Yesterday once more …

Recently, my son, who never feel contented without a solution to everything, said to me “I need you to buy me a motorcycle once I grow up so that I can travel to work to earn my salary till it’s sufficient to get myself a car”. I was never a “I will take care of everything you need” mom so I played reverse psychology on him and said “Maybe you don’t have to work, your Ah Ma (grandma) will take good care of you. She will make sure you have enough to eat (to settle his obsession in food), you will never go hungry. So don’t worry”. And after mumbled all that, I went straight for my shower not knowing that I have caused a stir in his little mind. After I have done, he came straight to me and said “Mum, I don’t want to just live a life without hunger. I want to pursue my dream.”

I grew up in a small town where as young as our primary school days, we were free to write subject like “Cita-cita saya (My ambition)”. My early memory as a child, I remembered dreaming of the things I wanted to be when I grew up. In those times, nobody would have said it was silly, scary or impossible, nobody said it was easy too.

My son’s words of courage make me realised with deep insight that having an ambition and desire to pursue dreams was once the core of our existence as a human being. Unfortunately for us, it takes only a few short years before we experience serious interference in this natural state of being.

When my son reached the milestone of crawling to upright standing, just like any other child, the initial process of balancing on his two little feet was so unsteady that he stumbled and fell countless times. It was more insecure in the watching eyes more than the falling child. During that time, his grandma would attempt to wrap him up with her “protective blanket” and said the most insecure thing like “Don’t let him stand yet, just carry him up whenever he tries. The safest place is in adult’s arm”. But, being a bad daughter-in-law, I enjoyed seeing him stumbled and fell and rose again, not running away from the battle of change.

There is so much fear in the world which lead us to a live with quality of “never go hungry”. And it can manifest in the most destructive manner when we try to cover others with our “protective blanket”. We fear changes because we have reached a familiar comfort zone in life, in career, in relationship, in others’ expectation where any change is too scary to the comfort mind although that means staying like a worm in the cow dung.  As a kid there’s not a lot you can’t do, at least in our head, but as we slowly mature into adulthood reality sets in and suddenly only aspiring to one day own a watch to wear is no longer a secure option and neither is owning a pet elephant nor touching the moon.

This year is my 40th year of staying alive and during a recent interview an editor asked “How has your practice changed you?” which kept me pondering for a while. Many things have changed but certainly not during sunny days. In my life, I stumbled and fell too, countless times, in my career, in relationships, in matter of heart and mind, and I don’t know if I ever rise to see the rainbow after the storm. But what has “changed” is not learning how not to fall but to learn the courage to believe that there is a way out of “cow dung” in the midst of the hurtful unsupportive voice and most dishearten gesture of others with good intention. The “rising up upright” journey is not always welcomed with many clapping hands and it is in this time it matters the little sound of the people who still say “Let’s do it together” like it was natural again to dream like no others.

Overcoming shoulders hazard using Critical Alignment Therapy

Of late, just in a week, more than five students who suffered from Uneven Shoulders came to our Critical Alignment Therapy classes. They have been everywhere to get the shoulders “fixed” including massage, trigger point therapy, physiotherapy and many other, to me was unheard-of.

Again it was “please help me, fix my posture!”

Gert once said “the obvious unevenness in the shoulder level is only the tip of the iceberg”. The unevenness of the shoulders is manifestation of what lies within the spine. It is critical to understand that the impact of unbalance pressure on the vertebrae of the spine. Due to stress and strain, over years the disc is caught in the network of longstanding tension and it affects the pressure that is distributed throughout the vertebrae. Such uneven pressure on the vertebrae and the intervertebral disc causing what commonly known as “zigzag” condition of the spine.

Since we are born, spine is our centreline and it should remain so throughout the whole period of our life. But when this fascinating structure is off its centreline, it messed up our shoulders, lower back, neck and screwed up our lives.

The CAT approach is pretty logical. When someone with uneven shoulders get on the headstander, the unevenness will reveal itself in the legs leaning to one side. Even though to our view it is obviously unbalance but to the person, it is experienced as “straight”. You need a CA Teacher to examine the spine and ribs and place them in place. That works wonders because the body will search for the correct posture where the weight is exactly at the centreline.

