My Yoga, Your Yoga

Thirteen years ago I stumbled into my very first yoga practice. It was at my local gym in Malaysia where the room was air-conditioned to be almost freezing and the teacher was jumping from one pose to another. In my second class with her, she got us to do drop-backs with a wall. The next day, my lower back felt really tweaky and uncomfortable. Needless to say, I never went back to her and resigned myself to the gym.

I am of the hyper mobile, super flexible variety of human being, whose primary physical activity in my youth started with dancing and cheerleading. I have sprained my left ankle about four times, my right one three times and have a dodgy right knee. Anyone who performs or does competitive sports would know that the nature is, if it’s in season and you get injured, you keep going. As a result my left leg is still prone to injury and my right knee has days of protest. It didn’t get easier as I got older. By my late twenties, I had a pretty back lower back and my right shoulder was pretty mangled.

Then someone suggested I try yoga. Due to my fear of chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors in general, I gave it a go. It was a bit of a shop around to find something I could stick with. I tried Bikram, and although I loved the heat, hyper-extending legs did not work with my ankles and knee. Not only that, my fiery personality seemed to get even more so, which really doesn’t bode well when work requires you to interact with people a lot.

It was only by chance that I looked on Google and found a different studio near where I worked. It started with an Introductory Pass, which at the time was $25 for two weeks. It blew my mind! There was still the element of heat but being told not to hyper-extend anything made everything about a hundred times harder. I would go into this place with carpet that smelled horrible and big classes, and by the end of the classes I wouldn’t know which way was up and which was down. Shavasana came as a relief. By the end of two weeks, I was hooked.

This was Vinyasa.

It was in no way easy and every time I got one move down there was something else to learn. Then there were these teachers who would give me the shits by asking me to get out of ‘my spot,’ and on occasion move me to the front. Sometimes I would even cry in class. For the first time in ages though, my body felt good. I loved that no two classes and no two teachers were the same. There was personality in the practice. There was heart.

At first I practiced like a mad woman. The harder and hotter the class, the more chaturangas, the more I would push myself through it. What happens however, is when you get tired you lose form. I was tired in every way possible and one of the teachers sat me down and told me to take a break.

So I did, and went to do a week of Iyengar.

It was hellish! Sitting still was not my forte and I got really impatient with all the props involved. I would get into a pose and fidget like someone coming off hard drugs, but the precision of Iyengar is amazing! After a week my back felt fabulous and I went back to Vinyasa with all the new alignment points I’d learned.

Then three years ago something called me to do my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. All I wanted to do was know more about this practice but the seven months of training were priceless and surprisingly, I came out wanting to teach. In December 2012 I finished Teacher Training, in January 2013 my father passed away and by February I had boxed my high heels and left the corporate world.

On the 12th of April 2013 (my 33rd birthday), I taught my first Community Class in BodyMindLife.  Two years later, I am still there.

It was in no way the ending of a journey, but a beginning. In a world of blond, 6’ handstanding vegan yoginis who like kale smoothies I am most definitely different. Being more mobile than strong means that arm balances come very slow and one moment of not being aware means an injury. Flexibility is a great thing, but needs to be balanced with strength. My continuous work is in not going all the way into bendy poses just because I can and not to practice injured as it brings about other injuries. It is a lesson I seem to have to keep learning again and again. As I type this, I am recovering from two displaced ribs, and a hamstring and a wrist injury. Note, trying to lift a scooter is probably a bad idea on any day.  After all my resistance, I am working a physio and have magically found the most amazing CrossFit coaches at CrossFit Black to help my strength conditioning.

Yet yoga continues to be my first love and as I teach and learn, I’ve discovered that yoga is not just asana. My practice has changed through the years. I still love those hot sweaty classes with 50 students breathing together, but I also love waking up in the morning and losing myself in an hour of ground based, deep Yin. Just about a year ago, I started meditating and even within that it keeps changing.

