“The understanding of this has really helped me put things into perspective.
Having been anxious and holding onto previous experiences and jobs that haven’t gone as planned,
and having also struggled with finding self-worth as a full-time mum.”
Esther, one of the students on the August Education in Yoga, Teacher Training 200 hours program, expressed a very clear, honest and well understood grasp of the essence of Patanjali’s yoga sutra. We happily share it here:
“Yoga as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras refers to the experience of who you really are at the core, and not who you perceive yourself to be. This perception is distorted by the way our world and human nature works, with a tendency to be focused on the external. Hence, our aim should really be to look within ourselves. From this perspective, it can be said that this framework is applicable to all people anywhere in the world, regardless of race, religion, appearance, wealth, age, health or sex. It is this sense of inclusion and non-dogmatic approach which has really sparked my belief.
“We often define ourselves by the jobs we have, the people we associate with, the assets we own, our interests and hobbies. All of which are in fact impermanent. Our self worth becomes reliant on inherently external factors for which not only we have no control over, nor define who we really are. This sense of attachment to our distorted selves then causes us to pain, and we suffer its loss when it leaves us. The understanding of this has really helped me put things into perspective. Having been anxious and holding onto previous experiences and jobs that haven’t gone as planned, and having also struggled with finding self-worth as a full-time mum.
“The Yoga Sutras state that by looking in, through regular practice, self examination and devotion. To be able to look at things for what they really are and apply care in our daily lives. We can then decrease distortions of ourselves, find peace within, and become more centered. While I am aware this journey is not easy, because that is the nature of this world, I take away from this a set of tools that has given me more clarity and direction. I see it as my ‘Sthira’, my foundation, on which I can be ‘Sukha’, happy and free. For I know this journey can happen only purely within myself.”
Watch this video to get an inside view of the Centered Yoga 200 hour Teacher Training. Filmed in-situ with messages from the teaching team and students and a close look at what is on offer here at Samahita!
Video and Music by Gray Bashew
My 12 Years with Samahita: Affinity and Destiny
Back in 2006 when I was 26 years old traveling in India and thinking about where life would take me next I had a conversation with a yoga teacher (of whom there were plenty). He recommended traveling to Thailand to take Paul Dallaghan’s one month Training course. Paul who? At that point I had no plans to become a yoga teacher but the thought of spending a couple of months in Thailand learning even more about yoga was appealing. So I applied for the course whilst still in India and received an acceptance email shortly thereafter.
After a few weeks back home I set off to Yoga Thailand, as it was then known, excited and with an open mind. Thailand is a beautiful country with equally beautiful people to match and its always a pleasure to be here. On my arrival at YT I found the space charming with a small shala encircled by a few wooden huts next to the quiet beach. A perfect place to spend the following month of intense practice and study.
My first impression of Paul – one particular memory stands out. We were sitting eyes closed patiently waiting to begin our first meeting when Paul crept in unnoticed and began to speak. His voice, much more mature than his age, reminded me of an old Irish priest with an air of authority, groundedness and spiritual depth. It was a voice of sincerity and truth that I would learn to follow and trust. In contrast to this I was also stuck by his humour and playfulness always keeping a lighthearted touch during challenging moments.
This relationship continued as I enrolled on more courses at the original Yoga Thailand and later at Samahita in its current location. Neil Barker was still teaching then and offered excellent training in anatomy that once again has been instrumental in my understanding of teaching asana.
Overall the supportive and educational environment was essential to our development as yoga practitioners and teachers. The experience of immersing in a complete yoga practice with a group of dedicated students and teachers was transformational and set myself and others up with a greater purpose in our lives.
Many of the students from that first course in 2006 have become successful teachers or set up their own yoga businesses. After a year living on Koh Samui, where I met my wife and obtained my first experiences as a teacher, I was invited to Hong Kong by my fellow TT graduate Eva to teach full time. Sometimes it is the people we meet who make the difference and Samahita is a hub of international talent – guests and Staff alike! Sharing rooms has also been an important part of the experience as during each visit I’ve met people who have become life long friends, people with knowledge and experience and a passion for Yoga. This diverse international community of dedicated, compassionate and learned people makes visiting Samahita so valuable and is realised even more during repeat visits. It always feels like home – comfortable and caring with familiar faces.
