The best time to meditate is when you are rested, not when you are exhausted.
When you are tired, Yoga Nidra (Yogic Sleep) will be ideal – 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to 4 hours of sleep!
You will get the most benefits from meditation when you are fully focused and awake. If you sit down in quiet contemplation with a specific sankalpa (resolve/intention) you can clear your mind and settle your emotions, thus allowing you to see your thoughts and situation in a much clearer manner, without the disturbance of overwhelming emotions and distractions from the mind.
I’ve curated various meditation exercises under my Be Here Now Mindfulness Series. Pick one and stick with it for 30 days – you’ll find yourself being more present with the people you love, and you might just stop forgetting where you left your phone and keys!
It’s two days before the end of my yoga teacher training course at Yoga Vidya Gurukul in Nashik, India. During this period I have been so blessed with new knowledge and insights that I want to bring home to my yoga classes. One constant in my mind throughout this month of training was people whose bodies struggle with long hours of sitting at the desk.
When we had a short individual presentation session about any topic of personal interest, I spoke about this short little article that I wrote – Yoga for the Modern Day Office Worker. To my surprise (maybe not yours!), many of my course mates got interested and wanted to take a look at what I have written. They gave one simple reason – because working in an office sitting and hunching over computers is the story of their lives and they feel the effects that it has on their minds and bodies.
I’ve never thought of putting this up here, but these people inspired me.
In this article, we are interested in common physical and mental issues faced by the otherwise healthy individual and how these can be reversed/prevented.
PRECAUTION: If you do have any existing issues (e.g.: severe back/spinal issues, heart problems, blood pressure issues, pregnancy etc.) please consult your doctor before practising.
The incidences of lifestyle related ailments such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, and diabetes are increasing drastically virtually everywhere in the world. Because of the effects yoga practices have on the body and mind, regular and consistent yoga practice can aid in minimizing lifestyle related ailments, helping individuals prevent other serious physical, mental, financial and social burden.
Office workers typically presents one or more of the following postural traits:
Anterior/posterior pelvic tilt
These postural traits disturb the skeletal and muscular systems’ natural positions and tend to be the results of sitting on chairs and using electronic devices for extended periods. Common complaints resulting from these are headaches, neck and shoulder stiffness/pain, low back pain, insomnia and digestive problems.
Psychological issues that office workers tend to face are:
Hatha yoga consists of the following contents:
Shatkarmas: 6 cleansing techniques
Pranayamas: control of vital energy
Mudras: psychic gestures
Bandhas: energy locks
We will be focusing on Shatkarmas, Asanas and Pranayamas as they offer massive positive effects, and are the most accessible to the masses. Practitioners should further explore mudras and bandhas when they are ready.
How to Use the Following Content
This is not a how-to-do-kriyasa, asanas and pranayama post. The intention of this post is to offer you a bunch of practices that you can do to target specific areas in your body. If you are unsure of how a certain asana looks like, simply do a quick google image search and you will see how the final posture looks like.
Follow recommended frequency of shatkarmas (cleansing techniques) according to what is listed.
Everyday, choose one or two asanas (postures) from each category (e.g. backbends, twists, inversions etc.) to practice. You don’t have to do all categories every single day – just remember to mix things up so that your body is balanced
Sequence asanas as such: warm up (sun saluations), supine (lying on back), prone (lying on belly), sitting, inversion, standing, relaxation
Practice pranayama after asana
Jalan neti – for relieving stress, anxiety, depression, anger, any imbalanced emotions
This cleansing technique also helps to open the nasal passage, prevents colds and sinus problems. Headaches caused by blockages in the nasal passage can be relieved too.
This is a convenient cleansing technique that can be used anywhere – at home, work or even in the car. It removes excess carbon dioxide and purifies the respiratory system. It also helps to improve digestion, remove lethargy and promote clarity of mind but should be avoided if one has anger issues.
Practice everyday, work up to five rounds of 1 minute, 120 strokes per minute.
Asanas should be practiced to counter the aforementioned postural imbalances, and to increase strength and flexibility, providing more stability to the spine. It is important to breathe normally and try to relax into the postures. Should pain be experienced, the practitioner should come out of the posture. As a guideline, each posture should be held at 70% of one’s maximum effort and preferably for an extended duration to reap maximum benefits.
Backbends are important as hunching and forward bends are very prevalent during the day. Backbends help to relieve backaches and are great to counter forward neck, protracted shoulders, elevated shoulders, kyphosis and they also help to lengthen the psoas (hip flexor) muscles. Beckbends are energizing and are especially therapeutic for people with depression.
