Grief is part of the human condition. It affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As long as we love, we will grieve, because we will experience loss along our journey in life.
And we do love. We love those near and dear to us, we love our fur kids, our homes and our jobs. The extent of our grief is really the extent of our love – although this may not be the case all the time. If we have made peace with the idea that we lose what we love in life, our experience of grief may be very different than if there is an unexpected loss.
How we experience grief also depends on our nurture – our upbringing, our culture, our religion or spirituality. If loss and death is something discussed and perceived as normal, then we may have a very different experience of grief compared to a society that believes a month of bereavement is sufficient and thereafter we can just ‘move on and get on with life’.
When we are facing loss, or experiencing grief, our body and our breath are the two places we rarely inhabit. We could be dwelling on past memories, or be anxious about the future. We could be filling our days with ‘busy-ness’ because being busy means less time to be sad, or to grieve.
The following pranayama (yogic breath) practice allows us to inhabit both the breath and the body at the same time, or either one – whichever has more of our focus. When we are present in our body, that helps us have awareness on any tension or gripping that holds our physicality.
When we are present to our breath, we can discern whether we experience a smooth cycle of breath (which in turn affects our body, which in turn affects our mind and emotions), or whether our breath is short or hitching (common to those experiencing loss).
In addition, most forms of pranayama – including this one – helps to calm the mind and provide our lungs (and body) with the oxygen we need.
When I experienced the loss of my father, I surprisingly found myself filled with energy. Inside, I was grieving, but I was always trying to solve problems, make arrangements, see to the needs of my mother or anyone who had needs. I astounded myself.
I asked myself when the lethargy would kick in, or when would I face a slump. But I surprisingly found myself torpedoing through for a whole month.
On the other hand, when I lost two of my most beloved pets – Raven, the cat and Bandit, the dog – and also when my flat got burgled, I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep. In fact, that was what I did most of the time, unless I really had to get to work.
Guna is a Sanskrit word, meaning “quality, peculiarity, attribute, or tendency.” It is derived from Sankhya philosophy but they are now an accepted concept in most schools of yoga philosophy.
The three gunas are described as being constantly influx and interacting with one another. The interplay between them may help define the essential qualities of someone or something. They also may influence the path of life.
It is good just to be aware of what quality our energy is in when we experience #grief. From there, we can take any steps we wish to – if at all – to changes things. And it’s not wrong to change stay in a certain state for while.
Yoga, as well as modern physics, explains that everything is energy. In yoga, the three gunas together weave and form everything, including the universe itself.
Each guna has its own qualities:
rajas (activity / higher vibration)
tamas (stability / lower vibration)
sattva (consciousness – for want of a better term – the balance between rajas and tamas.)
When we are grieving, it is likely our body is tense – whether or not we feel energetic, focusing on being busy, or if we feel depressed and constantly lethargic. It may be that we are experiencing ‘adrenal fatigue’ (note: as yet, ‘adrenal fatigue’ is not a medical condition).
The following yoga postures help to relieve stress, mainly in the hips and low back. They aren’t only for the purposes of grief or loss support, but at any time you may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Remember in time of loss to take time out for yourself. Practising these yoga asana won’t take but ten to fifteen minutes at the most (unless you fall asleep in savasana!).
Here are the four yoga yoga poses you may use, but check other restorative yoga postures in a blog posts here and here.
If you’re ready, roll out your yoga mat, light your incense or diffuse your essential oils, and let’s begin!
I lost my father in late October 2022. My father and I had our differences, but I think we managed to reconcile and let go towards the end. On my part, especially during the difficult initial hospitalisation period, many things helped me survive the day.
Earlier in the year, I was brought to read quite a lot of insight from eastern philosophy that I cultivated in daily practice and thought (see blog post here). The philosophy and wisdom helped me see very sticky patches through.
Strong support from family and friends helped a lot as well, from my father’s hospitalisation period all the way to sorting out and managing the estate matters, even after the interment of ashes.
But of course, quite importantly, are the tools and wisdom I cultivated over the years through yoga that pulled me through.
Before we begin on how yoga helps though, just be aware that grieving is an ongoing affair. Grieving is different for everyone, as much as we are all different people to begin with. Allow yourself to grieve, Be patient with yourself. I don’t believe we ever stop grieving, really. We just learn to manage grieve better over time.
So let’s look at some ways that yoga helps us to manage grief better.
My father passed away in late October 2022. Friends whose parents passed on already – and who noted both my parents’ ailing bodies – had told me that one never gets over the death of a parent. I expect this to be true.
Grief comes and goes but it is as if the universe (God, or the Divine, whichever name suits you) wanted to prepare me. Of the 80-over books I read in 2022 (mostly fiction, actually 😅), four books stand out in helping me develop spiritually, and which also helped me handled the stress and anxiety of my father’s hospitalisation and also his departure from this earthly life.
Meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices can yield so much benefit for us. Meditation in particular is scientifically proven to:
Promotes emotional health
Lengthens attention span
May reduce age-related memory loss
Can generate kindness
May help fight addictions.
Helps control pain (I wrote about this, read more here!)
Can decrease blood pressure
All these benefits won’t come to us if we engage with the ‘why’s of what comes up. In fact, our job isn’t to engage at all with what arises. Our job is to observe, not critically evaluate. Our goal is to be the seer, not the doer.
The Ajna Chakra, or the third-eye chakra, is considered to be the seat of wisdom and insight. Positioned in the centre of the forehead, the colour associated with it is indigo, and the element associated with it is light.
With the energy flowing freely at this energy wheel, we trust our inner wisdom and have have clarity of thought. We view events around us with minimal bias or prejudice.
For this meditation, you may sit comfortably on a meditation cushion, a yoga mat, or on a chair. You will need a lit candle, or an oil flame, placed before you.
As we move higher up the sushumna (the passage that runs along the spine through which the chakras are interspersed in the subtle body), we find the chakras are considered less earthly and more spiritual.
I would like to add that ‘earthly’ and ‘spiritual’ are not opposites, neither is one better than the other. Yoga is about balance – we need to have a balance of energy flowing through the sushumna.
Check out the blog posts on the first, second, third and fourth chakras below:
The chakras help me understand many aspects about myself, Shortcomings and imbalances are rectified through through practice- whether yoga, meditation or reiki.
Let’s explore the fifth, sixth and seventh major chakras, the energy wheels that help us to express, intuit and gain enlightenment respectively.
Practising mindfulness helps to expand the experiences of our day, of our life. In any one moment, it’s not just the anger or stress or frustration that exists, but also the sensation of the ground under our feet, the smell of flowers around, the sound of quiet music, wherever you may be. We always have our sensations to fall back on in any given moment.
And this helps not only expand the experience, it helps us to distance ourselves from any negativity or unskilful reactions that may arise within us.
But first, if you haven’t already, check out the following blog posts on mindfulness:
And as a bonus:
If you find a sitting practice difficult to fit in, we can use our senses to connect with mindfulness. Here are four simple ways you can connect with mindfulness in your daily life.
The chakras are wheels of energy in our subtle body. When the energy at one or a few of these chakras are weak or too strong, or if the ‘wheel isn’t turning’ in a smooth manner (metaphorically), it could be said that these chakras are ‘imbalanced’ or the ‘kundalini isn’t rising’.
Don’t be too concerned about this, just know that things can be better if you work on these areas of the body.
The manipura chakra (solar plexus) is situated around the navel area of our body, while the anahata chakra (heart) is at the heart centre. To learn more about the manipura and anahata chakras, go to the link below:
To learn more about chakras in general, read the blog post below:
Now, let’s take a look at which yoga asana may help you with the manipura and anahata chakras respectively.
There is so much mystery and esotericism attached to exploring the chakras, perhaps making some of us enticed and others sceptical about these energy wheels in our subtle body.
If you haven’t read the blog post on the first two chakras, check it out below:
If you haven’t read the blog post on chakras in general, read it below:
The chakras exist, whether we ‘believe in them’ or not, much like stones or rocks exist. Perhaps they cannot be seen, but energy many times cannot be seen or touched. But as with all things yoga, it is the experience that helps our development and journey.
For me, learning about the chakras explained many things about my own self, and helped to rectify imbalances and shortcomings through practice- whether in yoga, meditation or reiki.
Let’s turn to the third and fourth chakra, the energy wheels that help us to shine and to relate respectively.
The chakras are wheels of energy in our subtle body. When the energy at one or a few of these chakras are weak or too strong, or if the ‘wheel isn’t turning’ in a smooth manner (metaphorically), light workers may say that the chakras are ‘imbalanced’ or the ‘kundalini isn’t rising’.
Take these terms with a pinch of salt, just know that things can be better for you if you work on these areas of the body.
Simply put, the muladhara chakra (root) is situated around the perineum, while the svadisthana chakra (sacral) is in the centre of the torso, in the space above the pubic bone and below the naval. To learn more about the muladhara and svadisthana chakras, go to the link below:
To learn more about chakras in general, read the blog post below:
When working on the chakras, it is always best to begin at the base / root and work upwards. It usually is the opposite when we work on the chakras in energy healing.
The first and second chakras – muladhara and svadhisthana chakras – are located on the lower regions of our spine. To read more on just the chakras, check out the link below:
In yoga, we usually work by beginning with the lowest chakra (whereas, for example, we go from the crown of the head downward). As mentioned previously, the chakras are wheels of energy in our subtle body that affects us: physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The muladhara chakra – or root chakra – is at the base of the spine. With males, it is in-between the anus and the genitals, and with females, it is near the cervix, where the vagina meets the uterus. “Mula” means ‘base’ and “adhara” means support.
This chakra is associated with the grounding aspects of our life. When we are provided for at our most basic levels – food, clothing, shelter – then we should be quite solid in our muladhara. This chakra also represents our relationship to earth – as its element is earth. Basically, if we are grounded, this energy wheel in our subtle body should be flowing smoothly.
Many of you, I’m sure, have heard some people say, “My chakras are misaligned” or “his third eye chakra is not open” and other similar commentary about the chakras from those ‘in the know’ (personal note: don’t be fooled, yoga schools and ‘spiritual’ enterprises can be as judgmental as any religious institution).
The chakras are energy wheels in our bodies – unseen, indiscernible by modern technology (I think) because the chakras are in our subtle body, or sukshma sarira. The understanding is that whatever takes place in one of our bodies (whether physical / gross body, subtle body or causal body – the three shariras) may have an effect – whether immediate or longer term – in the other bodies / shariras.
So important and compelling is the idea of the chakras that it is now a part of many healing modalities – aside from yoga and meditation. The chakras are at home in Ayurvedic medicine and also reiki healing. They also belong to both Buddhist and Hindu traditions.
When a certain wheel of energy is not churning its energy appropriately, they say that this chakra is “unbalanced” or “closed”. This affects the kundalini (simply put, the rise of energy along the seven main chakras from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
Once upon a time, I used to swim every single day. I got better with practice but it was only when I began swimming in London public pools that I got really FAST!
