Four Ways To Invest In Yourself & Be Happier Because You Did

So many times in my life, I have felt that my needs come last.

Among the countless tasks I have to undertake in life, whether for my children: their school, homework, activities, rehearsals, social dramas; or running my business; or looking after my home; and staying on top of it all, I feel that there simply isn't enough time for me. 

THAT HAPPENS BECAUSE I PUT MYSELF THERE

Doing things for ourselves may seem selfish but the very act of investing in ourselves makes us happier and more confident. We actually enrich the quality of our relationships and gain respect.

Kids will soon be back at school. With a bit of quiet in the house, it's a perfect time to invest in yourself. Here are four easy ways to start:

1. Learn to Meditate

We all know that it's good for us, but how on earth can we fit it into our already busy lives and make it regular? There are so many misconceptions about meditation... not having time is one of them. 

Getting started is the most important step in understanding the mind and preparing you for an enjoyable practice. There are many tips to help you along the way. Once you do get there, you will wonder how you lived your life without it. Read more...

YES! I WANT TO INVEST IN MY MIND 😁

2. Be prepared to save a life. 

Sudden emergencies pop up at the most inconvenient times. If you are unprepared, it can be devastatingly stressful. Investing in First Aid skills may be one of the most important things you can do in your life. 

A First Aid course is a small time commitment, but provides many skills needed to handle an emergency. It's a great investment not only in yourself but for your family and community. Learn more...

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 9TH 2017

YES! I WANT TO INVEST IN A NEW SKILL 😆

 

3. Join a yoga sangha (or community of like-minded individuals) that focuses on your personal development

A community of like-minded individuals are a great way to gain knowledge, friendships and a sounding board for your life's challenges. It's especially important to be in a space where we don't feel judged for simply being human.

Integral Yoga's sangha is offering a special program where we will be combining Raja Yoga & Hatha Yoga, studying the entire Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from September 2017 to June 2018.

These classes support YAMA Foundation, which make Yoga, Arts & Meditation Accessible to communities in Hong Kong that are under-served or vulnerable. This investment in yourself actually helps others too!

YES! I WANT TO INVEST IN GOOD COMPANY 😉

 

4. Take the Yoga Teacher Training You've Always Dreamed About

If you want to go on a journey to fall in love with yourself and your life, then a yoga teacher training is definitely the best choice. Most yoga teacher trainings in Hong Kong are offered part-time so it's accessible to your work or family life.

If you're worried about your fitness or flexibility level, fear not. Integral Yoga's key prerequisite is not standing on your head, but having a sincere desire to learn about the integrated and holistic system of yoga and a regular practice of at least six months. (Here's a secret... I could barely touch my toes when I started my teacher training...) Here's what Integral Yoga can offer you...
 

YES! I WANT TO INVEST IN THE JOURNEY OF MY LIFE 😍

How To Practice Yoga as a New Mother

So many mothers have asked me how to keep up a yoga practice with a newborn baby at home. It was tricky but here are three yoga practices you can do as a new mom.

Children read their mothers like they read their favourite bedtime stories.  There’s not much you can get past them, and rightfully so.  You can think you are hiding an emotion from them, but they know that you’re not yourself, and they remind you when you’re not being your authentic self.  

I have two children and integrating them into my yogic life has been a very important goal for me. I didn't realise how difficult it was to put it into practice until I brought my babies home. I loved the experience of being in love with my infants, and at the same time, I desperately craved quiet time to practice. 

Practice 1: Pause the postures, start the Sutras

When you first come home from the hospital, your primary focus is healing and establishing a feeding routine. Mothers may have had incisions during the labour process, so asana needs to take a step back. Here is where your Raja Yoga or yoga philosophy comes in handy.

Being a mother is “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodah” in action.  (This is the second Sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.) Let me explain.  The Sanskrit means, “Restraining or slowing down the thoughts in the mind, to experience yoga.”  Motherhood requires us to stop... pause... think about what we are about to do next that will influence our children for the rest of their lives. 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a wonderful read, but to be honest, I don't think I ever had any time to read. Sri Swami Satchidananda has a very easy to understand translation, and now Integral Yoga offers an audiobook of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Practice 2: Pranayama to prevent you from heating up

Motherhood required (and still requires) me to breathe deeply and chill out.  Pranyama has been my best friend in the worst of times.  When my second child was born, I had a toddler going through her tantrum phase. Amidst the tears and tantrums, when I want to pull my hair out and throw a tantrum myself, I remembered to breathe. 

Getting steamed up is very “un-yogic,” and my children absolutely remind me of when I am being “un-yogic.”  I get bugged, but I use that as my cue to try Pranayama to calm my mind and bring my blood down from boiling point.  Sithali -- the cooling breath -- is my particular favourite as it teaches me to cool down physically and mentally.  Using the mouth position appropriate (either rolling my tongue or gently clenching my teeth) I breathe in cool air through the mouth and then slowly exhale out the nose. 

Practice 3: Short sessions only

When my newborns would nap, I would use that time to speed clean the house, throw in a load of laundry, prepare a quick and easy meal or take a shower. Other times, I would try to roll out my mat to get some practice. One of two things happened: my child would wake up or I would lay on the mat and fall asleep.

The honest truth was that at least for that moment in time, a full practice was not possible at all. I began five minute sequences that would at least set me straight. I chose to practice both when my children were sleeping and also when they were awake and needed attention. Here is a sequence for you that helps with aches in your upper back and neck.

 

Practice 4: Let go of the need to do it all and just enjoy your kids

Motherhood makes you keep your sense of humour intact.  Throughout all of it, your kids are the cutest, most wonderful things that happen to you.  I can’t even imagine what my life was like before they came into it.  Even when your whole house is covered in mess or dirt or pen marks or food or accidents... their little faces of “Oops... now what is Mom going to say,” makes me want to just cuddle them.... right after they’ve helped me to clean up their messes.

