieving postures too because ultimately, it is about the process and the mindset going into it, not the outcome.

 

Yoga as a form of reprieve from a world that tends to be competitive

In the light of the above that I shared, one thing I love about yoga is that it is fundamentally not about being the best or even better than other people – it is truly about being the best version of yourself.

In a world that teaches you to outsmart and outperform others in order to achieve “success”, for yoga, “success” is based on your own individual terms and based on your own parameters. The beauty of it is that understanding that it is purely your own journey reflects a deeper walk in the yoga journey.

This brings me so much relief, contentment and peace in this very competitive world.

 

Detachment from social situations

As someone who struggles with being too emotionally involved with many social interactions in my daily life, the fundamental concept of detachment has been a good principle to adopt in my life. Master Sree gave the example of a floating lotus – one who is in the water, experiences the water, but is unaffected by the water. I hope to be able to adopt this mindset in all aspects of my life where I feel the most of life but am able to not fixate upon certain outcomes, emotions and experiences that I go through.

 

 

Moving forward, I want to be able to fully practice this, practicing both self-care and self-kindness.

I feel that one of the most important things is to keep our intentions pure. Only by doing so will we be able to let go of the outcomes of various situations that we are put in. I use social situations as an example here because of all the things in life that we seek to control, other people (their actions, behaviours and attitudes) remain fleetingly out of our grip. This is why it is difficult to let go and change outcomes because we cannot change other people. Coming to terms with this and being able to practice detachment will help us (me) deal with the uncertainty of life when it comes to the other. I feel that this will have a profound impact on how we handle many things in life that come at us – a job opportunity outcome, our friendships, our relationships, even life/death.

Fly High and Invert in Aerial Yoga

Yoga is my true love but Aerial Yoga comes pretty close too. If I’m not on my mat doing yoga flows, you can find me swinging on a hammock, doing new tricks and turning upside down.  

 

What is Aerial Yoga?

Aerial Yoga is known as Anti-gravity yoga and shares many similarities with Yoga. In Aerial Yoga, students use the hammock, a swatch of soft and smooth fabric suspended from the ceiling, as a tool to support their weight so they can suspend in the air in different aerial yoga poses, acrobatic postures, or go into inversion poses easily. Aerial yoga exercises incorporate elements of dance, yoga, pilates, aerial acrobatics, allowing students to hone their flexibility, strength and balance. Balance is important in aerial yoga as students need to be stable on the hammock before they can deepen their practice. In addition, aerial yoga consists of climbs, flips and drops, which require a lot of core strength and flexibility. While aerial yoga is typically done indoors, you can take it outdoors too!

Cobra pose (2019 Yoga & Aerial, Vegan Retreat in Phuket)

 

History of Aerial Yoga

Aerial Yoga is a new form of yoga, having been introduced around the 1990s. The origin of aerial yoga is not clear but some attributed it to famous yoga guru, B.K.S Iygengar who brought the yoga swing to his students, to demonstrate the benefits of inversion. Some traced it back to former gymnast Christopher Harrison who pioneered the first aerial yoga workouts in 1991 with a group of gymnasts who wanted to continue doing aerial moves after retiring. Nonetheless, thanks to these founders, we get to enjoy aerial yoga as a form of exercise and a fun activity to do with loved ones today!

 

Aerial Yoga is good for the body and mind

Why should you try out Aerial Yoga? This form of yoga has many health benefits! 

  • Reduces risk of cardiovascular heart disease

The American Council on Exercise commissioned researchers from Western State Colorado University to conduct a study to evaluate the health effects of a single Aerial Yoga session and a 6-week Aerial Yoga Intervention in 2016. For the 6-week programme, 16 female volunteers between the ages of 18 and 45 participated in 3 50-minute Aerial Yoga sessions per week i.e. 18 sessions altogether in the 6-week programme. Findings showed that a single session of Aerial Yoga, offered participants benefits associated with low-to-moderate intensity aerobic exercises like brisk walking or leisure cycling. Additionally, the 6-week intervention resulted in a measurable reduction in common risk factors (body weight, body-fat percentage and blood pressure) for cardiovascular heart disease. With other factors controlled in this study, the combined improvements in these risk factors suggest that participants reduced their risk of heart attack by 10%.

