The Love of Arm Balances

Yoga intrigues me because of its all encompassing nature. In order to successfully practice it, harmony is required between body and mind.

Embracing it means the desire to embrace increased flexibility, balance and strength, in not just the physical, but also mental state.

 

To me, the term arm balances is a misnomer. It’s not only a test of balance, but also strength and often flexibility as well.

 

Across all arm balances, some useful tips include:

  1. Warm up your wrists
  2. Keep working on building strength – arm and core.
    Aim to be able to do several decent Chaturanga push ups.
    Feel the squeeze in your core as you hold the pose.
  3. Try to break down each pose into smaller steps.
  4. Always focus you gaze upwards and forwards, not down onto your mat.

 

The variations in arm balances are endless! Here’s to a never ending journey of discovery.

Chandra Namaskara (Moon Salutation)

Most people who have a regular yoga practice know about and have done Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation). It is a gracefully linked sequence that energises the body and provides a great cardiovascular workout. On a more symbolic level, Surya Namaskara also allows us to express gratitude to the sun and appreciate it as a source of life.

While I was looking for ways to improve my postures in Surya Namaskar, I chanced upon a similar sequence, “Chandra Namaskara”, the Moon Salutation in Hatha Yoga. For those who have never heard it before, you can take a look here: https://www.yogajournal.com/videos/moon-shine

Even though Chandra Namaskara is a rather recent development (according to my research, late 20th century) and does not have as much of a history as Surya Namaskara, it serves as an opposite to Surya Namaskara, just like how yin is to yang. According to Yoga International, we can pay homage to the lunar energy in nature and within by practising Chandra Namaskara. The 15 steps in the sequence below represent 15 tithis, or lunar days; a 16th step honours the tantric goddess Shodashi, who presides over all the phases of the moon, as well as all that is perfect, complete, and beautiful. When practised with devotion and gratitude for the divine feminine, this version of Chandra Namaskara can become a full body prayer.

This could possibly be part of a daily routine – start off the day with Surya Namaskara to warm up and energise your mind and prepare your body for the day. Then end off the day with Chandra Namaskara for inner meditation to teach us to slow down and to be more receptive to our needs. To create equilibrium in our yoga practice and in our lives, it is helpful to observe the power of opposites. Although Surya Namaskara and Chandra Namaskara embrace different qualities, I feel that they complement each other perfectly.

Tips for Inversions

Soon after I started Yoga one year ago, I became intrigued of all the inversions, like Sirsasana (Headstand) and its variations, Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand), Vrishchikasana (Scorpion) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), and always wanted to master of all of them. Although it was quite fearful in the beginning to swing yourself in an upside-down position, I soon became used to it and now I’m able to do most of them without any support. Now I wanted to share some tips for everyone who also wants to learn these Inversions:

 

  • Before practicing Inversions go for Core Yoga classes or just work on your Core muscles. With weak core muscles there’s no way to do Inversions the right way. Of course you can always jump into any Inversion, but the chances of falling and as a result of that getting injured are quite high. Lifting your legs slowly up into headstand looks first of all much more elegant and is also much safer. But this of course requires strong core muscles, which is why you want to practice on them before advancing to the Inversions.
  • Make sure your foundation and alignment is correct. Since Inversions can quickly result in injuries, it is important to have a safe foundation and the correct alignment. For example, in Sirsasana (Headstand) you should always rest the crown of your head on the floor and in the final position have 30% percent of the body weight on the head (the rest on the elbows and shoulders). Any other alignment can result in neck injuries, because the neck is trained too much. So check for the correct alignment in a book or ask your teacher before practicing.
  • Conquer your fear. Many people who are doing Inversions the first time are afraid of falling down and as a result of that stop practicing. That’s why you should first practice with wall support. When your back in the final position faces the wall there is no way to fall down to the back. Of course you can fall to the front, but this is comparatively much less fearsome than falling to the back and quite risk free. After you feel ready to do it without wall support you can advance to a position in the middle of the room to continue practicing.
  • Don’t rush. If you want to learn the Inversions don’t start with the hard ones. It is madness as a beginner to start with Pincha Majurasana (Forearm Stand) or even Handstand. The chances of failing are near 100%. Start with simple Inversions like Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and its variations (Sarvangasana cycle). Then progress to Sirsasana (Headstand) and again its variations (Sirsasana cycle). Afterwards you can proceed to Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand), then Vrishchikasana (Scorpion pose) and finally to Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). Make sure that you’re strong and steady in one pose before you proceed to the next.

