Adho Mukha Vrksasana

Balance On The Hands

Adho mukha vrksasana, handstand to me is a journey of self discovering, it take times and need constant practices to build up muscles for resistance, flexibility and mobility. After fumbling around at the beginning until I finally able to balance on hands, I think I would like to dedicate in this little space of the blog on some of the tips I picked up along the way.

Hands and Arms

As the first part of the handstand journey, spend enough period of time to condition our hands is crucial, because to support our weight upside down, the first contact point of our body is our hands and over the evolution of human body, our hands is no longer serve the purpose of bearing our whole body on their own.

Now, let’s start with a little experiment with our hands, place palms on a flat surface and press the palms, as well as the finger tips firmly to the surface. Wrist, forearm and shoulder above the hands. If there are gaps in between the palms and the surface, practice to minimise the gaps. Spread fingers wide, index finger pointing forward and palms pressing down firmly, feel the stretch of the palm muscles, all around in the hands, to the sides, forwards and backwards. Then, without lifting up the palms, clench the surface of the floor by bending the fingers, elbows straight. Remember this movement of the fingers and hands because it is how they shall work to provide strength and balance during a handstand, the palms and finger tips are pressing hard on the surface and the fingers are still able to flex.

Commonly, we will need to hop to handstand many times when learning the handstand and our hands, forearm and wrists are constantly working together to stretch, pull and push. It is tiring and the after effect normally is wrists pain. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop some muscles strength around the wrists and forearms for endurance to avoid injury.

Two endurance practices I preferred are the 7-shape handstand against the wall and chest to wall handstand. Hold the pose and breath for about 20 seconds. Rest and repeat. Slowly build the strength up to 60 seconds. Resting ratio 1:3, depending how long the holding time is. This practices not only require the arms strength, it also work on other part of the body such as shoulder and core.

When the pose becomes challenging and uneasy during the holding process, step down from the wall. Always reserve some strength from getting out from the pose safely and prevent injury. In the circumstances when need to fall out quickly from 7-shape or chest-to-wall handstand, move one of the palms forward from parallel to each other, and land the feet and body sideway. Falling is one of the process to learn inversion.

Shoulder and Back

Fun fact, one of the reasons why it is hard to master the handstand because our hard works in conditioning the body will always put into waste when we are back to our back-hunching posture on the desk. Back then, there was time I injured myself on the shoulder because I didn’t evenly distribute my weight on the shoulder when practicing handstand. Therefore, attention to the works on the shoulder is important because shoulder girdles are one of the most mobile joints in the body and it could be challenging to learn how to put weight on the shoulder when upward rotating the scapula. 

The works I recommend on the shoulder and back are any exercise that helps to open, strengthen and improve the flexibility of the shoulder. Keeping scapulas in and upper back flat is one of the keys to stabilise the pose and strengthen the muscles around the upper back will help to improve the holding time. The practice of handstand push-ups (on the wall) will dramatically strengthen and train on these muscles, or for modification, do downward facing dog push-ups or dolphin push-ups. 

Core and Hip

For core, keep doing any exercise that will help to build up the core strength because all balancing need strength from the core of our body. Learn how to control the movement by using the serratus, the abdominal muscles and the obliques. Imagine our body is compact at all times during the handstand. 

Engage the core and glutes, or in Sanskrit engage uddiyana bandha and mula bandha.

Describing uddiyana bandha is easy, engage the core muscles and tuck in the lower front ribs at all times. Control the breathing and belly movements.

Describing mula bandha can be tricky because most yoga teachers kept it vague due to the choice of words. First, slightly engage the muscles around the hip and inner thigh. Then, squeeze the anus in, like holding bladder. Another version of saying is, think of keeping the vulva tight and close (female), or think of pulling the testicles back into the pubic (male). In anatomy, pull and keep the pelvic floor muscle lifted.

Last of the tips, remember to keep toes pointed and engage the leg muscles during handstand. Essentially, we will be able stand on our hands, upside down, after working day after day on the hands, shoulder, back, core, hips and legs. Let’s keep practicing and enjoy the awesomeness. Namaste.

