Exploring the Yamas

Yamas form one of the eight limbs of yoga.  The best way I like to describe them, is the ‘guidelines’ that we should follow in our practice, to enable us to behave morally and ethically. Yamas can sometime get lost amongst the popularity of asanas, but they form a valuable part of finding true yogic strength, both on and off the mat.

  1. Ahimsa – Ahimsa translates to ‘non-harming’ or ‘non-violence’ and extends to physical, mental and emotional violence. You may be mistaken in thinking that violence applies only to others, but in fact, one of the ways we can practice ahimsa is to be non-harming towards ourselves. So often, we are too hard on ourselves, become frustrated or angry. We should try to allow ourselves time to heal and live without criticism or judgment.
  2. Satya – Truthfulness that extends to our words, our thoughts, our actions and everyone & everything around us. Living honestly means to have respect and integrity both internally and externally. Be truthful and your practice will be free form burden, allowing it grow in the spaces you create within.
  3. Asteya – Described as not taking what is not freely given, or ‘non-stealing’, Asteya is not as straightforward as it may seem. Whilst physical theft may be easy to define, stealing in the emotional or societal sense can be more difficult to quantify. We should steer away from asking too much from others or ourselves and believe that we are enough, have enough and give enough. Asteya encourages generosity and once we reach the place where we can be truly accepting, our practice becomes enlightened.
  4. Brahmacharya – The translation for brahmacharya is sometimes debated, however in literal terms it means ‘behavior which leads to Brahman’ or ‘The Creator’. By practicing this yama, you will embrace balance and proper use of energy, directing it away from external factors, practicing moderation and using our energy in a balanced way to find a higher purpose.
  5. Aparigraha – The idea of ‘non-possessiveness’ or ‘non-attachment’ has become somewhat lost in the modern society, however Aparigraha teaches us to only take what we need and let go of what we do not. This can apply to material possessions as well as our thoughts and emotions. Once we let go of what is weighing us down, we are able to see our true self .

In practical terms, the Yamas support us to be conscious and conserve energy to continue the yogic path; they allow us to live a full life and have true awareness of ourselves and our relationships.

Faye

 

Yoga and the Media

In today’s modern word, it’s hard to avoid the impact of the media, especially the ‘social’ kind. Many industries have boomed with the rise of social media attention and yoga doesn’t seem to have escaped this growing trend. But, with such an ancient practice, how has modern day media ‘shaped’ the art of yoga and is it detrimental to the fundamentals of what it means to be a yogi?

It seems inevitable in a capitalist society, that nothing is exempt from commercialisation, including yoga. Falling under the ‘fitness’ banner in many western countries, yoga has become big business and with the rise of social media platforms, such as Instagram, yoga has been steadily growing in popularity. You don’t have to search for long to find vast numbers of yogi profiles from around the globe, proudly posting photos of pincha mayurasana against a pristine-white-beach backdrop, or another demoing a dynamic flow, wearing the latest stylish gear. The thriving yoga industry has led to the rise of the ‘celebrity yogi’ – a diverse group of accomplished practitioners, with a strong Instagram following. Many of these high profile yogis will openly share their own views about how social media has led us away from what it means to practice yoga, yet the irony is that the platform from which they post these views, isn’t able to truly capture all that yoga stands for.

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Yoga world records and over stretching

Yoga World Record in Colombia and risk of overstretching

Yoga now has its own International Day on 21 June since 2015, so it’s not surprise that Yoga is often featured in the Guinness World records. From the oldest yoga teacher at 95 years old, largest yoga lesson involving 55,506 participants, the longest yoga marathon by one person of 103 hours or the longest yoga class at just over 35 hours. This last record took place in Bogota Colombia in 2017.

The class started with 18 students, but only 11 were able to finish. They needed a minimum of 10 to qualify as a group. They were allowed to rest for 5 minutes every 60 minutes.

Yoga classes are often designed to last 60 to 90 minutes maximum. A session of more than 30 hours is indeed very extreme. What can happen to the body at such extreme situation, to the muscles, to flexibility and to the mind?

There seems to be a lot of research on the benefits of stretching, but not so much on the dangers of over doing it.

Over-stretching can lead to injury, strains, loss of muscle strength, hyper mobility and general weakness. When a muscle is being lengthened, it’s not just the actual muscle being elongated but the connective tissue (fascia) as well. 

