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May all find the teacher within to guide oneself towards unconditional love and peace

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Asana Practice - Part One




Most of the yoga classes that we see nowadays are solely about asana practice. When people ask, "What type of yoga do you practice or teach?", but what they actually want to know is, "What style of yoga asana class that you practice or teach?" There are four main paths in yoga, like Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, but all serves the purpose of purifying and silencing the mind, to allow the mind to perceive the truth of names and forms as it is. Yoga Asana and Pranayama practice is one of the eight limbs in Raja Yoga. Though yoga asana practice is not the main practice in Yoga, it plays an important role in the aim of achieving some positive qualities to help us on the path towards self realization.


The eight Limbs of Raja Yoga -

1) Yama - Observance of right conducts
2) Niyama - Restraint of immoral conducts
3) Asana - Postures
4) Pranayama - Breath control
5) Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses from the sense objects
6) Dharana - Concentration
7) Dhyana - Meditation
8) Samadhi - Subjugation of the mind
    
If we practice yoga asana combining with all the other practices regularly with right effort and right attitude, we are preparing a strong and flexible body, and a calm and steady mind for us to be able to sit for meditation steadily. The highest meditation is formless meditation in every moment in life while standing, walking, sitting, lying, eating, talking and etc, but sitting meditation is the most important meditation posture that leads the mind into stillness, the state of Samadhi
or the state of desireless, birthless and deathless – complete silence state beyond the function of the body and mind, ceased from all forms of physical and mental activities. Through regular asana practice the body and mind will also have higher endurance or energy level to perform selfless service and other tasks in daily life. The overall quality of life will be improved. Asana practice also helps to develop stronger will-power and detachment to go beyond the impermanent function and existence of the body and mind, that allows the mind to overcome any negative and impure thoughts that arise in the mind, and have stronger self-control over our speech and actions, so that our actions and speech are not influenced by any impurities that will cause harmful consequences to ourselves and others.

Asana practice can help us to develop patience, courage, positive thinking, cheerfulness, openness, confidence, perseverance, determination, tolerance, forbearance, awareness, detachment, equanimity, willpower, self-control, self-discipline, calmness, concentration, acceptance, adjustment, adaptation, accommodation, correct understanding, right discrimination,
self-introspection, observation and being in the present moment. All these qualities help us to overcome all the impurities like anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, dissatisfaction, disappointment, feelings of hurt, guilt, pride, arrogance, agitation, depression, desires, craving and aversion, and all other forms of impurities that contribute to the restlessness and suffering in us. When the mind is no longer being influenced by any impurities, it will allow the mind to be pure and calm to see the truth of things as it is, and realize selflessness and compassion and be in peace, being free from ignorance and restlessness.
 

It is not the people or the happenings out there which we think and believe as bad and wrong that cause us unhappiness and suffering. It is the ignorance in us that make us think that it is the surrounding objects of names and forms that are disturbing us, but actually it is our egoism, anger, hatred, greed, jealousy, depression, arrogance and etc that is causing all the disturbs and restlessness in our mind.

If we have correct understanding and wisdom we will not have unhappiness. It is only when we don’t have correct understanding and wisdom that we will have unhappiness, frustration, disappointment and depression.

If we need something to make us happy or feel good about ourselves, we will be very disappointed and unhappy. We are happy and we don’t need anything to feel good about ourselves it's because we are full and content. We are what we are and we are being true. We are not this, we are not that. We are not this fragile body. We are not these emotional feelings. We are not this discontented mind. We are not this selfish ego. We are not this limited intellect.

If we have correct understanding, we will know that we are the love itself. We don't need to look for love and attention. If we know this, we don't feel any separation from everything. We don't feel loneliness even if we are alone. It's only when we don't know this, we will feel loneliness even if we are being with somebody or surrounded by many friends and people.

By training the physical body, we are training the mind as well. If we learn to withstand discomfort and difficulty in physical training, we can develop stronger mental endurance to withstand discomfort situations and overcome difficult moments in life.
We will become more patience, forgiving, accepting, loving, tolerance and open minded. We learn to respect other people who have different thinking, different cultures, different beliefs and different views from us.

We also learn to stop judging, comparing, competing and criticizing. We learn to let go expectations and rewards - the fruit of action or the benefits from the asana practice. We learn to detach from our body and the mind and not identifying with them. We learn to observe the thoughts and feelings without associating with them. We learn how to thin out our ego and minimize our cravings and aversions.

We learn to become humble but full of confidence. We learn not to be driven by praise and compliment. We also learn not to be disturbed by criticism and censure.

Above all, we learn how to overcome our fears and negativity.

Ultimately we are preparing ourselves to go beyond the mind and the body, and beyond dualities, names and forms.

Yoga practice is about controlling the mind, to have self-control over our thoughts, speech and actions, and to go beyond the body and the mind. Asana practice is just one of the tools to help us to conquer the body and the mind. It helps us to develop many divine qualities and to achieve a calm mind which will lead us to self-healing, purification, concentration and followed by clearer understanding. Eventually our well-trained and well-controlled body and mind will lead us to self-realization.

Yoga asana is like Pranayama – control of the breath, is a purification process for the energy fields in our body. It purifies and energizes the Nadis – energy channels, and it will unlock and release accumulated tensions – physically, mentally and emotionally. It also stimulates the chakras - energy centres in our body. All these energy centres are related to the body systems – the brain and the nervous system, the digestive system, the elimination system, the reproductive system, the glands and hormone system, the circulatory system and also related to the higher consciousness. It generates fresh energy and channels it for highest purpose – eventually it will help us in controlling the sexual energy and turn it into a divine energy. The greatest obstacle for many people in the path towards self-realization is the uncontrolled passionate sexual desire.

Asana practice also helps us to conserve energy in our body instead of exhaust the energy. Although we need to use some energy for us to perform the poses in asana practice but it is only a little amount of energy being consumed when we come to a stage where the poses are being performed almost effortlessly. And by having enough rest in between each asana pose, as well as the long relaxation at the end is actually bringing back lots of fresh energy into the system. All the poses are actually generating energy into the system more than exhausting energy from the system. This doesn’t mean that the energy will become too much and overflows. Our body will know how to balance up the energy and store the excess energy in the “battery” – the solar-plexus for later use, and it will channel the energy for a beneficial purpose for self-evolution.