Unlike over here in sunny Malaysia, Londoners are very orderly. There are lanes cordoned off for fun-seekers, then lanes for beginners, then moderate-paced, and finally for fast swimmers.
In the middle of winter, in an outdoor heated pool, I decided to try my luck with moderate-paced swimmers. Over there, you would be swimming hand to feet and very few people swam anything but the front crawl / freestyle stroke.
I kept slapping the feet of the swimmer ahead of me and I just couldn’t slow my pace. This was even when I was using a pull buoy.
So I tried my luck with the fast swimmers and the tables were turned. The guy behind me kept slapping my feet and once or twice I had to dive down to allow those behind me to overtake above me.
But I persevered and in a few weeks, I kept pace with the best of them in the fast lanes of the outdoor swimming pool (in winter).
Yoga is much like this, especially if you are seeking to improve in the physical practice on the mat.
Once upon a time, you could say I was “religious”. I was born, baptised and confirmed as Anglican (or “Anglo Catholic” / “Church of England”) . To be honest, I wasn’t really “into” religion when I was younger. In fact, up to my mid-teens, I was a little bit up to my gills with religion.
By my late teens though, I decided to read the Bible – cover to cover. I began with the ‘Good News’ translation, followed by the NIV, then the KJV, and finally the New King James version. I finished all these by my mid-20s (I also read the missing books from the Catholic Bible by my mid 30s).
When we seek to expand ourselves, it’s not just our mind and emotions that need to expand, but also our bodies. We learnt in a previous post that a slouched position is a position of stress, a posture of fear even.
And sometimes, we don’t move towards expansion / transformation / manifestation because part of us is fearful or stressed. Moving forward, away from safe spaces, can be frightening, stressful event.
However, opening up our front body, especially our heart space, sometimes helps us to embrace the capacity of change and expansion. Before you move on to the yoga poses illustrated in this post, however, take a read of the following blog posts on yoga heart-openers:
The first and last on the list may be most helpful to you before you proceed. Also, if you have any low back issues, please be very cautious and seek the advice of your medical practitioner before you proceed.
The next four yoga movements / poses may help you open up your heart and embrace change and expansion.
There is so much talk about ‘transformation’ and ‘manifestation’, both of which is taken to mean expansion. Most of the times, we also throw in the other favourite catchphrase – ‘abundance’ – into the mix as well.
In the same breath, we usually talk about yoga being all-accepting and all-embracing, of being ‘inclusive’ and tolerant of us, at whatever stage of life we are in, and whatever frame of mind we may be in.
This is all true… but there’s a BUT!
Let’s pause and ask what all this means. What does it mean to ‘manifest’? What does it mean to ‘transform’?
Let me be clear – ‘transforming’ / ‘manifesting’ / ‘expanding’ is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who embrace cancel culture, negating aspects and capacities of events and of others because it doesn’t suit them.
Expanding ourselves means we have to reflect on what triggers us, explore what holds us back, what is it about ourselves that is stopping us from moving forward.
It is gritty, dirty work that requires us to look at ourselves under a microscope. So for those of you who believe yoga is all sunshine, flowers, meadows and beaches, perhaps don’t read this blog post.
Expansion may arise through the surya namaskar movements, and also, of course, yoga heart-openers. As a prelude, yoga heart-openers (aka yoga backbends) are essential for our posture as we spend so much time hunched over, whether at work, while driving or while on our device.
A slouched posture with a chest that is caved-in is a posture of fear and stress. Our ribs (and therefore our diaphragm) are encumbered in breathing. Think about it, a posture that is kyphotic in the thoracic region is a defensive position.
So opening up our heart space (anterior thoracic region) requires a degree of courage, both physically and emotionally. When we open up ourselves to others, it requires courage. It requires us to be vulnerable and authentic in our sincerity. The same can be said when we open up physically in our heart space.
Here are some links on yoga backbends (with the watchpoints – so please don’t skip them!):
Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all. Life may seem stale, or life may seem overwhelming. Sometimes. you may feel no one understands you or no one truly appreciates you. All these are perfectly valid reasons to take a self-retreat. Another perfectly valid reason to take a self-retreat is just because you have time and feel like you want one.
Taking time off to heal and rejuvenate is totally fine: after all, you need to look after yourself before you can look after the other responsibilities you have. Recently, I took some time off and did a few brief self-retreats, culminating in a full-day at-home self-retreat that really did the trick! Here are a few pointers I would like to share with you.
Why do you need a self-retreat?
When I was planning a self-retreat, I thought I just needed to get away from urban life and daily routine. So I thought I would feel renewed after Eddy and I took some time off in Cameron Highlands. I was wrong.
Empowering you with quick tools to help bring clarity and calm to the mind and body.
A corporate yoga and mindfulness workshop.
Have a toolbox at your fingertips to help you de-stress at work in bite-size form, so that you can progress through your day with clearer, fresher minds and bodies.
The Yoga Lunchbox is a three-hour workshop empowering busy workers with quick tools to help bring clarity and calm to the mind and body.
Participants of the workshop are taught mindfulness tools and yoga stretches – independent of each other – to use as and when they need them, so that their decisions and actions at work will be free from stress, reactiveness and overwhelm.
Using yoga movement to salute the light within ourselves..
The classical surya namaskar.
The classical sun salutations (Sanskrit = surya namaskar) is a yoga movement flow that combines a number of yoga asana. In the case of the classical version (or Sivananda tradition) discussed here, there are 12 steps or movements to the flow for each side.
When we practise the sun salutes, it is an inner salute to two aspects of the sun (as a metaphor) within us:
Energy – we are energy and we acknowledge that energy that enables to move, be still, causes us to breathe, think, digest, blink our eyes and even to sleep – all our abilities made possible through energy;
Light of awareness – our awareness to anything and everything that has our focus, including our breath and movement in the sun salute practice.
Life has ironies. I’m not sure how it happened, but I myself went through a pretty big wall in my journey forward. I couldn’t feel the need, desire or wish to serve, work, even get out of bed. It was probably burnout, and usually after a break, I would be up and raring to go!
So, Eddy and I headed out to Cameron Highlands (more of that later), but sadly, after the holiday, I felt even more lethargic. In fact, I almost felt like I was falling ill.
I haven’t discussed it here, but I share caregiving duties with my brother to look after both my parents – who are ageing and somewhat unwell. That has taken a toll out of me, both mentally and emotionally. This obviously affects me physically and with my job.
So what did I do?
Firstly, I continued with my meditation, reiki and movement practices. Part of me realised that my movement practices also felt stale, so I began digging around for something new to do, something that my reinvigorate me – and I remembered, swimming!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we ground and prepare for our transformation through yoga in our midlife, it is always good to have balance. Balance is one of the most skilful capacities we hope to cultivate in yoga, and it is crucial for grounding, letting go and expansion / manifestation.
Yoga philosophy is great when it comes to finding that middle ground to between inertia and being inert when it comes to our midlife awakening through yoga.
Santosha / Contentment.
From the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we have second rung of the Eight-Limb Yoga Path – or Ashtanga Yoga, namely the niyamas. The niyamas guide us towards a more positive and skilful relationship with ourselves. Only once we form a good connection to ourselves, we may in turn form positive and enduring relationships with others.
One of the elements or capacities of the niyamas is santosha – or ‘contentment’. Being content actually is far more difficult than we may think. Even in our everyday life, we have thoughts about ‘how the day may be better if…’ and in life, ‘how we may be happier if…’ It’s bound to pop up, at least now and then – we are after all only human.
While. we ground to move forward, we also need to be open to let go. While we will be looking at letting go as a capacity much more extensively later, we can begin to loosen any gripping we have right now as we ground to move forward.
While I am much more practised as a yoga teacher, I also am a reiki healer. One of the preparations for reiki healing is a mantra meditation that helps to liberate us from unskilful capacities that usually grip us throughout the day.
The meditation uses the Five Principles of Reiki by Dr. Mikao Usui, and you too can use it in your meditations for transformative change in your (mid)life. Before we begin, however, let’s take a look at each of the principles in turn.
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!
When we seek transformation or change, we need good grounding, and the grounding steps we take also requires the capacity to move forward. While many consider yoga “just exercise” or “just stretching”, the philosophy underpinning the ‘exercise’ and ‘stretching’ is key – otherwise, it really isn’t ‘yoga’ as such, it is really is just exercise and just stretching.
There are quite a number of helpful philosophical resources in yoga that helps us to move forward in our plans for transformation. All of them require reflection, so all of them require courage on our part.
There is nothing harder than looking within ourselves and discovering things we never knew while peeling the layers. So while we remain open in hearts and minds, we also should be gentle with ourselves. Just so long as we move forward.
I love travel – experiencing new places, observing new cultures – even if it’s in my own country. In fact, sometimes, travelling domestically is great because it gives me the opportunity to see my own country and experience cultures hidden away in the villages and countryside, cultures that belong to me as a citizen of this space.
Because of the two years of pandemic, travel has been difficult though. In the beginning of 2021, I had planned to go for a short break to Cameron Highlands, a hill resort area in Malaysia, with my partner, Eddy. Unfortunately, due to the torrential rains of the monsoon season, we decided to cancel the trip. It was just as well because a few days later, there was a tremendous landslide that caused some devastation and isolation to the hilltop town.
This year, we decided to head to Desaru, on the east coast of the peninsula in December. As expected, the torrential rains came again, but surprisingly it didn’t hit the east coast at the time we had planned.
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.
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.
When it comes to transformation, we need to have a solid grasp of our foundation – as well as have a good foundation – to elicit that change. In yoga, we use the tool of grounding to help us through challenging moments.
As a preamble though, it’s good to know that challenges come in moments. We just need to survive that moment, and then we can move forward. After awhile, these challenging moments may have greater intervals between them.
And we overcome them, there is the sense of power (or Lakshmi) that we have, that we can draw upon the next time the challenge comes around.
What is grounding?
Grounding means many things in many disciplines, but in yoga, it means bringing ourselves to the present moment. What we seek to do when we bring ourselves to the present moment is to distance ourselves from the grippings of the past and of the future.
Think about it. When something challenges us, it usually is something that haunts us from the past, or something we seek in the future. So going to the example of cutting down coffee intake, if I am yearning for a cup of coffee, it’s my focus on future gratification that drives the moment. I am not focused on what’s happening right now. It is an opportunity to bring myself to the moment, what I am experiencing right now.
It’s the New Year! I don’t usually have New Year’s resolution, but this year, I have a big one. It’s to move away from being a yoga teacher, and move towards being a yoga visionary. What this means is basically moving away from working daily gigs to planning and implementing how I hope to serve you in the long-run. Shout-out to Kelly McHugh, founder of Digital Yoga Academy, for the inspiration!
What about you?
Are you planning to make changes for yourself. As a midlifer, we usually assess where we are and what we hope to achieve or acquire. Some of us hope to make changes to our health or wellness, some of us hope maybe work more in community work and give back to society.