There is no doubt in my mind that surrendering to the practice and a healthy lifestyle opened up many channels for positive growth and development all of which has been mediated by Samahita and Paul Dallaghan in particular.
As Yoga Thailand grew in popularity, with a reputation for quality and authenticity, new premises were built and was inaugurated with the name Samahita. It was a pleasure to see that all the hard work from Paul and Jutima had facilitated this growth and in many ways was a gift to all returning students. We all appreciated the upgraded accommodation and of course the Shala adorned with inspirational pictures of spiritual seekers and Tiwariji’s lineage. With a greater capacity Samahita offered more trainings including special guests such as Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor and of course O. P. Tiwari. I am grateful to have received the opportunity to study with Paul and Tiwariji regularly for the benefit of my own development as a teacher. As everyone who’s been here knows Tiwari’s and Paul’s teachings in Pranayama is second to none. This is a method rooted in tradition, modernised through scientific study and realised through dedicated practice.
Teaching at Samahita
Being a Samahita regular contributed to my own personal energy and strength as a yoga teacher allowing me to pass this on to my students in Hong Kong and encourage them to visit. Before long I was leading retreats and as many teachers now realise Samahita is the best place in Asia to do so. After 4 years of teaching retreats I joined the Samahita tribe full time moving my family to Thailand as a show of commitment and confidence. It’s a privilege working here teaching on the regular programs, retreats and trainings as Samahita moves ahead and evolves opening up to new visitors who may not originally have planned to take yoga or health retreats.
Samahita has been an immensely important part of my life not merely as a place to learn yoga but as a pivot in my life. Changing the way I think, behave, live and work. I was set up for a new life and destiny took its course to put me in the right place at the right time. I am eternally grateful for all the teachings and practices passed down by Paul and Tiwari. May all the many visitors continue to benefit in equal measure and the Samahita family will endeavour to deliver this.
As a yoga teacher, I want to help people with their inner physiological process so they function better, think clearer, behave nicer, express and share cleanly, and treat people better.
You might be moving and bending, but the mind jumps around. And though everyone knows this shouldn’t happen, and everyone emphasizes mindfulness and awareness, in reality people aren’t that aware of where they are focusing. Even if they hope to be aware of where they direct their attention, they don’t have the capacity to direct it because they haven’t been trained. And in our ADD (attention deficit disorder), online every-minute-of-the-day world, this is even more of a problem. If we jump around in our body like we jump around in our mind then we are adding to the inner confusion, and we are missing the connection to working with the body and management of the breath.
As we will see, all this comes together in the physical management of the body, using the pelvic muscles and the lower abdomen; how the lower abdomen is essentially the force of the exhale and how that can feed the inhale and posture. The mental focus brings attention to this same zone, and now there’s a greater uniting of a combined mental and physical force, with breath, and its effect on autonomic function and metabolic efficiency.
AS YOU THINK, SO YOU PRACTICE …… AND YOUR BODY FOLLOWS
Your practice ideally should support your intentions on a physiological level, as well as an anatomical one. The Hatha (Yoga) Pradipika text says: Asana makes you stable (in body and mind), healthy, and feeling of lightness. This must mean that your inner organs are working well and you’re balancing stimulation versus counter stress. The third point is lightness. This is from asana only. If you feel light it’s not that your weight has changed. The feeling of lightness is that there is an increased metabolic efficiency at a cellular level – your respiratory function, mitochondrial activity, production of energy, clearing of waste all perform more efficiently.
