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!).

Discussing “Pain” in the Singapore context [part 1]

DISCLAIMER:
This will be a pretty long anecdote/opinion piece so I have divided it into two parts for your benefit.

With longer working hours, the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle have been observed in the growing epidemic of chronic pain. Observe the working adults around you; you might see them involuntarily cracking their neck or unconsciously rubbing their shoulders in the hopes of temporarily relieving pain. Cases of chronic low back pain have also dramatically increased.

So why have we passively accepted and even accommodated this unwelcome presence of pain in our lives? From my own observations, pain (especially chronic pain) in Singapore has been perceived in the two extremes, however contradictory.

  1. Pain is a sign of hard work
  2. Pain is a sign of weakness

Let me explain myself. In Singapore, where most people are caught up in a rat race to be the best, the concept of “no pain, no gain” has become entrenched. It started off as an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work but now it has been applied in all kinds of scenarios, including at our workplace and at school. In a way, that saying validates our competitiveness and justifies our long working hours. However, we have gone too far by glamorising that thinking. We have even begun to use pain to justify our hard work; for example, if you have muscle aches after a punishing workout, that is a good sign that you pushed yourself to the limit. If you have knots in your shoulders from working long hours on the computer, you are an excellent employee.

This is because we have been given the message that in order to succeed, we need punishing workouts, we need to work until we are completely exhausted, we need to work doubly hard to the next person. After all, pain is weakness leaving the body, right? No. In the short term, that might work, but it is damaging in the long run. It is not sustainable and the consequences have begun to show.

Speaking from personal experience, I have injured myself a few times because I subscribed to that belief. I was immersed in yoga for a few months and I feared that I would lose my hard-earned fitness if I took a day or two off. At the same time, I was balancing a time consuming part-time job and my first year of University. I was not getting enough sleep, not eating well enough and as a result, I was constantly exhausted. And in a flow class one day, I lost my focus for a moment and I hurt my wrist. For the next few months, I could not get myself into a proper chaturanga, plank poses and variations hurt greatly and I was forced to stop.

-> read part 2 for my revelations.

Eat Like A Yogi

My first yoga retreat was in Bali and it was also my first experience of acroyoga workshop.

Bali is a paradise for yogis and surfers. Everyone seems to be very health conscious here. Yogis I met here mostly eat raw, alkaline and organic food, gluten free and dairy free, even for dessert. Therefore food found here are pretty amazing and so much packed with plant goodness that is satisfying to both taste buds and body.

Eat clean and avoid processed food can help body to detox. Processed food are:

  • – mostly low in nutrients;
  • – high in sugar, fructose corn syrup, refined carbohydrates and trans fats;
  • – low in fiber;
  • – packed with artificial ingredients; and
  • – fast to digest without the need of much energy.

They are so “hyper-rewarding” that lead to overconsumption.

Love yourself, love your body, do not stuff your body too much burden with junk food. The path of food yoga is about reconnecting with your food in such a way that it nourishes your body, mind and soul. In essence, food yoga is a discipline that embraces all spiritual paths by accepting one core truth – that food in its most pure form is divine and therefore an excellent mean to spiritual purification.

Eating can also be a form of yoga. May the food you eat be your medicine. Look young, eat real. 😎 xoxo

 

Shu (aka Sharon Chong)
200hrs YTT, Sept 2017 (Weekend)
— Blog 3/4

New life, 2013.

