Asana is not a competition – It is rather a tool to face your inner self

For many of those who practice Yoga, it is not an exaggeration to say that their only goal is to be able to do those poses well.

In our modern competitive society, we are being compared with one another in many facets of our lives, ranked, categorized, and always being concerned with evaluation and critique by others. For that reason, many of us compare ourselves with others and become discouraged when we can’t pose as well as others. I believe there are many people who gave up on Yoga for this very reason.

I heard from an instructor who has practiced Yoga for many years say, “I have seen a lot of people who are strongly motivated by self-manifestation, become arrogant, and become more competitive only because they can do advanced poses.” The instructor continued, “There were many people who were pure when practicing yoga, but became egotistical once they became yoga instructors.”

However, originally, Asana is not intended as a competition for the beauty of the shape of the pose. The purpose of Asana to see one’s own inner self, and to be done in sync with one’s breathing. Asana aims to allow people to notice their own essence by abandoning their own obsession, purifying themselves and turning their consciousness inwards. In essence, a person being able to do highly advanced poses does not necessarily mean that that person is deepening his or her yoga experience.

Among the teachings of yoga is Aparigraha (often translates to ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness). This means to not become greedy, conquer one’s possessiveness, not become overly attached to things, and to first notice the things we have at hand, before we begin to desire other things. It is a philosophy that teaches us that “as long as we desire things from outside, we will never be able to realize our inner happiness”.

In yoga, it is believed that inside our exterior lies our true inner self, and our inner self is completely and perfectly content and happy with its current state. People become so caught up in obtaining happiness from without that we don’t notice our happiness from within, and suffer as a result. The true mission of yoga is to be able to find our already content inner self.

What should we do?

I believe that it is important to first realize that we are comparing ourselves, correct ourselves when we notice this, and to gradually shift our focus from comparing ourselves with others (focusing on things outside of us) to noticing our own state and feeling changes occurring within. Another philosophy of yoga is that if we somehow go down a wrong path, we are allowed to correct our course as many times as it takes. If we must compare, it is important for us to compare ourselves today to ourselves from the past, rather than comparing with others.

 

The reason I decided to write this article is because I myself have actually experienced this recently. I did yoga with classmates who are much better at posing than me during TTC (Teacher Training Course), and became disappointed when comparing myself with them. Every time I became discouraged I tried over and over again not to compare myself with people but to turn my consciousness towards my own growth. And three weeks later, I feel like I am gradually becoming able to accept that I need to progress at my own pace, and to be able to praise myself for growing ever so slightly every day.

Even in the aspects of my daily life other than yoga, I will try to stop comparing with people and turn my eyes to the inner side of myself, and be able to constantly maintain “Shanti”.

Haruka

Every Body, A Yoga Body.

What is a ‘Yoga Body’? What kind of image comes to your mind when you associate yoga body? If you are thinking of a ‘lean, toned and sexy’ body, you may be stereotyping.

Well, I believe in reality, there is no such thing as a perfect ‘Yoga Body’. Every body is a yoga body. Social media may very well be the culprit planting these ‘perfect’ images in our heads to form these stereotypes. Every time someone hashtag #yogabody, other hashtags such as #fitness #hot #perfectbody pop up collectively. These associations and impressions may have caused some misconceptions that people are having such as ‘I only can do yoga if I’m flexible and skinny’. Many people think generally, yoga is all about flexibility and twisting or contorting your body to make beautiful poses, and the ‘harder’ the pose, the more instagram likes it will have. However, the word “yoga” in Hindi actually means “to yoke”, and it emphasizes on union and connection. Little do people know that apart from physical poses called asanas, yoga actually includes 7 other aspects of breathing, meditation, and other nonphysical practices.

Recently, I was browsing at the National Library and I came across an interesting yoga book by Lauren Lipton – Yoga Bodies: Real People, Real Stories & the Power of Transformation. It caught my attention mainly because it did not have the usual ‘hot and lean’ model on the cover. Instead, the front cover was a photo collage of people of different ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes doing asanas. In this book, Lipton profiles more than 80 people who have discovered the transformational power of yoga –  each page beautifully captured them performing an asana each with much confidence. Don’t be mistaken. By beautiful, I don’t mean performing an asana with perfect alignment. Some of them might have done the pose with wrong alignment, or is not flexible enough to touch the toes and some even handicapped, but it truly shows what yoga is all about – yoga is for everyone and it is an individual learning journey. It also writes about how each of them found yoga and how it helps them to cope with their daily lives.

