Keep Showing Up

Now that I have started blogging, I realize just how hard it is to create and maintain a succesful blog.

Surfing around other fellow bloggers' website, I hit upon this great clip by Elizaberth Gillbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, who is also a fellow yogini. In this clip, she talks about how she deals with creativity, and how one of the key things in life is to keep showing up.

Practice Yoga Outdoors!

In the mountains, at the parks, at the beach, under the moonlight…

There are so many places outdoor for yoga lovers to practice yoga, especially for those yogis in the northern hemisphere who are enjoying their beautiful springtime. For those who are hesitating to take your practice outdoors, here’s a tongue-in-check list of reasons why you should hesitate no more!

Reasons why you should practice yoga outdoors

1. Impress the passerbys with your impossible yoga pose!
2. Spread the love of yoga to complete strangers in the park
3. Show off your yoga clothes (and great figure in the spandex too!)
4. Make your yoga practice more interesting
5. Become truly grounded in your asanas
6. More motivation for you to reach your fullest towards the sky
7. More fresh air for your long, deep breathes
8. More negative ions for your lungs
9. Connect with nature
10. Feel more alive
11. Engage your sense of smell - breathe in the sweet smell of grass
12. Truly perform a sun salutation!
13. Natural music for your ears
14. No cost involved
15. Feel the peace…

Ok, enough nonsense for now. If you haven’t tried practicing yoga outdoors, you should really try it.

Tips for practicing yoga outdoors
  • Join an outdoor yoga club. That’s the easiest way to start your practice. These clubs may be run professionally, but more often than not, they are organized by yoga enthusiasts who just can’t seem to get enough of yoga. Check around your local neighbourhood. There may already be yoga clubs near your parks or beaches.
  • Find a good spot! If you prefer not to join a club, there’s no stopping you from practicing yoga in the comforts of your own backyard or the park near your place. Just find a nice, comfy spot that is fairly level, and shaded from the sun.
  • Early morning is the best. The birds start to sing, the grass is still damp from dew, and there is a sense of peace of just breathing in the scent. Early morning also makes the most practical sense if you are living in a hot climate and the weather is the coolest in the morning.
  • Don’t get distracted. People may walk past your spot, or an ant may crawl on your mat. Just do your own stuff and get deeper into your own practice. If you are the sort that prefer not to be in the limelight, find a quiet spot where you know there is not much traffic.

Should Christians or Muslims do Yoga?

I have friends who are devout Christians or Muslims, and they ask me if they should be doing yoga. “Is yoga religious?” they ask.

My first reaction to that question is: “Of course not!” But when I had the time to think seriously about this topic, I am not that sure of the answer.

Yoga is a unique form of exercise. It does not focus purely on the physical aspects, but also on the spiritual aspect of the mind. In fact, the term “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, which means “to join” or “to unite”. This is taken to mean the union of the self with the mind, which makes yoga sound like a spiritual practice.

That said, yoga does not seek to explicitly promote itself as a spiritual practice. The yoga that is being taught in studios nowadays is usually harmless forms of stretching and breathing. There is no ulterior motive behind teaching these postures.

This, to me, is a very crucial point. To use an analogy, if a Buddhist friend invites a Christian or Muslim to share a vegetarian meal with him, he or she is not using the opportunity to convert the Christian / Muslim to a different religion. The Christian or Muslim can safely partake in the meal, even on a regular basis, without any danger of being converted, if he or she is strong in his faith.

Personally, I think it would be good for devout Christians or Muslims to practice yoga, if only to promote an understanding of others’ beliefs. There can be many other external influences, such as movies or songs, that can affect a person’s core beliefs. There is no way a person can be protected from all these influences. On the other hand, we should promote tolerance, understanding and diversity in thinking. Being exposed to a practice that has some roots in Hinduism, albeit 4000 years ago, would help a little towards that goal.

The Last Lecture

I'm reading a wonderful book called "The Last Lecture", by Randy Pausch.

It is a real life story of a Carnegie Mellon professor, who gave his last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” while fighting pancreatic cancer.

For those of you who are fighting hard, may you find inspiration and courage from Randy's story.

For the rest of us, read the book too! It's really a classic...

Alternatively, you can watch his last lecture on the youtube. The clip is 1 hour 16 min, but it is even more inspiring than his book. Watch it till the end, you'll be suprised by the ending...

YogaBear: Free Yoga Classes for Cancer Survivors

I have just found a wonderful website. It’s called Yoga Bear, and it helps to provide free yoga classes to cancer survivors.