I am like my children’s favourite bedtime story. I may not be treated wtih care and am definitely not in pristine condition.  My pages are torn, corners folded, and I am never kept neatly on a shelf.  However, I’m read over and over again, and kept very close by.  It reminds me to keep my life as an open book... a funny story of how truth and love are the most important parts of being in an imperfect yet wonderful world.

Motherhood has been my best teacher.  I always have an opportunity to put the teachings of yoga into practice.

Food for Thought: When Your Disciplines Become Dangerous

For those that practice yoga as a spiritual discipline (following the Yamas & Niyamas -- yoga's moral code of ethics) there are signs that you are evolving spiritually. As we become more disciplined in our practice, there is a trap of becoming judgemental, rigid, and even neurotic.  It happens to the best of us.  

One of the neuroses that is increasing in our age of healthy living, is being obsessed with being skinny, looking perfect and eating right. 

Skinny doesn't always equal healthy

A result of a regular Hatha and Pranayama practice is a healthier, body.  The purpose of making our body healthy is actually so the body stops being a distraction for the inner practices of yoga. It requires a lot of energy to focus on the inner workings of the mind.  Unfortunately we get sucked into the media trap thinking that we need to look a certain way or perform asanas to their maximum capacity to feel worthy as a yogi. 

AFFIRMATION: My body is beautiful, healthy and strong. My body does not determine my happiness. 

Healthy eating can turn into an eating disorder

Food can becomes a major issue for some yogis and fasting or kriya detoxes can be overdone, which cause significant harm to the body. A person can slowly turn a healthy eating habit into an eating disorder, a term called Orthorexia, which is defined as: an obsession with eating foods that are considered healthy. This can develop into Orthorexia Nervosa, which a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods that they believe to be harmful. (Source: Google Dictionary)

There are definitely signs and symptoms to this neurosis which is important to list:

  • Feelings of guilt when deviating from strict diet guidelines
  • Increase in amount of time spent thinking about food
  • Regular advance planning of meals for the next day
  • Feelings of satisfaction, esteem, or spiritual fulfillment from eating “healthy”
  • Thinking critical thoughts about others who do not adhere to rigorous diets
  • Fear that eating away from home will make it impossible to comply with diet
  • Distancing from friends or family members who do not share similar views about food
  • Avoiding eating food bought or prepared by others
  • Worsening depression, mood swings or anxiety

(Source: Timerline Knolls Residential Treatment Centre)

If you or anyone you love has any of these symptoms, seek help. Peace and happiness are our ultimate goals. 

Increasingly so, I see more “yogis” causing more disruption to their peace of mind in the name of food (“I don’t eat this, and I don’t eat that), than I do regular people. I also see yogis shaming other yogis for their dietary habits. Truth is, we are all on the path towards becoming happy, healthy and peaceful human beings. Whether you eat meat or are a strict vegan, whether you still drink a glass of wine or are completely dry, we are all on our journey of evolution. 

Living Your Truth: First Step to a More Authentic Life

How to be more truthful in life

We all lie to our selves much more than we realise. For the sake of “keeping up appearances,” many of us fake our smiles when we are actually crying inside or hide behind our shield of success to protect our vulnerability. How to stop lying to ourselves?

Whether we care to admit it to ourselves or not, we all have two personalities: one in which we share with the world and one that we share with ourselves in the privacy of our minds.  In that personal space, we reveal our true selves and our true feelings.   

The personality that is harder or stronger on the outside, is usually the most sensitive and troubled on the inside.  Many times, if we are living in this type of scenario, we tend to snap at people who innocently make comments about things we do not want to hear.  We accuse them of being judgemental and create any type of excuse to make them feel bad, so that they don’t have to be right.  That’s what someone who is lying to themselves hates - for someone else to be right!  

Through a regular practice of yoga, we learn the benefits of living in truth.  The voice in our head gets louder, prompting us to make changes for the better, so we cannot ignore it. Here are some ways to stop lying to yourself.

Notice the physical signs of not living in your truth

The physical signs of this are clear: stress, disturbed breathing, and symptoms of depression or irritability. When practising yoga, we get in closer touch with our true feelings. If we have been lying to ourselves about something, we will be more aware of these signs. It may feel uncomfortable because two opposing forces are battling it out in our psyche: our higher consciousness versus our comfort in habit.  We know that we have to confront or change or let go of something that we frankly aren’t willing to do. This is why we feel stressed or depressed.

Determine what needs to change

The first time we acknowledge the need for change, it’s traumatic and hard. Frankly it's because we dread being judged for making mistakes. After all, humanity can be brutal. It's a great time to begin journalling and using yourself as a sounding board. One prayer that helped me to face challenge and change in my life is this:

 

Small, incremental changes

To begin, start small. As my beloved Guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda said, "Start with small things daily and one day you will be doing things that months before you would have thought impossible." He shares the example of cutting out sugar from your coffee or tea. If you are starting with two teaspoons a day, then for the first week, make it one and a half teaspoons. The second week make it one teaspoon. The third week, half a teaspoon and the fourth week no sugar. This helps make change easy and more permanent. 

Proceed with an open and courageous heart 

As we continue practising and making small incremental, each subsequent time, it gets easier. From the moment of our first success, we develop a sense of trust, which leads to increased confidence, which leads to fearlessness.  We become more honest with others as well, we draw healthy boundaries and rid ourselves of toxic relationships.  It’s never easy at first, but with time, it makes so much more sense and keeps our minds at peace.

How to Meditate Using a Mantra

Question: Is chanting a mantra a form of meditation? 

