The 3 Gunas And How It Relates To Our Diet and Health

In yoga philosophy, food is not only viewed in terms of its nutritional profile, but also how it affects our minds. What we eat can uplift our moods and keep us calm and emotionally nourished, or they could agitate us and make us dull and lazy. Food can be widely categorized into Sattvic, Rajasic, or Tamasic. We should stick to eating Sattvic food and avoid contaminating our bodies by consuming Rajasic and Tamasic food.

  • Sattvic food are pure food that increases our mental clarity, health, cheerfulness, vitality, and vigour. They should ideally be fresh and natural, organically grown, non-GMO, and without preservatives or artificial flavourings. Examples of Sattvic food include fruits and vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds.
  • Rajasic food are food that over-stimulates our bodies and minds and prevents us from calming our minds. Such food are typically strong flavours that are spicy, sour, bitter, and pungent. Examples of Rajasic food include onions, coffee, tea, and processed food.
  • Tamasic food are food that are stale, overripe, unripe, decomposed, and unclean. These food can make us full, inert and lazy, and fill our minds with dark and impure thoughts. Examples of Tamasic food include meat, fish, all stimulants (alcohol, drugs), and fermented food.

It can be a daunting endeavour for those of us who consume all types of food to abruptly switch to a Sattvic diet overnight. We can help to ease the transition by gradually shifting our food choices at a pace that is comfortable for us.

Below are some guidelines on how to make the switch to a Sattvic diet as natural and undisruptive as possible:

  • Familiarize ourselves on what foods are Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic
  • Swap out your least favourite Rajasic and Tamasic food with Sattvic alternatives for an easy start
  • Begin to incorporate more Sattvic food into our diet instead of focusing on removing Rajasic and Tamasic food to ease the feeling of deprivation
  • Commit to eating only Sattvic food on weekdays to make it easier to stick to (versus removing all Rajasic and Tamasic food altogether forever)
  • Stock your kitchen with Sattvic food and avoid having Rajasic and Tamasic food in your pantry/fridge as much as possible

Although it will be difficult to completely switch to a Sattvic diet, as long as we commit to pursuing it as a lifelong endeavor and never give up our attempts to adopt a mostly Sattvic diet to nourish our body and mind, we will gradually gravitate towards a healthier diet and lifestyle. We should also not beat ourselves up over the occasional slip-ups and just try harder again. Afterall, “better beats perfect”!

Reflections on What Makes a Yoga Instructor’s Class Enjoyable

While I hesitate to label any yoga classes as “not enjoyable”, most of us have attended classes where we really come out feeling refreshed and find ourselves looking forward to coming back the next week. Such enjoyable classes are less about the modernity/facilities of the yoga studio, but depends much more on the person who is teaching it.

Although the ability of the instructor to perform the asanas and be diligent about consistent practice is important, the ability to do advanced asanas that looks impressive does not necessarily mean that he/she is a good instructor. Reflecting on the classes that I have attended, I realized that conducting a “good” class requires a wide range of interpersonal and communication skills, in addition to technical knowledge of yoga and the human anatomy.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of what I think makes a good yoga instructor (in no particular order):

  • Clear instructions and good communication skills that are easy to understand
  • Warm, genuine and engaging personality
  • Ability to make personal connections so that students feel like you are genuinely motivated to help them improve and make the most out of each class
  • Encouraging and positive empowerment of each student to be the best versions of themselves
  • Ability to modify postures for students of varying experience/flexibility/pre-conditions
  • Conducting the class in a challenging yet not too intense pace, depending on the abilities of the group of students present
  • Energetic and radiating positivity instead of appearing bored or going through the motions
  • Deeper knowledge of yoga, such as how each pose relates to our anatomy and how it can benefit various parts of our body

Although I still have a long way to go, but I will continue to attend yoga classes to observe what I (and other fellow students) enjoy most about them and try to pick up the good traits to bring to my own classes in the future. By always being open to constructive criticism and being willing to let go of my own ego and learn to improve the way I do things, I will be able to improve and become a better instructor with every class I attend/teach.