Our midlife holds a myriad of opportunities because it really isn’t too late. The best thing about being a midlifer is we have a slew of experience behind and an accumulation of knowledge and wisdom. Plus, we have time to make changes, if we take the correct measures and are patient with ourselves.
Changing is as easy as you think.
Our mind isn’t only the bulwark of our transformation, but the fountain from which we draw our ability to change. For me, some things can be easier to change – for example, I had little problem giving up sugar and high-glycemic carbs and meat during my yoga teacher training. I still have little difficulty abstaining from these.
However, I do struggle with abstaining from coffee. Not that I want to give up coffee completely, but just reducing my intake. However, I tried alternating cups of decaffeinated with my daily intake (which is a lot!), and I found that this really helps.
Another change I find I struggle with my impatience and judgment while driving. But years of working with tools learnt from yoga and reiki has led me to be a lot more equanimous than I ever used to be. I am not 100% zen, but I am more zen than not, which is something I am really happy about.
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.
Once upon a time, there was a man who found his mind wondering when he meditated. Tried as he might, he couldn’t “still the mind” and found himself miles away daydreaming. He even found himself disappointed when his meditation timer rang, so engrossed was he in his stories.
Contemplation with stories, a form of Ignatian meditation, sounds like the type of meditation this guy should be doing.. Made famous by Saint Ignatius Loyola, this form of meditation (or reflection or prayer) can be liberating because we have the liberty to live a story during the time of our sitting practices.
As a backgrounder, Saint. Ignatius Loyola, born in 1491, was from a family of minor in Spain. He was seriously wounded during a battle with the French in 1521. During his convalescence, Ignatius was aroused through Christianity to do great things. Over time, Ignatius became skilled in spiritual direction, with his insights compiled in his book ‘The Spiritual Exercises’. Together with a small group of friends, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, who are conceived to be “contemplatives in action”.
While this form of meditation may be rooted in Christianity, it can be used with any forms of stories, reflections, even poetry. The practice need not use religious texts at all, so let’s have an open heart and humbled mind to receive.
Moving with yoga sequences based on the stories helps us to embody the capacities we reflect on in the tales. This may move us to greater reflection, and from there, greater clarity and calm within ourselves.
If you are feeling triggered all the time, easily blaming others and seeking clarity for yourself, we can use the stories to perhaps learn a little about our own story – what we tell ourselves, what others have told us, the things that have happened to us and how we responded – and how all this and so much more become part of our narrative.
With mindful reflection and movement through stories, there is potential to declutter. And that is how we slowly move towards clarity and calm for the long term.
There once was a woman who was curious to learn about what Shiva’s role in yoga practice was. She learnt that Shiva was considered to be the ‘ultimate yogi’, and wondered if this was a gender-thing, or because he was greater than other deities discussed in yoga.
This lady found out soon that Shiva – the ultimate yogi – represents subjective consciousness, and not really a god or a man (although he could be that, if she wanted to see him that way).
The woman in question began to see that whenever we discuss Shiva, it is rare we that we do not also mention Shakti, or the goddess. The goddess represents many things, but in the context of Shiva, the goddess represents energy (or power). In some contexts, Shiva symbolises purusha (which is the mind independent of nature), while Shakti symbolises nature (prakrti).
The woman in our story discovered that it was important to understand that these concepts were told as stories to people over time. The wisdom was given characteristics, humanised and deified so that the concepts would be understood more easily, and also easily recounted to others over time.
It’s not just when we sit and watch TV or a movie, or when we open a book for our bedtime read. Stories envelope our lives because we are stories.
From the moment of birth until the day we are immersed back into time, we live a story. The choices we make, the people we meet, the happiness we bask in and the sorrow we feel are moments of our stories.
Our stories are intertwined with stories of those around us, and they contribute to our stories by giving us tales of those who are in their story. We react, we respond, we judge, we praise and we condemn.
And all this is part of our story.
How we view our own story can be very different from others we aren’t the protagonist in our tale. Just as how we view the story of others isn’t the same as how they view it. After all, they are the protagonists of their stories, not us.
What has this got to do with clarity, calm and confidence?
The thing about clarity, calm and confidence is that it all boils down to us. If we want to have clarity, we need to work to declutter. If we want to invite calm, we have to make an effort and skilful choices. Once these two elements come into lives, we tend to get a little confident.
What with World Heart Day on the 29th of September and World Stroke Day on the 29th of October, let’s see how yoga helps our heart health.
Yoga has four distinct components that helps our heart, bringing measurable improvements to our cardiovascular health, lowering our blood pressure, improving our sleep, and mitigating inflammation to our arteries.
Of course, most of us view yoga as a form of exercise. Some see it as stretching, others see it as gymnastics, and maybe some of us see it as just lying around on cushions and bolsters. Yes, yoga is all this and much more!
We know exercise is good for the entire body, not just the heart. And the wonderful thing about exercise for heart health is that certain exercise programmes can help us regain elasticity of the heart muscle, even if we only begin exercising before the age of 65.
Cardiologists from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Resources in Dallas discovered that we can reverse stiffening of our heart muscle that can develop from lack of physical activity if we commit to an exercise programme (see here).
It’s Healthy Lung Month in the USA, and it seems like a great time to discuss yoga breath work, also known as pranayama, and the benefit it brings to our lung health.
Our breath has been present from the moment we are born, and leaves us when we leave life. It is linked to every moment, and carries us through every emotion and experience.
When we are anxious, stressed, unhappy, we may find our breath shallow, short and rapid. When we are sated, or relaxed, or when we are with loved ones or in joyful moments, we may find our breath deep and full – we may feel it from our belly right to our nostrils.
Our breath carries us through life, so let’s give the organ that generates our breath a little love and care.
How often do you notice your breath?
For me as a yoga teacher, the first thing I would suggest you do is to notice your breath and the experiences and sensations your lungs give you. Breathing is easy when you have healthy lungs – is your breathing is natural and easy? Notice your breath as it is, avoid making the breath longer. Then check-in with your breath and lungs. Then continue reading!
When we breathe, our diaphragm should be doing about 80% of the work. Our lungs receive the oxygen (mixed with other gases), and expels the waste gas out. Lung HelpLine respiratory therapist, Mark Courtney, explains this about healthy lungs:
Often times, yoga is stripped of its “religious” background because it is felt that “yoga should be for everyone”, no matter what religion or whether they are religious or not.
It is also felt that the stories in yoga are “woo-woo” and it sometimes “offends” the sensitivities of those belonging to other faiths. While this may appear to be fair statement to some, I personally do not ascribe to it.
I am Christian, and yoga philosophy embodied in its stories has helped to expand my faith and my mind. The stories are a crucial part for growth. When we grow, it usually requires a challenge to our minds or to our comfort zone. And challenges are not to be feared, as Kelly McHugh of the Digital Yoga Academy has often said to her students (including me!).
Secondly, the stories are not ‘religious’ in the sense some of us are used to. The gods and goddesses, demons and monsters, do not represent actual deities or beings or entities. What they represent are metaphors, ideas and capacities.
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.
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.
When it comes to meditation, most people say to me they cannot sit still and do nothing, because their thoughts begin to interrupt. Some clients say that they begin to think about lunch or dinner, or what they will buy online after they finish their sit practice.
In a sense, all this is fine. The thing is – in our modern life, we have expectations of obtaining goals. We rarely look at an activity without hoping for an outcome (lose fat, gain flexibility, lower blood sugar) because our activities usually are all outcome-based (consider how we have been put into this thought pattern from the time we hit school).
There is no KPI to meditation.
Yoga movement and sitting practices have no KPIs. Do not consider what you see on social media as the outcome you get from moving on the mat. And do not believe that calm will be ushered in as soon as you sit to meditate.
During meditation, of course our mind may wander. Of course, we may suddenly discover an itch that wasn’t there before we sat down. Of course, we may find our stomach growling in anticipation of the next meal. Meditation was not made for robots.
During this time of pandemic, economic dip and – for some of us – political turmoil, it’s likely we have been experiencing stress – whether we realise it or not.
This in turn may lead to elevated blood pressure. If we ignore this, it could lead to less than desirable results. To learn more about how to regulate your blood pressure, read the previous post below.
WHO defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.
When I first began learning how to teach yoga about a decade ago, I was amazed at the number of things we can use to help us learn how to get into yoga poses.
“Yoga doesn’t mean lean bodies contorted in amazing shapes on the mat,” I had thought. Helping out at Manasa Yoga’s special classes for older people, and people living with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia really was an eye-opening experiencing.
Reasons to use a chair for yoga.
Before we move into how to use chairs for yoga, and chair yoga sequences, here are a few reasons to use the chair for your yoga practice.
Home yoga practice is now the norm, with COVID-19 and its variants, and also on-again / off-again lockdowns taking place worldwide.
Opportunities to grow your home practice, connect to yoga poses, yoga drills and yoga philosophy can help us draw in the calm and clarity to help us navigate this new world that is developing before our eyes.
None of us were born super yogis.
All the social media photos and videos you see are from hours, months and years of practice; of discipline and deep focus and ‘tapas’ (want to know what’s ‘tapas’? Learn more below!).
Are you suffering a little from low back pain, like me? Sitting in our cars, slouching over our computers, standing a great deal when presenting or teaching a class, climbing stairs to avoid lifts, heavy squats, too-soft mattresses – all these contribute towards having soreness in the low back.
Here are a few yoga wall stretches I do to help relieve low back tension. They are easy, accessible, you can do them anytime – so long as you have a wall.
Movement is so important for us. I think we all know that human beings weren’t meant to be sedentary and stagnant – we are meant to move!
Sadly, our lives have become busier and busier. An eight-hour workday never really is “eight hours”, and sometimes our work bleeds into our weekends as well. This leaves little time for family, friends, let alone exercising and movement.
However, if we let ourselves go, it is most likely to our detriment – whether short- or long-term. Our body doesn’t only contain stress occurring from our physical activities (and non-activities!), but also our emotions.
Malaysia had its first full lockdown last year and I lost so much fat, it was incredible. I followed basic principles most personal trainers / fitness coaches know and dropped three kilograms & three percent body fat. Take a read below:
Read a few of the things I did last year to lose fat and get lean:
But then this year…
Malaysia had two (read that – TWO!) total lockdowns since January. The January 2021 lockdown had me emotionally drained and feeling depressed, mainly because so many great things had been happening in my work life and also physically in terms of bodybuilding.
However, in February and March, when things had opened up, I began to experience burn out at the gym, so I took it easy. By the time we went into the second lockdown (🙄) in May, physically my condition wasn’t tip-top (which was okay because I had planned to go full throttle in May).
So it was with dismay that I saw total deterioration in my condition by the end of May. With some reflection, I realised these were the mistakes I had been making:
My workouts weren’t intense enough – I was translating my gym workouts to home, using the lighter weights I had that didn’t give me the intensity I needed to lose fat, or the volume to gain muscle. Also, because it was a “direct” transfer of a gym-to-home workout, I neglected cardio.
