Here’s How Yoga Brings Me Moments Of Peace

Disclaimer: I’m still not 100% at peace, but I’m figuring it out one day at a time. And that’s okay.

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve learned that yoga is so much more than just asana (physical postures). Instead of only realigning the body, it is just as important to also focus on realigning the mind and soul so as to create more balance in life.

Most days, my mind is constantly busy and still not as calm as I’d like it to be. However, I’ve decided to consciously commit to practicing some of Patanjali’s teachings in my day-to-day life.

I’ll be honest and tell you that it hasn’t always been easy because it’s not how I’m used to living my life.

Speaking of honesty, this brings me to the first principle I’ve been keeping in mind.

 

1. Be truthful and genuine

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Satya, or truthfulness, is one of the yamas (guidelines for how to behave in relation to the world around us) in yoga.

By being truthful in our actions and thoughts, we can then show up authentically and be true to ourselves instead of trying to fit ourselves into what society or others tell us is best.

As I used to be a people pleaser, I had the tendency to focus on others instead of myself and what I really feel.

Now that I’m aware, I make it a point to catch myself and show up truthfully – even if it means that I might not be able to please everyone all the time. This has helped me to prevent self-abandonment and set better boundaries. Thanks to this, I can now make decisions more aligned with what I genuinely want.

 

2. Practice gratitude

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Santosha, or contentment, is one of the niyamas (guidelines to conduct ourselves) in yoga.

As we live in a material world, it can be easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves and our lives with others. As a result, we believe that the grass is greener on the other side and lose sight of what we have.

Even though it might not feel like it sometimes, there’s always something to be grateful for.

Whether it’s appreciating the people in my life or simply being thankful for the lessons I learn, I make it a point to practice gratitude daily. This has helped me to build a deeper appreciation for the simple things and embrace where I am in every moment.

 

3. Act from a place of love

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Ahimsa, or non-violence in our thoughts, actions and consequences of our actions, is another yama.

In turbulent times, I tend to easily succumb to negative thoughts and would sometimes even beat myself up when I don’t get the results or outcome I want. Unfortunately, this has led to over two decades of being unkind to myself.

It was only last year, in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, when I noticed that I struggled to show up for myself because I didn’t have a solid relationship with myself.

After being forced to go inward and start healing, I started working on self-compassion and acceptance. Now that self-love is a priority, my cup isn’t empty anymore so I no longer have to rely on external things to keep it full. This helps me to be better at showing up for not just myself, but also the people around me.

I’m still learning to be kind to myself when I notice myself slip into old patterns and I understand that it is a daily effort to lead with love. So I’m doing my best to take it a day at a time and more importantly, change the way I talk to myself.

 

And so, the journey towards peace continues

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Now that I’ve gained a deeper understanding about the different yoga philosophies, I’m aware that there’s still a lot more to explore and discover.

As I embark on the next chapter of my healing, I hope to be able to be more present and also learn to let go of what no longer serves me.

Self Acceptance

“Stop comparing yourself with others”; “You are good enough”; “You are who you are”

 

I truly understand what they mean, but I had been struggling to put them into action. With the over-flooded information all over the social media/internet in the modern era, it is difficult for us not to compare ourselves with others, regardless of anything. As a yoga practitioner, have you ever had the thought of comparing yourself with someone else you see? For me, the feeling of envious rises when I see others who are able to perform a posture effortlessly and elegantly; desirous to attempt advanced poses; insatiable and often seek attention, compliments or improvement. In the next moment, I would be filled with disappointment, self-hatred, discouragement.

I started off yoga with a curious and humble mind, without any expectation and judgemental towards the practice, just like a newborn baby. As I practice over the years, perfecting an asana posture or attempting any advanced posture became my priority or even the goal of my practice. These thoughts have been slowly forming up in my mind unconsciously, until recently that I read about the eight limbs of yoga.

Ahimsa, the first guidelines that come under Yama, it is referring to non-violence, to have kindness and compassion for self as well as others. It also teaches us to be mindful of how we treat ourselves, others, and the environment. It doesn’t refer solely to action, but also to the words and thoughts that we use on ourselves or others. This is totally a new angle to me as I have never thought that what I had been doing to myself was an act of violence. Looking back at my practice, I would constantly push myself over my limit even though I am physically tired or having body ache, I judged myself for not being able to perform poses that are beyond my capability. Even when my body says no but my mind would say yes, don’t be a loser, try harder, work harder!

Aparigraha, the last Yama on the list, is known as the concept of non-greed, non-attachment and non-possessiveness, to be satisfied with what oneself have. After reading this I noticed how greed and possessiveness have slowly taken over my joy in practising yoga. As I focused on my performance and results in more than anything else during my practice, I wasn’t being able to enjoy the present. I would be disconnected easily and lost the intention that I have set prior to the practice, I could easily get distracted by the action of the person on the mat next to me by comparing myself to the person.

The lessons have brought me to relook into my yoga journey, about what I have done to myself and what I want to do to myself in the future. I have decided to start practising the following in my daily routine:

  • learn to communicate with my body by feeling it whether it is okay to give myself a little bit of push more, or when to take a step back.
  • letting go of any expectation that comes into the mind, be it fly or fall.
  • paying attention not only towards myself but also the surrounding around me, learn to respect and not giving pressure.
  • learn to love myself and love the people around me equally.

I am glad that I do have the courage to face the emotions and inner thoughts within myself. It may be a long journey, but at least, I appreciate that I have started it off.

CONCEPT OF ZERO (SUNYATA) IN ISVARA PRANIDHANA

Ishwara pranidha is the last of the Niyama in the 8 limbs of yoga.