I believe yoga is many things and offers something for everyone — whether you’re a fitness junkie who wants to use yoga to improve your flexibility for other sports, a stay-at-home parent looking for a respite from the demands of domestic life, an office dweller who has no time to work out or someone who just wants to try for fun, yoga invites each of us to define it as we wish. I like how in her book, she did not only emphasize on the physical changes yoga brought to them, but also on a deeper level, how yoga helped them cope with insecurity, anxiety, depression, addiction, disability, gender identity, racism, aging, and more.

There shouldn’t be feelings like self-consciousness and envy when you’re on your yoga mat. There should be no competitions between you and your mat neighbours. You should not feel demoralized when everyone around you in the studio can perform a headstand and you cannot. You should not start questioning yourself after this whether it was because you were not flexible enough to walk your legs in a little more during the prep pose, or that you simply just did not have the upper body strength to lift your legs up away from the mat. Instead, we all should focus on our individual journey and not let others determine what we are and by what we see.

Yoga is for everybody. You don’t have to be thin and you don’t have to be fat. You don’t have to be of a specific colour, race or religion, nor a vegetarian to do yoga. Let’s start by bursting the yoga bubble and let yoga be accessible to everyone.

Tell yourself and your friends that they already have THE yoga body.

 

Angela

Energetic Anatomy: Chakras and Meridians

As I learn more about Chakras in this YTT course, I come to realise Chakras and Meridian points in TCM are quite similar and are often talked about together.

Definitions:  

Chakras: Disk, vortex, or wheel in sanskrit. These are non-physical energy fields that map onto our physical body from the base of the spine to the top of the head. There are 7 major chakras in our body:

  1. Root Chakra – Centre of Stability and Support
  2. Sacral Chakra – Centre of Sexuality and Imagination
  3. Solar Plexus Chakra – Centre of Self-Esteem
  4. Heart Chakra – Centre of Love and Self-Acceptance
  5. Throat Chakras – Expression and Communication
  6. Third Eye Chakra – Wisdom and Intuition
  7. Crown Chakra – Knowing and Enlightenment

Meridians: A network of energy pathways that carry energy like how arteries carry blood. These pathways create flow of information and link the connective tissues of the body with different organs and parts of the body. There are 12 Principal Meridians and they are divided into Yin and Yang groups.

  • Yin – feminine, dark, associated with slow, soft, cold and wet (represented by water, earth, moon and nighttime)
  • Yang – masculine and light, associated with action, speed and aggressiveness (represented by sun, sky and daytime)

The Yin meridians of the arm are the lung, heart and pericardium. The Yang meridians of the arm are large intestine, small intestine and triple burner. The Yin Meridians of the leg are the spleen, kidney and liver. The Yang meridians of the leg are the stomach, bladder and gall bladder.

 

Similarities

  1. Both energies need to be well balanced for a person to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spirituality healthy.

The degree of Chakra and Meridian activity in a person’s body is dependent on the person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state of health.

In chakras, if there are deficiencies/excesses or ‘blocked’ or ‘open’ chakras, it might lead to certain physical and psychological problems. Eg. if root chakra is blocked or deficient, one may experience insecurity or fear.

In meridians, if the body has too much yin or too little yang, the body will be cold and slow, showing signs of low thyroid or metabolism. Similarly, if there is too much yang and too little yin, the body becomes hot and stimulated, showing signs of high thyroid state.

       2. Both have ‘tell-tale’ signs or symptoms that can be treated

In chakras, if someone feels that it is difficult to get emotionally close with people, his heart chakra might be blocked. If he or she is confused in his/her thoughts, it may be because of their 7th chakra (cognition may be overactive) etc. Yoga exercises (asanas or prayanamas) can help to solve these problems if one can be more aware of their emotions and problems.

In meridians, acupuncture points can be stimulated with needles or physical pressure to release or redistribute energy along the meridian pathway. If you feel tiredness or soreness in your body, acupuncture can be used to treat these points to improve body condition.

        3. Different yoga asanas can help to stimulate chakras and meridians 

In chakras, to overcome inertia and lack of motivation, one can do yoga exercises such as ‘Breath of Fire’, backbends and twisting poses) to help stimulate the third chakra and heat up the body and fill it with energy.

