Breath Is Life

Sunday, December 12, 2010

by Shareeza SS Faruqui

For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.
~ Sanskrit Proverb

Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions. Pranayama promotes proper breathing. In a Yogic point of view, proper breathing is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control Prana or the vital life energy. Pranayama also goes hand in hand with the Asanas. When Asanas are performed with proper Pranayama, the benefits of the postures are more profound and activate the body from within.

What is Pranayama? Pranayama is to restrain or regulate the act of breathing. It is this regulation or restraint that is known as Pranayama. Pranayama are yogic techniques that establish control over the movements of the Pranic forces in the body.

This brings us to the question of what is Prana? Simply put, Prana is Energy. Prana is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “Breath”. However, it means so much more than its dictionary definition of “air that is inhaled and exhaled”. Prana is understood as the vital, life-sustaining force of every living being. Prana is the vital energy in all natural processes of the universe.

As mentioned above, “Prana” is the Sanskrit word for “Breathe” and “Ayama” is the Sanskrit for “Pause”. Together, “Pranayama” is a pause in the movement of breath.

Why is there a need to pause the movement of breath? There are almost 200 physical and psychological symptoms that can be attributed to improper breathing. They can vary from sighing or yawning repeatedly to dizziness, chest pain, headaches, pain in the neck or shoulders, feeling listless, distracted, unable to sleep, having difficulty concentrating and many more. Breathing is the link between the body and the mind, thus the regulation of breath helps condition both. When the breathing is poor, our bodies react.

Therefore, purpose of Pranayama is two-fold. It brings harmony to the entire body system and gives complete mental control. According to the ancient Scriptures, the control of Prana causes equality of vision over all. It generates happiness and deters the mind from being tempted by sensual objects arising in the mind itself. It seems that we are our own worst enemy! It helps regulate needs, wants and desires. It brings about the union of the self with the higher force.

However, before we can delve into the many Pranayama techniques, we must first learn to breathe properly. By practising the art of breathing as taught by the Yogi’s, you will realise how poorly you have been breathing.

Find a quiet place in a well ventilated room. Sit down on a comfortable surface such as a yoga mat or rug, in any seated posture. Place your hands on your knees in “Chin Mudra”. Chin Mudra is achieved by touching together the tips of your thumb to your index finger, while keeping the middle, ring and little fingers open. Relax your shoulders and neck. Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose for the count of 4 and exhale for the count of 8. Keep your concentration on the base of your nose. Concentrate on your breathing. Do this for about 10 minutes.

Consistent practise of this beginner Pranayama will leave you feeling refreshed. It will also help clear any nasal and respiratory congestion.


Gratitude - What it means to be Grateful

Sunday, October 17, 2010

by Shareeza Faruqui

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul
~ Henry Ward Beecher

Gratitude as defined by as being the quality or feeling of being thankful. Wikipedia explains gratitude, thankfulness, or appreciation as a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.

I’m sure many of us have read or watched the movie “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. The popularity of “The Secret” created a whole new category in self-help and empowerment books. All these authors were focused on a single law, which is the Law of Attraction.

In Yoga, the Law of Attraction is one of the Laws of Nature. I learnt about these laws in a yoga retreat organised by Datin Suleiha Suguna, the Principal of Maya Yoga Samudraa in 2006. However, she explains that there is one more element that is more important than the Law of Attraction or the other laws of nature.

This element is Gratitude. Nothing can happen without gratitude. Gratitude is a mental attitude that draws the mind closer to the source of all things. This source is referred to by many expressions; the Supreme Being, Higher Power, the Creator or God. The more we fix our minds to God when good things come, the more good things we will receive.

Being grateful is breaking free from the shackles that bind us to the material world. Recent studies have shown that people who are more grateful have higher levels of well-being. They are happier, less depressed, less stressed and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. They are more able to cope with difficulties and are able to think more positively.

My husband is recovering from a dislocated hip sustained in an auto accident. I remember the call I received from him the morning of the accident. He called me from the hospital in pain. That call shocked me to the core. All sorts of things came to my mind, but when I arrived at the hospital and saw him in the trauma ward, I was grateful. I was grateful that my husband was alive and my children still had their “Baba”. Immediately, I felt calm. In an instant a negative became a positive and I was able to make all the necessary arrangements.