Answer: Repetition of a mantra is a very valid meditation technique when you use the mantra as your object of focus. It is regarded as one of the most widely used concentrative techniques. If the mind wanders, you can just bring it back to the mantra.

Known as concentrative thought forms, mantras are not mere words; they carry meaning, energy and vibrations that tune your subtle frequency in a gradual way. Sri Swami Satchidananda states that the more you repeat a mantra, the more you produce that sound vibration within you. After some time of constant repetition, you will start to feel that vibration within, which is a holding place for you to evolve and grow into heightened states of awareness.

Mantras given to you by your spiritual guide or Guru carry an extra energy charge. It’s like planting a seed which you grow and cultivate by repeating the mantra not only during meditation but also throughout your life as well. Mantra initiation is a ceremony where a Guru imparts the mantra to you but also means that you have committed to the teachings of this particular Guru and the system or lineage. 

If you haven’t been given a mantra, choose one carefully. They have different energies and different purposes. Reflection of the meaning of the mantra is an aid.

If you are not into Mantras in ancient languages, then you can substitute a mantra for a positive affirmation. Make sure it’s inspiring and something that you would like to go back to every day.

Different ways to use mantras as the object of your focus:

  • Start by saying your mantra out loud about 10-20 times. Then whisper the mantra 10-20 times. After that, say it in your mind 10-20 times, then renew for another 10-20 times over and over until you are ready to come out. 

  • Count the number of times you recite a mantra in your head. If you lose count or you catch your mind wandering, start over. The first few times, you may barely get past repeating it once before the mind goes somewhere else. Don’t lose heart. Over time you will see progress. You may actually get to repeat it twice.

  • Coordinate the mantra with your inhalation and your exhalation. Try to find a pace to repeat it that is sustainable and does not strain your breath. 

How to create your own positive affirmation:

  • Follow an expert such as Louise Hay who has books of positive affirmations linked to physical health and wellbeing. Choose an affirmation that resonates with you or corresponds to a physical or emotional ailment you are suffering.

  • List seven positive attributes about yourself. What do you like about yourself? Seven is often a tricky number. Many will stop at three. Write down seven things. Your affirmation can be, “I like that I am #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7.”

  • Observe the negative self-talk or judgements that you give to yourself and write down an opposite or positive statement that dissolves the negative belief.

  • Create an affirmation that you believe in. If you do not believe in them, you are not setting yourself up for success. Positive affirmations have to be real and based on yourself. You can start by saying, “I am willing to believe that…”

Receiving a mantra from a Guru or spiritual guide:

  • A Guru literally means “the remover of darkness.” A Guru is there to guide you spiritually on the path towards self-realisation. Choose a Guru carefully — make sure you resonate with the person on a soul-level. Make sure the teachings of the lineage or system are in line with your personal values. 

  • If you have found a spiritual teacher that you follow, and want to commit to following these teachings, then you can request to receive initiation from that person. It is up to the spiritual teacher to decide if you are fit to receive the mantra.

  • If you have had initiation before from another lineage, usually you are not encouraged to take another mantra initiation. Stick to the mantra that you have.

  • The benefit of initiation is for the person receiving it. The Guru or spiritual teacher does not lose anything.

Easy Meditation Techniques for Beginners

Controlling the thoughts in the mind is definitely not easy, but it’s not impossible either!  It takes practice, practice, practice... The benefits of meditation are endless, but in order to receive them, it takes commitment, dedication and most importantly patience. 

Once prepared, we are ready to begin our practice of meditation. All meditation techniques have the same goal: to focus the mind on a single point, so that the mind remains calm and still, leading the meditator to self-realization. Below are some techniques you can try:

1) Yoni Mudra

This is an exercise in withdrawing from your senses. Close your ears with your thumbs. Cover your eyes with your index fingers, then close your nostrils with your middle fingers and press your lips together with your remaining fingers. Release the middle fingers to inhale and exhale when you meditate. This helps the mind focus less on external objects and bring the focus within.

2) Tratak (Steady Gazing)

A wonderful exercise for concentrating. This involves looking at an object or point without blinking and then closing the eyes after some time and trying to visualize the object in your mind’s eye. You can focus on the nose or the space between your eyebrows. Another object of focus in a lit candle. One minute of gazing is sufficient to start and then build up to ten minutes. If the eyes feel strained, then relax.

3) Focus on the Breath

For beginners, a simple object of focus in the breath. Because the breath is moving, the mind can start to focus on different aspects of the breath. Focus on the breath also slows the breath. The breath is also connected to the mind, so as the breath slows, the mind slows and can slowly reach one-pointed concentration.

4) Repeating a Mantra or Affirmation

Mantras provide a tangible point on which to focus the mind. The Hindus also believe that when mantras are repeated in meditation, it will bring the individual to a higher state of consciousness. You can repeat your mantra out loud (by saying or chanting it), whisper or mentally. Repeating the mantra mentally is the most effective.

Never get discouraged and set realistic goals.  Try for only five minutes every morning for the first week.  Second week, try 10 minutes.  By the third week, try 15 minutes and stick to it for about a month.  You’ll soon find that you can sit for more.  Remember that your thoughts will definitely come in and distract you... many many times.  Don’t worry... whenever you remember, bring your mind back to your object of focus.  Keep doing it and you’ll get there...

Does a gentle yoga practice produce results?

A gentle yet regular practice brings profound results to body and mind.

When I was 18 years old, I discovered that I had a torque in my spine.  A small twist along the spinal column that was not anything serious or even close to being diagnosed with scoliosis. Never-the-less the torque was the cause of many a headache and stiff neck that came and went every few weeks.  I sought chiropractic therapy to help realign my spine, and while it helped immensely, I had to repeatedly go back for relief, as the pain would return again and again.  Apart from my regular visits to the chiropractor, I never paid any attention to my neck or head and simply popped a painkiller when needed.

