Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year 2010

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and we will be saying goodbye to 2009. Time really flies and a new year is upon us. Are you making any new year resolutions? As for myself, I am not making any as I have been making it everyday in my yoga practice...learning to let go, practice awareness, be mindful are some of my resolutions.

This year, I met many new practitioners who have since became my friends, and as we practice our yoga together with our beloved teachers at Beyoga, we have learned to share joy and our success and failure in doing some of the poses.

Through this blog, I have also found friends who share a common interest in yoga and with their encouragement, I will keep on blogging and continue to share my research into yoga and wellness.

Wishing everyone a Happy and Blessed New Year!

Namaste,
Karin

Friday, December 18, 2009

Palming the Eyes Exercise

If you are a computer user, the following palming exercise helps to counteract the impact of glare on the eyes from the computer monitor due to prolonged use. You should do the palming exercise during short breaks from routine work.

Benefits

- Relaxes tired eyes muscles and helps to prevent eyestrain.
- Reduces tension build up in face and body.
- Enhances concentration.

How to Do It
1.Sit at a desk or table where you can rest your elbows. Vigorously rub your palms together a few times to warm them.

2.Gently place your palms, with fingers together, over closed eyes. Do not put pressure on your eyeballs. Relax your jaw and breathe regularly throughout the exercise.

3.Stay in this position for about two minutes to start with, longer if you have time and are comfortable doing so. With each exhalation, relax a little more.

4. When you are ready to end the exercise, separate your fingers to gradually re-introduce light. Open your eyes.

5.Relax your arms and hands.

6.You may blink your eyes several times to lubricate them with natural moisture.

If you are going to do the palming for longer than a few minutes, place some books or pillows in front of you to support your elbows so that you will be able to keep the neck straight, and palm the eyes in this position.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Yoga Pose For The Month - Plow Pose (Halasana)

For the month of December 2009, I have choose Plow Pose or Halasana as my pose for the month. The Plow pose exerts gentle traction on the spinal column which enlarges the vertebral foramina (openings through which spinal nerves pass) and so eases pressure on these nerves. It also enhances circulation in the spinal cord and improves the functioning of internal organs supplied by these nerves.

The plow pose is a natural cure for insomnia and restless sleep. It is also a great pose to naturally relieve indigestion and constipation and with regular practice, your stomach problems will disappear.

How to do the pose

1.Lie on your back with your legs stretched out in front and your arms at your sides, palms turned down. Relax your jaw and breathe regularly.
2.Bring one knee then the other to your chest.
3.Straighten and raise one leg at a time and point your feet upwards.
4.Exhale and kick backwards with both feet at once to bring your hips off the mat. Keep your legs straight and together if you can.
5.Push your feet towards the mat behind your head. Do not let your hips move past your shoulders as this may strain your neck.
6.If your feet touch the floor, interlace your fingers behind the back and straighten the arms, bring your hands on the mat.
7.If your feet cannot touch the floor behind you, place your hands on your back to help support you in the pose.
8.When you have reached your comfortable limit, hold the pose for five seconds to begin with, increasingly longer as you become more practiced in the technique.
9.To exit from the pose, unlace your hands and place them on the floor, slowly, smoothly and carefully roll your spine back onto the mat, from top to bottom. Bend your knees and stretch out your legs one at a time. Rest for 5 breaths.

Points to note

The primary concern in this pose is to keep the weight of the body off the cervical vertebrae (the back of the neck) by distributing the weight between the shoulders and the back of the head.

Keep the chin away from the chest to maintain the curve of the cervical spine, pressing the head and shoulders into the mat. Work the shoulder blades closer together by subtly shifting the weight of the body from one shoulder to the other.

If the feet touch the mat behind the head, they may be flexed so that the heels are descending towards the mat, lengthening the back of the legs. The toes can also be pointed, increasing the stretch through the back and stretching the front of the ankles as well.

Modifications

If your feet cannot touch the mat behind you, pile up some cushions behind you, on which to rest your toes. As you become more flexible, you can start removing the cushions until eventually you can dispose with them entirely.

Cautions

The plow pose should not be performed if you suffer from neck pain, have a spinal disc problem, hernia or uterine prolapse or if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

It is not advisable to practice the plow pose during the first three days of your menstrual period.

See video below on How To Do The Plow Pose from Shoulder Stand

Sivananda Yoga Halasana (Plow) Pose -- powered by eHow.com

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Confidence Builder - The Wheel Pose

During my blog post for My Pose For the Month of July which was Wheel Pose or Urdhva Dhanurasana, I have mentioned that I was having problems doing the pose as I was not able to straighten my arms and legs to go to the full wheel pose and had dreaded doing the pose during the Ashtanga Led classes as we would normally have to do it twice.

After four months of patience and regular yoga practice that helps to strengthen my core and legs and applying the techniques of adjusting my hands (the fingers should be turned inwards so that the elbows will not splayed out) and shifting my weight more to my legs when I have lifted my hips with my head on the mat, I am finding it easier now to go into the full pose (thanks to the advice given by a reader from my previous blog post).

With Azmi instructing us to push our hips towards the front and reaching our chest towards the wall behind as we straighten our arms, I find that I am able to lift higher into the pose. For the past few classes, as I learn to relax and breathe into the pose and making small adjustments like walking my feet closer to my hands, ensuring that my feet are not turning out so that my lower back is not compressed and letting my head hang as I spread my shoulder blades across the back, I am finding it easier to go into the pose as well as being able to lift higher. At today’s Hatha 2 class, I think Azmi was pleased to see me lifting even higher in the pose as he has been watching my progress.

The Wheel pose is a very uplifting pose and rewarding pose as it has many benefits which include stretching and opening the chest and lungs, strengthening the arms and wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen and spine and is therapeutic for asthma, back pain and osteoporosis.

For me, being able to do the full Wheel pose has built my confidence and help to strengthen my belief that in time, I will be able to do those other poses that I am having difficulty doing at the moment.

“Do your practice and all is coming” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Yoga for Scoliosis with Viviane

After the Ashtanga Led class at Beyoga this morning, I stayed on for the Karma Yoga class after I met the guest teacher, Viviane De Doncker who told my sister and me that she specialises in yoga for scoliosis. My sister had met her at the ladies shower room after her Pilates class and had told Viviane about having back problems and Viviane had asked my sister to bend over for her to check her spine. Viviane told my sister that she has scoliosis which causes an abnormal curve of the spine.

In the class, Viviane took us through poses like the cow and cat stretch, pelvis tilt, cow face pose, seated side stretches and downward facing dog which she told us would help us to balance our spine if they are done correctly and regularly.

Although the cat and cow stretch and pelvis tilt are simple poses, it was an awareness practice and movement sequence where we stretch muscles that have tightened and strengthen muscles that have become weak from the imbalance of our spine.

While doing the seated side stretches, I noticed that one of my hips tend to lift up as I overstretched myself. Viviane came over to press my hip down and told me to keep my ribs slightly pulled down so as to lengthen the spine.

For the downward facing dog pose, Viviane got us to partner up and we were told to loop a strap around the hips of our partner while she is in downward facing dog. As we pull the strap up and away, this helps our partner moves her hips up and away from her shoulders while releasing the heads of her thigh bones deeper into her pelvis as well as lengthening her torso. We were also taught to wrap our fingers under our partner hips to lift their hips up and shift their weight back to the center giving them a deeper stretch.

There were eight of us in the class and Viviane told us that she could see that all of us were having scoliosis as we tend to lean to one side when we were doing the poses. Scoliosis may cause the head to appear off center or one hip or shoulder to be higher than the opposite side.

Yoga for scoliosis requires us to have inner awareness; to accept the imperfection of our body and to feel where our body needs realignment and balance to find back our center.

