Trying harder may be the wrong approach
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?"
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.
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.
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.
Hersha Yoga is Participating in Iris Event located on Central Harbour Waterfront. Details and schedule below.
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
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.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.
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.
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).
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!
Swami Satchidananda often used to say this at his Satsangs, “Everyone wants to be a Guru. No one wants to be a disciple.” He continued to explain that if you looked under the Guru section in the phone book, there were countless listings, but if you looked under Disciple, there were none.
Today, the number of Yoga teachers has grown at a rapid rate. It takes only 4 short weeks to become a qualified Yoga teacher at the 200-hour level. Teacher training programs from accredited Yoga schools carry the standards to ensure that the programs are credible and authentic, however, Yoga is a life-long study and discipline. Something that cannot really be mastered in 200 hours. I took my 200-hour training over 10 years ago, and many other programs since then, but I am still learning.
I recently completed Sonia Sumar’s Yoga for the Special Child Basic 1 & 2 training programs. I had already completed the Basic 1 training before, but decided to take it again this year. By going back to the basics again, I confirmed to myself that there are no short-cuts to Yoga practice. Sonia even reconfirmed that students cannot learn from someone who doesn’t follow the principles that they teach. My other great teacher, Nalanie Chellaram, said, “Giving advice that one doesn’t follow oneself is a perfect recipe for evoking arguments.”
There is value in being a dedicated disciple and relearning the teachings over and over again. They become a part of you, regardless of whether you teach yoga or not. Knowledge can easily be re-assembled and regurgitated, but the hardest part of a yoga practice is the constant attention and application to it’s teachings in every aspect of your life. It’s very easy to talk the talk, but is it easy to walk the walk? How many yoga teachers have a dedicated practice and study? How many yoga teachers practice what they preach? How many yoga teachers follow the entire eight-limbed path (or even know what that is)?
Yoga is not a competition because we are all starting from different places. We are all constantly evolving. Some Yoga teachers are strict vegetarian and non-drinkers -- straight as an arrow. Some take the occasional glass of wine. Some smoke pot. Some eat meat. Does it really matter to the students? Many teachers have come to me with this question, and I tell them exactly what my Guru said to me, “Keep your practice. Practice, practice, practice. Put in the good and the bad will naturally fall away.” I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of many that I have had the opportunity to serve.
I’ve also seen first-hand the effect of a disciplined practice has on a teacher. When adversity hits, they are centered. They do not lose their cool. I’ve seen teachers that have struggled to maintain a personal practice and they get tossed about by life. There is little peace in their minds. I’ve seen teachers with a strong practice and seen how they have risen above their challenges, come off medication, fix broken relationships, heal their hearts and serve the world.
I have been lucky to have had a living Guru as my guide in my early life. When you have learned from an enlightened Master, everything else seems... well, a bit diluted. I’ve also been very lucky to study with many teachers from around the world. You can tell right away when someone lives their Yoga.
Yes, I teach yoga, but I’m not going to tell you to do something unless I’ve done it, seen the benefit, then broken the rules and fallen, then started up again and seen the difference in my body, mind, emotions and spirit. It’s what I have been doing for over 10 years. I’m not going to tell you to do it for my sake, but experiment in your own life for your own sake.
True Yoga is in the entire package... not just the asanas or the fancy names or forms. The authentic practice of Yoga doens’t really have a name. All traditions and forms are valid, provided that it remains pure, no-frills and honest -- the whole package deal -- from the roots to the tips. Is it yoga if it’s not fully practiced?
The practice is simple, but whole-hearted. In the words of Sri Swami Satchidananda, “It’s very simple. Keep your body as clean as possible, your mind as clear as possible. That’s all you need. Do it in anyway you can, in your own way. It doesn’t matter.” But practice, practice, practice. Follow all the limbs of Yoga in your life and control your mind. Don’t stop and all will be added unto you.