May You Be Free, Aparigraha

Aparigraha, listed as 5th in Yama, Yoga Sutra, means non-possession of anything that gives suffering for someone and abstention from greed. In psychological terms, it means a state of non-attachment, non-craving and self-satisfaction.

It is seemingly hard to practice this in this modern world, where we are dominated by materialism. Aggravated by social media, we are trapped in a vicious cycle of “Pursuit of wealth – New creation of desires – Pursuit of more wealth”. Our individual happiness has become more and more dependent on external factors such as luxury lifestyle, significant public influence and so on. As a result, our attachment towards materialism has constrained us from achieving internal peace and happiness. The endless creation of temptations in this modern world has made us become impatient and feel easily unsatisfied. Without practice of Aparigraha, it is hard for us to reach a status of Santosha as mentioned in Niyama.

Other than materialistic aspect, Aparigraha also entails “detachment from the past”. It reminds me of a book called “The Courage to Be Disliked” written by Japanese writers, Fumitake Koga and Ichiro Kishimi. The book leverages on the psychologist, Alfred Adler’s theories, explaining how we are all free to determine our own future, regardless of our past experiences. One may believe that his current status is affected by his past trauma, which has shaped whoever he is now (this is under Freudian Psychology). However, Alder believes that we can change who we are at any given moment. This is the application of Aparigraha, which if we choose not to possess ourselves in the past trauma, we can direct ourselves to the way we want to head to.

To practise Aparigraha, we can start to pay attentions to the things that we have pinned our expectations on. Try to let go of these expectations and allow ourselves to live in the moment. Besides, we can also let go of physical things that we do not need. Try to clean out the clutter by getting rid of the things we do not need. Finally, hope we can free ourselves and let inner peace come with us.

Discover Kundalini

As we know, Kundalini is a form of divine energy that is believed to be located at the base of spine, muladhara chakra. Kundalini awakening is way of tapping into a deep and powerful energy that exists within us all. When one experiences Kundalini awakening, he or she will experience a significant boost in confidence. It also gives one a razor sharp intuitive judgement and great enhancement in empathy.

For ages, Kundalini has been represented by symbol of serpent. This is because in Sanskrit, “Kundalini Shakti” means serpent power. This coincides with the energy that is released from the base of spine up to the crown. It is said that Kundalini energy is like a snake coiling at base of spine and waiting to be released to the highest power. Hence, what is the underlying symbol of the serpent? Since in ancient times, the spirit of the serpent represents a rebirth, a transformation and healing of old form since it sheds skin and regenerates a new form.

There are many ways to awaken Kundalini, for example, by mediation, yoga practices and pranayama. During Kundalini awakening process, one can experience tingling down the spine, feeling of deep connection with all living things, relief of any negative emotions and thoughts. It is seemingly tempting to unleash this potential energy in our body, however, there are dangers associated with Kundalini awakening if it is not adopted correctly. Physical symptoms include headaches, hallucinations, fevers and chills while mental symptoms include intense fear, bipolar mood and paranoia.

So what is the scientific explanation for individual’s disorder caused by inappropriate unleash of Kundalini energy? There are many school of thoughts. Researchers refer this as “Physio-Kundalini Syndrome”. Some believe that it is resulted from an electrical polarization spreading along sensory and motor cortices, in turn induced by acoustical standing waves in the cerebral ventricles. While some believe that spiritual evolutionary features are still important part in defining this process. Some doubt the actual activation of Kundalini in the process and believe it is more of profound effect of bioenergy. Although there is no common agreement on the scientific aspect regarding to Physio-Kundalini Syndrome, it is a fact that some people do experience this because of incorrect practice of unleashing Kundalini energy.

Therefore, if one would like to explore the potential energy in himself, it is of ultimate importance that he should be mentally ready for it. It would be better to consult professionals to check if the practice adopted is suitable or not. In the last, I believe that one should not have excessive attachment to the outcome, but the enjoyment of the journey in self-discovery.

Pelvic Tilt and How Yoga Helps

Today, many people live in a sedentary lifestyle. The prolonged sitting has led to some musculoskeletal disorder such as knee pain, scoliosis and pelvic tilt. Today we will zoom into pelvic tilt and study its causes, symptoms and how yoga postures can help improve it.