I am very glad that I did not miss this special class with Viviane and with the other practitioners asking Viviane if she will be doing any more classes, I hope that Beyoga will have Viviane come to teach more classes at the studio.

Viviane De Doncker took her first yoga class over 25 years ago and has been teaching since 1997. Viviane believes each student is a unique individual and that this uniqueness is a cause for celebration, rather than a source of frustration. Her classes integrate the principles of alignment and technical precision to ensure a safe practice, while concentration and enthusiasm are cultivated through the use of breath and well-and-lesser-known bandhas.

When Viviane first started teaching Yoga in Singapore, she was strongly drawn towards Vinyasa, and she was the first teacher to offer it there. This style of Yoga was at that time not really considered ‘serious’ Yoga, but to everyone’s surprise, students liked her Vinyasa classes. Today, many teachers in Singapore offer Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga classes, and it has become one of the most popular styles of Yoga in Singapore.

During her years of teaching, Viviane became very interested in the physical transformation which can be achieved through Yoga and its effects on the spine. She has worked intensively with students suffering from back problems and over the last couple of years, she has been focusing on students suffering from Scoliosis and she is currently conducting specialised courses and classes for them and have obtained some very encouraging results, which have been established medically.

Viviane has also conducted workshops for students and Yoga instructors (including Vinyasa, Back Care and Scoliosis) in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Up Close and Personal with Azmi Samdjaga

Those of you who have been following my blog, would know that Azmi Samdjaga is one of my two favourite yoga teachers and I have written some posts about my practice with him.

Azmi often shares the grace of his practice with his students in his classes.

Recently, I had a chat with Azmi and managed to get him to talk about his favourite subject; Yoga (what else!) as well as provide some advice to yoga beginners.

How long have you been practicing yoga and what made you take up yoga and become a yoga teacher?

This is my 12th year into my practice. Yoga came to me by accident. I had missed an aerobics class at the gym and having traveled all the way from home, I just wanted a workout and a Yoga class was the only thing that was available. And I thought I had never sweated as profusely ever before. I hated the class because it was too hard. But when I came back 4 months later with no expectations, I felt a sense of uplift, totally invigorated and felt so light! Since then, I got addicted and I kept going because it had just kept me on my toes, feeling healthy and refresh every time after each class. It has since taught me how to be more tolerant, embrace kindness and accept things the way they are. More than anything, I learned how to be detached of negativities and letting things go the positive way and also it has taught me how to be still and calm in a challenging situation. And the only way I can share this beauty is to teach. In my 8th year of practicing, I decided to get formal training and became a teacher.

Very often in class, you would say that it takes more for a practitioner to come to a resting pose with the class still going on then someone going into a difficult pose, can you elaborate more on this?

The common thing about a human trait is, wanting to excel, wanting to be good at everything we do and getting intimidated by people who do. So more often than not, we push ourselves hard and force ourselves to do things that we don’t normally do. In the end we hurt ourselves physically and emotionally. It's so easy and common to do that but it takes great humility to actually accept and understand yourself to step back and observe than to try and look like everybody else, afraid of being seen less able and weak. To have the humility to show weakness in front of everyone is very humble.

What advice would you give to a yoga beginner and how should they progress in their practice?

My advice would be for practitioners to try as many different classes as possible and from as many teachers until you find one that you can connect with. Meaning, one you can relate the instructions to, one you feel comfortable with and most importantly, how the class had made you feel after practicing. Find one that made you feel great after the practice. Stay consistent and practice regularly to achieve that change in energy. Also being consistent is the only way for you to see progress in your practice. Once you find that you do not feel the change or satisfied after a class, that is when you should decide on taking your practice to the next level. You will soon notice that with each practice you find new length, new destination and new joy.

You can read more about Azmi from Interview with Azmi at http://www.whohub.com/azmiyogi

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Yoga Pose For The Month - Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

Warrior II or Virabhadrasana II is my yoga pose for the month of November. This pose may seem easy but many practitioners are not doing this pose correctly. They tend to lean forward or have their knees buckling to the centre causing the hips to be not properly aligned.

Warrior II is a very good pose for strengthening and stretching the legs, ankles, shoulders and arms. It enhances balance on both sides of the body, expands the chest, encourages deeper breathing and improves coordination and concentration.

Doing the Pose

1. Stand in Tadasana. With an exhalation, step or lightly jump your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down.

2. Turn your right foot in slightly to the right and your left foot out to the left 90 degrees. Align the left heel with the right heel. Firm your thighs and turn your left thigh outward so that the center of the left knee cap is in line with the center of the left ankle.

3. Exhale and bend your left knee over the left ankle, so that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. If possible, bring the left thigh parallel to the floor. Anchor this movement of the left knee by strengthening the right leg and pressing the outer right heel firmly to the floor.

4. Stretch the arms away from the space between the shoulder blades, parallel to the floor. Don't lean the torso over the left thigh: Keep the sides of the torso equally long and the shoulders directly over the pelvis. Press the tailbone slightly toward the pubis. Turn the head to the left and look out over the fingers.

5. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale to come up. Reverse the feet and repeat for the same length of time to the left.

Points to note

In the pose, the hips remain open and you keep the hip of the back leg from creeping forward by rotating the upper thigh outwards.

The knee is pointing the same direction as the toes, and is directly over the ankle. If the knee of the bent leg is extending beyond the ankle, walk your foot forward to take unnecessary pressure off of the ankle.

Ensure that your shoulders are in line with your hips and slightly drop the shoulders away from the ears.

See video below on How to do the Warrior 2 pose.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beyoga Year-End Promotion

It is going to be Christmas soon and if you are thinking of what present to give to your partner, how about a yoga membership at one of the best yoga studios in Malaysia? Beyoga is having a year-end promotion where they are offering 1-month limited membership at RM100.00 (normal price is RM288). The offer is valid from 16 November to 15 December 2009 for the first 100 sign-ups only.


Beyoga which is located at Metropolitan Square in Damansara Perdana offers a variety of classes which include vinyasa, hatha, ashtanga, yogilates, chi-lates, hot yoga, yin yoga, yoga dance, partner yoga, kds yoga and prenatal yoga. You can check Beyoga website for the classes details and time-table.

The strong line-up of teachers which include Azmi, Lila, Ninie, Matthew, Robert and Ken whose dedication and love for yoga has inspired so many students including me in our yoga practice.

You can contact Beyoga at 03-7728 6182 / 7729 6182 to learn more and be part of the Be Yoga family and hurry! before the 100 sign-ups are gone.

By the way, Beyoga is having a "BREATHS, BANDHAS & DRISHTIS" workshop with Azmi Samdjaga this Saturday, 21 November 2009 at 9.00 am to 12.00 noon. You can call them up to check if there are still any seats available.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fashionable Yoga Mat Bags 2

I had previously blog about fashionable yoga mat bags and posted the pics of some of them. These yoga mat bags can hold more than your yoga mat and can be used for outings as well.

Recently, I came across a website which sells designer Yoga & Pilates mat bags featuring high quality fabrics, chic design details, and luxe satin lining. The mission of the company is to make workouts another reason to look and feel amazing because the better she looks, the better she feels and the better she will perform.


The creator of the yoga bag line is a busy Pilates Instructor who truly understands the functional needs of a proper mat carrier. The bags are specifically designed to be an all-in-one travel tote with a medley of accessories pockets on the inside, easy to reach water bottle holders on the outside, and a strong golden zipper to keep your mat and workout essentials safely in place.

