Sunday, 1 May 2016

[Book] Yoga Beyond Belief by Ganga White

Reading this book remind me on twelve years ago when I was still studying on college. I took architecture major at time. I thought my college years would be very pleasant. I thought I would just drawing and coloring, everyday. Just like on the kindergarten, but of course in different level.
Expectation always hurt. First year on college, my head almost exploded because every day I had to attend calculus class, fundamental physics class, engineering mechanics, environment fundamental, philosophy and history. I remember instead of learnt how to draw a house, I had taught to observe the materials that I thought they had no correlation on architecture stuffs. Like paper, cardboard, toothpicks, pieces of glass, etc. I didn’t do coloring on my first semester. I started to coloring on my second semester. But my lecturer just allowed us to use only five different colors. There are black, white, yellow, and red, blue. Yes, just those five basic colors. And my lectures also didn’t allow us paint the picture. They just give a homework to make hundreds gradation colors with those colors. At the time I thought, how I would become a genius architect if even on my first year, we never ever try to design any single building.
On the third semester, we finally were facing architecture design class. I thought, it’s the time showed off our real identity as a future architect which hidden before behind numbers and history things. Again expectation always hurt. We didn’t design any building or house. We designed a garden and fence. My friend from other major, my family, my cousins, even my boyfriend(s) laugh at me. I felt I just wasted my time, my youth, my (parent’s) money. Until at the fourth semester, we learnt how to design a house. Finally.
On the beginning of the class, my lecture said that we might be surprised or shocked on our first semester curriculum. Might be exhausted with the classes that we had to pass. But all of them are the basic. The fundamental. Before we start to build the future, we have to learn from the past. Why we have to learn philosophy and history, because we are lucky enough not to experience ancient’s experiences to learn something. Experience is the best teacher. But experience always takes much time. And we are lucky enough not to travel through time and distance to learn that experiences. We just have to read and think about it.
Why we have to learn calculus, fundamental physics, engineering mechanics, and all that numbers stuff, just because we have to balance our imagination and real circumstances. Later, we may think to design the building that people will never imagine before. But the building will become a real building if it can be built. That’s why numbers, technique, science are important. Because they make people stay grounded and not only live on the dream and imagination. Design not only drawing and coloring. The great design is the one that can be realized.
That theory is similar with yoga. Overall, yoga is not limited only on physical practice. Moreover, yoga contains philosophy, history, calculation of risk benefit and art as well. Yoga is not limited on beautiful movement, pretty poses, and match sequences.
Moreover, the architecture design delivers a personal product result. Just like yoga. Architecture involves the different human taste. And take consider into the user. Totally similar with yoga which is every human body has a different condition. One person maybe can be so flexible while other maybe very stiff in the same pose. That’s why yoga is personal. Competition and comparison are not applicable in yoga. Everybody has special body condition and structure. And every body has their special purpose on doing yoga. People may want to do yoga because they just want to move but doesn’t want too upbeat. Others maybe just want to release the tension and find the mindful and peaceful in yoga. Other may want to go deeper. Want to find more spiritual result by doing yoga. That’s why, yoga is personal. No perfection. Only progression.
When I read about cakhra and prana, I remember one day my lecture gave us homework to do a research about home designing concept with environment and philosophical approximation theory. So, at the time I wrote about Fengshui. The concept of fengshui according to my understanding is similar with prana and chakra on yoga. About how the energy was transformed and moved. Fengshui was always interesting for me until now. I always curious, how the color, the material elements of nature, the placement of objects so detailed styled by fengshui. And it can stimulate the energy and personal mood. In architecture, I learn how to build a building and as much as possible create synergy with the surrounding environment. Because what all the things we do always leave a path, an effect. And all we want, the effects are positive.
If architecture is about creating and sometimes developing a building from nothing or one point to something more useful and meaningful, yoga is about developing ourselves. If architecture discipline is about creating a firm and comfortable place and facility for human’s activity, then yoga developing a body and mind to facilitate the soul. So the soul can live comfortably inside the body and do its natural duty.
Just like architecture, yoga also needs a fundamental theory to go into comfortable and stable position. In architecture, I have learnt about Vitruvius theory. Vitruvius believed that an architect should focus on three central themes when preparing a design for a building: firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty). I also think that it is similar with what I learn about sthira sukha on yoga. Firmitas is just like sthira concept on yoga, in which we must be firm, strong and sturdy. So we can get the maximum benefit to our body. If we comfortable into the yoga, I believe we can also optimize the benefit or the function of the poses. Yoga it self is also beautiful. Just like venustas on architecture. Not only the poses, but also it purposes. When we do yoga, I feel personally beautiful. Inside out.
Indah Nildha, May 2016