This pattern repeated itself for about six years until I rediscovered my love for yoga and started to practice yoga on a regular basis again.  The style I was most fond of was the Integral Yoga Basic Hatha class -- a very simple and gentle, yet extremely effective, style of yoga.  Without even realising it, my headaches slowly disappeared.  After four weeks of daily hatha yoga practice, I returned to the chiropractor for my follow-up visit and to his surprise, the torque in my spine was about 65 percent less than what it was before.  When we discussed this, I of course informed him of my new practice and he told me to keep it up and then I wouldn't need to see him any more.  

So I continued my daily practice and found other parts of my body started to work better each day as well.  My menstrual cycle changed, making my periods much more manageable and lighter, and soon I was off the painkillers forever.  This whole process took a dedicated eight weeks of non-stop practice and it worked.  What's more, I lost about 5 kilos without dieting.  I was in no way straining my body... I actually took it very easy as my body was very tight and holding advanced postures was either impossible or too uncomfortable.  I adopted a very gentle therapeutic style of yoga as my personal practice, and I found that after about 6 months of this soft yet dedicated practice, I could very easily get into advanced postures with very little forcing or effort.  I found the same approach to produce similar results with my students.

Hersha Yoga Headstand.jpg

 

Benefits of a Gentle Practice

Therapeutic yoga uses a gentle form of yoga as medicine.  It is a slow, steady form of yoga... results are not immediate but long lasting.  The amount of time it takes the body to get to a certain state, it takes the same amount to reverse it. 

When I began teaching, my classes for some reason were never full of young and fit yoga practitioners, but those who suffered from physical issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, as well as recovering from surgery.  I found that the best approach of yoga was as a therapy.  My responsibility was to gently guide each individual into a comfortable posture where they could feel a stretch, but were never over tired or in pain.  Part of what I loved about the Integral Yoga Basic Hatha class was that the class comprised a standard set of 12 postures, so participants could track their progress.  

Theraputic yoga uses the gentle side of yoga as a medicine.  It's a slow, steady form of medicine. The amount of time it takes the body to be get to a certain state, it takes that same amount of time to reverse it. Results are not immediate, but when they come, it’s long lasting -- the body does not easily slip back into its old form of functioning.  Yoga as a therapy is designed for those of us who are stiff, inflexible, misaligned and diseased.  Its purpose is to make us feel better, more relaxed, more able to work with, rather than against, the body.  When the body is compromised, whether through an injury, regular wear and tear, or with disease, yoga works to reverse the conditions, provided it's practiced very gently.  Yoga therapy is a long-term practice or even a lifestyle choice and the results have a permanent effect on the body.

Yoga as a therapy requires each person to go to their comfortable limit... no forcing, no over-stretching, no straining and definitely no comparing yourself with the person next to you in a class.  As a muscle stretches, it's natural reflex is to contract to protect the muscle from tearing.  The body signals to us when to stop stretching.  Our minds are conditioned to perform and to "reach goals" so many a time, an individual would choose to ignore this signal and continue stretching.  With yoga therapy, the idea is to stop as soon as we get the signal (even if we've hardly moved a centimetre) and to relax.  Naturally, the body learns to trust that the movements and postures are not going to cause further injury and then opens up and realigns itself, slowly but surely, enhancing its function.  

Many times students would comment that they didn't sweat in the yoga class and wanted to know if they were receiving any benefit.  I simply told them to note how they felt before and after the class.  Always, the answer was that they felt more relaxed and at the same time more energised.  Over time, many of them who couldn't even touch their toes are now achieving more advanced postures with ease.  That's the beauty of yoga therapy.

Although those requiring yoga therapy may not ever perform advanced postures, the purpose is to function with ease.  My yoga master, Sri Swami Satchidananda, would always stress the importance of having a "body full of ease... not dis-ease."  He also said, "what's the use of standing on your head if you can't stand on your own two feet properly?"

Meditation Is An Investment In Yourself

So many times in my life, I have felt that my needs come last.

Among the countless tasks I have to undertake for my children: their school, homework, activities, rehearsals, dramas; as well as running my home and business, replying to emails, teaching classes and managing my non-profit, fundraising, networking, spending quality time with my partner, and staying on top of the marketing, blog and accounts, I feel that there simply isn't enough time for me. 

In comes meditation. 

I've been meditating formally since my Integral Yoga teacher training program in 2002. It has changed my life completely. Ironically, I found it much easier to do in an ashram environment. Keeping it up in my current life has been a challenge. I have had to get creative and guess what? I found some ways that works not only for me, but for many of my students as well.

The key is to manage your expectations about what meditation has to offer you. 

What I know from experience is that meditation does not give you instant gratification. It's a long-term process that you commit to no matter how busy your day is going to be or how tired you are at the end of it. It's like a daily investment into yourself that gives you compounded interest over time. Even a small amount invested is still an investment.

I'm not an expert like the Dalai Lama or even close to being like my Guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda. I am however very practical, real and as normal as you can get. I know that the information out there can be overwhelming and sometimes confusing. So if you decide to invest in yourself, my next few blogs will share basic tools and resources you need to get started. Let's begin with learning exactly what meditation is.

Definitions of Meditation by Great Masters

Meditation is total focus of the mind, one-pointedness. Meditation starts with concentration. Meditation actually begins when the mind is well-focused and it learns to become totally still. Don’t think that only when you close your eyes, you are meditating. Anything that you do with total attention is meditation.
— Yoga Master Sri Swami Satchidananda
Meditation is the process whereby we gain control over the mind and guide it in a more virtuous direction. Meditation may be thought of as a technique by which we diminish the force of old thought habits and develop new ones.
— His Holiness Dalai Lama

A Summarised Definition of Meditation

Meditation is a process of concentrating and stilling the mind. Our minds work constantly. The process is a gradual learning to intercept our habitual thinking process and allowing space for the mind to pause. This leads to a heightened state of awareness. 