Long life ≠ Good Life – Bones matters

A few years ago, during one of the Critical Alignment Training with Gert, practically all who attended the course consists of Yoga practitioners who practiced Yoga on a daily basis. In the beginning of the two weeks course, Gert began to press on the question of why we practice Yoga. The question will be best left unanswered in this article until Gert’s next training.

For me, I hold the belief that we are all capable of living life to the fullest. Today, we live in world rich in science and technologies extending normal life span. My dear grandmother just passed away last week at the ripe old age of 102 years. Many said “oh, she has lived long enough”. In my memory, my grandmother spent the last 10 years of her life on wheelchair. To her, living all her waking hours on a wheelchair was undoubtedly not a good experience of “living a life”.

Although modern medicine helps many people lead longer and healthier lives, it has limits. Many of us may fear that medical technology could help us to live longer but leave us dependent on others and in great pain due to musculoskeletal disorders.
Through the years of learning, practicing and teaching Yoga and Critical Alignment Therapy/Yoga, I have come to appreciate and understand what is missing in the traditional definition of strength and fitness. To many, fitness equal endurance plus muscular strength, being able to lift heavyweight or run for hours. Still, many equal housework to fitness workout.

But we failed to acknowledge the importance of spinal mobility and postural strength as we are born with it. A person can complete marathon which prove that he has cardiovascular endurance but may not have the full range of mobility in the lower back, hip and sacrum to complete the run without hurting the knees. So that lead them to acquire pain in later life.
Over the years of practicing and teaching CAT technique, I have realized that common Yoga and physical endurance exercise are inadequate in addressing what the body need in supporting you in the long run and to overcome the faulty movement patterns that arise out of stress and strain.

Being able to improve quality of people’s life is my aim for teaching Yoga. Each of my students play an extraordinary role in someone’s life. As a spouse, children, friends, employee, employer we all need to perform our best. Misaligned bones and pain limit our capabilities and it affects our mood and motivation to live a meaningful life. It is in my greatest satisfaction to equip with tools to help people feel their best and live life fullest. I hope many will join me in this fruitful journey.

Talking about Yoga’s dirty little secret.

The dispute over Yoga as a means to a healthy end or harmful end has emerged again. Just a few weeks ago, a concern friend sent me a new post from the News Straits Times reporter expressing concern over the rising percentage of severe injury in Yoga which involves Yoga Teachers and also practitioners.

All the dig-up stories about Yoga injuries among Yoga Teachers themselves who further causing injuries to students no longer remained a dirty little secret in the Yoga community. While the NST coverage may have been overly generalised, all the attention it generated that got everyone talking about the risk of injury is to my opinion, a good thing.

In response to this controversy, as part of the Yoga community, I feel the need to address this concern to regain public confidence towards Yoga as the practice has been always rewarding for me and also many people that I know over the years. My aim in bringing this out is to spark some thinking minds to start to venture into how to improve the safety aspect of Yoga.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The way Yoga progressed has taught me everything except to follow those who came before us in the name of Gurus and Masters following the Yoga traditions.

Often, Yoga Teachers and students aren’t sure how they got injured. Although an obvious and sudden injury can occur during class, many of them are cumulative from repetitive strain injury. While we could not directly point finger at Yoga Teachers for there are little evidence to support the correlation, to teach Yoga in the 21st century necessitate acceptance of the end time to blind faith and devotional Yoga practice. Taking “ignorance is bliss” is no longer a virtue in Yoga teaching profession.

As Yoga studio owner and representatives of Yoga, the practice that I have chosen to adopt should attract more confident of the public at large to the world of Yoga. Yoga, to me has to blossom that way without expecting people to lose their logic and intelligence while accepting that everyone walks into the Yoga class should be uniquely viewed and treated.

Class categorisation into beginners, intermediate, advance level certainly serves little or no purpose except to create division between sense of inferiority and superiority among practitioners where the advance classes are taught by more senior or top Yoga Teachers on the list where success is measured by the ability to squeeze students into poses the teachers could achieve in a timely manner. If that doesn’t sound scary to you, you are not alone and that is the reason for rising numbers Yoga injury all over the globe. Senior Yoga Teachers contorting body into an upside down pretzel on Instagram or Facebook further enhance public misconception that, that’s the way to “Yoga”.

