Bhujangasana

We had our final exams today, it was a very intense and sweaty practice but fun at the same time.  You can see everybody at their best alignment, drishti and pranayama.  Everybody looked so graceful and beautiful with all the asanas.  At some point, there were cards layed on the floor for us to teach with a time limit.  Tadah!!! I picked a card and got Bhunjangasana – Cobra Pose.Read More

When you thought you knew

After quite a few years of yoga practice, with various teachers that all agree on what is the perfect alignment in basic poses, you start to believe that these poses have no secret for you and you are craving for more challenges. It was therefore quite a shock when Master Paalu described what should be a perfect Adho mukha svanasana (downward dog) and the consequences of doing this asana right or wrong for the rest of your vinyasa.

The common explanations I received over the previous group classes was that when in downward dog:

  • you should have your back flatten
  • you should aim at having your hills touching the floor but it’s ok if you can’t
  • you should do a nice V shape and spread the weights equally on your legs and arms
  • you should push the floor away with your hands

Additionally, from Adho mukha svanasana you should be able to move to Santolasana (high plank) without moving your feet and your shoulders will be automatically above your wrists. The high plank position therefore really helps you know how wide your downward dog should be.

With this practice, I could go easily through many vinyasas without feeling too tired, even the chaturangas were ok for me. However, I was not improving in arm-balancing poses and not even close to hold a hand stand.

What Master Paalu told us shaken me up because to him all the teachers are wrong. Not only is the downward dog too wide when you do it the way I described previously but your planks and chaturangas are also wrong and will not help you balance on your arms and can lead to wrist injuries. And here is why:

  • Apart from very stiff persons, your hills should be on the floor in downward dog, which means that you need to shorten the distance between your feet and your hands.
  • To hold the pose, you need to engage your hip flexors, a good way to know if you are indeed doing it is to try to hold a towel between your lower belly and your upper thighs. It is actually really hard to do but with patience and practice you will be able to do it.
  • Most of the weights should be on your legs in order to hold the pose more comfortably.

You might think, ok but if the distance is shorter between my feet and hands, I will not be able to go straight to plank without moving my feet, right ? Well, actually the key thing is that your shoulders should be not be above your wrists in plank or chaturanga, they should be much more forward ! This way your elbows will form a 90 degrees angle when you go down to chaturanga. Additionally for all the arm-balancing poses you need to move your shoulders forward to have enough strength and balance.

This “new” alignment makes the vinyasa more challenging because different arm muscles are engaged but it really helped me to improve my crow poses (even one legged crow) in no time. Engaging voluntarily my hip flexors was also my key to go up to hand stand.

Give it a try and see for yourself.

 

– Stephanie –

 

 

Meditate in Sirsasana (Headstand)

Yoga is meant to be a comfortable position. But boy was I not comfortable with my legs in the air during a headstand! And soon my foot will have the desire to root themselves back to the ground.

“Engage your arms, squeeze your chest tightly!” Paalu would instruct energetically to encourage us. Great, this helped to shift the focus and I could stay 5 breathes longer upside down. But still I won’t be able to achieve the 3 minutes goal that has been set upon us to achieve at the end of the 200-hour YTT. 

Then one day Paalu gave an analogy to meditation. Imagine a sea of fishes; thoughts are like the fish jumping out of the water. Meditation works towards us achieving a state of calmness, the ocean is still, there is no jumping fish… and after some time, those fishes will compartmentalize in groups deep down the ocean and just stay there. Your mind will become one with the stillness, and clarity will simply open up.

The next time when I tried headstand… I notice the jumping fish in my mind and how my hanging feet and spine wobble. Let the fish sink, inhale slowly, exhale smoothly, count your breathes steadily, gaze at the tip of the nose, engage Uddiyana Bandha. The fish fell back into the sea. My mind steadied and I hung comfortably in the air. 

This would continue on as I hold in headstand for 3 minutes. I observe how breathing calm the nerves, the drishti gives a focus and only when the mind is still, then Sirsasana becomes a comfortable posture. 

Of course it would definitely help when one is comfortable with the arms and shoulder strength to push the ground away. And for all those can invert but not hang long enough in headstand… just remember the falling fish analogy. Meditate and work on your crown chakra.

The more challenging a yoga pose, the more relaxed one has to be to get into the posture comfortably. 