Gratitude is something that can be included into your daily practises so easily. When you get up in the morning, instead of jumping out of bed and rushing to the toilet, take a moment to be grateful for the day, for your family and for yourself. In posture 1 of the Surya Namaskar, when you hold the palms of your hands together, take a deep, slow breathe in and express your gratitude. Before you do your breathing, meditation and even your postures, take a moment to be grateful.

For those who find themselves lost for words, I’ve included a stanza from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Let this be your verse until you can give voice to your innermost thoughts:

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson


Mindset Matters!

Monday, September 27, 2010

by Shareeza SS Faruqui

If you have attended one of Datin Sue’s yoga classes at Maya Yoga Samudraa, there would be a big chance that you would have been the recipient of a lecture on the mind and its powers! Datin Sue firmly stresses to one and all the importance of positivism and having the correct mindset. There is truth in the adage “Where the mind has gone the body shall follow!”

We’ve all heard of the term “mind over matter”, and I’m sure many of us have read the book “The Power of the Subconscious Mind”. Both speak of the powerful tool that the mind is. However, I’m not going to go into definitions and scientific terminology here. If definitions are required, that’s what Google is for! This article would be more of a personal account stemming from observations and personal experiences pertaining to the power of the mind.

I have been for a number of years trying to live on a more positive plane. The ride has been bumpy at best, but tolerable. It was only in 2009 when given the opportunity to put all this positivism and correct mindset to the test. Yes, I always seem to be putting all that I’ve learnt to the test! But then again if I don’t, how do I know that what I learnt is correct! Anyway, let’s get back to the subject of this article. After several personal experiences, I have come to firmly believe in the power of positivism and the correct mindset. Let me relate these experiences to you.

Experience #1:

In June 2009, much to my joy, I found out that I was pregnant after YEARS of trying. After the excitement, my thoughts immediately went to the birthing process. In delivering my first child, I was in labour for 6 hours and received 3 painkiller injections, once during the 1st stage of labour and twice during the 3rd stage of labour. I always thought that 3 painkiller shots were one too many. For this pregnancy, I wanted 2 things. First, I wanted to reduce my dependency on painkillers and secondly, I wanted to cut my labour by half! I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m probably mental to want to control my delivery. On a different day, I would have agreed with you, but I was eager to see if all this positivism and correct mindset mumbo-jumbo works!

From day one of my pregnancy I kept this mantra in my head and repeated it over and over. The 1st was “I will have a quick labour” and the 2nd was “I will have a pain-free delivery”. It was decided that my second pregnancy will also be induced because of the reducing amount of amniotic fluid. I insisted on having a natural birth.

On the delivery day, I woke up bright and early, sent my elder son to school and it was off to the hospital to have my second baby. By 8am they had completed all the induction procedures and I was good to go. I felt the 1st contraction 15 minutes later at 8.15am. As time went by, the contractions got stronger and stronger. However, I was comfortable experiencing each contraction. I remember the nurses would come into the delivery suite and ask me if I’m ok and if I needed any painkillers. I turned them down. After a while, they kept coming in every 15 mins to check on me, each time asking if I wanted a painkiller shot. One nurse even looked at my husband for confirmation! By 10.30am I felt the pushing contraction. At this point I called for the nurse to tell her I felt the need to push. Here, I requested for a painkiller shot, not so much to numb the pain but to let me be able to conserve energy for the work that was too come. And it was hard work. I was in the final stage of labour for 30 mins. According to the nurses, my baby had a big head and wasn’t getting past the bone. I remember at this point I was very frustrated and tired. However, once the head was out, it was a breeze!

Wow! Writing about this is really taking me back to the day. Although, the last stage of labour was more difficult than that of my first child. This labour was a breeze. I actually achieved what I had set in my mind for this delivery. The labour was relatively pain-free. It was very tolerable. I took only 1 painkiller shot and I was done in 3 hours.

