Yoga is not happiness, so what is it really?
Every Yoga teacher I know and respect says that having a daily sadhana (personal practice) is the key to continue growing both as a Yoga student and as a Yoga teacher. Especially as a teacher, a personal practice is of utmost importance. As a Yoga student, I agree and as a Yoga teacher, I fully endorse this notion.
Yet, I'm human and I'm not perfect in anyway. So I have had moments where I have strayed from my personal practice and come back to them. I used to be extremely austere with my practice (to the point of being too rigid), and then when marriage and kids happened, it went the opposite way. Then I came back to it, but with a different body, and then I strayed again because I was uninspired. Then I came back to it again.
What I thought was a short break actually ended up being a much longer break than I anticipated. How did I come to this realisation? My sadhana journal kept track. I am embarrassed to reveal that once, I had not meditated once in over three months... but I'm glad I have revealed that because I feel that many yoga teachers and students struggle with the idea of having a daily practice.
Each time I lapsed, I had feelings of shame and although I always thought about my sadhana, it was a struggle to get on the mat. I would judge myself for being a "bad" Yogi. I have had to start over many many times. I've found my new groove and I have rekindled my love for my personal practice, and here's what I learned:
Forgive yourself for being a human
If you are anything like me, (actually, if you're anything like all human beings) you get down on yourself a lot; mainly because you want to do a really good job. We all have this trait of putting ourselves down, or feeling like we aren't good enough. How can we be an authentic teacher, if we don't practice what we preach? Well... being honest about the pitfalls of your own daily practice can be a source of relief and inspiration if your students can relate to it. Instead of putting yourself on a self-proclaimed teacher pedestal, come back to earth. Love yourself in all your humanity and guess what, your students will respect you a lot for that.
Done is better than perfect
Robin Sharma, the author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari has a wonderful quote: "The smallest of actions is always better than the noblest of intentions." We have all these great ideas of how we want our practice to be, but when it comes time to execute it, we put all these blocks in the way about how it's never good enough. Instead of wasting time figuring out the perfect time, place, atmosphere, circumstance, etc... just get on your mat and do something - anything - a round of Alternate Nostril Breathing, one Sun Salutation, one OMMMMMMM.
REMEMBER THAT THE PRACTICE SERVES YOU
To me, success in Yoga is about equanimity of mind and an overall sense of wellbeing in the midst of your life. We all have different goals for physical fitness, mental clarity and stress management. Yoga practice is there to serve us in bringing us closer towards our inner peace and our personal goals. My body today has specific needs which requires I avoid certain poses, even though I know I can do them, I have to resist the temptation because it's not good for my healing to do that. If my energy is low, then my practice must suit my energy. It's no use loathing myself for not wanting an intense practice. A simple breathing practice or one-minute meditation may be all I can do today... but at least it's done, it's sincere, it's authentic.
Learn From your inner-beginner
Some students feel discouraged at the notion of having to start at the beginning again. For many years, I had the worst attitude of "I already know that..." That phrase held me back and prevented me from growing, learning and developing. Once I allowed by inner-beginner to coexist with my more experienced side, I made new discoveries about myself, found new inspiration to explore in my practice and had some epiphanies to help my students through their personal challenges. The best part was I started to have fun again. If you are going through obstacles, your students are definitely going through similar obstacles, and now you can offer them some authentic knowledge by always being a beginner.
GET OUT OF COMPARING YOURSELF
Time and experience do not determine how good of a Yoga teacher you are, and who you practice with does not make you any less of a Yoga student. Honestly, it doesn't matter if you attend a class that is taught by a yoga teacher or a trainee or a friend or a master. If a person inspires you to go within and find your zone, you're in the right place. Countless times, I've attended a practice class taught by a teacher trainee and found absolute bliss by the end of the class. No matter which class you are in, if you truly follow the guidance from a teacher, getting past your own judgemental attitude about where you "should be", and of course listening to your body, you can receive a very wonderful class that serves you in the most wonderful way.
When I first started teaching prenatal yoga, my classes were targeted to a typical happy picture pregnancy -- people who were married and planned to have a baby. I had a very enthusiastic student attend classes regularly and would always comment about how much she loved her sessions, and then one day, she stopped coming; with no explanation.
Hong Kong is a small place, so I ran into her some time afterwards and asked her how she was doing and how the rest of her pregnancy went. With tears in her eyes, she told me that she had lost the baby, which is why she stopped coming and couldn't bear to let me know because it was too painful.
Frozen and distraught at the news, I gave her a hug and told her she always had a support system with me and I invited her to my regular yoga classes. I knew it would be too painful for her to come, but I wanted to let her know she didn't have to suffer alone.