Namaste,
Ying

Beginner’s Guide to Adhomukha Shvanasana

Adhomukha Shvanasana or commonly known as downward dog is one of the most recognized yoga poses. Benefits of this asana include strengthening of the arms and shoulders and stretching out the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendon. It also enhances blood circulation and brings energy back to the body by removing fatigue. This is the main reason why I would consider this asana to be a very important pose in a yoga sequence because if it is done properly it can help you regain your energy and aid you in not tiring easily during your sequence. Honestly, this is a pose I have yet to perfect but this simple guide that I prepared has helped me and I hope it helps anyone who is also having difficulty with this asana so that they can reap all the benefits this asana has to offer.
 Warmup ———— focus on wrists, shoulders, triceps, hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves and ankles
While standing
• Wrist rotations – 5 counts clockwise and anti-clockwise on each wrist
• Rotate both arms clockwise – 10 counts
• Rotate both arms anticlockwise – 10 counts
• Tricep stretch – 10 counts on each arm
• While standing swing one leg front and back while not moving upper body -10 counts on each leg
• Squats – 15 counts
• Hamstring stretch by bending leg to the back while standing – 10 counts on each leg
• Hamstring stretch by bending leg and bringing knee towards the chest while standing – 10 counts each leg
• Calves stretch by pushing against wall and with one leg forward and the other behind – 10 counts and switch legs – 10 counts
While lying down
• While lying down on the mat with back on the mat, bring one knee towards your chest using a strap around your feet push feet away from chest and try to straighten your leg while using your arms to pull the strap towards your chest- 10 counts on each leg
• Ankle rotations – 5 counts clockwise and anti-clockwise on each ankle
 Getting into the pose
• From a table top position with hands shoulder width part lift your hips towards the sky on exhale. Press your palms into the mat while lifting your hips and straightening your legs and grounding your heels towards your mat. Feel the lengthening of the spine. Stay here for 5 breaths.
 Tips
• Gaze between your legs
• Keep the weight evenly distributed across your hands and feet
• Belly should be in
 Variation
• Bend legs at the knees slightly and heels off the ground
By Rhadhika

My Top 5 Tips To Enhance Your Asana Practice (Part 2)

3) Remember To Breathe

Knowing when to inhale and exhale can  allow you to enter a pose more easily. For example when you are doing a forward fold, you  exhale . When you exhale, the lungs empty, making the torso more compact, so there is less physical mass between your upper and lower body allowing you to do a deeper fold.

Consistent breathing also aids you to hold a pose longer and in that way  you can enjoy the full benefits of a particular asana.  I am definitely one of those people who are guilty of holding their breath during a difficult asana.  For me, this happens when I am just too focused on getting the asana right and I end up forgetting to breathe. Soon after, I would be out of breath and wouldn’t be able to hold the pose any longer. Reminding myself to breathe ensured that I was getting enough oxygen into my body so I could maintain my poses. Focusing on my breath also helps my mind focus and in turn allows me to hold the pose longer.

4) Balancing Your Body Weight

Knowing where to balance/shift your weight during an asana ensures that you are not injuring your body and that you are not tiring out certain body parts which in turn allows you to maintain the pose longer. For example, when in a downward dog your weight should be evenly distributed between your legs and your arms. This prevents injury to your wrist and ensures that you do not tire your arms out. When you do this you will be able to hold the pose longer as more than often it is a resting pose. Another example would be any warrior pose. I would always find myself naturally putting weight in the front leg but when I started to also put weight on the back leg, the pose became less tiring.

5) Remember Your Gazing Points

This straightforward tip actually had a bigger effect on me than I thought it would have. Knowing where to look when you are in an asana ensures that you are not distracted by your surroundings and therefore aids you in focusing your mind on the pose.  I found this to be particularly helpful during balancing poses such as looking straight ahead when doing a tree pose ensured that I wasn’t distracted and this allowed me to maintain my balance for a longer period of time.