Anterior and posterior pelvic tilts are two main types of pelvic tilt. Pelvic tilt, other than prolonged sitting as mentioned previously, some are caused by genetic factors while some are also caused by poor postures over the time. This results in increased curvature of lower spine and upper back of the body. Muscle imbalances is another symptom caused by anterior pelvic tilt and lack of stretching and strengthening activities further contribute to pelvic tilt.

There are some yoga poses that help correct pelvic tilt. For anterior pelvic tilt, one is Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/ Bridge Pose. Bridge pose requires one to engage his glutes and hence the pose helps to strengthen the glutes. Weak glutes, on the other hand, may result in hamstrings working overtime and hence are more prone to injury. Meanwhile, anterior pelvic tilt makes hamstrings feel even shorter and one would be trapped into the cycle of anterior pelvic tilt – shorten hamstring – difficult in stretching and overwork of hamstring – more serious anterior pelvic tilt. Practicing bridge pose allows one to strike a muscular balance between glutes and hamstring.

Another yoga pose that helps with anterior pelvic tilt would be Santolasana/ Plank Pose. Anterior pelvic tilt means that hips consistently pull down, having strong abdominal muscle helps pull hips back up. Santolasana strengthens one’s abdominal muscles and hence help improve anterior pelvic tilt. To deepen the practice, one can add side plank during the practices.

For posterior pelvic tilt, one yoga pose that helps is Bhujangasana/ Cobra Pose. It helps to stretch tightened abdominal muscles and hence lengthening them and pull the pelvic bones to a more neutral position.

Another pose to correct posterior pelvic tilt would be Eka Pada Rajakapotasana/ Pigeon Pose. This is because pigeon pose is a great drill for opening up through glutes and outer hips. It is easier for individual to maintain a neutral pelvis and hence correcting posterior pelvic tilt.

Today, with our lifestyle being more sedentary, we have encountered many musculoskeletal disorders which affect us daily mobility if being serious. By engaging these yoga poses in our daily life can help gradually improve the situation.

Comparison Between Yoga and Qigong

As we know, Yoga comes from India and Qigong comes from China. Interestingly, although they originate from 2 oriental civilisations where the culture, history, and philosophies are different, we can find some similarities in the philosophy and practices of Yoga and Qigong.

The Energy System – Prana (Yoga) and Qi (Qigong)

In both Yoga and Qigong, there is a concept of “vital life force”. It is referred as “Prana” in Yoga and “Qi” in Qigong. In Yoga, there are 5 main categories of Prana: Apana Vayu, Samana Vayu, Prana Vayu, Udana Vayu and Vyana Vayu. Comparatively, the idea of “Qi” in China has been applied to Traditional Chinese Medicine, which refers to 6 common types of weather, “Feng”(Windy), “Han”(Cold), “Shu”(Hot), “Shi”(Humid), “Zao”(Dry), “Huo”(Heaty). The disturbance in the energy results in diseases.

The Storage of Energy – Chakra (Yoga) and Dantian (Qigong)

In Yoga, there are 7 Chakras in human body, which are Muladhara Chakra, Swadhisthana Chakra, Manipura Chakra, Anahata Chakra, Vishuddha Chakra, Ajna Chakra and Sahasrara Chakra. However, in Qigong, it is believed that Dantian is the only place where stores “Qi”.

The Channel of Energy – Nadi (Yoga) and JingLuo(Qigong)

In Yoga, there is an idea of “Nadis”, which are channels that energy flow through the body. There are 3 principal nadis that run from the base of spine to the head, and are the ida on the left, sushumna in the center and pingala on the right. Ida is associated with the lunar energy, it controls more mental process. Pingala is associated with solar energy which controls more vital process. Sushumna interpenetrates the cerebrospinal axis and it refers to both nostrils being open and free to the passage of air.

In Qigong, energy is channelled via JingLuo, aka meridians. There are 12 main meridians which connects between organs in the human body. There are 2 types of meridians, “Yin” and “Yang” respectively, where Yin can be mapped to “Ida” in Yoga and “Yang” is mapped to Pingala.

Conclusion

We can see the similarities and differences behind Yoga and Qigong. There is no concrete rule saying which idea is superior to the other. Today, we can see that both practices are adopted for individuals’ health and wellbeing. And one may see a trend of convergence in these two practices in the future. Adoption of whatever practice depends very much on individuals’ preferences. The ultimate idea is to achieve the balance among individuals’ mind, body and spirituality.