You can check out the whole collection at www.ogorgeous.com where you will find these lovely bags with bows, sparkles and brocades. Just read their shipping policy and they accept international orders outside of the US. So if you are a fashionista of fitness, you can always order one!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Yoga Adjustments

I just came across an article about a man suing a yoga studio in Boulder, California over an unwanted adjustment in class. This leads me to thinking about how I feel whenever the teachers come to adjust me. For me, it is a matter of trust; I would only allow an experienced teacher to adjust me as I would have confidence that he or she would not pushed me beyond my body’s limit which might end up injuring me. Teachers do adjustments by using their hands and sometimes even their body to help with your alignment or to get you deeper into a pose. If you are not comfortable to being touched, tell the teacher before the start of the class. And if you feel pain during an adjustment, tell the teacher to ease off or stop.

As I have been practicing with Azmi and Lila for so long now, they have got to know my body very well as they know how much deeper to push my body into a pose and when I need help to get an extra stretch. During an adjustment by the teacher, it is very important that you work with your breath as it creates awareness. You become more in tune with your body and you will find yourself going deeper into the pose as you relax. A good adjustment should not cause you tension and pain. If you feel your breath getting shallow, jagged or held, it is your body telling you that you have gone beyond your limit as the body will tighten to protect itself. Always listen to your body, no matter what the teacher might say as you will only benefit from the yoga asanas if you feel good in them. There is good pain and bad pain doing a yoga asana. A good pain is one where you stretch beyond your comfort zone and challenge yourself to explore your flexibility while a bad pain is one where you go beyond your body's limit and end up injuring yourself.

“Practicing asanas began to teach me about myself. The body is such a great school of learning. It makes you pay attention.” Lilias Folan

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Guided Relaxation for Savasana


Although I have been doing yoga for more than 2 years now, I still find difficulty being fully relaxed in savasana (corpse pose). I had previously written on savasana being the most difficult pose to do. Click link to read more.

In savasana, our mind tends to wander and instead of being fully relaxed, sometimes we let in thoughts that would affect our emotions. This is especially so when you have a bad day in the office and during savasana, your mind will be going through the events of the day and instead of being fully relaxed, you might end up feeling more agitated.

In savasana, we are told to still our mind and let go of our body, but I wonder how many of us can really do that. I find that as I listened to the instructions of the teacher and even when my body is at its most relaxed state, fragments of thought still continue to interfere and cling to my mind.

I have heard from some practitioners that they have dozed off during savasana and have dreams and sometimes, I can even hear someone snoring.

In savasana, you first have let go of your body until it is so relaxed that you need not be aware of it anymore. There are many different ways to relax your body. You can mentally scan your body from the toes up, for muscle tension and ordering each muscle to relax. Or you can actually tense up each muscle group - the toes, the right leg, left leg, hips and buttocks, abdomen, etc, and let them go, one by one, until your whole body is relaxed. The next step is to focus on the breath by merely observing your breath. The breathing should come as naturally as your heartbeat and feel in tune with the rhythms of your body and then let that go too. Finally, the most difficult part is the ability to detach yourself from your thoughts. You have to learn to let your thoughts float by and observe how it will slow down and even stop. When you have really let go and there is no tightness in the chest, throat or head, you will experience just a whisper that hints at true bliss. Keep a touch of that blissful feeling inside of you as you slowly come out from savasana. Awaken your body bit by bit by wiggling your toes and circling your fingers and when you rollover on your side, take your time and take a few deep breaths.

Don’t worry if you are still having difficulty doing savasana as it takes time and practice and even seasoned yogis cannot perform savasana at its fullest. But as you develop this skill of detachment, you are increasing your capacity for inner peace and knowing.

Listen to the audio recording below for a guided relaxation savasana practice.

Audio | Guided Relaxation

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sweating It Out With Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga class has not been one of the classes that I would like to go to but Beyoga had recently started the Hot Yoga classes and with Lila teaching the Saturday morning class at 9.00 a.m, my sister and I decided to join the class last Saturday and yesterday.

Hot Yoga is conducted in a heated room and promotes profuse sweating, which is believed to help rid the body of toxins.

For the two classes I attended, Lila had started the class with a breathing exercise. Last week's breathing exercise was Standing Deep Breathing while yesterday’s class started with Kapalabathi. These pranayama exercises helps to cleanse our body and brings fresh oxygenated blood into the body. I felt a bit light-headed while doing the breathing exercises as I was not used to the heated room and doing the pranayama exercises after such a long time (I have done them while practicising in YZ). Lila had advised us to stop if we felt dizzy but I felt alright after a while and managed to complete the 2 rounds of the breathing exercises.

After the breathing exercise, Lila guided us through some standing, stretching, balancing and forward bending poses which included different variations of the chair pose and balancing stick pose. The poses are quite challenging but the heated environment helps us to go deeper in the pose as the heat helps to warm and stretch our muscles and makes us more flexible. After the standing poses, we laid down on our stomach and did poses that help to strengthen our backs such as the sphinx, locust and bow pose. After doing some twisting poses, the class ended with savasana, the total relaxation or corpse pose.

I find the hot yoga class quite draining when it ended and last week, my sister and I had actually signed up for Azmi’s Hatha class after the Hot Yoga class, but we had to skip the class as we were too exhausted to continue another class. So it was also just one class for us yesterday.

The surprising thing about doing the Hot Yoga class is that after taking my shower, my energy level came back and I actually felt good throughout the day (I went shopping last week and yesterday after the class and did not feel tired).

Here are some tips when attending a Hot Yoga class:-

- Bring a towel to mop off your sweat as you will be sweating profusely in the heated room.
- Make sure to drink plenty of water before and after class so you don't get dehydrated.
-Rest in child’s pose if you feel dizzy and then join back the class when you feel better.
- Let your body cool down first before taking your shower.

Some practitioners like to go to the Hot Yoga class as they think that it will help them to loose weight which is a debatable issue. For myself, I will go to the Hot Yoga class once in a while to get rid of the toxins in my body and moreover, Hot yoga is considered to help correct and improve sleep patterns, promote better digestion, improve cardiovascular functions and metabolism.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Pose For The Month - Boat Pose (Navasana)


I have chosen Boat Pose (Navasana) for my pose for the month of October. Navasana may look like an easy pose but being able to balance on your sitting bones with your legs straight in the air requires a lot of core strength. As such, Navasana is a good pose to build core strength as it strengthens the abdominal muscles. The full boat pose works the abs, the hip flexors (inner thighs) and the back.

The benefits of Navasana include:

• Strengthens abdominal muscles to provide efficient support for abdominal organs
• Lengthens and strengthens the spine to prevent backache
• Strengthens and tones the abs and hip flexors
• Helps relieve anxiety, stress and tension
• Helps improve digestion and counteracts constipation

How to do the pose

Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Press your hands on the floor a little behind your hips, fingers pointing toward the feet. Lift your chest to elongate your spine and press your weight into your hands. Your weight will balance on your sitting bones.

Exhale, bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, angling your thighs 45-50 degrees off of the floor. Lengthen your tailbone into the floor and pull your navel in slightly. If you are feeling strong, slowly straighten your knees, raising your toes above eye-level.

Reach your fingertips toward your ankles, feet parallel to each other and the floor. Press your shoulder blades inwards and downwards to your spine while reaching through the fingers. You may also hold onto your thighs above the knee for support.

While the lower belly should be activated, it must remain relaxed. Keep the bellybutton moving inwards. Breathe gently and completely. Elongate your neck by tilting your chin slightly towards your chest.

Remain in this pose for several breathes. Sit upright with an inhalation.

Variation

In Half Boat, your knees will remain parallel to the mat, bent at 90 degrees.

You may use a strap around the soles of your feet with your knees bent, gripping it firmly in your hands. With an inhalation, lift through the chest and mid-back and as you exhale, lift and straighten your legs. Press the balls of the feet firmly against the strap.

Points to note

While practicing Navasana, you have to keep your back flat and your spine should be held erect. It should be kept in mind that your lower back should not be rounded and your chest should not droop. The knees should be bent in a position such that the shins became parallel to the floor. Tip your chin a little toward your sternum so that the base of your skull lifts a little away from the back of your neck.

