Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Pose for the Month - Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Building Pose)

Setu Bandhasana or Bridge Building pose which is the final pose in the Ashtanga Primary series before the finishing sequence is my pose for the month of September.

This pose is different from the bridge pose as your shoulders are lifted off the floor and you are supported by your head and feet.

1.Lie on your back, bend your knees slightly and bring your heels together. Rotate your thighs, placing the outer edges of your feet on the floor.
2.Press your elbows to the floor and lift up your chest, arching the spine so the top of your head touches the floor.
3.Cross your arms and place your hands on your shoulders.
4.Inhaling, extend your legs and lift your buttocks off the floor. Roll onto your forehead and gaze towards your nose. Stay in the pose for five breaths.
5.To come out of the pose, exhale and lower your hips first. Keeping your arms by the side to support your neck, gently roll your head down.
6.Turn your head left and right.

You can take Chakrasana (the backward roll) to counterbalance the neck or rock up to sitting and hop back to Chaturanga Dandasana.


If you have neck issues or are unsure of the posture, instead of crossing your arms, you can take your arms to the side, palms down. With the arms in this position, straighten your legs. This arm position assists in carrying the weight of your torso and provides greater stability. Do this version for some time to allow your neck to straighten.

You can also place your hands at a 45 degree on the floor on either side of your head, fingers pointing towards your feet. You can now carry part of the weight with your arms while you explore rolling farther towards your forehead.

Points to note

1.Do not place your feet too close to your hips as this will put too much weight on your head in the full posture. The distance will vary between individuals, depending on flexibility and leg length. If you placed your feet the correct distance from your hips your legs should be fairly straight and your hips lower than your chest.

2.When you cross your arms over your chest, move your elbows away from your chin to open the chest and throat areas.

3.Keep your hip joints extended by using your buttocks rather than your hamstrings, which easily spasm in this posture.

This pose strengthens the back muscles and neck, correcting neck alignments. The throat is opened, stretching and cleansing the esophagus and the chest is expanded which increases the capacity of the lungs. This pose also helps to increase our digestive system due to the stimulation of our third chakra - the solar plexus chakra which s located midway between the navel and the base of the sternum.

Reference: Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy by Gregor Maehle

Check out the video below where David Swenson teaches the transitions into Setu Bandhasana in the Ashtanga series.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Self-Practice II

I managed to do four days of self-practice but this morning, when I got up, I did only one round of sun salutation before folding up my mat. Maybe it was because I did not have much time to do the practice, only about 15 minutes, as I needed to prepare to go to work or I was thinking that I do not need to do the practice as I can go for a class today at Beyoga. Anyway, I could feel that my body was not into it and decided not to continue with the practice as I was not engaging my bandhas when I was doing the pose. I did not want to injure myself as I know that it is important to pace myself and not going into the poses too fast without any proper warm-up and stretching.

When doing a self-practice, it is important to work your breath (use ujjayi breathing) and activates your bandhas as the practice flows very quickly when you focus on them.

For the past three days, I had managed to do a 45-minute practice as I incorporated different poses each day that I felt my body needed. On Sunday, I did shoulder stand, (my favourite pose) as it stretches my neck and shoulders and followed-up with fish pose as my counter pose and reclining hero pose towards the end of my practice.

I did the some of poses in the Ashtanga primary series on Monday and added some lunging poses which included the kneeling crescent lunge to help strengthen my legs and open my hips as it I could feel some tightness due to lounging on my sofa all day watching TV on Sunday.

I felt a bit lazy on Tuesday, so I did restorative poses which meant lying more on my back. The poses included reclining bound angle pose, reclining big toe pose and a variation of legs up the wall pose with the legs apart into a wide "V" to stretch my inner thighs and groins.

If you would like to start your own self-practice, this article has some very good tips.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Self Practice

Beyoga will be closed for four days for the raya holidays which meant I will have to do a self-practice to continue with my daily yoga practice. This is the thought which came to my mind when I woke up this morning. So I took out my yoga mat and sat silently in easy pose for a few minutes before going into the poses. My practice consisted of doing five rounds of Sun Salutation A, two rounds of Sun Salutation B, Warrior 1 & 2, Reverse Warrior, One Legged Dogward Dog on each side, One Legged Plank on each side, some sitting and twisting poses, bridge pose and ended with Savasana. Although it was a 30 minutes practice.I felt energized when I finished the practice and I realized that I was more aware of my breathing as I was counting my breaths while holding the poses.