If this is so, then the outcome should be that I embody such strength. I exhibit good health across my viscera (internal organs), which are purely managed/directed by my autonomic nervous system. At a cellular respiratory level, I am efficient and I feel good. This does not come just because you went to a yoga class and pushed through it. This comes because you engaged in the appropriate activity, with directed focus, supportive breath, and the teacher is able to guide that. As a teacher, offering modifications is your job; you have the chance to help people self-correct, to offer them proper focused work, to interrupt the rigidity.
If your understanding of that increases through your doing of it, then eventually maybe even a mental grasp of it will come; so similar to how chaos theory works, numerous principles that are in states of different activity or disarray come together and reveal a more powerful outcome.
This takes a bit of time, but that’s the process; this is what’s been developed. So, if I practice yoga, I want to be strong, feel healthy, feel good, feel an uplifted spirit. And such a state is the perfect environment to use the breath to channel finer elements of body and mind into what we would call the internal side, which is what yoga is about, the meditative experience. So how we manage or support ourselves, either against injury or helping a current injury, impacts of course not just the degree of the injury which is usually either limb or joint based, but if done correctly it should impact my inner health, my psychological wellbeing, and therefore serves directly as meditative practice, management, etc.
Over the last hundred years, modern science has made tremendous progress in reducing infectious disease. The population has exploded and we now deal more with what is known as non-communicable disease, non-infectious disease, which is at its root based in a mismanagement of stress. Inflammation is an identifiable marker here. So, though you may not have a physical limb or joint injury, you probably are entering a yoga class with a degree of poorly managed stress, with resultant inflammation, on a physiological level. Therefore, the support of the body and the placement of posture can either improve that condition or unfortunately and surreptitiously worsen your stress load, or at the very least not help it. This, in turn, leaves you compromised on an immune system level and/or prone to compromise in posture/body on the musculoskeletal level, making you more prone to injury. Following the adage, prevention is better than cure, a yoga teacher, therefore, has a very valuable and much needed role and responsibility to teach with an understanding of injury, pain, and disease. And though it’s just a yoga class, this greater understanding can help manage the body posturally, to impact with the breath one’s physiological and psychological state. At the same time, that can be carelessly handled due to lack of experience, knowledge, poor teaching skills, an over-excited approach, focus on the wrong things, and all of these conditions could be worsened.
My own research builds from the burden of non-communicable disease, with stress at the base of that, to look at the effectiveness of yoga practice, particularly regulation of the breath, in managing that stress, to manage this burden which is behind all lifestyle diseases. Such a burden or stress is a somewhat measurable proxy for the internal disturbed state that is contra to the spiritual development. When we talk about managing injury, in one sense, just for daily wellbeing, we want to manage this on a body-health-stress level. But the other sense is that the state of mind or personal spiritual progress – in other words your attitude and how you understand things and look at them – is a key component in all of this. It’s not enough to just do it; we need to do it, understand it, and absorb into it. Otherwise it can be counterproductive. Just because I’m doing it doesn’t mean it is good.
A scientific approach will measure physiological and biological markers as well as psychological surveys. But yoga places things in context, in people’s lives. What is so vastly important, and is highly emphasized by Patanjali and other great teachers, is your approach, your attitude, your sincerity to practice, which I like to personally sum up as a degree of engaged participation. You can’t just take this like a blue pill and expect a result. You need to participate in the administration and digestion of the so-called ‘medicine’.
Feeling stuck and robotic in your Sun Salutations? Watch this video with our Yoga Teacher Ara Hwang to improve your mobility and try some new moves to help with difficult transitions such as chaturanga to upward dog and jumping back / forwards.
Integrating Somatics in Yoga
Somatic Movement is nothing new. It is, however often bypassed amidst the frenzy of what is “trending” in yoga or fitness to push you to your limits and increase your caloric expenditure. How sad.
Somatics do just the opposite. The process of somatic education turns you internally, rather than focusing on external form. Ultimately, we produce more efficient movement, meaning that we actually use less energy. Working intelligently with movement by tuning into the somatic nervous system forces you to move slowly while you learn movement to create healthy neuromuscular patterning.
