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!

Where is the East?

So I ask myself.. is part of our yoga journey learning what physically we can and cannot do or are we supposed to believe that if we continue with our yoga practice that we will one day be able to accomplish those asanas that we think we are incapable of? There are certainly limitations to my body in its current form. After years of sitting at a desk my shoulders and upper back muscles are incredibly tight and my lower back and core are weaker than I would like. This probably started when I was young closing myself off from others by rounding my shoulders. I also think it can have something to do with growing up in cold climate where to keep warm we are constantly hugging our arms close together. In the last 3 weeks there has been a physical change in my body. Slowly my collarbone is more pronounced, my shoulders are moving backward and I am standing taller than before. I’m a long way off but I hope with regular practice and heart opening poses I will turn around this constant pain that I suffer each day. What I am learning is that though there are potentially limitations to what I will be able to achieve physically in the long run because of my physical form, this does not mean I will not be a great yoga practitioner. By understanding the limitations of my body, it helps me to understand others. I understand that it may not be so easy for everyone to sit cross legged on a mat with their back straight. This actually was something that it took me years to achieve and I still have to work hard at it now. How taking 5 long breaths in downward dog is actually not for a beginner if it is practiced properly… and guess what… touching the floor in a forward bend is not actually a measure of being good at yoga! So often when I have been to a yoga class in the past I have looked at the ‘bendy’ people and wished that was me. Hoping that one day I will be able to do a headstand or a handstand effortlessly. Teachers told me it was just fear that was stopping me but actually my physical form had something to do with it too! If we just think that those that can do all the asanas are good at yoga, where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave the beginner? Or the person that doesn’t have the time to practice regularly because they have a busy work schedule or a family to tend to. Does it leave them looking enviously at Instagram at the so called beautiful people in bikinis posing on cliff top in a luxury destination? All that this can bring is self doubt and lack of confidence and wishing away the wonderful lives that we have been given. This in itself is against yoga philosophy. We are told we must practice ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness) and this means to ourselves as well as others. We do not know how long we will have in this life and to practice yoga is to practice gratitude for all that we have been given in good times and in bad. It is about the journey we are on in this life and how we choose to live it. We were asked the question in our YTT – where does the sun rise? The east we answered. No, we were told, the sun does not rise in the east, where the sun rises IS the east. When I told my husband this he said to me… that is because the east is not a place, the east is a direction. I know yoga is showing me my direction and it seems I am heading on my way without a map but I am starting to trust that my internal compass will lead me where I am supposed to go.

The Ultimate Authentic Yoga

My Yogic Journey started all because of Haritakki Powder.

 

I was so frustrated with “not feeling anything” from most of the metaphysical courses that I have attended in the past 14 years.

 

Then a friend suggested that perhaps I should unblock my third eye. So, I started looking for ways to activate my third eye. I came across a video of a lady talking about the “King of Herbs – Haritakki Powder”.

 

According to her, she says her Guru says that Haritakki Powder increases the supply of oxygen to the brain by 300%.  I was curious.  I searched for the name of her Guru, “Nithyananada” and came across this video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezLivJ6rdv0 . I was deeply caught by the information presented in the video. I never knew Yoga from such perspectives….the Twelve Components of Yoga…..that was when i got interested and started to learn yoga last year….

 

 

Dorisq Tan

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6 Master Yogi Quotes to Inspire Your Practice

In one of our lectures in the YTT 200, we were asked what our favorite quote was. There are hundreds of quotes by famous people to choose from, but when someone asks you point blank and out of the blue which quote you live by, the answer may not come easily. Picking a quote – the quote – that should define what you stand for prompts you to reflect at the very least, or make you feel vulnerable at the most.

But throughout our lectures in the program, our teachers have showered us with insight and wisdom – a few we can barely pronounce but all we can truly apply in our lives.