  • Decompresses the spine and reduce back pain

As we hang upside down using the aerial hammock, decompression of the spine happens i.e. the gravity gently pull apart the vertebrae and discs of our spine to allow fresh synovial fluid, oxygen and other nutrients to flood in and nourish them, while relieving the pressure that has accumulated in our bodies. This helps to lengthen the spine and heal back pain, making it very beneficial for those who faced back issues.

  • Builds strength and flexibility 

As we try to keep our balance on the hammock, we are activating our pelvic floor, paraspinal muscles, gluteal muscles and abdominals, which contributes to core strength, which is important as it affects our back health too. As the stability of the ground is removed, our core works harder to keep us balanced. The muscles surrounding our spine supports and protects the vertebral column, keeping them conditioned and flexible, to prevent any aches or pains that may occur due to knots and tension. In Aerial core classes, the focus is on building strength, hence students do planks, pikes, crows, side crows, one legged side crows and chaturangas, using the hammock, to build both arms, shoulder, back and core strength. Apart from that, aerial poses require a lot of maneuvering of the hammock, which requires a lot of flexibility. As we relax the body while being suspended in the air, tension is removed as the gravity helps to deepen our stretches, lengthening our ligaments and relaxing our muscles, which improves flexibility. 

  • Lifts mood and relieves stress

“You are one class away from a good mood” – Aerial Yoga is an epitome of this quote! I mean this literally, because aerial yoga gets your blood flowing and releases “feel good” endorphins. If you are having a bad day, or feeling stress over something, aerial yoga can calm your mind. I love going into inverted butterfly pose, closing my eyes and focusing on positive thoughts or simply letting myself meditate.

  • Improves mental concentration

Beyond stress relief, the benefits of being inverted includes better focus, improved concentration and memory, as blood flows to the brain to provide oxygen. When doing Aerial Yoga, energy is concentrated on the body, especially on the techniques of going into the poses. To get into an advanced aerial pose, requires participants to remember the steps to get into the pose. This heightens our body awareness and builds our neural connections, which enable better memory power. 

  • Detoxify

Aerial Yoga provides a deep tissue massage, allowing us to experience a deep fascia release. Fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds all body parts such as organs and muscles. It connects muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments together. When we are in aerial yoga poses, the hammock compresses some of the deeper connective tissues in our body, releasing any tension. At the end of the aerial class, students are encouraged to hydrate themselves plenty to flush out the toxins that get released.

  • Helps one to go into inversions

It might be difficult for some of us to do some inversion poses on the mat such as Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) however with the help of the hammock, which supports most of your weight, you can easily perform some inversion poses and feel confident in it.

The only way I can do handstand right now is with the hammock 😛

 

Yin or Yang?

Aerial Yoga is typically ‘Yang’ type of poses as it involves plenty of core work and engaging of the abdominal, shoulders and gluteus muscles to go into the poses. The hammock height for aerial classes usually falls nicely around your hip bones when you tip-toe and press down on the hammock. It should also land nicely around your sacrum when you are inverting with the hammock. Aerial Yoga can also have ‘Yin’ poses. For Aerial Yin classes, the hammock is used as a prop for students to go into gentle backbends or forward passive stretches. Students would usually be lying or sitting down in these stretches. The height of the hammock would sit nicely around the knee area.

 

Can everyone do Aerial Yoga?

Everyone can do traditional yoga on the mat, with variations and modifications for certain poses, however this is not the case for Aerial Yoga. It is recommended for students with heart disease and extremely high or low blood pressure to avoid this form of yoga as the poses will involve students turning upside down. When the head is below the heart, the sudden flow of blood to the head is not safe as it will lead to an increased risk of stroke. Those with motion sickness should also avoid Aerial Yoga as there will be plenty of swaying action in the hammock, which contributes to dizziness and nausea. Always check with the doctor before you engage in any physical exercises to ensure that you are clear and safe to engage in the activity.