I’ve always taught students to enjoy their movement, to “feel” it rather then just “do” it. When we can feel it, we can fix it if we need to, and at the very least enjoy the process of moving inside this human vehicle, rather than forcing ourselves into performance to meet some kind of shape standard.
Somatic movement is all about perception. Moving from within. Specifically, initiating movement in a way that emphasizes internal perception and experience, thus truly connecting our mind with movement. No rushing here. Developed as a field of research and systematized as a movement education by Dr Thomas Hanna, somatics are used as therapy to re-educate the nervous system.
The system uses slow, deliberate paths of movement and release sequences through verbal cueing, in a way that the movement is felt from the deep level of initiation, rather then the more external pulls that tend to drive large or fast movements. The result is incredible stability, alignment and fluid movement. It also serves as a therapy to correct imbalances in posture, movement and breath. Thus, it is a very informative tool for yoga teachers and students.
As a yoga teacher, experiencing somatics has a massive impact on your ability to cue movement correctly, and serves to assist you with private or therapeutic clients.
When looking at movement as a whole – incorporating strength, co-ordination, mobility and balance – somatics work to impact the efficacy of all 4 pillars. It trains (and in some cases un-trains and retrains) the neuromuscular pathways for movement. At least that’s what has been taught up to this point. I prefer to look at movement on a more global scale, which means we cannot disregard fascia and especially its role as a sensory organ and force transmitter. So we can use somatic education as well as work with the fascia in movement to create the ultimate mind-body connection and fluid body.
I am really excited to share this new way of thinking about and sensing movement in the upcoming Advanced Anatomy: Somatic Movement & Fascial Integration as we explore not only somatic movement, but somatic movement from the perspective of the fascia – all intertwined with the breath for incorporation into your yoga practice.
As I was about to write this introduction I found my mind drift to many of the great wonders and benefits my life has received in these many years in yoga. I happened to just go to Daphne Tse’s pledge site and play her new song, which she sang with us back in July and will again this Christmas. It always stirs my heart. Similar for me is the great music of Jack Harrison, a good Irishman who I have been happy to be part of his music journey out there. Yoga brought us all together. I think back to my early days of practice and to where it has all grown now. It’s almost 20 years of practice yet at the same time so short. The invaluable gift of the guidance of my teacher, Tiwariji, has made all the difference. Special years with Pattabhi Jois in India are memorable. So many good people, students, other teachers I have been able to be friends with. Now I find myself at yet another journey in yoga, this time in terms of research and science. Most of all I am grateful for how I have grown from the possibility to learn and practice, be cared for and be able to return at least some of that care and kindness.
In such a vein, Tiwariji and myself went to visit BKS Iyengar back in August. He will be 95 on his birthday this December. He was still full of energy and vigor as well as mental clarity. Tiwariji and Iyengar used to travel on the Bombay express train back in the early 1960s, in the 1990s they were both in Russia together, and lately have been involved in the India Yoga association as president and vice president. It was nice to be part of this company. Iyengar was keen to tell me that yoga still needs to be respected, learned, earned, and taught properly, otherwise it is a mere waste. These are words I believe in myself. In his final years of a full life devoted to yoga practice he is urging a call to integrity. In my opinion, life is not of much value without that. And therein lies the yogi, regardless of what field we may be in. For the heart and the intention matter. How we treat others. Avoid the politics and embrace the people.
So, enjoy the music of Daphne and Jack, benefit from the practice as is suitable for you, be nourished by the friends, students and teachers we meet, and cultivate an inner ethic and a complete integrity.
My last article left you at Sirsasana while I was 27weeks pregnant with twins. I had gained 14kg and was feeling fantastic on the mat and off. That 14kg turned into nearly 30 by full-term and Sirsasana became a calculated risk, but I still felt amazing, for the most part.