Many people find that they are always feeling tired and exhausted even though they have enough sleep and rest, enough food intakes, and doing some exercises for health and fitness reason. It’s because all these activities actually exhaust more energy from their system than to generate energy into the system. They don’t have enough Prana through out the system even though they have been eating a lot of food (the system need to use up lots of energy to digest all these food especially if the food is not pure – meat products, processed food, full of preservatives, colourings, and other chemicals. The energy level being low is also because of the energy centres and energy channels in the body do not function properly – they are blocked and inactive.

No doubt that the physical body is a very important instrument for us to walk the path towards self realization, but the strength and flexibility of the physical body is not the essential mean for self realization. Instead the inner strength (courage, confidence, cheerfulness, perseverance and will power) and inner flexibility (acceptance, adjustment, accommodation, tolerance and forgive) are the means for us to attain self realization.

Even a person without the ability to move, to sit up, to speak, or without hands and feet still can achieve self realization without the need of any asana practice. Self realization is not limited by physical limitation – such as difficulty in sight, hearing, speech or mobility. It is all in the mind. Ignorance exists in the mind, and also dissolves in the mind.

Where is the mind? It is everywhere, inside us and outside us. When we are looking at something, the mind is out there on that object and we are not aware of what is happening inside us. When we are hearing some music, the mind is on that music. When we are observing the breath, the mind is within us on the breath. It is always very busy with the functions of the senses and the objects of the senses. Even when we are asleep, the mind is still busy constructing the dreams. Unless we went into deep sleep, then the mind is resting.

But the subconscious mind is always working. It is receiving input all the time even while we are in deep sleep or being unconscious – like being in coma, or when we are not aware of what is happening within our body and in the surrounding. The whole autonomous body system in our body functions even without us being aware of it. They are receiving inputs and sending outputs all the time without us controlling it or realizing it. The energy field in our body is constantly being affected by the energy from the surrounding every moment. All the energies are having some sorts of exchange or resistance against each other all the time without us knowing about it.

By doing proper asana and Pranayama practice will help us to have some control over the energy and redirect these energy into good use.

Merely performing a headstand or balancing on one foot without the correct understanding will not help us to remove ignorance or to attain self realization. It is just an acrobatic movement only. Maybe we can perform some unusual acrobatic movements but we will still have unhappiness, depression, frustration, discontentment, anger, hatred, jealousy and greed if we don’t have correct understanding. And all these impurities are derived from ignorance.

Practicing yoga asana without the correct understanding is nothing wrong or bad. It will still give us some benefits such as giving us a stronger and more flexible body just like doing any other physical training. It also gives us a boost of courage, confidence and some sorts of good feeling. It will also help us to have a stronger immune system and can help to prevent many physical ailments.

But most important is that if we practice yoga asana with correct understanding, it can help us to remove ignorance as well which is the main reason why we want to practice yoga in search for enlightenment in order to attain true and lasting happiness.

Mental tension and physical tension are inter-related. If we can work on releasing physical tensions by doing the stretches in asana poses will help to release mental and emotional tension too. As the same, if we have mental and emotional tension, we will be having physical tension – the body is stiffened and all the systems in our body also get tensed up. We will be having blood pressure problem, digestion problem, breathing difficulty, irregular heartbeat, constipation or diarrhea, genital related problem, skin problem and so on.

That’s why even though some people have good nutrition intakes, enough exercise and enough rest, they still have so many health related problems or feel tired and have low energy all the time, it’s because they are having so much mental and emotional tensions. All these tensions have been accumulated for so long and continue being generated and never been released. Due to these mental and emotional tensions the physical body also tenses up (especially in the joints, shoulders, neck and facial muscles).

Merely by doing some physical stretching without working on the mental and emotional level will not help much in achieving a healthy body and a happy mind. That’s why yoga practice emphasizes on dealing with the mind to help solve all the other problems.

When we practice yoga asana in a relaxed manner, we are actually relaxing the body and the mind while performing some physical movements. After each session of asana practice, it will leave us feeling fresh, calm, relax and full of energy.

Actually the real relaxation and calming effect are not just coming from the last 10 to 20 minutes of final relaxation, but come from the whole complete session of initial relaxation, initial prayers and chanting of Om (purifying the impurities and vibrating the energy centres), breathing exercise or Pranayama before or/and after the asanas, performing a group of asanas with complete balance of warming up exercises, inverted pose, forward bending pose, backward bending pose, twisting, balancing pose, side bending pose and most important having enough rest in between each asana, and a non-rushing final relaxation and a short sitting contemplation at the end with a closing prayer that being chanted with great gratitude and humility. Prayers are to remind us about the divine qualities such as compassion and wisdom, and to pay respect and gratitude to all our teachers who had passed down this beautiful teaching from ancient time.

Everything (easy or difficult for us) that we do from the beginning of the session until the end of the session contribute more or less for the calming and relaxing effect of asana practice. They all are equally important for a complete and well-balanced asana practice session.

Even though sometimes we do not have enough time for a full session of practice and just doing a few poses or even just one pose, but if we do it with the right effort and attitude, we will still get the benefit of being calmed, relaxed, refreshed and re-energized.

It is the concentration of “being at the present moment” which frees us from fears and worries, unlock and release the tensions in our body and in our mind, and let us experience peacefulness and lightness after performing a certain asana, it doesn’t matter if it is forward bending or backward bending pose. No doubt that different body position will have different effect on the body and the mind, such like forward bending is soothing and calming while backward bending is energizing and stimulating, but they both render us a beneficial effect of relaxing and refreshing to the body and the mind. And so we can’t say “do more of this” and “do less of that”. All asanas are beneficial to us in different ways as long as we know how to arrange different types of poses into our regular practice so that we will get a well-balanced asana practice. We want to be calmed, fresh and energetic after asana practice, and not being dulled or being overly agitated or feeling exhausted and tired.