Yoga is a great therapeutic exercise as it is relatively gentle compared to other cardiovascular exercises like running or kickboxing. More than this, in that one to two hours of yoga lessons, learners experience a soothing sense of peace. This is surely something that the cancer survivors sorely need, as they had just gone through a rather trying and worrisome period of their life.

What is more wonderful about YogaBear is that it also acts as a connecting platform for cancer survivors, yogis and volunteers. It acts as a community of friends, available for people to share their experience or just provide words of encouragement.

The only regretful thing is that currently the yoga lessons offered is limited to classes in the United States. Perhaps if the program is successful enough, the movement will be spread to other countries. Or perhaps, if you are a cancer survivor, you may like to start a movement in your own country!

For those who would just like to support the movement, you can make donations or buy a tee-shirt from them. Or, you can just help to spread the word around by blogging about YogaBear or telling your friends about this inspiring non-profit organisation.

How to buy an eco-friendly yoga mat: Some Buying Tips

Considering that yoga practitioners come into contact with our yoga mats so often, it is quite important for us to choose a yoga mat that is environmentally friendly. But do we go about choosing an eco-friendly yoga mat?

Some handy tips for choosing a good eco-friendly yoga mat:

1) Non-PVC. An environmentally friendly yoga mat does not contain PVC, or polyvinyl choloride. What’s so bad about PVC? Well, PVC is unique in its high chlorine and additives content, which have been linked to cancers, endocrine disruption, endometriosis, neurological damange, birth defects, impaired child development and reproductive and immune system damage. So be afraid, very afraid, of PVC.

2) Smell. Many of the environmentally friendly yoga mats have a strong smell. This may go off after you sun the mat for a few hours, or after your mat is seasoned. However, if you really find the smell offensive, make this a criteria when choosing your mat.

3) Allergy. Eco-friendly yoga mats are usually made of natural rubber, plant fiber ( jute, hemp, and cotton) or alternative plastics (such as polymer environmental resin or “PER”, and thermoplastic elastomers or “TPE). Unfortunately, some people are allergic to natural rubber. So if you are one of the unfortunate souls, natural rubber yoga mats are out for you.

4) Cost. While the cost of eco-friendly yoga mats has decreased recently due to the proliferation of these mats, the price can be slightly higher than a normal yoga mat. So shop around for a good yoga mat online before you make your decision.

What makes a great yoga student

Here's my own personal list ...

1. Be punctual.
2. Respect your teachers.
3. Wear the proper yoga clothing.
4. Stay till the end of the class.
5. Try your best to do those asanas.
6. Ask questions at the end of the class.
7. Practice at home.
8. Come to class regularly.
9. Have an open mind.
10. Be eager to learn.
11. Observe what others are doing (but don’t compare!)
12. Listen to what your body is telling you.
13. Enjoy the music.
14. Enjoy the movements.
15. Maintain grace and flow.
16. Be mindful of your breathe.
17. Stretch yourself (both mentally and physically)
18. Give other fellow students enough space.
19. Make friends.
20. Most of all, have fun. Yoga’s a relaxing activity, not the opposite!

(PS. This is not my photo... in case you were wondering. =P)

How to teach yoga to kids

These days, parents are making their children all sorts of fancy things like ballet, piano and singing. I don’t know about you, but I feel that children should be children. They should be allowed to sing and dance and shout as they please, not follow some professional courses that stress them out.

Having this sort of mentality, I have always scoffed at the idea of yoga for kids. I mean, how do you make the kids hold still long enough for their asanas?

Well, it seems like the approach for teaching yoga to kids should be highly tailored to their needs.

For children below the age of 7, the focus should be more on getting them excited about yoga. That means a lot of movement and imagination in the class. The good thing is that yoga has such great postures with origins from animal poses, such as the Cobra, Downward-facing Dog, Fish and Crow. The best yoga classes for kids create stories around these postures, or encourage children to make animal noises as they explore these poses.

Another great tip is to talk to children at their level. Use simple words that they understand. For example, instead of saying “asanas”, use words like “poses” or “postures”, or simply “please do this” and demonstrate the pose to your kids instead. However, this does not mean talking down to the kids. Children have an innate intelligence, and sometimes ask some great questions in class. Welcome their questions, and answer them patiently, and let them co-create their classes.

