Well we’ve been quite busy with a series of yoga retreats over the last month, so we don’t really have a lot of yoga news for this month. Many thanks to all of those who attended the retreats and classes.
Amazingly, our yoga classes and retreats are currently listed on www.tripadvisor.com as number 8 in the top 10 things to do in Langkawi. Thanks to all for the positive reviews.
In the spirit of sharing more of the philosophical background to yoga we have added a few classic works on our website:
The four chapters of Swatramana’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Sri Adi Shankaracharya’s Viveka Chudamani (which some may find a little misogynistic, but there is still some great stuff in there).
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – due to a technical error I managed to erase all the first section and replaced it with the second section, so it’s there twice – the first part will be online sometime soon.
Perhaps some of you already know www.manjulaskitchen.com. It’s a fantastic resource for Indian vegetarian cooking with lots of great videos that are fun to watch even if you don’t ever make the recipes she cooks.
Yoga in India
A lot of people have written to us recently asking if we can recommend a good place to study and learn yoga in India.
Some of you already know Swami Tattwarupananda from our website (that's him with us in the right hand colum) and have donated to help him look after underprivileged children in Southern India. He has recently joined forces with Swami Govindananda (in the photo below) to form Sivananda Yoga Vidya Peetham (SYVP), a project for an ashram to be set up for the learning of Yoga and Vedanta philosophy. Both are Indian Swamis who were involved in the Sivananda organization. We know them personally and they are the real deal.
They don’t have an actual ashram yet but are already teaching courses in India. You can get all the details from their new website:
Asana of the Month
Sarvangasana - Shoulderstand
Of all the yoga asanas this one is possibly the most important pose. Sarvanga literally means ‘all parts’ and this asana is good for all parts of our being. Read more below after the instructions.
How to do Sarvangasana:
- Lie down on the floor and relax in savasana, breathing smoothly, calmly and deeply.
- Bring the feet together.
- Bring the arms close to the body with the palms facing downwards beside the thighs.
- Take a couple of deep inhalations, gathering the energy towards the solar plexus.
- Inhaling, raise both feet off the ground using the strength in the abdominal muscles.
- At the same time push down in the floor with the palms of the hands and roll the back away from the floor so that the bodyweight is supported on the shoulders.
- Place the palms of the hands on the lower back, bringing the elbows in as close together as possible.
- Raise the feet to the ceiling so that the toes are roughly above the eyes.
- Breathe by expanding and contracting the abdomen, as in this position the upper portion of the ribcage is quite constricted.
- Keep the jaw and moth relaxed – it is very easy to clench the teeth in this position, though of course there is no need for it.
- Some schools of thought say that you should tighten and tense all the muscles in this position, particularly the legs.
- We prefer to say relax everything that can be relaxed without compromising the position.
- Sthira sukham asanam – Patanjali says in his sutras that asanas should be comfortable and steady.
- Close the eyes and observe the sensations as the blood flows down from the legs towards the upper body and head.
- Hold for as long as comfortable.
To make any adjustments to the position
- Bend the knees down towards the face.
- Release the hands from the back.
- Interlock the fingers and stretch the arms away towards the floor.
- Work the shoulder blades closer together.
- Bring the hands to the back again, with the elbows a little closer together to each other if possible.
- Lift the legs back up towards the sky again.
To come out of the pose
- Lower the feet down towards the ground behind your head.
- Release the hands from the lower back.
- Place the hands palms downwards on the floor with the arms straight.
- Gently roll down, placing the spine on the floor vertebrae by vertebrae, using the strength in the arms to support the bodyweight.
- Keep the legs straight and the knees close to the face at first.
- Keep the head and shoulders on the ground.
- When the lower back reaches the ground use the strength in the abdominal muscles to lower the straight legs to the floor with control.
- Separate the arms and legs in savasan and roll the head from side to side, releasing any tension in the neck.
- Take a few long slow breaths and relax observing the sensations in the back and the body as the blood returns towards the legs and feet.
- Don’t forget to do a counter pose like Matsyasan (fish pose), Sethubandhasan (bridge pose) or Chakrasan (wheel pose) to open up the upper portion of the ribcage again.
It is very important not to move the head or neck to the sides while in Sarvangasan. Doing so can result in damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the neck.
Don’t talk in this position as it places undue strain on the voice box. It is not recommended for people with high blood pressure or glaucoma to hold sarvangasana for very long.
Some people like to do shoulderstand with the shoulders and back on the edge of a folded blanket to reduce the contact of the back of the neck with the floor.
Overweight people might find this quite challenging and women with particularly large breasts may have trouble breathing. In that case you can support the feet against a wall and lean at an angle.
Do whatever is comfortable for you.
So why is Sarvangasana so important?
