The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Many practicing Yogis have heard of the Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras (http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras.htm), which tenets are used mostly in teacher trainings. They incorporate the eight steps to attain ultimate wisdom (http://www.yogajournal.com/artic…/beginners/the-eight-limbs/.

29_Hatha Yoga PradipikaHowever there is another text less quoted: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which is said to be the oldest surviving text on Hatha Yoga. Swami Swatmarama, a disciple of Swami Goraknath, was the author of the text in the 15th century CE.

The text incorporates descriptions of asanas (postures), purifying practices (shatkarma), mudras (finger and hand positions), bandhas (locks), and pranayama (breath exercises). The purpose of Hatha Yoga is explained as the awakening of kundalini (subtle energy) to experience deep meditative absorption known as Samadhi (http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/hatha-yoga-pradipika/).

The Sun is pure energy

suryanamaskar-mantra

Malaysians will probably not understand why some Caucasians lie in the sun midday, exposing their skin to harmful UV-light. I do understand that deep yearning for the warmth of the sun having grown up in a country of four seasons, albeit they are not as romantic and confined to a certain time of the year than imagined by many Asians who never left their countries of origin.

The sun has a different role to play in a climate as hot as Malaysia, mostly to be avoided as much as possible, admittedly it yields as much energy as harmful elements, however we will all agree that without sun there is no Life.

I believe that through the practice of Asanas (postures) which are named after plants and animals – for example the tree pose, the camel, the cat pose –  we express the energy of that particular Asana within ourselves.

Thus by practicing The Sun Salute we celebrate and manifest the energy of the sun within ourselves.  The flowing movements of the body create a psycho-physical rhythm that soothes and energises body and mind simultaneously. In the classic Surya Namaskar a Mantra is being sung to each asana, stimulating the release of endorphins and balancing of mind, body and spirit. Each Yoga teacher (also in Samkkya Yoga Studio) might have their own variation of Surya Namaskar, however the benefits remain similar for all styles: improved body fitness, harmonizing of the endocrine and nerve functions and increased energy.

Yoga and the Spine

Did you know that every evening we are a little shorter, due to water loss in our inter-43_Easy twist on floorvertebral disks? During sleep the disks re-hydrate and expand again. Stretching exercises, s.a. Yoga speed up the oxygen uptake into these inter-vertebral disks (because they rely on blood-vessels from the bodies of the vertebraes), increase circulation and remove waste. And by the way, people don’t get shorter because their inter-vertebral disks flatten permanently, they get shorter due to bone-loss in the vertebraes itself!

The Course of a disease

YOGA v1.1Because I have been teaching Yoga for over 22 years and have been practicing Yoga for 30 years; therefore there often is an assumption that I am:

  1. never losing my temper
  2. am in perfect control of my life and
  3. should be in a perfect state of health

Because I have immersed myself with knowledge of holistic health and applied it on my family and myself for the past 30 years, thus there might be an assumption that

  1. I or my family members never get sick
  2. if I or my family members get sick I do have the magic bullet making them healthy immediately and
  3. I have endless amounts of energy and endurance

I wished the assumptions were all true.

The truth is, I am a human being doing my best to maintain balance in me and my family’s body and mind. We are, like everyone else exposed to countless assaults of viruses, bacteria, environmental pollution and stress.

The only difference is: I use natural methods, s.a. Yoga, exercise, nutrition, homoeopathy, Schuesslers tissue salts and therapeutic essential oils to deal with the onslaught of external factors which bring my delicate physical, mental and spiritual balance out of sync.

The course of a disease in most cases of a general infection, s.a. the flu will mostly occur as follows:

  • Incubation periodin between being infected and manifesting symptoms
  • Prodromal period – pathogen multiplies, symptoms, s.a. headache, nausea and general malaise may appear
  • Acute or invasive phasepathogen invades and damages the host tissue – fever, chills, runny nose due to body producing pyrogens (produces fever) and antibodies and reactions to toxins produced by virus or bacteria
  • Decline phaseimmune system overcomes the effects of the pathogen, symptoms subside
  • Convalescencebody starts repairing itself and regains strength

Now why bother dealing with illness – and unstable emotions the natural way? Because:

  • it aids me and my family to get over the stages faster
  • it aids me and my family to remain healthy for longer periods of time in between illnesses
  • it may help me and my family not to develop chronic conditions
  • it aids our own natural defenses
  • it aids in the detoxification process through elimination (instead of suppression)
  • it contributes to my overall sense of well-being

I and my family just went through a bout of flu. I surrendered, put up with my runny and stuffy nose, kept helping my body to get rid of toxins and today I am feeling much better. The only way not to have symptoms (e.g. in flu, runny/stuffy nose, malaise etc.) is to temporarily knock down your immune response by taking over the counter medications. That can be a choice, however in my experience the symptoms will come back in full force as soon as that medication wears off. So my choice is to take/apply therapeutic essential oils, tissue salts, rest, lots of fluid and wholesome and light nutrition. What’s yours?