Uttanasana

The Magic of Standing Forward Bend

I think most of us experienced a friend of ours asking to perform an asana when they first hearing that we are practicing yoga. At most circumstances, I would quietly fold myself forward to a standing forward bend (in Sanskrit, uttanasana) and surprisingly, this always does the trick and they started to acclaim.

For most people, the long hours of sitting in office or studies have slowly constraints the flexibility of their spine and hip joints, to bend forward and able to touch the toes appears to be an impossible task.

The spine, also known as vertebrae column is a part of the axial skeleton in the human body to maintain the upright posture and to protect the spinal cord, a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue. From top, the cervical vertebrae is connecting the skull to the torso, the thoracic vertebrae is the upper and middle back of the torso, the lumbar vertebrae is the lower back, the sacrum is at the hip, and lastly the coccyx is commonly known as the tailbone.

In between the vertebrae, there are intervertebral disc, or disc in short. These are the spongy cushions that separate the bones of the spine and provide shock absorption, keep the spine stable and give the vertebrae ‘gliding points’ to allow movement. Disc changes happen across our lifetime as connective tissues change with age, and the structures of the spine adapt to cope with the physical loads of daily life. These changes happened even in healthy people with no back pain and they are common age-related changes. The changes include disc bulge, narrowing of the disc space (loss of disc height) and disc dehydration. Overtime, the disc would develop from spongy cushion to a harden cushion if the persons are rarely moving their spine. To prevent the disc become harden, regularly exercising and stretching the spine is the key.

Back to the yoga asana, standing forward bend, a pose where we align the long axis of the femur and tibia bones with the direction of the gravity and allow the spine to elongate in a comfortable or effortless position. This asana help us in releasing the pressure on the disc that it sustains from long hours of sitting during the daily activities. It also helps to activate the movement of the spine. An active spine benefits the spinal cord and in result keeping the brain cells active.

     How to get in and out of the pose?
  1. Stand in tadasana, a normal and relax standing position. Feet together or slightly apart.
  2. On inhalation, tilt the pelvis and arch the lumbar. Grab hold on the side of the lower waist to feel the anterior tilt of the pelvis.
  3. Keeping the anterior pelvis tilt and on exhalation, slowly bend the torso forward, belly touching the thigh.
  4. Place the hands on the outer side of the feet, or holding on the back of the calves.
  5. Continue normal breathing in this intense stretch pose. Lengthen the spine in every inhalation and try to bring the chin closer to the knee in every exhalation.
  6. To get out of the pose, place the hands back to the side of the pelvis bone, inhale and slowly raise the head up and bring the torso back to the upright position.
  7. Relax the hands to side of the body and take a few breaths in the standing position to feel the benefit of the stretch.

What are the muscles that we are stretching on while in this position? Mainly we will feel like the pose is stretching on the hamstrings and the external rotators of the hips because these muscles are the factors that normally limit a person from going deeper into the forward bend if he or she has a tight hamstrings or hip rotators. Even so, we shall always try to shift our attention to stretch on the back muscles, such as erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and trapezius because the main aim of the pose is to elongate the spine. A healthy erector spinae muscle will help in preventing the spine from rounding when lifting heavy weights. The latissimus dorsi stabilise the lumbar spine and the trapezius will greatly influence the smoothness of the neck movement because it is an important shoulder mover and stabiliser.

For contraindication, a person who is having slipped disc shall avoid from doing this pose because the herniated disc may pressurise the nerve when bending forward and cause pain. 

No textbook standard

My classmates and I are more than half-way through the Yoga Teacher Training course so the stress of having to absorb such a wide variety of topics while fulfilling all the assignments has certainly built up!

One of the most challenging aspects of the YTT assessment for me personally is the Teaching section, particularly the assessment on accuracy of instructional cues and adjustments for the respective poses.

As such, I have been obsessively researching this topic. While I did uncover some good references and inspirations, what struck me fundamentally is the mind-boggling volume and range of literature that has been created by the topic of yoga alignment. I can’t think of any other practice in the fitness world that has created so much discussion, debate and controversy over the topic of ‘proper alignment’.

What sets yoga apart is its deep historical lineage and variety of styles, each one with its specific set of methodology and techniques. The desire to adhere to tradition, coupled with the proliferation of social media worthy images today, have resulted in many teachers and practitioners trying to adhere to ‘textbook standards’ of performing an asana.

