travel, yoga

Your First Yoga Class, Part II – What’s behind the doors of a yoga class?

Now that I’ve written up a brief introduction to yoga. You can start to get your yoga pants ready to join your first class.

I have a lot of students that come for their first ever yoga class and ask me what to expect. In turn, I ask them what do you expect? And these are top 3 answers:

  1. Just stretching. For 1 hour and 15 minutes, I’ll be stretching and that’s what yoga is all about.
  2. I’ll be more flexible, from all that stretching.
  3. Some core stuff, so I lose belly fat.

Alright, I don’t really know why people expect so much stretching. Is there an ad somewhere saying YOGA with a picture of people just stretching? Where is this ad?

Fortunately, there is more to yoga than just stretching. Well for my classes at least. In my classes, we stretch for warm-up and warm-down, and from time to time I have a yin yoga class, which is all about stretching. But most of my classes cover sun salutations (surya namaskaras in sanskrit), balancing postures, standing, sitting and lying down postures, and finally ending in corpse pose (savasana), a meditative or relaxation pose.

So what does that all mean? Well, let me break it down for you. In an physiological sense, the asana practice can be put into different groups and some groups weave into each other as well. If you’re a beginner, the groups you need to know are:

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskars): This is like your cardio, you move through fluid pre-set movements at a brisk pace and get your muscles all warmed up, your breathing picks up a bit. If you can try to use your ujaiyi breath, breathing audibly in and out through you nose, and sounding a little bit like Darth Vader. The movements include reaching up to the sky, then down for your toes, plank pose, a reverse push up, cobra and downward dog. Cobra is an upper back strengthening postures.

Balancing Postures: Standing on one leg for extended periods of time will help your slow twitch muscles form, the ones that help your endurance.

Warriors: Lunges, lunges, lunges. Yogis tend to have this lean look in their upper body but when it comes to their thighs they are large and well-defined (and sexy). Take Kino McGregor or Meghan Currie for example. Lunges target your quadriceps, hamstrings and butt, these are your largest muscle groups in your body which means that they are your most effective fat burning machines. The stronger these areas are, the more fat you will burn throughout the body.

Sitting postures: It’s this group of postures where I find most of the stretching happens. They cover twists, forward folds, hip openers and shoulder stretches. Although, sitting postures like boat pose build up core strength in order to stabilize you.

Lying down postures: Cobra, locust and upward-facing bow pose focus on strengthening the muscles of the lower, middle and upper back.

Savasana: To end the practice, a few warm-down stretches and twists are followed by the famous corpse pose (savasana), which is a meditative and/or relaxation pose done lying down on your back with your eyes closed from 5-15 minutes, depending how long and/or strenuous your practice was. This promotes muscle memory and is compulsory relaxation for all yoga practices. To end this poses, the instructor will gently guide you verbally to move your fingers and toes and roll over to your side body in a fetal position before finally making your way up into seated position.

And that about concludes the yoga practice. This sort of practice varies from teacher to teacher, and usually most teachers are happy and willing to provide variations for beginners.

With that explanation, I hope it gives you the general idea and the confidence for you to start your yoga practice.

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Adventures in Thailand, yoga

Your First Yoga Class, Part I – Introduction to Yoga

So you’ve decided to give this yoga thing a shot. Seems pretty simple. If old ladies can do it, I’m sure I can too, right? If that sounds a little bit like you, keep reading on.

Yoga is a 5,000 year old practice from India that encompasses nutrition, meditation, exercise, spirituality, and the study of scriptures. It’s a whole pre-determined way of living. It even prescribes how to clean your nasal passage. That’s how in-depth yoga can get.

What yoga is widely known as today is the physical postures of that entire lifestyle, which are known as asanas. Asanas can be extremely beneficial to your body and mind, as with many other forms of physical activity. These asanas have helped thousands of people with claims not only from their overall improvement of their overall fitness, but with their stress, anxiety and depression. Without surprise, as these asanas were formed as a way of active meditation to discipline the monkey mind through controlling the physical body. After all, it’s difficult to feel sadness or stress when you’re balancing on one leg in tree pose. You are probably trying not to fall over, rather than worrying about your presentation on Monday.

Now, in a modern day yoga class, it’s mainly all asanas.  If it’s your first yoga class ever, try to find a class directed at beginners, so hot yoga, acroyoga and power yoga is out of the question. Instead go with yin yoga, gentle flow or ask the instructor if his/her class is a good fit for a beginner. When the instructor knows that there’s a beginner in the class, he/she will always provide options (beginner, intermediate, advanced). And you, as a beginner, should take those options. Ignore what your neighbours are doing and look at your teacher for guidance.