WHAT IS ISVARA PRANIDHANA AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Written in chapter  2.45 of the yoga sutra:

samadhi siddhih ishvarapranidhana

-samadhi = deepest meditative state

-siddhi = attainment

-ishvara = God, Supreme Being, Divine, a Deity, Goddess, all names

-pranidhana = devotion, surrender, awareness of Ishvara

 

Here it states that Surrendering to the supreme being leads to samadhi which is the central concept of yoga for deep inner stillness and silence for extraordinary insight.

 

The concept supreme being is not so much of a fixed ‘God’ but rather, is aptly referring to the original source of knowledge and wisdom/ something of higher power.

And Pranidhana which is being in a state of humility and trusting in prescence of something higher, not just in good times but in everything all the time. Surrendering ourselves to the higher force is one of the key concepts of becoming one with the greater being.

 

“If Isvara is the compass, Pranidhana is remembering to stay connected to that essence, not just occasionally but throughout the day… Isvara Pranidhana connects every action to its sacred source.” (Yoga Journal, “Isvara Pranidhana: The Practice of Surrender,” Shiva Rea)

 

 

HOW DO WE SURRENDER OURSELVES TO THE DIVINE?

When the word surrender comes to mind, it brings up the issue of losing control or becoming powerless. Fear may sink in when our egoistical self realize that we need to lose ourself/give up our identity and can’t control our environment/result.

But let’s dive deeper to realise our true self. The self is a process and there is no end. In reality, we are always changing, interdependent with our surroundings and environment.

 

Sunya or Sunyata is sanskrit word loosely translated to zero/nothingness/empty/void, but it is not nihilism. It is pure consciousness, the non-conceptual state of mind, absent of both negative and positive thinking. It is emptying out our illusionary constructions and come out of our ignorance. It is zeroing out our desires and purifying to meet our true nature of mind, realizing that the essence of the true nature of all realms is sunyata.  Understanding this will let us experience the complete absence of I, me and mine which binds us to Samsara. It also helps us understand the universal oneness with nature and develop compassionate traits.

 

By using the concept of zero in yoga, it helps us to zero our desires, attachments and ego, and conditioning our mind to become like zero (‘’sunya’’) through meditation. In so doing, yoga helps us to establish the identity-which is the union between the finite self, the Atman(inner spirit) and the infinite All (Brahman). Brahman is all and yet Brahman is without attributes. Having zero attributes, Brahman is also called “sunya,”.

 

 

WAYS TO KEEP IN CHECK

-Knowing what is beyond my control and the limits of my understanding.

-Let go of expectations, hope and attachments to others.

-Letting go of worries/fear/anxiety on results, knowing that I have down my best with the right intention.

-Being grateful for everything, including dislikes/undesirable situations, seeing it as an experience to gain/learn from it..

-Being humble knowing that everything is closely interlinked and how dependent I am with my surroundings. (eg during a meal, think about the source of each food->cooked and preparation by someone. All of this assisted me to be nourished from my meal)

-Using zero as a symbol as a self reminder to apply it in whatever I do.

 

 

We can turn egoistical thoughts into more loving and connected view of the world. Being more aware (without any judgment) of our mind, emotions, feelings, environment leads us to realise that we are not in charge of life or the universe. This further reinforced the notion that achieving samadhi cannot be accomplished purely by effort, but that it result from the grace of not knowing and being open to wisdom and guidance that is greater than ourselves.

 

 

“He who contemplates on sunya…is absorbed into space…think on the Great Void unceasingly. The Great Void, whose beginning is void, whose middle is void, [and] whose end is void. . . By contemplating continually on this, one obtains success [enlightenment].”

The Siva Samhita

 

Credit references:

-The yoga stura of Patanjali.Sanskrit-english translation & glossary, chip hartranft

-A Logical Model of Yoga Philosophy, 1998 Ian Williams Goddard

– Yoga sutra 2.45 Effects of humility, 2021 simple yoga organisation. https://simple-yoga.org/2-45-effects-of-humility-ishvara-pranidhana/

-Blogpost by Prithiman Pradhan on Sunyata-http://pirthiman.blogspot.com/2014/01/sunyata.html

-The book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who you Are. Alan Watts, 2019.

Credit image:

-https://sunyatamusic.bandcamp.com/track/sunyata

 

 

 

Aparigraha – The Art of Letting Go

The first limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga talks about Yamas, which consist of the following: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (self-management/self-restraint), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). These five Yamas can be basically described as moral guidelines to adopt when interacting with the people and the world around us. While all of these five Yamas are equally important and go hand in hand with one another to guide us in adopting a more conscious and ethical attitude towards the world, the topic of our focus here will mainly centre around the last Yama – Aparigraha.

Aparigraha can be translated into a number of meanings, such as non-covetousness, non-possessiveness and abstension from greed; and it provides a gist of the yoga sutra stated in Sentence 39, Chapter 2 of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutures: “aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah”. There is more than one translation of this yoga sutra, but they all essentially have the same idea that when a person is firmly rooted in non-possessiveness or restraining oneself from the desire to possess anything, he/she will be able to gain a profound understanding about the how and why of existence. On the surface, aparigraha can be interpreted as letting go of our ceaseless desire and greed to possess more items, objects, attention, and generally anything that we want or think we need. If we dive down into a deeper level, we will realise that aparigraha is not just limited to physical/tangible possessions, but is also about letting go of our own thoughts and emotions within ourselves.

