Sunday, August 29, 2010

Yoga Adjustments for a Deeper Practice

There were only three of us in the Flow class today and the benefit of a small class is that Azmi got to observe and went round to adjust and assist each of us to go deeper into the poses. As Azmi has been my teacher since I started practicing yoga, I have learned to trust him to take my body to places where I didn’t think I could go to as I believe the teacher-student exchange during adjustments is a very important. Instead of resisting the discomfort, I have learned to use his breathing to help me to go deeper into the pose which has helped me to progress in my practice. From his adjustments I have learned to become more aware of how the body should feel in a particular pose and I will try to execute the same alignment required for the said pose the next time I do it.

Azmi adjusted me in Triangle and Half-moon pose by asking me to lean back at bit against his leg and he used one hand to stabilize my hips while the other hand pressed my shoulders slightly up towards the sky. The adjustment helped to open the heart more and with him holding my standing leg, I could pressed on it more firmly to lengthen my torso.

In Gomukhasa or Cow Face pose, I have always been able to do only one side i.e. hooking my right hand on top to my left hand at the bottom. For the other side, I would need a strap or towel. This morning with Azmi’s assistance, I managed to lace my left fingers on top to my right fingers at the bottom and could feel a deeper stretch along my shoulder joints and rotator cuffs as I lVeaned forward to hook my chin over my knee.

The other pose that I got a great adjustment was during Urdhva Dhanurasana or Wheel pose. By holding Azmi’s ankles to lift up, I could lift higher in the pose by straightening my arms more and with his hands around the sides of my torso and his palms covering my shoulder blades encouraging them to widen away from the spine, I could feel the difference in the backbend in this assisted pose as compared to doing it on my own as it gave me the extra height to open up my shoulders and chest without feeling compression in my lower back.

Each of us received Azmi's magic touch during Savasana where he gently pressed our shoulders to open the chest and gave a light massage to the neck before slightly lifted our head to lengthen and release the neck as we relax into the pose. It was a wonderful way to end a great practice.

Namaste, Cikgu Azmi.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Inspiring Yoga Teachers

This world is ready and waiting
For you to break on through.
It's time to recognize,
To realize,
You're the only one like you.
Step on up,
Step into your greatness.
Don't be afraid.
There's a place where you will rise up to;
No one else could do what you do.

(Keb Mo - Let Your Light Shine) 

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.

(Josh Groban - You Raise Me Up)

If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it
I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar

(R.Kelly - I Believe I Can Fly)

Alternate Nostril (Anulom Vilom) Breathing

I have been going to a new teacher, Amy's class in Be Yoga and she has been teaching us a breathing exercise, Alternate Nostril Breathing in some of the classes.

Alternate Nostril Breathing is an excellent technique for focusing on your mind and improving your concentration. It is a good breathing exercise to do after working your body and your breath in a sequence of poses, as you will have the energy and concentration to sit and focus on your breathing. With the poses, you are working with your body, using your breath as support while here, you are working with your breath, using your body as support. Focusing on your breath turns your attention inward and is relaxing and energizing.

1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Keep your body very still and your eyes closed.

2. Use your right hand to control your nostrils. Rest your left hand in gyan mudra by touching the tip of you thumb with the tip of your index on your left knee.

3. Gently place your thumb on your right nostril. Put the inside of your third (ring) finger on your left nostril.

4. Breathe in through your left nostril, closing your right nostril completely by pressing with your thumb. Control the flow of air coming in through your left nostril by partially closing it with your third finger.

5. When you have finished inhaling, close the left nostril completely with your third finger and breathe out through your right nostril. Partially close your right nostril with your thumb to control the flow of air.

6. Leave your thumb and finger in place and continue by breathing in through your partially closed right nostril. The left nostril should still be closed by your third finger.

7. Finally, close your right nostril and breathe out of your left nostril. This is one round of alternate nostril breathing and takes two breaths to complete.

8. Keep repeating the sequence. When you have repeated it a few times and have establised a slow, smooth inhalation and exhalation, try pausing for a second or one count after each inhalation and after each exhalation. Gradually increase the length of the pauses until they are up to four seconds long or four counts.

9. Make your breath slow, smooth and quiet. When you have finished, return to normal, relaxed breathing for a few minutes before getting up.

