The Yamas in Everyday Life

I’ve been living separate lives.
Within my yoga practice, there exists a harmonic sanctuary where I am blissfully content and aware of Yamas. In the room, practicing with others or on my own, I am awarded the peaceful mind that is congruent with the principles of Ahimsa, Asetya, Sattya, Brahmacarya and Aparigraha. On the mat I can become focused and controlled in these disciplines, bringing my mind and breath and body together in focus. The challenge of social discipline rarely affects me in the company of fellow yogis and yoginis.
But then I step outside, onto the pavement of the real world, where instantly I begin to check my work email, attempt to cross the road, compete to hail a taxi and negotiate how to plan my time to best accomplish the challenges of that week. Stepping in puddles, getting upset with my taxi driver for taking the long way home, feeling annoyed at the external pressures of life, it’s almost an immediate undoing of all the Yamas I have just practiced. I am reminded that everything is a measure of productivity and results. And once again, I’m critical and judgmental, struggling to find the social discipline the Yamas provide.
A rough definition of “yoga” is “union”, yet here I am, a splintered person, confining my Yama practice to a room of like-minded individuals, on a safely-harbored yoga mat. How have I become a Yama practitioner for merely an hour or so per day? It’s such a convenient life, but also a very unbalanced one.
In a rushing city such as Singapore, which is undergoing such rapid change and improvement, it’s easy to ignore the Yamas. In Aparigraha, or the principle of not coveting things that aren’t essential to one’s life, we face the challenge of walking a fine line between greed and profit making. Another example is Ahimsa; we are instructed to not harm others, but really, isn’t the practice of losing patience with others a form of harming them? And by ignoring the Yamas, we are essentially betraying Sattya, or truthfulness, because we are being totally inconsistent with ourselves.
Admittedly, it’s an everyday challenge to live the Yamas outside of the yoga studio. The pursuit of joining these “separate lives” together in balance will continue to baffle me. However, now equipped with the knowledge of the Yamas, I have a better chance in consummating my separate lives. Talk to me in a few months. Maybe you’ll see a certain sparkle in my eye that’ll secretly tell you my double life is over.

When Garbha Pindasana Cannot Be Said or Done Without a Slur (or Hiccup)

It was a reunion of sorts. A Saturday girls’ night out in Club Street with my girlfriends after I’d spent a week away working in Hong Kong. After my self-proclaimed, “booze celibacy” (AKA the 200 hour training course), we were also celebrating the first night I could go out on a proper pisser since late June.
I was flattered that they had taken such a curious interest in my progression in the course. Week after week I’d entertain them with reports of what I’d learned that week, what poses I could accomplish, and a tally of how long I’d gone without booze.
After a great dinner (which consisted of meat; I’d also taken a reprieve from flesh eating during the course), we headed to the neighborhood rooftop bar and continued our binge. Although earlier in the night they’d insisted I demonstrate the poses I’d learned, I’d sloughed it off. Little did I know that they would not only remember this request, but would require proof that I was indeed in training for the past month and not just blowing off their invitations to meet them for drinks.
Not very yogic, I know.
With a confidence only gained at my fourth Glenlivet, I ceded their request.
“GarrrrbHaa Pindasssssshaannnaah”.
“What?”
“GarrrrbbHaa Pindasssssshaannnaah. You know, it’s like an embryo in the womb. It’s meant to CALMMM the MINNNND and bring EMOOOOSHUNNAL stability” (I was shouting at this point because I became unaware that my own volume might not have been louder than that produced by the speakers above our heads).
“In GarrrrbbHaa Pindasssssshaannnaaah, you also massage your abs and benefits digestion…” I even went so far to begin explaining as I began demonstrating, removing my 3 inch red heels.
Step one: Sit in Lotus.
Step two: Slide your arms, one by one, between the gaps found in your thigh and calf.
Step three: Fold up your elbows and bring your hands up, resting your chin in your palms.
At this point, I was getting applause from the table, though I knew I was not properly in the asana. After all, Garbha Pindasana is performed in the second half of the primary Ashtanga series, and I hadn’t warmed up properly for this.
“Bhutt WHHHHait, I’m not finnnnnishhedd.”
I began to attempt the nine rolls back and forth, however my arms, legs and everything flew akimbo as I was desperately flailing for balance. I’m thankful there were no cameras to capture this mess.
I’ve learned my lesson. Having respect for the practice is necessary for achieving the benefits. I clearly did not respect Garbha Pindasana, and I was not met with the rewards that this pose intends to provide.