This practice has taught me compassion and love, and being peaceful in joy and sorrow.  It has taught me acceptance and that it is OK to not be strong all the time.  It has taught me that drama is just a distraction and a good life can be lead without the fluff.  It has taught me that the tendencies I have on the mat are often the same ones I have in my daily life.  It has taught me that things end but that doesn’t mean you discount what happened, and that new beginnings happen.  We are ever changing beings and more than learning poses or how to sit still, we are constantly learning about ourselves.  Within this practice I have found family, community and connection, and the realisation that between the blacks and whites of wrong and right, there are they greys of the in between.

I’ve realised now that it doesn’t need to be any one way. Some days you need that practice that challenges you physically and other days you just need to do the simple stuff and reconnect with your breath. Some days practice is easy and without resistance, and other days you go in with all this stuff and practice is a nightmare. Some days you go into practice and you’re laughing all the way and other days, you are a ball of sweat and tears at the end of the practice.  But you don’t have to be any one way to practice, not a certain body type, or weight or age.  You come as yourself on that day, in that moment and whatever you do is perfect.

More than the teacher, my practice is based on how I am on that given day.

And this in itself has been a journey. It is discovering that yoga is not one thing. I’ve had the privilege of learning and practicing with some of the best teachers in Australia and Internationally, and at the end of it, yoga is a journey of self-discovery. You learn from the different teachers but the magic is in finding your yoga. As a teacher I have learned that what I do and what I offer might vary. It is not my place to tell students about their practices, bodies or beliefs but to share what I know so they can explore. All we can do is try as much as we can to meet students where they are and move with them to wherever we can go together.

I still believe that there is magic in the practice and it is still my first love, but the journey continues and is ever evolving. As I teach, I am also learning and as students are learning in my classes, they are also teaching me. I am ever grateful to my teachers and to the students who light up my classes, and most of all my community for being there. I’m hoping that my learning never ends.

Next stop, Prana Flow in Greece, June 2015.

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Lonely City

Sometimes I walk around this city that I’ve adopted, lost in my own universe of thoughts and whatever music is playing in my ear.  I came here for the first time at 20 knowing I would come back.  One broken engagement and a few years later, I did. No friends, no family – Just me, with no anchor and no knowledge of what life would have in store for me. At the time, I did not know if I would leave or stay, but as the years passed, here I am still.

 

Although I came from another crowded city, this one is different.  Here I did not have the foundation of friends I could call when that first winter hit.  Here I did not have a cousin whose home I could hide in during times of heartbreak.  Here in my weakest moments, I learned to find my own strength.  As any singular nomad will tell you, there are times when it gets lonely, but there are also times when being alone gives you the freedom to explore.

 

I have fallen in love in this city, thinking that it was that love that would keep me here.  I fell out of love, but still remained.  There have been lives built on the foundations of this city, and they too have fallen apart, only to be rebuilt into a different kind of existence.  There has been laughter and tears, and through it all, I kept finding myself over and over again.

 

The New Year enters this city in a big way.  Friends, acquaintance, and strangers come together to invite the new, hoping perhaps that this coming year will be the one where dreams come true, where everything just falls into place and they find what they are looking for.  Perhaps they will fall in love on this night.  It is a night of hopes, dreams, aspirations, intentions, and for some, action.  Two strangers meet and endeavour to build a life together.  Two lovers part hoping to find themselves again.

 

For some, a connection is found.  For others, standing in a crowd is when they feel most alone, like a lost child looking in through a window at a family.  For some, plans are made months in advance, while for others, it is the same tradition they have held their entire adult lives, in the comfort and safety of familiar friends.  There are those standing on the harbour, waiting to be rescued and those out to rescue.  Then there are the travellers, the nomads, the gypsies; where no plans are made, where there is absolute trust that where they end up on that day is where they are supposed to be.