In my opinion, the journey of practising aparigraha can be divided into three broad steps:

  • 1st Step – Letting go of excess physical/tangible possessions

At the very basic level, practicing aparigraha starts with learning to let go of additional goods and belongings that we own but do not essentially need. This isn’t something too difficult for most of us – after all, I’m sure many of us would have done spring cleaning at least once in our life, to clear any items that we no longer want, need or use. Once in a while, I like to spend some time to look through my closet, drawers, cupboards, etc. and check if there are anything that I no longer need or use and can clear it out. Although it can sometimes be a little difficult to make the decision on whether to let go of an item due to sentimental attachment and/or uncertainties in our mind, I would say that the overall process is actually rather therapeutic in a sense that it not only physically clears space in the house, but also helps to mentally clear any unwanted thoughts in my mind as well.

  • 2nd Step – Letting go of the greed/desire to possess more

Letting go of excess non-essential items is the first step to take towards mastering aparigraha, however it is important that we do not just stop here. If we are constantly clearing our current unwanted or unnecessary possessions with the mindset to make storage space for new possessions, we will not be able to progress towards aparigraha as we will be constantly stuck in the first step of clearing excess possessions all the time. We often tend to associate happiness and success directly with material goods in such a way that the more goods we own, the happier or more confident we think we will be. As a result, we become so engrossed in the endless pursuit of possessing more material goods and earning more admiration/attention from others, such that we neglect our genuine purpose and goal in life; and before we know it, we would have already wasted some precious time of our life trying to chase after these goods.

To be able to let go of the mindset that material goods equal to happiness, we need to first set a clear distinction between needs (which are basically essential products required for survival) and wants, and take some time to think about how each item is able to contribute towards the goals and intentions we want to achieve in life. Questions that we can ask ourselves are, for example: “Will this item be able to fulfil my daily needs?”, “For how long will owning this item make me happy – one day, one week or one year?” The idea here is to correct the common misperception that happiness and achievement can be simply bought from external sources. By recognising our desire to possess items that we don’t need and not allowing this desire to cloud our mind, this leaves room and time for us to focus on other aspects of life instead, such as reflecting upon ourselves to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves or engaging in other meaningful activities that brings us closer towards our true intentions in life. At the same time, this also brings a sense of peace and freedom into our minds as we no longer have to constantly think of what’s the next item required to satisfy ourselves with or to worry ourselves over the consequences of failing to obtain this item.

  • 3rd Step – Letting go of emotions and thoughts

The earlier two steps describe conscious efforts that we can take in order to let go of excess non-essential possessions and our desire to own more possessions. This third step of letting go of emotions and thoughts within our mind is, however, something more subtle and perhaps the hardest step to achieve when practicing aparigraha. Sometimes, the emotions and thoughts appear so quickly or quietly that we may not even realise the manifestation of these emotions and thoughts within us.

Life is full of ups and downs and depending on the present event we are facing with at each moment in life, we are bound to experience some emotions and thoughts that naturally arise during and after the event, whether positive or negative. More often than not, the ones that leave the deepest impressions in our heart and mind are usually the negative emotions, such as desolation, regret, jealousy, and anger. Just like how our desire to possess more items can lead us to becoming overly engrossed in the pursuit for more possessions as mentioned in the previous point, excessive dwelling on negative emotions can lead us to becoming so blinded that all we can think of in our mind are thoughts surrounding those emotions. If we do not release the negative emotions appropriately, these negative emotions will eventually accumulate develop into negative thoughts which then occupy our mind and prevent us from thinking rationally or seeing things in the bigger perspective. It is important to recognise that holding onto emotions is another form of possessiveness as well, similar to purchasing and hoarding unnecessary items.

Of course, letting go of emotions and thoughts is something easier said than done. I have to admit, there are times when I face thoughts like “Life is unfair, why does that person get to have everything she wants?” or “I’m just not good enough, I can never accomplish anything in life”. It is not possible to completely ignore or suppress these thoughts without being affected by them in one way or another, be it mentally, emotionally, or physically. In fact, developing thoughts or ideas towards something or someone is a perfectly natural behaviour of human beings and it does not mean that we are unable to master aparigraha if we have any thoughts in our mind. The key point of aparigraha is to not allow these thoughts to linger too long in our minds that they start to dominate our thinking and logic. We are taking a step back to observe our own mind and the different thoughts stirring within us, and then allowing these thoughts to come and go by themselves without entertaining or holding onto them. Once we are able to achieve this, we will find our mind being freed from all those disrupting thoughts and becoming clearer and more open towards the world. Sometimes, when I find it challenging to let go of any particular emotion/thought arising within me (usually the strong emotions such as anger or despair), sitting down and talking it out with family and friends helps me a lot in getting that emotion/thought out of my mind. Practicing pranayama is also very useful in helping to calm the mind and diverting the attention onto breathing instead of entertaining the thoughts that are surfacing in the mind.

There are many different ways on how we can practice aparigraha. When we are able to find our own unique way to apply aparigraha to our lives, the effects it can bring will appear almost instantaneously – such as the freedom, the peacefulness and the enlightenment of the mind when we start to let it go.

Inhale, Exhale and Apply Yamas to the Workplace

There are 8 Limbs of Yoga, each describing a different aspect of our yoga practice. These 8 Limbs can be applied beyond the mat and into life. The first limb refers to “Yamas”, which is known as moral discipline i.e. to be ‘moral’ in our current situation and in our conduct. The “Yamas” guide us towards practices of how we act towards ourselves and others. Given that most of us are working and spending a good part of our day with colleagues, for this post, I would like to apply the 5 Yamas to the workplace, to understand how our thoughts, emotions and reactions to our colleagues and the daily grind can come from a more considered and aware state.

 

1. Ahimsa

Ahimsa means ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’ in words, thoughts and actions. This means not thinking negative thoughts or physically harming ourselves or others and ensuring that all that we do is done in harmony.

It is common to have disagreements with colleagues, due to differences in perspectives on how things should be done or intolerance to certain behaviour. However, it is important to peel back the layers and to uncover the main trigger, to develop a better understanding of how we should exercise Ahimsa at the workplace.