However every body is different, and what was taught as a standard could also evolve over time. What I’ve taken away from this is that yoga teaching cannot be perfected through sheer memorisation of rules and concepts, but rather, through on-going self-practice, experimentation and experience.

 

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.

Training – Through Physical Practice

Sthira Sukham Asanam – Yoga Sutra, Patanjali

Means continuous comfort in posture. Steady and comfortable, that is how one should experience upon holding the yoga postures.

It may sound simple, but anyone who just started practicing yoga or just completed their first Vinyasa practice, would attest to the difficulty in keeping steady let alone being comfortable during the class. Before you can do a complete forward fold by making sure there is no gap between your thigh and tummy, the instructor would have already asked you to jump back and chaturanga on the next exhale. Hold on, what is Chaturanga even? Nevermind, the elbows were barely getting there, the hips were giving up and dropping on the floor when the class moved on to upward and downward dog.

That was how I got introduced to Yoga – through the asanas in a gym studio. That was also my earlier understanding of yoga – that by doing 5,000 sun salutations I might achieve enlightenment. In fact, that was how I was living this life – using my physical body and brain – Sthula Sharira to get things done. And I wasn’t even good at that.

In short, this is the practice of Asana:

– proper posture – Asan

– proper breathing – Prana

– proper gaze – Drishti

– proper concentration of the mind – Chitha

Asana is but just one out of the 8 pillars in the practice of yoga. We humans put so much emphasis in attempting to achieve form perfection. And yet it was just one part of the practice, let alone life. That said, practicing Asana religiously without thinking how the pose look like every single time does help me achieve better poses and get me closer to understanding myself, my mind, the teacher, the others in class, and other people in my life.

Then it clicked, we try and we practice to be comfortable in posture. As you practice, you encounter more challenging poses, discover new muscles in the body that has never been activated and won’t start moving, so does the effort required to stay comfortable in a posture. Then you start needing the support of good food intake to help the body hold, mental strength to eliminate fear, sheer belief that you can rock a pose, and some level of spirituality to not be traumatised when you fail (or bruise half your face after falling in crow) so you can put it behind, get back up and go on with the practice, like a boss (or guru?).

And as you go on, what looked hard when you started became easier. And as you go on further, you start getting comfortable in more poses and able to pick up more challenges more comfortably.

Not bad for a life hack.

Asana Technique: My Love-Hate Relationship With Parivritta Parsvakonasana

In most of the yoga classes that I attend, Parivritta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side-Angle Stretch Pose) is always ever present to taunt the flexibility and strength of my legs and hips joints and to stretch the limits of my ankle mobility.

 

In trying to keep my hips square to the front of the mat and in trying to maintain a perfect 90-degree angle in my front leg, I often find my both legs trembling, tilting my body and making me fall to the ground. The next tricky part is in staying focused with the trunk twisted and the chest open. I would chant to myself “Just breathe… breathe…” hoping and praying that the pose will be over soon.

 

Something happened the other day in one of our YTT class, Master Paalu changed my perspective on the pose and made me aware of what I should be doing. The master teacher tried to knock off each student from this standing pose. That is when I realized that I relaxed my hip and thigh muscles as I try to lengthen my spine and do the twist. This caused more of my body weight to shift forward to my front leg, loosing grip of the back foot, triggering the wobbling of the legs.

 

I must create first a stable base with my hips even before I start to lengthen my spine and do the twist. For EACH breathe and twisting of the spine, I must go back and re-check if my front leg’s hip and thigh muscles are still contracted; if my back hip are connected with back leg/foot; if the back foot is still pressing firmly on the floor; if my back leg are still straightened and engaged — that not even a strong nudge will topple the body from this twisted pose. 

 

These are some of the variations that one can do to execute the pose:

 

a) Variation for the back leg:

– If it is pretty challenging to keep the back leg lifted while keeping the toes on the mat, one can gently lower down the back knee to the floor. Un-tuck the toes and rest the back of the foot on the floor.

 

b) Variation for the back foot:

– The full pose is to position the back foot in a 45-degree angle to the back of the mat. If this is not anatomically possible, lift-up the back foot’s heel and keep the toes touching the mat. As you inhale and exhale into the pose, slowly try to ground the back foot to the mat but consciously maintain the engaged hips in its square position (to front of the mat).

