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)


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:

1. Muladhara, 396 Hertz, MP3 download link:

2. Swadhishthana, 417 Hertz, MP3 download link:

3. Manipura, 528 Hertz, MP3 download link:

4. Anahata, 639 Hertz, MP3 download link:

5. Vishuddha, 741 Hertz, MP3 download link:

6. Ajna, 852 Hertz, MP3 download link:

7. Sahasrara, 963 Hertz, MP3 download link:

8. All 7 Chakras Hertz, MP3 download link:


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.


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:


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!


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,

Yoga was about physical exercise for me

Yoga is more than just a form of physical exercise. The modern understanding of yoga does great injustice to it. If you ask any other person on the street about their understanding of the word, there is a high chance that their replies would generally be that it is a stretching workout for really flexible people or that it is a highly dangerous workout that causes a lot of injuries among its practitioners.
To those who have some Sanskrit language knowledge, they would know that the term Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word “Yug”, which means union. Union? Union of? That’s a very vague terminology. Yoga practitioners seek union of their physical body, mind and soul with the divine through the practice of yoga. There are a number of types of yoga. The one that we conveniently have thought it to be is only one of the eight aspects of the Ashtanga Yoga. The physical exercise that is made up of various poses is called Asana.
Another confusion in the field of yoga is the definition of the terms “hatha” and “vinyasa”. Through this course, I realize that practitioners of hatha yoga practise their asanas by holding a particular pose for a longer period of time. Sequence of poses is not highly important in this category. On the other hand, vinyasa yoga is more demanding. The execution of each pose must be precise, the sequence of poses must obey a certain set of guidelines and the transition between poses must be smooth in terms of movement, breath and energy flow.
The other aspects of yoga that are still overshadowed by the overly emphasized Asana are Pranayama, Dhyana, Yama, Niyama, Dharana, Pratyahara and Samadhi. In this article, I would share my understanding of the other two aspects, which are overshadowed by the practice of Asana; Pranayama and Dharana.
Pranayama, which is often treated as a secondary aspect of yoga as compared to Asana, is often being undermined as a mere breathing exercise. Modern science and medical studies could only draw conclusions in terms of physical, chemical and biological effect of breathing, the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in alveoli and the importance of oxygen in our body for sustenance. But from pranayama’s point of view, the western philosophy on breathing is only the tip of the iceberg. The word “prana” has already made it obvious that the practice involves energy, more than just the energy derived from the food that we consume. Similar to the traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of Qi, “prana” is the vital energy that is intangible, abstract and almost mystic. However, this abstract form of energy is the key difference between a living man and a dead one.
The practice of pranayama is claimed to have physical, mental and spiritual benefits to the practitioners. If spiritual advantages are considered beyond your comprehension of logic, then do at least consider the immediate and obvious benefits of the exercises.
For example, the practice of Nadi Shodana, which consists of alternate nostril breathing and breath retention, does directly or indirectly makes the body (circulatory system) especially the heart and lungs to work more efficiently. With a doubled time of exhalation, a doubled time of breath retention and a doubled time of void of breath (after exhalation), the lungs would be “forced” to be more efficiently in absorbing the oxygen from every breath that the body takes. Indirectly, the heart would need to pump more blood (that carries carbon dioxide) into the lungs for the gas exchange and get the oxygen-rich blood cells to deliver oxygen to various parts of the body. A specific time to breathe, such as 5 seconds, is generally longer than our regular breathing. This means we train ourselves to develop deeper breathing habits. Deeper breathing would lead to more oxygen in every inhalation. Longer time of exhalation would mean that a higher percentage of the air exhaled contains carbon dioxide. Thus lesser oxygen would be released through respiration as compared to our regular breathing. Longer breath retention time would mean more time for the lungs and blood to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Lastly, longer time of body without breath would train the body to be more efficiently in the delivery of oxygen-rich blood cells to vital organs and parts of body, it would create “hungry” oxygen deprived blood cells that would absorb oxygen faster and it would train the mind and body to not be in a state of panic in cases where there is an unexpected trauma.
The third aspect of yoga is somewhat being overlooked or misunderstood by its more abstract cousin, dhyana. General public often fail to recognize that the link between the state of conscious and meditation is the art of concentration, Dharana. Perhaps it is easier for the people in the past to practice concentration. The reason for coming to such conclusion is that in this current age, we have reached to a stage where we are constantly being surrounded by distractions of all sorts. It could be the television or the Internet. It could be pop culture or fashion. Surrounded by sky-high buildings that seem trying to reach the heavens and media that bombard us with endless flow of information 24/7, one would not be surprised at how short the attention span of the younger generation is. Mankind has become so accustomed to fast changing landscape that their patience grow thinner and their knowledge is skewed towards superficial subjects. Mankind becomes more and more entrapped and enslaved in this illusion-world.  Weakness in dharana is revealed in situations when the mind takes the reins of your body and gives you an emotional roller-coaster ride. The failure to keep the mind under your control means that your concentration is weak.
Dharana trains the body to be disciplined. Concentration comes in various forms such as determination, perseverance, endurance and focus. But the essence is same which is concentration. It helps to prevent the mind from overtaking the body. Concentration would aid us from becoming easily affected by external factors. When we are no affected by external factors, our tasks would be easier and faster to accomplish. Being concentrated does not mean we become oblivious to the surroundings. We are still well aware of what is happening around us but we have an option to turn off those that are not pertinent in our lives.
In practice, there are many ways to train our concentration. One of the ways is to use visual or imagery to train the mind to focus. In Buddhist practice, mandalas are used to aid the believers to focus and concentrate before transcending into a state of meditation. Some rely sounds, from chants or bells, to get into meditation. Others use the sense of touch, such as hand mudras, as point of focus. Only after we have successfully practise dharana, we would then be ready for dhyana, meditation.
(200hr Yoga TTC – July 2013)
“But I could be wrong.”
― Carl Sagan