The way the breathing is measured is at a ratio of 1:2:4. This means if you breathe in for a count, you hold for four times as long, and breathe out for twice the amount of counts you breathed in.

If you feel dizzy or light-headed, stop for a while and continue after breathing deeply three or more times.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Yoga Poses in Daily Life

These are the poses that have been integrated into my daily life…

When I am blow drying my hair or brushing my teeth....

The tree pose or Vrksasana, is a standing pose that improves balance and concentration when practice constantly. The pose helps to strengthen your thighs, calves, ankles and back.

When I need to use a public toilet…..

The chair pose or Utkatasana is a pose that tones your leg muscles and build lower body strength.

When I need to scratch my back…..

Cow face pose or Gomukhasana opens the shoulder joint giving a wider range of motion. The full pose in the seated position opens the hips where stuck energy in the body is stored and the pose helps release that energy.

Which yoga poses have you incorporated into your daily life?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Yoga Journey

These sayings reflect my journey with Yoga during the past three years….

When I first started my yoga practice......

When I can't do headstand......

When I can't do the arm balancing poses...

When I finally manage to come up to Wheel pose...........

Now when I am doing Yoga....

Thanks to all the teachers who have been with me throughout my journey....Namaste...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mysore Class

This morning, Azmi changed our Ashtanga Led class to a Mysore-style class.   There were only four of us in the class and we started by doing five rounds of Sun Salutation A and five rounds of Sun Salutation B on our own pace.    Following that, we went into the standing and sitting poses and ended with the closing sequence of backbends, shoulder stand and head stand poses. I was glad that I could remember the sequence of the poses up to the sitting postures although today was the first Ashtanga class after one week of no Ashtanga classes due to Azmi being away.  

I found the class to be fun and full of energy as we were all trying our best to go into the poses.  It was challenging without being overwhelming.  Azmi went round assisting and adjusting us individually in the poses, helping us to go deeper in the forward bends and helping us to bind our hands in the twisting poses. 

A Mysore class is different from other yoga classes as each student learns and practices the Ashtanga poses at their own pace.  I find that a Mysore class would requires a deeper level of commitment than the other classes as we have to memorize the sequence of the poses. But I love the high energy of the class as everyone was so deeply engrossed in their poses with only the sound of our collective breathing and occasionally Azmi’s voice giving instructions for the next pose for those who were not sure of the sequence of the poses being heard in the room.   

I had a fantastic workout and I am looking forward to the next Mysore class.  I believe that a regular Mysore practice will bring my practice to a new level as it requires me to be more focused as as well as allowing space and time for my personal practice to blossom. 

"Then there are those moments that make it all worthwhile. I’m carried on my breath like a leaf on the wind: folding, arching, twisting, bending, leaping lightly from one posture to the next. My body tingles with energy; my mind is quietly absorbed in the hypnotic rhythm of practice. The poses seem strung on the breath like prayer beads on a mala; I enter each one to the best of my ability, savoring the silky stretches, the pleasurable ache of muscles taxed to their edge." -  Anne Cushman, Yoga Journal, January/February 1995

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Yesterday was the first day of the holy month of Ramadan when our Muslims friends start to fast during the day. As I was eating breakfast in the office, a Muslim colleague came in and I realize that I should refrain from eating in the office. So, during our lunch break when another colleague asked me to pack lunch for her to eat in the office as she needed to complete her work, I told her to go out for a quick lunch with me instead. Often, we think only of ourselves and are not mindful of how our actions would affect other people.

In our daily life, we can practice mindfulness in a number ways such as letting the car that is stuck behind a stalled car to come into our lane, giving our place in the queue to a mother with a crying baby and putting the garbage into the garbage room instead of leaving it on the floor outside the room.

During our yoga practice, we also need to be mindful at all times so that we are present and have focused awareness. Having focused awareness means that we are aware of a discomfort in the pose and at the same time know how to recognize and react to the pain.  Listening to our breath or doing a variation to the pose means that we are mindful.

Be mindful of the knee not hyper-extending and be mindful of the body’s weight on the arms and lifting the hips into the air to float back into plank and of the hips not collapsing lower than the shoulders. Be mindful during our transitions in and out of the pose as injuries normally happen when we disconnect from our breath, bandhas and distri (gazing point) as we rush from one pose to another.