It felt good that I have made the effort to do the self-practice as it meant that I have done something which I have been thinking of doing. I have been reading the book “Follow Your Heart” written by Andrew Matthews and there is a chapter on “Make a Start!” It is about making a start by doing things, not thinking about them as action gets us excited and we will only get the energy and enthusiasm after we begin doing something.

I know that I will be doing the self-practice tomorrow as I have make the start to get myself motivated.

"When you care about what you do, enthusiasm carries you though"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cracked Heel, Foot Scrub and Foot Massage

For the past few days, I have been having a cracked heel on my right foot. I noticed that my heels have cracks ever since I started to wear open-toe shoes. I used to wear pumps with stockings to work and never have problem with my heels. But I could not resist wearing the open-toe sandals as I find them comfortable (and prettier) and they are better for my toes which need not be cooped inside a pair of pumps all day. However, the disadvantage of wearing sandals is that the open-backed style can caused cracked heels due to worn and weathered skin.

A regular and diligent routine (which I have not been doing, resulting in the cracked heel) of filing the skin on the heels to get rid of those dry and dead cells first before applying the moisturizing lotion would help to keep the heels in good condition. A good product to use for cracked heels is Ellgy Plus (I used it for two days and my cracked heel have healed).

A good foot care routine would also include using a foot scrub to exfoliate and soften rough and dry patches on the foot. I have been using a home-made foot scrub given to me by Lila (she made it herself) which contains sea salt and essential oils. The essential oils in the foot scrub are antiseptic and they provide a little aromatherapy while I pamper my feet.

At the Karma Yoga class yesterday, Lila gave us a nice surprise by teaching us how to give ourselves a foot massage before we went into our poses as the theme for the class was balancing. The patting, stroking and rubbing massage helped to stimulate the nerve endings in the sole of the foot and increase blood circulation. After the foot massage, I could feel the difference in my standing poses as I felt more grounded.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What to expect in a Yoga Class

I came across a blog post “11 Tips to Help You Feel at Ease at Your First Yoga Class” in The Weekly Spark newsletter from Stepfanie Romine who is a health and nutrition writer and I am reproducing some of the points from her blog which I find to very good information for new practitioners as well as seasoned practitioners.

Yoga is practiced barefoot, so be prepared. There's no need to get a pedicure for the occasion, but give your feet a quick rinse before class, especially if they've been cooped up in closed-toe shoes all day. You spend a great deal of time focusing on gripping your feet, spreading your toes and evenly distributing your weight over your entire feet. Sweaty, dirty feet stick to yoga mats, and if you have lotion or cream on your feet, you can slip. You can read my post on Clean Face and Feet for Yoga to gain some insights. Wear whatever shoes you'd like to the class, but take your shoes off before entering the yoga room. Most studios have shelves for shoes either just inside the door or in the lobby.

Comfort is important during a yoga class. You'll be spending a good deal of time bending, stretching and twisting your body, so you'll want to wear something that will stay put. You will want to avoid clothes that are so tight that they impede breathing or make it difficult to move. Shorts and loose shirts often move around and expose too much skin, while skintight running tights make it hard to move your body. Opt for cotton, lycra or sweat-absorbing microfiber fabrics. Longer sleeveless tops are a good choice, as are form-fitting pants or cropped pants. Ladies, wear a sports bra, as a regular bra will slip around too much during your practice and get those yoga tops which are padded. Read my post on What Not To Wear To A Yoga Class.

Yoga is a quiet, contemplative activity, and students are discouraged from talking throughout the class. The teacher will describe the l transition from pose to pose and offer encouragement throughout. In addition, you might hear long, complicated-sounding names like Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) and Virabhadrasana (warrior). Teachers often include the traditional Sanskrit names of poses, but most beginner classes will use the English names. In addition, you might hear the words drishti (gaze), bandhas (energy locks), asanas (poses), among other Sanskrit words. If there is a word you don't understand, feel free to ask the teacher about it after class. Or if you too shy or not sure what questions to ask, you can visit Yoga Journal website as it provides a good source of reference for everything you need to know about yoga.

A yoga class often begins with a few minutes of relaxation and meditation to prepare your mind and body for your practice. This might be in the form of deep breathing, a chant of "om" or some visualization exercises. So that you don't miss this important aspect or disturb others who are trying to focus, try to come to class about five or 10 minutes early. You can chat with the teacher, warm up with a few stretches (though you will warm up during class) and get settled on your mat. If you are late for the class, please try not to disrupt the class too much by fumbling around and try not to be so late that you can't get warmed-up before diving into the deeper poses. Some teachers do not allow latecomers to join the class if the class has already started for more than 15 minutes.

