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

 

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.
 
Riesal
(200hr Yoga TTC – July 2013)
“But I could be wrong.”
― Carl Sagan

Yoga and Golf

Yoga and Golf

Last week I ran into a friend who asked me what I’d been up to recently. When I told him I was halfway through a Yoga certification course, his face lit up.
“Great! You can help me with my golf game!” he exclaimed.
Huh? And here I’d assumed that putting on the green was just a pleasant excuse for the rich and powerful (or those aspiring to be rich and powerful) to mingle, build alliances and cut hush-hush deals.
But my friend assures me that many amateur golfers (like him) are actually rather serious about improving their game. And he and his pals in the finance industry have heard that Yoga can help.
So what does a golfer need? Here’s what he said:
a)      Lots of core strength, to give power to the swing
b)      A really stable stance (feet apart, akin to what is known as “horse stance” in kungfu)
c)       Flexibility, to lend greater depth and range to the swing, and also to prevent injury (but he wasn’t specific about what sort of injuries)
After promising him a few lessons, I trawled the Internet for some research. There’s quite a bit of material online as it turns out, with entire websites devoting articles, videos and lesson plans etc. to improving golfing through Yoga.
According to the oft-quoted Katherine Roberts, founder of Yoga for Golf and a fitness expert on the Golf channel: “Swing power is generated from the lower body to the hips, the trunk, the shoulders, the arms, and out to the club… The hips initiate the downswing, so having mobility in the hips and strong glutes is really critical for generating power.”[1]
So basically, a good routine for golfers should aim to:
–          Open up the hips and build flexibility in hips and hamstrings (the latter especially critical in maintaining a controlled knee flexion on uneven ground)
–          Strengthen lumbar area to prevent lower back injury and improve swing posture
–          Build core strength (for more power)
–          Open up chest and shoulders (again, improve swing posture)
Relevant Asanas could include: Virabhadrasana I and II, Trikonasana, Downward Dog, Cobra and Bridge (to strengthen back), hip openers like Badha Konasana, forward bends for the hamstrings and lots of twists of course, such as Marichyasana, Garudasana and Pavritta Trikonasana and Pavritta Parsvakonasana.
It’s interesting to see the evolution of Yoga and how wider and wider circles are now discovering its relevance. Beyond the core group of practising Yogis, beyond the gym classes that brought Asanas to the masses, Yoga is now being increasingly adopted to support and strengthen performance in other serious sporting activities. It has become mainstream – not in a faddish “in vogue” way, but as an essential part of training in multiple disciplines.
What I found even more fascinating (and truer to the holistic practice of Yoga) was the application of Yoga practices beyond the usual physical conditioning that the wider public typically associates with Yoga. Indeed beyond Asanas, Yoga can offer so much more.  Pranayama and Dharana techniques are now being encouraged as part of sports training.
The ability to shut out all irrelevant distractions and focus the mind singularly on that one stroke, swing or kick, makes all the difference between a first-class champion and a merely competent player. That’s where the concentrative techniques of Dharana can help.
And quoting Ms Roberts again:  “The number one reason for (golf) swing faults is tension in the body, and that’s a by-product of lack of blood flow and lack of breath… The fastest way for you to relax the body and calm the mind is to through the breath because it’s the easiest, most efficient way to the calm heart.” [2] Obviously, Pranayama techniques can address this issue.
So there’s evidently business potential here – yoga clinics for golf through private lessons or partnerships with golf clubs, tying up with corporate golf functions and even a different kind of “workshop” to spice up the usual corporate off-sites (and yet keep it relevant for business leaders eager to lower their handicap). Hardly original or radical ideas, but they should provide a start to exploring an opportunity that hasn’t been fully mined.
Now that our 200-hour teaching training course has drawn to a close, it’s time for me to keep my promise to my friend. He’ll be hearing from me soon, and not just about the workout he’d bargained for…
 
–          Laurel
 
 


[1] http://www.menshealth.com/yoga/yoga-for/Workout_Yoga_for_Golfers.php
[2] Ibid