I wasn’t consuming enough protein – I had minimised my protein intake during March and April 2021 because I had dropped my workout days to three times a week. When the lockdown began, even though I exercised, my mindset was that if I didn’t go to gym, I didn’t need to consume the protein. That was a big mistake.
I was consuming more sugar than necessary – I discovered the joys of condensed milk and dumped it into coffee every single day! What a big fat mistake that was!
Added to this was the drop in muscle mass due to my scaling back in the gym during March and April 2021, and that caused a greater gain in fat than I would have liked.
So what did I do?
Firstly, I cut down my simple carbs (or sugars), including the dreaded condensed milk! That was the simplest thing to do.
Secondly, I increased the intensity of my workouts. Since my weights are relatively light, the things I did to increase the intensity were:
Reduce rest periods from one minute to 30 seconds, sometimes 15 seconds, depending on how good I was feeling;
Introduce plyometrics. Plyometrics are anything where you jump and land on the ground (or a surface) again. This doesn’t have to be both limbs, so to me, running is a form of plyometrics. But since I don’t enjoy running (LOL! 😆🙈), I added exercises like Jumping Jacks, Squat Jumps, Burpees with jumps etc. into the mix.
Incorporate more intense exercise modalities, such as Tabata and other cardio strength modalities. I will include a video from Athlean-X at the end of the post that you can opt to do for an intense cardio strength burn, if you wish.
Started consuming more protein. During this lockdown, I find I have become more vegetarian (maybe because a lot of the meat sold doesn’t seem fresh), so I supplemented with a slow-release whey isolate protein powder. If you need help with this, contact me.
In the previous post, we discussed how yoga can help brighten your mood when you are feeling down or drained or both. Aside from a few other modalities to bring in some cheer into your heart and mind (and body), we also looked at a little bit of breath practice (pranayama) that helps to elevate your mood.
This post will look at yoga movement that may help enhance your mood, in mind and body. When it comes to uplifting yoga poses (or asanas), we usually look to opening up our hearts, and sometimes going upside down.
Heart-opening can be a tricky activity, especially if you have a stiff or sore low back, or immobile pelvis. But because we tend to sit a lot, and that may lead to slouching a lot, let’s give priority to heart-openers (or otherwise known as backbends).
Here’s a short yoga sequence for you when you are in need of a pick-me-upper:
Brighten with backbends sequence
Follow the sequence of yoga poses below for a quick mood booster. If you aren’t sure on how to execute the pose, click on the link to go to a YouTube video explainer:
This year may not be looking as the respite we were hoping for from 2020. Some of us are sad, some are anxious, some of us are angry or frustrated. All these are valid feelings to have. It is a difficult time. But taste them, and let dance away from your moment.
We control ourselves.
The one thing we can control is ourselves and our responses to our situations and circumstances. Usually, our anger or frustration, our thoughts of what “should be” and what “shouldn’t be” arise from unmet expectations. We cannot control expectations we have of others or of the circumstances around us. In that sense, perhaps the most skilful thing we can do is to invite ourselves to let go of these expectations.
If you, like me, are finding yourself feeling down now and then, because of the pandemic and numerous lockdowns, there are a few ways to dispel the feeling of being drained and spiritless.
Because the COVID-19 situation may not be dispelled soon, the best thing is to try to brighten up ourselves and deal with the cards we’re dealt with. Other than that, things is really beyond our control (stay tuned for next week’s blog post on dealing with what’s in our own control).
What do we control?
If you are feeling a little lethargic in body or mind, you can view a previous post on dispelling lethargy with a few yoga poses.
But yoga can go beyond just fixing lethargy. Certain yoga poses, yogic breathing (pranayama) and yoga philosophy and stories can truly help to brighten you. Sometimes you may need to pause and reflect, but you may well leave your practice wondering why you were feeling down in the first place.
Our mornings are incredibly powerful times to set the tone of the day. It’s the start of something new, a chance to do things better and have a more fulfilling experience than we did the day before (even if that was a. good day!).
As outlined in the previous post, I begin my day with:
Thoughts of gratitude
All the while, I am moving through the mundane parts of my morning routine, such as coffee, breakfast etc. Now, let’s dive into the next few things I do to help set up my day for clarity, calm and success.
You wake up every workday to a rushed and harassed morning. You move from mini crisis to crisis and you can barely find the time to take a breath. If this sounds like you, and if you are struggling with the stresses and overwhelm of the day, here’s a mini-course to help bring on the calm!
There was a time when I used to hate going to bed at night, because that would mean the day has ended and I really didn’t want the next morning to arrive.
Working the busy corporate lifestyle of a young lawyer was stress upon stress: from clients, bosses, colleagues, law clerks, court clerks, judges, magistrates; not forgetting also demands from family obligations and other personal duties. It was a tough life.
Get the Mindful Mornings Mini Course!
An introductory video about integrating mindfulness into your morning routines;
A quick meditation that can be easily included into your mornings, and that can lengthened or shortened depending on your time constraints;
A quick yoga mat movement practice that can be lengthened or shortened depending on your schedule;
A video on an array of mindfulness tools you may want to employ in your routine; AND
BONUS CONTENT – four videos on all aspects of adding mindfulness to your mornings; AND
BONUS CONTENT – four more videos on wall yoga stretches that help to relieve low back soreness!
So, working from home can be a struggle if we’re just not used to it, or if we keep going into lockdown and coming out of it over and over again. If you haven’t read the first part of this series, click on the button below.
So once we have the right mindset, got ourselves organised and included our own self-care, it’s time to speak to the people who share your home with you.
Managing your household.
It’s best to have a good talk with family to ensure that it’s clear that you’re working from the outset. Explain in a loving but firm way what you have planned for you and – if necessary – also for them.
Once you’ve set the boundaries, just see how the workdays go. You may find your children still come to you while you work, or perhaps your other dependents still infringe on your time.
That’s fine. Welcome, witness and recognise it and do what’s necessary in as equanimous manner possible – using principles of grounding / letting go for the process.
Sometimes we can feel just so heavy and unmotivated, even comatose. And we have tons to do!
Here are a few yoga quick-fixes to pep up your body and mind into a more alert and inspired state. Check out the videos below.
Bridge pose may be bit challenging in the office, but if you’re working from home, there should be no problem.
The same goes for bow pose. Perhaps a bit challenging to do in an office space, but if you’re a home worker, no problem. Use child’s pose as a counter pose.
Finally, chair-supported camel pose may be doable in your office, if you’re comfortable doing it there (or if you have a private office space). Please also use a stable chair as a support. As with bow pose, use child’s pose to counter.
Please do let me know in the comments if this has worked for you. Also do comment and let me know what you would like to see me discuss / show you!
The new norm – now in its second year – seems to be here to stay. Some of us may have just re-entered lockdown again, while some of us started working from home in 2020 and never stopped.
Whatever the situation, balancing work and home life while working from home can be a challenge – but it’s a challenge that can be surmounted. In fact, once we accept the appropriate perimeters and put them in place.
1. The right mindset.
The first thing we need to do is have the right mindset. We still have a home life, we also still have a home life – what is happening is we’re integrating work into our home setting.
If we’re living on our own or with housemates, perhaps this integration may come more easily. We wouldn’t have family or dependents at home that unexpectedly find us always there. But if we do have family or friends or dependents sharing our home space, then we need to have the right mindset.
As a yoga teacher and personal trainer, I can honestly tell you how badly stress can affect your yoga practice or workout if you allow it to cling to you. Of course, it affects your health, your emotional wellbeing and maybe even eventually your relationships.
So here are three yoga poses to help you battle stress.
Child’s pose is great before bed, or sneak one in if you have a private space at work!
If you have begun your yoga journey and bought all the tools you feel you need – such as your mat, your yoga blocks, your yoga strap, maybe even a yoga bolster – then discover you aren’t using them at all, this post is for you.
Maybe you feel a little “less than”, or maybe you just don’t know how to use those yoga props, I am here to show you how. Check out the videos below:
Since about 2016, I have always wanted to broaden my teaching horizons online. The COVID-19 pandemic worldwide catapulted me online. I had a few tech issues in March-May 2020, but I began to explore what avenues I have, aside from YouTube or Instagram.
What happened was life swooped in again in June of 2020, and my own in-person yoga classes, fitness personal training sessions and in-person reiki sessions took up all my time. Or… I just am bad at time management!
Centring prayer (or “centering” prayer) is also a form of concentration practice for me. In fact, it’s so similar to mantra meditation, I would say they are the same. Again, as with all concentration practices, I consider them as dharana practices (see here for a definition of “dharana”).
The only difference is that the former comes from Christian practice and the latter from the yoga tradition. Any argument about the differences, in my own personal view, is semantics and honestly brings the practice no benefit whatsoever.
Imagine this! Imagine you’ve decided to better yourself, and you heard how good yoga is for you. You step inside, everyone is wearing Lululemon leggings and using Manduka mats. Some men are wearing Under Armour apparel and all of them have an array of stuff around them: yoga blocks, straps and some even have tripods with their phones all ready to catch them in yoga action!
Let me just start by saying that we all start somewhere. When I first started more than 15 years ago, I probably was the only guy in class. I was like a bull in a china shop. It was seriously intimidating.
Dharana is the sixth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It refers to concentration of the mind. Practicing dharana involves fixing the mind on a particular object — either external (such as an image or deity) or internal (such as a chakra).
Some say that trataka is part of Hatha Yoga, or what’s considered to be the physical practice of yoga (i.e. asana, or the yoga poses we practise on the mat). Maybe this is because one practises this with the sense of sight (with eyes open). However, I don’t really think it’s there is a right or wrong thought process on what it is. Let’s focus on what it helps with.
Learn basic principles of meditation & yoga.
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Trataka gives similar benefits as other forms of meditation. Here are a few:
Strengthens your eye muscles
Helps to treat some eye disorders
Helps with insomnia
Helps fight depression
Promotes better focus and concentration
Improves emotional stability
Contraindications: anyone living with schizophrenia or other psychological issues.
(source for the above: Sureshot Ayurveda)
How to practise trataka.
Make sure you sacred space for meditation is dark or darkened. Candle gazing perhaps is best practised at dawn or before bed when the sun is not up. Alternatively, close off the curtains, dim your lights, and prepare for your practice.
Remove all distractions, such as your phones and mobile devices. If you’re living in a household of people, inform them you’d prefer not to be disturbed during this duration.
Find a flat surface with is preferably eye- or shoulder-level for your candle. Remove all flammable material nearby. Select your candle. You may use candles of any colour or length, and you may use a scented candle if you like.
Place your candle in its proper holder or container (such as a saucer) and light it. As with all meditation practices, wear comfortable clothes and ensure the room temperature is at a level that allows you a good sit practice for at least five minutes.
Set your timer or meditation app for the duration of time you would like. Then, about two feet (approximately) away from the candle, sit with spine upright (this helps because if you intend to sit for awhile, bad posture may result in low back pain or other physical discomfort).