For most studios, gyms where Yoga classes are easily available, there are little differentiation made between the more vigorous and intensive yoga classes (I called it “Normal Yoga”) which injury appear to be more common and which are clearly not suitable for everyone and the other styles that are alignment based where individual needs are addressed.

Normal Yoga is the approach used by Yoga Teachers, fitness instructors, personal trainees and many other physical exercise providers who lead what we commonly known as Flow, body balance, sunset sunrise Yoga, Ashtanga flow etc. Such exercise aims to improve superficial muscles tone and increase flexibility in the body. It is a good life routine if you aim for solid six pack, bulging biceps, visible thigh gap, super ability (If you are discipline, many will experience improved general range of movement. If you could not touch your finger to the floor, now you can.)

While everything worked the way it should be, I feel the need to make a difference that common Yoga exercise may be ignoring the underlying spinal issue caused by bad posture. This type of Yoga work really well for those with good body alignment and symmetry (which is the rare, near to extinction minority) but if you give the same exercise to someone asymmetry, hard stiff muscles are made harder and weak muscles weaker, body compensating the blocked part in all direction perpetuating your imbalances in the body.

The other type of Yoga can be defined as alignment or therapy based class (under supervision of a specialised posture therapist) designed to realign position of the spine towards neutral alignment, most of the time using specific techniques coupled with props. This will usually tailor with detailed posture assessment and identification of structural issue in’s function and movement.

Yoga industry suffered its mid-life crisis because 90% of Yoga classes appear to be Normal Yoga. There are only few Yoga Teachers who have studied the geometry of the spine in great details. Such teachers talk in terms of posture type i.e. sway back, kyphosis upper back etc and coordination of movement.

It is my wildest dreams to see the way Yoga mature into adulthood where Yoga Teachers will response to this challenge by taking responsibility over their own and students’ body. The aim is to prevent more people who could benefit enormously from Yoga being scared away. Unless more teachers are equipped with techniques to solve the underlying cause of the body alignment, the change will not be possible.

It has taken me over years of practice, teaching hundreds of people how to improve their posture using the same techniques I used to maintain my own posture using Critical Alignment Therapy technique. This to me, should be the way of Yoga.

Beautiful Shoulders, to pull or not to pull back?

Just last week, a mother and her 12 year old daughter came to the studio. As usual, mum complained “She has hunched back.” Immediately, I noticed the little girl actively pulled her shoulders back. And her mum looked quite contented with her adjusted shoulders shape.
How do people counter the effect of the shoulders that slump forward?
Most people who recognise they have poor posture know that their shoulders hunch forward. Unfortunately, the ways they use to fix the problem are either ineffective or harmful. A common approach for correcting hunched shoulders is to pull shoulders back.
If you attend any Yoga classes, we often hear “Roll your Shoulders back”. People could not hold this position pass 1 minute.

The action of pulling the shoulders back involve contracting the rhomboid muscles which is not designed to hold the position for a long time. Fortunately, otherwise they will suffer inflammation from over contraction of rhomboid muscles.

 

It is not really helpful. Our daily activities are often carried out with shoulder positioned too far forward. The weight of the arm is no longer carried by the spine when the shoulders are too far forward. There is therefore no connection between the arm and the shoulder blades. Just like the head and neck, the arms are not able to connect to the shoulder blades when the area in between the shoulder blades is rigid and bend.
If your shoulders are slumped forward and your chest sink in follow by head protruding forward, such posture hazard is caused by the way you carry your upper back which is bent. It looks like the immediate solution will be to pull them back with the muscles of the upper back. The fundamental cause is in the thoracic upper back and not in the position of the shoulders. You are worsen the condition of shoulders tension.