Prenatal yoga teachers often do not get to see this side of their students. When a person loses a baby, they simply stop attending the classes. The more I taught yoga, the more I learned about the personal stories of my students and it wasn't always a happy picture or a happy result.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one out of three women are subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse, usually by her own partner or boyfriend, or someone she knows. This is a startling and tragic statistic. Potentially one-third of the women in my class has a negative experience which is potentially traumatic. Pregnancy could perhaps be unexpected, unwanted or the result of a violation. This changed the way I teach prenatal yoga for good.
Today, pregnancy is not limited to a husband marries a wife and they have a family. It never was limited to that, but with our world opening up, we can now become more aware of the different types of pregnancies that exist:
- Pregnancies through IVF
- Teen pregnancies
- Pregnancies as a result of sexual abuse
- Same sex families
- Women with chronic health conditions getting pregnant
- Unplanned or unwanted babies
- Forced family planning (with very traditional cultures)
The way we teach yoga to pregnant women must shift from being more inclusive, trauma sensitive and foster a sense of community for women. If we look to our traditional child-rearing roots, women were always supported by other women, helping her through her pregnancy, delivery and postpartum period. Today, women are often isolated and unable to express their negative emotions, shame, grief. They suffer in silence and solitude.
What is the scope of practice for a prenatal yoga teacher? She may not have any counselling skills or midwifery skills, so is she stepping over her boundary? Absolutely not. A yoga teacher's duty is to establish a community, a sangha. She simply has to be a friendly, warm and safe presence for her students both in and out of class. Keeping students connected is an important way to let someone know that you care, that you acknowledge the suffering and that the sangha is always there for them no matter what.
Yoga need not be long to be effective. This sample yoga class is designed for a person in a wheelchair to help improve basic circulation. It's under 10 minutes so you the sequence is ideal for a daily practice.
Accessible Yoga Training - September 26-29, 2018
Learn how to make your yoga classes more accessible and confidently work with people who have disabilities or chronic illness. Join our upcoming Accessible Yoga Training.
Powerful Tools for Healing
Learn powerful strategies for emotional healing and resilience for anxiety, depression, PTSD, extreme stress, emotional dysregulation and negative wiring.
PART 1: Recognition of Being in a Rut
There comes a time in everyone’s life where we feel we are floating through a sea of fog. We cannot see where we are going and everything seems sort of grey, so we stay put, just waiting for the fog and that feeling of ‘blah’ to pass. We are officially in a rut. It’s an easy albeit unpleasant place to stay.
For the longest time, I didn’t even realise that I was in a rut. I work hard each and every day and during this time, I would come home from work exhausted, distracted and irritable. My children would tell me about their day but my mind was simultaneously obsessing over unnecessary thoughts so I never actually heard them.
All I wanted to do was to be left alone. I spent long periods of time just sitting in the bathroom so no one would bother me. When I was in the shared living space, I’d be stuck on my iPhone, like a hypnotised zombie just flipping through the most unnecessary content or obsessing over a silly game. Any time I was challenged about my behaviour, I would easily erupt into arguments to justify my behaviour. When you wake up in the morning already exhausted for the day ahead it might be time to pay attention.
The first step to pulling ourselves out of a rut is recognising that we are in one.
Most people do not even recognise that they are in a rut. The people around them do, but they often don’t understand it. Many family members just think we are being lazy or irritable or difficult. There are a range of symptoms that accompany this stagnant state of being, which include, but aren’t limited to:
- Dysthymia — that depressed sensation of feeling nothing, not wanting to do anything or see anyone. Even though we may function well in our job and with our friends we have an absence of joy in our lives. We often want to be alone and zone out.
- Self-doubt — questioning ourselves constantly: “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” or “What’s the point of me being here?” or “Why am I feeling this way?” or “Why am I not successful at what I’m doing?”
- Carelessness and Laziness — there is a lack of passion and emotions in the work that we do or the responsibilities that we carry out. We lack the energy and the drive to do anything interesting with our free time. We are constantly tired and unmotivated.
- Anxiety — a moderate uneasiness or a persistent nervous mood that something is wrong with us for not being good, productive or at least more connected enough, or that something is going to go terribly wrong for us and that we can never get out of it. This can at times be more extreme and paralysing.
- Negative Self-talk — this is different from giving ourselves a pep talk. This is the conversation within ourselves where we shame ourselves for feeling the way we do. The voice inside that that tell us that we are pathetic for feeling stuck or for not meeting our expectations of success. The voice compares ourselves to other people (usually through social media channels) and we become disappointed in ourselves for not reaching a certain standard of living or being popular on our feeds.