For beginners, this pose becomes easier if only one leg is straightened at one time. If you separate the legs while forming a V-shape with the body, it will help in stretching the inner thigh muscles.

Check out the video below for the proper alignment in the Boat Pose.


Navasana Yoga Posture (Boat Pose) - Click here for the funniest movie of the week

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Activating Your Bandhas

I am reproducing the article below which I found in GaiamLife Blog which I find to be very good information for all yogis. I have spoken to a few practitioners and found that they have no idea how to activate their bandhas and some of them have not even heard about bandhas.

Bandhas 101: How To Amplify The Benefits of Any Pose
By Sadie Nardini

My student Mary came to me nearly in tears one day after class. She’d been working for years to get into a headstand, yet continually watched newer students lift up with ease before her. She asked, “What am I doing wrong?”

Since Mary had come into my yoga classes only the week before, I asked her if she was using her bandhas to help her attain headstand. “What’s a bandha?” she asked, looking puzzled.

This reaction is quite common among yogis today. And without a proper knowledge of how powerful the bandhas — classical muscular “locks” at the pelvic floor, abdominals and throat — can be in your practice, you’re missing out on a whole new world.

Usually used in pranayama, the vision of a super sucked-in tummy or triple chin at the throat can be confusing. After all, we can’t use such massive movements in an active asana practice. It could cause constriction of oxygen and blood flow. That’s OK for short periods while sitting but not while getting a heart-pumping workout

So, many teachers don’t focus on these three areas, and it’s a real shame. Adding the bandhas to your poses can instantly create the power you need to go that extra few inches and rock those pesky arm-balances and inversions. They help contain your prana (energy) and help spark your central nervous system into action.

If you need proof, simply sit, drop out your pelvic floor and relax your belly so you can’t sit up straight. Now try to breathe. I call this posture “yuckasana.” Notice the difference when you engage your pelvic floor and draw in your abdomen. You should become instantly more alert and taller. Now breathe through your nose. Voila! Freedom. The bandhas support the spine for greater range of motion and safety, and they are the root of your most expansive breathing.

After one bandha session, Mary showed immediate improvement. She was self-generating her full headstand within a month.

During the asana portion of class, I prefer to call the bandhas “lifts,” as the word “lock” can cause students to grip too firmly. If you learn to apply them during your active classes, you too will speed light years ahead in your yoga practice.

The 3 bandhas (and how to activate them in order)

To activate your bandhas, use about 25 percent of your maximum effort, just enough to keep your spine and head in optimal mountain pose alignment. Release the bandhas completely once you come into savasana, final resting pose.

1. Mula Bandha: The Root Lift/Pelvic Floor

Active muscles: levator ani, coccygeus, pyramidalis (wraps into lower belly)

How to: Gently engage and lift your pelvic floor muscles (the ones in a diamond from the pubic bone in front, the tailbone in back and the sitting bones on either side) as if you have to go to the loo, but there’s no loo to be found.

Prevents: energy drainage, weak PC muscles, incontinence, reproductive organs dropping

2. Uddiyana Bandha: Upward Abdominal Lift

Active muscles: transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis

How to: Draw your navel in and up as if to touch the underside of your heart. At the same time, draw the points of your lower front ribcage slightly closer together. Lift from the inner body.

Prevents: lower back stress, weak abdominals, loss of breathing capacity, lower ribs jutting forward and straining mid back/spine

3. Jalandhara Bandha: Throat Lift
How to: Draw your soft palate back and up until the crown of your head sits in line with your pelvic floor.

Prevents: dropping the head back in backbends and compressing the back neck spine, jutting jaw forward and straining upper back/cervical spine, loss of blood flow to head.

Sadie also wrote on "How to use bandhas to power up commonly frustrating poses" in the article. Read the whole article in GaiamLife Blog.

Sadie Nardini is the owner of The Fierce Club, a Core Strength Vinyasa yoga studio in SoHo, NYC, whose Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga DVDs are Amazon.com Top 10 bestseller.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comfort Foods to Feel Better and Stay Healthy

When we are feeling down, we often indulge in comfort foods as a mean to help lift our spirits. Are these some of the comfort foods that you would eat – ice-cream, chocolates and potato chips – to give yourself that “pick-me-up” feeling? These comfort foods may be able to give a boost to your spirits but at the same time, they would also boost your weight by adding fat and calories and they have low nutritional value.

Below is a list of comfort foods that can help to made us feel better and stay healthy at the same time.

Dried Apricots

Dried Apricots are delicious as snacks as they have a rich, sweet tart flavour. With every bite of the dried fruit, you are helping your body fight infection, repair damaged tissues, build strong teeth and bones and improve your eyesight. Apricots are naturally fat and cholesterol-free and a good source of dietary fiber and potassium.

Miso Soup with Tofu

A hot bowl of miso soup with tofu will surely lift your spirits. This delicious soup has lots of health benefits which include reduced risks of breast, lung, prostate and colon cancer and protection from radiation. Miso strengthens the immune system to combat infection and its high antioxidant activity gives it anti-aging properties. It is also loaded with other nutrients such as protein, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin E, vitamin K, choline, linoleic acid, lecithin, and dietary fiber. Miso can also help to chase away “menstrual blues” as it is able to fill estrogen receptors and produce some of the actions of estrogen in the body. The tofu in the miso soup not only adds taste but also have health benefits as it is high in protein, low in saturated fats and a good source of calcium as well as vitamin E.


Dark Chocolate

If you love chocolates, choose dark chocolate which has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. The antioxidants in dark chocolate derived from the flavonoids found in cocoa protect blood vessels from undergoing oxidative changes that result in certain diseases. A small bar of dark chocolate everyday can help keep your heart and cardiovascular system running well. Apart from protecting your heart, dark chocolate also stimulates endorphin production which gives a feeling of pleasure and serotonin which acts as an anti-depressant.

Fruit Yoghurt

The frozen variety tastes pretty similar to its ice cream counterpart, only with less fat. Yoghurt is a useful source of calcum and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. By adding fruit, you’re only adding more minerals and vitamins. Cool and soothing, this comfort food is a perfect snack, yet tastes sweet enough to ease your pain.

Nuts

Nuts are easy and accessible comfort foods. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, all energy boosters and stress busters. The top four healthiest nuts to consume are almonds, walnuts, pecan and cashew nuts.

Containing high levels of healthy monounsaturated fats, almonds help in reducing cholesterol levels and improving cardiovascular health. The magnesium in almonds can be especially calming.

Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 essential fatty acids which protect the heart, improve cognitive function and reduce inflammatory effects of asthma, eczema, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Pecans contain an abundance of nutrients (over 19 minerals and vitamins) including folic acid, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin B and zinc. Like almonds and walnuts, pecans provide heart-healthy properties by reducing total blood cholesterol, reduce LDL cholesterol, and create clearer arterial flow.

Cashews are rich in magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and biotin. Cashews contain the lowest percentage of fats compared to most nuts and provide high levels of oleic acid (about 50% of the total fat in cashews), the same fat found in olive oil.

Other notable nuts that provide nutritional benefits and healthy sources of fats are hazelnuts, peanuts, chestnuts, pistachios and macadamias.

Nuts can also be filling, helping a person stave off hunger and thus, regulate blood sugar. Most nuts are consumed on their own, by the handful, which can easily lead to consuming lots of extra calories. Avoid mindless eating by pre-portioning your nuts in small bags.

If you have any healthy comfort foods, feel free to add to the list.