Poses to explore:
Bitilasana (cow pose)
Bhujangasana and variations (cobra pose)
Shalabhasana variations (locust pose)
Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose)
Dhanurasana/Chakrasana (wheel pose)
Matsyasana – should also be done after Sarvangasana/Halasana as a counter pose (fish pose)
Ushtrasana (camel pose)
Forward bends are important to stretch the hamstrings, which tend to be shortened from long duration of sitting. Lengthened hamstrings, psoas muscles and low back muscles will help to bring the pelvis closer to its ideal position. Forward bends also create a compression in the abdominal region, stimulating the digestive organs. The forward bending action provides a sense of calmness, reducing negative emotions. It is important to avoid hunching the thoracic region, which further causes the front body to collapse.
Poses to explore:
Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend)
Veerabhadrasana (gracious warrior)
Ardha Padma Bandhasana variations, sitting or standing – also a hip and shoulder opener (half lotus bound forward bend)
Parsvottanasana (pyramid pose)
Side Bends and twists are hardly required during the day hence should be practiced to keep the spine supple.
Side bends help to create space around the respiratory system, strengthen the intercostal muscles and thus help the body to be more efficient in energy consumption. This will reduce lethargy and increase work efficiency during the day.
Poses to explore:
Ardha Chandrasana – there are many poses that people call ardha chandrasana, but I mean this:
Trikonasana (triangle pose)
Parighasana (gate pose)
Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (revolved head to knee pose)
Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose)
Twists help to strengthen the oblique muscles, reduce fat in the abdomen, stimulate the digestive system and are also very beneficial to people who suffer from chronic backache and stiffness in the back.
Poses to explore:
Kati Chakrasana (standing twist)
Ardha Matsyendrasana variations (half lord of the fishes pose)
Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle pose)
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose)
Inversions not only slow the ageing process and improve blood circulation, but are also especially beneficial to people who experience headaches as blood supply to the brain is increased. Inversions also help to improve concentration, thus enabling one to be free from negative thoughts and emotions.
Poses to explore:
Sarvangasana variations (shoulder stand)
Halasana (plough pose)
Uttanpadasana (legs raising pose)
Prasarita Padottanasana (wide legged forward bend) – also stretches hamstrings, can be used as an alternative for Shirshasana
Adho Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog)
Balancing poses improve concentration, strengthen the legs/arms and neuromuscular system which improves body coordination, which is important in preventing falls as one ages.
Poses to explore:
Mayurasana (peacock pose)
Bakasana/Kakasana (crow/crane pose)
Bhramacharyasana variations – also a hip opener
Tolasana (scale pose)
Padangusthasana (big toe balancing pose)
Garudasana (eagle pose)
Vrikshasana variations (tree pose)
Virabhadrana I – also a backbend which stretches hips and hamstrings (warrior 1)
Virabhadrasana III (warrior 3)
Hips opening are important to help relieve tension from the hip flexors, the knees, and especially the lower back. Traditionally, hip openers were used to prepare the body to sit relaxed for the practice of pranayama, chanting and meditation.
Poses to explore:
Aakarna Dhanurasana (arched bow pose)
Padmasana (lotus pose)
Saithalyasana (animal relaxation pose)
Sukhasana (easy pose)
Baddha Hasta Gomukasana – also opens shoulders (bound cow-face pose)
Eka Pada Hastasana – also a twist (hand to leg pose)
Malasana (garland pose)
Core strengthening asanas help to tone muscles around the torso area, helping to support the spine, taking load off the lower back. The core muscles are not only the rectus abdominis (aka six pack muscles), but also consists of the obliques (sides) and back muscles. In fact, the deeper core muscles: transversus abdominis, multifidus and pelvic floor muscles are the most crucial in supporting the lumbar spine. Thus, it is important to strengthen the muscles around the entire torso region, not only the front. To strengthen the deeper muscles, it is also more efficient to do static core exercises/asanas.
Shalabhasana variations (locust pose)
Purvottanasana (upward plank pose)
Reverse table top pose
Relaxation asanas are extremely important to help relax the body after physical/mental exertion. It is thus crucial to conclude our asana practice with a relaxation posture and very deliberately send our awareness to each body part, scan for tension, breathe and let the tension go.
Here are some other asanas/movements recommended for various physical issues that officer workers might encounter:
Pawanmuktasana (gas releasing pose) – relieves constipation and gas from large intestine
Neck Movements – relieves tension from neck
Adho Muka Svanasana (downward facing dog at the wall) – stretches shoulders, hamstrings, calves and realigns spine
I use the term “pranayama” very loosely here, just to mean “breathing exercises”. No kumbhaka (breath retention) is recommended here, unless the practitioner is ready for it.