In all the asana poses, there is no differentiation of easy or difficult, or being indicated as beginner or advance level. The poses themselves have no standard of easy or difficult. It is our body capable of doing certain poses and incapable of doing certain poses that make us feel and think that the poses are easy or difficult. Even as a so called “beginner” comes for an asana class, or a so called “long-time practitioner” comes into the same class, they will be doing the same asanas and it depends very much on their individual’s strength, flexibility, stamina and mentality that determine how well can the person do the poses or which pose is easier or more difficult than the others. Some people are very flexible in forward bends but inflexible on backward bends while some others are the other way round (imbalanced flexibility). Some people are not flexible in both forward bends and backward bends but are very good at twisting or side bending.

And thus, we cannot have any judgment and comparison at all with anybody.

The new practitioners and the old practitioners are actually practicing the same poses (all poses should not be labeled as beginner’s poses or advance’s poses). And it is not that the one who had been practicing for a longer time will be the more advanced student and should be learning certain poses being indicated as “advanced poses” while the newly practice student is being labeled as a beginner or less advanced student and should be learning only those so called “beginner’s poses”. It is not that those who can do headstand and other complicated poses are more advanced while those who cannot do headstand and other complicated poses are less advanced. Some people can hold all the poses for a very long time but that doesn’t determine that he or she is an advance practitioner also.

It is not that people have been doing asana for a very long time, or can perform many complicated movements that require super flexibility and strength will be labeled as advance practitioner. It is their level of understanding of the philosophy, detachment and concentration that define them as advance practitioner doesn’t matter if they can or cannot perform any so called highly difficult poses.

It depends a lot on individual level of health, stamina, strength, flexibility, physical limitations, personality, and understanding of the philosophy, level of detachment and concentration for what they are able to do and whether they can do it comfortably or not. And all these are not permanent. They are changing all the time. Sometimes the pose that we used to be able to do it easily might be difficult for us now. Sometimes the pose that was difficult for us might be very easy for us now. And this will change on the next moment.

It is not the poses themselves are being easy or difficult. It is the condition of our mind and the body that is feeling easy or difficult to perform the poses at that present moment.

Like some people who have been practicing asana for a long time but due to their physical health problem they cannot perform inverted poses or find it very uncomfortable in certain poses. But this doesn’t mean that those poses are difficult, dangerous and not good.

It is the same that the difficulty level has got nothing to do with our age, our past experiences or our fears. Some older people are more flexible and stronger than some younger people. Some people with physical injuries before still can perform some poses that even healthy and fit people can’t do. Some people can’t do or not want to do certain poses due to great fear of falling down or injuring themselves. But in fact those poses are not difficult or dangerous at all.

All the poses need to be practice regularly and in a non competitive way, and then our physical limitations will start to become less restricting because the mind starts to relax due to no more judgment, competition, comparison, criticism and expectation. The body will become more flexible and strong. We will feel easier and more comfortable in each pose. Everything will become easy for us. Our confidence will become stronger and fear has become less. Those seemed like “dangerous” poses are not “dangerous” for us now. In fact they have become something “fun” and “enjoyable” thing to do.

It is okay for the people with large body structure who cannot perform certain poses due to the restriction of the physical body. They can just practice the poses that they can do especially practicing the sun salutation at their own pace will help them to render the body lighter or with the support from the teacher to go into the poses. It is the same for the people who are very inflexible. As they practice more, the body will adapt to the practice. They will gain confidence, strength and flexibility. The most important thing is yoga practice is not about to be able to performing certain poses but to gain self-confidence, self-control, understanding, positive thinking, compassion and wisdom while in the process of learning these asanas.


It doesn’t matter what poses that we do, we are doing it with full awareness and concentration, being at the present moment without judgment, criticism, comparison, competition and expectation. And we accept ourselves as we are at that present moment of what we can do and cannot do, whether we have improved or declined, and whether we feel good or not good, and not categorize the poses as easy or difficult, comfortable or not comfortable, and not generate like and dislike, craving and aversion.

We learn to stay detached from the body and the mind, not identify with them, and observe all the body sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise when we are doing the asana poses without identifying with them, let them come and let them disappear eventually. And we try to stay focus on what we are doing and on the breath as much as possible. Once we aware that the mind has wondered somewhere else on the thoughts, without feeling frustration we bring the mind focus back onto the present moment on the breathing. And keep doing this until it becomes a natural habit which doesn’t require much effort for us to stay focus at the present moment and it won’t irritates us whenever the mind wonders away again and again.

Yoga asana should be done with great humility and gratitude in a non-rushing manner. Usually a traditional complete asana session will last between one and a half hours to two and a half hours even though time or duration is not an important issue here.

It is not about doing as many asanas as possible within a class, or training the body to perform such and such poses to challenge the ability of the body for competition with others, or to show off to our friends that we can do such and such poses, or to perform on stage for some audiences to watch (showing the students how to move into a pose during teaching a class is something completely different from performing some poses on stage for entertaining purposes or to amuse other people).

It is about doing each asanas with self-awareness at the present moment, accepting ourselves as we are at the present moment of what we can do and cannot do, of whether we feel good or not good. The condition of our body and the mind is changing all the time and from moment to moment, we are not the same body and not the same mind. We cannot compare ourselves in the present moment with our past performance and experience, or relate our performance now with our future performance because our body is not in the same condition all the times.

We cannot really pre-judge or having pre-conception about ourselves of what we can do and cannot do from our past experiences or performances, even if we are being limited by some physical injuries but still it doesn’t indicate that forever we can’t do this or do that. Be very open minded and put down all our previous learning, knowledge, experience, familiarization and performance, and letting go of any expectations for the benefits from what we are doing.

The benefits will come even without us thinking about it. Just like when we try to do something, the result will come even without us having any expectations. In fact the bigger the expectation, the bigger the disappointment it will be. Tensions built up due to having great expectation.

We cannot compare ourselves with anybody as well because everyone has different type of physical body, flexibility, strength, stamina, ability, personality and understanding. Since there won’t be any comparison among ourselves and with other people, there won’t be any competition as well.