Keep your eyes focused on the candle and do your best to keep your eyes steady. You may find your eyes watering, which is fine. Consider this a good cleansing practice for your eyes. Blink those tears away and keep your gaze steady on the candle. Sensations of irritation will pass if you keep focused on the flame.
Whenever you find your mind or eyes wandering, bring them back to the flame. Again, as with all concentration practices, your environment may fade as time passes; all that is left is you and the candle flame.
When your timer goes off, wipe away any tears if necessary and take a short savasana i.e. lie down and close your eyes for a duration of time. This will help prepare your body and mind to restore themselves before the rest of your daily activities.
I hope this helps. Leave a comment below if you’d like more information, or just tell me what your experiences with candle gazing are in the comments! I love hearing from you!
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It is post Chinese New Year in Malaysia. We’re still under the Movement Control Order (MCO 2.0) but restrictions have slowly been lifting. The good news for fitness and wellness buffs is that fitness and sports venues are allowed to open, including yoga studios.
Have you hit the gyms in person yet? Have you rolled out your mat in the yoga studio?
In general, this is what has happened to the local fitness industry:
From my own personal viewpoint, I definitely have had a decline in revenue, but being a solopreneur, I didn’t have to fire anyone (myself?). I am actually very grateful for all the support I had from all the practitioners who joined me on my yoga livestream classes. I couldn’t have done it without you guys!
It began about five years ago. I began bloating up and no matter what workout I did, I just could not drop the bulk. Not only was I concerned, being a fitness fanatic, but also there is some expectation that I would look like a yoga teacher / fitness trainer. There came a point when I was doing 50-100 burpees a day just to try to get some fat loss.
Sadly, us Malaysians are back into a quasi lockdown, with the situation of COVID-19 far worse now than it was 12 months ago. Although it’s announced for a fortnight, we may end up being in lockdown for a month or up to 12 weeks!
So it’s best to just readjust to home life again, some with work and some without. What can we do to ensure balance, both physically as well as emotionally / spiritually?
Our bodies are meant to move, whether in quarantine or not. Our physical health does affect our mental health, so we need to keep moving. In fact, during a lockdown, we may end up being more sedentary than we wish, so it is crucial we take time for physical activity during the day.
What you can do:
Follow some suggestions here for strength training
Every five years or so, I tend to gain a lot of fat and have to work doubly hard to get rid of it. Once I hit 45 years of age, it became clear to me – I was experiencing andropause.
Andropause is defined as:
The gradual decline in testosterone levels in middle-aged men, often accompanied by physiological changes such as fatigue, decreased energy, and decreased libido.
The male equivalent of the menopause in women; characterised by a decline in sexuality and overall energy.
Interestingly, around five years ago, I began getting clients who were experiencing the same. This, coupled with my own experience, made me really interested in bodybuilding. More on that in later blog posts.
So here I am, having gained some muscle and lost fat from all my gym workouts, now stuck at home for the MCO Malaysia 2.0. What to do what to do?
I’m sure I’m not the only one in this conundrum, after having got back to a gym routine and seen progress. I had to remind myself that the initial fat loss I experienced was through all the home workouts I had done during MCO 1.0.
So here’s my plan:
I have finished off this week’s workout of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workout (as described here), with the second half modified for home. I have also added on a cardio / HIIT element to try to lose some fat.
My hope for the MCO 2.0 is to maintain the muscle I have gained, while losing more fat. From next week onwards, I probably won’t be following the bodybuilding workout as I have done since the lockdown lifted last May and the gyms open.
What I hope to do from next week is to maintain the HIIT / cardio element and do a full-body cardio strength workout, as I did last year. I also hope to add elements of calisthenics, looking to Al Kavadlo for inspiration on pistol squats and one-armed push ups.
I have been working out for almost three decades now, and there have been two occasions when I have experienced great gains:
When I trained under a personal trainer, namely Kodin
When I trained hard to be a coach for boot camp
Now I have discovered a third – buddy training!
An acquaintance of mine asked if I could work out with him. He would help pay for the gym membership (to ease logistics and scheduling, since I already have membership with another gym), and I would work out with him and hopefully he would get some fat loss and muscle gains.
Recently, I went through a pretty bad phase. Things were breaking down (cars. computers, phone), accidents were happening (to me, to Eddy, to my car), I was more susceptible to physical injury and illness, and ghosts from the past came to haunt me legally.
I had thought that it was just some form of ‘attack’ or bad energy I was attracting. I was meditating, praying and sending reiki to myself on a daily basis. I wasn’t sure what else I needed to do.
Because of a number of personal issues, I have been spending a lot of time in self-care. A string of ill-fortune, culminating in one big fat crisis, caused me a lot of anxiety, unhappiness, worry and a bunch of other negative emotions that I won’t even list!
The funny thing is on the day I got the Big Bad News, I attended a full-moon meditation that helped me realise I have a lot of skills to help me navigate through crisis without lowering my vibrations and allowing the circumstances to dictate how I would view daily experiences.
Sadly, in the midst of my September crisis, our oldest cat of 20 years passed away. Both Eddy and I saw it coming, but her end was so swift and we were both experiencing my crisis that her passing added a lot of stress to both of us.
Her issue was she had difficulty pooping and because of that, she stopped eating. It took her about two days to pass on. At first, we hoped she was just ill, but after a few days of having to syringe the food, we knew she was leaving us.
Aside from my own usual self-care, I spent a great deal of time sending reiki to her, maybe three to four times a day. Through reiki, I have learnt to some extent to communicate with these animals who are close to me and vice-versa. Dusty was no exception.
Since September, I decided I needed to up my game in the gym. I have had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “New Encyclopaedia of Modern Bodybuilding” for awhile, but I just glanced at the workouts and found them totally intimidating. But this time, I decided to read the book from start to finish.
What I found was that Arnie is well-deserving for his reputation of a fitness inspiration. Not only has he vast knowledge, he also has vast experience, and he shares it all in this book. Aside from his humorous anecdotes of his sports career, he explains what worked for him, what didn’t and he makes all the scientific jargon very accessible, unlike those fitness textbooks I had to glean for my own certifications.
For me, anything that opens up the front of the body – which simultaneously denotes a contraction of the back of the body – is a backbend. We don’t need to get into a fancy urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow pose) to show the world we can do a backbend. A simple sethu bandhasana (bridge pose) is as much a backbend.
Rather than focusing on endpoints or Instagram-worthy photos, let’s take a look at the benefits of backbends.
Benefits of yoga backbends
decrease stress and anxiety,
increase spine flexibility and mobility,
among so many other benefits!
stretch the abdominals,
increase oxygen levels,
alleviate neck and back pain,
Strong yet open
Because we open the front body during yoga backbends, we require an openness and flexibility in the front – something we don’t often have because we tend to sit and slouch for the most part of the day. “Front” includes chest, abdominals, hip flexors and quads (front thighs). But aside from this, the opposite is also required, we need to have good strong back muscles, something that may also be lacking because of the sitting and slouching.
Well, maybe not how to use them coz there are so many ways! But at least some general tips for you on their uses. Before we get into this though, allow me first to give a little backgrounder.
The use of yoga props began extensively with Guruji Sri BKS Iyengar. The reason why I am doing a blog post on this is because I see a lot of people purchase yoga props but never use them. In fact, when I suggest to use them and how to use them, they’re still discarded, notwithstanding that their use is safer for you and also good utility of your purchase!
So here’s the lowdown on some yoga props:
Regular face towel
This key “prop” is so important! Firstly, to wipe up your sweat and also your yoga mat (important consideration during these COVID-19 times). Secondly, a towel can be used for reach which isn’t extensive. For example, let’s say you’re supposed to fold forward, and you really want to reach your feet – but can’t. Then use the towel to help you get that reach.
Yoga straps are not only important for reach (see Regular face towel on the left column), but also for further reach (e.g. arms behind the head backbends to feet).
More importantly, straps can be used to help soften or open you up into a pose even more, for e.g. in badhakonasana.
Straps are super handy, so use them!
Okay, this is the prop I see people carrying about but never using, and I’m not sure why.
Yoga blocks also help with reach, especially in poses such as trikonasana and parsvakonasana for the lower hand.
Blocks also help with seated poses where the glutes or quads are tight, such as triang mukha ekapada paschimottanasana. Use them so the pose is more accessible and safer for you!
Yoga bolsters can replace the blocks in some instances, but usually are used for restorative poses.
The yoga bolster is especially good for some inaccessible poses for me, like supta virasana; and also very good for opening the front body in recline poses.
Don’t be fooled though, the bolster can be used for some strength work, including core work, so it’s not 100% a rest or yin kinda prop.
When the Malaysian Movement Control Order 2020 (MCO) first commenced on 18 March 2020, authorities were pretty strict with the lockdown. Going out of the apartment for even a little jog in the car park led to police summons, for example.
As a preface, I really do not like long-distance running. When dinosaurs were chasing men, they weren’t chasing them over 40km in distance. Personally (and I know many disagree), I feel humans were meant for sprinting, not long-distance running.
Anyway, back to the point, we had to get creative with cardio. And so here’s what I did, and what I continue to do. Try out these options and tell me what you think in the comments!
If you live in an apartment
Apartments may give you more yield for cardio because of the stairs! There is no greater cardio when homebound than the stairs. When I had my old operation for my ruptured bicep tendon, the only exercise I could do was legs-related.
Stairs stairs stairs!
So climbing stairs was my go-to. During the lockdown, I climbed up to my apartment on the seventh floor at least once a day, if not more. When I was healing from my operation, I did about fourteen flours multiplied by four (i.e. 56 stories) in an evening. Sometimes, when I was hardworking, I would do double that.
So I got a little concerned when I heard a lot of people were gaining fat during the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO) 2020, otherwise known as the Malaysian lockdown. Would that be me as well?
After all, I went through the same stress (no job, little revenue, loans to repay etc.) as the most of us, and I also had some outstanding debts that weren’t forthcoming. I was encouraged though because in mid-April (when things were really tough for me), I found my shorts were loose. What news would a weigh-in bring?
I just unfroze my gym in July, when the RMCO (Recovery Movement Control Order) provisions allowed fitness and yoga facilities to re-open. I weighed myself and found about a 3 kg drop in weight, but the better news was it was accompanied by a three percent body fat loss!
For a long time, I have wanted to reach out online via live classes and pre-recorded sessions. It’s just that life kinda got in the way, know what I mean? The reasons for practising with a teacher online is numerous, but here’s my top seven!
1. Stay safe at home!
The COVID-19 is a new (novel) virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been giving us differing viewpoints on how to take care of ourselves, and you can’t really blame them because this is the first time we’re dealing with particular illness.
No matter what we do, going out exposes us to a risk. Yes, we may need to go to work, get groceries and essentials, and all these outings exposes us to risk. We can minimise this risk, however, if we minimise the number of times we head out. So perhaps for our own wellness, we can use the opportunity to stay home, rather than head out.
