The Yamas and my Headstand Practice

I found Yoga Philosophy to be very abstract and difficult to understand when I first came across it during the YTT theory lessons. After thinking them through and reading more about them, I came to appreciate them more and see how they relate to our everyday lives and in my yoga practice.

Particularly, I found myself remembering some of the yamas (Ahimsa, Asteya, and Aparigraha) when I was trying (very hard) to practise my headstand.

Ahimsa – non-violence; to not hurt yourself and others with words or actions

  • I had difficulties in getting both legs up in headstand at first and felt a lot of my weight being pushed onto my head and neck, even though I tried my best to push into my shoulders. I was adamant on getting both legs up that I tried again and again, even when my neck and shoulders were getting sore. I ended up getting a sore neck the following day and I knew that I probably had pushed myself too hard.
  • Remembering ahimsa, we need to take care to not push ourselves over what we can take, and rest when it is needed.

Asteya – non-stealing; freeing oneself of jealous instincts

  • Besides the literal meaning of not committing theft, asteya also means to refrain from coveting others’ possessions, time, abilities etc.
  • In the past, it was common for me to look up from my mat to see how others were doing in a yoga class. Some of them could do advanced poses easily whereas I was struggling as I was not flexible or strong enough. As I grew older (and more mature haha) I began to understand that what others are doing does not matter to me in my own practice.
  • Even so, in trying to achieve headstand, I found myself thinking about how others seem to do it so effortlessly and wishing that I had that ability too. And then I remembered asteya – instead of focusing on my “lack”, I can shift my focus to gratitude. I am thankful that my body allows me to practise yoga and I know it is getting stronger and better every day. Also, as Master Paalu often tells us, we need to believe in ourselves and our capabilities, because it is in us!

Aparigraha – non-attachment; non-grasping; non-possessiveness

  • Aparigraha suggests that we do not accumulate more than we need. This can mean wealth or material goods, or in my interpretation in relation to yoga practice, we do not need to “accumulate asanas”, as if there’s a checklist for us to track how many poses we can do.
  • Greed and accumulation may stem from a fear of not having enough, or not being good enough.
  • Practising aparigraha may also mean reducing or removing the attachment you have to outcomes. Instead of focusing on the destination – a headstand, I can focus on the journey to achieving it. We have been taught in our training that asanas are just the final posture, the movements leading to that are what’s key. And when we have gotten our desired outcomes, we should not be too attached to it and instead remember the journey of getting there (you have worked hard!).

Thanks for reading and hope this will help you to reflect on how you have incorporated the yamas or the other limbs of yoga in your daily life or yoga practice too 🙂

Reflecting and resetting my knowledge of Yoga

I was introduced to yoga at least a decade ago. To me, Yoga was then considered as a mild exercise regime with movements incorporated with breathing techniques.

Fast forward, it has somehow become a habit for me to go for yoga classes in hope to increase flexibility, stamina and strength. However, I have been asking myself why my flexibility has not been improving and why am I not able to get into more advance poses like crow pose or even headstand?

With the current COVID-19 situations, classes were limited and it is even not possible to get postures corrected through zoom classes or online app. The only way to self-improvement, I thought was to embark on this yoga teacher training to gain the foundation of yoga and deepen my practice and knowledge.

The experience has been amazing and mind-blowing with Tirisula Yoga, and I believe there will be more to come until the day we graduate. Every week, we discover something about ourselves and our ability to achieve something I do not believe I can do it.

Our trainer, Master Paalu emphasizes the capacity of one’s mind. The works of the human mind and how the power can be unleashed to achieve what seems impossible. Using this application, he applies to our yoga movements.

Fundamentally, it is about thinking of the muscles moving in the body as we practice, can help them to work more efficiently by connecting it with our movement.

By adding conscious movement and visualization to our practice, we will be able to make our movements more intentional and the signals you’re sending to your brain will be stronger. Finally, the conscious movement then can not only lead to more effective practice but also better form, reduced risk of injury, and potentially better results.

Using one of the most common poses – Adho Mukha Shavanasana (downward facing dog), the engagement of rectus femoris and using hip flexors are important. The rectus femoris acts as a synergist of hip flexion and has increased activity with abduction and external rotation of the hip joint while hip flexors create stability in order to stretch the hamstrings and calf muscles, while opening the shoulders to improve overall postural alignment.

Through the yoga practices with Master Paalu, we learnt how to activate the correct muscle groups during poses and utilizing proper muscle activation and technique which will help prevents pain and injury and most importantly the breathing techniques that go along with the movements and transitions of poses.

Besides learning the asanas (known as poses), there are more to Yoga. Yoga is a practice for internal and external wellbeing which gradually increase my energy levels and overall happiness. We were taught not to focus only on the asanas but to practice integrated breath (for the soul) and meditation (for the mind).

Right now, I’m motivated and committed to learn and embrace the art of yoga building the foundation of deep yoga practice through asanas, pranayama coupled with mudras and learning of the 7 Chakras to find fulfilment in achieving mind-body-soul balance.