The practice of pranayama relaxes the body, helps the mind to focus, improve the body’s systems’ efficiency and helps to clear emotional clutter.
Cooling: for summer, stress, anxiety
Deep breathing with 1:2 ratio
Anulom Vilom (alternate nostril breathing)
Bhramari (humming bee breath)
Heating: for winter, cold offices, depression, lethargy
Surya Bhedan – not to be done when one is experiencing anger/frustration or heat in body
Practitioners should first try to discipline themselves to practice from all the above categories on most days of the week, slowly working up to a daily and longer practice. For a more holistic lifestyle and maximum benefit, one should also take his diet and schedule into consideration.
I find myself going back to The Eight Limbs each time I speak of how captivated I am by the practice of yoga. The beauty of yoga lies in its all-encompassing reach to life – penned in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, speaking of an eightfold path to a meaningful and purposeful life.
Yama: the five moral restraints
The yamas can be thought of as the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is worth noting that the five yamas not only applies to how we treat others, but also to how we treat ourselves.
Ashimsa: nonviolence (kindness)
Brahmacharya: sexual moderation
The niyamas are all about self-discipline – such as developing a consistent practice, being aware of how we live life on a daily basis and extending gratitude.
Tapas: heat, austerity
Isvara pranihana: surrender
This third limb is undoubtedly the most popular aspect of yoga – coming to your mat, doing poses. It is also worth noting that the yamas and niyamas were deliberately placed before asana, as the physical practice of asanas is not the end goal, but a means to develop discipline and concentration.
Literally translated into ‘control of life force’, pranayama refers to breathing exercises. It offers us techniques to gain control over our respiratory system and connect the mind, body and emotions. Breathing deeply brings more oxygen and prana (life force) through the body, keeping the body young and mind balanced.
Unlike the first four limbs, the fifth to eighth limbs requires one to move in a step-by-step manner. The eighth limb cannot be achieved without first achieving the fifth to seventh.
Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses
The practice of pratyahara teaches us to be in uncomfortable situations yet be unaffected by the external environment. We experience external events as pleasure or pain, like or dislike via our five senses. While these experiences drive us to achieve our dreams, create meaningful interactions, gain wisdom and experience life fully, it becomes problematic when we get overly attached to these stimulus that we become unable to pause, turn inwards and reconnect with ourselves. Pratyahara is about turning inwards by not seeking out or responding to external stimulus.
Dharana is the process of achieving concentration, where the mind works on focusing only on one activity or thought. An object is selected and attention is focused on it – it could be the breath, a candle flame, a picture or a mantra. At this stage, the mind is constantly wondering to other objects and we have to repeatedly bring the mind back to the chosen object to train and tame the distracted mind. Over time, the mind reaches a state where periods of concentration exceeds that of distraction.
Dhyana is the state of single-pointedness of the mind, where there is a sustained concentration for longer periods of time. This is a more mature level of dharana and is similar to ‘flow’ in psychology or ‘being in the zone’.
Samadhi is the state of enlightenment, where the mind and the object of concentration unites into one. The object being focused on disappears, boundaries between the object and mind disappears and oneness is experienced. Self-awareness is lost and the meditator becomes completely absorbed by the object of concentration.
In yoga practice, the breath is of utmost importance as it offers us a point of focus to still the mind and connect with our inner world. Asana practice is done to prepare the body and mind for pranayama and ultimately journey through the last four limbs. By controlling the body and breath, one is able to control and still the mind, achieving peace, clarity and calmness.
We spend a third of our lives in our bedrooms, so shouldn’t our bedrooms be given high priority when it comes to design and feel?
I spent a few weeks experimenting on how my environment affects my inner world – my mental and emotional state. It was not a controlled test but there was one major turning point that convinced me that our immediate environment directly affects the inner world that we live in.
For a week, I kept my room clean by sweeping, mopping, wiping but I allowed clutter to pile up. I left endless things on the table, clothes on the shelf, bags outside the cabinet, and books at random places. At the end of the week, I had a strong urge to clear everything. After spending something close to two hours de-cluttering, I felt immensely light emotionally and mentally.
The moment I cleared my surroundings of clutter, my mental state immediately went from disorganized and frenzied to light and in control.
On top of using simple exercises like this 3-step meditation to clear your mind, here are five easy ways to turn your bedroom into your Zen haven.
1. Use earth colours
Shades of brown, light green, white, and blue.
2. Declutter, declutter, DECLUTTER
Throw away things you don’t need. Give things away. Have as little things in your room/house as possible
3. Have minimal items on surfaces
Clear your tables of files, books, electronics etc. and keep them away in organized drawers.