For those without the above symptoms and are cleared by the doctor to do Aerial Yoga, there are different types of Aerial Yoga styles to choose from. Aerial Core, Aerial Flow, Aerial Yin, Aerial Basics are similar to Hatha, Vinyasa and Yin yoga. Beginners can always start with the Basics and even if they join a multi-level class, instructors would usually provide a breakdown of the sequences and beginners can stop at wherever they feel comfortable.

 

Preparations for Aerial Yoga classes 

  1. Before an aerial yoga class, remove your jewellery and watches as these may get snagged in the fabric, tearing it in the process. 
  2. In addition, Aerial Yoga may cause friction when the hammock cloth rubs against the skin, therefore beginners are usually advised to wear long leggings and a sleeved top. The usual body parts that may hurt when the hammock is wrapped around it are: thighs, waist, lower back and armpits hence you want to cover these areas, to avoid the cloth burn. 
  3. Just like most other sports, it’s advisable to come with an empty stomach, you don’t want to be puking your meal over your teacher or fellow aerial classmates!
  4. Getting upside down may also cause you to get confused between your right and left. This is perfectly normal, just listen to your instructor, they are there to guide you.
  5. Lastly, have fun! Aerial Yoga does not intend to scare you away from inversions or even yoga. Make use of the chance to try something new and challenging!

 

Why I love Aerial Yoga

It’s not about the pretty acrobatic acts or fulfilling my dream of performing in a circus. I like Aerial Yoga because it empowers me to face my fears and to find comfort in discomfort. I have a fear of heights, but when I do Aerial Yoga, it helps me to treat these fears as challenges, and it gives me the courage to attempt poses that I may not have the arm strength for. 

Leaving you my favourite quote to conclude this post: “I bend so I won’t break, I invert so I know how to deal with things that turn upside down.” Try Aerial Yoga if you have not, and let me know how you find it. Sending you peace and light. (:

The First 2 Limbs of Yoga

The First 2 limbs of Yoga

 

I have chosen to write my blog about the first 2 limbs of yoga because these 2 concepts and each compartment within them really interest me and they are ideas that I have been trying to apply into my life in the last couple years. Together these 2 limbs form high moral character and allow for purity of the mind, body and soul.

 

Patanjali compiled up 8 compartments to describe the sadhana way to samadhi, through raja/ashtanga yoga. These 8 limbs are aimed at releasing the mind and guiding a person into full consciousness. 

 