You can also check out this website for recipes for 20 classic comfort foods which are as flavourful as the original dishes, but contain significantly reduced levels of fat, cholesterol and sodium to help you on your way to a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Practising Ashtanga Yoga

I had posted in my FB status that I was thinking of what to write for my next blog post and a suggestion was given to write something related to Ashtanga Yoga, like my experience in practicing it (thanks, Gwen!).

So, this post will be about my experience practicing Ashtanga Yoga. My Ashtanga practice only started in Beyoga as there were no Ashtanga Yoga classes in YZ Damas during the evening classes although I did go to a few Ashtanga Intro classes in YZ The Weld. There was a Mysore class in the evening but I did not join the class as it was an advanced Ashtanga Yoga class where you need to know at least the sequence of the Primary series as you will be doing it on your own. The teacher is only there to give some adjustments as appropriate.

Anyway, back to my Ashtanga practice. It has been about four months since I have been going to the Ashtanga Led class on Thurday with Azmi in Beyoga. In an Ashtanga Led class, the teacher will lead the class and instruct the students in the order of the poses, usually in the Primary or Intermediate series. As it is a 90 minutes class, normally, we will do all the poses in the Primary series but Azmi might skip some of the poses which he feels that the students would not be able to do such as Marichyasana D (twisting and binding your hands in a way that seem impossible to do, I am still unable to do this pose without Azmi’s help). Kurmasana and Supta Kurmasana (I still can’t do these two poses too!). Sometimes, we get to practice to drop back to Urdhva Dhahurasana, with Azmi providing the support for us to hold onto as we drop back and come back up to standing. The class will end with the posses in the finishing sequence which include Shoulder Stand and Head Stand.

When I started practicing Ashtanga yoga, I find it quite exhausting as it is a vinyasa-style practice and we have to do a lot chaturangas and jump back (the vinyasa between each pose to keep our body warm). But with regular practice, the vinyasas are getting easier as I build up stamina and the chaturangas help to build my arm strength.

What I like about the Ashtanga class is that the practice teaches me to focus on my breathing, drishti and bandhas and with a regular and disciplined practice, I learn to control my breathing, have better awareness and develop my concentration and coordination.

As the poses are in sequence, I can see my own progress in the poses every time I attend the class. I am now able to do the Chakrasana without Azmi’s help and each week, being able to advance further in a pose gives me a sense of achievement.

Ashtanga Yoga will appeal to yogis who like a sense of order as I have heard comments from other practitioners that they find the class boring as the poses are the same every time they go to the class. I find that it takes dedication and discipline to be able to do the poses in their sequence every time as you need to remember the sequence of all the poses in the series if you going to practice on your own.

If you are a beginner to yoga, I would recommend you to go to an Ashtanga class only if you know the fundamental poses such as Sun Salutation A & B, Warrior 1 & 2 and Triangle pose as these are the poses you will be doing at the beginning part of the Primary series.

Ashtanga Yoga synchronizes the breath with the poses to produce internal heat which results in profuse and purifying sweat which detoxifies the body. The result is improved circulation, a supple, light and strong body and a calm mind.

Beyoga has just started an Ashtanga Led class on Sunday at 9.00 am. Come and join the class if you are an Ashtangi and need a place to practice. If you are a beginner, you can join Azmi's Astanga Intro classes at 10 am on Wednesday or Friday at 6.45 pm.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Head Stand (Shirshasana)

During the last two Ashtanga classes at Beyoga, I have been able to go into Headstand without putting my legs on the wall. But only managed to stay in the pose for about 3 to 4 breaths and have to come down when I felt my legs start to wobble. Still need to overcome the fear of falling and learn to relax and concentrate on my breathing.

The Headstand is known as the “King of Asanas” as there are many benefits to be obtained from this pose.

• The Headstand increases circulation to the brain, which causes improved brain function (intelligence and memory) and increased vitality and confidence.
• It improves many ailments, such as nervousness, tension, fatigue, sleeplessness, dullness, fear, poor blood circulation, bad memory, asthma, headaches, constipation, congested throat, liver or spleen, for female disorders, the initial stages of eye and nose troubles, and general lack of energy, vitality or self confidence.
• It stimulates four of the most important endocrine glands - the pituitary, the pineal, the thyroid, and the parathyroid glands that are responsible for our very existence, for they keep the body mechanism in good working order. Pituitary gland is called the master gland of the body. As a consequence, the practice of the headstand helps us to get relief from many of our troubles, physical as well as mental, or to prevent them. It has a very beneficial effect on the whole body.
• It promotes hair growth by increasing circulation to the scalp.
• It helps to put the spine into correct alignment.
• It restores the position of vital organs by reversing gravity.
• The quality of sleep is improved. Poor sleep is often due to an excess of nerve impulses from the reticular formation to the cerebral cortex in the brain. The headstand causes an increase in circulation to the neck, which stimulates the baroreceptors in the neck. This calms the reticular formation down, causing reduced nerve impulses to the cerebral cortex. This results in a peaceful, deep steep.

Doing the Headstand

• Kneel down on your yoga mat. Measure the distance between your elbows (fingertips to opposite elbow) placed on the floor in front of your knees.
• Clasp the hands in front, interlacing the fingers and place them and your forearms on the yoga mat. Keep the elbows fairly close together.
• Place your head on the floor, cupping the back of the head with the hands, thumbs extended up along the the back of the neck. It's important here to have placement on the very crown of the head and NOT the forehead.
• Rise up off your knees and take a step or two towards your head.
• Inhale, and slowly raise the legs until they are vertical. Push the elbows and shoulders directly into the floor, lifting the upper-body, creating a slight gap between the floor and the top of your head. Hold and breathe.
• To come down, bend your knees and lower one leg and then the other.
• Rest in child's pose.

At the beginner's stage, do the Half-Headstand.

Pull one knee into the chest. Inhale as you pull the second knee into the chest and hold. If you're unable to pull the second knee in his position, then practice alternating pulling in one knee and then the other, until the strength is there.

The majority of your weight here is on your arms. Focus keeping the elbows in place, driving them into the floor, lifting weight off your head. Keep your knees into the chest. Resist the temptation to raise them and stacking your weight into your neck. This will build strength and awareness.

Practice half-headstand for several weeks (or longer), along with leg-lifts and dolphin pushups.

Check out the video below on the safer approach to the Headstand that saves the spine and builds the core and arm strength.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Pose for the Month - Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Building Pose)

Setu Bandhasana or Bridge Building pose which is the final pose in the Ashtanga Primary series before the finishing sequence is my pose for the month of September.

This pose is different from the bridge pose as your shoulders are lifted off the floor and you are supported by your head and feet.

1.Lie on your back, bend your knees slightly and bring your heels together. Rotate your thighs, placing the outer edges of your feet on the floor.
2.Press your elbows to the floor and lift up your chest, arching the spine so the top of your head touches the floor.
3.Cross your arms and place your hands on your shoulders.
4.Inhaling, extend your legs and lift your buttocks off the floor. Roll onto your forehead and gaze towards your nose. Stay in the pose for five breaths.
5.To come out of the pose, exhale and lower your hips first. Keeping your arms by the side to support your neck, gently roll your head down.
6.Turn your head left and right.

You can take Chakrasana (the backward roll) to counterbalance the neck or rock up to sitting and hop back to Chaturanga Dandasana.

Variations

If you have neck issues or are unsure of the posture, instead of crossing your arms, you can take your arms to the side, palms down. With the arms in this position, straighten your legs. This arm position assists in carrying the weight of your torso and provides greater stability. Do this version for some time to allow your neck to straighten.

You can also place your hands at a 45 degree on the floor on either side of your head, fingers pointing towards your feet. You can now carry part of the weight with your arms while you explore rolling farther towards your forehead.

Points to note

1.Do not place your feet too close to your hips as this will put too much weight on your head in the full posture. The distance will vary between individuals, depending on flexibility and leg length. If you placed your feet the correct distance from your hips your legs should be fairly straight and your hips lower than your chest.