Once, I was asked to take over a project from one of my team members to be the main liaison contact. Overtime, I noticed that the colleague became reluctant to share information with me and was holding up the progress of the project. I decided to talk to her about it and she expressed her concerns about not being able to return to the project if she shared all the information needed. To be honest, I felt upset and found her reason non-valid and unreasonable then. However, as I relook at the situation, I realised that me taking over the project may have caused her to feel like she was not needed in the team, hence the need for her to hold on to some information so she could still play a role in the project. Moving forward, I became more tactful and roped her in project discussions for us to work effectively together.

Another scenario – making mistakes at work. Projects are always running at a tight deadline, making everything urgent today. People are becoming reactive with high stress levels and low empathy. When we make mistakes at work, we become critical and hard on ourselves, blaming ourselves and thinking of “what-ifs” scenarios. Instead of beating ourselves over it or playing through different scenarios in our mind, we should be more mindful of our emotions and learn to practise self-compassion and be gentle with ourselves. This also applies to fellow team members who have made mistakes, forgive them and help them to move along and improve.

To practise Ahimsa in the workplace, we should:

  • Communicate clearly with our fellow colleagues, to understand them from their point of views. Not only do we learn about them, we learn something about ourselves too. 
  • Show empathy to our team mates, do not form negative thoughts or jump to conclusions based on their reasons. 
  • Give colleagues the benefit of doubt, listen to them and discover the root of the issue, to solve the problem. 
  • Practise self-compassion, be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up over mistakes that have already been done

 

2. Satya

Satya means truthfulness; being honest with ourselves, honouring where we are at, seeing things as how they are. Complete honesty with ourselves requires some time and space and is not an easy process, much less with others. Satya in the workplace could translate as being true to ourselves and the team and the team’s goals.

For example, we should be honest with ourselves about our skills, and our work preferences. Everyone possesses different skills levels, based on past work experience and the type of education we went through. We have different interests in the type of work that we do as well, some prefer problem-solving, some prefer planning and running events. Too often, we are afraid to show our weaknesses and ask questions in fear that we will get penalised or get judged harshly by the bosses. We may even be worried about being honest about the type of work that we like, as this might give off the impression that we are not keen to learn and grow in other areas. As the quote goes “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”, it is important for us to be honest with our bosses and colleagues on our work preferences so we can enjoy the work that we do. We should also be honest with them,  if we are finding difficulty in our work and to seek help from our colleagues.

There was once, I attended a team meeting to discuss the year’s work plan. It was a fruitful discussion as all team members were encouraged to be themselves, to bounce ideas and share constructive feedback to build on these ideas. There was good teamwork between all team members, who were dedicated and were engaged fully in the discussion on forming the new team goals. This is another example of how Satya can be applied to the workplace, through creating a healthy and safe work environment for employees to be themselves, to share ideas, engage in debates and work together as a team. Employees can also do their part by being truthful about their views on the ideas and providing constructive criticism to strengthen the ideas, without being afraid of getting judged based on one’s ideas. This also applies to appraisal when bosses and employees discuss the work done and provide feedback to each other. We should be honest and provide constructive feedback on how the other party can improve and be a better version of themselves. This is probably easier said than done as it is sometimes difficult for employees to feedback on how their employers can be better, for fear of souring the relationship with the bosses, or getting penalised thereafter. We can start with baby steps, just giving one honest feedback at a time until you feel comfortable to give more. Of course the teachings of Ahimsa do apply here, ensure that your words do not intentionally harm others.

To practise Satya in the workplace, we should:

  • Be truthful with ourselves, our work preferences, our work skills. Recognise our strengths and our shortcomings and see how we can develop ourselves better.
  • Be honest with our bosses and our colleagues, give constructive feedback and help each other grow. Being open and truthful will help to strengthen relationships, inculcating teamwork and better camaraderie between team members.

 

3. Asteya

Asteya means non-stealing. A closer look into this, shows that the need to steal arises because of a lack of faith in ourselves to create what we need. The moment we feel that ‘incomplete’ or are lacking something in life, we start to form desires, wants and search for something to gratify and fill this ‘empty’ sensation. For Asteya, we want to move towards feeling that we have enough and that we are enough by ourselves.

To practise Asteya in the workplace, we should:

  • Not steal ideas or take credit for someone else’s work

We are always told to work smart and to use productive and efficient means but that does not mean taking shortcuts and claiming others’ ideas as your own. We can learn from others, seek help where needed but do give your colleagues credit on the work they have done or ideas they have given.

  • Be Timely

Be punctual for meetings, meet all the timelines stated in the Gantt Chart, do things early, do not procrastinate, complete your tasks within working hours so you can have a good work life balance. These are some ways that you can prevent yourself from “stealing” other people’s precious time that could be otherwise, spent working on other work projects or doing other things. A useful tip would be to plan the next day’s task list on the night before so you can work on it when the day starts. In addition, sometimes we digress from the main topic during meetings, causing meetings to run longer than expected, which delays other meetings and other work to be done. To be more efficient and to prevent ‘stealing’ others’ time, we should do our best to stick to the meeting’s agenda and complete all discussions needed at the time slot given.

  • Do not compare with others

We fall into the trap of the rat race where the goals are promotion, high salary and greater benefits. We compare our projects with others, to see which projects are more “important” i.e. visible to the top management, to determine who can get promoted and reach the top first. If we dig deep within, we know that we only start comparing with others because of a lack of faith in ourselves, hence we want to ensure that our competitors are not as good as us. Having colleagues as competition may motivate you to strive towards certain goals, however I’ve always found it unhealthy. It is imperative that we respect our colleagues for their abilities, celebrate their achievements and be happy for them when they reach their goals. Everyone is different, with their own set of abilities, hence we should not be comparing or benchmarking against others. We should also believe in ourselves, in our capabilities and our skills and not put others down to make ourselves feel better. 