Meditation means turning our awareness within. Most of our lives are focused on what goes on around us: responsibilities, relationships, etc. Meditation is a process of observing what goes on in the mind. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but with regular practice, we can see what we think about all the time, whether it’s helpful or harmful, and we can decide what to do about it.

Meditation is not linked to a religion although many religions teach it. It’s a contemplative practice that is used by Buddhists, Hindus, Yogis and many other religions, as well as atheists and agnostics. Each style or tradition come with their own set of meditation techniques. Finding one that suits you is key to enjoying the practice.

If you want to learn more about starting a meditation practice from scratch, 


LIVE TRAINING

 

SEPTEMBER 5 & 12, 2017

Platform Events Space,

1/F Connaught Rd West,

Sai Ying Pun

A Gentle Yet Regular Yoga Practice Bring Profound Results.

When I was 18 years old, I discovered that I had a torque in my spine.  A small twist along the spinal column that was not anything serious or even close to being diagnosed with scoliosis. Never-the-less the torque was the cause of many a headache and stiff neck that came and went every few weeks.  I sought chiropractic therapy to help realign my spine, and while it helped immensely, I had to repeatedly go back for relief, as the pain would return again and again.  Apart from my regular visits to the chiropractor, I never paid any attention to my neck or head and simply popped a painkiller when needed.

This pattern repeated itself for about six years until I rediscovered my love for yoga and started to practice yoga on a regular basis again.  The style I was most fond of was the Integral Yoga Basic Hatha class -- a very simple and gentle, yet extremely effective, style of yoga.  Without even realising it, my headaches slowly disappeared.  After four weeks of daily hatha yoga practice, I returned to the chiropractor for my follow-up visit and to his surprise, the torque in my spine was about 65 percent less than what it was before.  When we discussed this, I of course informed him of my new practice and he told me to keep it up and then I wouldn't need to see him any more.  

So I continued my daily practice and found other parts of my body started to work better each day as well.  My menstrual cycle changed, making my periods much more manageable and lighter, and soon I was off the painkillers forever. What's more, I lost about 5 kilos without dieting.  I was in no way straining my body... I actually took it very easy as my body was very tight and holding advanced postures was either impossible or too uncomfortable.  I adopted a very gentle therapeutic style of yoga as my personal practice, and I found that after about 6 months of this soft yet dedicated practice, I could very easily get into advanced postures with very little forcing or effort.  I found the same approach to produce similar results with my students.

When I began teaching, my classes for some reason were never full of young and fit yoga practitioners, but those who suffered from physical issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, as well as recovering from surgery.  I found that the best approach of yoga was an adaptive and therapeutic style, encompassing the full practice, not just asana.  My responsibility was to gently guide each individual into a comfortable posture where they could feel a stretch, but were never over tired or in pain.  

Therapeutic styles of yoga are a slow, steady form of self-healing. Results are not immediate, but when they come, it’s long lasting -- the body does not easily slip back into its old form of functioning.  Gentle yoga works on the stiff, inflexible, misaligned and diseased.  The trick is to learn to work with, rather than against, the body.  A long-term practice is a lifestyle choice and the results have a permanent effect on the body and the mind.

When the body is compromised, whether through an injury, regular wear and tear, or with disease, the philosophy, "no pain, no pain," must be followed. Yoga as a therapy requires each person to go to their comfortable limit... no forcing, no over-stretching, no straining and definitely no comparing yourself with the person next to you in a class.  

Our minds are deeply conditioned to perform and to "reach goals" that we often miss the body's signals or natural reflexes to stop.  Yoga is about brining an experience of a pose to the body that you have, regardless of your ability or disability. When the body and mind are in harmony, there is a trusting relationship that develops, which in turn nurtures our instincts and enhances our intuition.

Many times students would comment that they didn't sweat in the yoga class and wanted to know if they were receiving any benefit.  I simply told them to note how they felt before and after the class.  Always, the answer was that they felt more relaxed and at the same time more energised.  Over time, many of them who couldn't even touch their toes are now achieving more advanced postures with ease.  That's the beauty of yoga therapy.

Although those requiring yoga therapy may not ever perform advanced postures, the purpose is to function with ease.  My yoga master, Sri Swami Satchidananda, would always stress the importance of having a "body full of ease... not dis-ease."  He also said, "what's the use of standing on your head if you can't stand on your own two feet properly?"

Hatha Yoga Teacher Training 200 hours

Integral Yoga is an authentic and fully integrated system of healing. With Integral Yoga Teacher Training you can take the course to suit your busy schedule here in Hong Kong. Not only is the course fully integrated with a  hectic schedule, but there is plenty of opportunity to attend group meetings and learn through practise. Not only do you earn confidence, but you also have the opportunity to see how the Yoga teachings can be integrated into regular life. Transform yourself!

The Yoga training is led by head trainer Hersha Chellaram, and supplemented with experts in their fields. Learn anatomy and physiology. Learn about 'breath' and how to cut through the stress response in 30 seconds.

Diet and stress is a major part of this course too, so learn how to detox your body from daily physical toxins, as well as mental toxins. Yoga can help heal the body and mind on various levels, even the emotions. You'll be surprised how effective and simple these teaching are. 

This is a must if you are looking for authentic and varied training.  The certificate is fully recognised by Yoga Alliance. 

Please contact Hersha for scheduling your interview and getting a taste of what Integral Yoga has to offer. 

Need to start meditating?

