More than a physical practice

“I can’t do Yoga because I can’t touch my toes”, “Can you do /teach me how to do headstand, handstand, pincha, scorpion, crow” etc. These are some common statements that pops up whenever someone ask me about Yoga, which somehow revolves around the physical (asana) practice.

Contrary to modern yoga practice, it is more than just a physical practice. After weeks of delving deeper into Yoga as a subject, I learnt that Yoga is a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices / disciplines. In the yoga philosophy, I learnt about the 3 Gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – which are essentially the 3 fundamental aspects of Nature. The gunas cannot be separated or removed but can be consciously acted on to encourage their increase or decrease. A guna can be increased or decreased through the interaction and influence of external objects, lifestyle practices and thoughts. Being aware of these 3 Gunas, it acts as a signpost – guide that indicate where one is and where one wants to be.

Sattva – a state of harmony, balance and contentment

Rajas – a state of energy, action and change

Tamas – a state of darkness, dullness, inertia and illusion

The Tamasic practice is interesting because the traits associated with it is the opposite of Sattva. However, the difference does not mean that it is not able to achieve the same end goal of a Sattvic practice. A tamasic practice can go so deeply into the darkness, into all things unthinkable to mortals that one comes into the light. 

Light and darkness. This and that. There is no wrong / right / perfect practice but find one that works for you and keep seeking the light.

Yoga or Pilates?

For many people , Yoga and Pilates look very similar – there are no power or cardio loads, exercises are performed slowly and consciously , with calm music. Pilates and yoga are wellness systems that include exercises to develop flexibility, endurance, and concentration. Regular exercises tidy up the body, allow you to find harmony with yourself. In this, both areas of fitness are similar.

But, having examined   these   practice closely, we  can find a lot of differences between them

    What is yoga?

     Yoga is the ancient Indian system of human self-development, which originated long before our era. This is a spiritual tradition, experience and wisdom of many generations that millions of people around the world have followed to this day.

Translated from Sanskrit, yoga means “union, communication, harmony.” Those. the unity of the physical and mental state of a person, the harmony of health and spiritual beauty. The purpose of classes is to achieve and maintain this unity.

It is impossible to imagine yoga without performing various asanas (static postures) that help improve the body. But physical practice is only part of the philosophy of yoga, one of the tools for working on consciousness. It also includes:

  • rules of personal and social behavior;
  • breathing exercises;
  • meditation
  • singing mantras;
  • body cleansing;
  • concentration of attention;
  • desire for complete control over the senses.

Therefore, yoga is a way of life aimed at achieving a balance of physical and psychological health, and not just a set of static exercises that develop flexibility and endurance.

What is pilates?

   Pilates is a system of healing the body, based on the dynamic performance of exercises that are performed in a specific technique and sequence. Their goal is to develop flexibility, improve the condition of joints and spine, posture and coordination of movements.

Pilates, unlike yoga, is a young trend in fitness. The German trainer Joseph Pilates developed gymnastic exercises for the rehabilitation of patients suffering from diseases of the musculature system at the beginning of the 20th century.

6 fundamental differences between Pilates and Yoga.

  • Yoga is the oldest system of self-development, philosophy, lifestyle. Pilates is a relatively young wellness system for the body, one of the types of fitness.
  • Pilates training is aimed at creating a healthy body, practicing yoga – at achieving harmony of the body, spirit and mind.
  • Many exercises and asanas are similar, but have a significant difference in technique. If in classical yoga you need to enter a pose and fix it for a long time (static load), then in Pilates the main thing is movement. All exercises are dynamic, repeated several times. Important consistent articulation of the spine and body muscles when entering and exiting the position.
  • Pilates breathing control helps to concentrate on doing the exercise and working muscles. Ancient practice provides breathing, as one of the steps to self-improvement (pranayama).
  • In Pilates, the muscles of the back and cortex are mainly worked out, in yoga – all muscle groups.
  • In classical hatha yoga additional equipment is not used. In Pilates classes  fitball, rings, rollers are actively used.

In my opinion, you should try both this practice and chose which is most suitable for you. However, if  you want to get a little more than just a beautiful and healthy body, then you may want choose yoga. After all, ancient practice is also aimed at working with the mind, includes methods of spiritual development and self-improvement. Practice will show what is right for you.

Yoga and Vegan Diet

Growing up in Singapore, a melting pot of culinary flavours ranging from chicken rice to satay to bak kut teh (a kind of peppery/herbal pork rib broth), I never imagined I would ever turn vegan.