A true Malaysian street cat

We’ve got these three cats. All of them are strays and two of them have these mutated bottle-brush tails. Their characters are very different. As we recently moved from a house into an apartment they had to adjust to a new environment. I felt so sorry for them as they can’t go outside as they used to. To protest their forced reallocation they promptly peed and pooed around our home to much chagrin of my husband (and me of course).IMG_20140502_214024

 The one cat discovered a new pastime of jumping from the balcony to the outside-air conditioner unit, which made my heart stop every time. One day after much searching I looked down the three floors and there he was looking up at me with his green eyes from the car park. Having “parked” himself underneath the car for most of the day I managed to retrieve him with the cat-carrier (any attempt to carry him will have you ripped to pieces). By the way he is very happy to be back home. We opened the door for him to learn to find his way up and down the stairs rather than tumbling down from the third floor. And he won’t leave!

 After our other cat continued pooing into our rooms I said enough is enough and opened the door a little longer. Now that cat is forever hungry. He has been dewormed is being fed abundantly but seems to be constantly hungry. He is not fat; the poor thing must have a fast metabolism.

 Thinking he would run for his freedom as pooing denotes protest at something or other, we thought letting him go downstairs is what he wants. After some time we went to check whether he was frolicking outside in his new found freedom,  exploring a hole (which are mostly drains in Malaysia), rubbing his body in the wet grass or perhaps even chasing a tree shrew. Guess where we found him: in the neighbours rubbish bin searching for food.

Now isn’t that a true Malaysian street cat?

The reason I practise Yoga

24_Desiree RumbaughI am googling the 10 best yoga websites http://www.elephantjournal.com and come across the as number 7 listed online yoga class http://www.yogatoday.com/ and I am thinking, gosh how can these teachers have such an amazing teaching practice? How can they afford the leisure to practice some awesome postures in the middle of nowhere in a pristine, mountainous prairie with nothing but the wind blowing around their ears? Or be part of a beautiful serene studio somewhere in America.

My assumptions go further in surely these people don’t have any kids, which is one of the reasons we live in Kuala Lumpur as it has a good choice of international schools.  Then I continue thinking of the “soundtrack” of cars passing by and the occasional honk and false car alarm which doesn’t seem to disturb any of the munching patrons of the restaurant downstairs; and the intermingled smell of typical Asian foods with my just dispersed essential oils as the smell of food wafts into the window while we move from pose to pose in the studio I teach.  The lifeline of our focus is the gigantic tree outside of the only window. That is if it doesn’t brutally get trimmed naked every couple of years. Boy do we need to practice Pratyahara or non-fascination of the senses how Donna Farhi describes it in her book Yoga, Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness (http://www.amazon.com/Donna-Farhi).

And it is because I practice and teach Yoga that I can put up with not-so-perfect circumstances in life. It has carried me for 29 years through many countries and places. All I needed was the exact space of my Yoga mat, whether it was in a hotel room in noisy New Dehli, on top of a mountain somewhere in the Himalayas, facing the ocean in New Zealand or in our house in Kuala Lumpur. Yoga gives me: joy and equanimity no matter where or how.

And by the way, my poses are not always as perfect as Desiree Rumbaughs (the pic), who happens to be one of my most inspiring and beloved teachers I was fortunate enough to have learnt from http://www.desireerumbaugh.com/.

10 Minutes on the Yoga mat

We are living a fast pace of life. A common sentence that is used on an almost daily basis is: “I don’t have time” or “I am running out of time”.

17_doing-yogaWhen I was a small child, my mother used to wash clothes by hand, dishwashers were a thing of the future. There were four of us. She took care of the whole family, preparing meals, washing dishes and clothes and clean up after us. Of course, as we grew older, we had to help, albeit grumbling…

Today we have machines for everything and yet there seems to be less and less time available. I am busy myself, although compared to my mother I live in luxurious times. I work, spend time with my children, teach, study and practice Yoga daily.

A long time ago my good friend gave me an advice that I have never forgotten. “No matter how little time you think you have, there is always time to be on the Yoga mat for at least 10 minutes a day”. Trust me; it makes a huge difference to my day.