For this post, I’ve put together six (6) of the key insights from our Master Yogis that I think are worthy of being enclosed in quotation marks:

1. “Do what your body wants you to do, not what your mind wants you to do.” The decision should happen on its own. The body is instinctive and has a natural ability to achieve physical homeostasis. The body is able to discern what is good or bad for it and we have to be in tune with what the body needs and what it rejects, rather than allowing the mind to dictate what the body wants and needs. For example, our body only becomes hungry when we need added nourishment. Craving for unhealthy food is a psychological announcement that is formed in the mind.

2. “There is comfort in consistency.” Maintaining a daily Yoga practice is difficult for most people because you need time, discipline and persistence. But we can push through the discomfort until we are able to ride smoothly through the consistency of a daily routine, which stabilizes your mood and provides you a reservoir of energy to push yourself to do more in other aspects of a Yogic life. So, having at least five regular poses that you do daily can be a big help to regulate your mood, establish consistency, and strengthen your connection with each asana.

3. “Establish a pattern of completion. Whatever you do, finish it; don’t leave it hanging.” Completing something no matter how challenging and no matter your mood relates to the previous insight. However, this one is more on reaching your destination no matter the hurdles and distractions. I think this also links to our habit of complaining and sour-graping. When we complain and have bouts of sour grapes, we place ourselves in a state of constant pain jealousy. We build the hurdles ourselves. We also steal ourselves away from what we need to do (relates to asteya, meaning non-stealing). Without completion, there is no consistency. Without consistency, there can be no relief, growth and vitality.

4. “Find a connection with pose; don’t be a slave to it. Being a slave to something is a form of suffering.” Our masters keep saying that we must enjoy the pose. It can be difficult to hear this, especially when you are struggling to hit the right spot for a certain asana. For example, you might still have a wobbly headstand or you can’t bind in Marichyasana C and D. The frustration can get to you and ruin your mood. But if you can control and manage your mood in relation to a pose, or to any another subject/object, you do not suffer. You can let go anytime. Only then can you be a master of your own mind.

5. “Where there is desire, there is also fear.” The fear can come from thinking that we are unable to achieve the desire or that we are capable but are unworthy of attaining it. The fear could also come from knowing that once we achieve our desire, we would have to move on to another desire, challenge, dream, and, basically, any object that becomes the destination of our life – and changing this destination might require us to redefine who we are and what we represent, which can be confusing and taxing. But Yoga is less about achieving desires and more being recognizing our desires and our human tendency to fall prey to these desires and suffer in the process. As we get older, it also becomes apparent that as individuals, we have basic desires that evolve and mature. However, these desires are basically the same ones that have driven us all our lives. And if we don’t recognize the fear we attached with out basic, individual desire, the fear will also evolve and mature, bringing us further from achieving our desires.

6. “A weakness is a strength, but at the time you labeled it as a ‘weakness’ was actually an inappropriate application of a strength.” Someone’s weakness could be another person’s strength. We can also take this lesson to mean that our abilities and limitations have a proper application; we just need to be able to discern opportunities to apply them in different situations. In addition, we also learned from the YTT 200 that appearing weak and imperfect could be a strength in a Yoga instructor. Students, especially beginners, feel intimated by a muscular and perfectly shaped teacher who does elaborate poses. Instead of listening and trying, all they can take away is how far the gap is between where they stand and how far the teacher has gone. In this scenario, both the student and the teacher fail.

These are just six of the many powerful lessons I picked up from our Yoga teacher training. Certainly, there will be more as we approach the end of our training program, and as we go off into our individual Yogi journeys. But these six quotes are a good starting point to define our ongoing practice and bring us closer to the quote that would define and direct us.

How to implement the yogic system in our daily lives? II

Ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat”? It is a concept that is easy to understand but not everyone is conscious of the foods they put into their bellies. Whether you live to eat or eat to live, there should be no compromise on the quality of our foods. That does not mean that the more expensive a food is the higher the quality of it, we should be looking at how it affects the body and yoga gives us some guidelines as to what food are more suitable for a stronger, healthier and cleaner body.