If you want to prevent slouching of the shoulders, you first need to change the shape of the upper back. When the upper back is aligned, they will provide a base for aligned shoulders that could relax while the arm is connected to the spine. There is no use to pull the shoulders back.
While lying on the rubble strip, it can stabilizing the shoulder joint, the back and shoulders can remain passive and relaxed and not be affected by the activity of the arms.
It is important to also understand that over-exaggerated movement of the shoulders back does not help when the spine is too rigid to receive the movement of the shoulders. It will only tensed up the rhomboid more and causing hypermobility and instability of shoulder joint.
In mobilising the arm connection, Critical Alignment Yoga (CAT) offer a perfect start to establish the connection of the arm to the shoulder blades while the shoulders stay relax.

Double Strip Shoulder Stretch exercise.

Seated Shoulder Stretch – Strengthening the connection of the arm to the shoulder blades while maintaining body in sitting neutral position.

Shoulder Stretch using headstander – Developing activity in the arm while maintaining the connection of the arm to the shoulder blades and chest open.

Establishing mobility of the shoulders in its connection to the shoulder blades is the best way to remedy hunched shoulders. Hunching the shoulders often disturb the nerves and blood vessel that supply blood to the arm and therefore affecting blood supply to and from the arms and nerve function in the arm.

Therefore, many who experience cold hands, dry skin, numbness in the fingers and arm pain are likely to benefit from shoulder remedy offered by CAT.

Beautiful Shoulders is what I often observe in CAT practitioners, hence the title of this article.

The beauty in Cheongsam is in a Perfect Spine


Chinese New Year is just around the corner.

You have prepared a whole list of to-do-things that need to be done before Chinese New Year.

If you are bored with your plain old hair, you need to get your hair coloured in harmony with your Chinese rooster year zodiac. You need to get your manicure and pedicure appointment fixed and maybe eyelash extension too.

Finally, you have decided that you’ll be wearing the latest trend of Cheongsam on the first day of CNY to suit your new hairstyle, new nail groom and extended eyelashes. By this time, you may want to integrate intensive fasting program into your to-do-lists in attempt to squeeze perfectly into your new Cheongsam.

To all amazing beautiful women reading this, I can’t wait a minute longer to share with you the one thing I discovered that we absolutely can’t afford to miss out on. That is your perfect posture to go along with your perfect Cheongsam. In our popular quest for culturally imposed standard of beauty, many of us unwittingly disregard the importance of skeletal alignment.

In other words, you should be shifting your attention- not to your nails, breasts or design of your Cheongsam but to your posture. Without a straight spine, you can wear the same gown with Gong Li but looking ill, depressed, lacking in confidence and actually quite silly too.

What constitute good posture?

What I noticed from years of running Critical Alignment Therapy classes and courses is the increasing numbers of postural defect issues concerning children and adolescents at school age, ranging from 10 to 17, which is a serious 21st century problem among young generation.

More parent came to me to express concerns about their child’s posture. “I told her to sit up straight but she won’t listen” is often what I hear.

So what the child does after receiving such commandment? She will lift the lower rib cage up with the misconception that is equivalent to sitting straight. That keep the nagging mum and angry dad satisfied for a while and after five minutes, it becomes a little slouching and when mum bring the attention back, she readjust it to be upright again. So, many people alternate their position between slump and tensed posture over and over again and found out after some years their natural height declines by at least 3cm.

What most parent and all others fail to understand is that the type of posture a person has much depends on the types of spinal curve she has developed over the years. Different types of spinal shape will bring different habits and preferences into their daily postures.

Naturally, a centered spine should require no effort to sit up straight and no need for reminding. All physical activities are not helpful here and it simply reinforces a faulty way of moving. When there is a bend in the upper thoracic region and a lack of movement in the lumbar, it stops the passage of movement in those strain areas. The upper body’s weight does not move through it. The deformation always starts from the spine.

Everywhere in the world, naturally aligned people is so rare that the misaligned body structure has become a norm. Nobody knows what a naturally aligned body looks like. Even the medical professionals are not well trained about the elements of good posture and how to put it into practice in a relax manner.

When the spine is out of alignment, an upright posture could not be sustained with independent effort. People keep struggling in their posture creating more tension, conflict and agitation because for as long as people carry themselves in all activities, they have to be constantly reminded to stay upright that way. It becomes new stress in life and repeatedly feeling guilty when they slouch again. For some cases I came across, such stress can lead to conflict in parent and children relationship. Most children avoid coming into sight with their parents.