Bhujangasana: Almost Perfect

More commonly known as “cobra”, bhujangasana could come as close to a perfect pose as can be.
Lying on your stomach, keeping your feet together, you connect yourself with your body and bring your awareness to the flowing movement of the pose. Bringing your hands to each side, just below your shoulders, elbows upward, inhale and slide forward, elongating your arms, rolling your shoulders outward and lifting your chest upward, using your back muscles to get farther and further into the strech, resting on your pelvis. As you move into the pose, your awareness is focused on the many parts of the body used to achieve the benefits.
Once into the pose, you have the ability to engage the energy of four chakras. Your anahata (heart) chakra is wide open, communicating a receptiveness to the world and its beauty. Bhujangasana also opens the basal swadhisthana (groin) chakra, bringing relief and bloodflow to the area while also opening up the manipura (navel)
Lower back pain is alleviated in this pose, as well as sciatica and constipation. Women feel the benefits in their uterus being stretched while the circulation is opened up. The spinal stretch helps to keep the spinal cord more flexible.
Personally, I have always struggled with Bhujangasana. I tend to have a tightness in my lower lumbar that inhibits me the ability to stay in the pose for longer than a few seconds. Perhaps I am doing the pose incorrectly, however in my research and from others’ adjustments, I am correct in my alignment. I currently see a chiropractor for spine related issues, and in my discovery of a very crooked spine and scoliosis programs, it’s no mystery why I have difficulties. My core lower back and abdomen muscles are also not as strong as they could be to help alleviate my pain while in this position.
I aim to one day be able to perform the asana with ease!

Yoga to the Beatles – Prepariing to Open our Anahata Chakra

Sitting in the bathtub, I began humming a tune…
“…Newspaper taxis appear at the shore
Waiting to take you away
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds
And you’re gone…”
I had originally planned on teaching my specialty class on how to get into a particularly challenging asana for myself when, there in the bathtub, I changed my mind.
Must. Teach. Yoga. The Canter of the Beatles. A tribute to what is arguably the most influential band in the world.
I thought about how the music of the Beatles has influenced my life and how it pervades so many areas of my personal life, especially those linked with my heart chakra. Cheesy? Perhaps. Dull? Perhaps. But I wanted to see if I could pull it off.
My name is Michelle. My daughter’s first and middle names are lyrics from Beatles songs. My husband’s name came from the 60s folk singer who taught George Harrison how to strum the guitar in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Our family friends’are in-laws to a Beatle and we had frequent playdates with his son. The music of the Beatles transcended generations of our family. And of course, I just love the Beatles because they are awesome.
I chose to include pranayama and asanas choreographed to selected songs written and produced by the Beatles during their time in India, 1965 to 1968, which was considered their most prolific and influential songwriting period. An introduction to the course is given over “Dear Prudence”, written while Mia Farrow’s sister refused to come out of her room on the Ashram because she was so deeply connected to meditation. Hands in Hridaya Mudra (connecting us to our Anahata chakra) while Anuloma Viloma and later Bhastrika during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, introducing three connecting songs during a rigorous Surya Namaskar A & B warmup, then alluding to seven sequentially ascending tunes carefully chosen to sync with the progression of the Ashtanga Vinyasa flowing of selected asanas to open the Anahata chakra.
You’ll need to come to my class to see how these unfold.
At the 50 minute mark, after we have been on the journey through our Finishing Sequence of asanas, we come back into ourselves to enjoy our closing Savasana, prone corpse pose. Arms at our sides, chest and Anahata chakra fully open to the sky, while drifting to the imaginative melody of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and later “Golden Slumbers”.
Namaste, everyone.

Kriyafantastic – The Art of Sutra Neti

Clogged nostrils? Sinus headaches? Want to get further into your asanas? Sutra neti cleansing is for you.
I was first introduced to sutra neti a few years ago while visiting friends back in LA. One of my girlfriends was raving about her neti pot. Blah blah blah – “my neti pot” this and “my neti pot” that. She’s a crazy redhead like myself who has suffered with nasal allergies all of her too. We share these things in common. It may have been after the sixth day of her going on about her neti pot that I decided it was worth buying one .
It sat in the cupboard for 19 months.
It made the move from LA to London to Hong Kong with me.
I had always justified not using it because it was easier for me to take a pill than to pour salinated water up my nose.
Once I became pregnant, my doctor’s orders gave the kibosh on my beloved allergy meds, so I once and for all decided to take the neti pot out of the cupboard and give it a go.
I hated it.
I threw it out.
Another 10 months later, I found myself in Singapore, looking through our Yoga Philosophy coursebook’s section on Kriyas. Fate had given me a reason to pick up a neti pot once again. After all, it can’t be that healthy for my liver for me to continually pop allergy pills, right?
Our master trainers instructed us on the philosophy of sutra neti kriya, enabling me a better understanding of the proper ritual. Hands on instruction of the technique also enabled me a proper Q and A for sutra neti kriya.
I am now a convert.
Coincidentally, it became more difficult to get my allergy pills over the counter in Singapore, and I didn’t have the luxury of always paying a visit to my doctor for a prescription, so my neti pot gets adequate usage these days. I tend to feel fresher after using it.
Thank you master trainers for introducing me to a drug-free method to alleviate my sinus allergies!