In meridians, if you want to bring forth the dark, slow, evening feminine energy of yin, you can do poses such as low lunge and forward bends whereas sun salutations and twisting poses help to create hot, bright, morning and masculine energy of yang.

        4. Interconnectedness with other parts of the body 

In chakras, a sensitive practitioner’s hand held over a chakra may resonate with pain in a related organ, congestion in a lymph node or even areas of emotional turmoil.

In meridians, if you press specific points along the skin where the meridians surface, they may be interconnected and you can feel the aches and tingles along the same meridian points.

 

Differences:

  1. Origin

Chakras were described as centers of consciousness in ancient Indian texts like the Yoga Upanishads and in the Yoga Sutras or Pantanjali.

The meridian theory was originally expressed by the Chinese on the basis of observations of illnesses and holistic treatment.

     2. Functions of the energy

The chakras are like pools or swirling disks of energy that bathe and fuel the organs in their proximity. They govern the endocrine system and carry information about the person’s history. They also encode and process physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences.

In meridians, they deliver their energy to the organs. As the body’s energy bloodstream, the meridian system brings vitality and balance, removes blockages, adjusts metabolism, and even determines the speed and form of cellular change. The flow of the meridian energy pathways is as critical as the flow of blood. No energy = no life. Meridians affect every organ and every physiological system, including the immune, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, skeletal, muscular, and lymphatic systems.

     3. Exercises to improve Chakra and Meridian 

One can perform yoga exercises such as meditation, prayanama or practice asanas to improve specific chakras.

The fluid movements of Sundao, Tai Chi and QiGong and techniques of acupuncture and acupressure apply the knowledge of the meridians to eliminate the blockages of energy and treat the disease.

 

Conclusion

Be it chakra or meridian, they work well together. Chakras bring energy into your body, while meridians sends the energy around your body. When they are in harmony, they are very powerful in enhancing your energy supply.

 

Angela

#Instayoga

Scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you’ll probably come across someone contorted into a yoga pose, dreamy sunset location optional. With the popularity of social media soaring in recent years, it has become ubiquitous for yoga teachers and yogis alike to post pictures of them in a yoga pose, and I’m no exception.

When on Mount Rinjani…

Modern day yoga has the greatest focus on the 3rd limb of yoga, asana, or physical practice, where “The yogi conquers the body by the practice of asanas and makes it a fit vehicle for the spirit” (Iyengar, 1966 p. 41). Often times neglecting the other 7 limbs as defined in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, especially so on social media. Yamasand niyamas (moral guidelines or self-discipline), pranayama (translating to expansion of life force; usually refers to breath work), pratyrahara (withdrawal from the 5 senses), dharana (focussing on one thought at a time), dhyana(meditation; observing your thoughts but not reacting to them) and samadhi (detached, non-judgmental; Buddha-like enlightenment) are rarely mentioned on social media, mostly due to the fact that the target audience is largely just interested in the physical postures.

The paper Yoga on Instagram: Disseminating or Destroying Traditional Yogic Principals has drawn light on the flaws of posting yoga-related content on social media. Many people, especially yoga teachers, use it as a form of marketing – I personally am not against this because it’s free and if they have a large following, effective in getting their followers to come to their class. However, the paper finds fault in those who use it to seek validation or an ego booster, where it depicts a misleading perspective which goes against the yogic philosophy. In addition, the paper brought up the dangers of negative body image, where most of these pictures of young, toned bodies in tight leggings and a sports bra spurs comparison of one’s own body to that ideal, especially when tagged #fitspo (fitness inspiration).

But then again, yoga is derived from yuj, which means union in Sanskrit, and social media is a great platform for yogis all over the world to connect and draw inspiration from one another. Besides that, it isn’t purely about the asana – captions can often share a lot of knowledge about the asana or yogic philosophy and videos can give you tips to help correct your alignment. Many of these posts focus on achieving both physical and mental wellbeing, which goes in line with the traditional practice. As B.K.S. Iyengar wrote, “to the yogi, his body is the prime instrument of attainment. If this vehicle breaks down, the traveler cannot go far. If the body is broken by ill-health, the aspirant can achieve little”.

