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This month I’m co-teaching a course on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In preparation, I’ve been exploring some of the text’s key themes in my regular weekly classes. I’ve taught about staying focused and stilling the mind through somatic awareness (citta vritti nirodha); learning to honour the truth (satya) of your body and your practice as you move; and, most recently, how to cultivate a sense of integrity in practice, based on a foundation of steadiness and ease (sthira sukham).

These two qualities are taken from 2.46 of the Yoga Sutras, where Patanjali says that asana, one’s seat, should be sthira, steady, and sukha, relaxed. While it’s likely that he was referring to the posture of meditation, these qualities can also be applied to the practice of yoga asana in general. In my experience, when we are able to bring a sense of stability and ease into each posture we do, we start to discover what it means to practice with integrity.

One important implication of sthira-sukham is that we take each posture to its natural edge, without falling off the other side. First, we enter the posture and find the peak point of our capacity at that time. Then, we apply sthira – by staying or holding there – and sukha – by relaxing deeply into that intensity. Sthira, the more ‘yang’ quality of effort and holding, works the body and invites the mind to become focused, still and deep; sukha, the more ‘yin’ quality of ease, simplicity or effortlessness, relaxes the body and lets the mind become open and vast. What arises is an awareness that is both focused and pervasive, that holds the necessary physical actions of maintaining the posture in the foreground while maintaining a global, background sense of the whole body, mind and heart.

On the other hand, if we push beyond our current capacity in the practice, we generally see two results. Firstly, the movement or posture becomes ‘sloppy’ – our alignment will go off, gaze will harden or roam around distractedly, breath will become jagged and edgy, and, very frequently, the mind starts to become agitated and lose its depth of focus on the body. Secondly, going beyond what can be held with integrity creates more tension in the body-mind, which is the opposite of what we actually want to achieve in yoga practice. Tension blocks our awareness, as well as the flow of energy in the body. Prana has a harder time entering structures that are locked up, and going beyond our current capacity inevitably leads to more tension, frustration, perhaps even injury, as well as a buildup of unconscious resistance in the system.

You might be able to see this in the photos – on the left my updog is largely a “pose” for the benefit of the camera, while on the right the camera captures a genuine, balanced version of the asana. I could clearly feel the difference too – while posing (left-hand photo) my neck muscles felt very tight, and I could feel my eyes straining and my breath huffing. On the other hand, for the right-hand photo I had a sense of grounded ease, my breath was smooth, gaze steady and mind clear.

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It’s the same in the set of photos for downdog too. In the first, I’ve hyperextended in the upper body, leading to a feeling of tearing in my shoulders and crunching in my neck, which impeded the smooth flow of my breath. This is a common way that downward dog gets exaggerated, especially among people with greater flexibility. In the second photo, I’m pushing the ground away strongly with the hands to lift the hips, but without creating excessive curvature in the back – my lower ribs are drawing in, my shoulder blades are separating and my shoulders are rotating inwardly so the entire length of the spine is extending. (I’m also micro-bending the elbows and keeping the inner elbows facing each other to avoid hyperextending.)

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In general, when on your mat, let yourself be guided by the feeling of the posture – it should feel balanced, with a sense of combining effort and ease, steadiness and relaxation. A skilled teacher can guide you, over time, into identifying this sense of sthira and sukha on your own in each posture, so that ultimately you are the one setting the bar and deciding how to approach each movement. Of course, sthira and sukha, the indications of our own edge, change every day and with each practice. What was possible yesterday may not be today, or may feel a little too “sukha”, opening the way for us to go further. This is not necessarily a linear progression – you probably won’t just be getting better and better at every posture every time you practice – but a creative and cyclical process of transformation that includes and makes room for our constantly changing body and the changing circumstances of our lives.

Ultimately, yoga is an introspective practice. In other words, it’s about how it feels more than how it looks. Part of the magic of yoga is that the external form of the postures is not actually the main point. In this sense, it’s really about awareness, and it’s really about you as an individual. The practice is an invitation to explore the feeling of the postures, the way your body comes in and out of them and what sensations, reactions and energetic movement they provoke in your body and mind. When we have an awareness of the body that is both focused and pervading, we enter each asana with a sense of sthira and sukha; then, we are practicing with integrity. We are honouring the body by working just at the edge of what is possible for us, without trying to push beyond. Slowly, over time, our body guides us through and beyond our limits – but this can only happen if we are willing to listen to it and work with integrity every time we get on our mats.

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About Ming Li

Ming Li is a certified Forrest Yoga teacher in Singapore and is drawn to the healing practice developed by Ana Forrest, incorporating yoga asanas, breath work, mindfulness and intuitive energy at a physical and emotional level. In her classes, she prefers to assume the role of a facilitator, sharing from a place of authenticity and providing a safe space to guide students through their practice. At the same time, she also challenges them to explore their edge while being at peace with the unknown. This tough love comes from a desire to empower students eventually to take charge of their healing, and have fun falling and picking themselves up.