 

 

Journey to Front Splits: A Hip Opening Flow

Source: Yoga Dharma

 

Hip openers powerfully stimulate and balance the muladhara, or root chakra. By physically rooting our pelvic floor and the base of our spine into the Earth, we plug ourselves into the vibrational current of the planet. It also activates the sacral chakra, Svadisthana, which is translated as dwelling in a place of the self. This energy center relates to fun, freedom, creativity, flexibility, and pleasure. When we open our hips, we restore our reproductive organs, which at a base level represent the original force creating existence. Through creating balance in these chakras we can become grounded, comfortable within our own identity, inherently creative, and flexible in changing environments, not excessively holding on to what you thought before. Before you start this practice, meditate on something you would like to let go of that you feel prevents you from expressing yourself fully.

Each asana holds meaning that’s intended to connect us to our deeper beings. This hip opening flow ends with Hanumanasana, the yogic name to the famous front splits. Hanuman, the ancient Monkey God in the mythological times, was famous for his powerful leaps, as he was able to jump over South India to Sri Lanka to rescue Sita, the Queen, who was kidnapped by the Lord of Darkness. Such leap is memorialized in the pose. Similar to Hanuman’s devotion in saving the queen, this asana expresses the expansiveness possible when you fully commit to your practice.

This flow will focus on the following major movements and muscular engagements:

(1) Opening the Hamstrings

(2) Opening the Hip Flexors

(3) Lengthening Your Stride

(4) Engagement of Glutes, Pelvic Floor, Psoas, and Core

(5) Keeping the spine neutral while performing all (important to prevent lower back injury, don’t go into anterior tilt).

It’s important to note that any hip opening pose must be approached with humility, even if you’re already quite flexible. Many flexible people further stretch their already-open hamstrings but allow their pelvis to tip forward (anterior tilt). This creates an imbalance and leads to lower back pain when students attempt, as they should, to lift the spine.

Hanumanasana requires the work of the hips and hamstrings, while balancing the upper body on the pelvis. With the hips and the legs moving in opposite directions, the hip flexors and hamstrings need to be strong and flexible to attain the required balance and stability.

 

Warmup (5 mins)

  • Table Top Cat Cow (1 min)
  • Table top with leg pulsing on each side (1 min)
  • 5 rounds of Surya Namaskar A (3 mins)

Main Sequence

Standing Sequence (25 minutes)

  • Prasarita Padottanasana ABCD (3 minutes)
  • Parsvottanasana
    • Praying hands (1 minute)
    • Hugging and kissing knee (1 minute)
  • Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
  • Vinyasa on Both sides: Downward dog – Three legged downdog with knee flexing- Active pigeon- Sleeping Pigeon- Child’s Pose- Repeat on left side (6 minutes)
  • Vinyasa on Both sides: High lunge- Warrior 1- Skandasana- Warrior 2- Birds of paradise- Tadasana (8 minutes)
  • Surya Namaskar A Half til Downward Dog (30 seconds)
  • Lizard pose + Quad Stretch Both sides (2 minutes)
  • Active Malasana (2 minutes)
    • Active Malasana Level 2: For more adduction stretch, step on the blocks while still pushing the thighs back and engaging hamstrings
    • Active Malasana Level 3: place forearm and palm flat on the ground, flap legs sideways
  • Goddess Pose (1 minute)

Seating Sequence (10 minutes)

  • Paschmitonasana A (1 minute)
  • Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana Both sides (2 minutes)
  • Triang Mukha Eka Pada admotanasana (2 minutes)
  • Split drills with blocks (Get two blocks. Put them near your pelvis. Keep on placing one block in front of another until you extend your arms to its maximum. Once arms are at maximum, fold forward) (2 minutes)
  • Hanumanasana (3 minutes)
    • Focus on leveling the pelvis instead of reaching to the ground
    • Keep hips squared; try to avoid going into an anterior tilt
    • Press your inner thighs towards each other to help support the pelvis.
    • Engage hip flexors, glutes, pelvic core, psoas, and core

Counter Pose/ Closing (5 minutes)

  • Hug knees in supine pose
  • Supine twist
  • Shoulder stand
  • Shoulderstand Lotus Pose (Padma Sarvangasana)
  • Inversion: Headstand or Tripod

Shavasana (5 minutes)

 

 

The Core Muscle That Truly Matters

For the longest time, I have associated core muscles only with rectus abdominis, otherwise known as ~abs~. We live in a society that glorifies the possession of the so-called ~6-pack~, making it the ultimate goal for any workout, a social trophy that could mean you have strength, endurance, and overall attractiveness. On our 2nd week of YTT, I have learned that it is in fact, only one of the three muscles that make up our core. The other two are transverse abdominis and oblique muscles.