We also cannot have any judgments towards the object and the subject because of the law of nature – impermanence. Everything change from good to bad, from bad to good, from easy to difficult, from difficult to easy. Since we cannot have any judgment, there can’t be any expectation as well.

Letting go any judgment towards the poses whether they are easy or difficult for us, comfortable or discomfort for us, as well as judgment towards ourselves of whether we are good at doing the pose or not, or if we feel any good or bad feeling while doing the poses. Most of the time, lots of emotional tensions are being released when we do asana practice. We might feel bad, angry, sad and depress due to these emotional tensions come out to the surface. It is good to release these tensions and not to suppress them back into the system. What we can do is, observe these feelings, not to identify or associate with them and not to react. After some times, they will disappear into thin air. It is a good purification process.

We also learn not to be disturbed by the outside environment and the objects of our senses.
– The view of the surrounding – usually we keep the eyes closed during the asana practice. The mind is very curious trying to see what is happening outside;
– The sound of the surrounding – not to be distracted by any sound whether it is something nice or very irritating;
– The smell of the surrounding – not to be irritated by some body odour of other people or fragrances that people use, or nice smell or bad smell in the air;
– The taste – the sweat that might come into our mouth or the saliva changes due to the practice. We might feel dryness or wetness in the mouth and throat area;
– The touch – the skin in contact with the floor or our hands or feet touch some other people next to us. As well as the temperature of the surrounding – whether it is too hot or too cold;
– The thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind from time to time which is a normal character of the mind – it doesn’t like to stay focus at one object for a long time. The mind doesn’t like repetition of the same thing. It always wants something new and stimulating.

We learn to stay focus at the present moment on what we are doing and on the breathing while doing the asana practice which will make it into a habit for us to be able to stay focus on what we are doing in life. As we always said, yoga practice is not just within an asana class but it is in our life every moment in our heart.

A good asana practice will balance our energy field; generate more energy; channel the energy for a better quality of life; purify the energy; conserve the energy; strengthen our body and the immune system; increase the suppleness of the body; calming the mind; slower breathing rate and heart rate – the heart and lungs don’t need to work so hard as before. The mind is becoming clearer and sharper. Our self control over the thoughts, speech and actions is becoming stronger. The more we go deeper into the practice and manage to perform complicated asana poses, the more humble we are becoming and not being proud and arrogant of what we are capable of doing. And this will thin out the ego.

In a group class with people in different levels, is a very good place for everyone to learn to share, to be patient, to be open minded, to respect others, to adjust, to accommodate, and to tolerate and becoming selfless, compassionate and wise.

As yoga teachers, we need to have regular practice ourselves beside teaching classes. We should teach what we practice regularly and share our direct experience with the students. This is the lineage of yoga practice.

There is no meaning in teaching the students of what we read and saw from books and videos, or what we learnt from our teachers about this pose and that pose, or it is in the trend on the market now that everybody is doing such pose and such “style” of yoga but we didn’t practice them at all and have no direct experience about it.

It is like we can’t be teaching the student how to do headstand if we didn’t practice headstand at all or don’t know how to do headstand or have no confidence in headstand. If the teacher is afraid to do headstand, thinking that it is a dangerous pose and he or she might get broken neck or blood vessels might explode under great pressure or the eyes might become blind from doing headstand, then how can he or she teach headstand to the students? Certainly there are people with certain circumstances are not suitable to practice headstand, but that doesn’t determine that headstand is dangerous. What a huge ignorance.

It is like some people are allergic to fruit and vegetables and get sick after eating them, but that doesn’t determine that fruit and vegetables are bad and poisonous.

Imagine that there are some yoga teachers telling the students that they shouldn’t practice headstand because they might get broken neck; blood vessels will explode and become blind if they do headstand. What a confused “yoga industry” in the world nowadays.

If we don’t know how to do headstand and cannot teach or don’t want to teach headstand, it is absolutely nothing wrong but we shouldn’t condemn headstand is a dangerous pose or plant negativity and fear into the students’ mind about headstand is not a good idea because we are embarrassed that we ourselves don’t know how to do it or how to teach it, or fear that the students might get injury in our class and ruin our reputation.

We also should not have the idea that as a teacher we should be better than the students, or we should know all the poses, or the students should be like us or perform all the poses perfectly. There is no specific form and shape that can determine "this is a perfect pose". As long as we are doing it with correct understanding and in a non competitive way, and holding the position according to our own ability, it doesn't matter if our body is very stiff that we couldn't touch our toes or the feet couldn't touch our head from behind, it is perfectly fine.

Yoga should start with our own self, and then we can share with others.

Asana Practice - Part Two




Traditionally, except for the surya namaskar, all asana poses are being held over a period of time with deep focusing inwardly in a relaxed manner without challenging the highest ability of our physical body. And if we continue to practice for some times, the overall level of stamina, strength and flexibility of the physical body is improving from moment to moment as we keep training the body regularly. This will allow us to be able to perform some asanas that we couldn’t do at the beginning. And we will feel easier and more comfortable in each asana and can hold the asanas longer than before. The physical limitations also become less.

We will also be able to perform some other more complicated asanas without the notion of being in competition with somebody or challenging our physical ability or to show off – “look, this is what I can do”. And there is no frustration or disappointment about what we cannot do yet. There is no “failure” in yoga practice. It is just that we cannot do it at the present moment or the body and mind is not prepared enough to do certain poses. We should keep trying and keep practicing until we master the technique for performing the asanas.

The sequence of the Surya Namaskar (the sun salutation) are a continuous flow of 12 movements for the purpose of warming up the body to perform asanas after that; to improve blood circulation; to improve the cardiovascular system (stamina); to improve the suppleness of the muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments (flexibility); to maintain and improve muscles tone (strength); for detoxification; to improve concentration and to have a healthy body and mind.

That’s why sun salutation is a very good foundation practice for any new or old practitioner who wants to improve overall fitness and it allows us to be able to do all the other asana poses easily and effortlessly, which is the main goal in our asana practice – to be able to hold any asana for a long period of time comfortably and effortlessly.