It definitely is a double-edged sword, where its benefits lie in the way people choose to use and respond to it. When used well, one can share knowledge about the philosophy, tradition and history of yoga and spread their love of yoga to their friends. Beyond that,  it’s called social media, so let’s make it more social – its an awesome opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and perhaps more importantly maintain those friendships, even if we’re oceans away.

Kyla x

Exploring the Yamas

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

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

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

Faye

 

Yoga and the Media

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

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

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Yoga and Buddhism

Before Yoga, I was introduced to Buddhism and got inspired by the books written by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, who is a renowned Bhutansed lama,film maker and writer. He says that its not the clothes you wear, the ceremonies you perform, or the meditation you do. Its not what you eat ,how much you drink, or who you have sex with. Its whether you agree with the four fundamental discoveries(also known as the four seals)the Buddha made under the Bodhi tree, and if you do, you can call yourself a Buddhist.

So what are these four truths?

All compunded things are impermanent.
All emotions are pain.
All things have no inherent existence
Nirvana is beyond concepts.

By thinking of it, we see that there is nothing moralistic or ritualistic about them. There is no mention of good or bad behavior. They are simply the truths based on wisdom which is the primary concern of a Buddhist. Unfortunately, people seem to view Buddihsm in a religious way.

A few years ago, I got into yoga pratice for fitness reason. With regular pratising, I surely enjoyed all those physical benefits, at the same time, I found Yoga also invovled with a lot mental work. Then this karmic wind continued blowing towards me and here I am in the 200hrs YRS training course.

Its not surprising that yoga and buddhism is connected in the ways of concept and pratice. Some points of connections could be:

Karma.
Meditation position and mudras.
Aim to reach enlightment as to Samadhi or Nirvana.
Yamas in Yoga very similar to Noble Eightfold Path.

Well, I just start the discussion here and this topic is really broad. Yoga, Buddhism and all spiritual paths are a map showing the journey back to the heart of the universe. Its time for us to give some thought to spriritual matters.

Svadhyaya and Dhyana

Svadhyaya simply means the study or observance of the self with no attachment and no judgment.

I really appreciate this term, as it allows me to reflect on  myself and others around me, observing and  analyzing  a situation with an almost scientist-like approach. I have found this brought me new insights to situations, but I have to be careful about whether it is applying judgment or discernment and whether it is expressing compassion or sympathy to myself or to others.

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Yoga, how the philosophy got transmitted?

Yoga was 1st mention in the Vedas, during the Pre classical era, thousand of years ago. 

Around 200 BC, classical era. Pantajali wrote the Yoga Sutras, which are the same ones we study today. 

Reaching the modern era, between 200-300 years ago we have Krishnamacharya the father of Modern Yoga.

Krishnamayaria spent 7 1/2 years in a cave learning yoga with Brahmachari. His ultimate purpose was to still the fluctuation of the mind. His conception of yoga was teach what is appropriate for the individual. He became friends with the Mysore Maharaja, which facilitated him to have a school in Mysore. 

He had recognized students, including Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar among others.

Pattachi Jois is the father of Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga. He created a method to teach yoga including strict routine and discipline, he got inspire by teaching young boys. He wanted to physical exhaust them to calm their mind.

Ashtanga yoga emphasis the Asana to later be able to meditate.

Ashtanga students are gradually led through a set sequence of postures step by step. There are 6 series, regular people usually reach the 2nd series. The rest are so advance that only a handful of people an perform them.

I hope this little summary helps you research more about Ashtanga yoga or Yoga in general.

So next time you finish your practice you can take 1 minute and thank all the teachers that passed us their knowledge for thousand of years, so we can benefit from the practice.

Namaste!

Luciana

Philosophy has never been my thing… and now maybe…

Philosophy is something I never liked when I was in school as I found it profoundly boring and I could not relate to it in any way. Moreover, I was not motivated as it didn’t count much towards my final exams in school.

I guess that what makes the difference is to find a way to be excited about something you don’t like.

Maybe my way is that I need to study it to pass my test at the end of the course, so it’s kind of motivating enough to drop any resistance I have against it.

A good idea when writing a blog is to recap the concepts you have to study. Writing about a concept is like studying it. You have to make a little research, you can watch videos, you can find lots and lots of resources online. There was not this great deal of opportunities when I was a student in school (no, I am not an old auntie!!!). Once you drop that curtain of resistance, you will surprisingly find yourself enjoying the topic you were so reluctant to dive into.