Of the three, the most overlooked is the Transverse Abdominis (TVA). This muscle runs between the ribs and the pelvis, horizontally from front to back, acting as a corset. It’s extremely important as it’s the deepest core muscle, and acts as a support for the entire lower back, stabilizing the trunk while maintaining internal abdominal pressure. Additionally, it increases pressure on the thoracic spine (where the lungs are) to aid in breathing and heart stimulation.

TVA is also responsible in getting yogis to gracefully jump and float into inversion asanas.

TLDR version: the stronger the TVA, the less likely one will experience lower back pain.

Are you someone who, despite doing several crunches and push-ups or other rectus abdominis-defining exercises, still have the abdominal wall bulging forward?
In other words, does your belly pooch seem to not disappear despite doing 1 minute of chaturanga and 100 curl-ups each day? That is a sign of a weak TVA.

When you feel tension in your lower back and hip flexors when you cycle, perform leg lifts, or bridge, it also means you have weak TVA.

Luckily, our ignored and forgotten yet very precious TVA works very efficiently which means you don’t have to put that much physical effort to activate it. In other words, no crunches and push-ups needed.

So, how exactly can you work this muscle?

First things first. Locate your TVA by following these steps:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, internally rotate your shoulders. Relax your belly completely.
  • Place your fingertips on the boney part of your hips, then move them an inch inwards towards your navel.
  • Feign a cough. Feel that muscle pressing on your fingers? That’s your TVA.

Now, here are a few simple ways to strengthen it. While doing these drills, make sure to consciously feel your TVA being engaged.

 

  • Uddiyana Bandha (Upward binding; navel lock)

Uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock. It is the second of the three interior body locks used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy (prana) in the body.

Uddiyana Bandha is best practiced first thing in the morning when the stomach is completely empty.

Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale quickly through your nose.

Push as much air as possible out of your lungs by contracting your TVA and two other abdominal muscles.

Perform what’s called a “mock inhalation” by expanding your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but without actually doing so. The expansion of the rib cage creates a hollowing sensation and appearance in the belly.

Read more about its benefits and proper ways of doing it here.

  • Abdominal Bracing (Breathing technique).

Take a deep breath in.

Expand your rib cage.

Pull your rib cage down.

Think about tightening your midsection as if you were just about to be punched in the gut.

 

  • Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana (Bridge Pose)

Lie with your back flat on the floor.

Bend your knees and set your feet parallel on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible.

Pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your TVA upward toward the ceiling, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Thighs and feet must be parallel.

Clasp the hands below your pelvis.

 

  • Single Leg Extensions.

Lie down on your back. Keep your spine straight.

Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and slowly bring one leg down.

Repeat on the other side. Repeat for as many times as you can.

 

  •  Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

Lie on your mat.

Draw your right knee into the chest.

Slowly straighten and extend the right leg up.

Make sure that your arms are straight and shoulders are pressing down.

Repeat on the other side.

 

  • Bitilasana Marjaryasana (Cat and Cow Pose)

Cow- round your back, lift your lower back up, open your chest, look towards the ceiling

Cat- curve your spine, drop your head, push the floor away, contract your TVA, look towards your navel

 

  • Kumbhakasana (Plank)

Position your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders.

Maintain a straight body line from head to heels.

Contract your TVA.

Lightly squeeze your butt and the fronts of your thighs.

 

Practice doing these asanas everyday and you’ll surely enjoy a more stabilized lower back, and feel better when performing inversion asanas!

Setting an intention in yoga and beyond

It’s not until recently that I no longer thought “setting an intention for our practice today” is just one of those things yoga teachers say.

It happened when this connects internally for me what intention means, not just for my yoga practice but beyond that in life as well. Let’s look at it from both perspectives.