Yoga and How It Straightened My Spine

I have always struggled with a hunchback/kyphotic spine since I was young. People around me (especially my parents) would comment on my hunched back issue and how it would worsen with age and lead to back pain, stiffness, and muscle fatigue.

I have tried wearing a back straightening brace (which felt very uncomfortable and thus unsustainable), and custom-made orthotics by a podiatrist (shoe inserts to correct for my flat feet), but I could never permanently “solve” the issue. It was a challenge for me to straighten my spine intuitively or walk around with a straight spine naturally. The moment I stopped consciously focusing my thoughts on maintaining a straight spine, I would naturally revert to a hunched back.

After starting the Yoga TTC, I struggled on the 1st day with a lot of bending poses that requires a straight spine, such as Uttanasana, Ardha Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, etc. I could not straighten my spine and my poses would look misaligned. The instructors told me that I had a kyphotic spine and I needed to do a lot of back straightening exercises to lengthen and straighten my spine naturally.

Following their advice and diligently doing the spine straightening stretches they recommended and trying to do the yoga poses with a straight spine as much as possible, after just 1 week, I saw drastic improvements in the straightness of my spine. My family members have all commented on how straight my back is now (even when I am not consciously trying to straighten it). Many of my fellow TTC coursemates have also expressed astonishment at how my back straightened so much in just 1 week. Even my instructor pointed out that my spine is no longer kyphotic.

I am very happy with the drastic improvement in my posture as it was one of the reasons why I wanted to do yoga. I am pleasantly surprised at the rapid speed of improvement and am further convinced (not that it was disputed to begin with) of the health benefits of yoga after my own personal experience. I look forward to learning a lot more, and eventually help others overcome their back problems with the help of yoga, just like how I overcame my hunchback problem thanks to yoga (and my instructors!).

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.

Is Yoga a complete Workout?

By Harsh Thakkar

The more I read about it the more evidence I find to support it. Well not sure if I can call it evidence yet, because neither have I seen the “evidence” from my own eyes, nor have I paid any medical labs or scientists to conduct the research on my behalf. Yes, I have spent a few hours googling about it, I will not deny it.

My first few findings were that Yoga has a lot of benefit for toning of your muscles, achieving muscular strength, flexibility, core strength, relaxation, endurance and reduce stress levels. There was also mention of it being good for cardiovascular health and increasing lung capacity. And I did come across a few articles explaining in detail how it really is proven by experiments conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the largest exercise science association in the world, that Yoga can be at par if not better than any other aerobic exercise out there in the world like running, cycling or swimming. Now I still am going to take that with a pinch of salt.

The parameters one can use to define physical fitness is cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, lung capacity(VO2 Max), Flexibility and body composition( percentage of fat, muscles, bones, organs and other non-fat tissues). Yoga has been proven in one way or another to improve all of the above within a span of 8 weeks of practice (2-3 times per week) in all age groups irrespective of previous chronic health ailments, sex, smoking habits etc.

Now I don’t know how true this is and whether ASCM was paid by the Federation of Yoga Loonies to prove that Yoga is awesome. I don’t even think such a federation exists, because I just made that up!

What I can put on the table for you to consider are facts:

  1. I lost about 9 kilos in 4 months, since I started practicing Yoga
  2. I do feel positively less stressed
  3. My chronic Rhino sinusitis has been less active
  4. My stamina of exercising and endurance have both increased many fold. And I have eye witnesses in the form of my yoga batch-mates to vouch for that. Still long way to go though…
  5. Don’t even get me started on my flexibility
  6. I still have not achieved the zen state. I must mention this as I do fight with my wife every now and then and she will read this article at some point in time I would like to believe

So whether it’s a complete workout or not – I don’t know. As a wise man said once upon a time, Yoga is not about fitness but about wellness. I will add a bit of running, swimming and a game of tennis to my exercise regime, just because I love it and I don’t like to put all my eggs in the same basket. But will I continue to do Yoga? Heck yeah!