By Rhadhika 

My Top 5 Tips To Enhance Your Asana Practice (Part 1)

There were many lessons I learnt from the teacher training course that brought my yoga practice, in particular my asana practice, to the next level.  There are too many list but I would say these are my top 5:

1)  The Significance of Warming Up

I would say this is my ultimate and top tip. I used to always go straight into poses and be very discouraged when I was unable to do them even though I have tried the poses many times before. However once I learnt that I should warm up/ strengthen/loosen up the relevant muscles for a particular pose, I was able to do poses that I was never able to do before or at the very least I was getting closer to doing that. Doing a proper warmup before poses that I have yet to perfect not only enhanced my asana practice but it also boosted my morale.

2) It’s Not All About Flexibility

I think there is a common misconception that yoga is all about flexibility.  I learnt that this is not true.  Strength actually plays as an important role in yoga. Having strong muscles are not only required so you can get into some asanas but they are also required so you can maintain the pose. For example, Chaturanga Dandasana. I have always had difficulty with this asana and I realized that it was because I lacked the strength required for the pose.  I then started working on strengthening the muscles required for the pose such as my core, arms muscles (including the biceps and triceps), and upper back muscles (rhomboids, trapezius, serratus anterior) and soon enough I saw myself getting closer to perfecting an asana that once seemed unachievable.

However it’s not just physical strength that is required for certain asanas, mental strength also plays a part. I found my mental strength to be very important when I was required to hold poses. I am sure we have all been there when our mind is telling us that your body can’t hold the pose any longer and we see ourselves succumbing to these thoughts.  Once I started opposing these negative thoughts and remind myself that it is only a case of mind over matter, I could see a vast improvement in how long I was able to hold certain asanas.  My mental strength also played a part when I was doing balancing poses such as the crow pose. I learnt that the trick to the crow pose is that you had to lean forward but I was always afraid that if I did that I would fall on my face.  Using the help of yoga blocks and learning how to fall without injuring myself are some of the ways I used to diminish my fear of falling.  Overcoming this fear hasn’t been easy but, for me, acknowledging the fear was the first step and as the day’s progress I see this fear in me fading. 

By Rhadhika 

Easing Beginners into the yogi’s squat Malasana (Garland pose) 

Malasana (Garland pose) is one of my all-time favourite poses because of its simplicity in improving back posture, strengthening the ankles, stimulate digestive organs to eliminate wastes, and the nice stretch felt when one presses the elbows against the inner thigh as the pose tones the lower body. 

 

I have incorporated it into my Beginner yoga lesson plan and included asanas that open the hips, stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the inner thigh muscles. The sequence after warming up and Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskar A) includes: Chair pose (Utkatasana), Warrior I & II (Vribadhasana I & II), Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), Lizard pose (Utthan Pristhasana) before transiting into Garland pose (Malasana).  The only comment from my YTT classmates that trialed my teaching is the challenge to stay longer in Lizard pose.

 

So happily after making minor adjustments to my lesson plan, I started to teach at home to accumulate practicum hours.

 

Over the two classes I conducted, 4 out of 5 students could not get into my favourite yogi squat without falling all over! I was caught off guard when the students were having such a challenging time.  However, I didn’t want to just skip a pose and move on. The graceful Plié Squat came to my mind. 

 

Plié Squat is an exercise that originated from the ballet position to keep the back straight while also bending the knees. Standing with the feet wider than hip distance apart, keep the feet turned and pointing in the same direction as the knee (45 degrees or wider). Because of the feet placements, the pose place deeper emphasis in the inner thigh adductors, while working on the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves as intended in the earlier asanas of my original lesson plan.

 

After holding in Plié Squat for 30-45 seconds, I got the students to narrow the standing stance, by shifting the foot towards each other (approx 2-3 steps inwards). The feet are still pointed towards the direction of the knee cap. And the magic happens! Keeping their back straight, all of them can now ease and lower more comfortably into Malasana and stay for 5 breaths… (before wobbling around while trying to keep the heels grounded!) 

 

Try this preparatory technique if you’d like to teach beginner students Malasana (Garland pose).

 

Cheers!

Ying.

Easing Beginners into the yogi's squat Malasana (Garland pose) 

Malasana (Garland pose) is one of my all-time favourite poses because of its simplicity in improving back posture, strengthening the ankles, stimulate digestive organs to eliminate wastes, and the nice stretch felt when one presses the elbows against the inner thigh as the pose tones the lower body. 