This connective tissue is an essential part of our body as it connects muscles to bones and bones to bones (tendons and ligaments are also considered fascia). It keeps organs in place, protects the vertebrae, brain and spinal cord. It comprises up to 30% of a muscle’s total mass and when we over stretch the fascia tissue can lose their ability to recoil. Even micro injuries in the connective tissue can lead to chronic pain. 

It’s very important to be careful with over stretching, specially young adults until the age of 21 as their bodies are still developing and their bones and muscles are not fully formed. When practicing yoga, it’s not how flexible you are, but how safely you are practicing so it’s enjoyable, at the end of the day, yoga is to be enjoyed now and for many years to come. During my yoga teaching course, Master Paalu gave us very good advice… choose 15 or so poses you can do for the rest of your life, poses that you can sustain and practice on a daily basis. Over-stretching and hyper flexing the joints is not going to allow me or anyone to continue with our yoga journey for many years to come. So listen to your body, do what you enjoy and warning: don’t attempt any yoga records!.

– Angela – 

What is Yoga?

Yoga is the alignment of mind, body and spirit. The word “yoga” originates from “yuj” in Sanskrit, which means “coming together”. In the modern context, yoga is often associated with gymnastic-like movements and beautifully designed spandex clothes. Yet while we spend the most time in perfecting our yoga poses in fancy yoga studios with these beautiful people and bodies around us, the true essence of yoga is about finding this union of mind, body and spirit. When you experience freedom and consistency in your thoughts and actions, you can be said to be practising yoga.

The free-spirited yoga philosophy sets no specific moral rules or regulations, and dictates nothing to be right or wrong. What it has is a guide showing practitioners of yoga how to attain “Samadhi”, the final super-conscious state of enlightenment that lets us all find peace and harmony within ourselves. To help my friends outside of yoga practice understand the true nature of this practice, I have outlined here Patanjali’s guide for achieving the state of Samadhi

(1) Yama: refers to the way of dealing with external stimuli so that it improves your internal well-being. The Yoga Sutra suggests that we practice non-violence to ourselves, embrace the truth, free ourselves from jealousy, find and remove our hidden biases of other people, and stop feeling possessive about things.

(2) Niyama: refers to how we could ideally handle changes and stimuli inside us. We should have the nature to accept everyone for who they are, no matter in what form. We listen to our body and we listen to our inner voice. When we truly understand ourselves, we take actions that are not tainted by negativity for ourselves or for other people. Contentment is not about happiness or sadness, it is about being at peace with ourselves and finding freedom in our thoughts and actions. 

(3) Asana (pose): is probably the most familiar word in modern yoga practice. It refers to the physical movements that we make with our bodies. Ideally, we should find stability and comfort in all the poses that we do. The purpose of asanas is to help our bodies find strength and flexibility, so that we can be free of ailments and find freedom in our movement. I personally find it super amazing that the ancient lineage of yoga practitioners have been so in tune with how their bodies feel, that the poses passed down through the ages are ingeniously designed to be effortless (when done properly) and functional for our emotional and physical health.

(4) Pranayama: “Prana” is the Sanskrit word for life force. Interestingly, while this word originates from Hinduism, I find similar references describing this organic energy in other languages and culture, such as “qi” in Chinese, “mana” in Polynesian, “orenda” in Amerindians, and “od” in ancient German. In yoga practice, “Pranayama” refers to breathing techniques and exercises that are supposed to energise or relax us, depending on which you pick to practice. With reference to achieving Samadhi, I feel it is also about the appreciation of this energy that gives us all life.

(5) Pratyhara: is the practice of moving your consciousness inwards, so you perceive things for what they are, not what they appear to be. We commonly experience events through our five senses – taste, sight, touch, smell and sound. We find clarity in our perception if we could just relinquish the control that these five senses have over us.

(6) Dharana: refers to our mind’s ability to concentrate on a thought. We all lead such hectic lives today that requires us to multi-task. Thoughts flit through our heads rapidly because we are expected to move fast and react faster. In our minds, we think about what we should do now, what we should do next, how we should act, what we should feel, what other people think… that I suppose the ancient yogis would think is a form of craziness if they knew what was in our minds today. Dharana is finding that mental discipline to slow down the appearance of these thoughts, and eventually, to have the ability to hold only one thought for an extended period of time.

(7) Dhyana: When we are able to achieve Dharana (holding only one thought), the next step is to allow this thought to vanish. The boundaries between that singular thought and our mind blur and become one. This point of singularity is the state of Dhyana.