What is good posture?

There is no good posture. You receive good posture when you understand all the factors which suppress good posture. We were once connected when we came to this world. Our original state is still with us. We do not need to become somebody new, it is returning to the old value of the body which is the body in the connected state. In this state we are in neutral and we lost it because tensions suppress that.

I am the fortunate few who came to know a body education and movement techniques developed by Gert Van Leeuwen. Other than CAT, there is no solutions that I am aware of in the field of posture alignment practice that is based on such specific detailed, thorough and profound of natural skeleton alignment of the spine. So, undoubtedly most parent remarked “I wish I could have known this earlier” after being introduced to this amazing techniques of CAT.

So to all young people at age or at heart, you need an appointment with your Posture Therapist to groom your spine too, just in time for CNY. It is about becoming older and straighter.

We will get it right eventually

It always seem to me that my son raised me up more than vice versa. Since Zen entered primary year one early this year, he had always struggled with his knitting works. One evening, on the dinner table, I asked: “how’s your knitting works?” He answered : “I was the last in the class to get it right before the new boy named Harry came in the class. So now I am second last on the list…” He stabbed my panic button but pretending to be undisturbed I asked: “Do you need my help?” and he was fast to say “No need la…. I will get it right eventually.” That released my panic button. And today, he is a fantastic knitter.

He taught me well that “mistakes aren’t failures and failures aren’t forever”.

End of 2016 marked my 9 years in the Yoga teaching industry. First of all, I’m not a flexi and bendy type of yoga teacher. 9 years ago, I would have picked myself as the second least likely teacher I know to learn Yoga. The first being my husband. Despite this apparent lack in Yoga background, we set up to operate our own small studio. Even though prior to starting Journey Within, I had no previous Yoga teaching experience, no customer connections, no “right” to imagine that I have something to offer to my Yoga students, growing into this path has been as natural for me as breathing.

Perhaps I dared imagine having something to offer because I felt uniquely qualified as a Yoga Teacher. My qualifications are not born of having the most exquisite poses to display with background of some dreamy curtains blowing in the wind, admirable body shapes like the lady in the front row dressed in lululemon gown or gurus with long beards and white robes that seem to make their appearances in the snowbound Himalayan caves as often as they appeared in Facebook.

Before I began my Yoga and Therapy teaching profession, I was a lawyer for about 10 years’ legal standing. My initial exploration into Yoga and what it has to offer to me is with an experienced lawyer’s scepticism. While everyone was content in merging Yoga with shape-up, fitness, stress-reduction practice that attract millions of practitioners, I belonged to the rare minority who became curious about its deeper potential. It was a lonely journey. I seldom attract like-minded Yoga practitioners.

Getting into your dream career to others seems like a great thing, saying “I love my job” and actually establishing one is totally a different story. Half a decade ago from now, my bank account was telling me I couldn’t stay past Christmas especially since my current income wasn’t enough to sustain the whole family. It was a strange situation. My collection added up to a total that was really below poverty level, just not enough to possibly make it past Christmas and Chinese New Year. The business was not sustainable. The choice was ours, should I hang in there and work towards rebuilding my career or should I just walk away from it all, back to my old job or something entirely new.

Just two weeks ago, a student of mine, which joined us in the second month of our opening, more than 8 years ago said to me, “You will never fail because you keep trying, how can people fail when they keep trying?”

Fortunately for me, some courageous voice from my husband said “We will go ahead, re-plan and do it again”. I am forever grateful for that courage over and over again because if I were to walk away just like that, I would not have reaped the fruit of meeting the most wonderful group of Yogis who walk the “Journey Within” path with us, who understand that the purpose of Yoga is not to be “happy” but Yoga has become their way of giving themselves to others. Many people come to Yoga practice because the practice, in their words “makes them happy” and I have seen many teachers set for a Yoga teaching career to be “happy.” They told me Yoga makes them happy and few years later something else makes them happy and they went for that something else. I could not believe that the purpose of Yoga is to be happy.