  • The first limb is called Yama, which means universal moral/ethical commandments and includes the disappearance of all suppressions. Yama controls and individuals passions and emotions and keeps them in harmony with others around them. If these commandments are not obeyed then this brings violence, chaos, untruth, stealing, dissipation, and an envious need to possess something, extreme greed. These characteristics derive from the emotions of greed, attachment and desire, which according to patanjali can only bring ignorance and pain. 
    • The first principle of Yama is called ahimsa which means non-violence. According to this principle, violence arises out of fear, restlessness, ignorance or weakness and in order to stop this from occurring we need to reach freedom from fear (abhaya) and freedom from anger (akrodha), coming from a change in the perspective of life. Every creature is equal and has every right to live as they do. A yogi believes that every creation should be looked upon with love and knows that their life is connected to others, finding happiness in making other creatures happy. A wrong done by a yogi should be resolved with justice and a wrong done by another should be forgiven. Ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah means that a person who practices nonviolence will receive non violence in return and love. When a person who practices ahimsa surrenders all hostilities, other people will also surrender their hostilities when they come into contact with this person, and love arises from the dissipation of violence.
    • The second principle is called satya, which means truthfulness. This is based on the motion that if one lives and speaks in truth then they are fit to unify with the infinite and reach samadhi. According to patanjali, reality is based on love and truth and can be lived through these aspects. There are 4 sins of speech and they include falsehoods, abuse and obscenity, telling tales, and ridiculing what others have said. It is said that when an individual learns to control their tongue they have gained self-control and they will be heard with respect, they will be well remembered for their truth. Satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam means that a person who acts and speaks from truth will live in truth, all of their actions will show truth, they need not have truth be a separate factor to who they are, it will come as part of them.
    • The third principle is called Asteya which means not stealing. Whilst a person who does not live by asteya may be driven to perform acts of theft in things that they desire, whether this is by taking the possessions of others without permission, using something for a different purpose than intended, or extending the time allowed to borrow the belonging, the yogi knows that they do not need anything more in life and reduces their physical needs to the minimum. If they gather things that they don’t really need, they see themselves as a thief. Freedom from craving allows a person to resist temptations. Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam means that a person living in the principle of asteya will find that treasures will appear to themselves. As they realise that possessions belonging to others are not more attractive than what they already have then this will attract treasures of a material and non-material nature to them.
    • The fourth principle is Brahmacharya which means celibacy and self-restraint. A brahmachari is one who practices brahmacharya and is able to see divinity is all. This does not mean that yoga is only for people who want to remain celibate, infact many yogis and sages of the old india were married with families. Brahmacharis do not see sex as a necessity to penetrate others. Brahmacharya pratisthayam virya labhah means that when a bramachari lives like Brahma (god), celibacy comes naturally, it is not created and practiced, as this leads to suppression. According to this principle, sex can exist in the forms of anger, violence, theft and jealousy and a brahmachari finds strength and courage.
    • The last principle of Yama is called aparigraha, which means non-possession, or to be free from hoarding. This includes non-possessiveness and absence of greed. This means that one person should not keep things that they do not need. A yogi trains his mind to not feel the loss or lack of anything, once this is achieved the things that the individual really needs will appear to them at the right time. Aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah means that possessing has no meaning, the energy that appears when one is established with aparigraha will allow them to know the past and future, knowing hidden things. When one knows that nothing can be owned, their energy moves inward, and you are immersed in the present
  • The second limb is called Niyama and means self purification by discipline including freedom from all observances. Niyama also controls a person’s passions and emotions.
    • The first principle within Niyama is Saucha, which means that the purity of blood is essential for wellbeing. There are practices of asanas which cleanse our body physically and practices like pranayama which cleans our bodies internally. It is essential for our bodies to be cleansed of the mind for disturbing emotions such as hatred, passio, lust, greed, anger, delusion and pride, which are considered impure thoughts. This cleansing can be done in the practice of bhakti, meaning adoration and svadhyaya, the study of the self. These practices help to vanish mental pain, sorrow, despair and dejection and help to nourish radiance, love and joy. When one practices saucha they see their real selves and know that their body is a temple. Sauchat sva-anga jugupsa paraih asamsargah means that a saucha includes disillusion about the body. When one is very much concerned about the appearance of their body they search for another body to feel self gratification, which can be mistaken for love but it is not love. Love is not about the body, the soul feels comfortable when not in a crowd, but the body yearns for other bodies. When one realises that mental purity has power, the control of the senses, joyfulness and concentration occur. 
    • The next principle is Santoshha, which means contentment, finding joy in every moment. A mind that is not content cannot concentrate. When differences arise, conflict occurs and the mind cannot reach a point of one (ekagra), and peace is unachievable. In everyday life we get pleasure out of external objects created internally, never appreciating what we already have. Due to this we are never content, because we are always seeking for something else, which we cannot get. The mind does not have the capacity to be content, that would mean destruction of the mind, and the mind simply cannot allow that. By achieving a point of santosha, the mind does not have its function anymore and samadhi can occur. 
    • The third principal is tapa which means a burning effort to achieve a definite goal, including self-discipline, austerity and purification. Tapas is the effort to achieve union with the divine and burning out all desired which may stand in the way of achieving this goal. This aim makes life worthy, pure and divine. It can come in 3 parts including the body, speech and mind. Ahimsa and brahmacharya are tapas from the body. Satya is a tapa of speech, speaking the truth and retaining self control is a tapa of the mind. Fasting, yoga, deep breathing, natural eating are examples of austerities which transform impurities within the body. It is not torturing the body but purifying it. These austerities will create new energies and new possibilities for an individual performing in them.
    • The fourth principle is Swadhyaya, meaning self study. When one performs in swadhyaya he is essentially studying and educating themselves about themself. Through doing this the individual will realise that all of life and creation is made for bhakti (adoration) rather than bhoga (enjoyment), that everything that is, is divine. Divinity lies within oneself and within everything else, that the energy that lies within oneself is the same energy that lies within everything that exists within the universe. Self study includes how we view ourselves, how we think others view ourselves, our view of the world, how we relate to people, how we change around others, how we react to things, whether or not we show jealousy, possessiveness. All this study makes us become self aware and alert, allowing us to notice what goes on in our lives and eventually disattach from the identity and emotions towards those actions and thoughts. All the emotions and moods that appear will be witnessed, not letting anything be missed, and when they are witnessed, they disappear.
    • The last principle of Niyama is Ishwara-pranidha, which means that the worship of the lord and seeing him within us allows us to surrender the ego. One who knows that he lies within all of creation cannot have pride or ego. Total surrender of the go is required and must be surrendered without negativity inside, only purity is able to surrender. By knowing oneself, only then can surrender happen. When the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ disappears then the soul has reached full growth