In hot and humid weather, we will be sweating a little or a lot depending on individual’s body system when we practice asana especially doing the sequence of sun salutation. But whether we will be sweating or not sweating is not an issue at all in asana practice. Sweat is just a by product during the activity of the physical body or the mind – sometimes we will be sweating even when we are in stillness but the mind is very busy with fears and anxieties. Sweat glands are being stimulated when we are in fear or nervousness and there is chemical exchange in the body system, and thus sweat is produce as a waste product to bring out the toxin. Toxins in the body need to be flushed out from the body through the kidneys in the pee, through the liver in the shit, and through the skin in the sweat.

Even when we don’t feel or see the sweat on our skin in a dryer climate, sweat is still being produced during physical activities but it evaporated very fast into the air that we didn’t notice it. Anyway even if we don’t sweat much, toxins will still be flushed out from pee and shit.

That’s why it is advisable to drink plenty of water after asana practice to replenish the dehydration after physical activities and to help flush out the toxins that had been released from the practice.

Since yoga asana is a gentle form of activity, and there should be sufficient time for the body to be cooled down and return to a normal state during the final relaxation, and so there is no harm to drink water immediately after the session but not advisable to drink too hot or too cold temperature drinks. This might crash with the body system even when we didn’t do any activities.

Anyhow, it is not advisable to practice asana under hot sun and in a stuffy room or in a room that is too high temperature (such like enclosed room in a hot climate place) or too low temperature (such like air-conditioning enclosed room). The place should be airy and accessible to fresh air but not expose to strong wind and sand storm. All these conditions will be very uncomfortable for our body and our mind. It will be better if the place is secluded from noisy street and human traffic for easier concentration and relaxation. Especially while people are attending an asana class to learn how to practice yoga asana, the students need to be able to hear and see the teacher’s instructions and explanations clearly.

But at the end, in our own private practice, we are learning not to be disturbed by the surrounding of noises and activities. Of course at the beginning of our practice, we need to find a suitable and comfortable place for us to start our practice. Later on, there should be no problem for us to practice in a very disturbing environment also if we can’t find a suitable place for our own practice.

Empty stomach will be good for asana practice. Drinking water during the practice is not advisable also because it will be very uncomfortable for the body when we do inverted poses or certain poses that are compressing the stomach.

Wearing lose comfortable natural fibre clothing will be fine. We shouldn’t be looking for any particular design or branded fashion as long as we can stretch and move our limbs and the body easily.

A piece of cloth or a towel to cushion our body and to keep away from dirt on the floor is good enough for a session of asana practice. A clean and even floor will be good even though it is not a big problem with uneven floor. Like practice on the sandy beach or on a hill slope or on a grassy field. A floor full of insects crawling all over the place and on our body is not very comfortable too. Or if there is sand covering all over our face and we are breathing in lots of dust is very uncomfortable as well.

Always start with an initial relaxation for the body and the mind. Bring the awareness to the present moment focusing on the breathing. Be aware of the inhalation and the exhalation, and the movement of the abdomen when we breathe in and out. Forget the past and the future. Forget our name, status, culture, belief, responsibility and what we like and don’t like. Forget how we felt earlier, what we did, saw, talked and heard earlier. Slow down the breathing to calm down the body and the mind.

Once we are calm and relax, we can concentrate better, learn better, remember what we have learnt and the body can absorb the benefits of the exercise much better.
Do some gentle warm-up for the whole body. This can help to increase the flexibility and mobility of the muscles and joints and to minimize the risk of injury, muscles soreness and stiffness after the practice. 6 to 12 rounds of the sequence of sun salutation will be a very good warm-up. Or if we already know how to do headstand, beside being as the first basic pose, it will be a very efficient warm-up as well if we hold it for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes.

Gently and slowly move into each pose and hold it for a period of time and as long as possible comfortably according to our own ability. Observe the breathing through out the whole session. Let go any judgment, comparison, criticism, competition and expectation.

Take a rest for at least 30 to 60 seconds in between each pose. Allow the body to restored and restabilized the prana before moving into another pose. Allow the body to adjust to different body positions which affect the blood pressure differently. Especially after the inverted pose, never lift the head up or stand up immediately or suddenly. This might cause dizziness. People who have low blood pressure will easily get dizziness if changing the body position too quickly like stand up suddenly from standing forward bend or holding the standing poses like warrior pose 1 and 2 for too long. They need to move the leg muscles or lying down for helping the blood to flow back to the upper body and the head effectively.

Never rush into poses or try to do as many of poses as possible in a rushing manner and without having enough rest in between each asana.

Remember to breathe evenly through the nose in all the poses. Many people tend to hold their breath (it’s a normal reaction) while in the pose and this will create discomfort, headache and dizziness. Some people also tend to exhale through the mouth, and this will cause losing lots of Prana from the mouth.

In all the poses, besides focusing on the breath, it is very important to relax all the other muscles except the muscles that are supporting the pose. Especially the facial muscles, the jaw, the teeth are not clench tight together, the mouth, the eyes, the eyebrows, the space in between the eyebrows and the forehead. This will help to relax the mind and make the whole practice so much easier and relaxing.

Observe any sensations that we feel during the practice without identifying with them, let them come, change and disappear. We don’t need to give any value to any of these sensations (whether comfortable or uncomfortable sensation), not to label them as good or bad, not to categorize them as comfortable or uncomfortable, not to generate like and dislike, and not to react to these sensations. They are very temporary and don’t last long.

During the practice, especially at the beginning stage, we will feel discomfort here and there through out the body while doing the poses, but after the practice finished, those uncomfortable sensations will be gone. What left is a feeling of lightness in the body and calmness in the mind.

A good asana practice is not about aiming at learning complicated poses challenging the body or to perform the poses for somebody to admire, but mainly to be able to relax into each pose, stay relax while in the pose and come out from the pose relaxingly. It is the state of mind that’s matter most in our asana practice, not the ability of the physical body to perform any poses.

Finish the practice with a long relaxation pose for a minimum of 10 to 20 minutes. It has a special effect of a short but good quality rest just like being in a deep sleep for 20 minutes is better than sleeping for 10 hours but wake up feeling dull and not enough rest.