Year 2017 is going to be the third year we hold our very own Yoga Teachers Training Course. We are forever grateful to all Journey Within’s grads year 2015 and 2016. I see JW teachers putting tons and tons of time and effort into practicing and learning for others. In them, we see Journey Within’s spirit, who portray Yoga as one of the ways that a mature person cares for him/herself and others. Through teaching, I know they have found a place in the world, belong to it, and take responsibilities for themselves and others. This is a radical transformation of Yoga duty into love, giving their all to the students in the classes, making our every steps of hardship till today very worthwhile.

This is my concept of “success” as a Yoga teacher. Leaning to teach in the most honest and truthful manner, to create and express Yoga as something so profoundly beautiful and positive for ourselves and others.

Through this acts and attitudes, we grow in Yoga industry seeing Yoga more than something we do to “earn a living,” it is that which helps us build our life. A mature Yoga teacher does not yearn for happiness, she has it. She does not long for love, she has it. She does not strive for satisfaction, she has this.

We hope to see Yoga teaching industry progressing in this way. In Zen’s spirit “we will get it right eventually……!”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Do you want to be here?”

During the recent Critical Alignment retreat with Gert, when I stepped down from headstand earlier than “time up”, Gert asked “why did you come down”? I asked myself “Why” only to realise that I couldn’t find a rational answer that could satisfied myself. After years of practicing Headstand on Head-stander, the initial experience of excruciating pain in the shoulders which strikes every beginners has long diminished. The only solid inconvenience was the sore and achy sensation in the region of my upper back. I know well enough to justify that sensation to be an amazing indication of movement and release of tension in the upper back. And because upper back is the targeted area I wish to improve structurally in headstand, I know well enough whatever I experienced up there is a perfect chance for a change. But why did I stop that process?

One of the greatest gift that Gert, my teacher gave to me throughout these 3 years of his teaching in Malaysia is the ability to pay attention and to find out for myself the answer to my question.

Harken back to an old memory of mine when my son was 2 years old. Zen went through phrases where he could yell and cry nonstop on a daily basis which lasted for an hour or more. It all started when he began to fuss in every situation and then it snapped. Initially, we would distract him with every possible fun things around the house and after we ran out of things of distraction tools we would take him out for a ride. After a while, everything didn’t work anymore. He would go on and on and at that time, motherhood to me could equal suicidal. My cute little prince has turned into a screaming monster waiting to squeeze every inch of patience, tolerance, charm and wisdom out of me. I tried every comfort measure but even the Almighty God’s will could not quiet him down.

And one day, when everything else failed, I decided that I could just let him cry and measure in time how long could it last without my interference. Why not, since I haven’t heard of anyone being harmed through persistent crying. I was determined to reinforce my love towards my son and “go through” this with him. The next day, it happened again and he was inconsolable, began to howl and scream with all his might until there were occasions when neighbours started to knock at our doors to verify any possibility of child abuse.

After 45 minutes of crying phase, his behaviour became violent and began to take it out on me. This time, my Malay neighbours strongly advised that we should bring him to “Bomoh” (shaman) to get rid of some malevolent spirits or witchcraft that might possess him. Staying sane and rational was already a great Yogic achievement during that challenging time, greater than people who could go into full handstand. Well, first day, it lasted 2 hours without any distraction measures. To me, 2 hours of observation wasn’t that unbearable anymore.

The next day, it happened again, but it was 1 hour shorter in timing. Instead of being annoyed during the 1 hour crying phase, I rejoiced in the improvement and I was enthusiastic toward the next level of improvement. It went on less than a week and throughout the end, it stopped at the level of fussing, just when he was about to cry, he stopped. This episode takes 4 months for Zen to transform himself into a loveable cheerful angel.

Believe me, after that phases, no one develop stronger bonding and connection with him than I do. Without needing to speak, Zen knew he could trust me through every rough patches in life and I know I am secure in my role as a mother because I know him better than himself to guide him through bumpy times.