 

4. Bhramacharya

Bhramacharya means the right use of energy, which guides us on how we can use our energy i.e. directing our energy away from external fleeting desires and towards finding happiness and peace within ourselves. In the workplace, it can be translated to not exhausting ourselves over work matters that are irrelevant and having a work-life balance.

How do we incorporate Bhramacharya into the workplace?

  • At work, we should make best use of our time and energy on our various work tasks. This means staying focused on the daily work tasks, to complete them by the end of the day, limiting the time spent socialising with colleagues in the pantry or workstations, catching up on office politics and gossip. It also means reducing phone usage and not taking longer than necessary, lunch breaks and meetings. The key is to do everything in moderation to ensure that time and energy is spread out efficiently, to ensure productivity and a healthy work-life balance, keeping burnout at bay.
  • Practise work-life balance, carve out boundaries between work and leisure. Work does not define your identity and it should not be the core focus in your life. Find a hobby, pick up a skill, learn something new. Use your time and energy creatively and wisely into other activities beyond work, to make yourself happy.

 

5. Aparigraha

Aparigraha means non-possessiveness or non-attachment. This Yama guides us to take only what we need and to let go of things that no longer serve us. 

This Yama is very applicable to the workplace in so many ways. It is amazing to feel so much passion for your work, to see your projects coming into fruition and benefitting the recipients. But what happens when we become too attached to the projects? 

  • Being too attached to achieving the desired outcomes of the project leads to greater disappointment. Very often, projects may not go the way that you want them to and desired outcomes are not achieved. Sometimes, projects even get aborted, postponed or replaced by something else that you are not spearheading. This leads to one feeling great disappointment and even unworthiness. We should not get too attached to the work that we do and we must be able to let it go when it no longer serves its purpose. Hence, we should not become so attached to fulfilling the goals that we neglect other aspects like, learning and developing ourselves and others, building on soft and technical skills in the workplace.
  • Being too attached to projects may cause us to have a tunnel vision i.e. we are not receptive to constructive criticism or feedback on our ideas, and we think that our ideas are the best. We believe that we should control all aspects of the project and become micromanaging, from the little details to the big picture. We should adopt a learning attitude, be open to ideas from people, learn from our challenges and failures, learn from others’ experiences and think of how to do things better.
  • When we get attached to the projects, we also get attached to the people whom we work with. However, people come and go in organisations, we should learn to let them go if they have found other passions in life and be happy that they are embarking on new endeavours. Too often, when a team member tenders, I see them being treated as ‘invisible’ in the workplace by their fellow team members. Colleagues no longer share jokes or provide updates to the staff leaving and the staff is no longer included in meetings. It’s sad to see this but it’s the harsh reality. Sometimes, when a staff leaves, the team members behind feel betrayed as they have to take on the new workload of the leaving staff and they feel left behind. Here, we need to incorporate the teachings of Ahimsa and Aparigraha together i.e. not to hold negative thoughts towards others and learn to let go and be happy for people.

To practise Aparigraha in the workplace, we should:

  • Learn to let go of work projects and ideas that no longer work. 
  • Let go of people and be happy for them with their choices.
  • Be receptive and respectful of others’ feedback and perspectives.

 

Conclusion

I’ve covered the 5 Yamas and showed how we can use them in the workplace. There are so many things that we can do, to develop a better understanding of us and our colleagues’ thoughts and reactions and to make the workplace a better place for us to work in. We do not have to instantly apply all Yamas, it’s not going to be easy changing habits that have been ingrained in us. However, we can slowly change one thing at a time, after all, change is a constant. For me, Ahimsa would be easy, but not Satya especially when it comes to being honest with my colleagues and providing constructive feedback. A lot of work is needed on my part, but I’m sure I will eventually get there by working it one at a time.

Leaving you with a  favourite quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world (workplace in this case)” Let me know if you guys have more ways on how we can apply Yamas in our workplace. Sending you peace and light. (:

My Yoga Journey – YTT

During this 200 hours YTT training, I learnt a lot of knowledge of yoga, such as asanas, sanskrit word, pranayama, meditation, yamas, niyamas, mudra, muscles, bones, lesson plans and so on. Before joining this training, my impression of yoga is only the postures (asanas).

I started my yoga by reading a book and watching the video and I only learnt the aerial yoga for one year. I am not very experienced in practicing asanas so I feel stressful when my progress is quite slow. After the physical practice in the studio, I learnt what is the balance, alignment, technique, caution of wrong posture and adjustment. Knowing the correct alignment, techniques and cautions do help me to prevent the future injury while doing yoga. I am most impressed of my first sirsasana (headstand), pincha mayurasana (armstand), chaturanga dandasana (four limb staff pose), kakasana (crow pose) and parivrita kakasana (side crow pose).

It is quite amazing after learning the anatomy and physiology. For example, when you see a person who has the anterior pelvic tilt, he may suffer in back pain and he can improve his postures and relieve his back pain by strengthening and stretching the muscles.

While I was attending the aerial yoga, we did the meditation and shavasana at the beginning and end of lessons. I was curious that the teacher asked me to close my eyes in a seated position and supine position. I forced myself to close the eyes but I kept thinking what’re the job tasks I need to resolve, what I want to eat for my lunch. Now, I knew why we do the meditation and shavasana and I had my first meditation experience in this training! I felt I have the awareness of my body, it is a gap between fall asleep and conscious and the meditation makes me more peaceful. My tip is gazing between the eyebrows while closing the eyes and focusing on breathing. I need more time to explore and experience what’s the benefit of the meditation for my body, mental and spiritual.

