Focus Is The Name Of The Game -

By Daphne Chen  

In the beginning I was really excited that I was seeing results so quickly week after week that it was encouraging and motivating to keep it going. But as I worked my physical body, sweating out pails of water in each class in the forty degrees Celsius hot room, I was gradually fine-tuning my awareness of my surrounding because I was no longer as distracted with the poses like I did on my first few classes.

Eventually, it came so naturally to me like breathing. 26 postures is not hard to remember if you do it continually for a whole month.That's where the real test began. I needed to start working inwards and clear my thoughts as there were lesser and lesser things I needed to remember about the pose and I was just going at it with ease and flow. I was stepping on the brink of the "danger zone" of going into auto-pilot mode where I would carelessly allow my body to move according to what the "muscle memory" remembers.

That is a big trap that flexible people get into when it starts to become "too easy" for them. Your mind starts to wander off and you are literally doing a "pose". You lose that body and mind connection once you stop telling it what to do with deliberate intent. Typically, a pose requires your full attention 120% or even more. (So if you fall short, you are still close to 100%) That is the only way to reap the full benefits of the practice.

"Monkey see, monkey do" attitude and mindset won't get you anywhere. You see people practicing for years and years and still standing on the same spot, thinking on default, just simply doing the pose over and over again. Their back pains or knee injuries never seems to go away or subside. The instruction goes in from one ear and leaves from the other one, the minute they step out of the room. They never do hold in the stomachs, flex the respective muscles with intent and so toning up doesn't exist in their dictionary. They remain in the exact same shape they came in six months ago.

I've practice over a thousand hours in the hot room in a short period of 2 years, sometimes clocking in additional home practice over the weekends on top of my 5 days per week at the studio. I've seen different hundreds of people progressing along with mine and there were many others who practice regularly too, but somehow their practice just remains stagnant and continues to see no real results. While for a handful of others, it seems like a complete miracle happened for their speedy health recoveries whether it is physical or mental. At the end of the day, it is quality over quantity.

Twice a week of quality effort and mindfulness put into a 90 minute practice beats an avid yogi who practices 7 days a week, some even doing "doubles" back to back classes on top of that. Mimicking a pose is simple, getting into one with full awareness is the part where it gets tricky. We have 640 muscles (to 850) in our human body. Can you imagine the amount of work we have to put in to target each and every one of them?

What seems like a very simple movement actually requires massive effort to pull it together. I still remember my very first yoga teacher who once told me, “practices till your effort looks effortless." Just like a dancer, you move with ease and grace and you're beautiful to watch. It is almost painful to witness a flexible person going into a pose mindlessly trying to just achieve touching their calves back bending or a doing a split on a standing bow when they don't have the strength to match up and carry them through. You need more stable footing than average people when you can go so much further.

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You wobble and move around more clumsily than the average less flexible handful when you are able to have that much more room to bend forward and back. It makes a stiff person appears more "swan-like" standing in their rigid stability compared to a flexible person just "performing" poses falling all over the place. Possessing it or attaining that level of flexibility is a bonus and advantage, but you need to be able to use it wisely with great care and mindfulness.

If not, we are more prone to an injury when we can do a ninety degrees back bend compared to a person who can barely move an inch. They have different struggles and pain to deal with and overcome in their own practice with their physical body "opening up" at a slower pace. It usually ties in closely with having a "closed-up" mind. It works hand in hand and until you understand and comprehend that fully, your progression will be extremely slow without the ability to see the mind & body connection.

One of the main reasons why I love Bikram yoga is that fundamentally, the steps gets drills and planted firmly in your head because the dialogue has crystal clear command for each and every step your mind should take next. You will hear things like "lock your knees!" Or "the harder you kick, you can balance here forever." while you attempt to go into a beautiful sturdy, standing bow pulling pose.

Those seemingly simple words in each sentence have such a strong, direct and affirmative pull to catch your attention that you can train your mind to listen and execute it effectively. Every single word in the entire dialogue counts for something to do and to absorb. It reminds you over and over again and every once in awhile, you will surprise yourself when you catch something different at different stages of your practice.

Everyone has a different degree of focus and concentration. And over here in this hot stuffy room, focus is the name of the game. If you are a person who is easily distracted, then it's a really difficult game that's going to set you up for disappointment every time you step into the room. I've practiced with "neighbors" who sip on water in between every two poses and wipe their sweat every few seconds.

In the beginning of my practice when I was still green, I would often react and shoot them a dirty look and glare at them and then one day, I had a sudden epiphany and I suddenly realized that I can't control my surrounding and I can't let it affect my practice.