 

Every New Year that I have welcomed in this city has been different, and without planning, I know that this year will be different again.  I do not know what it will be, but I know that it will be.

 

As I stand on the Opera House steps over looking the Harbour Bridge, or by Waverley Cemetery looking out at the ocean, my breath is taken away all over again.  I thought love would be what kept me here and I was right.  At 20 I fell in love and although I fell in love with my ex fiancé right after that, this city already had my heart.  This city hides me when I want to hide and lets me be seen when I allow it.  In this city I knew complete and utter loneliness, and it was here that I finally fell apart after a whole lifetime of holding things up.  It is here that I found how being alone allowed me to see that I was never on my own.

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Sometimes it is when you think that you have nobody and you are completely alone that you find your somebodies.  They might not be your blood, but you are united in moments of gold – they are the person who speaks to you on the bus, the stranger who steps into your place of work and ends up sharing their life with you, the friend who just holds you for a while when you’re feeling vulnerable, or the random person who smiles at you on the street.

It could be a moment or a lifetime, but it is these times that remind you that you are never truly alone.

Dear Past, I Thank You

Sometimes when you least expect it, a part of your past, long forgotten waves at you across the distance, and like it or not, your attention is brought back to it.  It could be an old friend, an old lover or just an old place forcing you to turn around from where you stand and look back.

 

There are times when you have moved so far away from that world which once held you that you’ve forgotten it even existed.  Then it calls you back, and you return for a visit.  However, like Alice revisiting Wonderland as an adult, the dark recesses don’t look quite as dark, and the things that once consumed you, don’t have so much of a power over you anymore.  You know there is a demon to slay, but either because it has shrank, or you have grown, the demons don’t look so big anymore. The powers they once had over you somehow diminished with time.

 

The past is a funny place to be.

 

There is always an option of staying there, safe in the comfort of old stories and replaying scenarios, where you are still that same person stuck in your version of a child’s wonderland.  You can stay, in the same grooves made by your parents, moving on to the same lives they led, the same patterns, the same habits.  It is a familiar place, one you know deep in your marrow, where the outcome is one that you have grown to expect.

 

Sometimes however, the universe has other ideas.

 

You take a potion, or you make a small decision and things are set in motion.  Somehow without even realising it, you have stepped out of that place.  The old cast is still there, but you are no longer part of that story, or they are no longer part of yours.  Looking back on the person you were, you realise that you are no longer that.  What you thought, that image you wore as armour was but a role that you played, a mask you put on for that ball.

 

Then you realise that through the years, layers and layers of yourself have been shed.  Those bonds that once held you, the bonds you once saw as a safe embrace are just that, the bonds you put on to stay safe, to stay in a place where you didn’t need to change.  Once the thread unravelled, there was no turning back.

 

You have become a complete person on your own.

 

You know now that no ties will make you more of a person and no great love would need you to be less of who you are.  You’ve found that as much as you have love to give, you are also worthy of a love that is just as great.  Revisiting the Wonderland of the past has opened your eyes to the reality of now.  You know now that your past, the stories that were told to you and the future are not the same.

 

In a deep backbend, you allow the back of your heart to push you forward, and that’s sometimes how life works.  A push from the past sometimes reminds you that you are here, in a moment that is not that, and that everything that has happened has led you here.

 

Revisiting Wonderland gave you a moment to bow and say ‘thank you,’ for the part of your journey you shared, for the lessons learned and for the role the past has played in your journey towards yourself.  One bow, one nod of recognition, like two distant strangers passing each other on the street and then you let go and move on – to your separate lives, to your separate futures.

 

You return to the embrace of the friends who share your life now with your mask removed, as you stand strong in your vulnerability. You catch the eye of the person who makes you smile in a knowing look you share with each other.  They were always there, laughing with you, patiently holding you when you needed, facing your fire when it raged.  Now finally, you take each other’s hand to start building from the present.

 

The past is done.

 

That book is closed.

 

You are free.

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