The only way I would justify to myself on the reason I was out from head-stander because of that urge to distract myself from the real situation of change I was in, just like when I was trying to distract my son with every possible toys. Gert called it stress response to physical inconvenience. When a teacher knows us better than ourselves, he would lead us to that edge, that crying phase and go through with us when things are at the edge of becoming something else.

That sneaky ego in the brain is not willing to go to that edge. The ego knows whatever I am going to encounter will not be a pleasant sight.

This brought me back to another experience on the back-bender. Being a Critical Alignment Yoga teacher, I have firm understanding on the subtlest part of my own spinal issue. The area in between the tip of my shoulder blades, in CA term is called “C” point, is the area which captured most of the tension in my upper back. It is the area behind my heart. I knew it better than any doctor can diagnose because, it is in this area that I feel sore in my headstand experience and this same area is pushing out the most when I lie on the rubber strip. And most significantly, the breath always escapes through the back route instead of nourishing the heart region at the front. Despite what many seem to think seeing at image of serenity by looking at the picture of someone on the back-bender, putting pressure on the C point combined with the connection coming from the arm, to me, was an unbearable suffocating experience. I was fearful and everything negative in the brain just sneaked in “hey, you are not breathing”, “emergency”, “you are going to die here”.

When fear comes, the body always takes the route to avoid further opening. I tried all possible ways to avoid coming face to face to that suffocating experience. I knew it was coming and the noise inside said, “Let’s rest the finger down, he won’t notice”, “shift it to another spot, maybe that spot need opening too”, “take a little bent on the elbow, no one can see” and the lists went on until Gert said “You are not practicing for me, you are lying to yourself”. Such escape strategies are adopted in other non-CA Yoga where you hold in your preferential shape, creating compensatory movement in all direction. I learned how I unconsciously attached to pleasant body sensation and at the same time profoundly out of touch with my body.

When fear dominates and creates all possible defence mechanism, the heart is not free even to receive the goodness of breath. I know the exercises is safe although the body shout “emergency”, I know that the facet joint is not compressed in that vulnerable opening on the back-bender, the benefit which is not available when you are in any backbend Asanas. I know it was a safe and good opening in that area I am stiff.

It takes a sensitive teacher to be able to acknowledge the existence of fear in us and pointing out to us the protective strategies that the brain may use. When you prevent the operation of defence mechanism of the body and block the escape route the body prefers to take, the noise in the brain will shout for a release. It doesn’t want the body to be there because it want to avoid the unpleasant edges. That’s why I released myself from the headstander, I gave in to the voice in the brain.

When Gert asked “Do you want to be here?”, it reinforce my authority over situation because that question offered me a conscious choice. And it give me great relieve because finally I found a solution so profound that I have all the tools to observe myself, just like when I stayed back and timed my son’s crying time. The same way when I tried to distract my son, because of that fear of opening to that anger and frustration in me when he screamed and yelled.

Just when I was available for my son when he pushed his edges, I am forever grateful that I feel protected over my emotional limit. In the back-bender, I see the fear shattered and our hearts are free to receive breath, to be angry, to be frustrated, and to express fear and sorrow freely.

It is after this year’s course with Gert that now I understand why some could cry on the thick roll during Gert’s class in Amsterdam. The expression of this sudden freedom on the CAT tools with a great teacher’s leading voice is the right recipe for turning fear into joy expressed in honest tears and involuntary laughter.

“Yoga should produce Yoga” was Gert’s word and now it comes with experience of its real meaning. You will know the bonding with your body is brought up to another level just like the strong connection I built with my son. You know you can trust your body to sail through the stormy waves of life. If some fairy God mother would ever grant me a wish, I wish everyone’s life through Yoga would be enriched this way and being a CA yoga teacher I am ready to plunge into another depth in my Yoga practice to be a laboratory for studying how me and others respond to challenging moment.

It is in the Critical Alignment I found the tools to uphold the integrity of Yoga practice by bringing Yoga to another level of realisation. Indeed, everyone should have the CA tools to make “Your body your psychiatric”.

gert headstand-3

Say goodbye to “Ah Lian Ah Beng Yoga” in Malaysia

Years ago, my mother-in-law used to say, “Why do you choose to teach Yoga? Yoga teaching is meant for those Form 5 grads who could not get themselves enrolled in the university. You have Law degree and you chose to work like one of them. I don’t understand how people like you think.”