  • In our yoga practice, an intention is not a goal, it’s a mindset to achieve balance by keeping in mind what I need most at that time, helping me stay present in the moment. An intention can be manifested through a word, a quote, or a feeling. Sometimes it can be dedicated to someone or something outside of myself, which is a great way to increase a positive flow of energy.
  • The true beauty behind an intention is that we will manifest into our lives, that we’ve set in our heart. By returning to the energy of this focus no matter what is going on, we can train ourselves to stay committed to that intention, on and off the mat. 🙂

We were discussing this in class today with Master Ram, having intention is quite different than making goal. It does not aim towards a future outcome. It is a path that is focused on how we are “being” in the present moment, intrinsically and extrinsically. We can achieve this by practicing Dhyana, Dharana and Pratihara.

I believe with true intentions, we can become more effective in reaching our goals to overcome materialism and insecurities. Goals could help us be an effective professional, but being grounded in intention is what provides true purpose in life.

Let’s live our intentions everyday 🙂

Balancing your body – Homeostasis

In yoga, there are many balance postures and some of them can be impressive like handstand, one-legged ones. However, body balance is not only about postures. Have you heard about homeostasis??? This is about balance or equilibrium in our body, mind and energy.

Homeostasis (homeo = “similar”, stasis = state, position, “standing still”) refers to the ability of the body to unconsciously regulates its temperature, fluid balance, blood pH, and oxygen tension within narrow limits, while obtaining nutrition to provide the energy to maintain homeostasis to survive. This is the condition of optimal functioning for the organism. Yoga stimulates homeostasis to help achieve & maintain the physiological (physical body systems), emotional (our emotions), mental (our thoughts) balance.

In Yoga, postures (Asana) and breathing practices (Pranayama, Bandha, Kriya…) largely stimulate homeostatic functions of our body through their regulatory activation of endocrine and autonomic nervous systems.
Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the return of calm, as well as recovery and tissue repair.
Homeostasis also applies to emotions and thoughts. Indeed, when we put down our emotions, feelings and thoughts, at some point of time tension builds up and creates pressure and irritation. When we do not allow our emotions to be felt freely and liberated, they return to stay in our cells and can cause long term illness.

Taking responsibility for our health and well-being with yoga by stimulating our homeostatic systems of elimination, cell regeneration and maintenance of balance, enables physical and mental balance and strengthens sustainable operations of the whole organism that comes directly from within.

Pranic Food

In yogic philosophy, Prana which is a Sanskrit word that has a number of interpretations in English, including “life force,” “energy” and “vital principle” is also known as Chi or Ki in other traditions. All living beings have the innate ability to absorb and utilize Prana to sustain life. Food or Eart is one of the 3 sources of Prana with Air and Sun.
In order to extend and improve our energy and therefore our health and wellness we can take a look at how food is categorized in yogic and ayurvedic principles and integrate it in our daily life.

In yogic and ayurvedic principle, the food is categorized as following:
1. Positive pranic food
2. Neutral pranic food
3. Negative pranic food

1. The positive pranic food
When positive pranic food is consumed it adds prana and therefore increase the pranic energy, vital energy into our system.
List: Ash Gourd (Winter melon), Lemon, Honey, Coconut, Nuts and seeds, Raw and dried fruits, Ripe vegetables, Sprouted grams, Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.) and Cereals (rice, buckwheat, barley, millet, oats, teff, spelt etc.)

2. Neutral pranic food
When neutral or zero pranic food is consumed, it neither adds nor takes away pranic energy. It is only eaten for taste.
List: Potato and Tomato

3. Negative pranic food
When negative pranic food is consumed, it takes away prana from the system. It stimulates us on a nervous level but it takes away our vital energy.
List: Garlic, Onion, Asafoetida, Chili peppers, Eggplant, Vinegar, Cacao, Cocoa, Coffee, Tea, Alcohol, Tobacco and other stimulants and intoxicants

Some of the negative pranic foods have medicinal properties and they need to be used as a medicine and should not be part of our daily diet as it may result in health issues in the long term.

The optimum way to consume the food is opting for vegetarian food in its raw form ou sprouted. They are easy to digest and pass through our digestive system within 3-6 hours.
Some of the vegetarian food have to be cooked but nowaday we tend to over cook them killing all the digestive enzymes which make them hard to digest. It takes vegetarian cooked food between 18 to 24 hours to pass through our system. In addition we don’t feel comfortable.
Non-Vegetarian have no prana as it left the animal when it is killed. In addtion, non-vegetarian foods develop inertia in the body as it takes about 32 to 48 hours to pass through our system

Daily food choices are essential to support energy levels and ways of being. Considering all the above consciously helps promote holistic health.

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.