Category Archives: From the Sadhaka’s Mat

Headstand yoga pose

How to Flow with Boundless Energy

"On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure." - Bhagavad Gita.

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Many people stay away from yoga and tell me that "I'm just not flexible enough," or "I can no longer twist", or "some poses are too challenging for me."

But are we missing the point when we count ourselves out based on a self-imposed pre-requisite of strength and flexibility? Perhaps we can be more flexible in exploring yoga without fixating on whether we would succeed or fail in it. In yoga, we don't have to meet any performance benchmarks.

The practice is the practice itself.

If we are open to exploring yoga, we begin to discover that the practice will soften and strengthen us in ways that we have never imagined possible.​

Yoga Retreats in Nature


Physical strength and flexibility will come through a regular asana (physical pose) practice. At the same time, there is a softening through the surrendering of the ego and opening of the heart, and a strengthening of our personal resilience to face life's vagaries.

Beyond the physical, yoga as meditative practice and as a philosophy is an effort in reconnecting to our center, to our true essence of being. Every effort counts.

We'd find at this center the essence that is unafraid to be vulnerable, that abounds in unselfish love, that is immaculate; the essence that does not get stuck in petty pros-and-cons dilemma, and is free from prejudice, hurt and blame. It welcomes 'failure' as part of the process. It does not dissipate energy in constant worrying about the past and anxiety about the future.

This reconnecting with the true essence of being is the euphoria we sometimes get to taste at the end of a yoga class, or experience in life's moments as a sensation of flow, orgasmic bliss, or as a second wind.

IF there is one goal to this practice, it is to tap into this vast potential, to flow with this boundless energy.

Remember, effort is all that is needed. The practice is the practice.

The practice itself is the practice.

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Man drawing heart shape in the sand

Teaching Yoga for Self-Love and Non-Violence

Ling is a Victory Over Violence Ambassador.

This story is also submitted to the VOV blog.

* names have been changed.

On a quiet Monday afternoon, at class start time, it appeared as if no one was going to come to practise. Then ten minutes later, two people turned up.

It can be difficult for yoga teachers to face a quiet room at class start time and for students to sail nonchalantly into class late. This is a common challenge leading a practice in non-studio settings, where the crowd is not familiar with yoga and the usual class etiquette, and that there’s no advance class list and client notes, and you’ve no idea who’s going to show up (, if any were to show up at all).

Yoga at the Residence

When I started teaching at this shelter, I was told that the women had all experienced some form of violence before, and was keenly aware that they needed yoga so much, and that it was hard to come by, so I’ve learned to bend my own rules. In any case, this is a good reminder to teach to the bodies and beings in the room, rather than to follow a preset lesson plan.

 

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Continue reading Teaching Yoga for Self-Love and Non-Violence

Viparita Karani legs up the wall yoga pose

Restorative Yoga is Power

Can We Do More with Restorative Yoga?

This post first appeared on the Yoga 216 blog. It is reposted here with permission.

In the previous post, we talked about why restorative yoga is a necessity for us urban folks!

While restorative yoga is about paring down to basics and getting us to slow down, take note… you can still get a lot out of restorative yoga! As we continue to explore this topic, we will focus on some ways to make the best of restorative yoga, through creative sequencing, mixing activity and stillness in your practice, and by working in sync with deep breathing.

Sign up now if you want to receive more love from Spice Yoga to you. Our Mindful Monday newsletter (sent approximately on the 1st Monday of each month, no spam!) features highlights of the month’s video tutorials and original writings to take you deeper into your personal practice. As a welcome gift for a LIMITED time only, receive a beginners’ mindfulness audio podcast too.

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Continue reading Restorative Yoga is Power

Head Massage, Restorative, Nidra

Why You Have to Turn On Your “Off” Button

There’s a war raging in your body!

Win it through the path of least resistance.

This post first appeared on the Yoga 216 blog. It is reposted here with permission.

When we are facing stressful situations, the sympathetic nervous system is on alert, automatically recalibrating to increase blood pressure and heart rate and reduce digestion, to prepare the body for battle. Needless to say, our contemporary workaday lives, which is full of stress and sensory overload – tracking indices and social channel updates, digging ourselves out of a bottomless inboxes, rushing from meetings to lunch, to meetings over lunch – place a constant stress on us and trigger this ‘fight or flight’ response all the time.

Weekend warrior - is that a great idea?
Weekend warrior – is that a great idea?

When we are time starved, we often try to have an efficient workout, either by going for a hard run or a bootcamp session or choosing physically demanding yoga sessions. Perhaps these are efficient from a burning calories standpoint and, with discipline, speed, muscle build-up, weight loss and other results can be attained. But are they giving us overall health, vitality and balance?

With our relative physical inactivity, from desk-bound jobs, elevators and surfing the Internet, getting into weekend warrior mode with high-intensity workouts jolts the body’s system.

Restoring the Body through Yoga

Where it comes to physical yoga, slowly building up the practice with discipline, and keeping it a regular part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle is better than a strong dose once in a while. More importantly, it is critical not to neglect the counterpart of active yoga – the more restful, effortless style of yoga practice often called ‘restorative yoga’. It is so called precisely as it replenishes and renews the practitioner, with the body slowly eased into shapes. Poses are held for up to 10 minutes at a time, supported by various props and gravity.

Viparita Karani is a deceptively basic yoga pose which is incredibly powerful for the nervous system and the body's vitality and energy levels.
Viparita Karani is a deceptively basic yoga pose which is incredibly powerful for the nervous system and the body’s vitality and energy levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleepless in the City

Now you ask, to quiet our ‘fight or flight’ response, why don’t we just get to bed earlier? Proper deep sleep turns on the parasympathetic response of the nervous system, which has the beneficial effects of lowering blood pressure and heart rate and increasing digestion, and also promotes cellular regeneration. It unleashes our capacity to heal ourselves from within.