In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, yamas and niyamas are the ethical guidelines for our life’s journey, not only the yoga journey. The daily practice of aligning our thoughts, behaviors, and actions with these personal guidelines can be difficult and challenging. Practicing the yamas and niyamas should be approached slowly over many years.

The awareness of the gunas tells us whether we are genuinely moving forward in life, running in place, or losing our way. Sattva refers to pure, the more sattvic your nature is, the more drawn you are to love, compassion, kindness, and attachment to happiness. We can eat more sattvic foods eg. fresh, nutrients, organically grown and light cooking to increase our vitality, energy and joy. Raja refers to passion, the person who has more desirous and full of attachment. The characterized of raja people is workaholics and restless. They may eat less sour, spicy, bitter foods such as garlic, onions, snacks, heavily spiced, tea, coffee etc. Tamas means darkness, and the person is dullness, inactivity, and they will feel a short-lived happiness, materialism. The tamasic foods are the stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten, impure, overripe or unripe fruits, canned foods, fermented, burned, fried, reheated. Tamas makes us stop and rest (which can be seen as the past), rajas makes us move forward (which can be seen as the future) and sattva makes us clarity and wisdom (which can be seen as the present). We play around these three gunas in our life and we can observe what’s the state are we in, and try to move from rajas and tamas toward sattva.

 

Yoga is not about touching your toes, this is what you learn about yourself on the way down. – Jigar Gor

 

Enjoy your yoga journey 🙂

My Yoga journey – Chapter Yama

When we first started learning about the 5 Yamas, I was very lost – it was an abstract concept that I couldn’t really internalize during class. So I took some time for myself outside of class to try and understand these 5 Yamas. While reading up on it online, I came across an article that told me to write down my 5 most negative thoughts, and so I did. 

 

1. Ahimsa – Non-violence (be it mental, physical, spiritual) 

I guess it was good that it wasn’t exactly easy coming up with those 5 negative thoughts, but there really is a difference penning things down vs just thinking about it. Anyway, the article mentioned “These thoughts themselves are a form of violence.” 

While I wrote them down, some of these negative thoughts that have kept me up at night no longer looked as concerning. It felt a lot easier to let go after seeing them as letters on a paper compared to having them running wild in my mind. 

I have always thought that I have been pretty kind to myself, but this small activity revealed the violence that I was exhibiting towards myself. What I’ve reflected on was only the Ahimsa to self part and have not yet explored the Ahimsa to others part. I’m still working on being kinder to myself and others. 

 

2. Satya – Truthfulness 

This Yama to me was the simplest to understand yet hardest to do. To self: I can’t say that I have been fully truthful to myself, lies have been said to make myself feel better and sometimes it has been spoken so many times that even I do not know what is the truth anymore. To others: given that sometimes truth can be hurtful, it is an art to balance the truth and other’s feelings (ahimsa). I’m still learning to be truthful. 

 

3. Asteya – Non-stealing

Given that the spirit of Asteya is linked to contentment, I would say that I’m halfway there. At first glance, I would say I’m pretty content with my life, happy to have my family and a bunch of good friends. However, given that I’m always looking to learn new things, picking up new hobbies, not very sure if that defies the spirit of Asteya. In addition, there are still times where I feel envious of others, which is entirely against the nature of Asteya. I’m still learning to let go. 

 

4. Brahmacharya – Energy moderation 

This was the hardest Yama to understand. I chose the easiest to understand interpretation of this Yama – to control and direct our energy in the right direction such that we can gain courage and strength and be happier. I understand this as refraining from misusing our energy such that it drains our energy reserve. For example getting too uptight/upset over something beyond my control, like I realized wasting my energy being upset when someone has already inflicted harm is meaningless. I’m still learning about this Yama. 

 

5. Aparigraha – Non-possession

This Yama is really similar to Asteya in my opinion. Not taking more than needed, being contented with what we have. Some of the baby steps that I’m looking at to start embracing this Yama: 

  • Materially, to re-evaluate and practice minimalism (my room is a cluttered mess) 
  • Internally, to forgive and let go 

 

Based on my understanding, I see “letting go” as a resounding theme throughout these Yamas. Have to admit that my brain is always filled with random thoughts, so much so that it’s hard to turn down at night (hence it takes me a long time to fall asleep). Going through these Yamas made me realize that I might have been lying to myself that I’ve let go of certain things but subconsciously they still bother me. I do recognize that it’s kind of unhealthy hogging onto these thoughts and definitely a roadblock on my yoga journey, but I also see these roadblocks as being temporary. I am making a promise to myself to clear them! 

Thank you for reading and I’ll be off to my pranayama practices. 

Svadhyaya

We spend a great deal of learning in school. It’s drilled in us that when we study, it’ll bring good grades. Whether it is academics, a job, sports or an instrument, to learn to do something well, we must first examine and learn the various tasks by reading information, observing our trainer and practicing the new skill. Observation and evaluation never stops when we leave school. We can apply these into our daily lives.

Svadhyaya, the fourth Niyama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, means ‘self-study.’ In anything that we do, which cultivates self reflective consciousness, can be considered Svadhyaya. It means to be mindful of finding self awareness and our daily activities without pushing away our limitations. We are all made out of a self identity, personality, habits and are sometimes driven by ego and pride. In order to move forward, we need to get really intimate with these habits, behaviors, and perceptions so that we can identify where they’re not serving us. This awareness can bring great change by allowing us to be more aware of the things we do that harm us.