2.When you cross your arms over your chest, move your elbows away from your chin to open the chest and throat areas.

3.Keep your hip joints extended by using your buttocks rather than your hamstrings, which easily spasm in this posture.

This pose strengthens the back muscles and neck, correcting neck alignments. The throat is opened, stretching and cleansing the esophagus and the chest is expanded which increases the capacity of the lungs. This pose also helps to increase our digestive system due to the stimulation of our third chakra - the solar plexus chakra which s located midway between the navel and the base of the sternum.

Reference: Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy by Gregor Maehle

Check out the video below where David Swenson teaches the transitions into Setu Bandhasana in the Ashtanga series.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Self-Practice II


I managed to do four days of self-practice but this morning, when I got up, I did only one round of sun salutation before folding up my mat. Maybe it was because I did not have much time to do the practice, only about 15 minutes, as I needed to prepare to go to work or I was thinking that I do not need to do the practice as I can go for a class today at Beyoga. Anyway, I could feel that my body was not into it and decided not to continue with the practice as I was not engaging my bandhas when I was doing the pose. I did not want to injure myself as I know that it is important to pace myself and not going into the poses too fast without any proper warm-up and stretching.

When doing a self-practice, it is important to work your breath (use ujjayi breathing) and activates your bandhas as the practice flows very quickly when you focus on them.

For the past three days, I had managed to do a 45-minute practice as I incorporated different poses each day that I felt my body needed. On Sunday, I did shoulder stand, (my favourite pose) as it stretches my neck and shoulders and followed-up with fish pose as my counter pose and reclining hero pose towards the end of my practice.

I did the some of poses in the Ashtanga primary series on Monday and added some lunging poses which included the kneeling crescent lunge to help strengthen my legs and open my hips as it I could feel some tightness due to lounging on my sofa all day watching TV on Sunday.

I felt a bit lazy on Tuesday, so I did restorative poses which meant lying more on my back. The poses included reclining bound angle pose, reclining big toe pose and a variation of legs up the wall pose with the legs apart into a wide "V" to stretch my inner thighs and groins.

If you would like to start your own self-practice, this article has some very good tips.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Self Practice


Beyoga will be closed for four days for the raya holidays which meant I will have to do a self-practice to continue with my daily yoga practice. This is the thought which came to my mind when I woke up this morning. So I took out my yoga mat and sat silently in easy pose for a few minutes before going into the poses. My practice consisted of doing five rounds of Sun Salutation A, two rounds of Sun Salutation B, Warrior 1 & 2, Reverse Warrior, One Legged Dogward Dog on each side, One Legged Plank on each side, some sitting and twisting poses, bridge pose and ended with Savasana. Although it was a 30 minutes practice.I felt energized when I finished the practice and I realized that I was more aware of my breathing as I was counting my breaths while holding the poses.

It felt good that I have made the effort to do the self-practice as it meant that I have done something which I have been thinking of doing. I have been reading the book “Follow Your Heart” written by Andrew Matthews and there is a chapter on “Make a Start!” It is about making a start by doing things, not thinking about them as action gets us excited and we will only get the energy and enthusiasm after we begin doing something.

I know that I will be doing the self-practice tomorrow as I have make the start to get myself motivated.

"When you care about what you do, enthusiasm carries you though"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cracked Heel, Foot Scrub and Foot Massage

For the past few days, I have been having a cracked heel on my right foot. I noticed that my heels have cracks ever since I started to wear open-toe shoes. I used to wear pumps with stockings to work and never have problem with my heels. But I could not resist wearing the open-toe sandals as I find them comfortable (and prettier) and they are better for my toes which need not be cooped inside a pair of pumps all day. However, the disadvantage of wearing sandals is that the open-backed style can caused cracked heels due to worn and weathered skin.

A regular and diligent routine (which I have not been doing, resulting in the cracked heel) of filing the skin on the heels to get rid of those dry and dead cells first before applying the moisturizing lotion would help to keep the heels in good condition. A good product to use for cracked heels is Ellgy Plus (I used it for two days and my cracked heel have healed).

A good foot care routine would also include using a foot scrub to exfoliate and soften rough and dry patches on the foot. I have been using a home-made foot scrub given to me by Lila (she made it herself) which contains sea salt and essential oils. The essential oils in the foot scrub are antiseptic and they provide a little aromatherapy while I pamper my feet.

At the Karma Yoga class yesterday, Lila gave us a nice surprise by teaching us how to give ourselves a foot massage before we went into our poses as the theme for the class was balancing. The patting, stroking and rubbing massage helped to stimulate the nerve endings in the sole of the foot and increase blood circulation. After the foot massage, I could feel the difference in my standing poses as I felt more grounded.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What to expect in a Yoga Class

I came across a blog post “11 Tips to Help You Feel at Ease at Your First Yoga Class” in The Weekly Spark newsletter from Stepfanie Romine who is a health and nutrition writer and I am reproducing some of the points from her blog which I find to very good information for new practitioners as well as seasoned practitioners.

Shoes
Yoga is practiced barefoot, so be prepared. There's no need to get a pedicure for the occasion, but give your feet a quick rinse before class, especially if they've been cooped up in closed-toe shoes all day. You spend a great deal of time focusing on gripping your feet, spreading your toes and evenly distributing your weight over your entire feet. Sweaty, dirty feet stick to yoga mats, and if you have lotion or cream on your feet, you can slip. You can read my post on Clean Face and Feet for Yoga to gain some insights. Wear whatever shoes you'd like to the class, but take your shoes off before entering the yoga room. Most studios have shelves for shoes either just inside the door or in the lobby.

Clothes
Comfort is important during a yoga class. You'll be spending a good deal of time bending, stretching and twisting your body, so you'll want to wear something that will stay put. You will want to avoid clothes that are so tight that they impede breathing or make it difficult to move. Shorts and loose shirts often move around and expose too much skin, while skintight running tights make it hard to move your body. Opt for cotton, lycra or sweat-absorbing microfiber fabrics. Longer sleeveless tops are a good choice, as are form-fitting pants or cropped pants. Ladies, wear a sports bra, as a regular bra will slip around too much during your practice and get those yoga tops which are padded. Read my post on What Not To Wear To A Yoga Class.

Talking
Yoga is a quiet, contemplative activity, and students are discouraged from talking throughout the class. The teacher will describe the l transition from pose to pose and offer encouragement throughout. In addition, you might hear long, complicated-sounding names like Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) and Virabhadrasana (warrior). Teachers often include the traditional Sanskrit names of poses, but most beginner classes will use the English names. In addition, you might hear the words drishti (gaze), bandhas (energy locks), asanas (poses), among other Sanskrit words. If there is a word you don't understand, feel free to ask the teacher about it after class. Or if you too shy or not sure what questions to ask, you can visit Yoga Journal website as it provides a good source of reference for everything you need to know about yoga.

Time
A yoga class often begins with a few minutes of relaxation and meditation to prepare your mind and body for your practice. This might be in the form of deep breathing, a chant of "om" or some visualization exercises. So that you don't miss this important aspect or disturb others who are trying to focus, try to come to class about five or 10 minutes early. You can chat with the teacher, warm up with a few stretches (though you will warm up during class) and get settled on your mat. If you are late for the class, please try not to disrupt the class too much by fumbling around and try not to be so late that you can't get warmed-up before diving into the deeper poses. Some teachers do not allow latecomers to join the class if the class has already started for more than 15 minutes.

Yoga classes last between 45 and 90 minutes. Most beginner classes are shorter, while advanced classes are longer.