That "ah-ha!" moment took my practice to a whole new different level. I thought beating the forty degrees temperature was mentally and emotionally challenging. THIS was the real test as I soon come to realize, there will always be that "annoying" neighbor who drinks and wipes their sweat or sit down on their mats to rest as when they please no matter which studio I go to in this whole wide world. The only thing I can do, and ever attempt to do, is to practice being in my own "zone" where nothing else, no one else, can touch my peace or break that concentration.

From that day on, I looked at the situation from a whole new different light. I stopped reacting. In that simple moment of realization, I saw it as an opportunity every single time, when I get someone distracting beside me that day, as a challenge and a practice to keep myself even more stable in my own fortress of focus I have built practice after practice.

I thought to myself, if I couldn't even handle a distraction on a 4 x 6 feet mat for 90 minutes, out there in the big world 24/7, there is a huge roll of boundless space called LIFE where there are endless streams of distractions and external factors. If I were to constantly react to each and every one of them every minute of the day, I would be killing myself slowly and surely every day.

I think that's where the expression "died a little bit more inside every day" came about and that is whats happening to a lot of people.That was a scary thought and it shook me inside as fleeting as it might have been.That's probably the core reason why some people are just incessantly irritable and angry because they have trained themselves to be reactive.

I eventually connected the dots and started to comprehend the connection why people felt less of all those negative reactions after practicing yoga when they really start to commit wholeheartedly to it. Because when you take your focus off on something (that's been bugging you or weighing you down) and put it on something else that is neutral or positive, you release the resistance. You feel a whole lot lighter and brighter once it is out of your system and out of the way.

Yoga cultivates patience, discipline and trains your span of focus and concentration amidst the harshest of conditions. It's not easy for someone to sit down and quiet the mind for 20 minutes or even 5 for some. Meditation is something that comes as the next logical step to practice once we have mastered training our mind and thoughts and have full control over it. Yoga serves as the perfect tool for beginners to use and tap into, to help us reach that goal but we must first commit and make the decision to step into a studio leaving all "baggage and pains" by the door before the start of every practice.

What doesn't serves you, breaks you. Only a person "whole" on the inside can offer anything of value to anyone. It may seem like a comforting moment to bond through struggle and pain with your peers but talking and discussing about it excessively just magnifies it and allow it to stick around even more permanently in your life experience.

Seize the day with new beginnings and new stories to tell. A positive one that you would like to start living and embracing today. Namaste.

Choosing the Right Yoga Equipment for

Your Skill Level - By Tara Paul  

At some point in our lives, we've all made the conscious decision to be more healthy and fit, and one of the ways of doing that is through yoga. This ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice, which originated in India has grown in popularity over the years with a large following. Practicing yoga is a great way to meditate and get a lean, toned body.

Now before you rush off to sign up for a class, there are a few things you should know about buying exercise equipment for yoga. It's not just loose clothes and colourful mats you'll need, there are quite a few yoga essentials that, depending on skill level, various yogis use in a class.

Yoga mats or sticky mats are made of various materials, thickness and lengths. The bigger and thicker they are, the more money you'll need to spend. Mats are most commonly made with PVC or rubber, to offer a better grip. Lots of ultimate mats are coated with polyurethane provide a persevering grip during the sweatiest of routines. However, natural mats made of Jute or organic, recycled materials are generally comfier, especially for seated positions and less vigorous forms of practice.

The thickness of your yoga mat will determine how comfortable it is, if it's too thin, your knees will suffer during surya namaskara. On the other hand, a mat that is too thick can make it harder for you to balance. A standard yoga mat is about 1/8 inch thick, while the thickest can go up to 1/4 inch. There are also slim, travel yoga mats that are a mere 1/16-inch thick. They don't weigh much, making them a great option for travelling.

A good mat is essential and it will be with you during your practice for years, so look for a mat with a decent amount of cushion and one that you'll feel comfortable to practice with.

Comfortable cotton material or any breathable clothes are best and should be loose enough to let you move freely into various poses. Wear a top that is a little form fitting, as many poses will have you bending your body in various positions and your shirt can slide up. There is also specialized yoga sportswear for women with built-in bras to provide the appropriate support. Any exercise pants or shorts will do, however, a good pair of leggings can go a long way. Yoga involves flexibility and wide ranging motions, so make sure you get the clothes to assist in this.

Yoga props, namely straps and blocks, are good for beginners, since they provide additional support during poses, improve your alignment and compensate for lack of flexibility.

It doesn't matter whether it's an hour of deep breathing or a vigorous Bikram routine, a lot of people sweat during a yoga class so you'll want a towel to wipe yourself and the mat down with after.

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