4. Use soft lighting, play with dimmers
You know how yoga teachers dim the lights as we cool down towards the final resting pose, Savasana? That’s the calm and relaxed ambience that we want to have in our bedrooms.
5. Keep things simple and neutral
Avoid loud, colourful displays and decorations. You might also want to avoid having pictures that could evoke emotions in your room.
Zenifying (this word doesn’t actually exist, I just made it up) your bedroom is a nice start to a more zen life. You could even add in some short and simple meditation techniques to start/end your day in your bedroom to enhance your mental and emotional wellbeing.
If you have other titbits on how to zenify your bedroom and life, please feel free to share 🙂
I’ll leave you with this beautiful, beautiful song: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, by Will Blunderfield
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
I used to scroll through Instagram and see beautiful people doing amazing things with their bodies. They were standing on their hands, floating from one shape to another. Others had perfectly sculpted bodies, perfect faces, beautiful clothing. I wondering when it would be me. When would I float, when can I fly, when can I be like them… heck. I wanted to be way better than them.
I used to chase yoga postures. First it was Crow, then it was Firefly. When I managed headstand, I wanted forearm stand, I haven’t mastered the forearm stand and I was chasing handstands.
The desire to do impressive things became my motivation to come to my yoga mat every single day. And boy, was the motivation strong.
On the yoga mat we chase postures, off the mat we chase money, people, emotions, food, entertainment, attention…
The interesting thing about yoga is that, if you observing close enough, it’s a metaphor of our lives. Whatever happens on the mat is often a reflection of how we live and treat ourselves off the mat.
A shift happened in my yoga practice.
About a year ago, on that morning when all that I could manage was cuddling up in child’s pose with a bolster supporting me. I wasn’t able to move as strongly as I used to. As I laid on my mat, letting go of whatever I was holding on to, I subconsciously created space for my heart to heal and my mind to accept new ways of bringing my yoga to a deeper level.
My practice went from chasing yoga poses to being in tune with what my body and mind needed. It has been a year and so much has changed.
Chasing things is not the problem. The problem happens when we get attached to what we are chasing. We glorify the object of desire and we start to think that we can only be truly happy and fulfilled if we get what we want.
The liberation I felt when I stopped chasing poses is the same liberation I experienced as I stopped chasing people – maybe for you, it is wealth, fame, adrenaline or something else.
Chase, do your best, but be open to other possibilities. The end result could be different and different doesn’t mean better or worse. It simply means that there’s a world of possibilities out there, unexplored, unexpected, waiting for you to discover.
“The Universe provides for me,” he said with a grin. My heart blossomed like a flower because… because, what the hell! How rare is it to meet someone who, too, believes in the power of the Universe?!
That day I flipped the pages into life lesson chapter eleven – The Deadliness of Falling in Love with Potential.
It lurked behind me as his left hand held my right that night. It was the first night we slept in the same bed, first time drinking ourselves silly enough to melt away the awkwardness in the room. With him, there were so many firsts, and every one was beautiful… At first.
On hindsight, I could have left it as it was – a vacation fling. But it was so beautiful, I could use such romance every single day. Eight days later, we proceeded to fall in love. After ten, we parted ways, stayed in touch, met, parted again, had painful fights, fell in love again, finally now we’re no longer friends, no longer lovers, not even strangers.
It was so short and so intense.
What once felt so romantic and beautiful became something I have to forget about, a pain I am learning to wash away and a blog post telling you what went wrong inside of me.
I spent days grieving and reflecting on what went wrong. One big concept that surfaced is the idea of my falling in love with the potential of this relationship. If we were to strip away that head swooning feeling of falling in love, I knew nothing more than the superficial things about him.
I fell in love with the novelty of a long distance relationship, the idea of flying miles and miles just to see someone and indulge in intense love making sessions, the idea of one of us relocating just to be together, the smartness of this broken soul and what all these brains could possibly do.
When we fall in love with what could be, we get attached to making our fantasy happen.
But what could be often involves another complex, fragile, and sometimes dysfunctional human being, who is not yours to control. We get so involved in creating our fantasy that we forget to embrace where we are right now.
If our fantasy is tossed away, could we still love the way we do? If the answer is no, it’s time to re-evaluate what really you’re really in love with.
What is scarier than falling in love with potential is the fog that blurs our vision and judgement as we fall into that rabbit hole of a beautiful new world that was created in our minds. We get so attached to that fantasy that we fail to see all the reasons why this relationship/situation is toxic.
We gloss over how this whole love story is flawed and not ours to repair.
But finally, there will be a day where our hearts break from the realisation that this is all nothing but a fantasy. Only then, the fog in our minds would clear. Next time, I hope there’s no more next time.