It started when, at the age of 10, I stumbled upon videos exposing what happened in slaughterhouses. The blood, the screams, the animals’ eyes dilating with fear as their throats were slit – it all looked like a scene out of a horror movie.  Traumatised by the reality of how meat was made, I decided I could not eat meat anymore.  When I told my parents my decision, they reprimanded me and told me I needed to eat meat to have a balanced diet.

It was not until I turned 20 that I finally stopped eating meat.  A few months ago, I stopped consuming eggs and dairy as well. 

After studying yoga philosophy, I started to reflect on how a vegan diet related to yogic principles. 

As a starting point, yoga does not enforce veganism, or any diet for that matter, on its practitioners.  In fact, there are many yoga practitioners who consume meat and animal products. 

Nevertheless, it seems that a vegan diet is supported by a few key yogic principles. 

(1) Three Gunas and Food

In yoga philosophy, the mind is formed from the essence of food.  If the food consumed is pure, the mind can develop a strong subtle intellect. 

Tamasic food, which includes meat, fish and intoxicants, is considered to be “stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse” (Bhagavad Gita, XVII, 10).  Such food makes a person dull and inert; fills his mind with impure thoughts; and increases his risks of getting chronic ailments and depression.  This age-old philosophy has been partially backed by modern science, which has established links between meat consumption and heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and harmful cholesterol levels.

On the other hand, a Sattvic diet consists of pure natural food which increases health and vitality, while rendering the mind pure and calm.  It includes vegetables, pulses, nuts, fruits, seeds, and whole grains such as oats and quinoa.  It includes dairy products only if the cow is fed and milked in the right conditions.  However, cows are abused in modern dairy practices.  Dairy cows are artificially inseminated repeatedly and slaughtered for cheap beef once they stop producing milk. Their calves are removed within 36 hours after birth, breaking the strong bond between mother and child.  These calves are killed if they are male, or raised to be dairy cows if female.  In addition, milk is now filled with hormones and antibiotics, which are harmful to our health. 

Therefore, a vegan diet, which excludes all meat and animal products, is Sattvic and ideal for nurturing our physical and mental health.

(2) Santosha

Santosha is about being contented.  I may not get to eat a lot of my favourite dishes like butter chicken or char siew rice (roast pork rice) anymore, but I still get a healthy and delicious diet which meets all my nutritional needs.  For this, I am contented.  There is no need to compare myself with others around me who get to eat a larger variety of food than I can. 

(3) Ahimsa

Ahimsa is about respecting all living beings and practicing nonviolence to others. 

In a place with little or no plants available for consumption, perhaps due to environmental conditions (like in the Arctic or Mongolia), a person would certainly need to hunt for meat to survive.  Otherwise, he would be committing violence upon himself. 

However, in most modern cities like Singapore, people have access to a large variety of food.  Thus, most of us can choose to adopt a vegan diet if we want.

Veganism applies to ahimsa in several ways.

First, by turning vegan, I am renouncing the confinement, abuse, and killing of animals. This is a direct way to disengage myself from one of the most prevalent (but overlooked) forms of violence.  Modern factory farming is inherently cruel to animals.  Unlike farmers in the old days, today’s factory farmers show no concern about individual animals. They embrace any practice that increases profit, regardless of how much pain, suffering, and death it inflicts on the animal.  Nearly all farmed animals live in intensively crowded and filthy factory farms.  Castration, debeaking, and other painful mutilations are routinely carried out without pain-relief.  Egg-laying hens are crammed into cages so tiny they can’t spread their wings.  Male chicks, an unwanted by-product of egg production, are often ground up or scalded alive.  By adopting a plant-based diet, I stop contributing to this systematic violence.

Second, veganism is an act of nonviolence towards the earth and other fellow humans.  Animal agriculture uses natural resources at a way higher rate than plant crop production.   Veganism would, therefore, drastically reduce the damage inflicted on the earth.

Third, veganism extends compassion to other fellow humans.  There are millions of starving people in the world.  Farmed animals are fed huge amounts of crops and water.   In fact, it takes 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat.  These plants crops could have otherwise been used to feed more people, saving them from starvation.  

Finally, veganism is an act of nonviolence to myself.  I feel more at peace, and my conscience is clearer than before.