Back to the topic of philosophy…

Yoga is not a religion, it doesn’t derive from it. Its roots derive from the word “yuj” which means “to bind”. It also means union.

The first ideas about yoga are found in the 6thcentury BCE in the Upanishads, which are philosophical Hindu texts. They record teachings which are for intellectual people such as sages, gurus, or other highly trained people.

Western philosophies considered “the self” as something disconnected from the body (dualists’ vision) or as something nothing more than the activity of the brain, so kind of non-existing (materialists).

Hinduism has a completely different position on this. It saw the body as composed of three parts.: physical, subtle (thoughts, feelings, emotions) and pure consciousness (the atman, the absolute).

Since the atman is one thing with the absolute, when we can dive deeper within ourselves, we can have an experience of being one with the reality of the universe.

Another encounter with yoga can be seen in a section of the Bhagavad-Gita, which is an ancient Hindu scripture about virtue and duty. It tells of a dialogue between Kirshna and the warrior-prince Arjuna. This scripture dates back to the 2ndcentury BCE and it sees a very loyal Arjun torn between being loyal to his duty as a warrior or loyal to his family who he was supposed to kill to respect his tasks. 

The first real encounter with Yoga is in the “Yoga Sutras”, attributed to Patanjali, a philosopher who lived in the 2ndcentury BCE. Someone claims that it is a name used to refer to a group of people, but there is no real proof of that at the moment even though it is agreed that more than one person contributed to the writing of such text.

The Yoga Sutra are a set of practices to promote mental calmness and concentration. Started as a practice for those leading an ascetic life, yoga became more popular later on. Until our modern days where it spread all the way to the Western world.

I would personally define yoga as a lifestyle, religions have very strict and rigid rules, so does yoga, nevertheless it is a godless way of approaching this.

The structure offered by Yoga is set out in 8 steps called limbs of Yoga. Yama, Niyama, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.

The first two give a context for Yoga to be effectively practiced in its integrity.

  • Yama, (social discipline):

Ahimsa– non violence. The way we treat ourselves is the way we treat others. Key words to this are gratitude, caring for the others.

  • Satya – truthfulness. It requires integrity to life and to our own selves. The key is to be real rather than nice, be self-expressed.
  • Asteya– non-stealing. On top of the obvious meaning of this there is also the concept of focusing on ourselves for satisfaction without looking for it somewhere outside of us. Avoiding self-abusing behaviors such as lack of confidence, criticism, perfection…
  • Bramacharya– non-excess. It’s about not overdoing, it’s a letting go experience of the unnecessary. It’s about “walking with God”. This is often confused with celibacy.
  • Aparygrapha– non-possessiveness. Non-attachment, non-greediness. Tuning into the moment. Appreciation.
  • Niyama (personal disciplines):

Saucha– purity. Cleansing of body, mind and actions. Things like exercising, drinking water, fasting and keeping our closet tidy are examples of this practice

Santoshacontentment. We can never be content if we think that satisfaction comes from an external source. Be grateful.

Tapas self-discipline. Anything that helps us change leads us into either breaking down or breaking open.

Swadhydya self-study. Study about ourselves, our true identity

Ishwara pranidha surrender. There is a divine force within which drives us. Trust it.

The next three focus on controlling the body and senses

  • Asana (physical postures to control the body)
  • Pranayama (controlled breathing)
  • Pratyahara (disengagement from the sense). Every time our mind focuses on the stimuli received through our sense we lose our connection to the inner bliss.

The last three are pure mental steps

  • Dharana (being focused) focus on one idea or object and everything else disappears.
  • Dhyana (meditation)
  • Samadhi (state of absorbed concentration) state of bliss. A no return way.

When Dharana Dhyana and Samadhi come together we have Samyama.

 

 What we, as human beings could do, is to go on the hunt. Hunt for any kind of discrepancy between the 8 ways into the path of Yoga and our own life.

 

When we are on the hunt of what doesn’t work in our life, without making ourselves wrong, without blaming anyone, but with compassion, feeling a sense of being as perfect as we are, without getting overly attached to the result, focusing ourselves on what is important, by trusting the process in a calm state of mind and practicing our postures… we are doing Yoga!

 

NAMASTE!

Chiara G. (May 2018)