Yoga and OT

In occupational therapy, the first practice model we learnt (CMOP-E) comprises the 3 key parts of OT: Person, Environment, & Occupation. In this context, occupation is all the activities we do daily, for self-care, productivity, or leisure. OTs help people by teaching new skills, adapting the environment, or modifying valued activities, all to enable people to be as independent as possible in their daily lives. Guess what is at the centre of the model as the core component of the person – Spirituality! – which refers to the essence of the person and the meaning that people attribute to what they do, which drives their motivation. We learnt that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities in life was essential for overall good health and well-being. It made me think about what activity I was doing that met these criteria – and yoga was the first thing that came to mind. Yoga is meaningful to me as I experience a sense of strength, balance, and calm when I do yoga, which motivates me to continue attending weekly classes to not only feel this calming sensation, but also develop my yoga practice.

During the 200hr Yoga TTC, we learnt that Asanas (poses) and Pranayama (breaths) are tools and techniques used for the outcome of Yoga (union). In yoga, there is a holistic view of the person, in terms of mind, body and spirit, all of which – in union – contribute to overall good health and well-being. There are similarities between yoga practices and therapeutic interventions we learn, especially for mental health. For example, we use the Inhale 4: Hold 2: Exhale 6 second breathing technique for anxiety, joint warm ups and stretches to maintain physical function, and relaxation sessions which include progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness/meditation. The holistic view of the person is also a core part of OT practice and I feel I have a better appreciation of this now, after more in-depth learning about breathing techniques, postures, and meditation in yoga practice.

– Ari (200hr YTTC, 2018) 

Yoga and CBT

Starting a short, simple routine first thing in the morning is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I only ever ended up drinking 2 glasses of water daily when I wake up, and doing some stretching. During 200hr Yoga TTC, we learnt the Tirisula 5-Step Rejuvenation to do every morning. I must admit I do steps 1-3 and then I do my own stretching, especially opening up the shoulder and hip joints where I feel most stiff in the mornings. However, it enabled me to finally kick-start a morning routine, and as it only takes 30 days for something to become a habit, I am the better for it, and of course I will get to completing all 5 steps every morning!

Just before starting this course, I completed an online course about the Essentials of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), something I’ve become interested in since learning about it at uni. CBT is used to help shift thoughts and behaviours to more positive and productive ones. A key concept of CBT is “people get better by making small changes in their thinking and behaviour everyday” and as someone who practices or teaches yoga, I think it is important to remind ourselves and our students of this. Common thoughts I have are “I have no time” or “I’m too tired” which leads to not doing yoga as often as I’d like to. Now I keep reminding myself I’m doing a beneficial thing that has long-term positive effects, and when I do complete the morning routine I tell myself “it’s good that I did that today” – as suggested in CBT to build a sense of self-efficacy. I will continue to do this as I increase the yoga practice to include asanas in my morning routine once this 200hr Yoga TTC ends!

– Ari (200hr YTTC, 2018) 

Yoga and Life

This was the year I knew I was going to do things I’ve been thinking about but never did, to feel the sense of loving life again like when I was a kid. Two things I always wanted to do were tour Europe and do a yoga teacher course, and this year I took the opportunity thanks to good timing with my uni break and a family wedding in London.

I did a Topdeck tour after the family wedding, travelling on my own for the first time, from Barcelona to Rome for 11 days, through 6 cities. Turns out most of the 40 people on the tour were also living in Australia, and I wasn’t the only one travelling on my own! Between each city was an 8 hour driving day spent on the coach, with rest stops every 2 hours. I knew they would play an arrival song every time we stopped, and I wondered what ours would be. I was fast asleep on the first driving day, and woke up to the sound of whistling coming through the speakers. It was the start of the arrival song, “Love Life” (by John Mamman in French/English). The song instantly became a favourite, as it was the reason I booked the tour, and I needed those lyrics this year more than ever. (Coincidence, or a sign from the universe? haha) I knew I was in the right place at the right time. Each time I heard the song, I felt more at ease, and felt that I was actually starting to love life again, because I was just enjoying living in the moment.