 

I have incorporated it into my Beginner yoga lesson plan and included asanas that open the hips, stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the inner thigh muscles. The sequence after warming up and Sun Salutation A (Surya Namaskar A) includes: Chair pose (Utkatasana), Warrior I & II (Vribadhasana I & II), Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana), Lizard pose (Utthan Pristhasana) before transiting into Garland pose (Malasana).  The only comment from my YTT classmates that trialed my teaching is the challenge to stay longer in Lizard pose.

 

So happily after making minor adjustments to my lesson plan, I started to teach at home to accumulate practicum hours.

 

Over the two classes I conducted, 4 out of 5 students could not get into my favourite yogi squat without falling all over! I was caught off guard when the students were having such a challenging time.  However, I didn’t want to just skip a pose and move on. The graceful Plié Squat came to my mind. 

 

Plié Squat is an exercise that originated from the ballet position to keep the back straight while also bending the knees. Standing with the feet wider than hip distance apart, keep the feet turned and pointing in the same direction as the knee (45 degrees or wider). Because of the feet placements, the pose place deeper emphasis in the inner thigh adductors, while working on the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves as intended in the earlier asanas of my original lesson plan.

 

After holding in Plié Squat for 30-45 seconds, I got the students to narrow the standing stance, by shifting the foot towards each other (approx 2-3 steps inwards). The feet are still pointed towards the direction of the knee cap. And the magic happens! Keeping their back straight, all of them can now ease and lower more comfortably into Malasana and stay for 5 breaths… (before wobbling around while trying to keep the heels grounded!) 

 

Try this preparatory technique if you’d like to teach beginner students Malasana (Garland pose).

 

Cheers!

Ying.

Hello, from the Upside!

Inversions. I have been doing pole dancing for a couple of years now but I can’t say I am used to being upside down.

When I joined YTT, I knew we would eventually face the inevitable, Sirsasana. But little did I know, it would actually come too soon — on the first weekend of our training. Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for it.

Learning new poses excites me, but at the same time, it frustrates me. I practice until I exhaust myself too much that I no longer have the strength to do the pose.

It was only when we had our private workshops with our masters Paalu and Weiling that I had my lightbulb moments. I led myself to frustration because I was mindlessly doing the pose! I was not focused at all. I did not pay attention to the most important things. I forgot about my breathing. My shoulders were collapsed, core was not engaged and not even a minute into the pose, my legs were already wobbly because my mind had started to wander around. I could not get into that straight alignment because I’ve always let this fear of falling backwards to overtake.

So one day back home, I decided to practice this pose again, this time trying to keep in mind what we have learnt during the workshops. Mind must be connected with the body. And though I still seek the comforts of a wall to catch me in case I fall, there was absolutely progression. I eventually got there.

Practicing this pose did not only teach me about patience, but most importantly, it taught me to always do the asanas smartly.

Now, that is me, saying hello from the upside! 😀

Kaye Carreos, March 2018 YTT weekend warrior

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

The first arm balance introduced to me as a beginner is Crow pose. My initial thoughts? How can a beginner do this? It looks so hard! But I guess, we all have to start somewhere right? I wouldn’t say it’s easy but it is definitely doable.

For those who have been practicing this pose, we know that Crow pose in itself is already a full body workout. Apart from it works your arm and core muscles, it strengthens your wrists, back, and legs. And as much as it challenges you physically, I believe it challenges more your mind, especially the focus. Has it ever crossed your mind that you may end up faceplanting on the floor as your yoga teacher tells you to lean forward everytime? I bet everyone had the same fear. This asana definitely teaches us the importance of mind-body connection, and so as the other yoga poses. If we condition our mind to stay calm and focused, for sure we’ll fly in the pose.

As I’ve been trying to master this asana for a couple of weeks now, here’s what I think are the key things to be remembered for you to finally nail this beautiful pose!

  • Take your time. No one’s rushing you.
  • It isn’t just about arm strength. It’s engaging your core, at all times. I’m 56 kilograms heavy but I’ve never felt lighter ever before than in this pose!
  • Don’t forget to breathe. You are alive, you are supposed to be breathing.
  • Keep the gaze forward. This will help you focus.
  • Lean forward. Do not overthink. Just do it! You may put a block in front of you if that helps you to be more at ease, or feel safer.
  • Most importantly, if you do fall, it’s never the end of it. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Kaye Carreos, March 2018 YTT weekend warrior