Blog posts

Deep Blue Desaru.

You know, I really wanted to focus on yoga, fitness and wellness, and leave all the travel stories out of this blog. But the thing is, travel is good for our betterment. Here are a few benefits of travel in relation to our health and wellness:

  • Travel helps to improve our wellbeing, decrease our risk of heart attack and anxiety, while also developing our brain health;
  • Travel helps improve our communication and language skills – even in a single country like Malaysia, which is multi-lingual;
  • Travel helps to promote peace of mind and encourages positive feelings; and
  • Travel promotes creativity.

And these are but a few benefits travel has to our wellness.

So, this is a belated post to Eddy’s and my exploration of Desaru at the end of 2021.

Yoga & other tools that helped me overcome COVID-19.

Some of you may know that I was down with COVID-19 recently. In a way, it was a good experience because we have been trying to keep the virus away from our system through lockdowns, and we have been trying to mitigate the damage the disease does to us through vaccines and booster shots.

Plus, there is some trepidation about going back into society in a bid to avoid COVID-19. Still, many people are catching the virus, and have no idea where they got it from! Me, included.

Many of my clients and students asked me how was it for me, what did I do to help myself during my enforced quarantine, what supplements did I take (if any), what was the experience like. So, I decided to share this in a blog post for everyone.

Firstly though, I would like to remind you that:

  • Everyone experiences the virus differently, with different symptoms, side effects and after effects, so what I experienced may not be the same as what you may experience;
  • Everyone has different levels of health, fitness and wellness, so our bodies have different abilities to fight the virus;
  • Some of us may have underlying conditions, such as diabetes, heart-related issues, and other lifestyle diseases that exists, so again, we have different capabilities in terms of fighting the virus.

As such, the first port-of-call for you if you caught the virus would be either your medical practitioner or your government, whichever is required by law in your country.

And now – my experience with COVID-19 and what I did and what I consumed to help!

Release through yoga folds and twists.

Folding forward is just the first step in our exploration of letting go and release through yoga. One step further in movement would be to fold forward and twist.

As we have discussed, anytime we bring our torso close to our thighs or the other way around, it is a forward fold. When we fold forward, we press our internal organs with our lower limbs – the stomach, live, spleen and intestines – thereby releasing possible residual toxins stored there.

When we fold and twist at the same time, there is the added component of pressure to these organs, as well as the opening of our posterior chain in a way we don’t usually stretch them out. This means we have both a release in the internal organs, as well as a release in the skeletal muscles.

Here are four yoga poses (some in modified form) to help you get on your way!

IMPORTANT: these instructions are for apparently healthy adults with no injuries. Please do check with your doctor if you may practise these yoga poses. If you do have injuries, and need modifications, please do contact me.

Parivrtta parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose).

This yoga pose can be quite intense, especially if you have never practised it before, or are athletically-inclined, or sit the whole day. There are steps we can take towards moving to this asana though, so no worries.

It opens up your hips, IT bands (side of thighs), lower back, while opening the chest AND pressing the internal organs of one side into the opposite thigh. A first big tip for any twist is to expand. Many times, new practitioners are taken with the folding and the twisting, then they forget about opening up the chest, lengthening the spine and extending the back leg – all these three activities support the twist and fold, so have awareness on them as well.

How to get into the pose:

  1. From Table Top position, extend the left leg back, pushing into the ball of the left foot, stretching out hamstring and calf.
  2. Then, placing weight on your hands, lift your right knee up, lifting your hips higher so you can step your right foot forward near your right hand.
  3. Then place your left knee down, and square your hips toward the front of your mat.
  4. Keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle. Make sure the centre of your left kneecap is placed on the floor (place a foam block, a towel or other cushioning of you experience discomfort – don’t worry, we are here only momentarily).
  5. If you have never practised this before, continue on with the following step – otherwise skip it and move to step 8.
  6. Keep your left hand down and lift your right hand up as you lengthen the spine forward. Keep reaching upward with the left hand as you twist to the right.
  7. Once you feel comfortable, go on to your left toes and lift your left knee up – stretching out the left hamstring and calf in a lunge twist position. This will warm you up for the next movement. After five breaths, lower the left knee down and release the twist.
  8. Lift your torso and spine up, and place place your palms together in prayer position (Anjali mudra – palms at heart centre), Have your thumbs touch your breastbone.
  9. On the next exhale, twist your torso to the right and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Once comfortable, you may go on to the left toes and lift up your left knee as before.
  10. Keep your chest open with your spine lengthening, engage the core and keep your breath long and eye-gaze soft.
  11. After five breaths, you may either take a break or move onwards below.
  12. Still with the right leg in front, repeat steps eight until 10. Then once in the twist, take your right hand to the floor or a block as you press your right arm into the outside of your knee. Reach your left arm straight up or reaching out over your left ear, with your palm facing the floor.
  13. Once comfortable, go on to your left toes and lift up your left knee. You may either stay here or work towards placing the back heel on the floor (don’t worry if It does not get there initially).
  14. Keep your breath long and eye-gaze soft. As you inhale, lengthen your spine more, and as you exhale, see if you can twist a little more.
  15. After five breaths, untwist yourself, lower the left knee and repeat the process on the other side.

Parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle pose).

This yoga pose requires activation of the core, quads (front thights) and also gives you the opportunity to concentrate, as there is a degree of balance involved. The asana improves your stability, strength and your ability to ground and focus. As with the previous yoga posture (and any twist and fold yoga asana), be mindful of the expansion capacities of the pose – what can you expand? Can you reach upward more, lengthen the spine more, open the heart-space? Think of these aspects as you practise this asana.

How to get into the pose:

  1. Begin in Tadasana (mountain pose) at the front of your yoga mat. Step your left foot back, about three to four feet apart (hint: if you have never practised before, go for a shorter split stance).
  2. Place your hands on your hips and square them to face the front of the mat, being mindful that the left hip (your hind leg) is not further back than your right. Rotate your left foot to point to the left front corner of the mat, or traditionally, even facing the left side of the mat (i.e. 90 degrees to the right foot). Align your right heel with the left.
  3. Engage your quads (front thighs) and rotate the right front thigh outward, away from your midline.
  4. On the next exhale, fold forward (while extending your torso) to the right, directly over your right leg, folding forward from the hip, and not the waist. Ensure your left leg is strong (as opposed to wilting) and press your outer left heel firmly down.
  5. Keep lengthening the spine forward, while keeping the left and right sides of your torso equally long. You may even wish to draw the right hip / butt back a little while drawing forward the left.
  6. Rest your right hand on your shin / ankle / block outside the right foot / floor outside your right foot – wherever your reach is possible without compromising the length of the spine and the openness of the chest.
  7. Once comfortable, stretch your left arm toward the ceiling. You may either look down (not advisable as you may be folding forward more than twisting) or sideways to the right, or if possible, upward with eye gaze to the left thumb. If gazing towards the left thumb, the thumb and nose are about in a straight line.
  8. Stay in this pose for five breaths, then release step by step, and repeat the process on the other side.

Pasasana (noose pose).

Pasasana or noose pose is a pretty challenging pose, considering the amount of spinal mobility, shoulder flexibility and ankle strength and flexibility required. Don’t worry – I myself cannot get into the full expression of the asana (yet!).

Still, yoga isn’t about the end-points but the journey we have as we get there. We will look at modifications for this pose, and also what you may need along the way if you experience tightness in shoulders, chest or ankles.

How to get into the pose:

  1. Stand in Tadasana (mountain pose), then bend your knees as in Utkatasana (chair pose).
  2. Once there, rotate your feet and knees outward a bit and lower yourself into a full squat (or malasana / garland pose). Once comfortable, if you can, draw your feet and knees as close together as possible. Be mindful if there are sharp pains in the ankle / knee / hip. If there are, move to step 3, if not, jump straight to step 4.
  3. If you find your heels lifting off the mat, place a rolled towel or a yoga block to support your weight and keep sheering force off the knees. If your knees or hips are painful, stack a few yoga blocks and squat on to them (i.e. place your butt on them until you are almost in a position of an unsupported low squat.
  4. Draw your knees slightly to the left, and as you exhale, twist your torso to the right. Try to have no space between your torso and thighs.
  5. If this is a good challenge for you, then place your palms in prayer position (Anjali Mudra) and get in a similar position as with modified parivrtta parsvakonasana (steps eight and nine above). You may remain here for five breaths. If you are comfortable, move forward to step six.
  6. If you are comfortable, bring the back of your left arm and shoulder toward the outside of your right thigh. Have your right knee, your left arm and left shoulder pressed firmly against each other. Lengthen the left of your torso so as to be able to place it more alongside the tops of your thighs.
  7. If this is a good challenge for you, then place your palms in prayer position (Anjali Mudra) and get in a similar position as with modified parivrtta parsvakonasana (steps eight and nine above). You may remain here for five breaths. If you are comfortable, move forward to step eight below.
  8. Reach your right arm behind your back, bend your elbow, and clasp your right wrist with your left hand, to form a bind. Stay here for five breaths and repeat the process on the other side.

Marichiasana C (Sage Marichi’s pose – variation C).

There are four asanas dedicated to Sage Marichi, and this is the third. This seated yoga pose entails a deep stretch along your the back, and helps to keep your spinal disks supple.