What is trauma-informed yoga?

Trauma-informed yoga is a contemporary form of yoga focused on creating a conducive practice space for survivors who have experienced various forms of trauma in their lives. These traumas can include child abuse survivors, domestic abuse or sexual assault survivors, veterans and more.

The principle behind creating a conducive practice is to create an inviting space where practitioners can rediscover and build a relationship with their bodies, minds, and eventually process and own their narratives.

The following are a list of factors that may be considered in trauma-informed yoga.

Invitational language

Rather than short, curt and commander-like instructions where one may instruct the practitioner to do a certain pose or feel a specific thing in their limbs, invitational language can encourage practitioners by reinforcing an element of choice. For example, the teacher could use the following phrases:

  • I invite you to join me with your hands in prayer as we…
  • Notice how your body feels…

Hands-off adjustment

Some practitioners may be sensitive to and uncomfortable with hands-on adjustments, which may also be triggering. Teaching a class through demonstration or using descriptive instructions to encourage adjustments can help students feel at ease and in control of their growth through asanas.

Body positive encouragement

Sequence classes in a way to encourage practitioners. By leveraging a technique like peak pose technique, practitioners can ease into the practice and build confidence toward an apex pose. Beginner-friendly variations of giving practitioners an option to return to a restorative pose (balasana, for example) when uncomfortable can also keep them from feeling awkward or left out.

Anxiety management through yoga

By educating practitioners on how trauma lives in the body and mind, be it in the nerves or in unconscious thought patterns, practitioners can build body awareness and take conscious efforts to care for it. Additionally, guided meditation, asanas, and pranayamas can help practitioners process and own their narratives.


To make yoga a truly inclusive practice worldwide, we must be empathetic and understanding towards individuals with various backgrounds. As a yoga teacher in training, I personally believe its important to build a relationship with each student to encourage them to make the practice their own.

Power of ‘OM’

 

I have always wondered why Yoga sessions always begin and end with OM chanting, and what does it actually mean?

 

And here’s what I’ve learnt. 

 

OM, also can be spelt and pronounced as AUM, is the highest sacred symbol in Hinduism.

It is a basic, yet sacred sound of the universe, and when pronounced correctly, you will realise it is actually a four-syllabus word. 

 

‘A’ begins in the solar plexus and it sends a vibration up into the chest, which represents ‘creation’. ‘U’ will roll and move that sound up into the throat through the upper palate, representing ‘manifestation’. M is a prolonged syllabus that enhances the vibration and then bring your teeth together, representing ‘destruction’. The last part is merging the chant into a blissful state of deep silence. And as a whole, it represents a union of the mind, body and spirit. 

 

By repeating this chant for 3 times before yoga, it increase your mental and emotional vibrations. It allow us to separate our practice from the rest of our day, reminding ourself to be mindful that this is a sacred time dedicated to the practise. The rhythmic pronunciation when done correctly causes vibrations that results in a calming effect on the body and the nervous system, which in turn may help to lower the blood pressure and increases the health of the heart. This vibration that is felt through your vocal cord can also clear and open up sinuses!