Growing up, I struggled with anxiety and for a while it took a toll on my mental health. Everything that is taught to be Svadhyaya, I was doing the total opposite. I avoided situations that made me uncomfortable. I never questioned why my mind was spiraling and I let it take control of my emotions and lashed out. I felt very detached from myself and wasn’t listening to what my body needed.

As I received the help I needed, my mind recovered, but I still do have bouts of anxiety, albeit very rarely. Having a moment to check in with myself and how I am feeling in the moment – a moment of self enquiry and looking inwards keeps me in-tune with myself.

With that said, here are ways to practice Svadhyaya

Journaling

Keeping a journal is the easiest way to pen down the goings the day and is a great tool to use to contemplate and reflect upon all that we’re learning. Take the time to look inwards and root out if the heart felt heavy throughout the day. Maybe your mind was busier today than any others. Instead of blocking out these thoughts, it is more beneficial to recognize and acknowledge them for what they are. This awareness teaches us more about ourselves. Realising what thoughts enter our mind on a regular basis helps us become aware of many other aspects of ourselves.

To fully understand and grasp all that we’re learning about ourselves, we need ample time to write it all down and reflect upon what we find.

Svadhyaya on the mat

During our yoga practice, we include Svadhyaya by observing the responses of our body and the reactions of our mind. Listen to the body and take the variations of the asanas that you need. It may be to take the vinyasa today or to rest in Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog.

Svadhyaya everyday

Observe all of your relationships. Ask yourself “How am I treating my partner, friend, parent or that waitress?” Question your speech, are they the truth? Are you practicing Satya? Reflect on your communication. Are you communicating lovingly or angrily?  Do you listen to others, or do you only want to talk?

This inquiry applies to our relationship with our own self as well.  What are your beliefs and attitudes about who you are, and what you’re capable of?  Do these attitudes support or hinder you?  Do these thoughts affect how you behave towards others?  How do you treat your body?  Are you loving and compassionate towards your body and yourself? There are a myriad of questions that one could explore through the practice of Svadhyaya.

Whether you are on or off your yoga mat, you can incorporate Svadhyaya into your daily life.   For example, take the time to focus your attention on your inhalations and exhalations.  Observe how the experience of breathing affects you in the moment.  Notice the thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

Through all of this, may we all be better yogis and a happier human being 🙂

 

The Relevance of Drishti Points in Yoga

The 3rd limb of Ashtanga Yoga talks about asana, which is commonly associated with yoga and used to describe the poses performed during a yoga practice. Under the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, asana covers the physical aspect of the Ashtanga Yoga practice, which aims to guide yogis towards reaching the ultimate super-conscious state – Samadhi. One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that is dedicated to asana is Sutra 2.46 “sthira sukham asanam”, which can be translated into the following: “Practicing yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner gives rise to harmony with the physical body (asana)”. This sutra simply means that every asana performed should be steady/stable (“sthira”), and comfortable/relaxed (“sukham”). To achieve a steady and stable asana, it is not only important to ensure that the physical body is in proper alignment without tension or discomfort, it also requires the mind to be mentally stable and focused when practicing the asana as well. While it is relatively easier to attain and maintain proper alignment of the physical body in an asana with consistent practice, maintaining a non-swaying and focused mind in an asana can be quite challenging for most of us.

There are various methods to achieve a non-swaying and focused mind when practicing asanas, but here we will talk about using drishti as a method to concentrate our mind on one particular point and stay mentally focused in an asana practice.

What are Drishti Points?

Drishti means “gaze” or “vision” in Sanskrit, and refers to the general direction that we should be looking or gazing towards in an asana practice. This does not mean that we have to stare at one particular point during the asana, but rather to adopt a soft gaze towards the general direction of that point. When using a particular drishti in an asana, we need to bear in mind not to force ourselves to gaze in any way that will cause strain to our eyes, brain, or body.

There is a total of 9 drishti points:

  1. Nasagrai Drishti – tip of the nose

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward-facing dog pose), Bhujapidasana (arm pressure pose), Prasarita Padottanasana, Parsvottanasana

  1. Bhrumadhya Drishti – the space in between the eyebrows

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Kurmasana (turtle pose), Matsyasana (fish pose)

  1. Nabi Chakra Drishti – navel center

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog pose)

  1. Hastagrai Drishti – hands

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Virabhadrasana B (warrior 2 pose), Utthita Trikonasana (extended triangle pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose)

  1. Pahayoragrai Drishti – toes

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Most seated forward bends such as Paschimottanasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, and Janu Sirsasana

  1. Parshva Drishti – right side or right corner of the eyes

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Marichyasana C and D, Vakrasana (twisted pose)

  1. Parshva Drishti – left side or left corner of the eyes

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Marichyasana C and D, Vakrasana (twisted pose)

  1. Angushtha Ma Dyai Drishti – thumbs

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Utkatasana (chair pose), Urdhva Hastasana (upward salute pose)

  1. Urdhva Drishti – up towards the sky

Examples of poses that uses this drishti: Virabhadrasana A (warrior 1 pose)

 

A cartoon artwork illustrating the 9 drishti points [image source: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/05/the-9-drishtis/]

Importance of Drishti

As mentioned by B. K. S. Iyengar in his book ‘Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing’, “the eyes play a predominant part in the practice of asanas”. Typically, wherever the focus of our eyes and our attention goes, the flow of our energy will follow as well. Hence, maintaining a steady gaze at a drishti point will likely initiate a steady body alignment in the asana accordingly.