 

Regular practice of Inversions result in a lot of positive results, because blood is flowing to the head. You will feel physically and mentally revitalized and more relaxed as a result of the reversed blood flow. Also blood circulation is improved and overall well being. It improves your core strength and balance.

Not without reason is headstand known as the king of all asanas!

 

Amon

The king of asanas

The Headstand often called the ‘king of asanas’. What has earned it that title is because to master it requires focus to your balance and alignment that heightens your sensitivity and stability and the strength and the willingness to literally turn yourself upside down. It’s a pose that requires courage and it’s only once you muster that courage, can you reap in the numerous benefits.

Here are some of them:

It’s the elixir of youth
Going Into a headstand and letting your skin hang in the opposite direction can provide an instant ‘facelift’. The inversion also flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, creating a glowing effect on the skin.

It resets and improve blood flow
When you’re doing an inversion, oxygenated blood flows the other way. It can flow straight to the brain improving focus and mental clarity or to the eyes, improving eyesight. It also increases blood flow to the scalp, which in turn improves nutrient delivery to your hair.

It relieves stress
Combined with slow, long breaths, it’s great for when you’re having anxiety, stress or fear. It also works on your adrenal glands which are responsible for the release cortisol or adrenaline- stress hormones.

It’s great for hormone balance
Aside from relieving stress, the headstand stimulates and provides oxygenated blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands which are considered the master glands that regulate all other glands in the body (thyroid, pineal, and adrenals).

It’s great for strengthening shoulders, arms and abs
The headstand uses a lot of muscles to firstly get you up then keep you up. Strengthening these muscles are also great for improving upper body strength and muscular endurance.

It improves digestion
When the effects of gravity are reversed, it helps relieve trapped gases, improve bloodflow and remove waste from the digestive system.

 

“The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid,”

B.K.S. Iyengar says in his section on Sirsasana in Light on Yoga

Yoga for your insides

Yoga has many benefits. Most people know the wealth of physical benefits- improves flexibility, improves strength and stamina – but what about what it does to your insides?

There’s a whole new area to explore when looking at the effect of yoga on your hormones.

Each of the glands in the endocrine system has specific functions, and can cause specific symptoms if out of balance. As it’s a system, if one gland is out of balance, then it is likely to affect other glands in the system so it’s important to do a yoga practice that helps to keep the entire system balanced.

For those who believe in the energy of the chakras, the endocrine system is also very closely aligned with the chakra system with the positioning of each chakra containing one or two glands.

A regular practice has been shown to decrease cortisol and adrenaline hormone levels- the hormones that rise during periods of stress and can possibly cause tumours if the levels remain high for a long period of time. While they’re our in-built fight or flight mechanism, they’re also the hormones that can make you cranky and generally not happy.

For women during their menstruation or menopause, hormones can wreck havoc on happiness and outlook on life. Yoga can contribute a balancing effect.

Yoga can also help you sleep more soundly and peacefully as certain positions can raise levels of melatonin.

Yoga can also increase thyroid hormone which increases your metabolism rate and helps you lose weight and feel more alive.

While it’s not an exact science, many studies state that it takes around 3 to 6 months of regular practice for yoga to have these effects on your hormones.

I’ve been doing yoga one and off for a few years now and I personally have definitely noticed its effect on my mood during the periods when I’ve committed to regular practice.

Here are some good yoga poses to try to stimulate certain glands:

Pireal gland– halasana, matsyasana

Pituatory– siriana

Thyroid– halasana, viparita karani

Pancreas– any twisted pose like parvitta trikonasana or pincha mayurasana

Adrenal – any backbends such as chakrasana, ustrasana

Reproductive glands – sirsasana

Here are some power poses when it comes to stimulating the glands:

Sasangasana
This pose stimulates the thyroid and the parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland is located in the neck and secretes hormones that regulate growth and metabolic function. The parathyroid glands are also found in the neck and control how much calcium is released into the body.

Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose massages the adrenal gland which allows your body to better combat stress and release tension.

Ustrasana
This pose stimulates your internal organs, especially in the neck region where the thyroid and parathyroid glands are located.

Bye-bye beauty salons! The anti-aging benefits of yoga

There are various health related benefits to yoga. The good news is that anti-aging is one of these benefits! I have in fact met some instructors whom I thought were in their 40’s, only for them to surprise me by telling me that they were in their 60’s!

So, why exactly does yoga come with anti-aging benefits?

· Based on deep breathing

In the world of yoga, there is a breathing method called Pranayama, which is regarded as one of the most important aspects of yoga.