Food for thought

The nutrition is directly linked to the performance of asanas and our lifestyle in general. The yogi diet is based on Ayurvedic teachings. Some products are strictly forbidden by them, others are consumed in small quantities and in a certain period of time, and third yogis eat constantly. Three types of food in yoga According to Ayurveda, even the best and cleanest foods are not always healthy. So, there is food that should be consumed only in winter or summer. Some foods should be eaten in the morning, because they excite and give energy, others in the evening, as they calm and set you up for a long sleep. Yoga  divides all food into three types:

       Sattva, which means “purity.” This includes all fresh vegetarian food. Mostly seeds and sprouted grains, fruits, wheat, butter, milk and honey.

      Rajas is a food that excites the body. It is better not to use products from this category or to reduce their amount in the diet to a minimum. This includes citrus fruits, tea and coffee, as well as spices, fish, seafood, eggs, alcohol, soda, garlic and onions.

     Tamas is a rough and heavy meal. It is difficult to absorb by the body. It does more harm than good. Relaxes, after eating it makes you want to sleep. These are root vegetables, red meat (beef and pork), all canned foods, mushrooms, food with a heavy taste (roach, etc.). This includes frozen food and one that has been stored for some time. These are also considered dishes that are reheated, alcohol and food that has been cooked in a restaurant or store.

 Doing yoga, you will feel what products you will not need. Changes in the body will occur harmoniously and in accordance with the needs of your body. The gradual process of rebuilding the habits of the body is very important.

Many (and not only in yoga) make the same mistake: they abruptly begin to change their diet (completely abandon meat, fish, eggs, switch to the most sophisticated diets, such as raw food diet, etc.). With this development of events, in a few months you will face a series of ailments, such as colds, exacerbation of all previously existing sores, and digestive upset. And then it could be worse. Naturally, there can be no question of doing yoga.

Beware of this mistake!

  • never abruptly change your lifestyle, especially in nutrition, non-compliance with this rule leads to big trouble;
  • a complete rejection of meat food does not always bring positive results. If you abandoned the meat, you need to replace it with another animal protein: milk and dairy products, eggs, fish;
  • in your diet should always be present in large quantities vegetables and fruits;
  • food should always be fresh and harmoniously selected.

It must be remembered that the body will never tolerate abuse of itself both in the diet and in the mode of activity. And with the right approach to yoga, you become as independent as possible from environmental conditions, feeling great in any situation, with any set of food products.

 

Yoga or Pilates?

For many people , Yoga and Pilates look very similar – there are no power or cardio loads, exercises are performed slowly and consciously , with calm music. Pilates and yoga are wellness systems that include exercises to develop flexibility, endurance, and concentration. Regular exercises tidy up the body, allow you to find harmony with yourself. In this, both areas of fitness are similar.

But, having examined   these   practice closely, we  can find a lot of differences between them

    What is yoga?

     Yoga is the ancient Indian system of human self-development, which originated long before our era. This is a spiritual tradition, experience and wisdom of many generations that millions of people around the world have followed to this day.

Translated from Sanskrit, yoga means “union, communication, harmony.” Those. the unity of the physical and mental state of a person, the harmony of health and spiritual beauty. The purpose of classes is to achieve and maintain this unity.

It is impossible to imagine yoga without performing various asanas (static postures) that help improve the body. But physical practice is only part of the philosophy of yoga, one of the tools for working on consciousness. It also includes:

  • rules of personal and social behavior;
  • breathing exercises;
  • meditation
  • singing mantras;
  • body cleansing;
  • concentration of attention;
  • desire for complete control over the senses.

Therefore, yoga is a way of life aimed at achieving a balance of physical and psychological health, and not just a set of static exercises that develop flexibility and endurance.

What is pilates?

   Pilates is a system of healing the body, based on the dynamic performance of exercises that are performed in a specific technique and sequence. Their goal is to develop flexibility, improve the condition of joints and spine, posture and coordination of movements.

Pilates, unlike yoga, is a young trend in fitness. The German trainer Joseph Pilates developed gymnastic exercises for the rehabilitation of patients suffering from diseases of the musculature system at the beginning of the 20th century.

6 fundamental differences between Pilates and Yoga.

  • Yoga is the oldest system of self-development, philosophy, lifestyle. Pilates is a relatively young wellness system for the body, one of the types of fitness.
  • Pilates training is aimed at creating a healthy body, practicing yoga – at achieving harmony of the body, spirit and mind.
  • Many exercises and asanas are similar, but have a significant difference in technique. If in classical yoga you need to enter a pose and fix it for a long time (static load), then in Pilates the main thing is movement. All exercises are dynamic, repeated several times. Important consistent articulation of the spine and body muscles when entering and exiting the position.
  • Pilates breathing control helps to concentrate on doing the exercise and working muscles. Ancient practice provides breathing, as one of the steps to self-improvement (pranayama).
  • In Pilates, the muscles of the back and cortex are mainly worked out, in yoga – all muscle groups.
  • In classical hatha yoga additional equipment is not used. In Pilates classes  fitball, rings, rollers are actively used.