Twisting in this yoga posture is challenging, so don’t force it. Have your pelvis grounded, and your spine lengthened. Twist evenly through your spinal column to prevent risk of injury to your low back.

How to get into the pose:

  1. Begin in dandasana (staff pose). Ensure your quads (front thighs), knees and toes face upwards towards the ceiling.
  2. Check that you are seated right on your sit bones, rather than leaning back behind them.
  3. Draw your right heel back, in line as your sit bone (this is often a bit further to the right than you might realise – your right foot does not touch your left thigh).
  4. Keep the left leg active, as you inhale, lifting your left arm upwards to the ceiling and taking your right hand behind your right hip (thereby twisting).
  5. As you exhale, slot your left elbow outside of your right knee.
  6. Keep the left leg activated, check that it doesn’t rotate outward because it’s relaxed.
  7. With every inhale, lengthen more along your spine. And with every exhale, twist more towards your right.
  8. After five breaths, exit back to dandasana.
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As you twist and fold…

consider what you are trying to release or let go. Be positive that it will happen. But don’t allow a cloying “must-do” capacity to sink in. Invite that capacity to release and let go to come, and when the time is right, it will.

Letting go through the breath.

The breath is incredible in helping us let go, gain distance from what’s gripping us, and perhaps from there, some clarity. I don’t mentioning that I was down with COVID recently, and the breath helped me a long way everyday in overcoming the emotional and physical struggles I had during quarantine.

The breath can be used for so many things; the breath helps to soften us to let go, and the breath helps to thin the grippings we have to perhaps reach our toes.

I have listed four ways you can use the breath to help you let go.

Our breath helps to centre us, in fact. Our breath helps us to draw ourselves back to our core.

Below, I have outlined how the breath helps us, with three different types of breath practices we can use to help us let go.

Four yoga asanas to help you let go.

We can use the body (and the breath) to help us let go – ‘softening’ or ‘thinning’ the fluctuations and grippings that pervade our thought and emotional patterns. Typically, the yoga asanas that help us invite the capacity to let go are forward folds (or bends), and also yoga twists or twist and fold.

Folding or bending the body forward requires our entire back body to stretch. In yoga, the back of the body (or the West) represents consciousness, while the front body (or the East) represents manifestation. So, we are actually moving from consciousness to manifestation.

It is good to bear this in mind as you practise the poses below. It is always great to be able to manifest (whatever we are doing) skilfully and safely, rather in a haphazard, any-ole-way manner. What do we want the result of our manifestation to be?

The first three yoga postures below help you fold / bend forward towards your toes. In essence, the first three yoga poses helps to move you towards the final fourth pose.

Give all four of them a try and let me know how it goes for you.

Four myths about touching your toes.

One of the things I hear the most frequently from new clients is “I cannot touch my toes” (the other is “I’m so inflexible!”). I get this, there was a time when I could barely touch my toes, and when I did, it was incredibly unsafe for my lower back.

Forward bends or forward folds in yoga is great to help us release (or let go) of trapped emotions in our body. We open up the back body, which tends to take the burden of our posture throughout the day.

But just like letting go, folding forward is actually a far more intricate process than we may think. We don’t just bend our spine to reach downwards (forwards) to reach our toes or to pick up things. That kind of movement may cause us injury, whether in the short- or long-term.

When it comes to folding forward to reach your toes – the thing is, our toes are attached to our feet, and our feet are attached to our legs – we can always touch our toes.. The question is how safely are reaching forwards to touch our toes.

Are we doing ourselves any harm along the way when we bend to touch our toes?

Letting go through yoga.

Letting go is never easy, I’m not gonna lie to you.

In yoga, it’s one of those capacities that we can invite, but cannot force. We can work through the processes, work through the breath, but it will only happen when it happens. We cannot force it.

In addition, what we want to / need to let go of comes in so many various issues, and that’s not including our own background, triggers and issues (i.e. baggage).

Balance through yoga breath work.

Pranayama or yoga breath work can help to balance us out as we move towards our midlife transformation.

Breathing is simple, gracious, soothing and always there for you.

Karenina Ana Murillo.

There are many different types of pranayama we can immerse in, but the process I have selected for balance is nadi shodhana pranayama – or alternate nostril breathing.

This form of pranayama is said to help balance the nadis – tube, channel or flow, almost like meridian channels.

Yoga practice to ground and balance.

We have been immersed in grounding practise through yoga recently. What better way to put the wisdom, movement and breath practise into one yoga movement practise?

Below, I have put together a few short snippets of yoga practise for you. Follow the practise in sequence, or just whichever works for you based on your time and convenience.