I was speaking with the love of my life who’s about 2,000 miles away from me. Let’s call him S.
“Sometimes I wish that I could live my life the way I teach my classes.”
The question went the way I crafted it to – S asked “why?”
“When I teach, I step into class, most of the time only with a general theme. For example, a peak pose, a particular muscle group, or maybe a particular movement. Sometimes, I simply set an intention for myself. For example, to slow my speech down, or to simply be aware of what the students in this class needs.
I don’t plan my classes in detail. I step into class with that intention/theme, greet my class, prepare them for what I hope is yet another right-on-point-exactly-what-I-need yoga practice. I switch on the music, and there we are, flowing through a mini metaphor of life.
Teaching yoga has taught me that setting an intention for whatever we do in life could be the one thing that makes all the difference.
Sometimes Titibhasana (a pretty advanced arm balance) lingers in my head as I step into class. But as I ask my students about any existing injuries, I find out that three of them are dealing with wrist injuries. Being in a class full of arm balances isn’t exactly the best idea if you have wrist injuries.
I could either
Stick to my plan, or
Throw my Titibhasana plan out and trust that I am still able to teach a right-on-point class safely”
Teaching yoga has taught me that being present is more important than having a plan. Because plans can fail, but being present is just neutral, there’s no failure or success. You are just, you know, present to respond to whatever might come up.”
At this point, I could hear the excitement in S’s voice. An excitement that I missed, an excitement that I have not heard for so long.
I’m a planner. I hate uncertainty and I always have difficulties dealing with uncertainty. Sometimes it gets into my relationships. I could hear it in S’s voice. He was thrilled. I’m not sure over what, but I think he was thrilled to hear the articulation of my desire to translate this mini metaphor of life into actual life.
But I was frustrated with myself. For being able to do it at work, but finding it so challenging to be done outside of the studio.
I continued my monologue.
“During times like this, sometimes I have to deal with a mini panic attack. I wreak my head, thinking ‘what to teach what to teach what to teach?!’ All these while very calmly instructing my class to ‘inhale deeply, exhale completely’
I allow myself to breathe with them.
As I take long deep breaths, I am present, my nerves are calmed and my brain starts to work under less emotional influence. With a few more grounding breaths, I am able to hold space for others and offer myself from a grounded and calm place, rather than a frenzied and anxious place.
People appreciate calmness because how much calmness do we actually experience during the course of our days?
When I lead my class through a series of poses, I don’t have the luxury of hours and days to contemplate the next pose. The best that I can do is to think slightly ahead and make decisions then and there. Sometimes I make bad decisions, sometimes I make a bad move and the transition gets a bit awkward. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s not the end of my career. It’s not the end of the class. It doesn’t turn the class into a bad class. It’s just a mistake I made and I can always turn things around. Sometimes I switch my creativity button up a notch and deal with it beautifully. Sometimes I apologise and then proceed to take a better step instead.
Teaching yoga has taught me that making decisions don’t have to be hard. There is no absolute right or wrong decision. When you make a decision, you and your environment can and will work around it.
Because of the nature of the yoga studio that I teach at, until the moment I step into class, I wouldn’t know the mix of students I’ll be teaching. Sometimes I face a power class full of beginners, sometimes I have advanced practitioners in beginner classes, sometimes I have a mix of beginners and advanced students in a single class.
These ‘unpredictable’ classes forces me to walk in the shoes of my students, not pre-judge them based on what I see. As I practice empathy, I am able to offer better options to cater to the needs of different students and not leave anyone feeling under or over Om-ed out.
Teaching yoga has taught me to empathize. Especially empathizing with people who struggle. It leads me to ask myself, ‘what can I do to make things better for them?’ As I ask, sometimes it’s hard to not follow up with action.
Never underestimate the power of empathy.”
I adjusted my earpiece and took a sip of tea from my oversized mug, smiled through the camera to that beautiful face smiling back at me, wondering when we would meet in person again.
I gathered my thoughts,
“When I first started teaching, I used to give certain cues and expect a certain result in the bodies that I see. Sometimes it’s frustrating because certain people simply don’t respond to certain cues. As I allow myself to approach the issue with curiosity rather than having fixed expectations, my route to the desired result becomes a lot more pleasant.
Expectations of how other people receive information from you will inevitably lead to frustration if the results don’t match your expectations.
Teaching yoga has taught me to let go of expectations, and approach situations with curiosity, and know that there is no one fixed route to where I wish to be.”
S and I continued our conversation late into the night. His voice was what I wanted to hear as I drift off into sleep. As I fell asleep that night, my heart tugged at me, telling me to do something…