 

c) Variation for the arms:

– Hands are in Prayer pose or Namaste position, or,

– Front hand is on the floor (or on a block) while the other arm extends over the head, or,

– For those with more open shoulders and chest, they may do the bound variation: wrap the top arm around and under the backside of the torso and grasp the bottom hand at the wrist if possible.

 

Parivritta Parsvakonasa has lots of benefits for the body. As much as I dread to do it, I have much respect for the pose. It has to be there in my yoga practice. It opens the chests and shoulders, strengthens the core, tones the thighs, stretches the abdominal muscles, detox the abdominal organs, increases blood circulation, improves balance and increases the mental focus. I simply love ♡ the pose as it keeps my ego grounded – it makes me accept the current state of my hips, shoulders and ankle joints. Most importantly, the pose reminds me to be always present at the current moment…

 

Melissa J (200hr YTT – July 2017 batch)

CHAKRA

Class batch: RYT200hrs, P/T, Apr – Jun 2017

Project title: Philosophy

Project theme: Chakra

Project by: Andre Neo Tai Chin

High res download link for image (Detail view) below: https://goo.gl/oaJYkw

1. Muladhara, 396 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/BVw8kQ

2. Swadhishthana, 417 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/odS1Xa

3. Manipura, 528 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/cX3kAQ

4. Anahata, 639 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/uj9bX4

5. Vishuddha, 741 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/IZ6UD7

6. Ajna, 852 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/o6H2VA

7. Sahasrara, 963 Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/CICJKa

8. All 7 Chakras Hertz, MP3 download link: https://goo.gl/XDOL9M

Summary

CHAKRA
Chakra literally means a wheel or disc, that enables energy to flow through or around it at various speeds, different directions, at different orbits, with a centre that is anchored to a fixed point. Each chakra represents a state of consciousness. It is a centre of subtle awareness and has a specifc feeling, tone, bliss or joy or emotion. It is, in effect, a storage place for energy forces. The summary chart explains and compiled in a nutshell for your easy reference use.

ROCKET YOGA 1 LED (ARM BALANCE INCLUSION)

Class batch: RYT200hrs, P/T, Apr – Jun 2017

Project title: Asana

Project theme: Rocket Yoga 1 LED (Arm Balance Inclusion)

Project by: Andre Neo Tai Chin

High res download link for image (Detail view) below: https://goo.gl/GnDXUp

Summary

ROCKET YOGA 1 LED
It follows the style of yoga developed by Larry Schultz, which derived from the first and second series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.  I have included arm balance variations/sequences where its origin (Rocket Yoga 1) was not introduced. Rocket Yoga 1 is an intense physical practice that works with the nervous system, building strength in both body and mind, and creating a transformative experience that make practitioners feel more alive. Practitioners are encouraged to make modifications of the postures according to their level of practice and physical abilities. Some pranayama, chanting and meditation may be included.  

Oh my goddess pose!

This is the pose to do for everyone who wants to leave negative feelings behind, be opened and overcome a broken heart. Goddess pose reminds you that you are in charge of your happiness!

The sanskirt name states how strong this pose is working for you – Utkata Konasana, where utkata means powerful or fierce (kona means angle). Fierce is represented in the angle of the legs but also in the strength and determination built through mastering this pose. In addition to lighten your emotions, drawing energy form the universe and empowering yourself for challenges to come, this pose also gives a nice workout on your quadriceps, hip groins, chest and inner thighs.

To get into the pose start in Tadasana, place your hands on your hips and then bring your feet about three to four feet apart. Turn your heels in and toes out to pointing in the corner of your mat. Bend your knees deeply so that they are aligned directly over your toes and lower your hips into a squat. Work your thighs to be parallel to the floor. Keep your hands on your hips, place them at heart centre or extend your arms out to the sides at shoulder height with your palms facing down, before turning your thumbs up toward the ceiling, so that your palms face forward. Bend your elbows and point your fingertips toward the sky; your upper arms and forearms should be at a 90-degree angle. Tailbone is drawn in slightly and hips are pressed forward, while drawing your thighs back. Roll your shoulders down your back and fix your gaze.