Yoga classes last between 45 and 90 minutes. Most beginner classes are shorter, while advanced classes are longer.

As with any physical activity, the breath is very important in yoga. The first time you hear people breathing during yoga, you might think that a snake is loose in the room. The traditional breath, called "ujjayi" breath, is slow and even inhales and exhales through the nose. The back of the throat is constricted slightly to create a filter for the breath and generate heat. The audible breath is used as a "moving meditation" throughout the practice. Focusing on the sound and cadence of the breath helps calm your mind, especially during more difficult poses.

When you encounter a pose that is challenging, focus on your breath and imagine breathing into the part of your body that feels discomfort. It will help you build endurance. Breathing awareness is one of the most simple ways to calm and integrate the mind and body. You can practice slow deep breathing when you are working at the computer or when you are driving (especially when you are stuck in a traffic jam), it will help to foster a relaxed and focused state of mind.

While there are a variety of different philosophies and styles of yoga, classes can be broken into two basic groups: hatha and vinyasa.

If you are attending your first yoga class it is advisable to check to see if it is a beginners class as the teacher will go through the basic postures, providing guidance for correct alignment and breathing technique.

After you have attended a few classes, you can try out the hatha class which a gentle form of yoga as there will be breaks between poses. You will return to a neutral, restorative seated or standing pose between more difficult poses.

Vinyasa means flow, which indicates that a class will have fewer resting poses. You will transition from pose to pose, with no actual rest. Each pose will be held for a certain amount of time (5-8 breaths is common) before you move on to another pose, often using a series of movements called sun salutations to transition.

If you ever need a break during the class, you can take child's pose, which is a restorative pose. Kneel on the floor, spreading your legs if need be, sit your hips onto your heels and extend your arms either overhead to stretch the length of the back or alongside the hips, to stretch across the top of the back.

Many contemporary yoga classes are accompanied by music. Some teachers might choose Sanskrit chants as their soundtrack of choice, while others might choose hits from the radio. Music is not played during more traditional yoga classes, when students are encouraged to listen to and focus on their breath.

Many teachers begin and end yoga classes with a chant, most commonly "Om." Feel free to join in the chant or listen quietly until you feel comfortable. This is another way you start to quiet and focus the mind during a yoga class.

Yoga teachers are trained to adjust students to keep them in proper alignment, help them go deeper into a pose and try out a pose they might not feel strong enough to attempt on their own. Don't be surprised if your yoga teacher is more "hands on" than other fitness instructors you've encountered. Teachers are usually pretty good at gauging a student's willingness to be assisted/touched. If you feel uncomfortable with hands-on adjustments, feel free to let your teacher know.

There are no designated water breaks during class, and traditionally students are discouraged from drinking during class as it extinguishes the "fire" you're trying to create through your breath and movement. You might notice many students never stop to take a drink and others stop to towel off and get a drink periodically. Bringing a water bottle to class is acceptable, and drink as much and as often as you need, especially during hot yoga classes.


Normally, before the start of the class, the teacher will ask if any of the practitioners has any injuries. Do let the teacher know if you have any existing or previous injuries as he or she will provide alternative poses or use yoga props to help you in the pose. Some teachers structure the class to incorporate poses to help relieve the pain as there are many yoga poses that can help to relieve muscle and joint pain and increase flexibility.

At the end of each yoga class, there is a time for rest and reflection. Teachers might lead a chant or guided meditation, and they will encourage you to relax your mind and focus your attention. It's tradition to sit in a crossed-leg position with your feet on top of the legs (lotus pose), but find a position that makes you feel comfortable.

(While you might feel like your "workout" is over, you should stick around for the final relaxation poses. If you need to leave class a few minutes early for whatever reason, notify your teacher before class and leave before Savasana begins.)

Eventually, you will make your way to your back, arms and legs resting comfortably at your sides and your palms facing up. You'll close your eyes and focus on relaxing. Try to lie still and clear your mind. This pose, called Savanasa or corpse pose, is a very important part of any yoga practice, as it allows the body to rest and rejuvenate itself. When it's time to come out of Savasana, your teacher will quietly tell you to wiggle your fingers and toes.

Make small movements, then roll onto your right side in a fetal position, keeping your eyes closed. Return to a cross-legged seated position, then listen to your teacher's final instructions.

Traditionally, the hands are brought to the heart in a prayer position, then brought between the eyebrows and finally overhead. Bow your head to the floor, keeping hands in prayer just in front of you. You'll hear your teacher say "Namaste," and you repeat it back. "Namaste" means "may the light within me honor the light within you”.