In yoga, we divide food into saatvic, rajasic and tamasic. Saatvic food are mainly food that increase vitality, energy, vigour, health and joy, and are categorized as food that are fresh and organically produced, eaten in as natural a state as possible. Rajasic food are food that overstimulate the body and bring a restless state of mind, such as heavily spiced food. Lastly, tamasic food are said to be food that make a person lazy and dull like meat, fish and all intoxicants.

It is clear to see that yoga encourages that shift towards a vegetarian diet. But as mentioned earlier, these are purely guidelines to help you understand why these food are better suited for the body since they help bring more clarity to the mind and introduce less toxins to the body. It is not a preach to convert all humans to become vegetarians but for everyone to strive towards showing more love towards their body and thus choosing the right kinds of food to nourish it appropriately.

So the next time you are choosing between reaching for those 3 servings of meats to eat with your rice, why not try 1 or maybe even 2 servings of vegetables instead? Start small. There is no need to entirely cut other types of food. But the idea here is to reduce your intake of rajasic and tamasic food to replace with more saatvic ones as much as possible. Give it a month or two, see the change it brings to your body and mind, and hopefully you would feel the lightness it brings and come to love the food that nature has provided for us all this time in the purest and most natural ways.

Yogic Principles in Daily Life – Part 2

Years ago a yoga teacher once told me that “Yoga without the breath is just a circus act”. This really resonated with me at the time and solidified early on in my practice, how integral the breath is when practicing yoga.

During my TTC I learnt that not only is yoga without the breath a circus act, but yoga without following the yogic principles is a circus act too. It’s not just all about the asanas, to be a true yogi you must abide by certain code of conduct. There are 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga, the first of the Yamas (qualities in which a yogi should have) is Ahimsa, or non-violence.

Non-violence towards others in the most obvious way means not to physically harm or injure others, but as well as that maintaining an attitude that does not harm others also. If you can do Tittibhasana and Sirsasana perfectly but then go out into the world belittling others, you become part of the circus act.

Ahimsa means no cruelty towards animals. This aspect of the Yamas is why a large portion of yogis are vegetarians and vegans. In regards to animals, Sree taught us that ahimsa also means not keeping fish in small tanks or birds in cages. In those cases we are trapping the animal just for our viewing pleasure, and thus it is of a violent nature.

I am already a vegetarian so can fully understand this aspect of ahimsa. The biggest aspect of ahimsa that I will integrate into my daily life, is the violence towards myself. Just as I wouldn’t go out into the world and speak negatively to other people, I mustn’t do the same to myself. I definitely notice in my yoga practice if I cannot do a pose I will speak negatively towards myself, but am aiming to culture a more positive attitude and integrate ahimsa towards myself into my daily life.

And I have to admit that having a few injuries along the way has really helped me to practice ahimsa towards myself!

Tapas

The 8 limbs of yoga are a systematic approach to release the mind.
The Niyamas are rules that a yogi will follow in order to be rid of obstacles and to be kind to oneself. This blog post focuses on one of the niyamas – tapas.

Tapas is defined as a cause of which a person undergoes to achieve something great. There will be many obstacles in the path towards the goal, however the individual is not bothered about the obstacles. Austerities will push the person down, but the person will come back up like a soft plant pushing and winding its way through the dense soil in order to break through to the surface. Through performing austerities, the person will attain a strong will.

In yoga this is important as the budding yogi will face many hardships on their journey to a higher state. Only when the gross body becomes pure, can the subtle body become pure. In regards to tapas, austerities are defined as fasting, clean eating, pranayama, yoga, self-care, self-awareness. Consistently performing these activities daily leads to a clean body with which new energy and possibilities arise.