 

I hope this explanation can give the shy ones a little push! So, the next time when you join a yoga class, don’t be shy and give it a try! Join in the chanting of OM, loud and proud. Your body will thank you for it after that!

Dip your toes into yoga philosophy

Yoga philosophy, specifically Patanjali’s yoga, consists of a set of guidelines for one to live a morally disciplined and purposeful life, in order to advance along a spiritual path towards enlightenment. Yoga poses, or asanas, are simply a part of these guidelines. The other parts include Yamas and Niyamas, roughly translating to moral codes/ right thinking and right living/ behavior respectively.
The underlying rule is that everything is interconnected. Strictly speaking, Yamas and Niyamas form the foundation of a yoga practice as opposed to asanas which serve more as a physical extension. One cannot truly improve on asanas without achieving an understanding and practice on the philosophical aspects.
I approach this topic today from a point of personal observation and takeaway. Today, many of us approach yoga seeking clarity and peace of mind. However, we are often less receptive to the philosophies and some even shun the guidelines as idealistic rules to achieve so-called enlightenment. This is understandable since we have lived decades by our own moral/ behavioral rules, set by schools, religion and family. Moreover, enlightenment is often thought of as fiction depicted in movies as a seated man with rays of light shining out of his bald head, or lady with 1000 hands holding a vase, depending on which movie you watched.
Yet can we question the legitimacy of seeking peace and clarity through physical activity alone? There are hundreds of other sports to do. Is it just because yoga is slower moving..?
Of course, I am only human who has also lived decades by the pre-dictated moral/ behavioral rules. Reading the Yamas and Niyamas, one guideline stood out to me and resonated with something deep within – Asteya.
Asteya means “non-stealing”. On the surface level, it literally means not stealing other people’s physical possession. On the next level, it also means not stealing resources, such as taking other people’s ideas and credit, or things that could be better used on others. Finally, It also refers to non-stealing of time.
Are you stealing other people’s time by being late for your appointments? Are you a no-show at your booked workout session? Are you stealing time from yourself by misappropriating your hours scrolling on social media? I am definitely guilty of these. When I am supposed to be working, I am procrastinating. When I am out with my friends, I think of the work left undone. These are time stolen from both myself and my friends, leaving me anxious and distracted all the time. How good do you think your asanas are when you are anxious and distracted? Remember, everything is interconnected.
For now, I set my intentions –
I will honor and respect my time, and that of others. By being present on the mat, at work, and in life. To start and complete what I set out to do.
At present, even though I have only just begun practicing this mindfully, I do observe some improvements. Every time I want to laze, I ask myself why I am disrespecting my time for the sake of some cat videos online! The results are more consistent asana practices, better work productivity, and less mentally distracted. I also practice ahimsa – kindness on myself when I do fall off the train sometimes (it happens!).
So if you are one of the aforementioned seeking peace/ clarity, do read through the Yamas and Niyamas and see what resonates to you. Then apply it on the mat and in your life. You can use my intentions as your own too, I will not consider it stealing😉 While cherry-picking is frowned upon in philosophical studies, I invite you to do so. This is because there could be many entry points in a single journey but the destination still remains the same. Remember, everything is interconnected. Even though we may never achieve enlightenment, I hope at the very least, we will lead a life in which we are present in every moment.

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.

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.

Decolonise Your Yoga Practice – Why and How?

When the British colonised India in the 18th century, Yogis were discriminated and tortured due to their spiritual aspect. The British intention of was to dehumanise low class Indians to oppress and control them. They denied and took out of Indian ethics, values, philosophy, and spirituality to make Indians feel inferior to the Western values. In the 19th century when the British started to work on policies of conciliation for the Indian cultures, Indian officials and intellectuals agreed with the British to create a “new tradition” of India to show it to the world; something traditional and Indian yet something relatable to the Western world. Traditional Hatha Yoga was selected to be re-created (i.e re-appropriated) with more physical aspects because physical exercise such as gymnastics was extremely popular and weighed in the West at that time, so it naturally was in India (it was imported and implemented in India by Western colonists). That eventually became a similar form of the current Yoga that most of us know. The modern Yoga is a creation of India, and respectable Yogis and philosophers in India refined and reconstructed by linking this physical activity with traditional Yoga Sutras as national tradition. However, the initial project was controlled by the British and highly influenced by Western cultures. Sadly this mindset has built Western Yoga (Asana-focused, highly commercialised), which has been dominating the world and it still stirs the yoga community with cultural appropriation today. If someone thinks Yoga is just a physical practice, or knowing other aspects of Yoga and thinks they can cut the physical training out, they are still bound by the past violent colonial project, consciously or not.