I am now completing the 200hr Yoga TTC in my hometown where I was first introduced to yoga at the age of 11 by my mum. During the course, we learnt about taking care of ourselves through our daily routines, actions, thoughts, even the food we eat. I feel happy learning so much more about yoga, which has been one of the few consistent things in my life. Yoga has kept me sane and grounded throughout my time at school, and now uni, soon to be throughout my career too. “Always find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive” – the quote on my phone’s lock screen. It is absolutely true – the Topdeck tour and Yoga TTC are the best things I’ve done in Season 24 of my life. So, if you’re reading this and thinking about doing something but have been putting it off, just go for it!

– Ari (200hr YTTC, 2018) 

Yoga and listening to yourself

Often in yoga classes, I observe people trying to complete the advanced version of yoga poses, even though they struggle in an easier option and in doing so, place their body in an awkward posture or fall over completely. On the other hand, I am overly conscious about my body’s limits in terms of strength and flexibility. I always move into the easy option of the pose first, even if I’ve done it countless times, as my mind and body are not the same every day. I think this comes from having good yoga instructors who always remind me that it is not about getting to the advanced level of a pose and suffering in pain there, no. It is about listening to your body, going only as far as you can, aligning your body in the correct posture, maintaining awareness of breathing, and enjoying being comfortable in a pose. It is also important to focus on yourself during the poses, and not compare yourself to those around you in class.

During the 200hr Yoga TTC, we learnt about Patanjali’s sutras for Asanas – 2.46 being “sthira sukham asanam” which means “steady, comfortable posture”. I think as a yoga teacher it is very important to emphasise this to students, especially beginners who have never done yoga before, though gentle reminders throughout the class that they should be able to smile during an asana and not be suffering in pain. This directs the mindset of how postures should feel, and enable the students to carry this on as they develop their yoga practice over time, to strengthen the connection between mind and body by listening within. I still continue to remind myself to relax into each pose, not just the ones I like because I can do them well.

– Ari (200hr YTTC, 2018)

End of My YTT Journey, Start to a New Beginning

In our life, we crossed path with many people. Some comes and goes. While others, stays along the way.

In this YTT journey, I have met people from all walks of life. Different nationality, race, gender and religion. But we all have the same mind and goal. We shared stories about our life, worked as a group and cherished the moments as we embarked in the 10 weeks long journey together. We are the March Weekend Warriors.

Though the time spent together are short, we had great fun learning from our masters. They have taught us with their utmost passion and sincerity. And I bet you, their dedications are unlike the others.

From this wonderful journey, I have seen the unseen. I have done the undone that I never knew I could. New knowledge gain with nothing to lose.

Over the 9 weeks training, a word has been etched in my mind even since I was introduced to it. “Dhāraṇā” from the Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra. Somehow, I was drawn to it. Dhāraṇā is the sixth stage or limb of eight as explained by the Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It’s translated as “concentration” or “single focus”. Somehow, we are always caught up in our daily life, always busy with work and working hard to make ends meet or keeping up with the wants that we start to lose sight of ourselves. We got so engrossed with keeping up with the lifestyles and standards that the world and social media portrays. Over time, we start to realise that we have lost so much time focusing on all the unimportant aspect of life that we forget who we are in the first place.

Dhāraṇā teaches us to focus our attention on the present moment and to bring attention to our SELF. By taking up YTT, I have discovered self-realization. Discovering that sometimes letting go of many of the things associated with our individual identity is needed in order to find our true Self. Take a moment to slow down the pace of your life and start taking the first step to discover yourself.

“Every journey has an end but the start of a new beginning.” Anonymous

 

Patsy Kaye Ang, YTT200 Weekend Warrior – March 2018