2011
(2009, 2011)
The person you see now, every day jumping around in class and eating almost everything, is currently at her happiest and healthiest.
I had a severe eating disorder 4 years ago. The picture on the left showed the days when I was in Polytechnic. I made sure I exercised at least two hours and consumed less than 10 food items every single day, all for someone I loved then whom said I was too fat. Later, when I managed to lose 8 kg, I did not realize I lost much more. I lost what it meant to be called a woman. I lost quite a bit of hair as they thinned out so much, I missed my period for nearly one year, lost my two best friends called ‘breasts’, and surprisingly, my self-esteem. I rejected outings with my friends just to exercise and restrain myself from social eating. I was so thin, and some friends then joked that they can stick a straw and drink water from my collarbones.
After going through so much and losing my friends one by one, I thought I had sacrificed a lot for the one I loved. Ironically enough, it never lasted because I ended up losing so much weight, he said he felt like he was hugging a lamppost instead. Upset, feeling cheated and totally heartbroken, I ate all that I wanted. University started around then too, and the late nights made me indulge in junk food even more.
Needless to say, my weight rebounded. The photo on the right was taken 2 years back, when I had to wear baggy clothes to cover my tummy and weight gain. I still wore shorts because I could not deal with the fact that I was putting on so much weight, I had to convince myself that I was still fine, that I could still pull the shorts up my thighs. During that time, I ate with my emotions and within a year or so, I put on 10 more kg, even heavier than I was before. I was elated when my period finally restarted, and I no longer had to eat hormone-regulating pills. But I was not happy. I was feeling fat, sluggish and totally wasted. I started doing yoga more often, and stuck to it because I loved how I feel after every session. I did begin to shed off some weight and gain some strength. The calmness I felt during yoga was something I never got off the mat, which gradually made me realise how harshly I was treating my body in the past.
In this 200hr training course, after getting to know others and learning about their stories, I felt I was lucky to not have suffered from severe body issues having put myself under such undue stress previously. The body is such a precious temple that we have only for this lifetime. I also learnt much more about body anatomy, about the type of food we eat and how to eat right for a healthy body.
Right now, I may be heavier, meatier and rounder compared to when I was at my lowest weight, but I am undoubtedly happier and healthier. At least I do not have to worry about breaking my own bones when I fall in inversions or arm balances. I also do not have to worry about whether I was getting regular periods, or whether I had to stuff tissue into my bra just to look more normal and lady-like in my clothes.
It is true that when you have gone through suffering, you are more compassionate towards others and can truly understand how they are feeling. Compassion is such an important characteristic of a yoga teacher, not only when guiding total beginners into the practice, but also in living the yoga off the mat.
I do admit that I still stare at my jiggly bits now and then, wondering when will they ever leave me one day, but then I remind myself that I am blessed to be in relatively good health, and armed with the knowledge and means to make it better.
For that, I am already very thankful.
– Joy

“You look like you’re dancing in a field of Dandelions”

Ever felt this way? Or do you perpetually feel this way? Well, you have a Vata body type.
Just like me, my first few lessons was greeted with comments such as “hey, you look like you’re dancing in a field of Dandelions” or “you have a very air/space body type”. What a weird first impression to give I thought. But hey, what a weird course to join in the first place! (I mean, who signs up and pays for mental and physical yogic torture!)
I later decided to pursue this point of intrigue and find out more about my yogic body type. It was like discovering a new horoscope system and taking all those horoscope indicator tests again.
Vata is a concept unique to Ayurveda and is one of the 3 doshas. Doshas are principles that govern the physio-chemical and physiological activities.  Most of us have 1 or 2 doshas, which are most dominant in our nature, with the remaining one(s) less expressed.
The 3 doshas are known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. In this article, I have compiled various sources and will elaborate on how you can determine your individual constutition, what food constitutes to your dosha element and how to go about finding a balance.