Let’s use the analogy of buildings. Each asana (posture) is like a building. First you need a strong foundation (your alignment), then you need the materials (the strength and flexibility) to continue to build on top of that. And how high you go depends on factors such as the type of materials you have (your current fitness level/where you are in your practice) and what the environment allows (your body type/even your genes). The tendency is for beginners to want to build skyscrapers before ensuring the foundation is sturdy. The outcome of a building that is too high without a good foundation is that it will fall.

I definitely am not worried about the past or future when I'm in tree pose, balancing in the mangroves. Okay, maybe I was a little bit worried there might be snakes.
Balancing in tree pose requires your mind to remain completely calm and balanced. Your mind is focused and free from all unnecessary worries, fears and troubles.

But those postures look fun! It’s completely fine to try. Just remember, it’s your body that is the building, so your fall could be a simple, meaningless stumble, or it could lead to the revival of an old injury. You know your own body better than anyone else, so you need to listen to it and remember to rest whenever you need to.

To ensure you have the best experience, here are a few mental tips for your first practice.

  1. Patience: Build the foundation of your body, take your time to get into postures with grace rather than jerking into them
  2. Awareness: Check your body for alignment cues that your teacher will provide you either verbally or visually
  3. Humility: Maybe you could do backbends when you were 12, but it’s been a while since then and this is not the time to try. Keep your mind on your own mat, with a consistent practice, that strength will return, and when that day comes you’ll be ready for that full wheel.

These are key for getting the best out of your yoga experience.

If you want to know what physical requirements to expect behind the doors to the yoga studio, click here.

Adventures in Thailand, art, pets, rants, yoga

The Young Yogi and The Island

Oh gosh, it’s already September! 4 months has passed since I first arrived on this beautiful island.

My fiancé arrives next week and I’m very excited to see him. He told me it feels like forever since he has seen me. Whereas I feel like it was just a month that has passed since I saw him. I miss him but it doesn’t feel that long in my mind.

And so I reflected on my time here. So much has happened. I’ve met so many great people and had lots of amazing experiences. But why does it seem like such a short time?

Here on the island, I’ve been in this strange state where time seems to stand still. I feel like I’ve been suspended in time and I could stay here forever. Like some sort of trans-state or hypnosis. It’s an amazing feeling. I wake up feeling great everyday and happy to go about my day. Sometimes I forget what day it is. And sometimes I forget what time it is.

After teaching morning yoga I have so much spare time, yet I never once felt bored. I spent my days learning Thai, reading, practising yoga, and riding my bicycle/scooter to explore the island. In this constant state of exploration, I feel like the pages of my life story have just been a constant page turner. You know the kind of good book you can’t put down so you stay up reading it till 3 AM. I think right now, this is my life. Only there my story is pretty anti-climatic. It’s probably a lot like The Old Man and The Sea – some people love it, some people hate it.

Recently during my explorations, I wanted to look for interesting places to take my fiancé to when he arrived. I found an artsy boutique hotel where I fell in love with. It was that kind of vibe that I was drawn to. It beautiful handmade decorations from paper flowers and stars to large painted canvases. It conjured beautiful emotion.

As soon as I saw him, I knew immediately that he was the owner and the artist. I knew we could be friends. Initially, I asked just about the rooms, not wanting to impose. Then, I cycled home.

All the way home and the next day, I was washed over with the feeling of longing. I missed painting. I went to Art School and I miss the days where I and fellow students alike stayed up all night to finish projects. I missed creating.

That place brought back my desire to create. And so the next day, I went back to visit him. I asked him if I could buy canvas and paint from him. My Thai was as good as his English, but we understood each other. He understood I was an artist too. I interpreted his expression and his few words as, “Every artist needs to create, we will find you something.” And so he led me to his small studio, where he was painting a girl, who I found out later was his girlfriend.

After a little bit of shuffling, he sent me off happily with an old watercolour set, brushes, and paper. I grew up painting with watercolours but I quickly switched to acrylics like many artist do to the convenience of fast drying times and its adaptability to mistakes.  With watercolours, you needed to paint in “layers” and can be somewhat technical at times. There are ways “to erase” mistakes, but it’s better if you don’t make them at all.

The last time I used watercolours was probably when I was 18, almost ten years ago. So I decided to paint Koya (again) to get my feel for it back again.
Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 11.36.32 PMTurned out alright! 65 likes on Facebook! Which is a lot of likes for a person like me, who only gets 5 likes on any given post…and that’s if I’m lucky. Which makes me wonder do people like this post because it’s a good painting or because it has a cute dog on it? Maybe a little bit of both?

Whatever it is, I’ll just keep doing what I love and let days like these be imprinted into my mind. One thing is for sure, if and when I have grandkids, I’ll never run out of stories to tell them.