My Journey to Yoga
My journey into yoga was not a very glamorous one. I went to my first yoga class around this period last year because I was terribly bored during the school holidays, and I was finding something to occupy myself with. I just went for the cheapest and best deal I could find on groupon at that time, and stumbled upon a studio in Dhoby Ghaut. The classes were cheap which kept me going because I could go for 3-4 lessons in a single day. With each practice session, I could see the improvement; from not being able to touch my toes in the past, to being able to have my belly rest on my thigh in a couple of weeks, and from flopping down face flat while trying a chaturanga, to being able to do a proper knees chest chin. There was just such a great sense of achievement. At that point, yoga was more of an exercise to me, but I particularly liked this form of exercise because I could just focus my attention on myself for that hour or so, and not have to deal with anything that goes on the outside.
One fine morning when I felt so motivated to try out my first headstand in Ashtanga class, I was greeted by fellow yogis at the lobby of the studio. Apparently the owners ran away with all the money. I felt lost as I was just starting to make plans with my friends to go yoga with me, and study together in the lounge area after yoga. Anyhow, things eventually worked out. The yoga teachers of the studio were surprised themselves, and came out to create many yoga support groups for people belonging to the yoga studio. Some even gave free classes. Other yoga studios also helped out by giving free trials for students coming from the studio I went to. You could view it as them trying to pull customers over, but either way, it was a nice gesture. On one hand, I saw how shrewd the yoga industry could be, but on the other hand, I also saw how united this community could be.
As cliché as it sounds, the stars did align. I was just starting to get addicted to the cheap classes at the yoga studio, and was forced out of it that instant. Looking back, it might have been better for me to be forced out of my comfort zone, for me to try out the different styles of teaching of yoga in other studios. I hopped around, making full use of the privilege I had as an ex-student from the studio, and it was a good eye-opening experience.
Then school started. School was mentally exhausting, and even travelling to a yoga studio and choosing a yoga class time was tiring. I realized I had to come up with some form of self-practice. I know it’s not recommended, but I followed a primary series off Youtube. My alignments might have been wrong. I might have cheated a couple hundred times in the sequence, but at least it reminded me to go back to yoga whenever I can.
Finally it was school break again, and this is probably the longest break I’ll ever get until I graduate. I wanted to do something meaningful for myself, and yoga has always been at the back of my mind, which was why I decided to go for the YTT200 course. I’ll always be thankful for this opportunity.
Santosha means contentment; being perfectly fine and accepting of whatever we have in life, and enjoying every moment of being in consciousness.
I find this part of Niyama currently the easiest to start applying in my daily life and on the mat.
When I first started yoga, I was distracted by all the fancy things that I saw on social media. All over Instagram, all over facebook, all over websites and other social media platforms were yogis that looked so good in the most advanced asanas. I admit I wanted to be like one of them. I wanted to have the strength and flexibility to do whatever they could, but soon I realised that it was all not that easy. Instead, focusing on achieving those poses only made things harder as it was simply the wrong focus of my practice. Santosha reminds me to be contented of whatever progress I had, and not demand more than what my body can currently handle. It also reminds me to be accepting of whatever standard I am at, so that I can recognise where I can work on more and continue to improve myself.
Santosha can also be applied outside the mat. Being contented is usually easier said than done. Someone can be contented, but it could have only lasted for a few seconds before that person moved on from that stage and began seeking for something else that is better, newer, more advanced and different, while forgetting about all that he already has/had. Hence, not being contented could breed greed, unhappiness, jealousy and many other ill intentions and feelings. This is what makes cultivating the habit of gratitude all that more important. I feel like Santosha helped to remind me to not take little things in life for granted. To not take anything for granted. To be reminded of the things I already have, of what I have already become, and the people who have helped me here. Now I consciously practice gratitude daily and I felt like it really helped to start my day right, and end my day well. Practicing gratitude really goes a long way in helping me feel contented with life. And contentment makes life so much easier to go through.
Yoga and Diabetes
How yoga has helped people all over the world mentally and physically has already been extensively discussed all over the net, and it is no wonder as yoga requires both mental and physical commitment.
Generally, any sports would help with metabolic syndromes such as diabetes. In this case I’m focusing on diabetes mellitus 2, which is a metabolic syndrome that has recently become the focus of many healthcare groups in the world. It is of no wonder, as diabetes mellitus has many known frightening and debilitating complications, such as peripheral neuropathy (which commonly predisposes one to gangrenes of the extremities, and also blindness, and urinary incontinence), hypoglycemic attacks (that could possibly be fatal), gout and more. Advancements in medical technology has brought about many new medications and forms of treatment of diabetes, but almost not one has no side effects. Diabetic pills such as glibenclamide is known to have caused many elderly to pass out at home from hypoglycemic attacks. Medicine is not the only solution to diseases. This is where yoga (along with many other sports) comes in to help with metabolic syndromes such as diabetes, hypertension etc.
Exercise in general first helps with weight loss, which is an important contributing factor in the progression of diseases. Weight complicates matters. It demotivates someone from exercising, it results in more mental problems, and it also increases the risk of one developing more than 1 metabolic syndrome.
Exercise also helps with improving blood supply to all parts of the body, which is crucial especially in diabetes, where poor oxygen supply to extremities could predispose or hasten the process of the development of gangrene in the feet and hands. Some yoga asanas in particular help to stimulate blood supply to all parts of the body, such as the sun salutation sequences.
Yoga in particular is a very good form of exercise for people with diabetes, because yoga has poses that we hold that can stimulate the pancreas. The pancreas is an important organ involved in the metabolism of glucose in our body. By doing asanas that involve a lot of twisting (e.g. marichyasana), the pancreas can maintain its health and do what it is supposed to do (regulation of blood glucose with the secretion of insulin and glucagon).
An Asana: Adhomukha Svanasana
I chose adhomukha svanasana as it is a simple yet challenging pose that requires strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints of many parts of the body.
Adho mukha svanasana requires strength in the arms, in the abdominal muscles as well as the legs in order to allow the person to maintain the pose for a long pe
riod of time. The arm muscles has to be strong enough to support almost half of the weight of the body, and also has to be flexible in the shoulders so as to get the upper body into a straight line. Extremely tight shoulder muscles would not allow the full extension of the arm to achieve that. The abdominal muscles also have to be strong enough to help the person hold this pose for a long period. Lastly, the legs have to be strong in order to carry more weight way from the arms so that the arms do not get tired out as easily. The hamstrings, gluteus muscles, calves and archilles tendon also has to be flexible enough in order to get the heels grounded to the floor. Lastly, the ankles also has to be flexible enough for the heels to touch the ground.
There are many benefits of this pose.
Physically, it helps to strengthen the muscles and increase the flexibility of many muscles and joints aforementioned.
It also has many therapeutic effects.
Firstly, it helps to bring the heart at a level mildly higher than the head, helping to reverse the action of gravity that usually acts on our body when we are upright. Because of improved blood circulation to areas above the heart, it can bring more blood to the brain and hence has benefits on our mental health.
Secondly, as it works many joints and muscles at one time, it is a good pose to prevent arthritis which can develop in old age because of wear and tear. Doing this pose frequently can keep the muscles and joints strong, and might slow down the onset of arthritis and other diseases.
Lastly, it is a good warmup to the body, and can be a pose practiced at any time of the day when feeling lethargic or tired. It also serves as a good resting pose amongst more vigorous and physically demanding asanas.