One of the most popular mantras is a Shanti (peace) mantra, which takes into account all living beings, not just humans:

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih

Meaning:
May all beings become happy
May none fall ill
May all see auspiciousness everywhere
May none ever feel sorrow
Om Peace Peace Peace

How to be successful

In my earlier post, I mentioned about Prāṇāyāma; how it is is the practice of breath control in yoga and how important it is in our lives. But today, this”Prāṇāyāma”  shifted up the priority list (in my own ranking of 101-important-things-to-do).  As simple as it may sound, you must be thinking, how much benefits can breathing bring? Why are we talking about this again? It is just breathing, come on.. Believe me, I felt the same way. I started out learning a couple of different Pranayamas in class and was always dubious about the benefits that was tied along with each different breathing exercise. One of it, Kapalabhati, involves a series of forceful exhalations followed with passive inhalations and this is said to cleanse and detoxify your mind and body. As this breathing exercise belongs to the energizer series; it is advisable to perform early in the morning, the first thing you do when you wake. Once practiced, it is said to be an invigorating wake-up call, and you should feel instantly fired up after performing it. What is believing without seeing? I decided to try it myself each morning on days (without woman’s problems 😂) and I can testify that it is true, you feel the heat in your belly, you feel more awake and at times I start to sweat a little (on my bed at 6am yes).

Apart from the fiery breathing styles we learnt, we were also exposed to the calming pranayamas which I was equally as interested to find out. Of course, I had to test it out yet again. So I practiced some of it at night before I sleep, and I particular love this one. I admit I have yet to instill good discipline to perform it like a nightly ritual, but on nights where I do practice, I vaguely remember drifting off to wonderland quite instantly after this breathing exercise. This belly breathing can be done lying down; reasons why I love it the most, all you need to do is take deep breaths from your belly, allowing your belly to rise and as you exhale, your belly should fall. This breathing exercise focuses on inhaling more oxygen rather than short breaths from the upper chest, hence your chest level should remain relatively still.  The deeper the breath is, the more relaxed you will feel.

There is just so many different pranayamas but finally I will come to this last one for this post and I was introduced to this as THE prayanama to do if you want to be successful in life. Ahh, have I gotten your attention? Known as the Kumbhaka Pranayama – Full breath retention, you basically inhale, hold your breath for however long you can (the longer the better), followed by a longer exhalation in a ratio where it is twice that of your inhalation. Teacher said that when you hold your breath in, you will slowly start to activate your brain and push it to a greater depth of thinking (i.e he used vineyards as an example, about how deep their roots can grow and penetrate down into the soil), likewise so can our brain as we dig a little more and more and open our minds to a greater depth of thinking and creativity. Definitely caught my attention if not yours, but it does sound pretty abstract to me. Won’t be able to share with you my thoughts/experience on this (just yet), but do give me some time to verify this hypothesis. After all, holding of breath versus a successful life, how hard can the former be? 

 

Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

In the western world, most of the people perceive yoga as another form of physical workout with relaxing benefits. Some people treat it next to veganism as another trend. Yoga studios are usually full but at the end when some of the teachers start chanting most of the practitioners leave the room- they typically say that they aren’t interested in this ‘spiritual stuff’ they just want to do yoga-for them yoga is the name of the workout, the same as kickboxing, pilates, fitness etc. It might be because lots of gym places offer yoga class next to physical workouts, so its mixed, contaminated and there is no so many real yoga teachers out there. 

When I first started, I didn’t really understand what yoga is about. I felt that it’s something more than physical practise. I started doing it to help me with some emotional problems, I needed it not for my body but for my mind. At that time, it was a form of support to help me deal with stressful situations at work etc. Now I know its not about that but without this, without me feeling this stress  I wouldn’t start it. If I was completely happy in my material life I wouldn’t be looking for something more. Actually, when I think about it I was never fully satisfied in my material life.  There was always something missing.

My approach to life was so emotional. If someone said something or did something I didn’t agree with I had this strong need to defend myself, to explain that it’s not true, I was so attached. I’m not saying that you should agree with everything that someone is saying about you, but being emotionally attached to every judgment takes you further away from understanding yourself. 

Yoga in its ancient traditional development its not primarily about the body, about making you relaxed or distracted form your hectic life style. Yoga is connected to mind.

The three Sanskrit words Chitta Vritti Nirodhah hide the answer to what yoga is really about.

Yoga sutras(basic principles, manual for yoga practitioner ) written over two thousand years ago by Patanjali are the traditional foundation of the inner journey through the spiritual practice of yoga -and its physical part -asanas-practised by most of the people in the west is only one part of 8 limbs of yoga.