The final relaxation also acts as an cooling down for the body system which will minimize muscles soreness and stiffness after the practice - anyhow there will be minimum tensions built up if we practice the asanas in a relaxed manner and non-competitive way.

And then sit for a few moments before we get up and go back into our life. Enjoy and appreciate the silence and peacefulness that we attained during the asana practice. Be thankful and grateful that we are being given this body and mind to experience such a wonderful thing. Thank ourselves and our teacher to share this knowledge and practice with all.

Even though when the practice session had finished, we still can continue that peaceful feeling with us into our life.

Be patient and forgiving with ourselves and other people. Accept ourselves and other people as we are at this present moment.

Know that yoga asana practice is not just a physical exercise for the body, challenging our strength and flexibility, but what beyond that is the deep understanding of the philosophy of yoga, ability for us to go beyond the body and the mind, and to develop concentration.

Many people go for yoga classes to relieve tension from their body and mind. This is absolutely nothing wrong. But we need to understand where did all these tensions come from and we should learn how to stop generating tensions into the body and the mind. And then we don't need to relieve any tensions anymore. This is the meaning of yoga practice.

A good asana practice session is an alternative type of meditation. It is very meditative if it is being practice with full concentration and selflessly.

Choose a set of asana poses to be practice regularly. Only by regular practice our strength, flexibility and skill will be improved. And by mastering the basic poses (doesn’t mean that they are easy for everyone – many people find that the basic poses are quite challenging physically and mentally), we will developed the basic stamina, strength and flexibility, and we can perform any other poses easily even we haven’t done it before.

The basic poses consist of -
1) Headstand – Sirshasan
2) ShoulderstandSarvangasan
3) Plough and bridge– Halasan and Setubandhasan
4) Fish – Matsyasan
5) Sitting forward bend – Paschimottanasan
6) Cobra – Bhujangasan
7) locust/grasshopper – Salabhasan
8) Bow – Dhanurasan
9) Half spinal twist – Matsyendrasan
10) Peacock or crow – Mayoorasan or Kakasan
11) Standing forward bend – Padahastasan
12) Triangle – Trikonasan
(There are many variations originate from these basic asanas that can be practice along side with these 12 basic poses)

It doesn't matter if we are new to yoga practice or have been practicing for years, these are still the basic poses that we need to practice regularly. We can master the skill of the practice after we repeatedly practice these basic asanas regularly for years. Mental, physical and spiritual benefits will derive tremendously from performing the poses steadily and comfortably without any struggles when we master all these well-balanced basic poses.

Many people have a misconception about headstand is an advance pose, is difficult and is dangerous. They think that they need to practice some other poses for a long time then only they can start learning headstand. Or they need to practice against the wall. In fact, it is not like that at all. Some people can do the headstand against the wall for many years but couldn’t do it on an empty space for once. It’s because they haven’t conquer the fear of falling. And that is not the final goal for us to practice asana. We need to deal with the mind, mental fears and tensions. Except for those people who have osteoporosis, then they should avoid falling down in any cases.

To learn headstand, we should learn how to do tumbling – forward roll beforehand. This will help us to let go the fear of falling backward. Without the fear of falling, we can learn how to fall down relaxingly without any tension in the neck and back area. Then we will be fine doesn’t matter how many times we fall down from headstand. Instead the more we fall, the stronger our back will become. Until one day we are so firmed and balanced in the headstand and we won’t fall down anymore because we already knew how to control the muscles that are supporting the headstand.

It doesn’t matter if it will take many months or many years for us to master a pose. Time is not the issue. Being able to perform a certain pose is not an issue either. But the patience, perseverance, humility, confidence, courage, and will power are the real practice. It is because of these positive qualities that allow us to be happy in life, less anger, less frustration and disappointment.

Being a yoga teacher, we need to have love and patience to help the students to come into any pose. There was a student afraid of falling down due to lower back problem and hip fracture for many years. And I supported her to come up into half headstand for more than 3 months (in an empty space without leaning against a wall) making sure that she didn’t fall back. And slowly she was developing familiarization for being standing on her head and she learnt how to stay balance in the full headstand. Slowly she had developed confidence and after some times she doesn’t need me anymore. And now she can hold the headstand comfortably without any support or needing a wall. Her lower back problem also got relieved after practicing asana for years now. And there was no injury even when she falls backward occasionally.

That’s the greatness of asana practice. It doesn’t only change our physical body, but also change our state of mind. Our life and perspective changed if we practice yoga asana with correct understanding.

Anybody from 7 years old onwards without physical ailments like serious abnormal blood pressure problem (extreme low or high blood pressure), heart problem and have had heart surgery before, eye diseases like detached retina, glaucoma and internal eye bleeding, have had very recent eyes surgery, having ears and nose infection, have had recent cervical neck injuries, pregnant women who have never done yoga asana before, the last stage of pregnancy where the baby turns upside down, and being advised by the physician that he or she cannot perform inverted poses due to medical reason or injuries, then there shall be no problem at all for anyone who wish to learn how to perform a headstand. By doing headstand alone can give us many benefits physically, mentally and spiritually.

Practicing headstand, especially the learning process will help us to conquer our fears. When practice for some times and we can hold the pose comfortably for 5 to 15 minutes (young children below 7 years old should not hold headstand for too long due to physical structure and growing period), it can help us to adjust the abnormal spinal alignment. Many back problems are solved. It brings fresh blood and oxygen to the brains and facial area, increases our creativity, alertness, sharpness, calmness and memory. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and throat area get a revitalizing effect. All the internal organs get a resting moment especially the heart. It reverses the pulling down effect of the gravity and re-energizes all the internal organs and the supportive tissues. It helps a lot in the problem of dropped stomach and dropped womb in women. It is an overhaul effect for the entire body system. It regulates the blood circulation effectively. It helps to relieve blood stagnant in the lower limbs and relieve varicose veins. It helps us to develop many divine qualities like patience, courage, confidence, stability, and clear mind. It stimulates the Sahasrara chakra on top of the head and the Ajna chakra in between the eyebrows which will connect us with the higher consciousness and to develop wisdom.

Headstand can be a very effective warming up for the body to do other poses easily if we hold it for minimum 5 to 10 minutes.