The faces of adversity

Do I deserve a break on a public holiday? You bet I do. My idea of chilling out on a lazy day is to sleep in, go for a walk and then do Yoga, allowing it to carry me wherever I feel like it’s taking me.

m-eyes1I am just beginning to deepen my breath, when the first “distraction” arrives. She has got two big brown eyes, a cheeky smile and a little nose that can smell the makings of pop corn even after an hour has passed.  After a hearty hug and kiss I can continue my inner explorations. Then the other distraction arrives, he has got long eyelashes, a charming smile and wicked humor. Sure enough, another good morning hug and kiss and off I go. jeyes1

Just as I am taking my next deep breath the arguing starts, yet I am still focusing on myself; one pinch, one squeal, another ouch, then a cry, all that, on top of the bed, right beside where I am practicing. Ok, now I am taking another deep breath, not because I have just moved into Urdhva Dhanurasana.

Why oh why do I attract such adversity when all I want is a little peace and quietness? I can only figure that a long lineage of Yogis or God or whoever I believe in is testing my skills. After all I am teaching Yoga! So can I stay calm and relaxed in the middle of turmoil? The answer is sometimes. All I can say is, it is getting easier. If it wasn’t for Yoga I would have probably died of a heart attack already. I used to get pretty worked up about things.

Pratyahara or non-fascination of the senses and Dharana or concentration are but theoretical aspects of Ashtanga Yoga until we translate them into practice in daily life. Few of us have the luxury of meditating and practicing Yoga in calm and remote environments and herein lays the challenge.

It just happens that I also love my little adversaries mentioned above. It is so much more challenging to stay focused on your breath and being calm when you face someone or something that will have you explode.

Living life fully and stay cool (most of the time…) is the ultimate gift Yoga gave me. And….on top of it I am more healthy and energetic as well! So come my little adversaries…bring it on!

Contentment versus satisfaction

My kids are on holidays. We went to the shopping mall and bought some promised toys and there is a big smile and supreme satisfaction on their faces now. For how long that will last, I don’t know. The younger they were, the shorter the time span between this satisfaction and wanting the next thing. As they gradually (or in spurts) grow up more each year, they are learning to wait and practice being content with what they have a little longer each time.  At least I feel like doing my job as a mother teaching them delay of satisfaction. content-baby-face

This satisfaction has nothing to do with Santosha or Contentment, which is a state of being rather than a temporary state of mind when we have fulfilled yet another desire.

Perhaps we get a glimpse of what true contentment is when we watch a beautiful sunset or we see the smile on someone’s face when we have given something without even expecting a thank you in return. We can also experience it when we meditate.

Furthermore true contentment stems from a place within that cannot be shaken regardless of the circumstances around us. Being content doesn’t mean I must accept any condition of life and stop growing and evolving emotionally and spiritually. I consider it a tool of reassessment that allows me to stay centred and at peace when all is not quite how I wish it was.

Santosha is one of the 5 “wise characteristics” (Yamas) of the Patanjali Yoga. The yamas and nyamas are universal in nature and applicable to any belief system as they were codified by wise people, setting guidelines to create harmony in society and within oneself and to expand consciousness. For one of many insights of what Raja Yoga is click: Raja Yoga .

Acceptance, midlife and body-image

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mummy and Maya

mummy and Maya

It has been an interesting nine months of learning and accepting for me. I have accepted that I am not superwoman, that my body is aging, and that although I like to do it all, it is not always possible.  With it comes the realization that I am several persons at once; the yoga teacher, the mother, the wife, the office administrator and the friend. Each role I like to play to perfection however I soon realized that there is no perfection. Life is ever-changing like the cells of the body that get renewed over and over.

There are many things I miss at times. Time to be more creative,  lunches with friends, and the leisure to shop whenever everybody else is at work. However there is a newfound satisfaction of feeling more independent, of having a steady income that doesn’t fluctuate in the tides of public holidays.  As idealistic I’d like to see it, we Yoga teachers pay bills like everyone else and the increasing competition hasn’t made it easier to guarantee a steady flow of students.

So now I teach because I love to, though I’d ideally love to teach more. Being a mother and a wife has the implications of wanting to be with my family when they are around. Ultimately that’s the time everyone else wants to practice Yoga. See what I mean? Life is short. It is also very hectic in Kuala Lumpur. Half of the day I am trying to get to one place or another, although I substantially reduced mine and my children’s activities to work, school and outdoor-play.

The older I get, and I am not saying that I feel old, the more I claim respite, as my birthright. Nobody really can make me do anything that I haven’t chosen. I am tired of pretending I like something when I am not and I am tired to massage away my cellulite or tone my sagging skin. I do Yoga because it brings me to that core that gets buried under trillions of little tasks and opinions. My midlife-realization is about acceptance that life doesn’t go on forever and I might as well make the best of it.