(8) Samadhi: In the state of Dhyana, as you dissolve the boundaries between your thought and your mind, you will recognise yourself becoming one with nature. This frequency formed with nature is known as “Samadhi”. This state takes you beyond the boundaries of your mind, transcending sensory experience, time, space and causation. It is the final goal of yoga practice that brings peace, joy and bliss to the practitioner.

Developed over thousands of years with the relentless pursuit of knowledge and internal reflection, the philosophy of yoga leads its practitioners beyond the confines of well-researched science and modern medicine. Given that it is also written by men of their times (enlightened as they are), it is helpful to take the yoga sutras with a pinch of salt (with reference to point 5 – Pratyhara), and take in what is relevant to the spirit of yoga – which is to find union on your mind, body and spirit. In the course of my yoga study at Tirisula, I am humbled by what I have learnt of the wisdom shown by practitioners of this ancient philosophy, and would encourage everyone to try it for themselves with an open mind and an open heart.

 

– Vanessa Tang – 

Gaze, not look! Drishti in comic.

It is common to hear yoga teachers say during downward-facing dog, “Gaze at your navel.” Erm, by bending my back even more!? Even as I become flexible and comfortable holding in downward dogs, I don’t seem to see my naval center. That’s when one day Master Paalu explained, “Gaze, not look.” Aha! It is about gently looking towards a direction, not to plainly look or stare at the point.

The concept of gaze is so crucial in yoga. The soft focused look at a certain point has been one of the most important turning points for me to have a more centred practice. In Sanskrit, it is known as the Drishti.

As I practice teaching at home, I find myself focused on giving the bodily movement instruction, missing out the gazing point at times. But when I do instruct, it has been pleasing to find the fidgety student focusing the attention back to the practice.

These are the 9 drishtis to incorporate in our own practice as well as our teaching:

1. Nasagra drishti: the nose tip
2. Urdva drishti: upward to the sky
3. Bhrumadya drishti: the ajna chakra, or between the eyebrows
4. Hastagra drishti: the hands
5. Angushta drishti: the thumb
6. Parshva drishti: the right side
7. Parshva drishti: the left side
8. Nabi drishti: the navel center
9. Padagra drishti: the toes

Drishti relates to the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, concerning senses withdrawal, as well as the sixth limb dharana relating to concentration. It helps to develop a concentrated intention.

Particularly in balancing and inversion postures, the soft focused gazing point has helped keep my mind from wandering, and stay calm at a spot. Engage the ujjayi breathing, inhale and exhale the ocean’s breathe, and just gaze intently.

A calm Drishti helps to train the mental muscle, and enables our energy to flow where the gaze is focused. This is more so important as we attend large yoga classes. Allow the drishti to remind oneself to focus inwardly, not be distracted and compare our abilities/inabilities with fellow yogis. Yoga is after all a practice for our self-betterment.

Here is a great illustration to learn more about the Drishti by BoonChu Tanti from TheYogaComics. Enjoy! Ying.

 

Cardiovascular health and Yoga

To many avid sports and health lovers, there are several handsome pick of sports / exercises to choose from and so what makes Yoga unique?

Now, Yoga (in my opinion) is unique because it comprehends physical activity, breathing and meditation.

In brief, the physical activity (e.g. Surya Namaskara A & B in Asana Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series) enables the body to warm up and consequently increase heart rate. However, throughout the practice, the practitioner is able to regulate the breathing to manage the heart rate and with stretches included at the end of the practice, these help to cool down the body and bring down the heart rate. Regular practitioners are also more likely to include meditation which calms the mind and heart.

Continuous appreciation of Yoga in this dimension will certainly highlight the benefits to the cardiovascular health system. Embrace and enjoy the practice!

 

Margaret GHIN

March 2018 200 Hr Weekend YTT

 

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

In the modern perception of a yoga practice, under the influence of social media, it is often misinterpreted that Yoga is a pose and the goal of yoga is to achieve the pose. However to practice yoga holistically is to go much deeper than the physical.

The yoga poses also known as Asana, is only one part of the 8-limbs as laid down by Patanjali. A holistic yoga practice will need to seek union between mind, body and spirit as it explores the synergy between breath, postures and drishti. Together this allows our external practice to draw inwards and foster an awareness of ourselves as individuals seeking peace and ultimately a connection to the greater whole. Through practicing the teachings of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, the body and mind is both strengthened and softened, and prepared to go the depths into the exploration of yoga.