The yoga sutras explain what happens to our mind, emotions when you practice yoga- In second sutra Patanjali says ‘Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah– yoga controls, quiets waves(thoughts) of mind, consciousness. You don’t compulsively( obsessively) control the mind but you allow the mind to rest, to switch off by itself. Patanjali further explains that through committed practice and detachment we ll be coming closer to not identifying ourselves with the thoughts, emotions that are the reasons of internal pain, that take us away from our true selves.

Santosha – Contentment

In a blink of an eye, we are at the end of the course. I remember whining about having to wake up way before my usual routine, to make it for daily 8am classes. My course mates and I would joke about how dreadful mornings are, and seek solace in one another sharing the same struggles to this new routine.

Fast forward to the second last day of the course, thinking about how our YTT journey is coming to a close and the possibility that our paths may not cross again leaves me feeling bittersweet. Overheard in class today, “I am going to feel so lost. No need to wake up early and come here?” Funny how when YTT is ending, we are actually going to miss waking up at 630am!??

It also reminded me of Santosha, the second Niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga –  contentment.

Demand is high only and especially when supply is low, vice versa. We whined when we had to wake up early, and then start missing this routine when it is coming to an end. In a nonexistent perfect world, if Santosha was in practice, we would be appreciative of every new day we have from waking up from our sleep, our able bodies, the opportunity have a class to attend and the luxury of time to be able to attend this course. We would be in the present and enjoy every moment, without complaints. But of course, this is highly unrealistic. We know this in theory, but practicing it is a different ball game. All we can do in our best ability is to be mindful. Accept and appreciate what we are, what we have and make the best out of it.

I believe showing gratitude to the luxuries of time, health, money we currently have will fill our hearts. More often than not, complacency takes over and we tend to forget that life is unpredictable. A twist of fate can happen any moment, and everyone would go “THAT’S SO SHOCKING” … as if we never knew how life works.

In light of Thanksgiving today, I am thankful to share the last 19 days with my course mates, and an impish buddy who cracks me up every day. Thank you Sree for sharing your stories and wisdom with us.

Namaste

Swadhyaya.

Swadhyaya is the practice of self-study and self-analysis.
In Yoga, swadhyaya is incorporated by doing asanas, pranayama and Meditation. In the past 3 weeks I’ve  been reflecting on myself, and gaining a deeper understanding of my body and mind through YTT.
It’s hard to accept myself when I see how I am perceived through others, but there’s no other choice . Here are the things I noticed

I’m as confident as I want to be.
I’m not accepting of my own flaws . I speak slowly and softly , and have a habit of withdrawing my words before I finish my sentence (voice getting softer towards the end ). I don’t like that about myself and am trying to change.
I’ve trouble making decisions.  I am often unkind to myself in my head
I’m easily influenced and affected by others’ opinion of me.
I get stressed out easily in my mind when there’s actually no need to be.

I’ve also drawn a few conclusions in regards to what I can do;
I can be nicer to myself, I don’t have to be so harsh all the time.
I can treat others’ opinion of me as a stepping stone , to improve or to ignore. I can take everything with a pinch of salt.
I can try to speak with more intent, and be present when I speak.
I can accept that I am not perfect and relax in that fact because nobody is perfect and perfection is unattainable.
I can be at ease when I know that there is no right or wrong or bad or good. my flaws are just there as a part of me, I don’t have to fix everything in one second, I can do it at my own speed.

I started off writing this blog with discomfort  (because it was painful to look at my flaws) and ended it with ease. It’s nice to relax and know that when we face our fears and discomforts, it goes silently away. It’s a pleasant release of emotions.
Walking into the eye of the storm is scary, but when you get to the middle, you find calmness.
Whatever we resist, persists, so walk into your pain and feel it. It is not as painful as we imagine it to be. 

 

What is your karma?

“What is your karma? What is the current action you should take in your life now?”

As Master Shree asked the class this question, I instinctively whispered to myself “my karma now is to nurture”.
As this thought left my mouth, I realized how much it resonated with me, like a wheel clicking in place.

In a moment of sharp mental clarity, I saw how my choices in life and career were weaved to the theme of nurturing. Becoming a mother 2 years ago, my choice of profession, finding myself naturally slipping into a mentoring and coaching role at work.