This minimises our risk of exposure, from the time we step into our car all the way to time we reach our home. Not forgetting all the health and hygiene protocols we need to adhere to: from washing of our hands constantly; keeping safe distances and also cleaning out of our yoga gear after practice. We can avoid all this hassle if we stay home, switch on our computer or devices, and have a class with our favourite teacher, right in the comfort of our own homes.
Some of you may know that I took reiki levels one and two last year. I have been practising it, both on clients and myself, but I haven’t really been publicising it that much because it is just so hard to explain. Like all the things I do, including writing, reiki (and yoga and essential oils) is experiential.
Reiki is a form of alternative therapy commonly referred to as energy healing. It emerged in Japan in the late 1800’s and is said to involve the transfer of universal energy from the practitioner’s palms to their patient.
I would say that the “practitioner’s palm to their patient” part isn’t necessary because reiki can be channelled by the patient him- or herself, as we have done, using the methods of qigong, another form of energy healing. Medical News Today continues:
So what have you been doing for exercise during the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO), which is now in its conditional phase (CMCO)? Once upon a time after my operation for ruptured bicep tendon, the only thing I could do was leg exercising and I climbed stairs everyday!
During the MCO though, I happened to have a body pump barbell set, two 10 kg dumbbells, a 10 kg kettlebell and also some 5 lb sand bells. At first, I began with cardio strength sets with the weights. I worked on some cardio HIIT sets as well. This, coupled with clean eating home-cooked food, and stair climbing to avoid the lifts, saw some fat loss within the first one and a half months of MCO / CMCO.
So what have you been up to during the Malaysian MCO (Movement Control Order)?
I had such huge plans, and was making some headway on online yoga classes and some writing projects. Long story short, the MCO began with some pretty bad food poisoning, then my mobile phone (just bought in November 2019) died (total black screen) on the third day of MCO. My computer began dying (battery stopped charging) on the fourth day of MCO, and also began to get slow on the seventh day of MCO.
Then my car battery died, my car air conditioning began to die, and finally I got into a car accident (my fault) and experienced some pretty bad whiplash.
This notwithstanding, I have managed to spend a lot of time in prayer, meditation and yoga practice. Of course, I do my own workout and also climb stairs now and then. And teach Zoom Yoga classes!
I have been so pumped with the Broga® Yoga classes at Activ Studio recently! The energy has been amazing and I am so grateful to everyone who comes!
Broga Yoga with me is a strong, energetic and challenging fitness-based yoga class. Broga Yoga combines the best core-strengthening, muscle-toning, cardio-working, stress-reducing, clarity-enhancing yoga postures with functional fitness exercises for an amazing workout. And it’s a great couple’s class as well!
Tuesdays 7 pm, come get #realfit! Let me know if you’re coming!
Initially, we did a “Yoga for Runners” workshop here in Kuala Lumpur. It was really well received and Simone Quinten of liked it enough to want to continue on with another workshop in Johor Bahru, “Yoga for Athletes”.
Recently, Simone asked me to revive this little yoga gem, and so we did a “Yoga for Athletes” workshop again, this time at FISAF Malaysia / Body For Life’s new studio in Plaza Damas.
Sometimes it’s good to get away and recoup. I used to do that at Maranatha in Janda Baik previously, but this year, Eddy and I decided to visit the Seven Fountains Retreat in Chiang Mai. A Catholic retreat in the Ignition tradition, just like Maranatha in Janda Baik, this is a retreat centre in the city (unlike Maranatha in Janda Baik!).
I have to admit, I was under the impression that the retreat centre was in the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thailand, maybe a little bit like how Janda Baik is to Kuala Lumpur. But actually, Seven Fountains is pretty close to a night market area and a bunch of massage places. It isn’t close to the main shopping and tourist areas of Chiang Mai, however.
Everyone knows I love animals and as a natural progression from that, I began to reiki my own animals, followed by animals of others.
I reached out to Furry Friends Farm who needed help with their sheep who was dying. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do distance healing at that point, and the other reiki healers could only provide comfort for the poor boy. Or perhaps it shouldn’t be ‘unfortunately’ because we all have our own time and our path, including the sheep!
So after I got my Usui Reiki Level 1, I diligently practised self-reiki on a daily basis. Sometimes, up to three sessions per day! One day, I decided to pull out my dōTERRA yoga collection during the reiki session, and the difference was incredibly noticeable. For that first session, I used dōTERRA Anchor & dōTERRA Arise for the meditation and reiki, and as soon as I put some Anchor on the soles of my feet, I could feel the waves of energetic vibration around me!
These ladies have been with me for three years now, and I couldn’t be more grateful! They even brought me over from Cyber Jaya to Bandar Utama when their department moved!
Nowadays, I tend to use essential oils during their class. I would either diffuse and/also offer topical use during savasana. Because they are now in an older building, sometimes I feel the air could do with some cleaning, so it would be dōTERRA blends, such as Easy Air™, Clearify or single oils, such as Peppermint with Wild Orange.
I met Bob Kee online ages ago when I wrote one or two pieces for the Micah Mandate, but I didn’t place him in that context when he followed my Broga Yoga Instagram under his Reiki Refuge profile. I met up with him, just to see what he was doing and learn more about him. So intrigued was I that I mentioned him to both Eddy and reiki healer and yoga teacher friend, Kat. They both wanted to meet up with him, and so we did!
My ears perked up when Kat said she managed to communicate with her dying dog using reiki. Bob confirmed that a form of communication could take place. I immediately said I wanted to learn! If there was one thing I would want to do, it is to communicate to my animals, and even more so, to give them healing during their last days! Eddy also was interested so we signed up to take Level 1 with Bob the weekend before the Bazar Batin.
I was so into the whole endeavour that I began to start my sitting practise again, at least 5-20 minutes everyday! I would even wake up earlier just to do it, even on mornings when I had to wake up at 5 am, I would set the alarm ten minutes earlier to get some sitting and meditation in!
Aravind Yoga’s Flow classes, that I teach on Saturdays and Wednesdays (11.15 am and 7 pm respectively), are just so thrilling for me as a teacher to teach! It’s just so rewarding to teach a yoga class who truly appreciates all the challenges that come their way!
To all who have ever attended my Flow classes at Aravind, it is a joy to guide you. Much love and gratitude to you ❤️ 🙏🏽
I will be hosting a Wellness Weekend using yoga, mindfulness and essential oils to help fend off the pressures of daily life. The focus of the weekend is to impart methods to give yourself distance from the mental, emotional and physical pressures of daily life, and also to understand how our body and mind works when dealing with stress.
Date: 15 June 2019
Time: 2.00 pm (45 min class)
Spend some time practising breath focus and yoga chair movements and stretches that you can do in your office and your home. Scientific research has shown that lengthening the muscles and awareness on the breath revitalises both mind and body for better focus and concentration at work, and overall wellness in life.
April wasn’t that great a month for me, and I’m still slowly getting over it. Hence the break in postings on the blog! Among the many things that happened was that I was incredibly ill for almost ten days!
My first solo workshop, independently run, was held at Our Small Kingdom (OSK), recently. OSK is an art and garden therapy space, located in Subang Jaya. It’s relatively new but it has a growing community. I really was so blessed to have the crowd that turned up. The number was perfect for me to share effectively, and also perfect for the space!
My most recent talk at dōTERRA Malaysia (and probably my last for awhile at least) was on the Yoga Oil Collection. I admit that when I first experienced the oils, my very first impression, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Since I got them and began to experience them more and more, and since I started putting together this talk, I realised how amazing they really are.
I had so much at my “Yoga, Emotions and Essential Oils” talk, as well as its follow-up, “Yoga, Letting Go and Essential Oils” that I have decided to combine them both into one single workshop for you to experience. I hope to take this on the road, and the first space outside dōTERRA Malaysia that will host this is Our Small Kingdom (OSK) in Subang Jaya, Malaysia.
OSK is an arts and garden space, a community centre that hopes to cultivate a better lifestyle for us urbanites!
My follow-up class on Yoga, Emotions & Essential Oils took place recently at dōTERRA Malaysia’s office at KL Eco City. It was a great session, and I revealed that actually (if you didn’t know already!) that ‘grounding’ is the first chakra, while ‘letting go’ is the second chakra.
The Essential Yoga Program debuted on 15 April 2019 at Aravind Yoga. What happens in an Essential Yoga class? Well, us the teachers decide what kind of theme we want for the class, and then we incorporate the appropriate essential oils into the class to help us with the theme.
When I first was introduced to essential oils, I had done a massive leg day and my right knee was a little bummed after some heavy squats and some lunges. My sponsor offered my some Deep Blue® Rub and within minutes, the pain faded! I could see immediately how fitness and essential oils could mesh seamlessly, and it does!
Here’s what I found essential oils helps with during your fitness sessions:
The dōTERRA event that I hosted, entitled, “Yoga, Emotions & Essential Oils” last week was a success, I feel. More people turned up than I expected, and some had arrived from Malacca and also Hawaii (!!!). The focus of this class was on grounding and finding balance, so there was discussion on mood and stress, and how this affects the body.
In the middle of last year, I was invited to start a class at the gym I workout, Anytime Fitness 8 Kinrara. I am so proud of these ladies (and some gentlemen), especially for their dedication to come to class at 0915 in the morning!
I have watched some, including a 77 year old woman (who cannot speak much English or Malay), give their best effort in class, and improve in their practice!
I’m so thrilled to be hosting my first “Yoga, Emotions & Essential Oils” session at dōTERRA Malaysia’s office. For awhile now, I have been interested in mood management, stress management and also trauma sensitive yoga. I began this journey helping an NGO teach yoga to girls from troubled homes, and then fitness and eventually yoga to human trafficked children. But I figured that people in general would benefit from the great tools to yoga can provide, not just a specific population.
Since November 2018, I began to suffer from terrible hives. I actually had my first experience of this when I was in Europe when I was 19, and again later now and again when I was continuing my education in the UK. These hives now and then got so bad that my feet swelled and couldn’t fit into my Doc Marts, and they were incredibly itchy. I remember I used to walk around the flat swathed in Calamine Lotion to ease the itch! Soon, I surmised that it was a cold allergy that took place whenever I came in from somewhere really cold into somewhere that was centrally heated. One antihistamine and that solved the problem!
It’s been fifteen months since I started working out with Kodin, and I know my body has changed. Keeping in mind that my main purpose was to learn more about bodybuilding and how it can help fight against andropause, the results have been amazing. Load, as I now understand, is the most important thing when it comes to muscle growth. Together with that is eating correctly for the body to get stronger.
For this to happen though, it requires a lot of discipline. Kodin has broken down the body parts into six, including two separate days for biceps and triceps respectively. In addition, because my legs are slow to grow, I do legs twice a week. That makes it a seven-day workout week for me!
The past three years, I have been teaching a 77-year old ex-air force man some yoga. Uncle (let’s call him that coz I do) is a man who is active, not just physically but also mentally. He teaches himself (with online help) some Sanskrit and some Indian mathematics. He also taught himself yoga. This alarmed his daughter who got me to go in to teach him personally. Wise move!