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

[Book] Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff

I’ve been practicing yoga intensively since August 2014. Most current practice, I just follow the movements of yoga teachers who taught in the class. Without thinking too much about the origin of the movement and the effect on my body. Of course I feel healthy after practicing yoga regularly. Does not mean that I am an ill people. But at least, I feel that yoga makes my body more fit and increased my immunity. So I do not easily get sick.
Unlike the other sports variant, yoga has its own challenges. Before practicing yoga regularly, I like to run, weight training at gym and workout with TRX (Total Resistance eXercise). But I had reached a saturation point when doing those sports. I cannot personally reach better result. Moreover, my body weights getting more and more decreased, at the time, because those exercises burn a lot of calories. By doing yoga, my body weights maintain stable and I feel my muscles getting stronger. But again, I did not know where they come from.
All I knew, yoga has a lot of challenging poses. Yoga has inversion poses, which our head is lower than our hips. Forward bend, side bend, and backbend poses, in which our body is extend and then bend to the certain direction. Twisting poses, in which our hips or ribs are rotating. And balancing poses with leg or arms, in which we have to stay stable in certain position just by relying on our one leg or arms. Each poses has their own alignment, benefit and risk as well.
Even the basic standing, seated and reclining poses, which we (or at least I) may think it’s easy, have their own alignment. So the muscles can work optimally, we can stably get into the pose and comfortably stay on the pose. But again, I didn’t know how they work.
In addition to practicing yoga in the classroom, I also often practice yoga at home by watching youtube. I type keyword about a certain muscle that I want to train, problem that I want to solve, flowing that I want to follow, training time I want to spend and poses that I want to be mastered.
For example, I was obsessed on having a flat belly. So I simply type “flat belly yoga” on youtube search. I selected a video with duration of about ten to fifteen minutes. And then, follow the instruction on the video. The result is, yes, my belly is flat by now. But the video is not the hero. I just watched the video once, or maybe twice. The video only satisfies my curiosity about the poses that can give a flat belly result. Practice, later. I didn’t care about how the poses can be worked and the caution.
Another example, I was curious about how to get into eight angle pose or astavakrasana. So I type “astavakrasana tutorial” on youtube search. Then sometimes, instead of watching the whole video, I often skip the preparation and go straight toward how to get into the pose. I often only pay attention for legs and arms placement. I practice by trial and error to get the balance. I rarely pay attention to breathing technique, shape of the spine, muscles contraction and soon. I thought that the more I practice, the faster I get into the pose. No matter how often I fell, I was sure that one day I could get into the pose. I also did not really care about the benefits of the pose on my body. I just see that the pose looks difficult yet beautiful. So it challenges me.
I’m finally mastering the pose now. But, I realize the matter is not only on arms or legs placement. More than that, the pose requires ingenuity. I have to know exactly where I have to hang my body weight, which body part I have to engage, and most importantly how to regulate the breathing so it can sync with the movement to get into the pose.
When I start reading the book two months ago, I was about to learn how to do a pinchamayurasana. I was practicing this pose for since six months earlier before and it never worked on. I keep on jumping back, and fell. My body never gets stable at the time. I practice emotionally and inefficient. When I read the book, I didn’t expect anything at the time. I thought it just another boring textbook, which would bring me back into highschool’s biology subject. At the time, I still believed that practice is enough, no needs complicated theory. The more I practice, the more I got the progress, and the closer I would succeed into the pose. And then, I remember the quotes; without practice, theory is irrelevant. But practice without theory is chaos. –W.Grant
After I read just the first chapter, dynamic of breathing, I realized that the breathing techniques play a very important role in yoga. I also started to realize that yoga is more than just physically practice. Before I read this book, I’ve already knowing and applying ujjayi breathing and always breath through nose to nose during my yoga practice. But all I know at the time was that breath through nose to nose is just for keeping the energy. Just after I finished read the breathing chapter, and try to give more intention of breathing, I feel that the quality of my practices has been improving. I feel that the better breathing technique give me more room to think, to build up the power, to sync my movement, to hold on and stay stable on the pose. I also feel that the proper breathing technique help me to achieved more solid, firm, stable and also comfortable on every asana.
As I continue reading, I also learn about the spine, bones, muscles and its relationship with creating yoga sequences. As I also learn that creating yoga sequences is more than just making a harmonious choreography. It needs more knowledge about which muscle should work for the asanas and how to arrange a great synergy between breathe and movement, effectively. I also got more knowledge of benefits and risks that should be avoided on the body’s muscle. So as I create the sequences, me and my student can explore deeper on the practice. This book also helps me to be more understand the asanas, breaking down the preparation into the certain intermediate to advance poses, and also determining the suitable counter poses. By reading this book, I find my practices become more efficient.
If before reading I just relied on quantity of practice and filled it with trial and error, now I can go explore deeper into the asanas, learn more about them and feel more connection on my whole yoga practice.
The later effects when I teach is I do not need to get hung up on “yoga sequences formula books ". Of course I still need to enrich my knowledge and reference in the future. But this book has been guiding me to understand not only which body parts are working on the yoga sequences, but also the cause and effects in every movement. So again, I can create an effective yet sync flow.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