Cultivating tapas is important both on and off the mat. On the mat we use this fire to motivate us physically in our practice. To have strong discipline in our meditation and pranayama. Off the mat, we use this discipline to eat clean and nourish our bodies, by determinedly watching our minds and not attaching ourselves to our thoughts.

Ahimsa, to be a better person

Ahimsa is the first Yama of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga which means non violence in Sanskrit. As I first learned about the concept of Ahimsa in the class, it got me to question deeper and deeper about what really Ahimsa means.

The wounds I got from people, the violence that I committed to other people around me and to myself, my violent habits that I am causing to animals and nature, vegetarianism and so on.

 

But among them it is the most painful when I think about the violence that is committed between man and man. And it seems like it’s the most complicate task for me to change myself according to yoga philosophy.

 

It is easy to commit violence to one another if you don’t have a good understanding of difference between people because we all have different abilities, personality and different physical and mental conditions.

 

“Why can’t you? “, ” Why is that so difficult for you? “, ” you can just do it. “, ” I Can’t understand ”

 

I think I said quite often to just ask or talk to someone like this assuming that it’s an easy thing without thinking much about what might be difficult for other people. Just asking like this without thinking about other people’s difficulties is actually sarcastic remarks or pressure saying like “what is so hard?” rather than to understand other people. In fact I think I just did it like that even though I kind of knew it.

 

Now taking out the hurting and hardships that I experienced, I just remember the pressuring moments from that kind of questions or comments that I faced from other people at the hardest point of my life and after that I immediately thought of same kinds of violence I did to others.

 

At that time, I thought they didn’t try enough. Rather than trying to understand their situations first like “there must be a reason for that”. Thinking about those moments I feel sad and guilty.

 

I am still not sure whether I should apologize to them first. I am still not courageous enough. But if I practice hard to live according to the lesson of Ahimsa, one day I might apologize to them first.

 

I know that I still have a long way to go to be a real yogi especially that I regret every day of the violent habit done unconsciously but I will not give up.

If I keep trying with constant self-examination then I will be already somewhat close to a yogi.

 

so I like yoga.

It plants a seed inside me that I could be a better person.

Applying the 5 Principles of Yama to Being a Yoga Instructor

In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Yama consists of 5 principles by which a yoga practitioner should live by and apply in our lives. The 5 Yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence, non-injurious), Satya (truthfulness, non-telling of lies), Asteya (non-stealing, non-covetedness), Brahmacharya (chastity, fidelity), and Aparigraha (non-possessive, non-greedy). These principles helps us to focus on having the right attitudes/intentions in order to live well and have positive relationships with those around us.

In the context of being a yoga instructor, the 5 Yamas can be interpreted as upholding the following behaviours:

  • Ahimsa – We should be aware that different students have differing experience levels/flexibility/pre-conditions, and we should not push students too hard to the point of injury. Asides from physical harm, we should also be sensitive to the words we say, our tone of voice, and body language, so as to not stir up any negativity in our students. We should be encouraging instead of condescending, and empower others instead of criticizing their abilities.
  • Satya – We should not pretend to know something we don’t. When students ask questions, we should not lie, but instead we should acknowledge our own limitations. Offer to help them do more research and seek the help of more experienced teachers and come back with an answer the next time (if possible), instead of faking our abilities/knowledge.
  • Asteya – We should not try to steal students from other yoga teachers by bad-mouthing the abilities of other teachers. Instead we should do our best to improve ourselves and teaching methods in order to attract more students instead of resorting to underhanded method to increase the number of attendees. We should also not steal the time of our students by showing up late for class or not being fully focused in the present when assisting a class of students.
  • Brahmacharya – Although the traditional meaning of Brahmacharya is celibacy, it can be interpreted as directing our energies (sexual and others) into meaningful pursuits. In a yoga class, we should help our students channel away their non-productive and energy-zapping thoughts like worries, stress and a cluttered mind. We can try our best to do this by beginning each class with a short meditation session, prompting students to focus on their breath, and reminding them to enjoy the process of yoga and relax. Hopefully they would be able to leave each class feeling refreshed, energized and able to direct their energies into positive things.
  • Aparigraha – We should not be greedy and possessive of our students. We should not be unhappy if they choose to go to another teacher’s class or not show up at our class. We should be fully present and motivated to help each student make progress when they come to our class, but we should also be detached and not feel resentment should they choose to stop coming to our class.