UTTANASANA (Deep standing forward bend)

Meaning: Intense stretch
–  This is one of the poses within the sun salutation sequence
Dristi: Nosetip
Preparation poses:
1)   Paschimottanasana  (West posterior stretch pose)
2)   Ardha Uttanasana (Standing half forward bend)
3)   Forward bend leaning on a chair
4)   Uttanasana with knees bent, then slowly engage quads to straighten
1)   Stand in Tadasana with feet hip width apart and hands on the hip
2)   Breathe in and lengthen the spine by arching back
3)   Exhale and flex the hip forward by contracting the hip flexors (including psoas, pectineus and rectus femoris muscles)
4)   When bending forward, shift weight slightly to the toes
5)   Pronate both arms and press palms into the mat
6)   Activate the lower part of the trapezius to draw shoulders away from the neck
7)   Contract deltoids and biceps to flex the elbow
8)   Contract rectus abdominis muscles slightly to deepen the stretch and to protect the lower back
9)   Engage the quadriceps by pulling the kneecaps (patella) up to prevent knees from bending.
10)  Aim to flatten your torso against your thighs
11)   Hold in Uttanasana for 5 Ujjayi breaths, with eyes gazing at the nosetip
12)   Attempt to deepen the stretch with each exhalation
13)   After 5 breaths, slowly inhale and extend the hip joint by engaging the abdomen
14)   Return to Tadasana
Variations to Uttanasana:
Padangusthasana (Standing forward bend with bound toe)
Padahasthasana (Standing forward bend with palms under the feet)
Counter poses to Uttanasana:
Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Purvottanasana (East anterior stretch pose)
Muscles lengthening/Stretching:
Erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus (posterior), hamstrings, gastrocnemius
Muscles contracting:
Psoas, pectieus, rectus femoris, trapezius, deltoids, biceps, rectus abdominis, quadriceps
Stretch reflex in Uttanasana:
When bending forward, the muscles being stretched (namely hamstrings, gluteus maximus and erector spinae) will involuntarily contract in order to resist over lengthening. This is a protective response to avoid injury to the muscles. When the erector spinae contracts, the back rounds and this prevents deepening of the stretch in Uttanasana. When the hamstrings contract, the knees flex and this again prevents deepening of the stretch. Rounding of the back and flexing of the knees are very common mistakes when executing this Asana. In order to lessen the stretch reflex, relax into the stretch and practice passive stretching in forward bend. This allows the muscles to adjust to the stretch.
Contraindications to the pose:
1)   People with back injuries – Attempt pose with bent knees and move into the pose cautiously
2)   People with neck injuries – Always lengthen the neck and avoid compressing the back of the neck as you look forward
3)   People with Osteoporosis
A disc bulge may occur if too much weight is borne by the Lumbar spine. To prevent this, avoid rounding the lower back.
Benefits of the pose:
1)   Helps to reduce stress and calm the mind
2)   Stimulates the Pineal, Hypothalamus and Pituitary endocrine glands in the brain
3)   Stimulates the liver and kidney
4)   Improves digestion
5)   Relieves headaches, menstrual cramps and insomnia
6)   Helps correct spinal problems such as scoliosis