Incidentally, yoga is also a great activity for a parent to do with their kids. Children love to see their parents getting down on their fours (literally getting down to the child’s level!) and doing all sorts of funny poses with them. Do the practice with love and do it often, and children will come to associate yoga with a great time with papa or mummy.

The Mental Diet ... clear your mind

Have you heard of the Mental Diet?

It’s this concept first mooted by Emmet Fox, an author who published a book in 1935 called the “The Seven Day Mental Diet”. His idea was incredibly simple. Go on a mental diet for 7 consecutive days where you do not dwell on a single negative thought.

Curious, I looked up the mental diet on the web. I hit upon this blog of a person who decided to go on a 12 month mental diet! The blog chronicled his experience in this period of time. He’s at Day 96 now.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think the guy should start practising yoga. It complements his “diet” perfectly. Yoga is a practice that quiets the mind. In the one or two hours when I practice, I always feel an absolute sense of peace… (especially at the end of the practice when we are doing our “corpse pose”… =P).

How does yoga do this?

According to this article, the key is in the breathing. Apparently, there are two nervous systems in the human body: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic, commonly known as the "fight or flight" system, causes “the blood pressure to rise, the breath rate to quicken, and stress hormones to flood into the body”. Yoga, on the other hand, requires us to take long, deep breathes. This encourages the actions of our parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers our blood pressure.

In short, the quality of the breath affects the quality of our mind. The slower our breath, the quieter our mind will be.

In fact, yoga emphasizes the art of breathing so much that there is a special term for this practice, called the pranayama. This is a Sanskrit word meaning “lengthening of the breathe”.

The simple practice of slow breathing allows the yoga practitioner to make the mind still, and eliminate any negative thoughts that constantly dogs our daily life.

That said, I think the idea of a “Seven day mental diet” is great! Besides the one or two hours of yoga practice, perhaps we can also take up this commitment to clear our minds of negative thoughts for seven consecutive days. I am sure it will clear your mind of any mental clutter, and make you a better person.

When the Breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the Breath is still, so is the mind still." - Hatha Yoga Pradipika

How to avoid getting sick while attending yoga classes

My work place is starting to impose anti-swine flu measures. Each employee is given a flu kit, and we are supposed to measure our temperature before we attend any meetings.

This sets me thinking. How can we avoid getting sick while attending yoga classes? Especially for hot yoga where there's so many hot bods in a room?

Here are my top 5 best ways to avoid getting sick while still attending our favourite yoga classes:

1. Firstly, read the World Health Organization website. It helps to know more about the disease, so you can distinguish the facts from rumours. Many of our fears could be unfounded.

2. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often. This is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection.

3. Stay away when are you sick. This is common sense even when there is no swine flu around. If you are not feeling well, don’t turn up for the class! If you just happen to sneeze or cough in the class, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

4. Drink lots of water. Water helps to flush out toxins and water products from the body. So form the good water habit.

5. Lastly, continue practicing yoga! The best prevention is a strong immunity system. And what better way to keep fit than yoga? Better still, practice laughter yoga so you can stay healthy and stress free.

Wishing you good health and happiness.


Great Yoga Music on the Web

For those who are looking to find great yoga music on the web, these are some of the good finds on the net.

Yoga Radio (Free Yoga Music)

Sahaja Yoga Radio: The site offers free sahaja yoga music. Sahaja is a type of yoga meditation technique. This is quite a well run website, complete with a full list of songs, podcasts and a blog too.

YogaMates: One of the best loved yoga communities on the internet offers a good YogaRadio station. Go to their home page and click on the YogaRadio button on the top right hand corner.

Yoga Music Downloads (Usually not free)

The following sources may offer some free music, or free samples / previews. By and large, however, they are pay per downloads websites which offer quality yoga music for as cheap as $0.99 per song.

MyYogaOnline: The yoga downloads corner of this website provides a wide range of yoga music suitable for yoga practice or just plain relaxation. The songs are quite affordable, costing from $0.99 a song to about $4.99.

OmStream: Another great source of yoga music. The great thing about this website is that it offers yoga instructor playlists and music for different types of yoga such as power or flow yoga. This makes it easy for those looking for specific types of music for their yoga practice.

Yoga Music Unlimited: Another pay per download website with great yoga music. Do note, however, that this website is only available to U.S. computers.

Amazon: This online supermall offers a great range of quality yoga music, including yoga classics such as the hugely popular The Essence by Diva Premal. The Essence is one of my personal favourite CD which I listen to over and over again as it is so soothing and calm.