Relating back to the sutra “sthira sukham asanam”, the two main ways in which drishti can help us to achieve a steady and comfortable asana are:

  • Alignment of the body

Drishti can be used to emphasize the important alignment points that we need to look out for in an asana, especially those concerning the neck and spine. Taking Paschimottanasana as an example, one of the common mistakes in this pose is the rounding of the back, which may likely happen if we look down at our knees/calves and bring our head down while bending forward. However, if we change our gaze to look forward at the drishti point – Pahayoragrai Drishti (toes) – and stretch forward towards the toes, this will help us to straighten our spine and maintain a neutral spine in the forward bend. Having a neutral spine in Paschimottanasana is essential in ensuring that we are able to enjoy the full benefits of the asana, such as stretching of the posterior part of the body (which includes the back) and elongation of the spine.

Similarly, in twisted poses such as Parivrtta Sukhasana (easy seated twist pose) and Marichyasana C and D, the drishti point is usually Parshva Drishti, i.e. either left/right side or left/right corner of the eyes. Gazing at this dristi point allows us to continue and deepen the twist in the direction of the rotation, so that we are able to better feel the satisfying stretch along our spine and side oblique muscles.

  • Concentration of the mind

In order to hold and stay stable in an asana (e.g. crow pose, sirsasana), keeping proper alignment of the body is not enough to do the job. Once the mind starts wandering around from one thought to another, we may find ourselves losing balance and falling out of the pose. Many times, especially when practicing balancing asanas such as Virabhdrasana (warrior 3 pose) or Vrksasana (tree pose), we will hear the instructor/teacher reminding us to look at a point ahead to stay stable. By fixing our gaze on a stationary drishti point and concentrating our mind to focus on that point, it stops the mind from wandering and keeps us balanced in the asana both physically and mentally. Furthermore, incorporating drishti into our regular asana practice also aids in developing one-pointedness of the mind (termed as ekagrata in Sanskrit). Ekagrata can be defined as closed and undisturbed attention. In today’s world where distractions can be found anywhere and everywhere, ekagrata plays an essential role in enabling us to withdraw our mind from all the external distractions in the surroundings, and to start focusing our attention towards the goal or task at hand.

 

As we focus on aligning and adjusting our body to enter into an asana and hold that asana, drishti is often not the first thing that comes into our mind, at least not at the beginning stage when we are learning how to position our body to enter into the pose. However, incorporating the drishti technique early into our asana practice can definitely go a long way in improving ourselves both physically (through proper body alignment and posture in asana practice) and mentally (through concentration of the mind to ignore the surrounding disturbances).

SPIN THOSE CHAKRAS

Spin Those Chakras

I came into this 200hr yoga course for two reasons, one was to improve my flexibility and range of motion and the other was to add a new layer to my coaching for the current classes that I teach at the gym I work in. I certainly was not thinking about the spiritual and philosophical side of the experience.

Admittedly I was a bit sceptical about a lot of the philosophy side of it all when I began this journey  but after hitting the theory classes with Master Ram and YY they have successfully changed my view in a lot of it.

The philosophy was always going to be my Achilles Heel during this 200 hour experience  but one of the main things that has stuck is the Chakras. The day we discussed this I started (and I repeated started as there is so much to learn) to really take it in and believe there  is something there, I also started to realise that after 5000 years of yoga being practised there must be truth in it all.

The 7 Chakras

What is a Chakra? Chakra literally means wheel and Chakra refers to the seven spinning energy points in our body that start at the base of the spine and work up through our body to the top of the head. These seven spinning disks of energy are aligned with nerves, organs and glands and each Chakra radiates a different colour.

Each Chakra is linked to certain physical, emotional and psychological aspects of our life so a blockage of one Chakra can lead to personal issues.

  • Muladhara Chakra (The Root Chakra) Located at the base of the spine and radiates Red and is responsible for your sense of security and stability.
  • Svadhishthana Chakra ( The Sacral Chakra) Located at the lower abdomen and radiates Orange and is responsible for your sexual and creative energy.
  • Manipura Chakra (The Solar Plexus Chakra) Located at the Solar Plexus and radiates Yellow and is responsible for confidence and self esteem.
  • Anahata Chakra (The Heart Chakra) Located at the Heart and radiates Green and assists our love and compassion.
  • Vishuddha Chakra (The Throat Chakra) Located at the base of the Throat and radiates Blue and assists our ability to communicate verbally.
  • Ajna Chakra (The Third Eye Chakra) Located between the Eyebrows and radiates Indigo and is responsible for intuition and imagination.
  • Sahastrara Chakra (The Crown Chakra) Located at the crown of the head and radiates Violet and represents your spiritual connection to yourself, others and the universe.

To write a blog on every Chakra could possibly take a me a life time with my one finger typing skills so I will pick the Chakra that jumped out to me the most and this was the ANAHATA CHAKRA (The heart).

ANAHATA CHAKRA

Anahata, The forth Chakra, The Heart Chakra.

As you may have probably guessed its located in the heart region of the body, its colour is green (representing growth and renewed healthy relationships) and its element is air (representing freedom/expansion) with the Thymus as its gland. This Chakra is responsible for love, compassion, passion and trust.

When this Chakra is in balance you will be more friendly, more caring and understanding to others but when out of balance it can cause moodiness, loneliness, anxiety, jealousy and anger.

I think this Chakra jumped out to me as I feel that I can be balanced and imbalanced intermittently leaning more towards it being balanced side as I get older. I believe that my Heart Chakra is close to being balanced and will be trying the following to help complete the process.

  • Asanas: All Back bending poses (e.g Matsyasana/Fish Pose, Ardha Setubandhasana/Half Bridge) will assist in balancing my Heart Chakra.
  • Diet: Eating more Greens (Anahata Colour) can help to balance my Heart Chakra (e.g Brocolli, Apples, Spinich, Matcha and Kale). I definitely don’t eat enough.
  • Pranayama: Anulom Vilom with an inhale 4/hold 8/exhale 8 ratio.
  • Meditation: This will help with anxiety and will assist in restoring balance.