3 Doshas
Vata, Pitta and Kapha
Vata is also known as space and air body type. People who are more “vata” have a “light” quality that may manifest itself in a lanky physique. Excess lightness may manifest as being underweight, having muscle wasting, light bones, insomnia or feeling “spacey” or insecure. The “dry” and “rough qualities may manifest itself as having dry or brittle skin, lips, hair, nails or bones. Or develop poor digestion with lots of bloating and constipation. The “subtle” quality of air may express itself as being introverted and creative, while the “mobile” quality can represent a healthy ability to multi-task. If in excess, this may result in scattered attention, fidgety tendency, tremors and nervousness.
Pitta is also known as the fire and water body type. Pitta individuals are typically of medium build. Physically, they have good muscle tone; have a tendency to always feel warm; have premature graying hair or balding; have reddish complexions; enjoy high energy levels; and have really strong digestion – they can eat almost anything. Mentally, they are extremely intelligent, focused, ambitious people. Emotionally, they are passionate about life, have a tendency to be perfectionists, and can become easily irritated.
Out of balance, Pitta types can experience excessive anger, suffer from inflammatory conditions (such as headaches and rashes), encounter digestive problems (such as acid reflux, diarrhea and ulcers), and become over-stressed, workaholics.
Kapha is also known as the earth and water body type and typically the largest of the body types. Physically, they have wide hips/shoulders; thick wavy hair; good physical stamina. Mentally, Kapha types tend to me slow to learn, but they have great memories. Emotionally, they tend to be very loyal, stable, and reliable – they are often referred to as the “rocks” in a relationship.
Out of balance, Kapha individuals have a tendency towards sinus congestion, poor circulation, and sluggish digestion that can easily lead to obesity.
To find out what dosha you are, take a dosha quiz here.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha foods
Even foods have their own Ayurvedic qualities. Try identifying some of these foods and you’ll see that the type of food you take in daily may actually correspond with your Ayurvedic body type.
Vata Food: Dry/crunchy foods, carbonated beverages, and cold/raw vegetables
Pitta Food: Hot spices, alcohol, coffee, vinegar, and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes
Kapha Food: Deep fried, sweet or heavy foods. Too many cold foods or drinks can also lead to an increase as well. In general, fatty and oily food.
Eating for your Ayurvedic body type
Balance is the key to life.  Now that you know what is your dosha. Find out how what type of diet works best for you.
Vata Body Type
Following a vata diet helps rid your body of the imbalance responsible for your insomnia and anxiety, restoring your creativity. Fatty acids, such as avocados, almonds, flaxseeds and freshwater fish, are the answer for your anxiety and depression. Oils such as canola, coconut, corn, olive and sesame help relieve the dryness you experience. John Douillard, DC, Ph.D, author of “The Yoga Body Diet,” explains no oils are off-limits for the vata diet. He recommends choosing high-protein foods like nuts, chicken, turkey and fish. Increase oils for cooking and choose warm food over cold or dry food. Examples of vegetables include Brussels sprouts, garlic, winter squash and tomatoes. Fruits include dates, figs, grapefruits, grapes, lemons, limes, mangoes and oranges. Choose spices such as anise, black pepper, basil, cinnamon, cumin, fennel, ginger, saffron and turmeric. Enjoy butter or buttermilk, cottage cheese, rice or soy milk and yogurt. Brown rice, wheat and oats top the list for grains. Sweeteners such as raw honey, molasses, rice syrup and raw sugar can be used in moderation.
To find out more balancing your Vata Body Type, take a look at this video:
Pitta Body Type
In terms of a balancing diet, those who have a predominantly Pitta dosha need to be cooled down. Hospodar’s article in the “Yoga Journal” states that Pittas need a reduced amount of fats, oils and salt. Pitta-pacifying foods include ripe fruits and vegetables, except garlic, tomatoes, radishes and chilies. Coriander and mint have a cooling effect, and pomegranates, coconuts, grilled vegetable salads and rice pudding help to reduce Pitta if it is unbalanced.
To find out more balancing your Pitta Body Type, take a look at this video:
Kapha Body Type
To combat the congestion, Kapha types can add garlic to their diet or take garlic supplements. Hospodar’s article in the “Yoga Journal” states that light, dry, warm foods will help to stimulate and warm-up someone with predominately Kapha in their make-up. Grains such as barley, buckwheat and rye are good for the Kapha type, as are apples, cranberries and other light, dry fruits. Kaphas can also eat spices, herbs, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, but should avoid salt.
Exercise is also critical to keep Kapha people in balance; if you have a Kapha body type, you have to get up and move!
To find out more balancing your Kapha Body Type, take a look at this video:

Cyci the Yogi: What my dog taught me about Yoga

Cyci the Yogi
You must be wondering, how this small, adorable little creature could have helped me in understanding profound Yoga philosophy concepts. Yet, the beautiful thing is also that the path of knowing is subjective to the individual and how each theory is contextualized in the lives of the students. In mine, I found my dog to be the best embodiment of Santosha.
Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas under the second limb of Raja Yoga. Niyama refers to an observation within and how one handles themselves within the inside world – the internal battle. By achieving the 5 niyamas, the individual is on their way to the highest moral character and ethcial conduct.
Another word for contentment, Santosha refers to that inner peace of mind that should not be relied on external circumstances, since these external factors are always changing in ways byond our control.  This requires us to enjoy exactly what each day brings, to be satisfied with what we have. In other words, the action of seeking ceases. By elimination the action of seeking, one also clears out worries and burdens, which are deriaritives of seeking.
A simple definition illustrated by Master Paaulu defined contentment as being in the center of happy and sad.

Like in many other moral concepts in life, finding middle ground is always the preferred destination.
We can always practice Santosha in the beautiful and joyous experiences of our lives. For example, getting a pay raise, celebrating your birthday, receiving gifts from people, etc. However, Patanjali encourages us to be equally willing to embrace the difficult moments because when we can be contented in the midst of difficulty, we are truly set free.
A second part to this niyama also talks about the world’s evils and corruptions, such as achievements and acquisitions. Although material wealth and success are not evil, they can never in themselves provide contentment. Therefore, it is up to the beholder of these assessts to ensure that inner contentment still exists.  Neverthless, these world possessions opens up the floodgates for worries and burdens to set in, and Santosha to fade away, which is why many teachers may warn against materialism.
No, Cyci was not this master guru who warned me against materialism. He was in my opinion, the living example of what is meant to be contented. Midway during my 200hr teacher-training programme, Cyci was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure. Since then, he had to be hospitalized. My daily routine consisted of yoga classes till 3pm, then driving to the hospital to visit him before returning in time for dinner, and a few hours for me to read and write.
Although the first few days of his hospitalization wasn’t very smooth (his creatine levels were going up, and he was starting to have fluid in the lungs), my little boy was still extremely bright and energetic. To me, he looked like he had a perpetual smile on his face. (Trust me, you’ll learn how to judge a happy dog from a miserable one once you’re in the place full of sick animals)
This pained me terribly.
I couldn’t see the correlation between his inner body and his outer mannerisms. It was as though he did not know what was going on inside him. All he did was to look forward to seeing his family coming to cuddle and baby talk him. His innocence to his impending fate was so overwhelming and puzzling. I thought, he was not ready to leave this humanly world at all, he is still too happy!
Take this analogy for example. An old 90-year-old man being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer versus a 10-year-old child being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Naturally, people feel more for the 10-year-old girl. But, why is this so?
My revelation came when I read deeper into Santosha. This 90-year-old man would evidently have had more possessions in the natural world – more success, more experience, more wealth compared to the 10-year-old girl. Therefore, people would have felt that death for the little girl was unjustified since she has yet to experience any of those of the man.
This emphasizes the fact that humans derive happiness from material and wordly possessions. One of the ultimate goals in life for many people would be material abundance and financial wealth. Like how a saying in Singapore goes about the 5Cs of life – Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card and a Coutry Club membership.
Cyci teaching me about Santosha!
Just like the 10-year-old girl, Cyci had none of these possessions. He didn’t care for any either, he never seeked. Despite his bobily weakness, his contentment freed him from all the unncessary worldy sufferings and explains his emotional brightness.
And when he leaves us, he leaves us pure, innocent, and untainted, with none of the world’s evil corrupting him.
As I write this article, Cyci has been discharged. He lies beside me right now, staring at me with his bright beady eyes. His heart weakens, his wheezing loudens, his kidneys slows…

Anatomy: Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyhana Bhandha
Uddiyhana Bhandha Source: zenfriend.org
The idea of performing Uddiyana Bandha or even watching someone else perform it may be fairly repulsive for many people.