Teaching him has been an experience for me. One thing that he has going for him is is passion, zeal and self-discipline that gets him beyond the progress of his peers, I believe. However, his limitation is his body, which is ageing, as all of ours do. For me, the biggest takeaway with teaching seniors is patience.
This has been a quieter year for Broga® Yoga, at least for me. Last year, I did the re-launch, Lululemon, Murfest and we ended up in Men’s Health Malaysia and also Time Out KL! That was a lot!
Broga® Yoga helps men to live in their most organic selves: strong, peaceful, guided, internally and outwardly connected, powerful and compassionate from the inside out. Broga seeks to enable men to walk, compete, and live stronger, balanced lives.
One thing I notice about bodybuilding is how important food is, especially good quality and quantity protein! And this isn’t just whey supplements taken after workouts and before sleeping, but real protein in food. I was lax during August / September, feeling pretty good because I was taking a Stack (namely Animal Stak) and feeling and seeing good gains.
By the end of September, my weight dropped to 83 kg and I was so lean! After a week or so, I was galvanised to begin eating my in-between meals of super high protein again (10 eggs mid morning, a can of tuna in the afternoon!). Now, after about three weeks of eating properly, I am beginning to see the difference again.
How important is flexibility for muscle growth? This video comes at an opportune time for me as I am feeling pretty heavily hit, working out seven days a week (an additional day for legs). So I took a day off to practice yoga yesterday and I am taking a total day for doing nothing today. Kind of a mini-break.
Anyway, how important is flexibility for muscle growth and bodybuilding? Ben Pakulski answers in this video:
It is rare that a yoga teacher has the privilege to start a class where all or almost all the participants are totally fresh and new. A blank slate to write on. With the ladies from the HR department of IBM Cyber Jaya (hashtag #ibmcyberyoga), I had the opportunity to introduce them to yoga mat practice.
It is such an honour to be a resident teacher at Manasa Yoga School! I was asked to do the Friday 2015 (8.15 pm) class about three years ago now. At that time, it was a vinyasa class. With the school’s change of class themes awhile back, the class was changed to an Ashtanga Inspired class (basic level), which was challenging for me as a teacher, but also incredibly exciting!
Anyone who comes for my class is already an inspiration to me! Friday evenings are one of the quietest evenings for yoga and fitness. In fact, I know many yoga studios that close on Friday evenings. It’s just the way things are!
About a month ago, I did a home yoga self practice and it was very hard going! Movement to and fro during surya namaskar was not particularly fluid, and let’s not even talk about hopping forward and back during the Ashtanga sun salutes! Overall, it was a painful experience.
Some poses that I have worked hard at for years and was happy with has been totally lost (trikonasana – can’t touch the floor anymore; all marichyasanas can no longer bind! 😢). I even began to entertain the idea of giving up bodybuilding, after all, it took me years to to slowly receive those yoga poses.
About two years ago, I started gaining a lot of weight and honestly couldn’t shed it, no matter how careful I was with nutrition and how intense I made my workouts! Ever mindful of the industry I am in, even that I was body shamed when I was a boot camp instructor, I began to really work hard to shed the pounds.
That I was gaining weight wasn’t shocking, I am in my mid forties and andropause is setting in. And yet, I remember how one client said that if a trainer doesn’t look the part, how would clients and potential clients have faith that they can make a transformation in them? Fair argument!
One of my favourite classes to teach is my Saturday morning (11.15 am) Flow Class at Aravind Yoga. There are so many reasons why I love this class, I’m not too sure I can list them out. Off the top of my head, the practitioners are so open to try anything and game for a hard or easy class.
Because of a numerous reasons, some personal, Broga® Yoga has not been consistently on this past month at Activ Studio, Bangsar. It was really awesome when things got back to normal last week, and the class gave their all! Of course, because we weren’t consistent, the numbers were small but energy was huge!
The above is Broga® Yoga at Murfest 2017 to get some idea of the class. And by the way, I have a YouTube channel now, where some of my yoga classes and personal workouts are on display. Check it out here (for Broga® Yoga and here for workouts and other yoga) and let me know what you think in the comments below!
For those of you who want to experience Broga® Yoga here in Kuala Lumpur, come down to Activ Studio, 7 pm on Tuesdays. Or contact me here to learn more!
At the end of June and in the beginning of July, I think my body kinda gave up on me. As mentioned previously, I threw in some German Volume Training into the mix and I think that kinda made my body go bust! Mentally, the moment I stepped into the gym, I was thinking, “Not again! I wanna go home!”. Physically, I found I had to decrease my the weights lifted, or I couldn’t complete sets. Once or twice, I couldn’t even complete all the exercises and just went home!
It was a difficult time for me. I was keen on developing myself further and was stuck in a rut. I wasn’t gaining new muscle, my weight remained the same, and I guess all this was frustrating me. I had long-drawn WhatsApp messages with Kodin and both of us were rather reluctant to give myself a break. But when it finally was clear that nothing else would do, with Kodin’s blessing, I took a whole week off and just stretched or practised some yoga (even that was a bit too tiring for me!).
Our bodies were built to move and whether we like it or not, we do move everyday in many different movement patterns. We push, pull, sit down and stand up; we rotate our torso, we climb stairs, we drive, walk, possibly run and sometimes crawl or pick ourselves up from the ground. It is an incredible privilege to be able to move!
While the ability to move is a blessing, all movement bears a risk of injury. And that’s what I am here to help you prevent. With just a little mindfulness in the way we move, we have the opportunity to avoid possible injury. Sometimes it just takes a little bit more focus on the way we move, on the way we breathe as we move, how our limbs interact with each other as we move, and our thought processes as we move, to avoid pain and just move better.
Superstitious rituals that involve pushing movements away from our body make us feel better because we associate pushing actions and avoiding harm or danger, according to psychologists at the University of Chicago. According to Jane L. Risen, PhD, associate professor of behavioural science, and A. David Nussbaum, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of behavioural science, both from the University of Chicago Booth School of business stated in the New York Times:
While I have been too busy to update the blog on my bodybuilding progress, I haven’t neglected the actual act of bodybuilding. In fact, I have been pretty discipline about it. Every Monday (usually), I will go down to Wong Hong’s Barbell Club to train with Kodin. For the remainder of the week, I will do the rest of the body parts on my own at Anytime Fitness. In addition, I do at least 90 mins to 120 mins of cardio and abs. If I can, I also do at least some yoga practice.
You may be wondering where do I find the time, and the answer to that is I honestly don’t know. Because of my stubborn leg development, Kodin has requested I do an additional half day of legs as well. And because I feel I have hit a plateau, I have thrown in a few GVTs into the mix in the hopes of greater gains. I actually think I have grown leaner because of the GVTs…
Okay, one of the things I am still trying to get used to is the amount of food I need to eat to grow bigger. At first, I had to change my diet to something more “clean”. This meant food that had no hidden sugars in the sauces etc. as well as less simple carbohydrates.
The difficulty in this was finding the time to cook. So in the end, I got from Kodin a guy who does bodybuilders’ clean kinda diet food, Perfect Nutrition. In addition, I sourced on my own and found a few healthy meal food delivery services, and I ended up using Koru Food Morsels, due to its convenience and the logistics (because of my schedule, its easier for me to pick up food than for it to be delivered to me).
I began with Perfect Nutrition, whose food was pretty simple but obviously nutrition dense. The pricing was also good, I felt. After about three days of their meals, I began to get super sugar cravings around 10pm. The cravings were so real that I had to eat a whole pack of dried apricots!
Supplements I guess is kind of a must when it comes to bodybuilding, otherwise it is difficult to get enough protein that you need for the sport. Much as I was sceptical, I decided to embrace the whole culture. So I began taking whey isolate in September 2017, before I got Kodin on as a trainer.
It’s December, and I have been focusing on bodybuilding training with Kodin since October and I definitely feel a change. I have had quite a number of changes to my workout and lifestyle.
Firstly, as mentioned previously, my workout now is on a six-day split, with every body part included during those six days, including the little muscles, such as biceps, triceps and calves (all of which I sometimes neglect). In addition to this, I also need to do at least three half-hour sessions of cardio, and also integrate abs (upper, lower and obliques) into the mix.
During my first session with Kodin (see Part 1 for the intro), we tackled chest, and boy did we ever tackle chest like I have never tackled it before. Kodin believes in simple bodybuilding methods and modalities, but the contraction at the top of every movement was a killer.
I have been working out in gym since my 20s, although I took a hiatus from the gym when I began to coach bootcamp and also got more serious with my yoga practice. After working out with Kodin, I realised that I had totally neglected the contraction at the top of the movement, and just been going through the movements (although the movements were well executed, according to Kodin).
So… I have hired myself a personal trainer to help me develop my body into a … bodybuilder’s! 💪🏽😲 As mentioned previously, I want a personal trainer because I would like to push myself a little further. I find that I am a little cautious when I train by myself, mainly because of my many injuries, and also because to prevent further injuries, especially on free weights.
Also, my interest in bodybuilding has been piqued. This is because I have been researching more into healthy ageing for men, as well as boosting testosterone and human growth hormone, and the richest resources for this area is mainly from bodybuilding websites.
This month, I am just trying out for fun this pre-cut workout from Men’s Fitness. The funny thing is, as a personal trainer and fitness coach, I love creating workouts for other people, but sometimes for myself, I prefer just following and experiencing what others prescribe.
It’s like this for one of the other of things I am doing, whether it is yoga or fitness. Sometimes though, when the mood hits me, I will go through a mood when I will follow my own workouts or practise my own yoga flows. But the times are rare.
Since my re-joining the gym in December 2016, I have been a lot more focussed in both cardio and strength training. It has always been between 120-150 minutes of cardio per week (to make life easier, it’s 30 minutes per day, sometimes in one go and sometimes broken up).
It’s seven and soon eight months back in the gym, and it’s still as exciting as it was in the beginning! I’m heading into a shredding phase after two months of different bulking. After the 12/10/8/8/6 bulk phase, I did German Volume Training (GVT) for four weeks.
Somehow, I found better and leaner results with the 12/10/8/8/6 programme than the traditional GVT. Firstly, I felt and looked so much better than with GVT and, secondly, I got a bit bored with GVT and it takes a lot of time!
Broga® Yoga was relaunched on 9 July 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, a Sunday morning recently! Yes, the fitness-based yoga class, tailored for men and open to all, was launched at Aravind Yoga in Kuala Lumpur in November 2015. I later on opened a class at Activ Studio, also in November 2015.
The thing is, I and a few of my friends were thinking I never really had a big launch, inviting media and telling the world that Broga® was here in Malaysia. So we decided to have a proper launch, inviting the media and partners for the event.
So I figured that I wanted to gain more muscle mass, especially in my lower body. I’m not sure why I felt this way, especially as there might be a corresponding loss in flexibility, at least a bit. Still, I felt I needed to lose more fat (obviously), and gain more muscle mass. So I decided to follow the rules of this piece of advice from bodybuilding.com.