I hope the above will help to clear away some of your fears about joining a yoga class as yoga offers a lot of benefits to help you to be more healthier, happier and peaceful.

"The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind." ~ Rodney Yee

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Karma Yoga For The Back

This morning’s Karma Yoga was great as it was a back-relieving practice with Azmi. Before the start of the class, Azmi asked if any of us were suffering from back problems and shared some info about back problems such as sciatica which is a symptom of a problem with the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each lega and should be treated before it gets serious.

Before the class, I met a new practitioner who was attending her first class at Beyoga and she told me that she was having back problems. Her friend has been pestering her to try-out the yoga class and she had reluctantly agreed to come to the class today. What a coincidence that Azmi chose to do the back-relieving practice as the teachers in Beyoga normally will have a theme yoga practice for their Karma Yoga class.

Azmi told us that there are 26 poses for relieving back pain and the poses we did today included Cat-Cow pose, Downward Dog, Child's pose, Warrior 2, Trikosana (triangle), Warrior 1, Warrior 3, Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch), Plank pose , Vasisthasana (side plank), Ardha Salbhasana (half locust), Bhujangasana (cobra), Dhanurasana (bow), Supta udarakarshanasana (lying abdominal twist), Supta Padangusthasana (reclined big toe), Supta hasta padangushtasana (lying hand to toe pose), Reclining Knee-to-Chest, Jathara Parivartanasana (reclining twist), Setu Bandha (bridge) and Matsyasana (fish).

I read in the Healing Yoga book that about 80 percent of us will, at some time in our lives, experience back pain or a back-related problem. Do you know that our spine is a column of 33 boney segments called vertebrae that run from the base of our skull down to our pelvis? The column provides the central scaffolding for our body, supports our head and torso, protects our spinal cord and provides anchorage points for our ribs, muscles and ligaments. The back is an amazing piece of engineering but this very complexity makes it vulnerable to all the stresses and strains of daily life. Our lifestyle is usually the cause of back pain as bad posture, bad lifting techniques and any habitual pose that changes our back’s regulars curves can increase the pressure on our spine.

The yoga poses can help to alleviate the pain of back problem by stretching and strengthening our back when they are done regularly. Azmi told us that the bridge pose is one of the best pose for back pain as it helps to keep the spine flexible and doing the flowing bridge help to stretch the muscles of the lower back, strengthen the abdominals and massage the spine and sacrum.

Flowing Bridge and Full Bridge Pose

To begin lie on your back and get comfortable being on the floor then bend your knees and bring your feet hip distance apart and parallel to each other.

Press your shoulders into the floor and inhale as you life your hips off the floor while taking your arms overhead toward the floor behind you. Pause and then exhale as you slowly lower your hips back to the floor and your arms back to your sides. Make sure that as you lift your hips up your thighs are parallel and your knees are pointing forward, not splaying out, as this will compress your lower back.

Repeat this gentle flowing bridge movement several times working to time the movements with the flow of your breath.

When you feel ready to move to full bridge, lift your hips up and then wriggle your shoulders in toward each other, as you interlace your hands beneath your hips. Gently press the back of your head into the floor to maintain the natural curve of your neck. Think about lengthening your thighs out away from you as the inner sides of your feet root into the floor. Feel your shoulder blades drawing into your back creating a lift in your upper chest. Stay here for a few breaths, then release your hands and gently roll down one vertebra at a time.

Rest for a moment and then counter the backbend by drawing your knees into your chest and releasing.

After the class, the practitioner told me that she really enjoyed the class and she will be coming back for more classes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Healing Yoga

A few months back, I bought the book “Healing Yoga" by Stella Weller from Reader’s Digest which gives a practical approach to healing common ailments with yoga.

The book starts with an introduction to yoga and the system of hatha yoga which may be divided into five parts: asanas, pranayama, meditative practices, relaxation practices and cleansing practices.

The main part of the book is Part 2 which is the Healing Power of Yoga which is divided into sections that cover many common ailments and health problems. For each section, there are a number of recommended exercises to help bring relief and promote healing for those particular problems. There is a brief overview of each disorder including its known or probable causes and its chief signs and symptoms.

The book is a good reference as it illustrates how to do a pose and its benefits and includes details of four purification practices – Eye Splashing, Tongue Cleansing, Nasal Wash and Candle Concentration (I will be posting these practices in my blog in future) which are useful in enhancing excretory functions, help to strengthen tissues and prevent infection.

"To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear" - Buddha