Many of us who have tried meditating for the first time have such a discouraging experience, we claim that we can’t meditate and leave it at that.  Many of us have sat down and closed our eyes and “tried not to think of anything” only to realise, guess what... we are thinking of everything!  To those, I say, “Congratulations, you’ve successfully sat through your first meditation session, and had the same experience as many of the great masters.”

What you have experienced is an increased awareness. That can only happen when you stop to sit and try to control the mind. You'll suddenly be aware of your body, your to-do list, the last argument you had, and the list is endless. This enhanced awareness is the first important step to meditating. The next step is to take out the fight.

Controlling the thoughts in the mind is definitely not easy, but it’s not impossible either.  It takes practice, practice, practice.  I’ve been meditating for about 15 years and have to say that I have good days and bad days. It's impossible to begin meditating with the attitude that you will feel calm right away. That's just unrealistic. Try riding a wild horse in a day... get where I'm heading?

The benefits of meditation are endless, but in order to receive them, it takes commitment, dedication and most importantly patience.  If you have none of those, well... then I say that it’s even more important for you to try meditating!

When starting a meditation practice, preparation is key. As the saying goes, "Every job well begun is half done." This applies to meditation as well. Below are some hints to preparing yourself to meditate:

1) Find a clean and quiet place to meditate. Either visit a meditation centre or create a place in your home quiet and free of clutter and disturbances. Finding the space isn't always an easy task, but it's important to create the space.

2) Set a regular time to meditate. You'll never find the time, so you need to make the time. Easiest to do it when you wake up and before your check your iPhone, and also just before you sleep. Again, keep the iPhone at bay unless you are using a new app that will help you with your meditation.  

3) Talk to your co-habitants about your new regime and solicit their help and encouragement. Request for respect of your newly created space and time and work together to make some ground rules. Perhaps you'll find a meditation buddy in your roommate or child.

4) Comfort is so important. If you cannot sit in Lotus position, it's fine. Sit in a comfortable and steady position that allows your spine to be tall with the head, neck and trunk aligned and relaxed. If sitting on the floor is not comfortable, you can opt to sit in a chair.

5) Regularity is key. Two minutes done regularly is so much more effective than 30 minutes done once in a while. If we have a busy season, we will likely forgo a practice if it takes 30 minutes, as we think it will save us time. But it doesn't. Actually the time you take to meditate will sharpen your brain like you wouldn't believe. So try 2 minutes at first and increase gradually. If you're up to 30 on a good day but then run into a time crunch in your life, don't skip the practice. Just decrease the time to something you're okay with.

UPCOMING MEDITATION FOR BEGINNERS COURSE

Addressing Joint Instability in Pregnancy

Qu: I've practiced yoga (vinyasa flow style) for more than 10 years and currently in my second pregnancy. My lower back and hips hurt so much after my flow class and it's hard to walk.  I had no problems in my first pregnancy at all. Any advice?

A: Congratulations on your second pregnancy. As you can imagine, not all pregnancy is created equal. Nine months of carrying a baby changes everything inside you and frankly the body is never the same afterwards. The systems that hold the body together shift and lose stability, more so second time around. 

If you have been continuing your regular flow classes as usual, you are placing added strain on the spine and pelvis. You are most likely experiencing the pain associated with joint instability. It's because the focus has been on flexibility alone. When your muscles are overstretched or the stretch happens in the ligaments, it cannot support the joints well. Misalignment occurs and any movement can then aggravate cartilage or nerves.

Many seasoned yogis who become pregnant have an intense determination to maintain their level of practice throughout their pregnancy. It's not always beneficial. Go easy on your body now and avoid further injury. Second pregnancies require additional care. 

If your are experiencing sciatic pain, focus on a gentle stretch and strengthening of the gluteus medium and the piriformis. If the discomfort is in your lower back, then focus on maintaining a neutral spine in most of your body's movements and relax the psoas muscle. Focus on Kegel exercises and belly breaths to connect to your core muscles as well.

Specialised prenatal yoga classes or workshops can educate you on the subtle shifts that happen inside the body, showing you which muscles become tight (hypertonic) and which become weak (hypotonic). A qualified prenatal teacher can introduce you to yoga movements that address the imbalances. The practice may be slower, but your body will thank you for it.

 

HEALING THE HEART WITH YOGA

From a Yogic perspective, heart disease in all its forms manifests not only on the physical level, but also on the energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual levels.  Yoga's healing qualities address heart disease in each of these layers, allowing sufferers to literally open their hearts to total health and well-being.  

 

A Yoga practice and lifestyle helps each person to become mindful of the factors that contribute to heart disease.  Yoga is certainly not a substitute for conventional medicine, and anyone considering Yoga to assist with healing from heart disease should first discuss it with a health care professional. 

 

Dr. Dean Ornish M.D. was the first medical professional to publish valid medical research demonstrating that Yoga, as a part of a holistic lifestyle program, can help prevent the progression of heart disease as well as reverse it. His research began in the mid-1980s and the results published in a number of medical journals, including, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, The American Journal of Cardiology, to name a few.  

 

They key to the program's success was its focus on the whole person, deriving many of the techniques from the teachings of Yoga.  The program consisted of empowering individuals to make comprehensive lifestyle changes, focusing on diet, stress-management, moderate exercise, smoking cessation, and psychological/emotional support.  The results showed that those who did make the changes reported lower incidences of angina (chest pain) in a short amount of time, and they were able to engage in work and other activities previously too painful to perform.  Within a month, they recorded improved blood flow to the heart, and within a year, 82 percent of participants measured improvements in blocked coronary arteries.  