Even doing a YTT feels like a step towards nurturing a seed or kernel within. I’ve practiced yoga asanas for a long time, going on and off the mat, but always returning, each time staying longer. I’ve dabbled with oil painting, writing, dance, and yoga is the only practice I’ve maintained consistently.

Perhaps this is samsara* at work, pulling me back to yoga time and again. And choosing to commit to YTT is a thread of samskara**, woven into my karma to nurture.

*The literal translation of Samsara would be “a wandering through.” This refers to the means within which everybody passes through a variety of lives and states. It encompasses the idea of reincarnation and therefore the fact that what an individual does in their current life are going to be reflected, through karma, in their future lives.

**Samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions, and intents that an individual has ever intimate with. They can be thought of as psychological imprints. They are below the level of normal consciousness and aforesaid to be the root of all impulses, as well as our innate tendencies.

Pratyahara: Detachment

A primary teaching Master Sree is a big advocate for, evident in his daily theory classes is to

Not be attached to anything.

Not any labels, not any religion, not any beliefs, not even memories.

With every module taught, this teaching stood still.

Pratyahara – Letting go of attachments, take only what we need, keep only what serves us, let go when the time is right.

This state of open-mindedness resonated as it is similar to us being exposed to the wide range of religions available, not excluding astrology, numerology, tarot card reading, crystal healing, fortune telling, etc. The same can be applied of the limitless diets: paleo/ keto/ raw/ vegan/ blood type or intermittent fasting advocated by everybody who achieved successes through their personal experiences.

Who is to say which is the best diet, or which is the one true god or the most accurate tarot card or fortune teller? Who is to say if eating meat is unnatural or are they meant to be eaten?

Everyone’s belief is different, everyone’s truth is different.

A sneak peek to a few thought provoking ideas mentioned in class –

Commercialized by pharma industry Popping painkillers pills for body/head ache 
Alternative idea Using natural herbs and spices to self heal
Commercialized by bottled water industry Drinking 2 litres of water daily
Alternative idea Drinking only when youre thirsty even if its 200ml
Commercialized by farmers/grocers Poultry are meant to be eaten as food
Alternative idea Animals are living things and are not meant to be consumed as food
Commercialized by all industries Love makes the world go round. We love our partners and family.
Alternative idea Only self love is the purest love. Every other love is conditional.

My takeaway from this is to keep an open mind. Don’t be attached to any of it. Take in all the information with an open heart, and make your own assessment if it will serve you and you will like to take it with you. And in time to come, when it no longer serves you, let it go.

Stupendous Sangha!

When we embark upon something new where unknown people are involved, whether that be a new job, a new hobby or moving to a new country perhaps, for some it can seem daunting and for others it is all about excitement of what is to come. Some people can walk into a room and talk to anybody seemingly without any fear. I have a friend who when she goes anywhere she collects friends. Her personality is such that no matter what situation she is put into she finds lots of interesting people to interact with and sometimes these people become lifelong friends. These are people she may never have met unless she had taken that first step into the unknown. For others they may need to seek safety when they enter a filled room as they do not feel the confidence to mingle and network with lots of people. They may pick one person that they connect with and spend most of their time just getting to know that one person – that person too however could become a lifelong friend. So neither person is right or wrong in their behaviour – both of these scenarios have benefits. However, when you put yourself into a situation where you are with the same people every day for four weeks going through the same aches and pains, the same emotional ups and downs, and the same anxieties and triumphs, you are forced to learn not only about yourself but about each other. There is a common bond that links you. You are all there for the same reason. You may have different end games but the current aim is the same. You are all in the same boat together and in order to get across the river you must learn to row the boat together in a way that will get you to the other side safely. Sometimes someone may be stronger at rowing, and another may be better at navigating and there may be the need to have someone entertain you to keep your spirits up on the journey. What there is between you is a shared purpose so naturally you start working together and supporting each other to achieve the end result. Two of the definitions of Sangha are ‘community‘ and ‘a group of like-minded people, usually walking the same spiritual path’. I feel blessed to have been a member of my YTT Sangha. The love and support that I have felt from you all has been incredible. It always amazes me how you can put a group of people into a room and they can all seem so different to start with but as we get to know each other we see that we are essentially all the same. We are all human, we all have our strengths and our flaws, and we all have our worries and our hopes. What I have learnt about my Sangha particularly is that we are all caring and supportive individuals and I feel so grateful to have shared this time with you all. We have had an experience together that I will remember for ever. Thank you to my Sangha – you are stupendous!