By remembering how to apply the Yamas as a yoga teacher, it will guide us to become the best versions of ourselves and help our students gain the most out of every class.

Yoga – The Mother of All Sports

Imagine the frustration that minutes into playing a normal sport or practicing a martial art technique that you have already sprained your ankle, wrist or any particular muscle. The futile out-of-breath experience after running 200m into your 5K jog routine. It is getting common in modern urban societies where most works have been automated, saving us time and effort looking at the surface, our every body movements in daily life are becoming so easily injured with slight off-balance away from the proper postures.

These are just a few scenarios which are considered minor issues of sports injuries when compared to the more serious ethical issues in sports world such as unethical business practices of poaching customers, selling fake sport goods brand, to the widespread sexual harassment and assault allegations to the coaches of national teams in various countries triggered by the #MeToo movement.

Well, life is not easy anyway but we see multitudes of problems in just doing sports alone. This is where the practice of yoga seems to make a meaningful entrance into helping to address all these area.

In Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali or the eight-limbs of yoga, it covers 8 aspects of our practice. 

1st and 2nd limbs – Yamas (ethical guidelines) and Niyamas (observances)

The first and second limbs set forth in the ethical precepts are moral imperatives or rules for us to live a right and proper lifestyle. The laying down of the fundamental proper values and attitudes are more important even before beginning the training of the body and before obtaining any sporting skills or techniques. Imagine that a talented athlete who lacks of moral conduct will be condemned, even if he wins a medal. Hence proper moral standard has to be cultivated before the start of practice of our physical body. This is also essential for the later stage of practice that a purify mind will have less distractions and hindrances from improving further when we are operating at the advance level.

3rd and 4th limbs – Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathing exercises) 

Asanas and pranayama enable us to build strength, increase flexibility and improve stamina at the same time. There will be also less injury during our training as the body is enhanced and calibrated with all rounded strength and flexibility. With the outset of a strong physical foundation, our body will be ready to dive deeper into any field of sports in the next stage.

We can visualise the manifestation of this combinations of capabilities in a great example where an ice figure skater who is able to maintain the body balance while gliding gracefully across the ice ring, having the flexibility to perform difficult stunts in a dynamic moving condition and lastly having the stamina to complete the whole sequences till the end. 

5th and 6th limbs – Pratyahara (bringing the senses inward) and Dharana (concentration) 

Often in competitive sports, an athletes requires elevated concentration and focus to be able to achieve and deliver the best performance during a match. Being able to shut out from the external environments such as the noisy audiences and emotional distractions or pressure from the opponent as well as the player ownself will be crucial to carry through the competition. When all sides fair equally in speed, power and skills, which is especially common when competing at the professional level, by elevating our sharp attention to focus on one point will determines the winner of the day.

7th and 8th limbs – Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (integrating one’s conciousness with the universe)

By understanding that we are oneness with all living beings through meditation and by being at the present moment, we are able transcend our judgemental ego, dislikes, worry and fear. Winning the matches are secondary to being just having the honour to express our potential to the fullest and enjoying the process of interaction of skills with another individual (match opponent) or individuals (audience). To a higher level, sports should have the capacity to unite people together to celebrate human excellence while eliminating political, national and cultural boundaries.   

In India, yoga education is introduced to all government schools. This is a good start for children to begin their lifelong journey in purifying their mind at the same time building a strong physical body. It would be encouraging to see more people, either for sports or just leisure purpose, around the world to start to practice yoga in the coming future.