 

More Yoga-based rehabilitation programs are becoming available for sufferers of heart disease.  Yoga's benefits penetrate beyond the physical body, to positively impact the energetic, emotional, psychological and intellectual layers of our beings.  These five layers or sheaths of one's being are known as the Five Koshas.  

 

The Five Koshas

Annamaya Kosha = Physical (or Food) Body

Pranamaya Kosha = Energy Body

Manomaya Kosha = Emotional Body

Vijnanamaya Kosha = Intellectual & Wisdom Body

Anandamaya Kosha = Bliss Body

 

All these layers are intrinsically connected.  The state of the Physical Body is directly influenced by what goes on with inner Koshas.  Dr. Mala Cunningham, founder and creator of the Cardiac Yoga program - one such Yoga-based rehabilitation program - explains, "From the yogic perspective, disease begins in the energetic and vibratory levels before manifesting in the physical body.  Therefore, if there are negative and harmful vibrations or thoughts in the higher levels of consciousness (i.e. the mind and emotions) then the effect will be registered and felt in the physical body."  When beginning to heal yourself from heart disease, the easiest is to start with the gross, outer-most layers and then work your way inward to the subtler layers.

 

 

The Physical Body - Annamaya Kosha

 

The Annamaya Kosha literally translated means the Body of Food and comprises our physical body of bones, muscle, internal organs and skin.  According to Yogic teachings, the quality of food we consume affects the quality of the body's cells and tissues that the food converts into.  Food is a delicious and exciting component of the modern lifestyle, and it is possible to enjoy it to its fullest without compromising on its wholesomeness.  Dr. Ornish recommends a low-fat vegetarian diet for maximum effectiveness in reversing heart disease. A plant-based diet is encouraged because it expends minimal energy for digestion and absorption, but provides the maximum amount of energy and nutrients to the body and mind.   Ornish does, however realize the challenge of this for many, and has therefore introduced a program called the Spectrum, which individuals can craft to suit their lifestyles.

 

The physical practice of Yoga postures also falls under the Annamaya Kosha.  The main focus of Yoga postures for heart patients is to reduce environmental stressors.  Most people are not even aware of their bodies until there is discomfort or pain.  When a person learns to relax, he develops awareness of the sensations and events that occur within the body.  With this awareness comes the ability to respond to the body's needs instead of habitually ignoring them.  As the practice develops, Yoga helps remove toxins and waste from the body, strengthening not only the muscles (including the heart) but the internal systems as well.  Patients who have suffered myocardial infarction (MI) or a heart attack need to start with the basics and gradually work their way up.  The following pages show a sequence of Yoga postures based on Dr. Cunningham's Cardiac Medical Yoga program.  

 

 

The Energy Body - Pranamaya Kosha

 

Just beneath our physical body is the Body of Energy, or Prana.  Prana is the vital life force (known as Qi), which is like a current that runs through our bodies, providing us with vital energy to live, breath and heal.  Prana mainly enters our being through the breath but is more than just oxygen.  While most people understand Pranayama to be breathing techniques, its true purpose is for an individual to take control of the Prana in the body and use it to assist the body in healing.  

 

Working with our breath affects how we feel both physically and mentally.  A deep breath instantly provides oxygen and Prana to our body and minds, calming and relaxing both. Our physical heart beats constantly throughout our lifetimes without resting.  The only time the heart rests is between beats.  Pranayama is a practice that slows down the rate of the heart, allowing it to rest and rejuvenate more effectively.  However, stress creates tightness in the physical body, blocking the passageways that allow this energy to flow.  In order to truly benefit from the breathing techniques, we must learn how to relax.

 

Relaxation of the body opens up the channels within the body to receive Prana.  Only through proper relaxation -- completely switching off the body and mind -- can the body regain the energy it needs.  Yoga Nidra or the Yogic sleep is a recommended daily practice that, similar to sleep, allows the body and mind to experience a completely relaxed state.  The only difference is that you remain aware during the experience.   With regular practice, you start to feel the tension melting away from the body.  As the energy flows and fills the body, the heaviness turns into lightness and relaxation thus becomes the norm for the physical body.  Actual relaxation needs to be learned and patience is required to truly experience the benefits.  

 

 

The Emotional Body - Manomaya Kosha

 

The Manomaya Kosha is the body of senses, emotions and information.  It helps us to function in our daily world but is not responsible for discriminating or analyzing.  This part of the mind is associated with the ego sense, and is usually the part of the mind that gives one thousand excuses why you shouldn't listen to cues from your physical and energy bodies.  This part of the body also receives signals from the Intellectual Wisdom Body, but many times, doesn't respond appropriately.  The result is trapped emotions or feelings, which subsequently affects the outer bodies.

 

For example, if there is a conflict between our heads and our hearts, the result is often neck pain.  The neck is the physical bridge between our thoughts and our feelings, so any congestion between the two will just cause it to jam.   In the case of heart disease, our chest and lungs can hold on to emotional grief or trauma.  Blocking the expression of the heart's energy can also cause it tighten and become diseased.

 

According to Dr. Cunningham, "Most people (including heart patients) deal with various psychological issues." Sufferers of heart disease have a lot of emotions to deal with, as with the case of those who have recovered from MI.  They must deal with their whole worlds changing, and most of their friends or family cannot understand the psychological and emotional impact that this has on a person.   She continues, "The practice of Yoga is one avenue for bringing healing back into the emotional heart as well as the physical heart.  Yoga addresses emotional and psychological issues and provides an individual with a framework for exploring and reducing tension and distress internally and externally."

 

 

The Intellectual Wisdom Body - Vijnanamaya Kosha

 

This body is the higher mind, allowing us to make decisions that are based on intelligence, discrimination and intuition, also known as the wisdom of the heart.  Nischala Devi, author of the book The Healing Path of Yoga, and pioneered the yoga programs for Dr. Ornish, says, "It is not unusual to find that when we relax the body and mind, the greater knowledge from within comes to the surface.  Some people have gotten great messages about themselves and their healing from going deep within."