If we have been practicing headstand regularly but during the time when we suffer serious discomfort headache, stomachache or nose blocked, are having asthmatic attack or women having very heavy menstrual flow and backache during menstruation, we should skip the practice of headstand on that day. Other than that there shall be no problem at all to practice headstand everyday even for women during pregnancy (if they have been practicing headstand) and also during menstruation if their body condition allows them to perform a headstand without getting any discomfort feelings.

Many of our female students who suffered menstruation problems like menstrual cramps, menstrual irregularity, early or delay menstruation, prolong days of menstruation and excess heavy flow, have found that yoga asana practice have helped them a lot in dealing with this problem. They continue practice asana during menstruation and even performing the inverted poses without getting any discomfort feeling to the body. And after months of practice they feedback to us saying that their problem has been eased and cured.

In my own asana practice, teaching body works for 20 years, training for sports aerobics competition and teaching yoga for the past 5 years, I have been doing jumping, hopping, running, kicking, free fall, tumbling, strength training, stretching, cart wheeling, handstand and headstand almost everyday in my life. Especially during the year when I was training for the world sports aerobics competition, I was teaching 2 to 4 hours of aerobics classes everyday and was training for 3 hours a day for the 2 minutes competition routine with lots of strength and flexibility trainings for 6 days a week. There was no rest day for me even during my menstruation period. I have no problem with menstruation at all. Until today my menstruation is always regular and comes on time. My body maintains the same energy level during menstruation. I never felt that menstruation can stop me from doing anything.

But that doesn’t mean that I am torturing my body. When my body needs to rest, I will take rest. 

When my body needs to work, I will work. We just need to know when to rest and when to work. Self discipline and self management are very important qualities for advancing in yoga practice and self evolution.

And now I have retired from teaching body work 3 years ago and focus mainly on yoga practice and giving yoga classes.

All the female students who learn body work or asana practice with me also had been practicing inverted poses or doing intensive training even during menstruation, and they didn’t encounter any problems. Instead they become stronger and healthier physically, mentally and emotionally. Many of them also had been through pregnancies and gave birth to healthy babies without any complications. Some of the children also came for the yoga classes together with their mother.

That’s why there shouldn’t be any problem for any women to continue practice during menstruation of what they have been practicing. Except for those who have physical ailments or special medical problems, then they need to practice under special guidance and instructions, and they might need to avoid doing certain poses that will contradict with their health problems or physical limitations.

Most important is that we learn how to listen to our body. We are the only person who knows well about our own body. Even doctors can’t feel how we feel. They don’t know where we feel pain unless we tell them where the pain is. We are our own best healer, best teacher and best friend. We learn to make progression slowly and patiently. We learn to know where is our limitation, and when and how can we go beyond that limitation and without injuring our body.

Beside the basic poses should be practiced regularly especially for any new practitioner, there’s many other poses that we can practice too. One of them is the wheel – Chakrasan. This pose really gives us lots of energy and strengthens our arms, shoulders, back, hips muscles and legs. It also increases our flexibility for the whole body effectively. It gives us courage and confidence. It opens up our heart and chest area. This will help us to develop openness, cheerfulness and positive thinking. It is really good for anyone who wishes to overcome low energy, stiffness, low self-esteem, depression and laziness. Same as the sun salutation sequence, it gives us the basic stamina, strength and flexibility to perform all other asanas easily.

Another recommendation is handstand against the wall. If we really wish to master most of the inverted balancing poses and arm balancing poses, this is a good exercise to start with. It gives us strong upper body strength. For people who have neck injury and cannot perform headstand, handstand is an alternative pose for them to get the similar effects as headstand. But only hold the handstand comfortably within our limits because it might create pressure in the eyes and the upper body (especially if the head is tilted backwards with the face and the eyes looking downward towards the floor). If we can keep the head hanging down without fear of falling, then there will not be much pressure or discomfort. We can’t really hold handstand for as long as headstand unless we have very strong upper body strength because handstand uses our arms and shoulders to support the body weight. In headstand, our body weight is supported by the entire spine and back muscles. When we perform the headstand correctly and the whole body stays erect there is minimum effort for us to hold the pose for as long as we can (one of my students can hold the headstand for 45 minutes). But time is not the issue. Our goal is not to achieve how many minutes of holding the headstand. Instead there shouldn't be any goals. It is to hold the headstand comfortably as long as we can in a non-competitive way WITHOUT the idea of "I want to hold the headstand for 10 minutes" and then we will come down from the headstand after 10 minutes. It is the same as performing the other poses. There is no expectation at all and no goals to be achieved. We just do it, and let things come into places naturally.
Anyway we only need to hold the headstand for minimum 5 to 10 minutes to get the benefits from it. And after the first 10 minutes is up to our ability to hold the pose for as long as possible to develop our patience, perseverance and will power.

Also some leg raises exercises (with the body lying supine and prone) are very good for developing core strength for the abdomen and lower back muscles which is the basic strength for us to hold any poses comfortably like headstand, shoulderstand and locust. Some arms and leg balancing poses also require the core strength for us to hold the poses easily and comfortably.

We need some basic strength and flexibility to be able to perform these basic poses. And by practicing these basic poses regularly will help us to develop more strength and flexibility for the whole body to do some other more complicated poses.

In order to perform most of the basic poses, merely have strength or have flexibility is not enough. We need both strength and flexibility. We need stamina to be able to hold the pose for a longer period comfortably (practice Sun Salutations for minimum 12 to 20 rounds everyday can help to develop stamina, strength and flexibility). We need patience to stay in a pose long enough for the pose to release its effect into our body and the mind. We need courage for us to break through our fear of falling, fear of pain and difficulty, fear of getting injuries and fear of unfamiliar situation. We need to know how to let go any judgment, comparison, criticism and expectation.

By practicing all these poses regularly will help us to develop all these qualities and this will help us a lot in facing difficult moments and emotional turbulences in daily life.

Like all types of physical training, we need time to make progression and to improve slowly in all asanas practice. It took me 3 years of regular practice for me to be able to perform the full locust pose.