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About Lisa Devi

Lisa Kazmer received her 200-hour Yoga Teaching Certification from Cyndi Lee’s OM Yoga Center in New York City. Since then she has acquired over 5,000 hours of hands-on experience and has made two trips to India; the first in 2009 to study and practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in Mysore and most recently to study Iyengar Yoga in Pune with Geeta Iyengar. With a great deal of experience working with seniors, pregnant students, and brand new beginners she excels in making students feel comfortable and welcome in class regardless of limitations. Lisa’s approach to teaching yoga is hands-on, intuitive, precise and fun. Her intention is for students to leave class feeling strong, spacious, tuned in and grounded in the nature of their body. After teaching in New York City for seven years Lisa relocated to Hong Kong with her husband in 2013 and in 2014 they relocated once again to Singapore.

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About Lynn Quek

Lynn has been practising Kundalini Yoga for about 6 years (and counting!) and holds a Level One Instructor certification awarded by the Kundalini Research Institute. Practising Kundalini Yoga has been a life-changing experience for her. It helped her to maintain her sanity during the most stressful periods whilst working in the corporate world. She hopes to share her experience so that others may be able to utilise this ancient technology and find their strength within to handle life as a householder in this fast-moving world.

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About Trish Corley

Dr. Trish Corley loves to use yoga to create community. She holds an intention to connect herself and all of her students together through physical movement and breath in each of her classes. Trish is a Baptiste certified yoga teacher and has been teaching yoga since 2011. She is also a US licensed doctor of physical therapy and has been a professor of anatomy and therapeutic exercise in the US. She uses her knowledge of anatomy and biomechanics to create an environment for all students to feel safe and grounded AND free and open. She encourages students to explore possibilities they are not even aware of on and off of the mat. Find our more about Trish at www.newangleyoga.com.

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About Consciousness Co-Creators

Consciousness Co-Creators is an intentional reciprocal community and space for conscious collaboration. We are a gathering of individuals offering classes, workshops, consultations as well as personal interaction, dialogue and support to each member in order to allow for empowerment and enhancement of who we are, what we are trying to create in our lives and the world around us. We are a spiritual family of thoughtful wisdom seekers and we invite you to join us.

The current facilitators of Consciousness Co-Creators are Michelle Ayn Tessensohn, Vani Khare, and Marixi Salud Buhay and they teach the Conscious Movement and Introduction to Meditation Classes.

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About Michelle

Over the last two decades, both personally and professionally, I have travelled extensively, dedicating my life to learning about and training in personal development.

I lived with yogis and have received certificates in yoga, zen shiatsu, psycho-spiritual counselling, Reiki and Angelic Guidance. For five years I had the good fortune to encounter the sacred mysteries of the Kogi and Lakota shamanic paths through sweat lodges and plant medicine ceremonies in South America.

In 2010 a whole new chapter began when I started life coach training with Dr. Martha Beck, culminating in life and master coach certification in 2011 and 2014 respectively. Dr. Martha Beck has been referred to as “the best known life coach in America.” By USA Today and Psychology Today.

My work now is about sharing what I learnt and supporting you on your journey to find purpose, peace and your own answers about life. I truly believe that all the answers are within and available to you, waiting to be discovered in the quieter moments if only you can trust them. I can help you clear what is getting in the way of this.

You can read more about me here About Me.

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About Indra

Indra’s approach is simple; that to reach depth, one does not have to travel far. Many a time, all our answers are right in front of us, but we overlook them because we make ourselves believe that they have to be beyond our reach. In his classes, asanas (yoga postures) do not challenge one’s limit – they invite one to explore the self.

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About Melissa

Melissa Mak is a physical education lecturer, who is trained by Jo Phee in Yin Yoga and Sivananda Yoga Vedanta’s Mani Chaitanya. Her yoga journey first started in 2007, where she thought she was off to a good ole nap on a rubber mat. Fast forward 9 years later, Melissa has encountered the many physical and mental benefits of yoga, such as peace of mind and overall fitness. It also made her a more graceful person, without the ballet classes. She aims to teach everyone to relax and embrace the better parts of life.

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About Vivian

Vivian began practicing Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 2005. She has been to Mysore, India as a student of Paramaguru Sharath Jois in the years 2007, 2014 and 2016.

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga is a continuing experiential and learning journey. She hopes to be able to share what she understands of this beautiful practice with others. Vivian is the co-founder of Yoga in Common.

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About Stoney Tham

Stoney is a very experienced yoga teacher who has been teaching full-time since 1997. She is also a certified Shiatsu practitioner and a Reiki master, whose experience and observations have enabled her to create unique forms of alternative therapy. Stoney guides her students towards being mindful of the moment, focusing on self-awareness while reaping therapeutic benefits.

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About Vaishali

Vaishali Iyer has been practicing yoga regularly since her teens and completed her 250-hour YTT in 2011. She started teaching Hatha Yoga and meditation while at university in Europe, before returning to Singapore in 2015. For her, yoga is a journey that leads to deeper and deeper understandings of herself and shows her how to live in the world with more gentleness, authenticity, strength and wisdom. She believes in using yoga to work with the body, mind and heart; strengthening the body, stilling the mind and opening the heart to cultivate a sense of peace and wholeness.