However, many of us are not actually getting the proper rest that is so crucial for these restorative processes to happen. A combination of city noise (including light and actual sound pollution), mental noise and tension arising from chronically held stress, strain from late nights, irregular and imbalanced work and rest hours and meal times, keeps the mind-body in constant duress. We may not even get to the deep sleep stages of the sleep cycle.

Chronic Lack of Rest is Debilitating

After a strenuous physical workout, it may take you perhaps a day or two for the muscle soreness to go away, but your nervous system takes a much longer time to recover.

Have you ever noticed that nagging fatigue, the feeling that you’re just not ready to start the week ahead? It can be from the lack of proper rest and an over-active sympathetic response.

Our bodies need proper rest for the vital systems to rebuild to compensate for the stress that we subject them to. Without good quality rest, there’s no chance for cellular repair and regeneration to take place. Athletes too under-perform when they are over-trained. Mark Jenkins gives a succinct explanation here.

In the United States, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. It is a lifestyle disease caused by a variety of factors, including poor diet, irregular and lack of physical exercise, but a constantly stimulated nervous system is also a factor for heart disease. It is a likely explanation for hormonal imbalances, chronic pains, diabetes, allergies, etc. As long as we don’t give our bodies the chance to heal, we’d be depleting our overall immunity and wearing down the other essential functions of the body over time.

Restorative yoga is not optional, it is essential to our continued vitality! We all need these self-care therapeutic sessions. Try starting your week, or day, with it.

If short on time, practise ONE restorative poses for 10 to 15 minutes as a pick-me-up anytime your energy feels like blah…).

Like most skills, relaxation takes practice! Start with some guidance, and include it as a conscious time out in your schedule. It’s your weekly ‘Top-Up’!

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Study Yoga For Free

I have to tell you…  I am actually not a teacher; I am a student!
I’d tell you why I prefer to be a student. Student benefits rock, and you should not miss out on them too. Want to improve your yoga practice? I discovered how to learn yoga for free!

Learn yoga for free

The other day, a man came to practice in my class. He had shared about a tight IT band issue. I offered some variations to help him in his practice. I noticed that for some of the asanas, instead of taking up what I had offered, he started to make his own variations, which were innovative and new to me, and he looked completely comfortable while practising them. We had a chat afterwards, and I learned so much about IT bands! He had lived with it for years. He had read a lot of articles, researched strength and stretch exercises, and experimented with them on his body, and knew what worked and what didn’t. He was quite the expert on IT bands. I exchanged notes with him and we both left the conversation with more knowledge about this condition.

At the studios, they call me a yoga teacher, but I am a perpetual student! I learn a lot from my interactions with others daily. I improve my practice and my teaching, and its all grounded on evidence and real people with their unique bodies.

Want to improve your yoga practice and without any course fee? Ready to sign up?

I am going to tell you how to apply this!

….

It goes back to mindfulness.

…      …      …

Listen with curiosity and an open learning mind.

…   …   ….   ….
Try this ‘Be a Student’ challenge this month!

1. Ask someone what they enjoy doing (keep it general or specific – it can be on their yoga practice or health regimen, or anything else!).

2. Listen keenly and let the person do most of the talking. Resist temptation to comment, layer on your interpretation or examples from your own experience.

3. Really, just listen, and let the conversation and your curiosity about the topic lead you into the topic. Ask the “how”, the “why” and all relevant questions to explore the topic as if you’re preparing for an exam! If you have doubts, challenge and query further.

4. After that, immediately make notes about the one main thing that you’ve learnt from that conversation.
Being a “student” simply means bringing consciousness and an inquiring mind into everything that we do. It is about bringing yoga into our workaday lives. In the midst of a challenging project and looming deadline, take a pause, observe yourself, ask yourself what you are learning from the process.

So this month, I challenge you to treat everyone around you as study mates. Be open and present to what you might be learning from your bosses, your staff, your interns, your clients.

It’s exciting! Do tell me what you’ve learned from this month!

I would LOVE to hear all about it and have a conversation with you over your experience! Email me!

@SpiceSadhaka

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Practice Makes Perfect?

If we keep practising anything – swimming, golf, running, yoga – the same way we always do, we don’t get anywhere. We merely reinforce our old habits – of breathing, activating muscles and shifting our centre of gravity around – without focusing on moving more optimally.

If your goal is to “improve your game”, some analysis can identify if you’ve unhelpful movement patterns or a lack of strength or flexibility that gets in the way of a good golf swing or running gait. From there, you can then develop your practice in the direction that strengthens around the right patterns.

Here are two video tutorials on strengthening around the right patterns, using props: plough pose and caturanga.

The important thing is, without any awareness of where you are at, it is not possible to be scientific and systematic in your practice and to reach your goals. Even if you don’t have performance goals or dreams of personal bests, remember, you risk hurting yourself in the long run when you practise unmindfully.

Mindfulness can and should apply to everything that we do. We know we can analyse and get more information about ourselves – our swimming form, heart rate, etc – with the aid of videos, sensors and interactive software today. We can also get feedback from a coach. But there is another source of self-analysis, which is yoga. A good consistent practice of yoga can open our eyes to all of ourselves, and in terms of movement, offer an awareness of how we breathe, how we maintain balance, how we engage our inner and outer muscles, and how we move when we move.

We need to cultivate the right action, not just any action. Through our self-analysis, if we realize that we are overly reliant on one muscle group, or over-compensating with another part, then action can be taken to address these imbalances. This is when mindful practice can bring us to a place of optimal movement and ease, in the long run, allowing us to continue to do the things we do and to love life!

Mindful practice makes perfect.

@SpiceSadhaka

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