We need to be patient and allow the body to take rest in between each practice. Without having any expectation, our body will adapt to the practice and improving in overall fitness. Then the practice will become easy and natural. And then we can move on to another higher level.

For any first timer of learning anything, we will experience discomforts and difficulties especially during the beginning stage (usually the body will get some soreness here and there a day after the session for a few days). After going through some painful moments and adaptations, and then we will reach to the comfort zone. And we will not be staying at this comfort zone forever. There are higher levels for us to move on. And we will become stronger than before not just physically but mentally and spiritually as well. Learning is never ending until the moment we are fully enlightened.

That’s why new learners should never just try a session, but to give ourselves a few months time to adapt to the physical training. Or else most of us will give up after the first trial session due to discomfort and muscles soreness after that. Some people are not use to inverted poses and might feel dizziness during and after the practice, until the body adapts to inverted poses and we don’t get dizziness anymore.

Asana Practice - Part Three





A good asana practice is actually a mind re-programming process. It is like a brain-wash but in a good and beneficial way for us to be able to recognize our true self and be happy. There are many people still attached strongly to the ego, the mind set, the thinking habits and reaction habits that had been implanted into the body and mind for a very long time. Even though many people are in search for the Truth of what is real and unreal, we are still caught up in this deep programming ignorantly.

Like many people, we are attached strongly to our name and the body, the ego and the mind, the feelings, the appearance, the family, the relationship, the job, the intellect, the culture, the knowledge, the language, the likes and dislikes, success and failure, eating and drinking pattern, and daily life routine.

In an asana class, we are learning to detach from all these names and forms. But how do we achieve that? That’s the question in lots of people. Many people understand what we need to learn in yoga but find it very difficult to apply it in life.

First we must understand that when we say detached from all these name and form, that doesn’t mean that we deny them, or make them disappear, or runaway from them, or being irresponsible towards our life, family, relationship and job. We still carry all these name and form with us and carry out our duty and responsibilities towards ourselves and our lives, but we are not attaching to any of these emotionally, mentally and spiritually. When something so called “not nice” or “not happy” is happening to these name and form, we don’t get upset or suffer. When something so called “good” or “happy” is happening to these name and form, we appreciate them and are grateful. We accept the condition of impermanence and the karmic law. We can let go when it is the time to let go. We don’t hold on to these things tightly. We don’t possess these things, not even our own body and mind. We are just being temporary with all these things. We are here being with all these name and form to learn, to experience, to enjoy, to be wise, to be selfless and to be unconditioned – be free.

When we are in an asana class, we start to let go all these name and form bit by bit. It is a very slow and long process. This will help us to develop patience which is the medicine to get rid of anger, irritation and frustration. We stop the habits of judging, comparing, competing, criticizing, and expecting. We stop the habit of the mind that like to wonder to the past and the future by practice concentration at the present moment.

We stop identify with the body and mind and go beyond the body and mind while we perform all those physical demanding exercises and complicated poses that require deep concentration and effort.

We detach from praise by not being driven by compliment and applause when we perform some complicated poses and not looking forward for others appreciation and praise. We detach from criticism and censure by not giving up in trying to perform a pose and not being disturbed by others criticism when we can’t do the poses properly or we are not perfect in our practice.

We learn that all feelings and sensations are very momentary and thus we don’t need to give any attention or value to all the feelings and sensations while we encounter some pain and discomfort while performing the poses. We learn to observe all the sensations and not identifying with them and not react to them.

We learn to let go of fears that are related to the physical body when we realize that this physical body is just an instrument for us to be here to learn and to experience. Sometime we have soreness and bruises after the practice but it will be gone after some times. And thus we stop paying too much attention onto the comfortness and appearance of the physical body. We learn to withstand pain and discomfort without feeling frustration.

We stop comparing ourselves with ourselves and with other people. We stop judging ourselves and other people. We stop criticizing ourselves and other people. We learn to do this in the class while performing the poses and it will become a natural habit for us to do it in life as well - not judging, not comparing and not criticizing.

We learn that there is no success or failure in real. It is a condition of the mind that creates the term success and failure. We found out that what matters is not the destination but the journey.

We do all the poses with full effort and confidence but without thinking of the benefits that we are going to get from it. And this will allow us to do things in life with full confidence and full effort but without any expectation. This will reduce so much tensions and the result will be much better without stress.

We built up patience, perseverance, determination, acceptance and will power while we are learning the poses. This will naturally make self control and all other disciplines so much easier.

We learn to become humble but full of confidence through the process of learning asana. There is no need for us to feel proud at what our body capable of doing because if our nervous system or muscular system breakdown, we cannot do anything with this body. It is not in our command anymore. If the eyes and ears have problems we cannot see or hear. So what is so big issue about beautiful look and ugly look, sweet sound and irritating sound? If the senses of taste and smell stop functioning, what are good taste and bad taste, what are nice smell and disgusting smell? And so, we learn not to give too much attention to all these name and form. And thus we appreciate the good thing and stop complaining about the things that we don’t like. Our craving and aversion will become less. Life is becoming easy. Heart is becoming happy.

We learn to become positive and cheerful doesn’t matter how the surrounding is. We are not being disturbed by what other people do and don’t do and how others look at us and think of us. We are what we are. We are not to be mould into what other people want us to be.

We learn to become independent and have self discipline through the practice of asana.

We make it into a natural habit to be in the present moment as much as possible effortlessly through the process of keep bringing the focus on to what we are doing and where we are now in the class.

It is a purification process and reconstructing the mind set and habits.

May we all develop positive thinking, energy, cheerfulness, humility and a strong body through asana practice for us to walk the path towards wisdom and compassion.

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About Yoga

Know thyself. There is no existence of 'I'. Everything is impermanent. Be free, be peaceful, be happy.

Om shanti

About Me

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Pantai Cenang, Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia
My husband and I run ongoing yoga retreats in Langkawi Malaysia. We teach traditional Hatha Yoga - a combination of Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathing techniques) and relaxation, that has given benefit to millions of practitioners over thousands of years. Our yoga studio is situated in Langkawi. We also run yoga retreats in Europe and India.

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