Some Yoga fundamentalists say “Don’t learn from white people, look for an Indian teacher”, but things are not that simple. South Asian communities already received a strong wave of Re-imported Yoga from America and this kind of racial typecasting doesn’t work anymore (and it could be simply racism, obviously). Not to forget to mention that there are genuinely amazing Western Yoga teachers who have been learning, teaching, and promoting Yoga with deep understanding of philosophies and histories. Despite your skin colour or where you live, the fact now is that it is so difficult to avoid Western Yoga trend completely unless you consciously make decisions. So what do you need to do to get yourself out of it?

 

Learn Yoga, Not Only Asana

First basic yet essential step is to learn that physical aspect of Yoga is only one out of 8 limbs of Yoga. Stop treating Yoga as a physical activity. Accept that it is a spiritual, philosophical path for your life. During the British colonisation, the ethics of Yoga was completely demolished with violence. If we ignore the non-physical side of Yoga, it means we are subconsciously justifying the past colonists’ mindset. Read Yoga Sutra or on Yoga Sutra, and history of Yoga. Connect yourself with the authentic Yoga.

 

Liberate Yourself From Superficial/Materialistic Yoga Trend

Do not be so obsessed with Yoga fashion, which was created by Western Yoga and its capitalism. You do not need to wear Yoga pants or look slim to practice Yoga, unlike a lot of yoga clothes brand advertise. If you are happy wearing yoga pants, and if you know that the brand is ethical, go ahead. But if you feel you NEED to wear them to attend a class, ditch that mindset. If you feel ashamed about your body, or your teacher/classmates make you feel your body shape is not beautiful enough to do Yoga, do remember that Yoga is for every body, not only for young, slim, pretty female who are heavily advertised in commercialised yoga studios and fashion brands frequently.

If your Yoga teachers (or public figures you follow online) are highly materialistic, such as always wearing high-end Yoga fashion, promoting a lot of non-Yoga related products online such as perfume, watches, staycation giveaway etc, they may be great Asana teachers but may not be Yoga teachers, you may want to take note of that.  Another example; if a studio promote their “luxe/exclusivity” with extremely high rate, we may get tempted to check it out, but we shouldn’t; they are materialising Yoga and over-profiting, just like how Western Yoga has been stepping on traditional Yoga for their own benefits.

 

Respect Its Birthplace, but Avoid Exotification

It is still not uncommon to find people who have Indophobia yet love Yoga practice. This has been a deep issue in Western Yoga. For example, people would swear by Yoga practice when famous (non-Indian) Hollywood celebrities mentioned Yoga, but once they are home, they avoid their South-Asian neighbours. This habit is spotted in Asia too. Maybe you can ask yourself; are you in love with Yoga but not willing to appreciate the Indian communities and cultures as a whole? Is your affection and admiration for Yoga filtered by Western or Pop cultures? If you like to learn and practice Yoga, make sure to pay respect to the origin and people who are related there.

Second thing to self-check is the usage of Sanskrit words, Om, and Mantra etc. Completely excluding it is bringing you back to Asana-centric Yoga. However, overusing them without fully studying them “just because it’s cool” is exotification, that can lead you to cultural appropriation. Exotification is not equal to a real love and respect towards the culture. It is simply fetishising Yoga, and your Yoga practice will be derailed by doing it.

As a bottom line, I would like to stress the first topic again; keep studying Yoga. Once you start practising 8 limbs of Yoga, and learn the history of Yoga, your urge to decolonise your Yoga practice will naturally find you.

Reference: Decolonizing Yoga by Susana Barkataki