 

I could not blame how she view the Yoga teaching profession. From an outsider’s perspective, Yoga is about flipping your limbs outside the range of normal movement. I mean, you do not even need a sane person to teach a “monkey see, monkey do” class. Easy job to just mention “from here step the right leg forward , go to warrior 1, exhale to warrior 2, inhale and lean forward to side angle stretch with your arms up over your ear…blah blah” and at the end you make everyone sweat like hell. You can give it a sophisticated name like “Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Flow, Gentle Flow, Power Flow or the latest I had come across Rojak Yoga”. To me, they all mean the same thing, which is the “Ah Lian, Ah Beng Yoga” in Malaysia.

 

Throughout the years of practicing “Ah Lian, Ah Beng” Yoga, people can’t help but accumulate bucket and bucket of sweats and lists of aches and pains all over. Like my Yoga teacher used to say “Yoga has the ability to transform lives”. To many, yes, transform life to include more x-rays, MRI and chiropractors etc.

 

Lately, I have seen a change of Yoga trend in Malaysia which seems to head towards more therapeutic and scientific approaches in human anatomy. The hunger is on anatomical knowledge and how to stretch this and that muscles. Now, “Ah Lian and Ah Beng” Yoga teachers want to study and add on some taste of alignment into their classes or maybe to find out why they or their students have series of chronic pains all over after some years. It’s indeed a mature move to regain more public confidence in Yoga practice.

 

Now, the “educated Ah Lian and Ah Beng” Yoga teachers’ classes provide more props such as blocks, chairs, sticks etc and classes become slower with more complicated alignment principal, “raise your chest:”, “tuck in your belly”, “tighten your buttock”, “stretch your toes from the base to the tips”, “head upright, look straight”. Of late, Yoga teachers started running around like a headless chicken flapping their wings to learn “alignment techniques” and engaging in practice like they are in a military camps, under tremendous pressure to please the teacher.

 

Just 2 days ago, a new Yoga teacher (obviously not a JW teacher) asked us, “why are you all so into this “CAT” style” as compared to all other alignment (which must not be named) schools which existed much longer than CAT”. My answer is simply that “fortunately, I didn’t waste too much money and time into those so called traditional Yoga styles” which hardly make any logical sense”.

 

The Critical Alignment Yoga and Therapy (CAY&T) is based on learning: Why do you do asana? What is the benefits and why it benefits you?

 

The therapy training is based on the practical use of CAY for postural alignment and for people with specific physical and mental complaints which have a relation with the spinal column and stress.

 

My own finding is that, many Yoga practices do not encourage much research and thinking. I mean, why do you need to root your back heels down in Warrior 1? How does it practically improve your life and daily life activities? And why should you need to keep your leg straight in sitting forward bend? when that means you are pushing your back out in that bend.

 

In a proper Warrior 1, the back-bending movement does not become stuck in the lower back but is transferred to the legs. This pose can positively influence the discs through the positioning of the back leg in combination with the positioning of the lower ribs. This allows the affected lower back vertebrae to be stretched in combination with traction. The position of front leg can stimulate the backward tilt of the pelvis and position of the back leg can stimulate the lumbar curve in the lower back.

 

If the emphasis is placed in rooting the back heel down, the therapeutic value of this pose will be lost and I don’t see any reason for putting your body in such shape anymore. Same goes for any other poses.

 

Many have said, Yoga teachers cannot make money. The only area that stop the money making machine working in your life is in your own brain. You teach monkey class, you get paid peanut. That’s for sure.

I have trained teachers ranging from degree holder to master degree holder and also teachers with more than 10 years teaching experience. They are not “Ah Lian, Ah Beng” teachers and are only attracted to CAT/Y based Yoga. And my students are not Ah Lian Ah Beng either, they are highly educated, intelligent and mature adults which includes medical doctors who want to practice Yoga which “make sense” way.

Start to “transform life” from the spine with CAT/Y techniques where in return people are willing to pay more than just peanuts and return the dignity of the profession.