In brief the teachings of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, or steps to yoga, are as follows:

The first and second limbs:  Yamas and the Niyamas, it all starts there, with how we show up in our lives (personal observances) and in the world (universal morality). The attitude we have towards external (people and things) is Yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is Niyama. When we incorporate Yamas and Niyamas into both our daily practice and our day-to-day lives, we become more present, cultivating awareness and gratitude in all things that we do and the people around us.

I. Yamas

The yamas are Ahimsa – Non-violence, Compassion for all living things.   Satya – Truthfulness.  Asteya – Non-stealing. Brachmacarya – Sense Control. Aparigraha – Non-hoarding.

II. Niyamas

The Niyamas are Sauca – Purity and cleanliness. Santosa – Contentment. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy. Svadhyaya – Self awareness, self-study. Isvara pranidhana – Surrender to the higher power.

III. Asanas

Practice of physical postures combined with the fourth limb, Pranayama to foster a quiet awareness of breath, increase flexibility, physical and mental wellness.

IV. Pranayama

Breathing technique practiced together with the third limb, Asanas to balance the flows of vital life forces and energy within us, then directing them inward to the chakra system.

V. Pratyahara

Withdrawal of senses from external stimulation and bringing the focus inwards. With the senses no longer easily distracted, this is a preparatory stage for meditation.

VI. Dharana

Intense concentration, closely linked to the previous limb, pratyahara where with senses withdrawn and focus drawn inwards, we will find a focus and point of concentration. Through this one will be able to steady the mind and 100% focused on 1 thing or subject.

VII. Dhyana

Meditation absorption where one has become completely absorbed in the focus of the meditation.

VIII. Samadhi

The final stage and 8th limb, Samadhi means bliss and enlightenment. In the state of Samadhi, the practitioner merges with the object of their meditation and becomes one with it and their surroundings, to bring together, to merge.

 

So obviously everyone has a choice when it comes to yoga. Patanjali 8 limbs of the yoga sutras can sometimes feel like it will take time (a lifetime!) to cultivate. I’m still scratching the surface with putting some of them into full practice in my life, but having them as goals in my mind and heart is a start and while I’m far, far, far, far (read: not achievable in this lifetime) from enlightenment. I have had moments of what I like to call mini small enlightenment when I’ve practiced them. When I look at my life experiences and my asana practice through the context of their lessons, I often tell myself that perhaps moments of mini-enlightenment in one lifetime is better than nothing.

Louine Liew
(Weekend warrior /YTT200 – Sep 17)

My thoughts on Ashtanga

Ashtanga? What is this class about? Am I supposed to do split before I can attend this class? Or do I need to be able to do those advance poses where my feet can reach the back of my head?

Of course not! The first time that I came across this word “Ashtanga , it was a class type available in a yoga studio where I started yoga. I thought this must be an advance class with such a traditional name, ASHTANGA.

 

Indeed, it is a traditional practice of yoga and it was said to be transmitted to the modern world by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). Particular emphasis is the linking of the postures with the breath, maintaining mental focus, and using the core to build internal heat and give the body support and strength

 

If one practices Ashtanga, we know that the sequence starts with a few sets of Sun Salutations before moving on to all the various poses. The sun salutations are a form of warm ups to start the practice. Before I started practicing yoga, I hardly do any workouts or go for a run. The other beginner yoga classes that I always attend were of a slower pace and manageable.  Curious to try something different, I finally attended my first Ashtanga class. My first reaction was just a big “WOW!” it was such a challenging practice! I wondered to myself why there are so many chaturangas?! Backed then, I was still struggling with Chaturanga Dandasana and was really overwhelmed by all the sun salutations. All I could do was just knee-chest chin down, a variation for Chaturanga and I have got no stamina. The warm-ups sequence is already draining me. Nevertheless, the one thing that keeps me moving is the amazing Ujjayi breathing. I remembered that the teacher has never stopped reminding us to breathe with every movement and focus on the breath. Naturally, the practice does not seem so tough after all when the breathing calms the body. Not all styles of yoga focus on breath, movement, and drishti (or gaze) the way Ashtanga yoga does. I then believe these three magic ingredients when combined, bring mental focus and a connection with the body through which the practice becomes centered.