Mindfulness means having enough space between you and your neighbor’s mat so as not to hit each other when you do your sun salutations. Mindfulness also means switching your mobile off or to silent mode before class, not stepping on a fellow yogi’s mat when you need to cross to the other side of the room and laying down in savasana (corpse pose) before leaving if you have to go before the class ends.

"Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked." -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Monday, August 9, 2010

Be Yoga Goes To Angkor Wat

Be Yoga is organizing a yoga retreat in the rustic and historic city of Siem Reap and you can experience doing yoga in the city where the majestic Angkor Wat temples are located.

The 5 days/4 nights “Chill Out, Let Go and Be Free” retreat led by Azmi Samdjaga will be held from 11 till 15 November 2010 at Royal Empire Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The retreat comprise of:

- One return flight ticket on Air Asia from KL to Siem Reap
- Airport transfer to and from the hotel to the airport
- 5-day / 4-night twin accommodation at the Royal Empire, Angkor
- Healthy breakfast
- 7 yoga classes and workshops with Azmi Samdjaga
- ONE complimentary massage

The topics in the workshops will cover:

• Arm balancing techniques
• Keeping the flow of your practice
• Inversions and its contraindications
• Keeping your practice safe

Hurry and sign up before 11 August 2010 to get the Early Bird Special Rate of RM2,488.00 (Full Price RM2,688). Closing date to book your place is 11 September 2010 and the retreat is limited to only 15 pax. Call Be Yoga at 03-77286182 for further details and enquires.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Up Close and Personal with Michelle Myhre

Last weekend I attended two workshops conducted by Michelle Myhre at Be Yoga. I found Michelle a very sincere and inspiring teacher who is very passionate about her yoga practice and teaching. I took the opportunity to ask her some questions for my blog and below are her candid answers.

How long have you been practicing yoga and what made you take up yoga and become a yoga teacher?

When I was 19 years old my grandmother and I started taking yoga classes together. Unfortunately, around that time my mother was going through her ‘born-again Christian’ phase and she forbid me to continue studying yoga. Out of respect I stopped yoga for several years. But I was always drawn to the practices.

Then about 15 years ago I found yoga again, and it gave me so much joy and peace, I immediately started taking 2 classes a day, arranging my life around yoga. It was the Iyengar style, and that’s a great foundation.

Iyengar is alignment based, and the teachers I studied with had all been to India around a dozen times each. It was intimidating. I thought I could never be a yoga teacher, but a part of me loved it so much, it was all I wanted to do. Yoga was transforming me, my sense of self and relationships were getting healthier. I was completely addicted.

When I moved to Maui I started meditating a lot, and also found Bikram yoga, which is not meditative at all, but the two balanced each other out. There is also an amazing Ashtanga community on Maui, and what happened is I became a certified Bikram teacher, which was accessible. But my personal practice was with Ashtanga master Nancy Gilgoff or at Maya Yoga, which is a form of Vinyasa that is a fusion of Iyengar and Ashtanga.

Bikram was great at that time, but I needed more. In 2003 I traveled to Austria to study with Sharon Gannon & David Life. They certified me to teach Jivamukti Yoga. Since then I’ve completed three more trainings, and to be honest, I’m planning #6, I want to learn more about Yin Yoga. Each form of yoga is beautiful, and each has taught me essential things, but the learning and growth continue.

You have a blog named “The Devil Wears Prana”. How did you come up with the name and what do you blog about?

The name of the blog, Devil Wears Prana, came from a couple of cute boys who worked for me. They were teasing me… It’s just so witty, and playful, I loved it. Also, there is this notion that yoga teachers are perfect and calm all the time. Ha!

Devil Wears Prana is a place for me to learn and share all things yoga. Sometimes it’s about alignment, or a great quote I’m reading in class, a new sequence, or style of yoga, the definition of a chant, a beautiful photo, or a posture that I’m working on. I write a lot about the experience of teaching yoga too. Teaching tips, things that have helped me. The blog reflects my journey on this path. Like me, it’s a work in progress.

You just completed a 2-day workshop at Be Yoga and have been teaching in Malacca for about six months. What do you think of the Malaysian practitioners and how are they different from your students in the United States?

