Hersha was featured on the Changing the Face of Yoga Podcast where she talks about her work with YAMA Foundation and Accessible Yoga.
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.
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.
Motherhood has been my best teacher. I always have an opportunity to put the teachings of yoga into practice.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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?"