Experience #2

My older boy, Mirza sat for his public exams on 21 Sept 2010. A month prior to his exams, he had gone to see his Amama (Grand Ma), Datin Sue and asked her to help him with some breathing exercises for his exam. He asked her to help teach him some yogic techniques that would help him in his concentration and focus for the coming exams.

Amama readily taught him several yogic techniques to help him prepare for his exams. All I know is that these techniques involves some meditation, positivism and having the correct mindset. I’m sorry, even I’m not privy to the specifics of these techniques.
After 1 week of practise, Mirza comes home thrilled! He was in the middle of his UPSR (that’s the public exam he’s sitting for) trial exams. He shows me his Science Paper and his grade had improved by 25 marks, effectively giving him an A for the paper.

On the day of his exams, I was amazed at how calm and collected he was. On the way to school he told me “Mama, I’m going to kick this exam in it’s a%$!” I was more of a basket-case than he was! His exams are over and all we have to do is to wait and see how he did in his exams. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed.

Having the correct mindset is so important in everyday life. Even when I’m doing yoga to lose weight, Datin Sue tells me to have the correct mindset. She says “Tell yourself you’re going to burn that fat”. Having the correct mindset is also about being aware of what you do. It is this awareness that makes a difference. When you do something with awareness, the results manifest themselves quicker and last longer.

In conclusion, having the correct mindset and positive attitude is crucial. It gives you wings and lets you fly!


Love What You Do

Monday, August 9, 2010

by Shahrean Merican

Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well
- Vincent van Gogh

At the start of this year, my husband and I decided to take up martial arts as an attempt to develop a hobby together. While I would have preferred Salsa dancing, I knew how much he wanted to learn martial arts, so I decided I would be the one to compromise for a change.

I was a little apprehensive about doing martial arts as it just wasn’t something I enjoyed. Since I had already put that thought in my head before I even started, true enough, a couple of weeks into the class and I was ready to quit. I just couldn’t get the techniques or coordination right! Unfortunately or fortunately (as I look at it now), we signed up for a 12 month contract and so I had no choice but to drag myself to classes twice a week.

I then thought to myself, the same way I am giving up too soon is how some individuals are with Yoga. How often do I see students come and go with excuses to not continue their practice. I now know exactly what it feels like to try something and get frustrated that you are not getting it right. To want to give up too soon just because I ‘think’ I can’t. So, how can I expect my students to stay motivated and be patient with their practice when I don’t incorporate the same attitude in every aspect of my life?

The moment I realized this, I changed my attitude. I started to really listen to the instructor, focused on every move and gave it my all. I would even practice at home so that when I return to class, I would be more confident. Gradually, the classes became more enjoyable and I was actually happy. I even passed my first test and am proud to now be a yellow belt. On the day that I was receiving my new belt, the Master at the centre delivered a short speech and the last sentence he said completely reinforced my perspectives. He said:

Do not do what you love, love what you do.

This made so much sense. We are always seeking to do things that we enjoy and complaining about the ones we don’t. How often do we whine about our lives and envy others who have jobs they love, a loving marriage, a beautiful home etc. Life is all fine and dandy when we are doing what we love but the moment the going gets tough, we get frustrated, angry and want to quit. This is no way of living simply because life is never always going to give you what you love.

Hence, we need to learn to love and embrace every experience in our lives whether we ‘think’ we like it or not. Challenges help us grow and evolve. Face these challenges with love and it will no longer be an obstacle. Since that day, I try to make every effort to love whatever I do. I have stopped searching for experiences that I love but rather to love every experience that I have.

Did You Know?

Yoga and Martial Arts are both traditional ancient arts that share fairly similar philosophies. Practiced correctly, the two practices develop discipline, flexibility, body – breath awareness, concentration and strength of the body and mind. These similarities have given me the added advantage with both my practices.

The Warrior Pose: A Symbol of Strength and Power

Stay tuned for my next article on the 3 variations of Warrior Pose.


The Ethical Code of Yoga

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

by Shahrean Merican

“If you do not know the laws of right conduct, you cannot form your character.”