 

It is because of the unique practice of breaths with movements that did not stop me from going. I became stronger too with consistent practices. One example asana would be Chaturanga, when I manage do the full pose only after less than 2 months into practice! I do not practice daily previously so this big improvement is something that I have surprised myself knowing how weak my strength and stamina are. So fellow yogis, always practice on and not give up, some day and somehow, your body will surprise yourself!

 

I do agree that practicing yoga do help us to get stronger and toned body and also flexibility. The other physical benefits also consist of making the body free of disease. I used to get sick every other month with really weak immune system. This year, I have felt a drastic difference when I know I have not been falling sick and has not visit GP for a long time!

Ashtanga is like moving meditations with one breathe one movement that helps to calm our mind and focus on our body and remind us to be in present. In YTT, we are advised to practice daily and if possible to practice in the morning before work. I felt the immediate benefits going to work feeling refresh and alert. That would hardly happen to me in the past where morning coffee is a must which might not even help me to stay awake.

I will continue to explore and discover more on this beautiful practice, it will be a journey to discover the benefits for our own body, mind and soul.

 

Loves,

Priscilla Wang – Sep’17 YTT

5 Ways to Practice Yoga as a Way of Life

Let’s go beyond asanas.
It is essential to give respect to the legacy and origins of yoga. Now a days, we should be wary not to compromise the quality and essence of yoga. Here are five ways we can deepen our practice.
1. Read up on theory, Yoga should be practiced outside of the mat, too. Some good books to start with are: Light on Yoga by BSK Iyengar, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bhagavad Gita, Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda (also available as a film documentary) and the Banda Yoga series by Dr. Ray Long.
2. Discover what kind of yoga suits you best? Yoga therapy, maybe if you have some specific issues like scoliosis? Ashtanga, if your more on the athletic side. If it is simple to calm your mind, maybe Hatha or more focus on Prańayama would be best. If your the type of person that likes spontaneity, then you can try it all!
3. Influence your family and friends, by practicing partner yoga with your kids or your spouse.
4. Having trouble sleeping? Brahmari Prañayama (hummingbird) is best as a daily evening practice, that would put you in a relaxed state of mind.
5. Treat yourself to an Ayurvedic and Yoga Retreat in Kerela to be immersed in an environment where the origins of Ayurveda are found.
Of course, there are many more. Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves (in the age of social media) that the asana is not the goal. Asana is only one of eight limbs of yoga.
Master Paalu mentioned in class; that “the benefits of yoga would only have a deeper impact in your life after many years.” To truly enhance your karma, to allow yourself to transform into your fullest potential in your career, relationships, spiritual life… It will take much more than 108 salutations, although that is helpful too.
In this short three weeks of 200 YTT, I have already been experiencing subtle changes. I feel more vibrant and grounded. There is still a long way ahead, much to learn, read and practice – with joy, gratitude and enthusiasm.
Chloe C. Chotrani
200H YTT September 2017

Keep Calm and Practise Ahimsa

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali described the eight limbs of Yoga. The first limb of yoga is ahimsa, the practice of Non-violence or Kindness to ourselves, others, and the environment. Unless one is firmly rooted in ahimsa in one’s thoughts, speech and actions, the true practice of yoga cannot begin. To me, ahimsa has always been a guiding principle in life, one that I would also like to impart to my children.

I interpret it in three-fold:

  1. Be kind to oneself
  2. Be kind to others
  3. Be kind to Mother Earth and her inhabitants 

The reminder “Be kind to oneself” applies vigorously to me. Before I had an accident in 2012 which resulted in a sacroiliac joint disorder, I considered myself to have a strong and flexible spine, plunging carelessly into any challenging backbend sequence. Subsequently after my fall, with a much weaker pelvic but an unchanged mindset, it began to result in a series of injuries sometimes lasting a month or more. I started to practise self-observation and addressed the experiences I was having. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The author’s son in Raja Bhujanghasana. A pose he enjoys practising daily. 

Flexibility in the spine is a journey, not a destination. Today I approach the mat differently and am accepting of my body. One application of Ahimsa in a backbend pose is the invigorating and healing King Cobra pose (Raja Bhujanghasana). This pose activates the heart chakra and safely (thanks to the prone position) works into the upper thoracic.  At the same time, it also requires a degree of patience to open the shoulders and chest. As my heart chakra opens, I experience a sense of self-gratitude, acceptance and calm. My spine isn’t ready to fully articulate into the final version of King Cobra today but I believe it will someday, maybe when my feet will touch my head. 

Love x Peace.

Jacqqie T.

200Hr Weekday, Sept 2017