Breathing
As with any physical activity, the breath is very important in yoga. The first time you hear people breathing during yoga, you might think that a snake is loose in the room. The traditional breath, called "ujjayi" breath, is slow and even inhales and exhales through the nose. The back of the throat is constricted slightly to create a filter for the breath and generate heat. The audible breath is used as a "moving meditation" throughout the practice. Focusing on the sound and cadence of the breath helps calm your mind, especially during more difficult poses.

When you encounter a pose that is challenging, focus on your breath and imagine breathing into the part of your body that feels discomfort. It will help you build endurance. Breathing awareness is one of the most simple ways to calm and integrate the mind and body. You can practice slow deep breathing when you are working at the computer or when you are driving (especially when you are stuck in a traffic jam), it will help to foster a relaxed and focused state of mind.

Movement
While there are a variety of different philosophies and styles of yoga, classes can be broken into two basic groups: hatha and vinyasa.

If you are attending your first yoga class it is advisable to check to see if it is a beginners class as the teacher will go through the basic postures, providing guidance for correct alignment and breathing technique.

After you have attended a few classes, you can try out the hatha class which a gentle form of yoga as there will be breaks between poses. You will return to a neutral, restorative seated or standing pose between more difficult poses.

Vinyasa means flow, which indicates that a class will have fewer resting poses. You will transition from pose to pose, with no actual rest. Each pose will be held for a certain amount of time (5-8 breaths is common) before you move on to another pose, often using a series of movements called sun salutations to transition.

If you ever need a break during the class, you can take child's pose, which is a restorative pose. Kneel on the floor, spreading your legs if need be, sit your hips onto your heels and extend your arms either overhead to stretch the length of the back or alongside the hips, to stretch across the top of the back.

Music
Many contemporary yoga classes are accompanied by music. Some teachers might choose Sanskrit chants as their soundtrack of choice, while others might choose hits from the radio. Music is not played during more traditional yoga classes, when students are encouraged to listen to and focus on their breath.

Chanting
Many teachers begin and end yoga classes with a chant, most commonly "Om." Feel free to join in the chant or listen quietly until you feel comfortable. This is another way you start to quiet and focus the mind during a yoga class.

Touching
Yoga teachers are trained to adjust students to keep them in proper alignment, help them go deeper into a pose and try out a pose they might not feel strong enough to attempt on their own. Don't be surprised if your yoga teacher is more "hands on" than other fitness instructors you've encountered. Teachers are usually pretty good at gauging a student's willingness to be assisted/touched. If you feel uncomfortable with hands-on adjustments, feel free to let your teacher know.

Water
There are no designated water breaks during class, and traditionally students are discouraged from drinking during class as it extinguishes the "fire" you're trying to create through your breath and movement. You might notice many students never stop to take a drink and others stop to towel off and get a drink periodically. Bringing a water bottle to class is acceptable, and drink as much and as often as you need, especially during hot yoga classes.

Injuries

Normally, before the start of the class, the teacher will ask if any of the practitioners has any injuries. Do let the teacher know if you have any existing or previous injuries as he or she will provide alternative poses or use yoga props to help you in the pose. Some teachers structure the class to incorporate poses to help relieve the pain as there are many yoga poses that can help to relieve muscle and joint pain and increase flexibility.

Rest
At the end of each yoga class, there is a time for rest and reflection. Teachers might lead a chant or guided meditation, and they will encourage you to relax your mind and focus your attention. It's tradition to sit in a crossed-leg position with your feet on top of the legs (lotus pose), but find a position that makes you feel comfortable.

(While you might feel like your "workout" is over, you should stick around for the final relaxation poses. If you need to leave class a few minutes early for whatever reason, notify your teacher before class and leave before Savasana begins.)

Eventually, you will make your way to your back, arms and legs resting comfortably at your sides and your palms facing up. You'll close your eyes and focus on relaxing. Try to lie still and clear your mind. This pose, called Savanasa or corpse pose, is a very important part of any yoga practice, as it allows the body to rest and rejuvenate itself. When it's time to come out of Savasana, your teacher will quietly tell you to wiggle your fingers and toes.

Make small movements, then roll onto your right side in a fetal position, keeping your eyes closed. Return to a cross-legged seated position, then listen to your teacher's final instructions.

Traditionally, the hands are brought to the heart in a prayer position, then brought between the eyebrows and finally overhead. Bow your head to the floor, keeping hands in prayer just in front of you. You'll hear your teacher say "Namaste," and you repeat it back. "Namaste" means "may the light within me honor the light within you”.

I hope the above will help to clear away some of your fears about joining a yoga class as yoga offers a lot of benefits to help you to be more healthier, happier and peaceful.

"The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind." ~ Rodney Yee

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Karma Yoga For The Back

This morning’s Karma Yoga was great as it was a back-relieving practice with Azmi. Before the start of the class, Azmi asked if any of us were suffering from back problems and shared some info about back problems such as sciatica which is a symptom of a problem with the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each lega and should be treated before it gets serious.

Before the class, I met a new practitioner who was attending her first class at Beyoga and she told me that she was having back problems. Her friend has been pestering her to try-out the yoga class and she had reluctantly agreed to come to the class today. What a coincidence that Azmi chose to do the back-relieving practice as the teachers in Beyoga normally will have a theme yoga practice for their Karma Yoga class.

Azmi told us that there are 26 poses for relieving back pain and the poses we did today included Cat-Cow pose, Downward Dog, Child's pose, Warrior 2, Trikosana (triangle), Warrior 1, Warrior 3, Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch), Plank pose , Vasisthasana (side plank), Ardha Salbhasana (half locust), Bhujangasana (cobra), Dhanurasana (bow), Supta udarakarshanasana (lying abdominal twist), Supta Padangusthasana (reclined big toe), Supta hasta padangushtasana (lying hand to toe pose), Reclining Knee-to-Chest, Jathara Parivartanasana (reclining twist), Setu Bandha (bridge) and Matsyasana (fish).

I read in the Healing Yoga book that about 80 percent of us will, at some time in our lives, experience back pain or a back-related problem. Do you know that our spine is a column of 33 boney segments called vertebrae that run from the base of our skull down to our pelvis? The column provides the central scaffolding for our body, supports our head and torso, protects our spinal cord and provides anchorage points for our ribs, muscles and ligaments. The back is an amazing piece of engineering but this very complexity makes it vulnerable to all the stresses and strains of daily life. Our lifestyle is usually the cause of back pain as bad posture, bad lifting techniques and any habitual pose that changes our back’s regulars curves can increase the pressure on our spine.

The yoga poses can help to alleviate the pain of back problem by stretching and strengthening our back when they are done regularly. Azmi told us that the bridge pose is one of the best pose for back pain as it helps to keep the spine flexible and doing the flowing bridge help to stretch the muscles of the lower back, strengthen the abdominals and massage the spine and sacrum.

Flowing Bridge and Full Bridge Pose

To begin lie on your back and get comfortable being on the floor then bend your knees and bring your feet hip distance apart and parallel to each other.

Press your shoulders into the floor and inhale as you life your hips off the floor while taking your arms overhead toward the floor behind you. Pause and then exhale as you slowly lower your hips back to the floor and your arms back to your sides. Make sure that as you lift your hips up your thighs are parallel and your knees are pointing forward, not splaying out, as this will compress your lower back.

Repeat this gentle flowing bridge movement several times working to time the movements with the flow of your breath.

When you feel ready to move to full bridge, lift your hips up and then wriggle your shoulders in toward each other, as you interlace your hands beneath your hips. Gently press the back of your head into the floor to maintain the natural curve of your neck. Think about lengthening your thighs out away from you as the inner sides of your feet root into the floor. Feel your shoulder blades drawing into your back creating a lift in your upper chest. Stay here for a few breaths, then release your hands and gently roll down one vertebra at a time.

Rest for a moment and then counter the backbend by drawing your knees into your chest and releasing.