In my opinion, you should try both this practice and chose which is most suitable for you. However, if  you want to get a little more than just a beautiful and healthy body, then you may want choose yoga. After all, ancient practice is also aimed at working with the mind, includes methods of spiritual development and self-improvement. Practice will show what is right for you.

Meditation.Self Journey

For me yoga was always about physical practice. I have never done meditation at home and was skipping that “boring part of yoga” in yoga classes. But after some time, part of me has developed feeling that I maybe missing something. So when I signed up for Tirisula yoga teacher training course, one of my goal was to concentrate on  spiritual part of yoga. And that’s what I have learned so far.

Meditation is an integral part of yoga practice. Yoga helps to improve and develop physically. But spiritual development is no less important for a person. The goal pursued by meditation is self-knowledge of oneself, achieving clarity of mind, the ability to relax, the desire for complete inner harmony.

In medicine there is a concept such as “chronic fatigue syndrome” – a disease of modern man.By doing meditation, you can learn to concentrate and relax, control your emotions and mind. Meditation helps to strengthen health, get rid of existing diseases, prolongs life.

The best part –  you can do it yourself, in any convenient place. In yoga centers, classes are led by experienced teachers who will help you understand and master the basics of meditation.If there is no time and opportunity to visit specialized centers, you can master meditation yourself. After a hard working day, it’s good to take 15-20 minutes. relaxation in a homely atmosphere.

As in any practice, there are certain rules in meditation. Here are a few points for conducting an independent practice:

  •     Choose a place for relaxation, where nothing will distract from immersion in yourself. Although, it should be noted that neither advanced noise nor extraneous sounds interfere with advanced practices.
  •    Take a comfortable position.
  •   Try to relax as much as possible each muscle of the body, mentally observing relaxation.
  •    Concentrate on breathing. Monitor inhalation and exhalation – the exhalation should be longer.
  •    Try to turn off your mind. Throw all thoughts out of my head. This will help focus on something specific – on breathing, on relaxation.
  •   Try to withstand a certain time. 10 minutes is enough for a start.
  •     To leave meditation smoothly, without rushing, trying to feel new sensations and maintain a state of calmness.

After trying my best and practice it regularly every day for some time , I came to understanding that : Meditation is not as difficult as it may seem. But the benefits of this practice are undeniable. And very good when it becomes a habit.

Yoga and menstruation: should I or shouldn’t?

Is it possible to do yoga with menstruation?What to do if you decide to actively start learning yoga? Does every month have to lose a week of precious time? Not at all. Moreover, yoga during menstruation is not only not harmful, but also beneficial. Of course, subject to some precautions and the right choice of asanas.

There are top poses, which should be avoided while you on your ‘’special days’’

Sarvangasana. Should be  excluded from yoga during menstruation. All inverted poses are equally harmful during this period. They delay bleeding. As a result, excess fluid is not excreted from the body, and can cause the formation of fibromas, cysts, and even malignant tumors. Also prohibited: halasana, shirshasana, adho mukha vrishkasana;

Navasana. During menstruation, you should not  do any asanas engage your core muscle . And this is almost all power poses. So, first of all, exclude exercises on the abdominal muscles and balances on the hands. During such asanas, bleeding and pain may intensify. Also prohibited: bakasana, lolasana, mayurasana;

Kapotasana. Yoga during menstruation should not include strong deflections of the   back. This creates excessive tension in the abdomen. Also prohibited: ardha chakrasana, ushtrasana;

Yoga Nidrasana. During such yoga classes, you should exclude extreme twisting and squeezing the abdomen. Also prohibited: eka pada shirshasana, jathara parivritanasana;

Mula Bandha. Do not do yoga, which will include unnatural bandha and pranayama. For example, excessively intense breathing of a bhastrika or uddiyana bandha can disrupt the natural course of processes in the pelvic organs. Also forbidden: kapalabhati, maha mudra.

Top asanas that are safe during  menstruation

Baddha Konasan .This asana relieves the pain and stress that accompany the days of menstruation. Even if you do not dare to do yoga these days, you can simply practice this pose separately. You can also practice: padmasana, sukhasana;

Ardha Chandrasana. This pose helps control the discharge if it is excessive. Pain in the back is also reduced. It is also possible to practice: utthita hasta padangustahasana, vriksasana;

Dundasana. Yoga offers simple forward stretches to relax the brain and calm the discomfort in the lower abdomen. You can also practice: jana shirshasana, marichiasana;

Shoshankasana. Relaxing postures help with excessive irritability and in the event that heaviness in the chest bothers you. You can also practice: shavanasa, adho mukha sukhasana;

The breath of ujaya. Calm pranayama in a simple pose or shavasana will help to relax the body. Full yogic breathing is safe during your period too.

However, we should keep in mind that there are no two identical women.  Someone waits the onset of new cycle with horror, and someone has almost no symptoms and can continue with the usual daily routine. So as the conclusion, remember to  be sensitive, listen to your body, and it will answer all your questions.

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.