Interestingly, at the end of May, I was for the first time in many years, under 80 kg. This really made me happy. But I still felt the mass was not in proportion and perhaps also I was influenced by all these Instagram influencers… Who knows?
So in June, I embarked on a 12/10/10/8/6 workout for compound movements, and 12/10/8/6 for single joint movements. I like the results!
I continued on with 120 minutes of cardio per week, this time though splitting it into two sets, beginning with 20 minutes on the elliptical, then after about two exercises, I did 10 minutes on the rowing machine.
Broga® Yoga is relaunching in Malaysia! I have been a Broga® Yoga instructor since 2015, and I have learnt a lot through the training and through the classes. It’s just that I haven’t invested much effort marketing the class (boo!). So I will be doing a full launch soon, which is why I am calling it a relaunch.
Just to recap, I launched Broga® Yoga here in Aravind Yoga in October 2015. I have since had it on Mondays at Activ Studio and even had one class just for the trainers! Recently, at the end of May, I did a Lululemon community class in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, which had a pretty good turn-out. Everyone was surprised with the HIIT section!
It’s been six month since I rejoined a gym, and the fifth month where I am actually doing a fixed workout programme. I’ve gone through quite a number of cycles, including a mass-building one in April, and now a shredding / cutting one in May. I am kinda following this workout from Men’s Fitness for the month of May (with one deload week).
The good news is I have lost another kilogram, making it the first time in many years that I am under 80kg! This really pleases me! For this workout, I usually do half an hour cardio on the elliptical, followed by one of the workouts. If you follow the workout, you really would be sweating buckets because it’s a real shredding type of programme, with a HIIT (sorta) finisher.
Right! It’s my fourth month in the gym, and I think I will now only do quarterly updates, rather than monthly. The muscle gains and fat loss has been awesome but I really am not sure if a monthly update is required anymore.
The good news is I have lost another kilogram: that’s five kilogrammes in five months! I’m really pleased and I believe this is a great sustainable weight loss. Of course, in addition, we don’t know how much muscle I have gain in relation to the fat that I have lost, since I haven’t done any body composition measurements. Still I’m really happy about this!
It was four months ago in November when I took a total break from Ashtanga Yoga Mysore practice due to my knee injury. I took November off to rehab the knee with electro muscle stimulation (EMS), and spent December and January building strength in the gym. In February, I had planned to start again, but due to the Chinese New Year, a revamp of my schedule and financial restrictions, I had to put it off until now.
Firstly, it was exhilarating being back in Mysore practice and I flowed much more fluidly than expected, especially considering how I might have only self-practised about three times on my own since November. Secondly, my twists are much better than when I stopped! I cannot believe it! I suspect it is because I have been twisting a lot during the interim to help relieve the knee injury.
I was so outraged and incensed about this piece on Faiz’s thank-you speech that I wrote a column on it. Hello, he won an award for his kick that scored a goal, not an English matriculation examination 🙄:
There was a time when I faithfully went to the gym to workout almost everyday. As a backgrounder, I began working out when I was in university. After that, I never really stopped, although there were hiatuses; like when I began learning how to swim and worked only with my bodyweight during that time. I cannot remember, however, a period as long as the last when I stopped going to the gym altogether.
It has been ages since I last went for a Fly Yoga class. I must admit, I enjoy Fly Yoga more than I do Acro Yoga, mainly because it is a practice that I can get into and on my own. It is versatile enough that it can be a little like fitness, and yet it can also segue into a proper yoga practice, with a flow and breathing practice as well.
So since my sessions have been slowing down because of the holiday season, we decided to drop in at Aravind Yoga‘s Fly Yoga class, conducted by my good friend and fellow teacher, Chris Teoh. Firstly, it took ages and ages for me to find my centre of balance. It wasn’t that difficult on the mat, but even when it came to one-leg movements, I noticed that my left leg grounding was a lot less sure and able than my right, the latter with which everything went really smoothly.
Ah… So now I do freelance work for Cilisos as well. I have to say, for awhile, I have been enjoying the articles posted on this online magazine. They deliver really great content but in a fun accessible way, especially for the younger demographic. So I met up with the editor last week, we banged out loads of ideas, and here’s the first of it! How many calories do you burn at Bersih!?
Things have been stale for me when it comes to a fitness routine. To be honest, the hundreds of burpees done earlier this year under the Freeletics workout was the cause of my knee pain now. Don’t misunderstand, it wasn’t the programmes fault, more so mine in the sense of not executing the jump forwards more mindfully, as a yogi should. Still, a word of caution to those new to fitness that even those who have been exercising for decades might falter to their detriment when it comes to movement.
I am so pleased to have been involved with Furry Friends Farm’s “Let’s Get Physical” event, which took place on 13 March 2016 at British International School, KL. Ours was the first event, Yoga for our Furry Friends. Unfortunately, the promotional material for the event itself (not the yoga session) stated the class would begin at 10.30 am, not 10.00. So there were a few latecomers.
To be honest, I was stressing about speaking about Ahimsa / non-violence. I was afraid that it might come out cheesy or cliche, and in the end, Eddy offered to do the job, and he did great! We did the Unmesha/Nimesha Manasa Yoga sequence, with modifications, and interspersed with classical sun salutes. We had eight teachers present to help out, so everyone had a lot of attention.
Last year, when I was buying food for my dogs, I was appalled at how expensive it has got, due to our new GST and also the drop in our currency. It was no surprise then when I saw that Furry Friends Farm, Malaysia’s no-kill animal sanctuary, was seeking funds to help their 500-odd animals.
From this, I decided to help them with a fundraiser, so show your support by attending our Yoga for our Furry Friends fundraising on 13 March 2016.
I’ve been coaching runners for a number of years now. In my work, I also had to run a lot when I was coaching bootcamp. From what I can see, running has become increasingly popular. Many Malaysians, for example, have moved from a jog to the park to full-blown marathons in a span of a few years.
Still, I think running really isn’t as simple as buying a good pair of shoes. Without proper care (especially after care), you might cause yourself some knotty problems. There are many ‘senior’ runners who ‘look after’ the new runners. I think this is great. They provide a lot of before and after care for the newbies.
This year has really been a rollercoaster ride. Aside from the personal highs and lows, in practice and in teaching (the latter being an extension of the former), it has really been a high. I must admit, since late October until about a week ago.
I have been doing P90X quite diligently, and there has been some gains. But I have found that my gluten and IT bands are getting super tight, so that twists and binds in yoga poses are getting difficult. So I have decided to hold back a little on the fitness workouts and increase my yoga practice.
About two years ago, I learnt about Broga® Yoga while browsing for men’s yoga programmes online. At that time, I emailed them, asking if there was any way I could learn more about Broga® Yoga, but unfortunately that was not possible.
Generally, Iyengar writes from the heart and he, in his typical fashion, does not mince his words. His advice is practical and to the point and he puts the yoga sutras in such practical context that the wisdom is beyond worth!
Having recently immersed myself in Ashtanga Vinyasa mat practice, for me Part Two, “The Tree and Its Parts” was fascinating. Iyengar discusses the ashta anga (eight limbs) of yoga -the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, diyana and samadhi – in depth. He links them to the practice, to the asanas, to the body, to breathing and to life. It really is worth the read.
Iyengar also discusses how disintegration of yoga occurs when we call it physical yoga, mental yoga, spiritual yoga etc. This is also what guru Manoj Khaimal discusses at Manasa Yoga School. Yoga is an integrated process, whether we are in a shape of an asana on the mat, or sitting with our eyes closed, or driving to work in a traffic jam. Everything can be yoga, not just Warrior 2 on a Manduka mat.
When everything is one – when you reach a state of perfect union between your body, your mind and your soul – then you forget your body, you forget your breath and you forget your intelligence.
Iyengar also throws in little nuggets of lore from the Puranas to make the reading more interesting. If you haven’t read this book yet, it’s time to pick it up!
Some thoughts on yoga and yoga philosophy. The first piece on Atha, or Grounding:
Atha — Grounding
Life can be hard. Sometimes the wind blows every which way and it is hard to stay rooted. At Manasa Yoga, we learn to ground.
Grounding in the body
We ground in things which are always present. Our body is always present and there is no better tool than the body in which to root. For example, I got a little annoyed this morning. At first, I rode the annoyance. Then I realised that it was causing me more detriment than benefit.
So how did I feel? Was my heart beating fast? Was my forehead furrowed? Just drawing oneself into one’s body gives us space to move away from that which is bothering us.
I recently found this little e-book which is delight to read, especially for those who want to learn a little more about chakras. As a foreword though, I’d like to say that although I am a yoga teacher, I am not a chakra expert, neither am I proficient in ‘healing’ or ‘opening’ up others chakras. I know what I learnt and if something happens for a student then great. The chakras, the ida, pingala and sushumna are intricate and detailed studies, which even this little booklet cannot cover.
Hey! I am facilitating a Yoga for Athletes, predominantly for runners and cyclists, this time in Johore Bahru Malaysia. Those in Singapore who are interested are most welcome! For more information, click here! Hope to see you soon!
Acro Yoga is one of those things I was never too sure about. Unlike Fly Yoga, which involves to some sense, an immersion into the practice, Acro Yoga looks a lot like gymnastics. Still, I am pretty open and I love to try new things if I get the chance.
Phew! The workshop on Runners’ Yoga took place over the weekend and it was awesome! The participants were eager to learn and it was truly inspiring to share with them the knowledge I know, not only to help them become better runners, but just to help correct their posture and their movement as well (not to mention help some of them with their yoga practice too).
Held at the Valencia Clubhouse, the turn-up was encouraging and the energy was vibrant. We began with the foundations of our body and moved on up all the way to the shoulders. On the second day, we took a look at breathing as well. Just a solid attendance and participation. I am truly thrilled and privileged!
Just midway into January and I thought I would just reintroduce myself. I am an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and RYT200 Yoga Teacher. You can read more about me right here.
I provide personal training, small group fitness training, yoga small group classes and yoga one-to-one. I do this at various fitness and yoga studios around the Klang Valley, Malaysia (sorry, not affiliated to any commercial gyms at the moment). I also am a writer and a columnist for the Sun Newspaper (for nine years now).
I have been blogging on WordPress for many years now; sometimes as a writer, sometimes as fitness professional and sometimes as a yoga teacher. I decided to consolidate all three into this one blog.
I decided to participate in this Instagram competition, Movember Yogis. Firstly, growing out a mustache is a bit of a challenge. I like the look but I don’t have the patience, especially when it is scraggly and itchy and hot. Then it just gets hot (and a bit scraggly). The upkeep, like cleaning out your face often, also changes my lifestyle somewhat.
Last Sunday, I attended a workshop by Deep Kumar, a guru I respect and admire, on arm balancing. I was familiar with almost all the traditional methods, but the new methods of teaching and entering some of the poses were good to learn.