-Swami Sivananda-

Most Yoga classes are divided into 3 categories; Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Depending on your level of ability and what you are looking for, you will be allocated to either of these groups. Generally, our aim is to progress to the advanced level. We strive to perfect our postures, regulate our breathing and master our minds. While this is a great achievement, more often than not, we overlook the most important requirement of Yoga: our moral foundations.

Unfortunately, I have come across many ‘advanced’ Yoga practitioners who lack the basics of moral behavior. What use is breathing and meditating, if you still harbor jealousy, hatred and anger? You can spend hours a day practicing Yoga, but if you don’t cultivate good values, your practice is futile. In the end, the only thing that gets strengthened is your ego. This is the reason why all authoritative Yoga scriptures lay emphasis on practicing right conduct at all times. It is a prerequisite to practicing Yoga.

Yoga is actually a step-by-step process whereby each progression has a sequential relationship with the other. Postures (Asana), as we predominantly know to be Yoga, make up only a small component of the whole process. If you have read our previous posts on Gheranda Samhita, you will see that Sage Gheranda had prescribed 7 stages by which a person attains perfection in Yoga. Other scriptures such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe 8 steps and Hatha Yoga Pradipika has 4 steps. While each authority has different stages, they collectively emphasize that to achieve any success in Yoga, right conduct in thoughts, words and actions is necessary.

It is important to note that the Gheranda Samhita does not describe these moral behaviors because it was assumed Yoga was practiced under the guidance of a Guru who ensured these values were constantly cultivated. This is, however, not the case in modern Yoga. Therefore, it is important for all practitioners to know what these ethical guidelines are and to be mindful of this in their practice and daily life. For this purpose, I will highlight the moral precepts from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that is clearly described in the first two stages of Yama and Niyama.


Ahimsa (harmlessness) – We are to cause no harm or show cruelty to any person or creature. It is expected that we adopt a considerate attitude towards others and our surroundings.

Satya (truthfulness) – Speak the truth at all times. This also means we are to avoid exaggeration, pretence and anything that involves saying or doing things which we know is not in accordance with the truth.

Asteya (abstaining from stealing) – Do not take anything that does not belong to you, not only in terms of material things but this applies for anything intangible such as taking credit for something you didn’t do.

Brahmacarya (control of sexual desires) – Whether we care to admit it, we live in a society where ‘sex sells’. The media thrives on this. We find ourselves constantly subjected to impure thoughts, lustful desires and sensual pleasures. Promiscuity has become the norm. Hence, we need to have control over sensual desires.

Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) – We work hard so we can accumulate worldly goods and once acquired, we seek more. We are never happy. Aparigraha simply put means: do not be greedy and take only what is necessary.


Sauca (cleanliness) – It is purification of the body and mind. This also applies to cleanliness of thoughts, words and actions.

Samtosa (contentment) – Be grateful for what you have. Understand that everything happens for a reason and do not brood over the things you did/have not attained.

Tapas (purification) – This term has really no exact English equivalent. It stands for various practices to purify and discipline the body and mind. This would be practices such as Yogic purification that is described in the Gheranda Samhita Part 1 post.

Svadhyaya (inquiry/contemplation) – Svadhyaya is about knowledge. We are encouraged to read the Yogic scriptures and familiarize ourselves with the different aspects of Yoga. Apart from reading literature, we need to practice self-examination to gain understanding of the self.

Isvarapranidhana (surrender) – It is about surrendering to God, The Divine or a Higher Purpose. We are to put our faith and trust in the higher power (this is subject to one's own religious beliefs).

There are many opinions and views on the practicality of Yama and Niyama in our modern life. Some might say that you will need to lie or cause harm if it means your life is in danger or to protect someone you love. Each situation in our lives is unique and there is no hard and fast rule that can be applied to all situations. Be guided by your instinct and intellect. As your moral foundations strengthen, you will develop the wisdom to know when something feels right or wrong.


Everything in Moderation

Thursday, June 3, 2010

by Shahrean Merican

“Everything in Moderation”. That’s what my grandfather used to say. But how do we find balance in a world of extremes? Extreme weather, extreme pollution, extreme stress, extreme diets, extreme illness and the list go on.