How are Malaysian yogis different from US students? Good question. First, people are more alike than different. Internally we go through the same things: struggle with challenge, feel joy when we make progress, and we all want to be happy. But people in the East do have more flexibility in their hips. Everyone can bind here. In the West, binding is for the intermediate/advanced yogi’s, but here, wow, everyone is in the bind. First time students can bind.

Malayaian students are also playful. I taught a workshop “Wild Thing! The Animals Of Yoga!” The students were growling and meowing, we jumped around, wagged our tails. It was awesome, there was so much laughter and freedom. I don’t know if I could get a room full of students in SF to cut-loose like that.

What advice would you give to a yoga practitioner on how to bring his or her practice to the next level?

To take your yoga practice to the next level practice every day. Just keep showing up and see what happens. Your body will let you know when it’s ready for more. But really, the definition of yoga is “stilling the fluctuations of the mind”, it’s a practice that helps us focus and quiet down our internal chatter.

Yoga just never ceases to amaze me. It uses the body to get inside, and once in it transforms everything. To access this, you have to step onto your mat and do the work. That’s where the magic happens.

Also, it’s helpful to take a couple workshops a year, or even a teacher training (If you’re in Vancouver late Sept through Oct 2010, train with me!). Work with master teachers when you can and use what you learn in your daily yoga class. Over time you’ll see your practice transform. The more embodied you become, the deeper your practice will be. The truth is, certain aspects of the practice take years to find. It’s all about the journey.

Michelle is currently teaching  @ European Spa Yoga in Malacca until 18 August 2010, after that she will be going back to San Francisco and will be conducting a 200 Hour Yoga Alliance Certified Teacher Training in Vancouver in September 2010.   If you would like to know Michelle's schedule, you can visit her blog and at the same time, read her inspiring posts.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Diversion of The New Age Yoga

by Azmi Samdjaga

Of late I have seen the forms that yoga has taken. Some good some not so acceptable. So the idea here is just my concerns for those who are totally new in yoga. And I would appreciate it if the seniors and the veterans who have found yoga to be beneficial to their social or personal life to share their generous inputs for all to read and weigh and analyze their own interpretation of what Yoga means to them.

1) What has been the main concern in your yoga practice?
My main concern is the time I spent in teaching that has taken away the practice I had. To get back on the routine of practicing daily has been really tough.

2) What are the demands in your view that the students today are looking for?
I believe the clarity of the instructions and the benefits of the postures that are executed in class. These have to come generously from the teacher.

3) How do you measure your progress in a yoga practice?
For me the progress is a long process but the joy comes when I manage to reach to a destination that I never been before.

4) What do you look for when practicing Yoga?
After 12 years of practice, I stopped setting goals. I just go with the flow cos the goal would be set in the practice itself. The best thing is, I always always achieve something in a practice. Find new length, new destination, new joy. I always look forward to EVERY single practice.

5) How long do you think one needs to practice to see a shift or change in oneself?
I believe there are no specified or fixed timing as each individual progress differently. Some people may take a month to feel different in health, some may take longer. So it really depends on individual needs.

6) What are the myths you hear about yoga?
Since I started, I still hear that people think yoga can make you levitate.. and now the biggest myth is Yoga is a religion.

7) How do you convince someone to take up yoga?
I do it by stating the fact that yoga has been used as a therapy, the length of time it has been around and showing how I look at life and the perspective I have towards life.

8) What is more important? Strength OR Flexibility?
To me of course is strength. As strength will lead you to find the flexibility with more precaution and consciousness. It serves as a harness and protection against going deeper into flexibility, which may be detrimental to joints if not controlled.

9) What is your greatest achievement in yoga?
I have built a higher tolerance towards the nature of things and the way they are. To have more patience in dealing with things and to be content with what I have and be happy with who I am.

10) What inspire you?
It used to be watching the gurus practice but now, more than that, is to see the determination of my new students who are so eager to explore yoga and hungry for the experience that I have to share with them.

11) What is yoga to you?
Yoga to me is a lifestyle. A way we want live. A self discovery of who we truly are. A journey to finding out our potential in achieving something great in life. An appreciation of just being ourself and the understanding of our purpose in the universe.

Azmi posted the above in his Facebook Notes and I got his permission to post it here. Everyone is welcome to post their comments and share their thoughts on the above. Thank you.