When we recognise some of these symptoms of being in a rut, our first reaction is to desperately get out of the rut, but frankly we lack the motivation and the direction to pull ourselves out. While it’s not always easy, it’s definitely possible.
Begin by starting to become present with your emotions without judging them. This is an effective way to determine whether you are in a rut. If it is helpful, journal about your feelings. This is a yogic practice of witnessing your mind — the first step in mindfulness. When you can see that you are in a rut, you then develop the power to do something about it. If you don’t recognise it, you’ll remain stuck.
The next blog post will cover the next step in getting out of that rut.
Postnatal Yoga is designed to rehabilitate and restore a woman’s body in a slow but effective manner that has permanent results. Postnatal yoga classes vary significantly, as some are for moms only, and others open for moms and babies. In the case of Mom & Baby Yoga classes, the emphasis also varies as some teachers focus mainly on the mother and others more on the baby. The emphasis usually depends on the age of the child, however my goal is for mother to be able to develop a personal practice at home, and allow her children to share in the beauty of yoga, by becoming a living example.
A good, manageable postnatal yoga program emphasises regularity. Having some time each day, however little, to focus on nurturing your own body and mind, makes an immense difference on your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
A new mother will soon know that her body needs time and training to do many of the things it did before pregnancy.
Therefore the physical practice of yoga is must be approached with awareness. The body has changed in so many ways as a result of pregnancy and the body’s major organs have shifted. The abdominal and core muscles are significantly weaker and moms tire easily. Too much strain in a yoga class and you’ll be exhausted, cranky and it will affect how you feed and respond to your baby.
In a talk that I gave at the Matilda Hospital about the benefits of Mom & Baby Yoga, one mother said that she wanted the intensity of a power yoga class, as she was keen to get her body back into shape. Every mother is different in how she feels. Some may have the energy to exercise right away, however strenuous exercise does affect the production of breast milk. After mentioning this, I asked how her feeding was going, and she admitted that her supply of breastmilk had reduced rapidly.
Physically, it is important to build strength and stamina again.
In a postnatal yoga program, we focus on moving the spine in different directions: backward, forward, laterally, inverted and twisted. Additionally, new moms need to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and the core muscles along the spine and the abdomen. A few general yoga postures are also recommended to bring balance back to the body and improve the digestive, circulatory and immune systems.
Breathwork allows mothers to manage mood and stress.
Postnatal depression is common among many women, and can deeply affect how they cope as new mothers or even second-time mothers. Yogic breathing techniques, known as Pranayama, control and regulate your energy and calm your nervous system. In the case of depression, it can lift your spirits without causing agitation.
Learning certain breathing techniques also helps to manage panic when baby cries. Many mothers have agreed that when they hear their babies cry, their heart beats a little faster and the breath is short and tense. Remembering to use deep, even breathing techniques helps mothers keep a cool head during the worst of crying spells.
Lack of sleep also affects mood.
Eastern cultures usually do not allow women to leave their homes for 40 days, having other family or community members look after their needs. This is primarily so that the new mother can adjust her rhythm of life to suit the baby, and can rest alongside baby. Mother and baby receive daily massages for a month to help them both heal. Modern lifestyles have changed the way moms recover after childbirth and it does affect how a woman feels.
Yogic relaxation practices allows mothers to rest and rejuvenate effectively. While traditional yoga classes recommend that during the state of Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep or deep relaxation), the individual should try not to fall asleep. In postnatal yoga the approach to deep relaxation is slightly different. If your baby is present, your attention will be fully on the child (as it should be), but you can lie down next to your child and listen to soft music that will help you both relax and bond. If your child is sleeping or you are away from your child, most likely you will fall into a deep slumber as your body and mind crave it desperately. Both are fine ways to practice relaxation.
The subtler practices of yoga can also be incorporated into your life as you embark on this journey.
Yoga is not solely a physical practice and many of the treasures of yoga are found in the more intellectual, emotional, moral teachings. Children will push you to your limits and you will have very high highs and low lows. You will come face to face with your fears and will have to put much of yourself on the back burner. Learning to meditate or concentrate the mind is a wonderful tool to help you embrace all the challenges that come your way.
Understanding yoga’s forgotten foundation: the Yamas & Niyamas -- a moral code for virtuous living -- allows us to realise how we raise our children, and as a result how we live our own lives. Our children will celebrate our strengths and blatantly point out our weaknesses. By understanding how to navigate through these waves, we can organically evolve to become the mothers that we always wanted to be, and so much more.
When embarking on a yoga program, you can begin with a little and take only what resonates with you. The path you choose will be a fulfilling one, allowing both you and your baby to become stronger and more flexible in body and mind, while getting closer everyday and enjoying being together now.
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...
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
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!
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...
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.