I have personally for many years battled with the art of moderation. If I enjoyed something, I would over indulge, if I didn’t, I would avoid it. As a result, I got myself into complicated relationships, yo-yo dieting, smoking, negative thinking and other unhealthy habits. I fell into a vicious cycle of extreme pleasure and pain. I could never find a middle ground, until……..

I re-discovered YOGA.

Although I started practicing Yoga at a very young age, I lost touch with it throughout my adolescent years. I was a typical teenager eager to grow up and experience the world. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined becoming a Yoga teacher. My dreams were ‘bigger’ than that or so I thought! Little did I know the universe had ‘better’ plans in store for me.

It wasn’t until my final year at university, that I found my passion for Yoga.
After 3 years of studying and experiencing life in a foreign country, I was having doubts about my direction in life. I had made regrettable choices and was starting to feel restless and discontent. It was then, during a trip back home, that my mother asked me to join her Yoga classes. The moment I got on the mat, there was an instant connection. I was filled with a sense of purpose and gratification that I had not felt in a very long time. I was just happy ‘being’ in that moment!

Since then, I have never stopped practicing Yoga. I cannot explain how Yoga changes a person’s life as it is a subjective experience. All I can say is that the intuitive wisdom you develop through Yoga helps you appreciate and respect your body and mind as well as others. You develop a deep sense of awareness of your habits, thoughts and actions. You take the time to chew your food, drink more water, breathe deeply, laugh, exercise, think positive and be grateful. Eventually, you find that middle ground. All it takes is a little patience, persistence and a good Yoga teacher to guide you. The rest will follow.

Yoga has changed my life in so many ways and my only regret is that I never re-discovered it sooner. It is a slow and personal journey, but any Yoga practitioner who has diligently stayed on the path will never look back again. While I still do stumble from time to time, I know its ok so long as I learn from my experience. Life is meant to be enjoyed and when you live with the mantra of moderation, everything becomes joyous!

In a world of extremes, let Yoga restore your balance!


Who You Learn From Is Important

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

by Suleiha Suguna

In my last blog post, I emphasized that one cannot learn Yoga from reading the Gheranda Samhita alone. This is also true of the Shiva Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, both ancient and accepted texts on Hatha Yoga. It is not possible to read and learn from these texts because the finer details are kept hidden. These details have been passed down from guru to guru over time.

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Svatmarama (the author) says:

"The Yogin desirous of obtaining siddhi (perfection) should keep the Hatha Yoga very secret. For it is potent when kept secret and ineffective when [carelessly] revealed"

Svatmarama implicitly indicates here that not everything is revealed in the book. In the commentary of Jyotsna of Brahmananda on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it states in relation to the above verse that "it is plain that everything is not revealed and the most important processes are to be learned direct from a Guru".

It is therefore imperative for the Yoga instructor to be trained by a qualified guru. It is also equally important for the student of Yoga to ensure that his or her Yoga instructor is properly qualified. But how does one determine qualification? In a time and age where Yoga is becoming increasingly popular, how does one differentiate fad from tradition? I will admit that this is not easy but you can look out for the following:

1. Experience - How long has the Yoga instructor been around for? Where did he or she learn Yoga?

2. Knowledge - Ask questions. Be inquisitive. See if the instructor understands the subject matter. This does not mean you should be rude. Being inquisitive is an important aspect of learning and will benefit you tremendously.

3. Breathing Technique - Breathing plays a central role in Yoga. Every posture has corresponding breathing techniques. Your instructor should provide proper guidance in this.

4. Testimonials - Sometimes it is not enough to read testimonials alone. Speak to other students and find out. Most reputable Yoga instructors will be happy to oblige you.

5. Publicity - Some of the best Yoga Gurus are not very public but you can try Google-ing a Yoga instructor and see if you find positive or negative results. You could also ask around.


About This Blog

This blog is dedicated to providing Yoga resources for all our students and anyone interested in well-being. We hope that through our posts, we help spread health and happiness.

Important Notice

While every care is taken to provide you with complete information, it is always advisable to approach your Yoga practice with care. This blog is not a replacement for actual classes and it is important that you are fully aware of this.

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