[BOOK] The Heart of Yoga; Developing a Personal Practice by T.K.V Desikachar

Before I describe my personal understanding about this book, I would like to tell a short story about my personal introduction with yoga. Seven years ago, when I’ve still become a news reporter, I’ve been assigned to write about yoga. At the time, yoga suddenly became more 'popular' exercise because Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) ever declared that yoga is haram. Remain that most of Indonesian are Muslim, the declaration was reaping a lot of questions at the time, though actually, MUI issued three decisions (fatwa):
  1. Yoga in which contain pure spiritual rituals of other religions, is haram.
  2. Yoga in which contain spiritual meditation and mantras or rituals of other religions is haram, as a preventive measure (sadd al-dzari'ah).
  3. Yoga and breathing exercises are purely for the sake of health is mubah (allowed)
I guessed, maybe because Ashtanga was a popular yoga style at the time. With it’s powerful chanting, it’s sweaty movement flow and it’s ‘magical’ pose. At the time, inversion and arm balance pose was not as popular as nowadays when yoga poses is become instagram-able. It was like magic, and mystical when yogini can lift their body just with their hand, or standing on their head. It’s unusual yet amazing when they could mastering their body so easily. But again, reaping some question and assumption, remain that Indonesia also have a lot of mystical culture.
Some other yoga style that also popular at the time is Hatha. Similar with Ashtanga, some Hatha teachers usually start the practice by meditation and also vocalized chanting. Mostly, they pronounce chanting or mantra with Sanskrit language and sounds like Indian-Hindu holy pray. For me as a Muslim, I admit I feel a little bit annoyed. So every time I attend yoga class, and my teacher start to vocalize mantra, I just listen instead of following them sounding the mantra. My reason is simple; I don’t know the meaning behind every word. I’m afraid if the words may contain a certain religious holy mantra. But I still do the meditation. Because, it helps me connecting my breath, mind and body as well, before practicing some asanas.
Nowadays, after I read The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar that published on 1995 I highlight some things. One of them is “just because yoga originated in India does not mean that we must become a Hindu in order to practice it. Yoga does not require a particular belief system and if we already have one, it is not challenged by yoga.”


Desikachar also mention that mantra is not a Hindu symbol but rather most more universal. It is something that can bring a person’s mind to a higher plane. We can always work within an individual’s tradition, language, sentences or whatever that increase our energy after vocalize it.
After understanding about the knowledge, I feel more confident of practicing and learning more about yoga. Because I’m sure that yoga is universal. It is not contrary to my belief as Muslim. Even, yoga itself has a classic definition; yoga is to be one with the divine. It doesn’t matter what name we use for the divine – Allah, God, Isvara or whatever. Anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a poser higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga. And I experience that feeling. When I do yoga, I feel like a small piece of universe. When I do the meditation, I also feel the universe’s immortality movement. Makes me feel the greatness of The Creator.
On yoga, we can begin our practice by whatever starts line. October 2014, my yoga journey began (again) by practicing asana on regular yoga class. At the time, I didn’t expect anything on my yoga practice. I just treat yoga as other usual exercise I’ve ever done before, like run, zumba or belly dance. But in fact, I felt different. I feel more connected with my body.
I found out now that it is because yoga is much a practice involving breath as it is involving the body. The breath is the link between the inner and outer body. Yoga combined the breath and movement into unison that makes my whole body and mind to become a single unit practicing and experiencing the quality of asana at present time.
I also highlight about developing personal practice. I have a habit on taking pictures of asana that I already master and share it on my social media. I loved when people get amazed on my picture. I loved when people start to ask how I could do that pose. I love to get that kind of attention. At the time, my yoga journey has a kind of misleading. My goal on doing yoga was shifted from fit to fame.
I started to learn how to get into certain pose, and then taking pictures of it until I got one perfect look. If it needs to take a hundred shot, I would do it. I neglected about preparation asanas. I even neglected about the counter pose as well after I got the picture I want.
As I told before, some asanas looks unusual compare with our daily activities. Inversion poses for example. Though the inversion gives some benefits (like reversing the blood flow and letting the gravity provide the brain with oxygen and blood) it still needs some preparation to get into the pose. And after we succeed with the pose, we still need to do some counter asanas to neutralize our body into its normal condition.
Sometimes, I skip those preparation and counter poses. Because my ‘yoga’ is not for me. It was like a model walking on catwalk. I was smiling and posing for other’s eyes. If people get bored with what I’ve done, or my picture doesn’t get lot of attention, I got upset. And that’s not yoga. There’s nothing wrong about taking picture of our yoga poses. But it starts getting wrong if our goal is not about getting respect from ourselves.
Yoga is personal. Yoga is getting to know and respect our overall body, inside out. Yoga is about ourselves. It’s about finding steadiness and comfortable posture and position on our practice by our own version.
And become a yoga teacher is not about showing what we can do in front of our student. But bring them to know further about their own body.

INDAH NILDHA, April 2016