Even for yoga beginners like myself, my first encounter with a live demonstration was nothing short of digust. I thought it’d be more befitting for a contortionist in training, rather than a yogini in training.
Nonethless, I gradually realized the beauty and wonders of Uddiyana Bandha and have since started to perform this “contortic” act every single morning.
As a frequent sufferer of constipation and ill digestion, I was never one of those lucky ones who always strutted out of the bathroom with a great sense of relief, looking like they’ve had a great burden lifted off their shoulders. Which is why I am so happy to share my testimonial of how performing Uddiyana Bandha have made all these ailments, a thing of the past. And of course, how it strengthened other areas of my physical body.
Uddiyana bandha tones, massages and cleans the abdominal and digestive organs. Imagine the internal action of sucking up all your internal organs into your ribcage and releasing it back down. Imagine your intestines compressing up and rearranging itself back to its natural state on the release. These movements subsequently lead to healthy movements along the digestive tract and will also help provide emotional and mental benefits. Long gone are the days where all you think about is when your body will let you take your next dump.
In addition, Uddiyana bandha stimulates blood circulation in the abdomen and blood flow to the heart and brain, returning freshly oxygenated blood to each organ and breathing new life into it. Very often understated, the brain needs blood flow in order to get an excellent supply of oxygen.. Your brain’s energy, as well as the energy in the rest of your body, is made by energy powerhouses called mitochondria that are found in each cell. Oxygen enables mitochondria in your brain cells to pump out an energy chemical, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Without adequate levels of ATP, your brain has an energy drain and its function decreases.
Whilst perfoming this, the pancreas is also being massaged and toned. A better working pancreas will result in healthy regulations of pancreatic juice being secreted. Enzymes in this juice mixes with bile from the liver to make the digestive process possible. If the pancreas is not functioning properly, the pancreatic enzymes’ benefits cannot be realized.
This video further elaborates the overall function of the pancreas.
Other than massaging the pancreas, the solar plexus will also be massaged.  The solar plexus is a complex network of nerves (a plexus) located in the abdomen, where the celiac trunksuperior mesenteric artery, and renal arteries branch from the abdominal aorta. It is also referred to as the pit of the stomach. A blow to that area such as a kick or jab from a baton will not only cause great pain, but could also potentially damage internal organs or rupture the abdominal aorta, which would be fatal. Through it extensive reach, it controls many vital functions such as adrenal secretion and intestinal contractions.
Take a look at this video and witness the effect of when a Karate guy takes a great shot at someone else’s solar plexus.
Uddiyana bandha also helps to tone the diaphragm. Having a strong diaphragm is not only important for opera singers, but also crucial to everyone because it plays a major role in our breathing. It is a vital component of a strong and efficient core, which will help protect your spine and prevent backaches.
The video below provides a 3D view of the diaphragm during respiration. From there, it is easy to see how Uddiyana Bandha will help tone this muscle of the body.
Yes I know. You’re excited to try the Uddiyana Bandha right? But before that, please take note of the many precautions.

  1. For females, do not perform this during your moon cycle. (You don’t want blood flowing the wrong way, eh?)
  2. For females again, do not perform this if you are pregnant.
  3. Only perform this on an empty stomach. If not, perform it at your own risk.
  4. This is an extremely intense breathing exercise. Therefore, do not perform if you have diseases such as high blood pressure, pancreatic problems, hernia or any other medical conditions. Please consult medical professional if you are unsure.

For guided instructions on how to perfrom Uddiyhana Bandha, take a good look at this video.

Learn, try, practice and be on your way to bowel-free intestines and a powerful digestive system! Good luck!
Liz