The short answer is: because of its action on the Thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating the entire metabolism of the body and even the activity of the other glandular systems in the body. The Thyroid gland also regulates our moods, so we can become more even-tempered by practicing shoulderstand.
Among many of the other things the thyroid gland does is helping to assimilate calcium – so particularly important in terms of warding off problems like osteoporosis which might occur in later life, especially for women.
As well as the thyroid gland, the heart is also affected in this position getting a slight rest. Gravity helps bring oxygen rich blood to the brain. The legs are also drained – particularly good for people with low blood pressure and/or varicose veins whose blood tends to gather in the lower legs.
The breathing pattern in shoulderstand is particularly soothing due to the placement of the diaphragm and the use of the abdominal breath.
Shoulderstand helps to relieve tension in the back of the neck and the shoulders – something that is endemic to modern society which puts us for long hours in hunched, defensive semi-fetal positions while leaning over computer screens or driving cars. These positions are closing, introverted postures which only increase the sense of isolation and separation many people feel in today’s results orientated world. As well as releasing tension in the back and shoulders and neck we need to focus on postures that open up the heart and chest – hence the added importance of rounding off shoulderstand with counter poses.
In terms of Ayurveda, shoulderstand reduces all Doshas. It is a cooling position that helps to reduce the Pitta (fire element) as well as reducing Vata (the air element that keeps the mind moving, among other things) and also reduces Kapha (that can make us feel dull and lethargic).
SAVE OUR FORESTS
If you have a moment to spare you can sign the petition to halt illegal logging in Langkawi’s rainforests.
Recently my parents stayed with us for a month (in fact we rented them a studio nearby as our simple home is too small for guests to stay).
They are retired now and taking the time to visit various family members who are scattered across the globe, including my ‘little’ sister who has just become a mother herself.
Seeing my parents again made me reflect on what it means to have parents.
All of us have parents, whether they are still with us or not, whether we see them regularly or not, whether we keep in touch with them or not, whether we love them or not.
We are all the result of our parent’s actions – their karma in a way. In the same way, it is our karma to have had our parents.
As children we generally start out idealizing our parents and their actions. Their words are pure truth.
Later in life we often start to blame them. Blaming them for our circumstances or our problems, blaming them for their mistakes, for not loving us the way we wanted to be loved, for making us the people we are.
Some people never move beyond this point. They see their parents as the cause of all their suffering. Certainly our early years are the most formative and much of our behaviour is learned and engrained in early childhood. Then we become ‘grown ups’ and fixed in our conditioned habit patterns.
But in fact we never stop growing. We can still learn new ways of being, new ways of perceiving things. Yoga (and meditation) help us to de-condition the mind of our negative and unconstructive thought patterns. Yoga helps us to grow, to expand, to let go of the past and to start to uncover our true potential as human beings. Yoga helps us to appreciate the life we have and the chances we have had.
While we might be more indulgent of our own personal shortcomings, we can tend to forget that our parents are just people too. But we can move from blaming our parents for our problems to accepting that they are just human beings. As we all know only too well, human beings sometimes make mistakes. Human beings sometimes (often) do stupid things.
If human beings were perfect there would be no reason for this life. As Joni Mitchell says in Woodstock (a beautiful song) “Life is for learning.”
This is why we have this human experience – to learn, to grow, to evolve. The evolution of consciousness is an ongoing process and as human beings we can consciously intervene in that process.(How else can consciousness evolve if not consciously?)
Gautama Siddhartha – the Buddha – said we can never repay the debt of gratitude that we owe our parents. Just even having been allowed the chance to have this human experience is the greatest gift we will ever receive.
We should be grateful to our parents for all that they have done for us over the years. Any mistakes they may have made are already in the past and we can choose to hold onto those failings or simply let go, move on and grow.
Upcoming yoga retreat dates
Here are some dates we have pencilled in for upcoming retreats, but of course we can still work around your own dates even if they are not listed below.
- November 22 - 25
- November 27 - 30
- December 1 - 5
- December 6 - 9
- December 12 - 19
- December 22 - 26
- December 27 - January 2
- Januray 3 - 6
- Januray 9 - 16
- Januray 26 - February 5
- February 6 - 10
- February 12 - 15
- February 23 - 26
- March 17 - 22
- March 25 - April 1
- April 3 - 13
- April 16 - 19
- April 25 - 29
For more details on our retreats (and many other things) you can visit our website on this link: Yoga Retreats
Thanks for your time and wishing you peace and harmony in your daily lives.
Hari om tat sat.
Marc and Meng Foong (a.k.a M&M)
May all beings be happy.
Determination, courage and self-confidence are the key factors for success. If we have firm determination, we can work out obstacles and difficulties. Whatever the circumstances, we should remain humble, modest and without pride.
- Dalai Lama