 

Relaxing the mind to receive these messages takes great practice.  It is not easy to train the mind to be still.  Difficult as though it may seem, it has a profound healing effect on the whole person. Dr. Herbert Benson, Harvard medical cardiologist, who founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute, has spent over 35 years researching the effects of relaxing and stilling the mind.  The "relaxation response," as he terms it, is a physiologic response that rapidly counters the effects of the stress response (fight or flight).  The physical results include lower blood pressure, slower pulse rate, and improved sense of mental and spiritual well-being.  The entire purpose of a Yoga practice is to learn to still the mind, and elicit this relaxation response.  

The Bliss Body - Anandamaya Kosha

In this state of stillness and relaxation comes find a sense of peace and contentment.  This is where we connect with our Bliss Body.  Dr. Cunningham describes this stage as, "the final nebulous stage before consciousness merges with the 'real self' or soul.  This doesn't have anything to do with religion but with living our lives with 'soul' or meaning.  Finding a purpose for your heart gives you a sense of happiness that nourishes you as a whole person, providing unending amounts of energy.  It's the place where the deepest healing occurs.  

These techniques are not only for those who already suffer from severe heart disease, but can be practiced by those at risk for heart disease, who are not yet in need of medical intervention, as prevention is far more effective than cure.  Every human has a connection to all these layers within.  Nurturing yourself as a whole person and not ignoring the signs and signals from other parts of your being allow you to live a life of quality, health and happiness. 

Hersha Chellaram is a certified Cardiac Medical Yoga instructor and Yoga therapist.  She offers yoga workshops for sufferers of heart

CHOOSING A YOGA TEACHER TRAINING

Yoga teacher training programs are plentiful.  It seems that everyone is interested in becoming a Yoga teacher, which is a wonderful thing, because the more Yogis there are in the world, the better the world will be.  The world of Yoga is changing as more and more people are offering Yoga courses and training programs.  You can get trained online, over a weekend, with or without a Guru or tradition.  Yoga is a big business after all.  Selecting the right teacher training program can be tricky as there are many things to consider.  Here are some ideas to get you on the right track:

 

  1. 1.Yoga School & Style

If you are happily practicing a particular style or lineage of Yoga, then the simplest way is to get trained with that lineage.  Traditional Yoga institutions are tested through time and offer the most authentic quality of education.  Traditional schools are well recognized and accredited.  Trainers go through a rigorous process to be authorized by a governing body in order to offer a training program.  So you know the trainer will be a very experienced Yogi.

 

A non-tradition can be just as good.  Non-traditions can go on to become new traditions and most are accredited.  Yoga is constantly evolving.  Research the school of Yoga and its style.  If it’s something you’ve never heard of, speak to the teacher and ask difficult questions.  If possible, take classes from the teacher or speak to other teachers trained in this tradition.  Most training programs require you to have some basic knowledge in their tradition anyway.  Whatever the tradition, make sure the trainer walks his talk.  If a teacher knows his or her stuff, it is immediately apparent.

 

  1. 2.Curriculum

Checking out the curriculum beforehand is a great way to see if the Yoga Teacher Training suits your needs.  A 200-hour teacher training program is the world standard for a basic yoga teacher training.  Be wary of any fast-track training programs that promise to make you a yoga teacher in a few short days.  Also, online learning is a great way to get a good foundation, but does not suffice for face time and learning how to teach real people in real circumstances.  These programs are not accredited and not recommended.  Most studios will not hire anyone who isn’t 200-hour certified. 

 

Within the 200-hours, the majority should be on learning about the postures, modifying the postures and teaching them.  Other very important elements of the teacher training is the study of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, different types of Yoga practices beyond physical postures, Anatomy & Physiology (conventional and Yogic), Yogic Diet & Lifestyle, Meditation, Pranayama and learning how to adapt to suit an individual with limitations.  Most will emphasize a personal practice as key to becoming a good Yoga teacher.

 

  1. 3.Full-time or Part-time

YTTs can be full-time or part-time, residential or non-residential.  The benefits of a full-time residential training is that you get a complete emersion in the practice of Yoga.  Your mind is totally focused and you develop a good routine for meditation, pranayama and asana practice.  You may even get some incredible experiences or clarity of mind as a result.  However, it is intensive and you get a lot of information in a short amount of time.  Processing the learnings and integrating back into regular life can be tough afterward.

 

Part-time trainings are slower and steadier.  The material is easier to digest and you will have plenty of time to read and absorb the teachings.  However, you need to have the discipline to keep up with the assignments and personal practice.  Also, if you miss any of the sessions, you would need to find the extra time to make up the contact hours.  If the part-time training is abroad, then travel back and forth must be considered into the budget (see below).

 

  1. 4.Budget

Most prices for the YTTs are for the course only.  However some full-time trainings that are residential include room and board.  Travel expenses are not included as part of the course price and must be considered.  

 

The price for YTTs vary also.  Courses offered in a city like Hong Kong or New York will also be very different from smaller towns.  Some offered locally and in-house (especially from a non-profit or ashram) will be the cheapest (approx. HK$20,000 to HK$25000), others more expensive studios will be more expensive (ranging from HK$32,000 to HK$45,000).  

 

Of course, you may get that amazing teacher who offers it for a total bargain, but of course costs still need to be covered, which will require you to pay for additional things as you go (e.g., books, field trips, equipment, etc.)  They also add up, so keep your eye on the budget.

 

Whatever training you do choose, walk in with an open mind, ready to learn.  You will get a valuable experience.  Take what serves you and leave what doesn’t.  Good luck!