After our twins arrived, everything changed. I was shocked at how incredibly tired I was. Breastfeeding two newborns, totally sleep deprived and recovering from the birth along with a postpartum hemorrhage that left me anemic, all took its toll on me physically and mentally. I was trashed. I wanted to return to practice. I craved it. At times, I found myself longing for my old life and freedom on the mat. I imagine every new parent experiences something similar once the novelty of the first few days has worn off. It wasn’t until I embraced the change in my life and was ready to show myself a little compassion that I rolled out my mat.
From my experience, and my knowledge of anatomy, I want to share with you some valuable tips for teaching your post-partum students. Before sharing them, I will re-iterate that every woman is different and pregnancies vary. Recommendations on when it’s safe to return to practice vary and are highly dependent on the woman and circumstances around her pregnancy and birth.
Keep the following in mind when teaching asana to any woman after giving birth.
1. Don’t rush it.
Don’t rush the return to the mat and certainly don’t rush things while on the mat.
Returning to the Mat
Although an avid practitioner may be keen to jump on the mat just days after her bundle(s) have arrived, remind her that her body has been through a lot. It takes a few days just to replenish the calories lost during the work of labor and delivery, not to mention the sleep. It’s important to ensure that she has recovered from the initial physical and mental expenditure.
Further, if a woman has suffered any pregnancy induced injuries, it will take even more time. 25% of women experience Symphysis Pubis Dysfuntion during their pregnancy and some continue to have symptoms, indicating that more time is needed, well after birth.
Over 60% of women experience some degree of abdominal separation (diastis recti) in their third trimester or the immediate postpartum period. The gap takes a minimum of 4 weeks to close, and care must be taken when practice is resumed not to increase the gap and prevent healing.
On the Mat
There are many factors at play for the new mother that will affect what she brings to the mat. Sleep deprivation is almost a given in the early days. A sleepy body is a heavy body, so she must listen and approach practice as recovery, rather than something that will add to her lack of energy. Do what feels good. It will take some time to get back to a regular routine. There may also be some specific asana that need to be avoided or modified at first to encourage healing and rest. Encourage her to enjoy each breath she has on the mat as a chance to be healthy and clear her head in order to care for her newborn(s).
2. Let Go…
It is difficult in the beginning to understand that when you have children, you aren’t actually giving up anything . Instead, you are practicing vairagya (non-attachment). It’s ok to let stuff go. Actually, it’s imperative.
As a new mother, she must take some time to mourn and let go of her previous life. This is not a bad thing. Babies do change lives and clinging to the “old” identity of “self” doesn’t do anyone any good. A seated practice can be very helpful in taking this needed time, without the physical practice to get in the way of clearing that image, in order to move on and be fully present as a mother.
Expectations of Self
Not only must a new mother let go of what she thinks she should be like in order to be the perfect parent, she must also let go of any expectations she has of her babies. Trying to be everything to everyone is impossible and often a stumbling block for new mothers. It can also assist in brewing post partum depression if a new mom fails to meet her own expectations.
Expectations of Self on the mat
It’s no secret that having a baby or two changes a woman’s body. Even a consistent practice through the entire pregnancy cannot completely combat nature. The body will shift. Some asanas will become impossible, others unsafe. After the birth, some of those same asanas will still be impossible. Possibly, what she was challenged with most physically as a beginner, will be easy and asana that used to be effortless will now require effort. It will take some time to build back the physicality. As her teacher, remind her, there is no rush.
3. Get to know your New Body
A woman’s body does not magically return to it s pre-pregnancy form after giving birth. This means she shouldn’t just pick up with asana where she left off pre-pregnancy. She should start at the beginning; building the foundation of primary series, regardless of what “level” she was at before she got pregnant. Her pelvis will feel different, her hamstrings and hip flexors will inevitably be tight, and if she is breast- feeding, her whole front line will be shortened. Starting at the foundation will assist in correctly realigning her body.
While these tips are extremely important to post-partum practitioners, they only scratch the surface of teaching students experiencing this massive spiritual and anatomical shift.
This June, Elonne and I are teaching “Yoga and the Female Body”, a continuing education course that will cover this and other practice considerations for women in more detail.