Utkata Konasana heats your body and allows a good circulation. This is a pose which develops outer and inner power at the same time and balances the body inside and out. The main chakra tackled in this pose is the svadisthana chakra (second chakra) that sits in the lower abdomen and pelvic area. This chakra is linked to self-esteem, fertility, loving yourself and consciousness of the own body. Practice this pose at seaside to really feel the drawing of energy from the universe when staying in Utkata Konasana.

 So next time you want to say oh my G…. just inhale and exhale deeply and get into goddess pose to balance yourself inside and out!

BG

Asana: The Beginning of the Journey

“and I said to my body, softly. ‘I want to be your friend.‘ it took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this‘” – Nayyirah Waheed.

 


 
After chancing upon the weekly yoga class (Denise Chew) at the gym I was at, a relationship began to form between my mind and my body.  In time, I began to feel my body speaking to me. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as poetic in the way Nayyirah Waheed describes it, but there was an unmistakable feeling of doing something positive and nurturing for myself, as well as a definite sense of gratitude and serenity from my physical body resonating in reply.
 
As a person who enjoys physical activities, I have always had a regular habit of exercising, including running, interval training, racket and ball games – all of which I found enjoyable, but none of which gave me a calm, centered, and serene disposition the way yoga did. Curious, I began to question why.
 
At this point in time, my life took a turn in the direction of Chiang Mai, and I began practicing at various yoga shalas there (Yoga Tree and Wild Rose).  It was in Chiang Mai that I was fortunate enough to come across who I consider to be my first teacher – a British man called Rupert J, who was once a successful businessman, but gave up most of his material possessions to travel through India and thereafter Thailand. His classes were markedly different from any class I had attended in Singapore.  He spoke about compassion, cultivating an attitude of gratitude, surrendering to Mother Earth, and said that the ultimate goal of yoga was to attain liberation from the suffering mind and worldly desires (kaivalya). My interest piqued, and after a pranayama session with him, asked him point blank: “What really is this yoga thing?”
 
He sat down with me and gave me a brief introduction on Raja Yoga, talking about the 8 limbs, starting with the yamas and the niyamas.  Thereafter, he pointed me towards the introduction in “Light on Yoga”, the Yoga Sutras, and guided me through my first seated meditation. My journey with yoga slowly began.  At this point, the first clue as why the practice of asana calms the mind was revealed to me in verses 2:46 – 2:48 of the Sutras.
 
Fast forwarding a couple of years, I’m still learning about yoga, the chakras, the nadis, kundalini tantra, as well as actively developing my meditation practice. I also have had the privilege of studying under great teachers from the Krishnamacharya lineage like Yogacharya Bharath Shetty (disciple of B.K.S Iyengar), Master Paalu Ramasamy and Master Satya Chong Wei Long (disciples of B.N.S. Iyengar). On the swadhyaya front, my first readings of the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita honestly raised more questions than provided answers – but I’ve learnt to accept and embrace this while not judging myself on this account.  In so doing, I’m beginning to learn to trust the process and not be too attached to the outcome.  All this wouldn’t be possible without the first instance of trying out yoga asana at the gym.
 


 
My point is, the way we can reach out to the masses, and in so doing, spread the joy of yoga, is to be well versed and trained in the practice of asana.
 
After people feel the benefits of the physical practice, it would be natural for them to inquire further.  Then, they will be able to experience the healing powers that yoga can exert on our emotional and mental planes, and appreciate the sense of serenity it brings to the mind – hopefully, they will start to seek, and eventually embark upon the practice of ceasing the fluctuations of the mind (yogash chitta vritti nirodah) – beginning to see the world not through the lens that modern society at large has programmed us into, but to see the world as it is – without our ego colouring and distorting the picture (thereby ridding of the illusion which falsely identifies our bodies as the seer, when it is merely the instrument of seeing – Sutras 2:6).
 
Asana is the first vehicle that we can use to touch a great number of people’s lives. The journey inward into our subtle bodies begins with the physical body in its gross form. After all, B.K.S. Iyengar has said (in an interview in Aligning to the Source), in the context of the widespread proliferation of yoga in the modern world, that “after touching the gross, probably they may see the subtle and the subtlest as time goes by….
 
Wishing you peace and contentment,
Adriel