By performing these deep breaths, it has the effect of bringing energy into the body. This breathing method is what produces the following health benefits.

–   Normalizes hormone balance, allowing you to become youthful from within.

  • Lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow, helps digestion and activates metabolism of cells.
  • Stimulates parasympathetic nerves and furthers relaxing effect, reduces stress and anxiety, and suppresses inflammation in the body which causes aging.

–   Promotes turnover of the skin, improving skin glow and blood color.

・Trains your muscles to become elastic and supple
As we get older our muscles slowly deteriorate, and it is said that muscle fibers become thinner. However, similar to the brain, our muscles become stronger and more effective the more we train it.

The relaxed movements of yoga stimulate our tightened muscles without adding undue stress, and helps train them. It helps with skeletal realignment and improves our posture. As it places stress on our joints and connective tissues, our joints become strengthened as well.

As blood flow improves, our internal organs become active and metabolism improves, assisting in resolving obesity and improving body balance.
Furthermore, since antioxidant substances (substances to remove reactive oxygen) in our blood increase, waste accumulated in the body can be discharged, leading to the rejuvenation of the body. Because a strong core (mainly deep belly, pelvic floor, muscles along the spine etc.) will also be trained, we will become better at using our own body, and less likely to become injured in our daily lives.

・Improved balance and stability

We lose our sense of balance as we get older, as well as stability. Falling and broken bones are the most common reasons we need care as when we age. The number of people who suffer a broken femoral neck increase exponentially in accordance with age.

Yoga contains many poses which force us to maintain balance. Our brain and body must work in unison when trying to balance, and furthermore both sides of our brain must fire together. Yoga is also a good way to train both sides to communicate more efficiently.

・Heightened sense of inner consciousness, allowing us to live more mindfully

We often feel stress in our modern society. It is said that “stress is the source of a million diseases”, and stress can in fact trigger serious sicknesses. In addition, there are many people who are too busy with their daily tasks that they cannot devote any time to managing their own health.

Practicing yoga will allow you to turn your eyes toward your body and thoughts, and to notice even the subtlest of changes. It will also allow you to build healthy habits to not accumulate stress.


2 Recommended Anti-aging Poses

・Shoulder Stand
A pose that secretes hormones for rejuvenation. It is effective for improving poor circulation and swelling.

First, lay down facing up. Keep your legs perfectly straight, and slowly extend them towards the ceiling. Hold your hips with both hands, and continue to lift your butt and hips toward the ceiling, in that particular order. Try to think of it as standing on your shoulders and keep your body as straight as possible.

Exhale and inhale for a few repetitions, slowly bring your body back to the floor and you’re done!

・Camel pose
It is a pose that improves blood flow, activates internal organs and produces a detox effect. It is recommended for people with desk jobs, stiff shoulders, and hunchbacks.

First, spread your legs slightly and stand on your knees with your toes vertical to the floor. Exhale slowly while pushing your pelvis forward, and open up your chest while looking up at the ceiling.

If possible, try to touch your heels with your hands for a better effect. Exhale and inhale for 5 repetitions in that pose, and slowly bring your body back.

Haruka

what kind of body does yoga build

The practice of Asana is not just working out the body’s soft tissue; it is also not just stretching and strengthening muscles. Although body exercise do burn fat and build muscles. But Yoga, along with conscious breathing, exercises a complete system of the entire body changing the body from inside out. Based on my own experience of Yoga practice, I found several obvious changes to my body.

1. Maintaining the ideal body weight is easy.
I don’t need to control my diet. I basically eat whatever I want. But as I practice Yoga, my body system will make an automatic adjustment. The taste and hobbies of my diet will gradually unconsciously favor the healthy food. But this process is not the same as conscious diet control.

2. Big improvement of flexibility
After a few years of practice, although I still have a “hard” body, I do feel my body opens up a lot more that it did before Yoga. For example, I couldn’t imagine I manage to do the front split now.

3. Strength and Stamina
One of the most beautiful sides of Asana practice is to use all the muscles of the body. Gym exercise is mostly isolated out to work on a group of partial muscle such as arm to raise dumbbells to practice biceps. But even with the arm, there are many small muscle to activate. The power of Asana allows you to hold the weight of whole body while standing your hands and using your arms to balance the weight of whole body. It needs coordination and activation of the whole body, not just the strength of individual bid muscles. yoga postures also teach us to stay in uncomfortable situations, to find peace and relaxation in the nervous system. This mind controlling is more powerful than muscle stretching.

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