As a preamble, check you have a quiet space and about at least ten minutes free. Have a good yoga mat, have a towel handy, and also some cushions or more towels if you have knee issues. For other struggles or challenges you may have, email me and I will do my best to help.

Best yoga poses for balance.

Would you be super surprised if I told you the best yoga poses for balance are standing balance poses? I thought not!

Further to our discussion on the Earth element / prthvi previously, standing balance poses really helps us to get grounded and balance at the same time. From personal experience, when I am a little less grounded, or when I am running ahead of myself, or when I lack inertia, my standing balance is shaky or unstable, and sometimes just doesn’t happen. So let’s not even think about arm balances or inversions!

Seriously, standing balance yoga poses are good indicators of how balanced we are in life or for that day. There is no scientific proof of this, but yoga is a little beyond science, it’s also experiential. If you are already practising, try it and see (and let me know in the comments of your experiences!).

In addition, as we grow older, the more important it is to be able to balance. If you think about it, we are always in balancing when we walk or run, because we always have one foot off the ground. As we age, this becomes a greater challenge when we stumble or have less coordination.

Moving forward with yoga poses.

If ever there was a time we need to realise that the body and mind are so closely interconnected, it is the time we decide to move forward. The mind is in the body, after all, and the mind tells the body what to do, and the body even can tell the mind how to feel!

Our bodies speak to us. They tell us how and what to feel and even think. They change what goes on inside our endocrine systems, our autonomic nervous systems, our brains, and our minds without our being conscious of a thing.

Amy Cuddy. “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges”.

We have always know this in yoga, and other physical fitness modalities. The body and the mind cannot be separated – how we hold ourselves, move and breathe actually show the world how we perceive ourselves.

Why is this important when we decide we want a change, and want to move forward? Because we need to convince – not just the world – but ourselves that we are more than capable of accomplishing our goals. And in holding ourselves physically in ways that support our plans to move forward, we actually do move forward!

Meditation for grounding.

This short meditation practice brings our awareness entirely to our feet. The process is meant to help us have distance from grippings that may cause us to struggle – whether we are seeking change, or whether arising from daily life.

Begin by finding a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted, have your mobile devices either turned off, or on silent, or best yet, not with you at all. Have the place as bright or as dark as you like, provided you are comfortable. Then sit down whether on a chair with feet on the floor, or on your meditation cushion or mat with legs crossed.

The best yoga poses for grounding.

When we ground in yoga, we bring ourselves to the present moment. This happens when we bring all our awareness to one focus point. The best point to focus on is our body, because our body is always present.

Of course, when we talk about about grounding, the best body part to focus on is our feet. So let’s take a look at a four yoga poses that will help us ground well on and off the mat.

Yoga poses for meditation.

Let’s explore some yoga poses for meditation, perhaps because these kind of seated yoga poses tend to be less flashy and popular, but belong in the yoga practice, and also lends something to our meditation.

As a precursor though, let me begin with stating that all yoga seated poses require core strength to maintain an upright spine, an open collar-bone and a lengthened back of neck.

Why my cats run wild when I teach or practise yoga at home.

[An expanded and better-edited version of this piece is on Elephant Journal. You can view it here!]

To celebrate World Animal Day (4 Oct 2021), let’s talk about why I let my cats run wild when I teach and practise yoga. This piece was written prior to Helios joining our household.

So, many of you who have seen me live-stream a yoga class have seen all of my cats: four of them. There is Dusty, aged 20; Raven, aged 16; Ariel, aged one; and Luna, aged one also, but the youngest.

Some of you have been disturbed by Dusty’s sudden meowing. Being 20 years old, she’s like an elderly dementia senior; she sleeps deeply, and suddenly wakes up all confused, and expresses it through loud meowing. Her meowing is loud coz she’s partially deaf.

Raven and I in between virtual yoga classes

Meanwhile, others may have seen Ariel beg for my attention, or Luna bringing her toy for me to throw fetch with her.

So here’s why I try not to let them bug me. It’s related to yoga and spirituality, and it’s pretty important in yoga practice.

Grounding and balance through aromatherapy.

The sciences of yoga and Ayurveda are closely related, and using modalities of one may enhance our practise of the other. Here, we will take a look at the concept of aromatherapy – a modality I use often – in our yoga practice to help us ground and balance in our transformation through yoga.

In Ayurveda, aromas are crucial for healing and wellness. Aromatherapy can be used to protect prana, help regulate digestion and metabolism, and boost our immune system.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Emotions & aromas.

Aromas have a powerful influence on our mind and body, In terms of our emotions, we need to understand how our brain works in relation to our emotions. Within our brain lies the limbic system – the emotional centre of our self. Every thought, emotion, all our experiences, memories and lessons are stored in the limbic system.