After the class, the practitioner told me that she really enjoyed the class and she will be coming back for more classes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Healing Yoga

A few months back, I bought the book “Healing Yoga" by Stella Weller from Reader’s Digest which gives a practical approach to healing common ailments with yoga.

The book starts with an introduction to yoga and the system of hatha yoga which may be divided into five parts: asanas, pranayama, meditative practices, relaxation practices and cleansing practices.

The main part of the book is Part 2 which is the Healing Power of Yoga which is divided into sections that cover many common ailments and health problems. For each section, there are a number of recommended exercises to help bring relief and promote healing for those particular problems. There is a brief overview of each disorder including its known or probable causes and its chief signs and symptoms.

The book is a good reference as it illustrates how to do a pose and its benefits and includes details of four purification practices – Eye Splashing, Tongue Cleansing, Nasal Wash and Candle Concentration (I will be posting these practices in my blog in future) which are useful in enhancing excretory functions, help to strengthen tissues and prevent infection.

"To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear" - Buddha

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Opening Your Heart With Matthew

I have been attending Matthew’s classes this past two weeks at Beyoga as he is replacing Azmi who has gone for a holiday.

Matthew is teaching the Anusara style of yoga which focuses on heart-opening and at the Hatha class on Saturday, there were a lot of heart-opening postures. We started the class in Tadasana before doing a few rounds of Sun Salutations and some Standing poses which help to build up heat and soften our muscles.

When we did the twisting poses like the Triangle pose, Revolved Triangle pose, Side Angle pose and Revolved Side Angle pose, Matthew asked us to round our back and pressed the tips of our shoulder blades into our back to open our heart before we lengthen our spine all the way up through our neck and head. He also reminded us to keep our hips square by keeping our heels grounded and to use our breath to deepen our awareness to the pose and to perform each transition pose with grace.

Matthew gives lots of encouragement in the class as he would say “well done, guys!” after we have been holding a pose for a while. I find Matthew to be a very dedicated teacher who is very passionate about his teaching. He goes round the class checking and adjusting the practitioners to make sure we are in correct alignment as well as to help us go deeper into our poses.

I like Matthew’s gentle way of assisting me in my poses and the way he uses his body weight to help deepen the stretches as I can really relax in the pose and do not feel any pain in those tight spots in my body. I was really surprised to feel my thighs touching the floor in Baddha Konasana (I have very tight hips) when Matthew used his weight to help me to deepen the pose during Asthanga Intro class on Friday.

If you would like to try out this “Celebrity” teacher's (he is teaching in Celebrity Fitness as well as in Energy and SunYogaKL) style of teaching, Matthew is teaching two Hatha classes in Beyoga on Sunday afternoons.

"Mountain pose teaches us, literally, how to stand on our own two feet.... teaching us to root ourselves into the earth.... Our bodies become a connection between heaven and earth."~Carol Krucoff

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Pose For The Month - Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

I have chosen Chair pose or Utkatasana to be my pose for the month of August. Chair pose strengthens the lower and upper back, abdominals, thighs buttock, calves and ankles and also help to increase the range of motion of the hip, knee and ankle. It stretches the shoulders and opens the chest. It also improves endurance and balance, helps poor posture and is beneficial for the heart and diaphragm.



1. Begin by standing in Mountain pose (Tadasana): Arms at your sides, sternum lifted.

2. Bend your knees deeply, shift your weight back into your heels (tip: lift your toes if that helps), and squeeze your inner thighs together.

3. Straighten your arms and raise them overhead, reaching your fingers up and bringing your palms together or keeping them shoulder-width apart if that's more comfortable for your shoulders.

4. Lengthen all four sides of your torso evenly, then accentuate the lift in your arms and chest by bringing your upper spine into a slight backbend.

5. Lift your hip bones away from your thighs as you let your sit bones drop closer to the floor with each exhale, aiming to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Stay here for at least 10 breaths.

Some points to note:

1. Tuck your tailbone in to prevent your lower back from arching. Your knees should not go past the toes and are hip width apart.

2. Your heels should remain on the floor. At any point of time, you should be able to see toes.

3. Keeping your hands on your thighs will relieve the strain in the lower back.

4. Beginners or people with tightness in the shoulders may need to keep the arms apart. When the palms can comfortably touch, bring them together and keep the shoulders relaxed.

5. Be careful with this pose if you have hip or knee problems.

Practising this pose dynamically, moving in time with your breathing from standing to the "chair" half squat and back, will help to build your strength and stamina. Holding the pose is even more demanding, it requires considerable strength in your thighs and back to stay in the pose without sinking downward.

The video below shows How To Do The Chair Pose.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yoga Music Concert with Daphne Tse

Yesterday night, I had my first Kirtan yoga practice with Daphne Tse. “Kirtan is a yoga practice that reveals the heart, when we chant we are tearing open our chests to reveal what is within. We are going on a journey together when we chant” – Jai Uttal.

Before the start of the Kirtan session, Daphne had joined the Hatha class and she was practicing along side with us. Daphne’s soaring voice took over with a blissful chant of her song “Magnificence” while we lay in savasana. It was a preview to what was to come.

The Kirtan practice started with Daphne explaining to us that she would perform the call by singing one line or verse of the chant and we were to response in style. To make the experience more meaningful and enhanced our appreciation of the kirtan, Daphne had explained the meaning behind each of the mantras before the start of each song.

The songs we sang during the night were chants to remove obstacles from our path, opening our creativity, paying tribute to our mother and giving peace, joy and love to all and they include “Saraswati Mata” and “Magnificence”.

As the walls of the studio resonate with the serene music and singing, I can feel a state of inner peace and sublime happiness from the practitioners.

After the session ended, I was still singing along to the songs as I played Daphne’s CD on my drive home.

Daphne will be performing at SunYogaKL on Saturday, 22 August 2009 from 4.00 pm to 6.00 pm. You can contact Indra at indra.widjanarko@gmail.com for further details.

This is the wordings on the inspirational card that I picked up from the stack that Daphne passed around to us before the practice.

“My imagination is a most powerful tool for creation”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preventive Measures for HINI

I have been receiving some emails on HINI and this is one which I find might be helpful information and would like to share with you all.

Coconut Water for prevention of HINI

Dr V.M.Palaniappan, former Associate Professor of Ecology at Universiti Malaya has authored several books on complementary therapy called, 'Ecological Healing System'.

Dr Palaniappan said his 33 years of research had shown that high acidity in the body resulted in loss of immunity, thus making people more susceptible to viral diseases like Influenza A (H1N1).Hence, to prevent acidity, it was essential to consume alkaline food and drinks that could neutralise excess acid in the body.

Dr Palaniappan recommends coconut water, which is alkaline, and therefore could be used as a herbal medicine for the prevention of H1N1. For example, he said, those who felt feverish and developed a burning sensation while attending to a call of nature because of extreme acidity, could neutralise it by drinking coconut water, twice a day, for three days.

He also recommended orange, lemon and pomelo which, despite containing citric acid, were very rich in potassium and therefore, would not disturb the body's immunity.

According to Dr Palaniappan, excessive physical activity like running a marathon should be avoided as it produced acid due to excessive metabolic activity.

Similarly, he said, keeping late nights without adequate sleep and working without proper rest could also increase the body's acidity which in turn, lowered immunity and made the body vulnerable to viral attacks.

Dr Palaniappan's blog discusses the therapy in more detail.

Here are some tips from another email I received:

1.Hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications)

2.“Hands-off-the-face” approach. Resist all temptations to touch any part of face (unless you want to eat or bathe).

3.Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don’t trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don’t underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.

4.Similar to 3 above, clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water. Not everybody may be good at Sutra Neti (a very good Yoga asana to clean the nasal cavities), but blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.

"Prevention is better than cure, Stay Healthy"